Austin City Council
8:26 am
Fri September 27, 2013

Austin Council Update: EMS Contract OK’d, Trails Kept Open 24 Hours, and an Airport Pet Hotel

Update: Austin City Council members unanimously approved a rental registration program early this morning (Items 11, 12).

Council members were considering two different proposals. One would have required the owners of rental property in certain areas of the city to register. But the proposal the council approved will require rental properties with multiple health and safety violations to be registered – no matter where the properties are located in the city.

The program requires properties on the registration list to be periodically inspected.

"This ordinance focuses on the problem. The problem we know we have. And will immediately start to hopefully get some relief to the people who are experiencing contact with bad actors," Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said after the vote.

Property owners who fail to comply with the registration program could be fined.

Original Story (Sept. 26, 4:52 p.m.): It’s the Austin City Council’s first regular meeting since adopting the city budget earlier this month. And as you might imagine, the council returned to a full agenda. Here’s a few highlights from today’s meeting:

  • The council approved plans to lease out land for construction projects at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (Items 7 & 8 on this week’s agenda)

Up to 64 acres will go to a parking company. The deal would initially provide 2,000 public, covered parking spaces, and would also include bicycle parking, electrical charging stations and even what agenda backup refers to as "a pet hotel."

Another 13 acres will be leased for retail use. Right now, the plan is to add a convenience store and a restaurant on land nearby the airport Hilton. Council Member Chris Riley added a provision to the plan that he hopes will give council members a little more say over what the retail space looks like.

“In the past we have typically had some degree of involvement in reviewing plans for city-owned property,” Riley said. “This land is particularly significant since it will present an important image of Austin, not only to Austin residents who go to the airport but all visitors who come to our airport.”

All of the land for lease is north of the terminal. Some of the parking is planned for the other side of State Highway 71, as seen below:

City-owned land being leased at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Credit City of Austin

  • Council members also approved a new contract with Austin-Travis County EMS. (Items 23-26)

It’s the first new contract since 70 percent of Austin voters approved giving EMS workers civil service protections last November – the same as police and firefighters.

“What civil service does – by law is – you have to get hired based on a written exam, you have to get promoted based off of a written exam,” says Deven Desai, chief of labor relations with the City of Austin. Civil service also gives EMS bargaining power, according to department chief Ernesto Rodriguez. We have a rapidly growing Hispanic community,” Rodriguez says. “So, this gives us the ability to actually go find them and bring them here and hire them and put them to work.”

Austin’s is the only EMS civil service in Texas. The new contract goes into effect next week.

  • The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail will remain open to cyclists 24 hours a day – for at least three more weeks. (Item 85)

The council was set to vote to end a pilot program that kept trails open overnight. The proposal was sponsored by council members Lee Leffingwell and Kathie Tovo, who thought money spent patrolling the trails could be better used elsewhere.

Instead, council members voted to put off the decision for two weeks, so that cycling activists would have more time to talk about the issue with Austin police. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says if the trails remain open, they should have a police presence. “I think that we would be remiss as police officers to say, ‘Use the trails at your own risk,’” he told council.

But that costs money, and APD overtime expenses were cut in the last city budget. Chief Acevedo says he could move nine full-time officers from a community policing program over to trail patrol – but council members were not enthusiastic about that proposal either.