Council: Back to the Dais
Short month, long agendas
City Council returns to formal public deliberations this week, after a lengthy holiday hiatus, and is scheduled to meet for regular sessions only twice in February – today (Feb. 1, following Tuesday's work session) and Feb. 15. That's at least in part because they're beginning budget work sessions earlier than ever before (all day Feb. 7 and Feb. 21). Mayor Steve Adler said in January that Council is determined to reinvent the budget process as relentlessly as necessary to get it right – but they may come to regret that foresight this month, as today's agenda (with late addenda) has grown to 126 Items, and they're already knee-deep in public controversy over the Feb. 15 agenda.
The headline Items at that time were to be Council Member Ann Kitchen's resolution to remove city parkland from consideration for a professional soccer venue, and CM Greg Casar's proposal for mandatory employee sick leave for local businesses. With the Columbus Crew owners having officially dropped their interest in Butler Shores, the most contentious site, Kitchen said she would withdraw her resolution. (Note: The argument isn't concluded – Guerrero Park is one of the sites still under consideration, and both CM Pio Renteria and CM Ora Houston have questioned the wisdom of ruling out all parkland as a matter of course; see below.)
So that debate is apparently for another day; it remains to be seen whether the paid sick days proposal – in development over the last several months – will suffer the same fate next week. On the Council message board, Casar posted related documents and the note, "This ordinance is the culmination of one of the most thorough and demanding processes I have been in." That assertion became more relevant earlier this week when the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce released a statement expressing "contingent opposition" to the ordinance and asking for more research and at least a 90-day delay. "The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is opposed to this ordinance," the statement reads, "if the Council does not contract for an appropriate independent [economic impact] study and does not provide the public 90 days to give feedback before they take a vote."
Casar told the Austin Monitor that he still expects a vote to take place Feb. 15, a date he said has been public in the stakeholder discussions since Labor Day. But the Chamber's opposition may carry some weight with others on the dais, and the Council's persistent habit of delay (as well as its heavy February agendas) might well mean they'll take a sick day on the Feb. 15 vote.
Other Items for Feb. 1
Consider this a taste of the very lengthy menu, which includes plenty of zoning cases, and even Circuit of the Americas requests for state special event funds. If the Huston-Tillotson University Concert Choir – the evening musical honoree – is taking requests, "How Long, O Lord?" will likely be a popular choice.
• Cronk Arrives: Formal appointment of new City Manager Spencer Cronk (Item 66), though he may blanch when he sees this year's projected budget numbers.
• Special Events: The repeatedly postponed, third-reading approval of new rules governing special events and high-capacity venues – after yet another round of staff and stakeholder tweaks, returns as Item 14. Will it make the cut this time?
• Desperate for Housing: Items 15-41 concern city approval of applications for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (along with related administrative resolutions) to be used for multifamily projects around town.
• Public Safety Implosion: The morning briefing features an update on public safety negotiations (to be resumed) – the subject of a tense exchange at Tuesday's work session, with some CMs (Jimmy Flannigan, Alison Alter) accusing staff of insufficient collaboration with Council on the contract process.
• More Champions: Item 12 resumes the Champion Tract 3 debate (public hearing closed, dais only); Item 104 addresses a zoning change for Tract 1C.
• Paul Robbins on Gas: Item 122 of now 125 is a public hearing on energy gadfly Robbins' complaint concerning the Texas Gas Service "Conservation Adjustment Clause" rates (covering Austin and the region). Robbins is targeting selected "conservation" programs (e.g., residential equipment rebates, regardless of homeowner income) that he says cost more to the utility (and ratepayers) than they save in energy costs – to the tune of $1.2 million (i.e., five bucks a customer).