Public Notice: Ask a Silly Question

The faux democracy of online push-polling

Public Notice

As one of its final actions before leaving office, the last city council pushed through a set of interim regulations enabling trans­port­ation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Uber to operate in Austin pretty much on their own terms – little or no oversight on pricing, insurance, inspections, driver checks, and other topics – with the proviso that Coun­cil revisit the regs in one year. Fast forward one year, and the City Council's Mobility Committee, under chair CM Ann Kitchen, was set to begin that review process at its meeting this Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Predictably, industry heavyweight Uber wasted no time reaffirming its belligerence, preemptively broadcasting a petition appeal to its mailing list, warning that "the Uber you know and love is being threatened by a new plan being pushed by Coun­cil­ Mem­ber Ann Kitchen. ... We need your help to stop this toxic plan." The petition itself says: "As a constituent and supporter of Uber in Austin, I urge you to oppose Council Mem­ber Ann Kitchen's plan that would destroy ridesharing in Austin." The thing is, nowhere in the email or petition does it give any indication of what provisions might be included in the "plan" – which is really a range of some 17 different proposals, ranging from prohibiting loading and unloading in traffic, to charging a fee similar to what taxi companies pay, to requiring inspections, background checks, and more. In the end, some of these regulations will be passed, and some won't, but they need to be discussed and considered, before being rejected out of hand, without even being explained.

Unfortunately, this sort of polling and petitioning is becoming increasingly popular in the local political arena. Pose a question online that you can predict the answer to: "Do you support giving people more ridesharing options?" "Do you support housing options for renters and flexibility for property owners?" Then extrapolate the response to support some very tangential political position: "People support leaving TNCs unregulated." "Neighbors want to see parking regulations removed." Give it a rest.

There's a subtle but important step in the Grove at Shoal Creek development at today's council meeting: Item 4, establishing baseline zoning for the entire 75-acre tract – which has never been zoned because it belonged to the state until recently. Most of the adjoining neighborhood is zoned as single-family SF-2 or SF-3, so the thinking is that most of this tract should have base zoning no denser than that, especially because the transportation access is so poor. Of course, ARG Bull Creek, Ltd. intends to build a planned unit devel­opment much denser than that; the whole point of a PUD is to override the base zoning, to create a development that's superior to the few hundred tract houses you'd get in SF-3.

So, why quibble about the base zoning? Largely because of the affordable housing component. In whatever PUD plan is approved (see "Game of Zones," p.16), the developer will have to provide a set amount of affordable housing, either on-site or as a financial contribution to housing elsewhere in the city (see "Bonus Points for Affordability," Oct. 2). The amount of that contribution is based on the increased density (and profit) afforded by the PUD, compared to the base zoning. So today's discussion has nothing to do with what ARG will finally build on the site, but a lot to do with how much affordable housing they'll have to provide. And remember: Those who will doubtless be arguing today for denser base zoning are asking not for a more compact city, but for a more profitable city with less affordability.

ACL Festival Transportation. I gave shout-outs last week to Capital Metro (many buses to the ACL shuttles at Republic Square Park, plus MetroRapid directly to Barton Springs & Lamar), and to Austin B-cycle (front-gate valet service starting at 10:30am each day), but I neglected to mention Car2Go, which has a free drop zone at Bicycle Sport Shop, at Barton Springs Rd. & Lamar, from 9am-9pm each day of the festival. Full info at austin.car2go.com.

The estimated cost of financing a two-week $500 payday loan in Texas is $127, while a 30-day auto title loan costs $137. And during 2014, Texans took out over 2.7 million such loans. The League of Women Voters of the Austin Area invites the public to a free presentation on payday and auto title loans in Texas. Panelists will discuss possible regulations of these loans, alternatives to them, and educational initiatives to decrease consumer need for short-term loans. Sunday, Oct. 11, 2:30-4:30pm at Trinity United Methodist Church, 4001 Speedway; more info at www.lwvaustin.org/calendar.

Austin Resource Recovery continues its series of free training sessions to help businesses meet new city recycling requirements that went into effect Oct. 1, plus composting requirements that will be phased in soon. Free, but registration is required; RSVP and learn more at www.austintexas.gov/uro. The next recycling session is Tue., Oct. 13, noon-1pm, at Opal Divine's Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress. Then on Thu., Oct. 15, there will be two sessions at St. David's Epis­co­pal Church, 301 E. Eighth: recycling from noon-1pm, and then organics diversion (composting) from 3-4pm.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will host a Vision Workshop, the first public meeting for the Lamar Beach Master Plan, on Wed., Oct. 14, from 6:30-8pm at Austin High School, 1715 W. Cesar Chavez, with a 60-minute interactive presentation beginning at 7pm, and including a mapping exercise to capture input from participants. The planning area includes about 65 acres of parkland on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake, between Austin High School and Lamar Blvd. Design Workshop, a local landscape architecture and planning firm, is leading the planning effort. See more info at www.austintexas.gov/department/lamar-beach-master-plan.

It's algae bloom season. Austin Water wants you to know that the "grassy, earthy, musty taste to the water" coming from your tap is due to a "natural occurring algae bloom in Lake Austin that does not affect the safety of our drinking water." AW has been adding activated carbon into the treatment process, to minimize "any potential taste and odor issues," and will continue to monitor the situation.

Trucklandia's $10,000 food truck tasting competition launches Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Midway Food Park, 1905 Capitol of TX Hwy. S., and continues through Sunday, Oct. 18. $10-$50 wristbands get you tasting samples at 50-plus different mobile food vendors around town, and 10% of ticket sales benefit Keep Austin Fed, a local nonprofit that re-purposes food that normally would be thrown away and distributes it to local food banks, shelters, and churches. See www.trucklandia.com.

The Austin Public Library will offer Social Security benefits workshops at six locations this month, discussing when to apply, mistakes to avoid, taxes and benefits, and more. The first sessions are Wed., Oct. 14, 7pm, at Windsor Park Branch, 5833 Westminster, and Thu., Oct. 15, 7pm, at Hampton Branch at Oak Hill, 5125 Convict Hill Rd. All APL programs are free and open to the public. More info at library.austintexas.gov.

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