Put This in Your PUD and Smoke It!
Heated exchanges over Pilot Knob PUD; Adler negotiates with Lyft
Not sure if it's a good sign or a bad one that City Council has split this week's meeting into two: today's (Feb. 11) on a relatively manageable 59-Item agenda, and (in theory) shortened a bit more by moving (or duplicating) Items 2 and 3 (re: transportation network companies, and the pending May citizens' initiative election to a special-called Friday afternoon meeting). (It will take at least until 1:30pm Friday to recover from Thursday.) In the meantime, Mayor Steve Adler has been frantically negotiating with Lyft attorney Michael Whellan (it's not clear if Uber is indirectly engaged) to come up with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that might provide some ground under which Lyft (or other TNCs) might agree to an incentivized fingerprint program (the main, but not the only sticking point).
That was what the mayor reported to Council at Tuesday's work session, but it took several hours to get to that point – because much of the morning was devoted to fairly heated exchanges over the Pilot Knob planned unit development. The southeast area PUD (i.e., near Pilot Knob, between McKinney Falls Parkway and 183) had presumably been put to bed in December (after years of discussions between the developers and the city), when questions about the actual cost of the deal provoked sensational headlines and a public backlash – as well as internal city reactions, first from Austin Water (whose waived infrastructure development fees were being "redirected" to affordable housing), and then from surprised council members. On Tuesday, City Manager Marc Ott released a memo reporting that the total in transferred funding, instead of being the roughly $50-80 million (over decades) originally reported, might eventually work out to $106 million (again, over the decades it would take to complete the development).
The mayor (and to a lesser extent, District 2 Council Member Delia Garza) continue to defend the project as necessary and within existing city policy on affordable housing throughout the city, but the rest of the dais appears to be either outright opposed (CMs Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair) or panicking over the headlines and public backlash and their incomplete understanding of the original deal. The mayor apologized at length over the weekend and in a memo to Council (see "Who's in the Pilot House?," Feb. 9), but Ott's memo set off another round of consternation that will likely reverberate in today's discussion. Will the PUD survive? Based on Tuesday's discussion, it seems more likely than not, but the fumbled explanations, the Austin Water dissension (AW is concerned about its own bottom line), and the numbers flying all over the place suggest there will be bitter general bruising before all this subsides.
And here you thought the only problem in town is "ridesharing"! That hasn't gone away – and it's not at all clear how it might be resolved – and here are a few more Items likely to raise hair and hackles.
• Citizens' Initiative on TNCs (Items 2 and 3): It's not clear if Council will vote today or Friday – the mayor's MOU is reportedly dependent first upon a vote to enact the petition ordinance – but the public hearing was left open for additional testimony, and several council members seem to want to accept the May election and see where the apps fall.
• Return of Biomass (Item 4): Just a legal services contract concerning the existing Nacogdoches Power agreement, but this is a Zimmerman bugaboo and he's not likely to let it pass unremarked.
• Low-Income Housing (Items 5 and 6): These are resolutions supporting applications by developers for state tax credits on projects (not involving city funds), but Zimmerman also objects to such projects on principle, so expect to hear about it.
• PUD & Planning (Item 8): The question of continuing to require Council "supermajority" votes on PUD proposals after a Planning Commission (majority) rejection sparked heated exchanges on the dais two weeks ago, and those are not likely to subside on second or third readings.
• Parkland $$$ (Item 11): Another hot-button question – how much to charge developers for parkland dedication funding – is still simmering.
• Save the Lions (Item 13): The latest wrinkle in the fight to defend Lions Municipal Golf Course from commercial development by UT-Austin – a resolution to support its nomination as a national historic site, reportedly the first Southern golf course to be desegregated.
• Save the Schools (Item 15): Continuing exploration of the opportunities to take on school functions that also have a municipal purpose, and thereby reduce AISD budget pressure and tax burden.
• We Meet Again (Item 21): An attempt to reconfigure Council's committee structure, with an eye toward reducing the absolute numbers of meetings and the necessity to run everything through a committee-to-council gauntlet; punted from last week, may get punted again. Maybe they should send it to committee.
There's only one scheduled public hearing (addressing redevelopment of substandard lots, not a crowd-drawer), pending the decision on where to squeeze in more testimony on TNCs (last week's was surprisingly brief and mixed), today or Friday. No honored music and no proclamations, so the over/under on adjournment is somewhere around 7pm. Or maybe I'm an optimistic fool.