Council Plows Through Marathon Agenda
They've got 191 Items to go before decamping for summer break
On Wednesday (June 19), as we go to press, City Council has just begun to slog through a two-day, 191-item agenda aiming to take care of as much outstanding business as possible before decamping the dais for the customary summer break. Some of the highest profile items on Council's to-do list, postponed from previous sessions, will not be taken up until the regular Thursday meeting, June 20, including:
• The "Mistake on the Lake": Item 87 repeals the 1986 ordinance that codified the exemption from city property taxes enjoyed by 400 Lake Austin parcels, dating back to their annexation in 1891 to protect upstream water quality on the then-undammed Colorado River. Those properties are today worth more than $682 million, which at current rates would deliver $3 million in new tax revenue into the city general fund; Item 89 directs the city manager to report back, as soon as those taxes are collected, on how they can be spent on homelessness services, child care support, and early childhood education. Council Member Greg Casar has taken the lead on this issue, but the 400 properties are in CM Alison Alter's district, and she's requested the items be taken up early in Thursday's meeting.
• No Sit/No Lie, Revisited: Casar is also the driving force behind Items 98 and 184, which would repeal, amend, and replace current city ordinances that criminalize behaviors of homelessness – camping, panhandling, and sitting in the street. Discussion at Council earlier this month saw Casar and Mayor Steve Adler working to thread the needle between Downtown and public safety stakeholders who oppose any change to the existing rules, and justice activists who want what they see as unconstitutional laws completely repealed. The draft ordinance in Item 185 attempts to preserve the ability of police to charge those who are aggressive, obstructing the rights of way, or creating a hazard to themselves or others. Casar has asked that these items be taken up Thursday evening; he and CM Natasha Harper-Madison are taking part in a Homes Not Handcuffs rally at City Hall at 6pm.
• More Shelter Needed: Also related to the city's many efforts to address what Council has made its No. 1 priority, Items 177-179 authorize the city to acquire the building at 1112 E. Ben White for $8.6 million to develop the South Austin Housing Center, a second housing-focused city-owned shelter to relieve the overburdened Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Though the need for more shelters has been discussed frequently at Council, this particular deal has moved rather fast and, as such things do, sparked some concern. Like the newly repurposed ARCH, the South Austin center would be a "housing first" facility providing support services to clients referred by other agencies, not accepting drop-ins. (This item may be taken up and voted on Wednesday evening; many speakers are expected.)
• Be It Ever So Humble: Another quick-fix housing strategy being pursued by Council is to protect residents of many mobile home parks by initiating rezoning cases that stave off commercial development. Thursday's zoning agenda (beginning no earlier than 2pm) features 11 such cases throughout Districts 1, 2, 3, and 4, some of which have drawn valid petitions of opposition from neighboring property owners. Also, a home on Willow Street is up for historic zoning against its owner's wishes; while the Historic Landmark Commission supports the move, city staff does not, and the Planning Commission sent the case on to Council without a recommendation.
• Other items of interest include emergency contracts to fix the Shoal Creek landslide (Items 21-22), whose repair is now priced at $20 million; deciding to approve the Butler Pitch and Putt contract (Item 69) or reject all bids and start over, thus allowing longtime operator Lee Kinser to try again; a zoning change to allow on-site medical uses for AISD's Lucy Read campus, slated to become the new home for Rosedale School (Item 153); and an interlocal agreement (Item 174) with UT-Austin's Center for Sustainable Development – the same folks who did the Convention Center study – to explore options for the city-owned property at I-35 and St. Johns Avenue, once a Home Depot, acquired more than a decade ago to become the new Municipal Court but now eyed as a potential hub for affordable housing or needed community services.