Council Preview: Wildhorses, Salamanders, Elephants

Only 51 items on today's agenda – but plenty of potential land mines

City Council's workload continues to accelerate along with budget season, as they find themselves in public meetings almost every day. On Monday, they managed final approval of the Austin Energy rate agreement (above), then held an all-day work session Tuesday and another budget work session Wed­nesday. Today's regular meeting (Sept. 1) might look like a respite – only 51 items on the agenda – but it includes plenty of potential land mines for another marathon. The highlights:

• Mo' Budget: The first two (Items 44-45) of eight scheduled public hearings (no earlier than 4pm) include a reprise of last week's budget hearings (overall and property tax rate). Not sure whether everybody got in their two cents then, or if another set of public witnesses will turn up in hopes of earnestly avuncular advice from Council Member Don Zimmerman.

• Garage Band: This public hearings group (Items 46-49) includes one on garage/carport code exemptions, a proposed affordable housing project in District 3, compatibility waivers on South Congress, and a late hours permit on South Lamar – all candidates for intense local interest.

• Dear Landlord: This hearing (Item 50) considers the nascent "tenant relocation program" to assist renters abruptly dislocated by redevelopment or similar causes; it passed on first reading only two weeks ago, to move the process, but Council hasn't yet burrowed into the details or potential opposition.

• Just Imagine: Five categories of amendments have been proposed to the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan (Item 51), affecting Colony Park, the South Central Waterfront plan, Guadalupe Street, and Vision Zero. All offer possibilities for extended public hearing discussion.

• Workingman's Dues: The recently liberated Development Services Department is planning an "Expedited Permit" program to let developers pay actual processing costs to get to the front of the line (aka "pay to play"). Four CMs (Kitchen, Renteria, Casar, Pool) are sponsoring a resolution (Item 29) that would also require "Better Builder Standards" – basic worker protections (living wages, safety training, etc.) for any expedited permit. This could substantially expand the number of workers protected by these standards, and the Workers Defense Project is an enthusiastic supporter. It will be interesting to see if opposition coalesces around developers, contractors, or other commercial interests.

• Wrap Around This: Another proposal from Council (Item 28) would direct city staff to return with recommendations on helping low-income residents experiencing "mortgage fraud" from lenders failing to disclose risky terms such as "wraparound" secondary loan provisions in subprime mortgage loans. The pro­posal already has five sponsors, but will likely evoke some dais pontification, pro and con.

• Wild Horses: Council spent much of Tues­day morning discussing the Wildhorse Public Improvement District, proposed by Travis County but requiring city approval and cooperation, road construction, etc. The northeast area MUD/PUD/PID (Item 10) has been through various permutations for more than a decade. Council seemed inclined to agree with staff recommendation of approval, but had plenty of questions about the details and might well have more today.

• Content Ain't Free: There are plenty of listed contracts available for Council poking and prodding, among them an interlocal agreement with UT-Austin for DNA sequencing of Barton Springs salamanders (Item 25: a mere $13,000, but CM Zimmerman has already raised questions). More likely to raise eyebrows (or blood pressures) are three related contracts (Items 14-16) for computer hardware, software, and related tech support, via the state's Department of Information Resources, for a one-year total of $67 million. That's a lot of bitcoins.

Today's musical honoree will be the eclectic accordion stylings of AJ Castillo (www.ajcastillo.com), and the proclamations declare Blood Cancer Awareness Month (www.lls.org), the National Parks Service 100th anniversary (www.nps.gov), the Texas Campaign for the Environment (www.texasenvironment.org), and – hup, two, three, four – the Sept. 24 Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (www.fb.com/march4elephants).

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Austin Energy, Don Zimmerman, tenant relocation program, Imagine Austin, Workers Defense Project, Better Builder Standards, Wildhorse Public Improvement District, Barton Springs salamanders, AJ Castillo

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