Council: Like a Room Without a Roof
Council passes PUD rules on first reading
Last Thursday's City Council meeting began with an invocation and then a brief version of Pharrell Williams's "Happy," to accompany a communal exercise session led by city "wellness program" employees (the media attendees were predictably unenthusiastic). Afterwards, a freshly rejuvenated Mayor Steve Adler commented, "Count me among the doubters when I first heard about this, but that was fun."
Council Member Ann Kitchen suggested that maybe the room would need a reprise about 9pm. That turned out to be optimistic. By 10pm, Council was ritually voting to extend the meeting (over objections from CM Sheri Gallo as well as Kitchen) and vowing to do better next time. Meanwhile, there was a tense discussion of rules governing planned unit development proposals – CM Leslie Pool angrily denounced an amendment proposed by the mayor that would have weakened the current trump hand accorded the Planning Commission, currently requiring a Council supermajority to reverse a PUD rejection by the PC – the mayor's amendment would require a supermajority only when the PC rejection was also a supermajority. That was the same discussion that evoked Pool's embarrassing "nail in the coffin" Tweet concerning Gallo, for which Pool later apologized. The entire debate is in fact a proxy argument over the hotly disputed PUD proposal for the former state tract at 45th and Bull Creek Blvd. ("The Grove at Shoal Creek"), located in Gallo's district but bordering Pool's. (See "News Roundup," Feb. 1, and "Council: Incompatible Binaries," Feb. 2.)
Eventually, Council passed a less ambitious version (applying only to previously unzoned land, as did the original motion) on first reading only, and it was clear that the whole dais was exhausted even before the 11pm commencement of the short-term rental testimony, which continued past 2am. That STR can was also kicked down the road (to Feb. 23), and the 16-hour meeting adjourned.
Meanwhile, transportation network companies (i.e., Uber and Lyft) continue to dominate the public conversation, the TNC-funded petitions for a TNC-friendly ordinance were certified on Tuesday, and based on the Tuesday work session, Council will spend this evening (Feb. 4, beginning 6:30pm) hearing public testimony and planning for a seemingly inevitable May referendum election (which might also include a recall election for District 5 CM Kitchen; see "Point Austin.") Much of the work session was devoted to discussing how best to respond to the petitions, with CMs Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair insisting Council simply enact the "citizens' petition," CMs Delia Garza and Sabino Renteria advising "take on the bullies," schedule the election, and defeat the ordinance, and other members spread out between the two poles. At the fulcrum is Adler, who hopes to come up with yet another "Austin Innovative TNC Ordinance" that will resolve all the "binary choices" and "find a way out of this box" (as he put it in a Tuesday afternoon press release, which appeared to indirectly kick off an opposition campaign).
Meanwhile, there's plenty of other work to attempt today. Some highlights:
• Health and Human Services: Four proposals to provide additional youth education services, including three (Items 12, 14, 15) that would take on some of the load now carried by AISD for parent support services, afterschool enrichment, and student mentoring. The last Council began seriously looking for ways to complement AISD programs, and even shift some of the school property tax burden to the city (which would lessen recapture, and thus the overall property tax bill), but it can be a legal minefield.
• Larry Jackson Jr. aftermath: Item 16 is a proposed settlement of the civil lawsuit by Jackson's mother, Billie Mercer, for the July 2013 fatal shooting of Jackson by former Austin Police Department Detective Charles Kleinert. (Kleinert has seemingly escaped criminal justice, but the civil suits have proceeded.)
• APD Budget bump: $1.5 million in additional funding for "public safety support for the Spring Festival Season" (Item 21) is the latest wrinkle in addressing SXSW, related festivals, and the ancillary crowds.
• Council committees: A resolution proposed by CM Greg Casar to revise rules governing committee system (Item 36) is likely for discussion only.
• Art vs. Commerce: Austin Resource Recovery wants to sell a tract of land near Bergstrom Airport to help finance its planned recycling/remanufacturing facility (Item 45); Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo prefers the land be used for a proposed Artspace live/work project (Item 38).
• Floodplain buyouts: Item 47 would direct $10 million toward another 25 home buyouts in the Williamson Creek floodplain.
At a rather paltry 53 Items, today's agenda suggests Council might actually meet its recently renewed goal of adjourning before 10pm (although members are also likely to postpone any vote on reconsideration of their own rules). Before that renewed evening discussion of TNCs, Innovation, and associated referenda, there will be time to honor (among others) the National Fire Academy, Austin Energy Regional Science Festival, Love Your Locals Month, African-American Heritage Celebration Day, and Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. The musical honorees are A-Town GetDown, funkmeisters of danceable crowd-pleasers like "Mama Told Me" (www.atowngetdownatx.com). I doubt Giacomo Puccini is in their repertoire, but for this occasion they just might want to work up a version of "Nessun Dorma": None shall sleep.