Council: Back in the Groove

Budget done, Council trudges on

Concerns over potential funding cuts brought more than usual out to Monday's Arts Commission meeting. See "City Arts Funding Tempest" for more. (Photo by John Anderson)

City Council heard the first briefing on UT's long-awaited gentrification study at its work session on Tuesday. Like Ann Kitchen, we're excited to get digging into the details. For now: Anyone alive in Austin at this point knows how many of the city's neighborhoods have been ravaged by displacement, but this study is remarkable in that it maps the phenomenon out in concrete terms. The academics also offered a list of strategies they believe Council should whittle down in order to create a system that addresses displacement in ways that best work locally.

But there are some key issues to consider going forward. After studying centralized cases in Portland, Washington, D.C., and Austin's own Guadalupe neighborhood, the researchers found that easing the effects of gentrification will require a combination of neighborhood-specific efforts. Resi­dents in those neighborhoods will need to maintain a strong presence throughout those efforts, which the report reminds can take as long as 20 years in some cases. And it's best to act as early as possible and target resources where they can still have an impact. The bottom line is whatever strategies are deployed – land trusts, fees-in-lieu, right of return standards – it'll take "significant will and political resources" to affect real change. There is no quick fix.

After the briefing, Mayor Steve Adler thanked the UT team, noting that the report comes at a time when a confluence of gentrification remedies are making the rounds at City Hall. The Anti-Displacement Task Force, formed earlier this year, is working on its own report, due before Council soon. The city is also working on aspects of the People's Plan (see Sarah Marloff's "As Long As There's a Plan," Sept. 21), including a right of return program that would give housing preference to those with roots in particular neighborhoods. Staff's effort to wrangle all those varying (and sometimes redundant) recommendations remains ongoing.

Who's Scootin' Who?

Not since the arrival of Uber and Lyft has the city been so divided over a simple mode of transport. But boy are people using 'em. According to a Tuesday morning briefing on the city's dockless mobility pilot program, the city has seen 3,271 scooters (along with 1,100 dockless bikes) on its roads since the service kicked off this summer. In July alone, the city tracked 129,200 scooter trips, amounting to a total of 155,400 miles. While it's easy to see how popular the scooters are, concerns have been raised about safety, and there are numbers for that, too. In five months of service, there have been 28 scooter crashes in Austin. That equates to a crash every five days, which is, like, not all that much. There were 4,392 motor vehicle crashes during that same period of time.

So, safer than cars, but there have been some problems, particularly from scooters creating sidewalk obstructions that make it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate city streets. Staff indicated that the program's street team will emphasize relevant rules for users who may not have considered the implications of their dismounting habits.

Council's Mobility Committee is scheduled to receive a more in-depth briefing on the program at its Oct. 11 meeting. Staff hope to have a final set of rules in place by January.

On Your Arts

Council hasn't caught hell for this just yet, but Monday night's Arts Commission meeting hinted that a nasty storm is brewing over how some groups, particularly well-established ones that still struggle to keep the lights on, will have their funding cut, in some cases tens of thousands of dollars. The packed crowd at Monday's meeting railed against what they see as an outdated funding matrix and a broken peer review process. Ultimately, it's a problem of too many qualifying organizations and not enough money to go around. That seems like a job for Council, but commissioners reconvened a working group to look at the problem. Arts Editor Robert Faires has the full rundown.

Looking Ahead ...

Council's back at it today, Thursday, Sept. 20, with 104 Items on the agenda. That includes appointments to the Civil Service Commission, discussions on the possibility of legal representation for the Board of Adjustment, the renaming of Manchaca Road (to Menchaca, José Antonio's actual last name), and, as usual, a healthy slate of zoning cases.

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City Council, Steve Adler, scooters, dockless mobility, Arts Commission

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