Council: City Cyclone
Council’s wild week, if they can get through it
Batten down the hatches. There's a tornado of activity coming to City Hall today. More than three hours into City Council's work session on Tuesday, members were still struggling to free themselves from a cyclical discussion about amendments to CodeNEXT, and their implication on the city's housing goals. While it's not unusual for talk of the zoning rewrite to spark extensive (and conflicted) discussion, in Tuesday's case members left the scheduled discussion having accomplished very little; fortunately, they had one more briefing scheduled for Wednesday. See Sarah Marloff's report, "CodeNEXT: Runnin' Scared," for more from CodeNEXT central.
After those talks wrapped up on Tuesday (and following a lengthy executive session), members finally began work on their regular weekly dealings. Thursday's agenda includes a turbulent 113 Items, including a vote (on consent) to appoint Brian Manley as permanent chief of the Austin Police Department (see "Brian Manley: “Austin’s Next Police Chief,” June 15) that'll likely pass unconstested, and a vote to restore much of the special pay items APD officers lost when the last meet-and-confer agreement expired.
Expect that to draw the ire of city activists. The Austin Justice Coalition sent out a civic engagement primer on Tuesday, urging members to oppose the measure and reminding that Council already temporarily extended the perks until the city's Labor Relations Office and Austin Police Association could come to an interim agreement, which the union promptly rejected. "Now," said the AJC, "they are going through Council to try and have these pay perks returned to them until a new contract is agreed, effectively killing the negotiation power of the city and ensuring that any new deal must start with these stipends as-is."
Another measure supported by the AJC is Greg Casar's resolution directing the city manager to reduce the racial disparities in APD's discretionary arrests. Data from last year showed that black Austinites face discretionary arrests – meaning police could choose to ticket someone and then let them go, but ultimately choose to put the offending individual under arrest – at a significantly higher rate than white and Latino residents, and that black and Latino residents comprise 75% of APD arrests for driving with an invalid license, an outrageous number when one considers that those groups account for less than half of the city's population.
Elsewhere, there is a trio of Items (12, 19, 20) relating to the construction of temporary (and eventually, hopefully maybe permanent) fire stations to fill in the holes in the city's service map. Given the drama-filled state of the last couple of Council discussions on this topic, it's reasonable to wonder whether the elbows will get thrown again. There may also be discussion surrounding Item 16, which tweaks the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services regulations that deal with non-emergency medical transfer service providers. And expect Pio Renteria to raise a little hell on Item 10, a $309,448 construction contract for intersection improvements at East Seventh and Chicon and Calles streets that wouldn't ordinarily be controversial if not for the fact that the contractor involved is Aaron Concrete Contractors LP, whose owner, Aaron Cabaza, made headlines at a Commissioners Court meeting last month when he used a racial slur to describe the Mexican immigrants he likes to hire for his jobs. Renteria opposed the city entering into agreement with Cabaza's company last month, and we expect him to stick to his principles and oppose this one, too.
Getting through all that will leave the dais with just three more thorny discussions, on the creation of a new tourism commission; Ellen Troxclair's proposed extension of the homestead exemption from 8% to 10% (sounds nice on the surface, but is it actually a good thing?); and an updated anti-lobbying ordinance. Expect lots of questions about the makeup of this potential tourism commission, which could immediately butt heads with Visit Austin, the marketing wing of the Convention Center that's already responsible for promoting tourism within the city, and its board of directors, which may feel as if Council's proposed commission is moving in on its directorial territory.
This, of course, is all going on as Council sprints (or maybe dribbles) its way toward a Major League Soccer-imposed deadline at the end of the month on what to do with McKalla Place, and whether it'll get turned into a soccer stadium or if mixed-use developments with affordable housing will win the day. There are currently way too many balls in play on that one, and Council isn't expected to take the issue up at a regular meeting until June 28. See Austin Sanders' "Soccer in Austin?" June 15, for more.
Exhausted yet? Here's a bit of respite: Item 21 called for Council to consider a resolution to renew City Manager Spencer Cronk's temporary $4,500 per month housing allowance for another six months, through the end of February 2019. Cronk evidently had the same problems as many residents securing housing in Boomtown, Texas, but on Monday he wrote to the mayor and said that wouldn't be necessary. Maybe some nice council member had a granny flat to rent him.