Council: Mobile Homes and Climate Change

Council revisits tenant relocation aid; Zimmerman still hates science

Pio Renteria: working to protect low-income neighborhoods (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Last Thursday, April 21, City Council cleared its 40-Item agenda before 5pm: Council members agreed to include mobile home residents in a proposed relocation assistance program; provided funds to help clear APD's backlog of rape kits; passed through a handful of water-related measures, and sat through the latest rant from resident science skeptic Don Zimmerman.

Referred from the Housing and Com­munity Development Committee, Item 35 directs the city manager to include mobile home residents in the Tenant Relocation Program, a proposed plan that asks developers to assist the often vulnerable and low-income residents of multifamily structures they displace by new projects. Co-sponsor CM Pio Renteria pointed to Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park, where more than 50 households are on the verge of being pushed out to make way for the proposed Lenox Oaks apartment complex (the public hearing on that rezoning was postponed until May 12). Renteria's office has monitored negotiations between the developer and tenants; the CM argues tenants would greatly benefit from city-backed protection. "There are some families in there that are paying right now for a lease to own, these two- and three-bedroom mobile homes, and they're in such dire conditions that they will never be able to move them. So we need to really focus on helping these families," he said. "I would hate to ever see that we're not going to help these families and make them homeless. We just passed a resolution about compassion."

But somehow, Zimmerman found a way to disagree with the plan, saying the lack of a fiscal note implies "unlimited" spending. Co-sponsor CM Greg Casar responded that the item is simply a way to include mobile home residents in the larger ordinance that is still being worked on. In defense of his "no" vote, Zimmerman said, "I wanted to express some compassion for the people who are struggling to pay their taxes and water bills and electric bills. When we talk about compassion, it seems to be limited to those who are potentially slated to receive additional benefits, and I guess I'm resentful of that because I think about having some compassion on the taxpayers who are forced to pay even more higher taxes and fees to pay the additional subsidies."

CM Sheri Gallo voiced concerns of her own, saying she "just can't support the addition of that community at this point because they've not been included in the stakeholder process." CM Ora Houston explained that when Council passed the initial resolution in November, they didn't realize how dire the situation was for mobile home residents. In the end, CMs decided staff would start up a new stakeholder process that includes mobile home residents. That means the relocation program could come back before Council in two parts (one for apartment dwellers, the other for mobile home residents). The Item passed 8-1-1, with Mayor Steve Adler off the dais, Zimmerman against, and Gallo abstaining.

One day shy of Earth Day, Zimmerman renewed his charge against climate change science. Council passed an item authorizing a $116,000 contract with a research group led by Dr. Katharine Hay­hoe, a respected Texas Tech University climate scientist, to evaluate how climate change impacts the city's water. Zimmerman criticized Hayhoe last April when she delivered a climate change presentation before Council, angrily informing her that the "the government [is] in charge of climate." (An interesting sidenote offered by CM Leslie Pool: Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who tries to connect with the very people who most doubt her research.) He again attacked Hayhoe on Thurs­day: "She referred us to ... a website dedicated to slandering and attacking world-class scientists who disagree with the political agenda of man-made global warming .... It speaks very poorly to somebody's professional credibility to refer me to a website that attacks world-class scientists with political activists," said Zimmerman. The Council message board had indicated that he would bring up an amendment proposing to give half of the funds to "a climate scientist who has expertise in evaluating the accuracy of climate predictions," such as climate change skeptics Dr. Richard Lindzen or Dr. John Christy. That didn't happen, but Zimmer­man did try and fail to delay the Item until May 19. "We have some real issues with flooding in our community and in central Texas. And if there is even one small piece of this study that can help us try to make better plans and mitigate, we need to get started on it, and we need to do it with all due haste," said Pool.

The cutest moment of the day came when Gallo entered council chambers cradling a puppy. While we'd like to think the pup was meant to allay the tension at the dais, Gallo was actually trying to promote Austin pet adoption, as May marks Austin Pet Month. In other actions, Council:

• Authorized a roughly $1.2 million contract with Sorenson Forensics to help APD with its sexual assault backlog elimination program.

• Directed the city manager to explore the feasibility and cost in the FY 2016-17 budget process of extending Meadow Lake Blvd., which would help bring greater connectivity to a Habitat for Humanity affordable housing project in Southeast Austin.

• Accepted $100,000 from U.S. Department of Transportation as one of seven finalists of the Smart City Challenge.

• Authorized agreements with the Austin Fire Department and the University of North Texas to research the use of robotics in emergencies and with UT-Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering for aerial robotics (drone) research in support of fire and water search and rescue.

• Approved a $309,000 contract with Aleon Properties Inc. for graffiti removal services.

• Approved a one-year $350,000 contract with Capital IDEA to assist underemployed adults in workforce development services.

• Voted to apply for $80.2 million in loans from the Texas Water Development Board to implement its smart meter program for Austin Water customers, and also apply for an $87 million loan for multiple capital improvement projects associated with AW's two wastewater treatment plants and reclaimed water system.

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City Council, Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park, Pio Renteria, Don Zimmerman, APD

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