The Austin Chronicle

Council: Show Us Your Backside

No City Council meeting this week, but boards and committees offer proposals

By Michael King, November 6, 2015, News

City Council has no formal meeting again this week (next session is Thursday, Nov. 12), although in the wake of last week's heavy rains, it's probably just as well. Mayor Steve Adler and several council members (notably District 2/Southeast's Delia Garza) were preoccupied with flood response, staying on top of the weather information and helping staff to get information and services to constituents. Council committees and appointed boards were also in session, with a couple of proposals wending their way to Council next week.

Although it hasn't yet arrived on the draft agenda, Adler's proposal for a disclosure ordinance addressing campaign "dark money" – of the sort that paid for a robo-call campaign against him in his 2014 mayoral run – sailed through the council's Audit and Finance Committee last week. Outside money was at least a presence in the 10-1 council campaign, although the South Forward PAC that funded anti-Adler robo-calls didn't make much of a dent in his momentum – at least partly because the mayor-to-be's personal kitty was insurmountable. Whether staff can draft an ordinance that foresees and forestalls what rich people can buy (especially in the era of Citizens United) is yet to be determined (see "Just How Super Is Your PAC?" Oct. 31, 2014).

Returning to the agenda are short-term rental regulations, specifically a one-year moratorium on licensing for new Type 2 (non-owner-occupied) STRs in most residential districts. This is not the whole megillah of restrictions approved by Council last month – those remain in staff development – but a stoppage of new city licenses (not including renewals) while a broader ordinance is in development. The proposal will receive an evening public hearing, so expect supporters and opponents to attend in force.

Also on the working agenda is a new Austin Energy rate structure for the utility's two largest industrial customers (average load of at least 20 megawatts) that has garnered some early heartburn, and a couple of contract renewals for outreach on Affordable Care Act marketplace sign-ups (for the Latino HealthCare Forum and Foundation Communities) that will likely garner backlash from CMs who reflexively oppose Obamacare.

And speaking of CM Don Zimmerman – fresh from his Travis County Taxpayers Union opposition to the county courthouse bonds, he's begun a new anti-government campaign, this one targeted at Austin Wat­er, an agency for which he presumably shares some policy responsibility. With the help of a constituent's PR firm, the campaign is called "Show Us Your Manhole" – Zim­mer­man is asking people to monitor and photograph their water meters. "With this effort, frustrated city water utility customers can submit pictures of their undisturbed manhole covers through social media at the beginning and end of a month-long period to prove that their meters are not being read," reads his press release. "If the manhole cover remains undisturbed, then the city will have to explain why."

Whether any of these matters manage to evoke action next week is anybody's guess – the draft (and still incomplete) agenda features no less than 40 zoning cases, at least a few of them already contentious enough to garner intense neighborhood attention. If you're wagering, the over/under on adjournment should be about 9pm.

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