Public Notice: Boards and Commissions in Revolt
Moving meetings out of City Hall is not a popular idea
More news on the standoff between city staff and Austin's main land use commissions – Planning, Zoning and Platting, and the Board of Adjustment – over city staff's plan to move their public meetings from City Hall to the new Permitting and Development Center behind Highland. The meeting I wrote about last week took place Monday evening at City Hall, with Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales fielding questions and criticism from the commissioners and public, primarily over issues of access and safety. And the answers were less than satisfying: Yes, staff is 100% committed to moving the three boards to the PDC. No, they have no direction from Council to do so, nor is there a particular reason for the move. No, the often robust attendance at the meetings was not a consideration. Mr. Gonzales was polite enough, but it would be easy to read this as an active attempt to discourage citizen participation, and perhaps even payback for some harsh criticisms his departments have had to listen to at those meetings.
It's easy to see how this is attractive to staff: Fewer speakers getting in their faces and taking up their time, less contentious meetings, no travel time for them ... But it's harder to see what's in it for anyone else; speaker after speaker noted that there's less transit (and a long walk from the station), less convenient parking, less security in general and an inability to ban firearms in particular, and a far less inviting overall atmosphere and experience both for the commissioners and those appearing before them.
The meeting was moderated by BOA Chair Jessica Cohen (a Pio Renteria appointee), who took the final Q&A slot to again ask the same basic questions in different ways – Why make the move? Are you open to reconsidering? – and repeatedly called it "disappointing" that Gonzales' answers were essentially, "Because I said so, and, I've made up my mind."
And that may indeed be the final word. The commissions have made a formal request to City Council that their bylaws be changed to specify that their meetings be at City Hall, and that bylaw change would indeed trump staff's plan. But that request will go first to the Audit and Finance Committee, made up of Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Alison Alter, Leslie Pool, Mackenzie Kelly, and Kathie Tovo (all of whom hail from north of the river). Its next meeting is Dec. 15, and this is on the agenda.
Where to put a rail line on the Drag – one of the thorniest problems in Austin's entire multistage transit plan – will be the topic of the next Project Connect Community Design Workshop. Members of the Project Connect design team, along with the citizen working groups and other stakeholders, will discuss "design options, station placement and other important aspects" of the plan next Wed., Dec. 8, in two meetings: in person from noon to 1:30pm at the Powers Student Activity Center, 2201 Speedway on the UT campus, and via Zoom at 5:30pm. Then on Thursday at 5:30pm there's a Zoom update on the McKalla Station at Q2 Stadium, and the next Tuesday, Dec. 14, brings another design workshop focused on the Blue Line tunnel Downtown, planned to run crosstown under Fourth Street, all the way from Trinity Street to Guadalupe. Register for any of these at capmetro.org/get-involved.
Do you produce waste? [RE]verse Pitch is looking for material suppliers for its annual contest to find entrepreneurial ways to reuse "industrial scrap, byproduct, or other waste stream." Does your company produce such? Apply by Dec. 10 at reversepitch.org/get-involved.