Council: Not Just STRs
Restore Rundberg, nondiscrimination also on the menu
City Council used Tuesday's work session to, among other things, take long-anticipated action on Type 2 short-term rentals, ending with a vote banning the non-owner-occupied STRs by 2022, to the anger of a sizable, blue-clad, pro-STR 2 HomeAway faction that filled council chambers (see more in "The End of STR 2s?" Feb. 26). But that was far from the only thing on Council's plate.
The session began with three briefings, the first an update on the implementation of responses to the Zucker Report, which criticized Austin's code permit process as "cumbersome and conflicting." Rodney Gonzales, recently appointed director of the Development Services Department, told Council that staff has taken steps to improve the culture of customer service, including creating a web portal to assist small businesses through the development process, adding new staff, expanding customer wait areas, and automated permitting. Gonzales also signaled an expedited permitting process – reviewing and approving a permit application in a day – on the horizon. (Council Member Leslie Pool called it an "interesting approach" but cautioned against fast-tracking permits that deserve closer scrutiny.)
Brenda Branch, Austin Public Library director, followed with an update on the construction progress of the Central Library, scheduled to open on West Cesar Chavez Street in November. CM Don Zimmerman – who seldom misses a chance to disparage the library as unnecessary – called the project a "boondoggle," eventually provoking Pool to call him out for being "unnecessarily argumentative."
Finally, CM Greg Casar delivered a passionate presentation on the proposed Fair Chance Hiring ordinance, which he framed as a question of "racial justice." The ordinance would delay background checks until later in the hiring process, to help provide better opportunities for former offenders re-entering the community. While some of his colleagues applauded the ordinance, CM Ellen Troxclair expressed opposition to a "blanket city policy." (See "Getting Outside the Box," Oct. 9, 2015.)
Outside executive session – which among other items addressed legal issues related to the officer-involved shooting of teenager David Joseph – the rest of Council's lengthy work session focused on STR regs. Having closed the door on that topic (at least for the moment), what can we expect at today's regular meeting (Feb. 25)?
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo will introduce a resolution (Item 49) aimed at strengthening the city's anti-discrimination policies. An outpouring of complaints of discrimination, primarily from female employees, followed the notoriously sexist presentation last March by a visiting official – in theory intended to educate staff on how to deal with a majority female Council. The blundering presentation angered council members and embarrassed City Manager Marc Ott, and eventually generated evidence that inequality is pervasive in city departments (see "On the Record: Sexism and the City," Jan. 29).
In November, the city's Human Rights Commission offered a list of recommendations to combat the disparate treatment, and Tovo is hoping to turn the key ones into policy. Her resolution, co-sponsored by CMs Pool, Delia Garza, Ann Kitchen, and Mayor Steve Adler, directs the city manager to review the city's nondiscrimination employment policies and practices, and return to Council by May 1 with recommendations on how to improve employee protections. Austin AFSCME, the city employee union, is inviting workers who have experienced discrimination to show up to today's meeting at 4:30pm.
Other agenda highlights:
• Item 48: A resolution, sponsored by CM Ora Houston, initiating historic zoning for East Austin's Rosewood Courts, and supporting their nomination and inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1939, Rosewood Courts were the first African-American public housing project in the U.S.; last year the complex was denied historic zoning by the Historic Landmark Commission.
• Item 16: A resolution establishing this year's process for performance reviews of the city manager, city clerk, city auditor, and clerk of the municipal court. (The city manager's review could become contentious, as several CMs took aim at Ott on the 10-1 campaign trail.)
• Item 23: Adding 10 months to the interlocal agreement with UT for the U.S. Department of Justice grant-funded Restore Rundberg program. (The program has generally been credited with success in discouraging criminal activity and improving neighborhood quality of life.)
• Item 18: A resolution supporting an application by the Housing Authority of Travis County for an award of Low Income Housing tax credits from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help finance rehabilitation of two multi-family housing developments: Summit Oaks Apartments, located in District 10, and Alexander Oaks Apartments, located in District 8. (Although these projects are not in his district, Zimmerman has routinely objected to all low-income housing projects as "unsustainable and unaffordable.")
• Item 13: Authorize the city manager and other city officers to negotiate and execute all documents necessary to enter into a federal Housing and Urban Development loan to finance the family business loan program in an amount up to $3,000,000. (Possible objections from Zimmerman.)
• Item 43: Approve an ordinance amending city code related to council committees and council meeting procedures. Sponsored by Casar, the measure would make it easier to bring items directly to Council, bypassing the council committee procedure. It seeks to make meeting more time efficient, an ongoing struggle for Council.
• Item 55: This potential fiscal bombshell directs the city manager to develop a report with options for either reducing or completely eliminating the General Fund and Economic Development transfers from Austin Water, either gradually, or immediately in the next city budget.
See the full agenda at www.austintexas.gov/department/city-council/council-meetings.