Public Notice: Adjusting to a Virtual Reality

City Council and LDC rewrite team both trying to figure out the new normal

Public Notice: Adjusting to a Virtual Reality

So we’re easing back into the new normal this week, with Austin ISD restarting classes (via distance learning), the AISD board of trustees holding a meeting (via Zoom) to adjust grading rules for the semester, and the Austin City Council holding a work session Tuesday, April 7, (Zoom) and a meeting today (hybrid, since six members have to be physically in Council chambers to form a quorum [sorry, that's apparently outdated; all members are participating remotely]), to work through an 87-Item agenda – not all of which is directly related to the coronavirus. So, that’s a relief.

One item that is COVID-related, and took up a big chunk of the time at the work session, is Item 87 (formerly Item 81), an ordinance that would revise the current fiscal year budget to appropriate up to $15 million to direct COVID-19 relief. How direct, and at whose discretion? Well, that was what Council members were chewing over Tuesday – without really reaching firm conclusions. Lead sponsor Delia Garza was adamant about the urgent need for the funding, and no one was disputing that. But $15 million, while a big chunk of money for the city to commit, doesn’t really spread very far among a million residents, even if it’s limited to low-income residents as intended. Plus, according to a work session report from consultant Jon Hockenyos, one in five Austinites lost their jobs last month putting Austin’s current unemployment rate at a terrifying 25% – meaning we have a lot more low-income residents today than we did pre-COVID-19. So, if we’re not going to just buy everyone in town a multipack of toilet paper, what’s the most effective way to get that money to people who need it the most? On that, the mayor pro tem was more than a little fuzzy, but it seems like something worth nailing down before setting up an eight-figure slush fund, right? Because various people have some pretty definite ideas of their own, and they’re not all necessarily good ones. Expect more fine-tuning on this one, perhaps right through the meeting.

On the non-COVID-19 side of the agenda is the first reappearance of the Land Development Code rewrite, or more specifically the District Court ruling against the city in a lawsuit, Acuña et al. v. City of Austin et al., which voided Council’s first two votes on the rewrite and upheld citizens’ protest rights regarding rezonings. The lawsuit is on the agenda twice, first in executive session (Item 43), and then on the consent agenda (Item 64). Council went into executive session on Tuesday as well, and stayed in for a long time; it seems likely they’ll decide today whether to appeal the decision or abide by it. The majority no doubt want to appeal, but as of yet, the city’s legal team has not cited any case law to support their reading of the rights under state law. Don’t expect them to tip their hand today, either.

And on the same topic, in another turn toward normalcy – which may also be a clue to what Council’s going to decide on the appeal – the city’s LDC Revision team sent out an update Monday, April 6, noting that “while the City evaluates its options and next steps,” the team is moving ahead with finishing up details, “with the goal of completing the text and map reflective of Council’s May 2 policy direction.” (See the full text below.)

Next week: the Planning Commission’s first meeting since COVID-19, and since the rewrite reset. There’s no agenda posted yet, but it might be reasonable to guess that the LDC may come up.

Full text of the city’s Land Development Code Revision Update:

On March 18, a Travis County District Court Judge ruled that the City did not follow the correct notice and protest process for the LDC Revision. Therefore, the actions by Council to approve the LDC Revision were void and not effective to approve the Revision. Based on that ruling, the City is assessing options with respect to the LDC.

While the City evaluates its options and next steps, the LDC Revision Team is working to complete internal reference documents, with the goal of completing the text and map reflective of Council’s May 2 policy direction, as well as Planning Commission recommendations and Council recommendation on 1st and 2nd ordinance readings. Staff will also finalize a Supplemental Staff Report #5 to accompany the text and map reference documents. The purpose of completing these reference documents is to assure the project is in a state that can be utilized in the future when, and if, a path forward is desired by City Council.

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