Council: Back to Work!
Police, Fire, Water top a slim agenda post-election, pre-Thanksgiving
City Council returns after election week to face a slim agenda today (Thursday, Nov. 15) that nevertheless includes several marquee items. Notably, the proposed new labor contract between the city and the Austin Police Association is expected to sail through, nearly a year after Council rejected the previous attempt (see "Community, Policing," Nov. 16). Austin will also greet its presumptive new fire chief, Joel Baker, who retired as chief of Atlanta Fire Rescue in February after a three-decade career there. Baker's open-door mentality appears to be helping him gel early with the Austin Firefighters Association, which clashed numerous times with the old regime of departed chief Rhoda Mae Kerr.
Members will also consider a $60 million deal with Austin-based JE Dunn Construction to begin design of five new fire stations to fill in gaps in our current coverage map. The Public Works Department hopes to have stations at Moore's Crossing (District 2), Travis Country (D8), Goodnight Ranch (D2), Loop 360/Davenport (D10) and Canyon Creek (D6) completed by the summer of 2023. It's an ambitious timeline, but those areas' current lack of fire coverage both puts lives at risk and exposes the city to legal peril.
Ellen Troxclair's Item 41 is a bit of a head-scratcher. It's a resolution expressing support for the after-action report Austin Water is already conducting on the recent flood event that led to a citywide boil-water notice. It orders the city manager to come back with a preliminary report and briefing by Dec. 11, which is not weird on its face. But if you consider that AW is already working on such a report, and gave Council a preview at its Tuesday work session, the forthcoming city manager report feels redundant. Then again, nobody asked me.
Today in Scooting ...
As of last week, the city formally adopted its final set of rules for the dockless mobility industry, ending the months-long process that several errant dockless companies jump-started this spring. The Austin Transportation Department is working to plan dismount zones and formalize safety requirements. That'll take the form of a safe-riding ordinance Council should see early next year.
A big part of the regulation process is data tracking, including number of trips and high-usage areas. It's not surprising that Downtown and West Campus see the most dockless travel – 245,000 and 135,000 trips from July to September, respectively. That makes up 42% of all trips in the entire city (not all of which is in dockless service areas). The Council Mobility Committee asked staff if it could provide any insight into how dockless correlates with rideshare trips, but the state is responsible for the latter now, and the Texas Department of Transportation doesn't keep rideshare trip data.
The city's Law Department is working on a memo addressing enforcement measures. Earlier this week, the Mayor's Committee for People With Disabilities heard a presentation on the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and raised concerns about dockless enforcement specifically. Staff acknowledged there's a need for improvement, mostly because of a lack of education. "We are working on some rules and some recommendations for Council to consider next year about how to make it more clear where you should and should not be on the sidewalk on scooters or bicycles," said ATD's Annick Beaudet.