The Austin Chronicle

Council Preview: More Eighth Street Cash, More VMU Talk

Beanbag rounds, babies, and buildings on the agenda

By Maggie Q. Thompson, May 20, 2022, News

Council's got a fatty 84-item agenda for today's meeting (May 19), with increasing housing capacity to be the theme of tonight's public hearings. But first, Council will vote on a settlement for Christen Warkoczewski, the wildlife biologist fired upon by nine Austin police officers with "less lethal" lead-pellet ammunition, often called "bean bag rounds," during the May 2020 Black Lives Matter protests at Austin Police Department headquarters at Eighth and I-35. She told the Chronicle in September 2021 that while demonstrating on I-35, she'd placed a traffic cone over a smoking tear gas canister and turned to run. She made it about 10 feet before police shot her in the face and ankle, and she needed surgery to have a lodged round removed from her jaw.

Those officers who fired at her – including Justin Berry, who faces former Council Member Ellen Troxclair in next week's GOP primary run-off for Texas House District 19 – have been indicted for aggravated assault in this incident. (Along with Berry, they include Joshua Blake, Jeremy Fisher, Todd Gilbertson, Christopher Irwin, Joshua Jackson, Alexander Lomovstev, Brett Tableriou, and Stanley Vick.) Today, Council will approve a settlement with Warkoczewski subject to court approval, and direct City Manager Spencer Cronk to bring back necessary documents to finance the deal. While the agenda doesn't specify an amount, the city settled with fellow Eighth Street survivor Anthony Evans, whose injuries were similar to Warkoczewski's, for $2 million.

Council will also consider a resolution from CM Vanessa Fuentes declaring the city's support for inclusive reproductive care, including fertility preservation (freezing eggs) and in vitro fertilization. The draft resolution points out that roughly 80% of people who undergo fertility treatment have no insurance coverage for those treatments. The resolution calls for the city to support laws and policies that support equitable reproductive care, and also for Cronk to come back to Council with recommended benefits for city employees that would increase reproductive equity. Another resolution from Fuentes would provide free menstrual products in some city-owned facilities.

Next up, Council will take on a series of items to address housing capacity – one would increase maximum building heights in the North Burnet/Gateway planning area (the Domain, Q2 Stadium, Broadmoor, etc.). Council members will discuss, but not act on, suggested changes to the existing vertical mixed-use density bonus program, which raises height limits on selected properties on transit corridors in exchange for on-site affordable housing, and also a new set of proposals regarding development regs along corridors that was just daylighted for the first time at Tuesday's Council work session (see "Public Notice"). CM Chito Vela took to the Council message board to point out that the city's VMU program has added hundreds of affordable units since its inception, and, he said, "Expanding a successful program makes a lot of sense." For both discussions, Council will hear what is likely to be extensive public comment.

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