Austin City Council

Polcie photo Nathan Bernier; EMS photo Daniel Reese; Fire photo Callier Hernandez

Last week, the Austin City Council got its first look at the numbers for next year’s budget.

The financial outlook? Well … we’ll get back to you about that.

The thing is, Austin’s currently negotiating its three public safety contracts – police, fire and EMS. And budget staff call those contracts a wild card in the city’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Marissa Barnett for KUT News

Volma Overton Sr. was a civil rights pioneer in Austin. He brought a hard-fought lawsuit to desegregate Austin schools – and brought his school-aged children with him to Austin’s segregated places, pushing against the racial boundaries of the time.

One of those children is Volma Overton Jr. KUT News recently sat down with him to talk about another front his father fought on: changing Austin’s form of at-large elections, where all candidates for City Council have to run citywide.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

After seven tries and several decades, geographic representation is finally coming to the City of Austin. And as the city prepares, the vortex of activity swirls around … none other than three certified public accountants.

That’s the Applicant Review Panel. It’s a group of three CPAs, randomly selected from a group of applicants, who will vet applicants for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. That’s the group that will ultimately draw the district lines.

Jessie Wang, KUT News

The Austin city council moved one step closer Thursday night toward creating an independent board to oversee the city-owned electric utility – Austin Energy. The council approved the transition on first reading – with council member Kathie Tovo absent. The ordinance has to be approved on three readings.

Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council took the first step last night towards moving the governance of Austin Energy from the council to an independent board.

The council unanimously approved the transition on first reading – with council member Kathie Tovo absent. The ordinance will have to be approved on three readings.

Council members did make several changes to the original proposal last night – weakening the power of the independent board and giving more oversight back to council.

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

This May, Austinites will learn the names of the people who will be drawing the city’s 10 new district maps, and then the redistricting process will start to take shape. After the maps are drawn, Austinites will learn the district boundaries. Then people interested in running for City Council will know which district they can represent. 

Seems like a lot of changes. And the biggest one is that the next Austin City Council is likely to be made up of rookies.

Mose Buchele, KUT News

Housing advocates in Austin and local religious and political leaders want to try again with a measure on November’s ballot for affordable housing dollars. So today they kicked off a Keep Austin Affordable campaign.

“As you know, the voters of Austin narrowly voted against the housing bonds last fall – not out of spite, or malice or unkindness,” said Marshall Jones with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The City of Austin is known for its festivals. Last year, the city received 136 applications for street events.

The city says as the number of events continues to grow, the permitting process is getting more challenging. City officials want to hear from people about ways to streamline the process.

flickr.com/joeyparsons

The Austin City Council voted 5-2 last night to repeal the city’s Project Duration Ordinance, rules limiting how long a development can remain “grandfathered” under land-use rules in place at the time of the project’s conception.

In contrast to last week’s hearing, which featured hours of citizen testimony, public input was closed this time. The council discussion lasted just 15 minutes. Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voted no.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Austin City Council is experimenting with a plan to reduce the availability of parking. Today, it approved a pilot program discussed last meeting “to reduce parking requirements for commercial businesses utilizing trip-reduction strategies.”

Council member Laura Morrison said the program was designed “to work with businesses around town and do a pilot in terms of allowing a reduction in their parking if there are mobility friendly amenities added.”

flickr.com/mirsasha

They’re baaack!

With a relatively thin 57 items, the Austin City Council should make short work of this Thursday’s agenda. But rising, zombie-like, once more are several items the council’s dealt with before (albeit not with a slug to the head).

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Austin City Council has approved a study of public energy utilities governed by an independent board. But the city will have to work quickly.

The item comes as the council looks to create an independent governing board for Austin Energy. The council has traditionally overseen the utility, but that was before Austin Energy’s recent rate increase, which created political pressure that some feel could ultimately deregulate the city-run utility. Now a council majority appears supportive of handing off day-to-day operations.

KUT News

Update: The Austin City Council decided to delay their vote Thursday night, citing concerns that they did not have enough information.

City staff will return next week with a sampling of how many properties repealing the Project Duration Ordinance would affect. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the only council member against the delay last night.

Original Story (March 20, 7:22 p.m.): Permits for building projects may lose their expiration dates, depending on a vote at Thursday’s City Council Meeting.

UW Green Futures Lab/Scan Design Foundation/Gehl Architects

The Austin City Council had parking on its mind today. And now Austin is one step closer to eliminating minimum parking requirements for many downtown businesses, and looking at a program could to lessen the number of cars entering downtown. 

Pilot Parking Program

The council heard a briefing on parking program encouraging businesses to reduce car commuting. The program could begin as soon as April, if the council approves a measure next week.

flickr.com/dingatx

The City Council adopted the Downtown Austin Plan in late 2011. With it, the council OK’d what’s called the Downtown Density Bonus Program. It basically says that developers who want to build more densely than the standards allow would have to offer certain community benefits: things like on-site affordable housing or a paying into a fund for affordable housing elsewhere.

But nearly a year and a half later, Austin’s still waiting on specific guidelines for the Density Bonus Program.

flickr.com/dingatx

There’s an old rule in Austin that the City Council will revisit Thursday.

A 1997 ordinance gives building permits an expiration date of between three and five years, regardless of whether the project has been completed or not. Oftentimes, builders need to re-apply for permits and adhere to any new construction rules. But, a recent opinion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has moved the ordinance front and center at City Hall because Abbott says the ordinance contradicts state code. 

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When planning to book a public venue in Austin, keep in mind the city is going to charge a bunch of fees, some are for permits, maintenance and cleanup. Organizers of large and well-attended gatherings have no problem paying those fees. But non-profits sponsoring smaller events sometimes ask the city to waive them.

This week, the city council will vote on five such waivers. With so many of these smaller events taking place, what happens when fees are waived?

Art Alliance Austin/Creative Action and TBG/Dan Cheetham (Fyoog) and Michelle Tarsney

When you think about downtown Austin, do you ever think about the spaces between the buildings?

Probably not, and you're not alone. That’s may be because alleyways – in movies, and sometimes in real life – are usually shady, dirty and even dangerous places. But some local leaders want to bring the city’s alleys back into the light.

In an alley downtown, I met with Meredith Powell and Dan Cheetham. Powell is with the Art Alliance Austin. The alley, she says “was laid out in the original 1839 map by Edwin Waller and it is on Ninth Street between Brazos and Congress.”

National Instruments

Update: The Austin City Council voted 7-0 Thursday night to give National Instruments almost $1.7 million in incentives. In exchange, the company will expand and create at least 1,000 jobs . 

National Instruments representatives spoke at the council meeting Thursday night, outlining the benefits the city would see. But some local citizens were not convinced, claiming it is not fair to give large companies incentives but to not offer them to local citizens. They also claimed the money could be used elsewhere, something Mayor Lee Leffingwell contested:

"The fact is, if we didn't approve this agreement we couldn't spend that money somewhere else because it wouldn't be there," Leffingwell said. "This money comes from that agreement."

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

In a few days, downtown Austin will be overrun with crowds for South by Southwest – so why is the city practically doing away with downtown parking requirements?

“Many cities are reducing or eliminating their parking requirements as a means of reducing congestion,” argued Chris Riley, the Austin City Council’s resident transportation wonk. Coincidentally, he's the prime proponent of a measure deep-sixing most parking requirements downtown.

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