Council Roundup: Late Nights, Longer Meetings
Now let’s find a way to get out of meetings earlier
As its first regular 2017 meeting comes to order Jan. 26, City Council is brooding once again over the possibility of shorter meetings – amidst the ongoing member correspondence over committees (too many and too repetitive), Mayor Steve Adler has also posted suggestions (austincouncilforum.org) for taking another crack at ending regular meetings before midnight (e.g., "Set hard end time of 11pm for all meetings except for continuation of public hearings"). Since the mayor's proposals include limiting public testimony in certain circumstances (not currently including, foreclosing the 10th repetition of the same argument), we can expect much hesitation and revision.
Council spent much of Tuesday afternoon pondering the committee question, but in any case, any shortening is unlikely to occur in time for today's meeting, where three dozen zoning cases await (among 92 Items in all). The mayor has been buzzing with new initiatives for some weeks, and the new Council – welcoming District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and D10's Alison Alter – looks energetic and ambitious for the new year. Judging only from Tuesday's work session, when members were eagerly dissecting seemingly consensus-designed proposals, shortening discussion is not on their front burner.
Without defeated incumbent Don Zimmerman on the dais – he's reportedly shifting his denunciations of affordable housing and social service spending over to talk radio (see "Zimmerman Is Radio's Voice of Reason") – the morning session should go a little smoother, and department heads should spend less time cooling their heels in the back of the council chamber, without waiting for the Zim to declare which contracts he wants to nitpick. But it appears there will be plenty of other gristle for Council to chew on. Here's some of what they've got working today:
• Housing to Spare: Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo proposes (Item 38) that staff research the amount of "market-affordable" housing still available in the city, and "evaluate the potential net loss or gain of market-affordable housing when calibrating new site development standards and when mapping changes in development entitlements." The work-session response of her colleagues was mixed, supporting the impulse to preserve affordable housing but also apprehensive of the devil hiding in the land-use details. Proposed amendments appeared to be accumulating.
• One Man's Music: The Economic Development Department has floated a proposal (Item 19) for a one-year pilot program to support the local music/bar industry by allowing a handful of Red River clubs later hours for music. MPT Tovo raised worries about impact on neighborhoods north that have periodically complained about noise traveling up Waller Creek to rattle windows; staff promised to monitor and control.
• Save That Shmata: Austin Resource Recovery has begun accepting "textiles" (old clothes, shoes, etc.) for curbside recycling via a revenue-generating contract with wholesale firm Simple Recycling – to backlash from local resale shops (nonprofits and others) who depend on donations for their supply chain. CM Ellen Troxclair proposes terminating the contract until ARR can negotiate a compromise with the affected orgs.
• Yes, and Yes Again: CM Leslie Pool (and four colleagues) propose commemorating Roe v. Wade via a resolution (Item 45) that would acknowledge "abortion [is] an essential component of health care, affirms that safe and legal abortions should be affordable and accessible for all who seek it, and supports the work of health care providers in Austin and Travis County facing threats and violence for providing safe and legal ... abortion care." CM Troxclair worried at work session that too many citizens might come to testify about a resolution that is largely "symbolic." The mayor suggested they'd cross that queue when they come to it (today).
• Very, Very Historic: MPT Tovo proposes (Item 46) abolishing the supermajority vote requirement for the Historic Landmark Commission to impose historic status on a building when the owner objects. Council seems hesitant – CM Delia Garza noted that overriding a property owner is a major imposition – continuing an ongoing divide on the role of "historic" designations in potentially diminishing new housing supply.
• Down and Dirty: The Parks and Recreation Department is accepting a $50,000 grant to help "connect children to nature" and support the Austin Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, including the right to climb trees, catch fish, and "play in the sand and mud" (Items 22 and 23). Chances to pass on consent look extremely good.
• About Those Contracts: There are indeed a few contracts that might incur morning scrutiny – Walnut Creek Wastewater Treatment (Items 11-14); Travis County interlocal with APD on central booking facility (Item 25); Cap Metro interlocal for a permanent Downtown rail station. (Department heads on call.)
Although among the mayor's meeting-shortening proposals is one to cut back on the "ceremonial" elements – e.g., music and proclamations – today's session includes a performance by the Barton Hills Elementary School Choir, and proclamations honoring KMFA and Integral Care. Sing loud, and stay healthy.