Austin City Council

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.”

Seattle Department of Planning & Development

Micro-units – apartments of 500 square feet or less – might be Austin's next big building trend.

As the city's population continues to climb, troubles have mounted with providing affordable housing. To address the issue, the Austin City Council is asking the city manager to study the feasibility of micro-unit projects.

"Micro-units will allow people to live closer to downtown at a more affordable cost," says council member Bill Spelman.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Austin’s facing a familiar question: whether to approve economic incentives luring new jobs to town.

Today, the Austin City Council was briefed on a proposal for incentives for health IT company Athenahealth.

Massachusetts-based Athenahealth – which currently employs 36 Austinites in offices at The Domain – is promising a new research and development center. Located inside the former Sealholm Power Plant in downtown Austin, the company says it would create 607 new jobs over 10 years.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Austin City Council elections are still some nine months out – but the races are already heating up.

Today saw one of 2014’s first official announcements for mayor: Patsy Woods Martin, a former executive with the United Way for Greater Austin, and founder of umbrella charity organization I Live Here, I Give Here. (Disclaimer: Martin also launched online giving campaign Amplify Austin, which KUT participated in last year.)

Martin is the latest in an increasingly crowded field of official and unofficial candidates. The Austin Chronicle has a comprehensive rundown of candidates. Martin is joined officially by Bill McLellan, whom the Chronicle describes as a “former 3M executive, chief development officer at Family Eldercare, and longtime civic activist.”

Daniel Reese for KUT News

This is an excerpt from an article written by our Austin City Hall reporting partner, the Austin Monitor (formerly In Fact Daily). For more on this topic, see our collaborative report with the Monitor.

Tensions continued to mount Tuesday between City Manager Marc Ott and a number of Austin City Council members. At immediate issue is where to relocate the office of City Auditor Ken Mory as City Hall is reconfigured to make room for additional Council members under single member districts.

During Tuesday’s work session, there was a particularly testy exchange between Ott and Council Member Bill Spelman as Spelman told Ott he should have at least consulted Council members before making a final decision about Mory’s relocation.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

This article was co-produced with KUT News’ Joy Diaz as part of an ongoing City of Austin reporting partnership between In Fact Daily and KUT. Listen to KUT's broadcast story in the audio player below.

Among the changes that will accompany the start of districted representation for Austin City Council members, at least one unintended consequence is causing some level of civic heartburn for interests represented by figures ranging from current sitting Council members to the outspoken face of the 10-1 movement: A potential shift in the way things get done at City Hall.

That change, should it play out, will find the office of City Manager – the unelected executive arm of city government –  becoming a much more powerful position. “The City Manager, at least temporarily – until people find their footing – is going to have a substantial amount of power,” said longtime Austin political organizer David Butts.

A “healthy food zone” ordinance could be in the works for areas surrounding Austin schools, parks, recreation centers, libraries and child care centers. And that could potentially mean a prohibition on new fast food restaurants in those areas.

In an effort to battle childhood obesity, the City of Austin and Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services have developed a Community Health Improvement Plan. One of the priorities in the plan is creating healthier environments for children. To that end, the plan has an objective of creating “healthy food zones” around specific areas by June 2016.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Thursday night was the final public input meeting for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission – the group drawing Austin's ten new city council districts.

Held at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin, it was a homecoming of sorts. The same places the commission’s first input meeting back in August.

While many district boundaries have evolved, the district containing the Millennium Complex – District 1 – really hasn’t between the commission’s preliminary and final proposed maps.

Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission

Update: Austinites have just two more opportunities to weigh in on a proposed city council district map.

A citizens group is dividing Austin into 10 geographic districts. Starting next November, each district will elect one city council member. Everyone will vote on the mayor.

The district-drawing group is expected to approve the final map soon.

Wednesday's public meeting is at The Lodge on Dawson Road in south Austin. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday's public meeting is at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex on Hargrave Street in east Austin. It also starts at 6:30 p.m.

Click here to see an interactive version of the "official proposed final map" drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The holiday season will bring more than presents for Austinites. It will also bring maps outlining the boundaries for 10 City Council districts — if the grueling process of tweaking and finalizing the districts wraps up in time for Christmas. 

But the Independent Citizen's Redistricting Commission — the volunteer citizen group charged with drawing the maps — is accepting comments on its preliminary map during a regular meeting tonight and a public input meeting Wednesday.

Phoebe Ann Flanigan for KUT News

Earlier this month, Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department took on a difficult task – cleaning up Austin’s five city-owned cemeteries. But the cleanup policies have rankled some families of the dead.

The city received a barrage of complaints after it began citing graves adorned with extra objects for code violations: benches, birdbaths, vegetation, wind chimes, stones and more.

Today, the Austin City Council will look to revise the city’s strategy and finally put the issue to rest. The cleanup, which was slated to begin Nov. 1, could be delayed another six months.

City of Austin

Update: The group of Austinites in charge of drawing geographic city council districts is meeting this evening for the first time since approving a preliminary map.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is splitting the city into ten parts – each will be represented by a city council member.

But some people have expressed concerns that the districts the commission has drawn so far don’t accurately represent communities. For example, right now, District 7 runs along Mopac from North of Parmer Lane to Lady Bird Lake.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

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.

Out of a population of 24,000, who will be the one person to represent Dove Springs?

Last November, Austin voters agreed to adopt a geographic form of city government: one mayor and 10 districts with one council member each.

Advocates for geographic representation argue the old way left large parts of Austin unrepresented. The seven members of the current Austin City Council all live north of Lady Bird Lake, and close to the city’s core.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

This week, the Austin City Council approved a $3.3 billion budget of for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in October.

As part of the deal, they increased funding for youth programs by over $1 million. That includes an increase in the Austin School District afterschool program, Prime Time, which was started by Austin Interfaith in the 1990s. 

Liang Shi for KUT News

Update: For the first time since 2007, the Austin City Council has voted to lower the city’s property tax rate. The council finalized the fiscal year 2014 budget this afternoon.

Granted, the tax rate hasn’t fallen by much: two-hundredths of a penny (from 50.29 to 50.27 cents) for every $100 dollars of valuation. For the owner of a $200,000 home, that amounts to a savings of 40 cents a year. Mayor Lee Leffingwell had pressed for a bigger cut.

The Austin City Council returns to the dais as 10 a.m. this morning to finalize the city's Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Yesterday, council members voted unanimously to hold the line of property tax rates. They also spent most of the day funding initiatives that weren't in City Manager Marc Ott's initial budget proposal.