Council: Hello, I Must Be Going
The new City Council wades into deeper water
Council watchers thought they might have had a scoop late Thursday night (Feb. 5), as near the end of the meeting, Mayor Steve Adler told his colleagues, "My four years will be over, I'll go away, you guys will run for mayor ..." This was in the midst of Adler's peroration over his proposal to increase mayoral staff and outreach via the Mayor's Better Austin Foundation, but it did give pause: Had Adler just announced he would only serve a single, four-year term?
Asked about it this week, the mayor said he was only speaking rhetorically, focused on persuading the other Council members that his proposal serves the interests of the whole group, and more specifically that (as he concluded), "I want to make every one of you the best mayor candidates you could be, and I want you all to be successful." As for what he'll do in four years, the mayor told the Chronicle that for now, "Four years is all the lease on this office that the [voters] have given me right now." (For more on the BAF discussion, see "Point Austin," Feb. 20, 2015.)
So much for late-night melodrama; the Feb. 12 meeting was prolonged (eventually, to 11pm) by several extended debates over particular items, not all of them equally weighty or even salutary. Early on, District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman pulled several consent items, demonstrating his conviction that in addition to setting city policy, the Council's job also includes contract management. He persists in complaining about a (previously approved) Austin Energy contract that didn't specify the precise number of power poles to be purchased; Thursday he carped over two major art commissions for the airport expansion because of the expense (although ABIA generates its own budget) and the unconfirmed nature of the still-in-development, site-specific works-in-progress. (Some CMs also questioned whether nationally renowned artists Rachel Feinstein and Janet Echelman are sufficiently "local" for Austin, but others defended the value and range of the Art in Public Places program, and in the end the items passed easily.)
The more extended controversy was over six affordable housing projects (the city gives loan support, which sustains applications that can provide housing tax credits), mostly supported on the dais but loudly opposed by Zimmerman and (to a lesser degree) by D8 CM Ellen Troxclair. Zimmerman had made it plain in the work session that he considers all such "government subsidies" of housing immoral and unsustainable redistributions of wealth (suburban highways are apparently exempt from that charge), but his particular target is the Cardinal Point project in his district, sponsored by Foundation Communities. Several nearby residents testified against the project, but several also in favor – all six proposals (11 Items in all) eventually passed, with only Zimmerman and Troxclair either opposing or abstaining. (For more, see "Zimmerman Fights," Feb. 20, 2015).
Council also approved the Council salary reallocation (to other office expenses) proposed by Adler and D1 CM Ora Houston (only D2's Delia Garza opposed); resolved a couple of zoning cases; established a Parking and Transportation Management District for the Mueller neighborhood (meters march eastward); asked staff to return in late March with an analysis of the effects of a 20% homestead property tax exemption (to be supplemented later as necessary); approved (over Zimmerman's virulent objection, and negative votes as well from Houston and Troxclair) a pilot program of traffic signal equipment that would recognize bicycles (like cars) at an intersection; and on Adler's own anticipated motion, postponed action on the Mayor's Better Austin Foundation to the next regular meeting, Feb. 26.
Council meets today (Thu., Feb. 19) for another policy workshop (education and neighborhood issues) and possibly more action on meeting reorganization.