Austin City Council

Project Connect

A proposal to build a $1.4 billion urban rail line in Austin faces a key vote today in the city council. The 9.5 mile urban rail line would run from Riverside Drive and Grove, through downtown to Highland Mall.

Supporters of the plan say that route is going to see a lot of growth over the next few years. Opponents wonder why it’s not going in where things are already happening. Like, along Lamar or Guadalupe.

Project Connect

The Austin City Council and the Capital Metro Board met today to learn more about a proposed urban rail route that needs approval from the council – and ultimately, Austin voters. There are still concerns about how to pay for the project.

Project Connect is looking at adding rail, buses and other options to the transit system in Central Texas. But the project's proposed plan for downtown Austin is still contentious because it favors a route that would bring urban rail through East Riverside and up to Highland Mall at a cost of almost $1.4 billion.

Today is the first day that campaigns and candidates for the Austin City Council can start soliciting or accepting political contributions. Although many things will be radically different this election cycle, asking for money will remain practically the same. 

When Austin voters changed the city’s form of government in 2012, they did not change anything when it comes to campaign contributions. Still, the city’s clerk Jannette Goodall says campaign contribution limits are adjusted every election cycle according to inflation.

For instance, the charter says 300 dollars “and I believe the current amount is 350,” says Goodall.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

This story comes to us from our city hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor.

It seems that some City Council members were planning on giving City Manager Marc Ott – and perhaps others – a piece of their minds in private Thursday, but due to the absence of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Mayor Lee Leffingwell was able to at least postpone that confrontation.

The executive session agenda for Thursday included four unusual items, each to do a mid-year evaluation of one of the Council’s appointees: Ott, City Auditor Kenneth Mory, Municipal Court Clerk Rebecca Stark and City Clerk Jannette Goodall.

What's the one thing that would make life on your block better?

As Austin prepares for its first elections with 10 new geographic districts, KUT is diving deeply into District One, which covers large parts of East Austin. But we want to hear from you, regardless of where you live. Tell us: What would make life better on your block? 

flickr.com/trostle

The Austin City Council approved the acquisition of the Grey Rock Golf Club's courses and tennis facility today, allocating $9.6 million of the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget for the purchase.

The course sits on 292 acres of south of Lady Bird Lake, adjacent to the Circle C subdivision. The course lies in the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

City Deputy Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally called the Grey Rock purchase a “unique opportunity to acquire a piece of land that actually comes with an existing revenue stream.” Some of that existing revenue will be leveraged to pay off an estimated $400,000 in debt service; the department estimates the revenue will cover half of that amount.

KUT News

Austin City Council member Mike Martinez announced this morning he will run for mayor.

His campaign will officially kick off April 5, with Martinez planning campaign announcements in each of Austin's 10 new City Council districts.

"Because of the new district system and because we have moved our election to November, obviously it‘s going to be the highest voter turnout in a mayoral election than we have ever seen in the history of Austin," Martinez says. "Typically in May we see 30 to 40 thousand voters. We anticipate well over 200,000 voters in this November election, so that will be a major, major difference this year.” 

KUT

This article is written by KUT's City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor

Council Member Laura Morrison, who has served on the Austin City Council for nearly six years and has been considered a likely candidate for Mayor on the November ballot told the Austin Monitor today that she has decided against the race.

Morrison, 59, said decision was a difficult one for her. “I love this job and it’s been … very complicated and difficult. It’s taken me a long time to make this decision.”  Weighing all the pros and cons of a race that might cost up to a million dollars, Morrison said, “I just think a different future is what’s right for me.”

flickr.com/musingminds

This article is written by KUT's City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor

The Austin Firefighters Association (AFA) – the union for City of Austin’s firefighters – and city management are headed to federal mediation over lingering accusations of hiring discrimination. Asked how long the mediation process might take AFA head Bob Nicks Tuesday declined to speculate.

Also, at Tuesday’s work session Council Member Mike Martinez, former head of the firefighters union, announced from the dais that city staff had requested a week’s postponement for council ratification of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Update: Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell  delivered his final "State of the City" address today at noon.

Leffingwell's office billed the 40-minute speech as an overview of the mayor's two terms in office. Leffingwell was elected mayor in 2009 and 2012; Austin will elect a new mayor this November. Read below for a real-time report on the mayor's remarks. Video of the mayor's speech will be included in this post once it is available. 

That's a wrap: Leffingwell ends his speech with a call for interconnectedness going forward into single-member districts. On to a Q&A session with the crowd.

Not many major proclamations coming out of the mayor's address: calls for a medical school innovation district and urban rail were big moments from the mayor's speech last year. Still, the address can be viewed as doubling down on initiatives Leffingwell wants to accomplish before leaving office; as soon as his speech ended, his office issued a statement titled "Mayor defines focus for
 final 10 months in office."

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The Austin City Council had a long day at the dais yesterday, with a meeting that sputtered along for the better part of 15 hours.

