Council: What Do We Want? Money!

Who needs it? Fire stations, cops, and scooter companies.

Art by Jason Stout / Thinkstock

City Council returns today, May 24, with a manageable 71-Item agenda. Potential for an early night, and a few measures should drive the conversation. That will include discussions on temporary fire stations, the Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing plan, the petition to put CodeNEXT on the November ballot, and the Mexican American Cultural Center Master Plan.

Council spent a bulk of Tuesday's work session discussing a resolution sponsored by Delia Garza that would direct staff to fill gaps in the city's coverage map with temporary fire stations. Garza noted that some households in her Southeast district pay higher insurance premiums due to the city's tattered service map. Garza also echoed concerns of former city planner Pieter Sybesma, who confided late last year ("Where's the Fire?," Dec. 8, 2017) that the city was in danger of being sued by annexed jurisdictions for not providing comparable fire coverage.

The issue here is cost. Garza wants at least two temporary stations to plug the holes until she and her colleagues can come to an agreement on funding permanent ones. Temporary stations run about $1-2 million each, which raised concern from Alison Alter that Council might sabotage efforts to fund permanent stations, to which Garza pleaded for her colleague to find some common ground. "I'm sure if constituents in your districts were facing similar situations, you would appreciate that," she said.

More on fire stations next week, and be sure to keep an eye out Thursday for resolutions on the city's efforts to combat opioid abuse and mortgage assistance programs for low-income households, in addition to a handful of zoning cases.

Police Bargaining: Waiting Game

The city's Labor Relations Office continued meet-and-confer negotiations with the Austin Police Association this week. Before the two sides could meet on Wednesday, Interim Police Monitor Farah Muscadin updated Council on efforts to determine best oversight practices in other cities.

Muscadin has completed preliminary work examining cities across the nation, and will move on to the next phase of community engagement in the coming months. In June she'll return to Council with another report and a recommendation for site visits, which will help construct the city's new oversight process. Her office hopes to conduct site visits (or video conferences) in July, and issue a final recommendation in October. Council likely won't review a new bargaining agreement until early 2019.

Of course, reaching a new deal hinges on the union and city making nice, and things aren't currently looking great on that front. Though the two sides continue to meet, there's still clearly tension. Among the issues is money: On Tuesday, Mayor Steve Adler noted that officers' soft pay (incentive pay for certain statuses or duties), which Council temporarily extended in January, has since expired. He indicated that Council could move to extend again, but members didn't make any concrete plans for doing so.

APA President Ken Casaday said City Manager Spencer Cronk told him the decision to not renew soft pay again is in response to the union turning down the one-year interim offered to them in April, which would've restored soft pay while also reforming the department's sick pay policy. Casaday chided the city for "being punitive," pointing out that officers could lose anywhere from $500 to $1,200 a month in bonus pay. "The unfortunate thing is the officers that work the hardest are the ones that are affected the most."

Scooter Drama

No one expected the rollout of the emergency dockless mobility rules Council commissioned to be perfect. In fact, while voting, members took into account that the some rules would be put into place immediately so that various businesses could go about returning their fleets of scooters, bikes, or whatever they're peddling nowadays to Austin streets, and that those rules could then be revised as new issues appeared. The approach was intended to balance the interests of staff, transportation-thirsty citizens, and revenue-hungry entrepreneurs.

The new rules govern, among other things, safety, fleet sizes, parking requirements, data reporting, and sharing. It shouldn't be a surprise that the companies (while still largely planning to enter the market) have some gripes with the new process. Last week, Bird acknowledged appreciation for the city's swift action, but said "some of the rules will be difficult to implement." The company said it looks forward to helping the city modify the rules.

Dockless bike company Ofo concurred, saying the "permit rules make it nearly impossible for dockless mobility companies to operate outside of the Downtown area." And Spin rep Brian No said the company was "disheartened" by the decision to allow Bird and LimeBike (who prematurely crashed the city's dockless mobility pilot) to participate. "Basically they rewarded the two companies who ignored them and punished those like us who worked within the process," No said.

Then there's news that Lyft is reportedly in talks with the city of San Francisco about putting out its own line of scooters. It's not Lyft's first foray into dockless mobility; the rideshare titan got into the bikeshare game earlier this year after securing a partnership with the city of Baltimore.

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City Council, Delia Garza, Ken Casaday, Spencer Cronk, Austin Police Association, Steve Adler, scooters

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