Council: Code Blue
Lamentations on land use
There's no regular City Council meeting this week – the next is June 8 – although on Wednesday afternoon, May 31, Council embarked on a series of four work sessions focusing on CodeNEXT, as the official agenda puts it: "Envision Tomorrow CodeNEXT analysis, procedural changes proposed by draft code, timeline for CodeNEXT adoption and implementation, and process for edits and revisions to draft code and maps." All of these elements have come up in varying degrees with council members and the public, with the timeline catching increasing scrutiny. (See "Public Notice: The Greatest Show on Access," May 26.) The other Wednesday afternoon work sessions are scheduled for June 7, June 14, and June 21, with this week's meeting having set the general agenda. (Mayor Steve Adler referred to these as "voluntary" work sessions, although most council members are, like most of us, hoping for mutual illumination.)
More specifically, the "process for edits" has been a growing concern of Codeheads, as the comments and suggestions, online and off, have been flying thick and fast, and folks are worried that crucial improvements will get lost in translation, as the online process appears better at receiving suggestions than at implementing them. That's led to increasing pressure for a longer timetable, beyond the "early 2018" aspiration in the initial rollout. "It's looking like a major schedule reboot is in order," wrote Nick Barbaro last week, a sentiment echoed in an Austin Neighborhoods Council plea to the mayor. "Please Extend CodeNEXT Deadlines for Input!" the ANC executive committee wrote, noting the scale of the Code and its myriad details.
"I want to assure you that June 6 and July 7 are merely the initial deadlines for feedback on the first drafts of both the code and the map," responded the mayor on Council's online message board, "and not final deadlines for overall public input and comments. Would you please let everyone know in case they're mistakenly believing that their opportunity for input will shortly be cut off?"
Beyond that, the mayor appeared to kick the CodeCAN farther down the road: "We have to get CodeNEXT right. ... If, at the time of Council considerations a year from now, there are still major problems and glaring issues, then we must take the time to get it right." A year from now is no longer "early 2018." So we can all look forward to many more months of public head-banging.
The June 8 draft agenda, at 61 Items, is already substantial, but likely incomplete. A few anticipations:
• Room for Art? At its May 18 meeting, Council wasn't quite ready to approve the Art Space Assistance Program, with some disappointment over the apparently limited funding available (for venue support for some nonprofit arts groups) from the Economic Development Department, and uncertainty about the selection process. Presumably, some of those questions will be answered by next week.
• Paint Me a Manager: Council has appointed a City Manager Search Advisory Task Force to devise a "profile" of a possible permanent successor to Marc Ott; some advocates want a stronger public role in the actual selection of candidates. The work plan to be proposed is confined to public outreach and a profile; expect pushback.
• Forest and Trees: Two major ($83.5 million) contracts for citywide tree-trimming services were postponed after objections from competitors and minority advocates that the process was unfair to smaller firms and insufficiently inclusive. Staff is expected to respond this week to the issues raised by critics.
• Historic Voting: Of several scheduled public hearings, one to consider whether Historic Landmark Commission voting to designate historic landmark status – over objections by a property owner – from a two-thirds requirement to a simple majority, might run into substantial opposition.
On May 18, Council did approve revisions of its own procedures intended to shorten meetings and reinforce advance planning – but the 13-day agenda posting has not yet taken effect, so expect more agenda tomorrow (June 2). We'll eventually see when that other shoe drops.