Council: Come Get Loopy
Life on the dais, for quite a while
After an epic City Council meeting that began at 10am last Thursday and stretched until midway through the wee hours of Friday morning, Jimmy Flannigan posted an exhausted selfie to his new Snapchat account. The caption: "My face at 3am."
Flannigan wasn't the only one to notice the extended hours. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo referred to the meeting's length in half a dozen different passive-aggressive ways, and self-professed "morning person" Ora Houston drew chuckles when she admitted she was "getting really loopy."
A 17-hour meeting was likely inevitable considering the 90-Item agenda, which included provisions to permanently expand the extended live music hours on Red River, create eviction counseling for residential tenants, adopt the Corridor Program Office's implementation plan, and approve new judicial nominees to the Municipal Court. But a scheduling conflict for Alison Alter – she had to be off the dais from 5:30pm to 9:30pm for a personal engagement – made it such that the three big-ticket items had to be put off until after she could get back. So, from most people's bedtime until the clock struck 3am, weary members considered scooter regulations, changes to the Planning Commission membership requirements, and the petition to put CodeNEXT to a public vote.
After spending much of last Tuesday's work session crying over spilled milk, Council did approve a measure to make dockless mobility – for now, scooters and bikes – legal in the city right of way and declare an emergency for getting rules in place to govern their use. Transportation Director Robert Spillar appeared briefly to push back on the timeline, but Mayor Steve Adler directed him to work as quickly as possible to get the rules in place with the understanding that they could be tweaked later on. "My sense is that's the will of the council," said the mayor. Spillar thanked him for the "advice" and promised he'd do his best.
As one could predict, sorting through the Planning Commission mess made for a couple of arduous hours. Leslie Pool recently took up the charge of getting Council to remedy its current violation of a City Charter rule governing how many people connected to development can sit on the commission at one time. Local attorney Fred Lewis has filed a number of complaints to this effect, first in 2015 (to try to force Council to act before CodeNEXT arrived in earnest), and most recently in March. Bleary-eyed members postponed discussion until May 10, but it appears they will have to create a process for removing commissioners if they want to address the issue. Currently, rules suggest commissioners are entitled to serve out their term once appointed.
The other major development item Council addressed was the citizen-initiated ordinance to put wheels in motion for CodeNEXT to appear on the November ballot. Lewis had his hand in this one, as author of the proposal, which a faction of Council believes violates both state law and the City Charter. Lewis wasn't present when Council finally took it up, but he told me afterward that Council's argument is frivolous. "We got here because no one really listened" to concerns voiced throughout the process, he said. Residents deserve an up or down vote.
Corridors: Who Gets What, When?
Last week I noted how Vision Zero ATX advocates were questioning the Corridor Program Office's prioritization matrix for implementing the Corridor Improvement Projects that the city is paying for as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond ("Council: I Get Around," April 27). They say the matrix is biased toward larger, longer projects vs. quick fixes that would have a larger community impact. The Corridor Program Office dismissed those concerns when questioned by Council last Tuesday, reconfirming faith in their methodology.
Council members had their own problems with the prioritization matrix. Ann Kitchen, in particular, tried to alter the resolution's language to give the office flexibility to analyze transit improvements on South Lamar, pointing out that focusing energy on one part of South Lamar instead of another would make more sense for her constituents. Adler suggested that there may be a "glitch" in the current matrix when it comes to multimodal projects. "I understand you're trying to get geographic distribution, but maybe the need is great enough to focus on where we really have the greatest opportunities," he told staff. Council ultimately passed the plan, with Kitchen's amendments, last Thursday.
ECHO: Is This Thing On?
Before Thursday's meeting, Adler and Tovo joined Ending Community Homelessness Coalition Executive Director Ann Howard at a press conference to announce the results of this year's Point in Time Count ("Canvassing the City," Feb. 2). It wasn't good news: This year's volunteers found 5% more people sleeping unsheltered on city streets. The number of people sleeping in Austin shelters was down 6%, but, as Adler noted, "that's not all good news. ... A lot of that decrease is the result of capacity reductions in the facilities that we have available in this community."
Later that day, Council approved ECHO's Action Plan to End Homelessness, which combines outreach, services, and partnerships with the private sector to tackle the problem from all angles. During public testimony, however, people – including those currently homeless – pleaded with Council to repeal city ordinances against panhandling, camping, and sitting in parts of Downtown. Steven Potter, a writer and artist who has previously been ticketed for No Sit/No Lie, testified as a member of Ground Floor Theatre, a group of people experiencing homelessness and their allies.
"Actively punishing someone for sleeping in public is socially wrong, morally wrong, a waste of time, money, and resources," he said. "To put that another way, because I didn't have a place to sleep, I got a ticket. And when I applied to get an apartment, I was denied that apartment because I got a ticket for having no place to sleep."
Not a peep from Council on when or if they'll address the issue ....
Police Talks Ongoing
The Austin Police Association met with the city's Labor Relations team on Monday, April 30, to continue contract negotiations. The deadline on an interim deal that would've netted the city some savings on the sick leave payout, and officers a 1.25% lump sum pay increase has passed, so personnel will continue to work without those tweaks as talks continue. The city asked for another change to the 180-day rule that limits when the chief can punish officers for noncriminal violations on the job; they want 365 days from the point of discovery, something APA President Ken Casaday indicated union membership wouldn't accept. Despite that, Casaday appeared in good spirits about the state of the talks that afternoon, expressing confidence the two sides will return to Council with a product before long.