Can Council Get Its Sh*t Done by 10pm?

Austin City Council addresses a 93-item agenda Sept. 15 and aims to end by 10pm rather than voting to extend the meeting

Can Council Get Its Sh*t Done by 10pm?

City Council meets today, Sept. 15, to take up a 93-item agenda that members are determined to work through by 10pm. They agreed at their work session Sept. 13 that it's good practice to wrap their Thursday business up at a reasonable hour, rather than voting to extend the meeting into the wee hours, a bad habit that they slip back into routinely.

But Council will have to get through and/or punt on some thorny issues to be home in time for the late-night shows. Three of them we've told you about before: new parkland dedication fees for residential and commercial developments; reinstatement of APD's automated license plate reader program; and a vote on second reading on the rezoning of the former Statesman HQ at 305 S. Congress.

The Statesman PUD (planned unit development) will already be punted to the Sept. 29 Council meeting, as the applicant's representatives will be unable to attend this evening. Everybody wants to at least get past second reading on this beast, and thanks to Council Member Chito Vela we have a good idea of where they'll be starting from.

On the Council message board, Vela posted a draft motion he'll offer Sept. 29 to approve the PUD as it stood when Council voted April 7 on first reading, along with subsequent amendments by the Planning Commission and CM Kathie Tovo that developer Endeavor Real Estate Group has been willing to consider. But Council will continue to debate the right mix of affordable housing and parkland that must be included in the PUD or created by Endeavor somewhere else within the South Central Waterfront district. "I would like to reserve the ability to discuss some of the individual amendments," Mayor Steve Adler responded to Vela's post. "For example, I do not agree [that] the affordable units should be on-site if we can get more affordable units nearby."

At Tuesday's work session, CMs also discussed license plate readers, with Vela as the leader of the opposition. ("Data that isn't collected cannot be abused," he said.) Supporters characterized ALPRs as an important investigative tool for APD (though the department does not know how many crimes it has helped solve or prevent). The pro-ALPR side's leader, CM Mackenzie Kelly, has revised her own resolution several times seeking compromise; the latest version makes clear that the scanning technology will only be used to investigate "criminal activity," and that other law enforcement agencies can only obtain data they request specifically, rather than accessing the entire ALPR database. Kelly's resolution also says that ALPRs will not be used against people "exercising their First Amendment rights," unless a "criminal nexus" has been identified.

Kelly has not backed down, however, on the most vexing element of her and APD's proposal – a 30-day retention period for license plate scans. Vela and justice advocates want the retention period to be more like three minutes; they fear that outside agencies, especially federal ones including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, might request the entire database in cases where APD would be hard-pressed to deny them access.

Council also has to consider whether to adopt the Austin Police Oversight Act, the citizen initiative brought to a ballot near you by Equity Action. That's how the initiative process works in the City Char­ter: Council can either adopt the ordinance as proposed, or put it before the voters at the next available election date. That would be May 2023, as the city clerk could not validate Equity Action's 33,000 signatures (they only need 20,000) in time to make the November ballot. Council has not, in recent memory, ever adopted a citizen initiative on its own, but that's what justice advocates want so the powers of the Office of Police Oversight will be codified rather than subject to negotiation in contract talks between the city and the Austin Police Associa­tion. The union won a legal victory in December that largely disempowered the OPO, but the city is pushing for those powers to be reinstated as part of any new police contract, especially one involving significant salary hikes for sworn personnel.

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City Council, City Council, Agenda, parkland dedication fees, Automated License Plate Reader Program, Statesman HQ Rezone

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