Council: Spring Has Sprung

A light agenda promises an early farewell

Following today's meeting (March 8), City Council officially enters the spring festival season (aka SXSW), meaning there won't be another regular Council meeting until March 22. This week it's been a full plate: Tuesday work session, Wednesday budget work session, and then back to the dais this morning.

Last week's agenda was a mere 44 Items; this week the diminution continues with only 36, so another late afternoon adjournment seems possible. The headline discussion would presumably be Item 4, formal adoption of Council's work-in-progress: the "Austin Strategic Direction 2023 Plan," which concerns "strategic outcomes related to economic opportunity and affordability, mobility, safety, health and environment, culture and lifelong learning, and government that works for all." As described last week ("Buckets Before Vend­ors," March 2), the Strategic Plan, the product of several Coun­cil strategy workshops, is intended to allow any particular policy proposal – and especially budget allocations – to be tested against the designated outcomes, as expressed in various related metrics. Approval today appears pre-ordained, but whether it will mean much in the nuts-and-bolts Council decisions going forward ... is very much an open question.

Equally aspirational is Item 5, a $400,000 consultant contract to draft a "parks and recreation long range plan." Considering Council's response earlier this year to PARD's own Aquatic Master Plan – thanks for the report, and we'll take it under advisement – the notion that a parks-and-rec plan will enjoy a better fate, without a major infusion of funding (say, $400,000 for starters), seems like wishful if not delusional thinking.

Item 35, a public hearing on proposed Austin Water rates, might gather substantial testimony and discussion for the unusual reason that the proposal is to lower rates, through 2020. The backup says the utility has recovered from the drought years and is in position to absorb from reserves a substantial hit ($19 million) in reduced revenue. Maybe we can all drink Champagne, instead ...

There's the usual run of zoning cases that might raise a bit of localized fuss, but little else looks particularly contentious.

Item 15 is the second reading of an ordinance granting a non-emergency medical transfer franchise to Allegiance Mob­ile Health – over the objections of two competitors – but the public hearing is closed, and first reading was unanimous.

Item 10 is a resolution directing city staff to prepare a policy "relating to the distribution of affordable housing units," that would in theory establish a "right of return" to families displaced by gentrification – but any arguments over that will likely wait until staff returns with some sort of concrete proposal.

Council's Judicial Committee is presenting Item 36, a slate of proposed appointees for municipal court judges – that could raise some hackles, as some current judges appear on the way out, and there may be backlash at the lecterns.

Otherwise, somebody wants to put a Starbucks at 1200 Barton Springs Road (at Lamar), in the Bouldin Creek floodplain (Item 32), and the Watershed Protection Department recommends the necessary waiver, perhaps on the theory that a flooded Starbucks would not be high on the list of urban emergencies. And Fado's Irish Pub wants to close down its block of West Fourth on March 17, for the annual St. Patrick's Day Festival – with fees and a percentage to the city, so raise a glass of Guinness ...

No proclamations, but the musical honoree is country crooner Aaron McDonnell – definitely worth waiting beyond any early adjournment.

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