Public Notice: Paralysis by Committee

STRs: One minus two proving to be a difficult concept

Public Notice

I subtitled last week's column "Cutting through the bullshit on Short-Term Rentals," but unfortunately, a 10-hour Planning and Neighborhoods Committee meeting this Monday/Tuesday did little to advance that cause (see "Late-Night STR Debate," p.16). And unless someone steps up at today's Council meeting to break a conceptual deadlock, it appears we'll just have this whole discussion over again sometime next month.

To recap: There's been mounting discontent over the current city ordinance licensing and regulating STRs passed amid considerable controversy three years ago. Critics, including city staff, say the ordinance doesn't allow them to enforce standards, or to identify unlicensed operators – which is especially problematic with the non-owner-occupied, or commercial, Type 2 units, which take housing off the market, and also generate the bulk of the code complaints. The current ordinance makes little distinction between Types 1 and 2, but critics have been at great pains to stress that their beef is with the commercial operators – not the residents renting out rooms in their houses, or the garage apartment in back, who are neither fostering the "party house" atmosphere that's made the headlines, nor contributing to the housing shortage that's the more serious long-term problem.

So with that backdrop, the much-anticipated public hearing on revisions to the STR ordinance commenced Monday afternoon, and ran until 2:44am. Unfortunately, when some six hours of public testimony ended well after midnight, and with some 30 overlapping proposals then to be considered, there was barely time to run through them, identify the ones that everyone could agree on with little or no discussion, and punt the rest for further consideration next month.

CM Kathie Tovo barely had time to read her proposed amendments into the record, with the understanding as she did so that these proposals – most already three years in the making – were once again being postponed without consideration or discussion. That's especially problematic because one of those proposals was for an immediate moratorium on issuing new Type 2 licenses to properties which might be in conflict with the rules currently being formulated. That means the estimated 5,000 unlicensed STRs currently operating in Austin – who have declined to register for the past three years and are now operating illegally – will get another five months or so to get their paperwork in under rules we believe to be seriously flawed. It seems inevitable that the city will eventually join most of our peers in banning or at least extending limitations on commercial Type 2 STRs in residential zoning. Extending a long grace period now just makes that coming disruption yet more difficult, while taking hundreds, and perhaps thousands of units off the housing market for no particular reason. Type 1s, meanwhile, will be encouraged not to register until the fees go down under the new regs.

Meanwhile, it took until after 2am for anyone on the dais to acknowledge the most obvious suggestion, when CM Greg Casar suggested that Type 1 license fees be reduced dramatically, to encourage and reward compliance by the owner-occupied STRs that everyone agrees we want to facilitate. (It seems entirely likely that this distinction will solve ongoing inspection and insurance questions as well: Commercial Type 2 STRs require commercial insurance and the same inspections as bed and breakfasts; Type 1s probably don't.) Yet, this entirely logical, simple proposal, which no one opposes, will likely not be brought up at today's Council meeting – and neither will the moratorium – out of deference to the Council committee system that was unable to produce them at 2:30am.

My guess is that both a moratorium on Type 2s, and fee relief for Type 1s, would pass the full Council today with little or no opposition, had they made it onto the list of recommendations. Because they didn't, we all get punished, unless someone (it probably has to be someone not on the P&N Com­mit­tee) does the math.

The first South Austin Meeting: South Austin Neighborhood Alliance and Onion Creek HOA will meet "with all of our representatives on the City Council ... Mayor Adler, CMs Ann Kitchen, Delia Garza, and Sabino Renteria have all confirmed their participation." Tuesday, Aug. 25, 7-9 pm at Onion Creek Club, 2510 Onion Creek Pkwy.

Brought to you by the Austin Public Library:

Aural Literature: Poetry readings by writers of The Challenger Street Newspaper, part of a series of events APL has produced this summer with the paper for and by the homeless community. Wed., Aug. 26, 7pm at Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez. "La Loma (Or the Place Sometimes Called Hungry Hill)" – a screening and discussion of this short documentary about students of Eastside Memorial High and the urban landscape they traverse on their daily journey to and from school. Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 6:30pm at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe. All APL programs are free; more info at library.austintexas.gov.

And, here's something festive: TxDOT kicked off its statewide "Drink, Drive, Go to Jail" campaign this week, running Aug. 21 through Sept. 7, leading up to the Labor Day weekend. TxDOT will be bringing its "DWI Not So Fun House" to community events across the state – an interactive carnival trailer that allows the public to experience the dangerous and potentially deadly effects of impaired driving.


Send gossip, dirt, rental vouchers, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

The American Honey Bee Protection Agency, a local non-profit, will place several beehives on ACC's Elgin campus this Thursday, Aug. 20, to prepare for an upcoming fall semester beekeeping class, part of ACC's Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurship Program (continue.austincc.edu/agriculture).

Parks Burn Ban: Due to current drought conditions, the city has issued a Parks Burning Restriction effective immediately: no open fires or grilling in all city of Austin parks, including greenbelts and preserves.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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