Council: Out With the Auld Lang Syne
The historic, final meeting last Thursday (Dec. 11) of the seven-member, at-large City Council didn't last two days – only until a little past 1am Friday morning – but a good deal of public policy water flowed under the bridge before Mayor Lee Leffingwell adjourned "for the night, for the year, and forever ... sine die." Council managed to plow through the record 231-Item agenda that will serve to clear the decks, more or less, for the new 10-1 Council that will ascend to the dais in January.
In some (selective) highlights, Council ...
• Adopted a resolution establishing a new "funding metric" for future social services budgets, tied to the Consumer Price Index, as part of a plan to steadily increase social service funding over the next three to five years. (Leffingwell and Council Member Bill Spelman voted no, arguing that the metric was both arbitrary and couldn't take account of future economic conditions.)
• Knocked down a proposed dedication of $20.4 million in Capital Metro funding for infrastructure along the Airport Boulevard corridor to a more limited, $2 million plan. (CM Chris Riley had proposed using the funds, originally intended for the failed urban rail plan, for improvements in the rail-plan corridor.)
• Passed an amended but still contentious zoning change, and termination of a restrictive covenant, for Springdale Farm that would allow more public events within designated time and noise limits, linked to the scale of the events. (Although the vote was 7-0, the public testimony was heated, with several speakers from PODER denouncing the Council, and the Chronicle, for racism in imposing an "event center" on the Eastside neighborhood. See story above.)
• Approved swimming (with some restrictions and safety warnings) for both people and animals in the Barton Springs spillway, aka "Barking Springs" (despite heavy weekend levels of dangerous bacteria).
• Approved a resolution requiring transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees (to be added in next year's budget); the cost is not expected to be substantial.
• Enacted (on third reading) a ban against "source of income" discrimination for renters; barring an injunction, the ordinance is set to take effect Jan. 12. (See "Landlords Sue to Block Section 8 Renters," p.30).
In addition to all of that, Council also adopted a new Austin Energy Generation Plan for the next decade. The "500+" plan proposes to steadily increase renewable energy targets while staying within the city's "affordability goals" of limiting rate increases to no more than 2% per year; it also enables a new 500 MW "more efficient" natural gas power plant (subject to an independent study of the necessity). The plan would raise the current goal of 35% renewable energy sources by 2020 to 55% by 2025, add additional utility and "rooftop" solar and wind power, and begin the phaseout of both the coal-powered Fayette power plant and Decker Creek (natural gas) plant.
The newly adopted plan is not as aggressive on renewables and solar as a Council resolution adopted in late August, and environmental advocates are skeptical of the need for the new natural gas plant. On the other hand, there's also opposition from those who argue that renewable sources are still not fully reliable, especially during times of peak use, and that the city's affordability goals cannot be maintained by relying solely on renewables. Expect the plan to be revisited ... and revisited ... by the next Council – when they begin to find out just how easy it is being green.