New City Council, New Battles
10-1 version 1.5 stares down the coming year at City Hall
It is not heavy agenda time for the new, 2017 City Council – the next regularly scheduled, full business meeting won't occur until Jan. 26 – but tomorrow's special-called meeting (Jan. 6) delivers our first look at the latest dais incarnation. There's not much to be done – which is good, because making certain everybody will arrive at City Hall promptly at 6pm on a Friday night is plenty enough business.
Council chambers will host the investiture of all the new-term members, including newbies Jimmy Flannigan (District 6) and Alison Alter (D10), along with re-elected members Delia Garza, Greg Casar, and Leslie Pool. The other ceremonial procedure will be the election by the new Council of its mayor pro tem, normally the longest serving member, which should likely give the nod, once again, to incumbent MPT Kathie Tovo. Like this event, the position is mostly ceremonial – she presides over Council meetings when the mayor is absent – but over the last two years, with a rookie Council, Tovo has also functioned as an elder stateswoman, reminding her colleagues (occasionally in vain) when they're about to wander into a procedural or policy wilderness.
By now, the incumbent 10-1 CMs feel weathered enough to ride the dais without training wheels, so we're about to learn where the Council wants to focus its 2017 energies. There are obvious carry-overs from last year: notably, the Austin Oaks planned unit development (passed on first reading in December) will be getting more thorough scrutiny, and this month marks the formal kickoff of more than a year's process to establish a new Land Use Code: the first draft of CodeNEXT is expected to be released in late January, and Council, various commissions, and the public will be working it over throughout the year, with public hearings beginning in the fall.
Council agendas are not yet available, but Mayor Steve Adler signaled his initial priorities late last month, with a couple of postings to the Council message board (austincouncilforum.org). He's drafted a resolution intending to move forward on Council's previously approved Music and Creative Ecosystem initiative, and a much lengthier brainstorming effort on various interconnected Downtown issues – homelessness and the Seventh Street ARCH, the Waller Creek area rejuvenation, the proposed Convention Center expansion, the Mexican American Cultural Center master plan, the "Innovation Zone" emanating around the new Dell Medical School, I-35 planning and Downtown mobility generally – all at least geographically linked to issues affecting the local music industry. The mayor's memo ("Possible solutions to the downtown puzzle") is more think piece than policy proposal – though he does suggest various tax increment ways of financing possible solutions – but it puts his Council colleagues on notice that he intends to "Go Big" on Downtown solutions in the coming year.
Like virtually everyone else in America, Council members are wondering what's in store from the Donald Trump regime, with city governments on the front line of both consequences and resistance. One aspect will be the city's official approach to the 85th Legislature, where multiple bills have already been filed to limit municipal authority, funding, and control of local issues.
There's also been much speculation about how quickly Trump's anti-immigrant agenda will move forward, and initial steps from city officials to prepare. Last week, Cities for Action (www.citiesforaction.us) – a coalition of more than 100 mayors and municipal leaders committed to the defense of immigrants and of "stronger cities through immigration action" – released a letter to President Barack Obama, congratulating him for ending the "NSEER" registration program that singled out immigrants primarily from Muslim countries, and requesting two additional actions to protect immigrants: 1) accelerating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and 2) reinforcing the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for immigrants fleeing war or emergency conditions.
Mayor Adler is among the Cities for Action members, and added his voice (and a citation of the Declaration of Independence) to the 31-signatory mayoral chorus: "As Mayor of Austin – as well as a former national board member of the Anti-Defamation League – I am proud that America cannot and will not use its power to persecute people based on their religion. In fact, I always thought that truth was self-evident."
Also brewing over the next month will be public actions responding to Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. Council Member Greg Casar's office has been involved in the planning of the local "One Resistance" rally, which will meet at 5pm at Auditorium Shores and join a public march to the Capitol. (The Facebook event page is "One Resistance.") We'll be hearing more about that over the next few weeks.