"Stealth dorms," fee waivers, economic incentives, an officer-involved shooting, the MoPac sound wall and  even a proclamation for KUT's own Cactus Cafe. 

With that in mind, here's a rundown of the council action, and inaction, from yesterday.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The city of Austin limits the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home. Right now, that limit is six.

But there’s a push before the Austin City Council to lower that number to four.  The Austin City Council meets today to decide whether to impose new rules that would lower occupancy limits – and do away with what some call “stealth dorms.”

Tomorrow, the Austin City Council takes up an ordinance that would lower occupancy limits on single-family zoned property. If approved, the maximum number of unrelated adults allowed to live together would fall from six to four. 

Supporters of the change is needed to stop the spread of so-called "stealth dorms" – neighborhood homes built or remodeled to hold as many renters as possible. Opponents say the change will hurt Austin's declining stock of affordable housing. 

Julie Montgomery is a Program Coordinator & Research Associate, Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at her alma mater UT Austin.

An occupancy limit reduction would make housing more expensive for all of us. It wouldn’t really solve the unfortunate quality of life problems experienced by some neighborhoods. And it is a costly distraction from the challenging work that policymakers, staff, and advocates need to do to address Austin’s housing shortage.

Stop Stealth Dorms

This Thursday, the Austin City Council takes up an ordinance that would lower occupancy limits on single-family zoned property. If approved, the maximum number of unrelated adults allowed to live together would fall from six to four. 

Supporters of the change is needed to stop the spread of so-called "stealth dorms" – neighborhood homes built or remodeled to hold as many renters as possible. Opponents say the change will hurt Austin's declining stock of affordable housing.

For over 30 years, Mary Sanger has had a professional career in community organizing and electoral politics with a focus on environmental issues, and growth and development issues. 

What is before the City Council? In November, the Austin City Council unanimously passed a resolution instructing the city manager to initiate a code amendment to reduce occupancy limits for structures on single-family zoned properties from six to four unrelated persons over the age of 18. The resolution covers both duplexes and houses. It does not apply to apartments or buildings not in single-family zoned areas.

This year, the City of Austin is planning to cover over $750,000 worth of fees and services for South by Southwest . 

The proposal, which the Austin City Council is set to vote on Thursday, includes up to $274,320 worth of fee waivers – ranging from $30 sound permit fees to $89,000 worth of litter control services. Any fees already paid by SXSW would be reimbursed to the company. The city would also authorize payments for $481,324 worth of city services – the bulk of which is $340,000 in additional police costs.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

This article is written by KUT's Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily). 

The City of Austin’s General Fund ended fiscal year 2013 with a $14.2 million surplus. That figure amounts to a roughly 1 percent variance from projections made by city staff.

Despite the positive figure, Austin’s Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart told members of the Council’s Audit and Finance Committee Wednesday that management was not planning on coming forward with a mid-year budget adjustment.

This article was co-produced as part of an ongoing City Hall reporting partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT. Listen to the audio story broadcast on KUT in the player below. 

With single-member districts soon to become a reality, Austin City Council candidates are already lining up to crowd what promises to be a very full November ballot. Austin's political insiders and outsiders alike are trying to get a handle on an election that promises to shape the city for years to come.

Roger Borgelt is vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. He also served as co-chair of the Austinites for Geographic Representation – the group responsible for getting 10-1 on the ballot. He says that he is excited about the promise of more localized, neighborhood representation, as well as the possibility of conservatives (or at least fiscal conservatives) taking some of the 11 open City Council seats.

 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Last night the Austin City Council approved a deal that offers nearly $680,000 dollars in incentives for athenahealth to expand in Austin. The grant will be offered in addition to a $5 million subsidy from Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Enterprise Fund.

But not everyone is happy with the deal. Some council members argue that the city’s booming economy doesn’t need to offer subsidies to bring business to Austin. (The deal passed on a 5-2 vote, with city council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting no.)

Austin Monitor publisher Michael Kanin says that this debate is heating up as council members become increasingly divided on the issue of business incentives.

KUT News

The Austin City Council approved changes to city building code today, aiming to make new homes more accessible to everyone.

The changes aim to improve “visitability” in newly-built Austin homes by requiring disabled-accessible design. The rules are not retroactive, and don’t apply to remodels or additions.

Specific requirements include:

  • At least one bathroom or half-bath must be available on the first floor
  • First floor baths or half-baths must be accessible through a minimum 30-inch opening and contain wood blocking reinforcements within the walls for optional installation of hand bars
  • Light switches and thermostats can’t be higher than 48 inches from the floor; outlets must be a minimum of 15 inches above the floor
  • There must be at least one first-floor entrance that is 32 inches wide and cannot contain a step.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

A fight pitting affordable housing against neighborhood quality is headed to the Austin City Council.

Austin’s Planning Commission is recommending a reduction in the number of unrelated adults allowed to live together in single-family homes: the maximum would fall from six down to four.

Last night’s action was in response to complaints that neighborhoods were suffering from what opponents call “stealth dorms.”

Pages