Austin
9:54 am
Thu March 1, 2012

City Council Preview: Bag Ban, Energy Rates, Weekend Rail and More – You Name It, It’s On the Agenda

We’re not sure what’s up with today’s Austin City Council meeting, filled with action on several long-simmering items. The council holds another meeting next week before heading into spring break, so it’s not like council has to cram everything into this meeting. But they pretty much did. Here's a rundown:

… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Lights: Item 15 on the agenda inks an agreement with the RunTex Foundation to sponsor the Trail of Lights, that holiday event at Zilker Park that went dark due to budget cuts. As we wrote earlier this week, many see the proposal as a win-win, while others decry the privatization of a publicly-run event.

Taxi Drivers: Items 30 and 31 award new permits to Austin taxi franchises: 30 more for Lone Star Cab, and 15 more for Austin Cab. The item is up on second reading, meaning should it be successful today, a third and final vote is still required. And the meter’s still running: If and when these 45 are awarded, council is expected to offer an additional 35 new permits this summer.

Red Eye Red Line: Night and weekend rail service will be initiated should council pass Item 32, creating an agreement with Capital Metro to expand the operating hours of its Red Line commuter rail. The Cap Metro board approved the agreement on its end Monday.

Rate Increase Arrives: An interim 3.5 percent system wide increase on Austin Energy customers’ bills is on the table today. Originally proposed by council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, Item 46 also calls for “an independent residential, low-income, and small business consumer advocate” to work on ratepayers’ behalf, and demands “2011 test year data for a final rate proposal.” Some council members have openly questioned whether the revenue deficits AE are presenting are based on current enough data.

Occupy the Dais: Item 48 is the Occupy Wall Street-informed council initiative studying the feasibility of moving city banking and investments from huge multinational banks to smaller local banks and credit unions. Lead sponsor Laura Morrison told KUT News “You know there’s been a lot of really important dialog over the past six to ten months about the whole issue of banking and choices that we’re making personally when we choose our banks and what were supporting.”

Hostel Hostilities: Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) plans to let Hosteling International Austin’s lease lapse have hit a snag. PARD owns the waterfront parkland on which the hostel sits, and wants to repurpose the plot for its own purposes. But Item 50 from lead sponsor Mike Martinez recognizes the hostel as an asset, and would extend the hostel’s lease – currently up next year – by a decade. We wrote more about item here. Martinez is joined by two co-sponsors, meaning three votes for keeping the hostel – will a deciding fourth vote appear on the dais?

Bag Ban Business:  And if that wasn’t enough, Austin’s bag ban is up for public comment and possible action. We point out three things to watch here.That’s posted for 4 p.m. “time certain” hearing, meaning it will be heard no earlier than then, but possibly later. With all these items and more before council, who know when that will happen?

If you can’t get down to 301 West Second St., you can stream the meeting online.