So, I was not exactly optimistic about City Council's doings when I left you last week ("Chaos Reigns!," Jan. 29), and indeed, things did not get any better at last Thursday's meeting, or in its aftermath. But hey, it's always darkest before the dawn, right? Out of the chaos and acrimony of last week – due to some astounding arrogance from what I would have to call enemies of the city – some of that may be forgotten for now, as Council pulls together to guide the ship through some very rough waters to a couple of common goals: a reasonable, fair, regulatory policy regarding transportation network companies, and a firm rejection of the idea of crafting government policy by corporate-sponsored referendum.
Three cases in point:
• TNCs: The industry-written ordinance represented in the industry-funded petition envisions near-complete deregulation, and a drop in fees, that no one on Council really wants (Don Z always excluded). It appears that the arrogance of the Uber/Lyft all-or-nothing dare may have united the council on this issue in a way it has never been before, and Mayor Steve Adler seems energized to take the dare, and lead them in presenting voters with a clearly better alternative.
• The Recall: A secretive, dishonest, and possibly illegal recall petition campaign against CM Ann Kitchen, loudly proclaimed but still not brought to fruition, literally brought the council together Monday morning, with nine of them (all but Ellen Troxclair and Uncle Don) standing up with her to reject the idea that this is an acceptable tactic. The CMs have some deep policy differences; this attack from the outside helped them see some common ground as well.
• The Tweet: During a particularly acrimonious late-night snarl over planned unit development rules (see "Council Brawls on PUDs"), CM Leslie Pool tweeted, "So maybe this is the nail in Gallo's coffin," presumably referring to the common criticism that CM Sheri Gallo has been carrying water for real estate interests at neighbors' expense. Pool first apologized to Gallo for letting criticism of a fellow CM go public, then spent the rest of the week pretty much owning the sentiment. The truth is, the two CMs in neighboring, not dissimilar districts, represent diametrically opposite philosophies regarding land use and neighborhood planning. Pool is one of the very strongest voices for the Neighborhood Association side of land-use debates, Gallo is, well, a former board member of the Real Estate Council of Austin. Both face re-election campaigns this November, and each will likely face an opponent from the other side of the proverbial aisle. They both stood up for Ann Kitchen on Monday, but on opposite sides of the lineup. This is a divide that isn't going away anytime soon.
Even as City Council votes this week to add $1.5 million to the public safety budget for the March "festival season" (see "Council: Like a Room Without a Roof"), the Austin Center for Events will host two public meetings to discuss alternate funding options for special events, in an effort to explore bridging the gap between how much the city spends on services during special events and fees paid by event producers. It's two of the next three Wednesdays, Feb. 10 & 24, 6:30-8:30pm, Asian American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron. RSVP to: SpecialEvents@austintexas.gov. ACE will present proposals and research to City Council later this year; follow their progress, presumably, at www.austintexas.gov/citystage.
From the Grounds Up: A Retrospective: The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center has mounted this special photographic retrospective in honor of Black History Month. Originally conceived in 1983 by Louis Hicks, the Carver's director and curator from 1980-88, and Andrea Mullen, the exhibit "sought to document the history of structures in East Austin ... Hicks saw this as an important project due to the city's plan to significantly expand the East Side," and perhaps displace this traditionally black and Latino community. Smart man, Mr. Hicks. There's an opening reception this Thursday, Feb. 4, from 6:30-8pm; the exhibit will be up through March 21 at the Carver Center, 1165 Angelina St.
Austin Voices for Education & Youth runs a lot of different projects around Austin, "to improve public education and expand opportunities for students and families." This week they figure prominently in Richard Whittaker's feature story about AISD's Allan campus, where AVEY has helped set up an innovative Early Childhood Center. In the past, we've praised their work both directly with students and families, and in advocating strongly for the Community Schools movement – basically, the "it takes a village to raise a child" philosophy of education reform.
"Stand Up for Schools" is AVEY's 2016 luncheon and fundraiser, featuring keynote speaker Jane Quinn, director of the National Center for Community Schools. It's Monday, Feb. 8, noon-1:30pm at Signe Auditorium, 3rd floor, Dell Children's Medical Center, 4900 Mueller Blvd. Buy tickets, or find out more about this great organization, at www.austinvoices.org.
Blacks comprise 32% of Texas men living with HIV and a whopping 58% of Texas women living with HIV. To commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Feb. 7, the Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Dept. has a free HIV testing event Friday, Feb. 5, 6-11pm at Midtown Live, 7408 Cameron. Or you can schedule a screening with the HIV Prevention Program, 512/972-5580, or the STI Clinic, 512/972-5430, or see www.austintexas.gov/department/hivaids.
The Travis County Democratic Party holds the 2016 Johnson Bentsen Richards Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Four Seasons Hotel. This year's keynote speaker is the Hon. Julián Castro. The TCDP will also announce the first winner of the Kirk P. Watson Service Award. www.traviscountydemocrats.org.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Austin Humane Society will host their ninth annual Puppy Bowl in celebration of Superb Owl, or something. The event will feature adorable and adoptable AHS puppies in uniform, children's activities, and local businesses and vendors. Noon-2pm at AHS, 124 W. Anderson. (And buy an AHS Car Raffle ticket while you're there, for a chance to win a brand-new Mazda Miata from Roger Beasley Mazda.) www.austinhumanesociety.org.
Of course, we all know the real Big Game isn't until the next day. And this year Puppy Bowl XII, Animal Planet's adoption extravaganza, will feature two puppies from Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive! – Hailey and Poppy – competing for Team Fluff against Team Ruff on Puppy Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, 2-4pm.
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