Austin City Council

City Council
9:56 am
Thu December 6, 2012

Council Preview: Visa Deal, City Ponders Partnership with State, Water Treatment Plant 4 & More

The gang's all here: Council convenes to a crowded agenda this morning.
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

The Austin City Council dusts off the cobwebs for its first full meeting in nearly a month. And it’s let quite a backlog pile up: today’s 120 item agenda is stuffed with items sure to inspire discussion. Here’s a look:

  • The main event: a $1.5 million economic incentives deal with credit card giant Visa.

The company plans to expand its operations in Austin and promises almost 800 new jobs. The city is offering $1.5 million in tax incentives; the state is offering some $8 million more.

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City Council
1:58 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

The Process for Drawing Austin’s City Council Districts Begins

Four new seats are coming to the dais in city council chambers.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Now that Austin’s 10 district plan for geographic representation has passed, the real work begins.

Austinites voted last month to change the way city council members are elected. Instead of all members being elected at-large, the city will be split into districts. Ten city council members will be elected through those districts and only the mayor will represent the entire city.

The City of Austin’s Office of the City Auditor, tasked with much of the legwork in implementing the plan, has created a website, 10 One, looking for volunteers to get the process going.

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Austin
7:54 am
Wed November 14, 2012

With Bag Ban Looming, the City's Taking Local Business to School

The Bag Ban will start in March of 2013, but some items are still up in the air.
www.flickr.com/photos/arselectronica

Confused about Austin’s coming bag ban? You’re not alone.

Austin Resource Recovery, tasked with reaching the city’s zero waste by 2040, is hosting carryout bag training sessions for local businesses at the Austin City Hall this morning.

The training is designed prepare businesses for the plastic bag ban that takes effect in March 2013.

Originally, the ban barred the use of most single use paper and plastic bags, but late last week the City Council approved adding some exemptions. Now, restaurants will largely be exempt.

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Mexican American Cultural Center
11:28 am
Tue November 13, 2012

What Do You Want to See Next to the MACC? (Updated)

The city wants to find a use for the empty lot that will benefit the cultural center.
flickr.com/mirsasha

Update: The first of two community meetings on what to do with land next to the Mexican American Cultural Center is occurring tonight. Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department “is seeking community input to develop a range of options” for the parcel neighboring the center. The meeting is at the Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St., at 6:30 p.m.

Original Post (Nov. 2, 11:11 a.m.): The Mexican American Cultural Center is celebrating Dia De Los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” with a family-friendly event tomorrow.

But sugar skulls aren't the only attraction. The public is also invited to use the event to share input on what should happen to the lot next to the cultural center.

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The Lead
8:52 am
Fri November 9, 2012

The Lead: Helicopters OK'd for F1 (But Cap Metro Could Strike); SXSW Music and More

Good Friday morning to you. Austin’s in for a warm and breezy weekend until a cold front blows in Sunday night, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on.

“Though it’s only November, the springtime music conference that takes over Austin each year, South by Southwest, is already beginning to take shape.  Thursday, organizers released the initial lineup.”

“Austin-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith is working to do something about the thousands of service members affected by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). …

Smith is the founder of a new program to help promote soldiers’ healing through music. Texas Music Matters’ David Brown reports from a camp outside Fort Hood, site of a recent Songwriting with Soldiers retreat.”

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Austin City Council
4:58 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Are New Changes to Austin's Bag Ban Too Lenient?

Some retailers thanked council today for exempting restaurants from Austin's bag ban; others felt it created a loophole.
courtesy flickr.com/jonathanyoungblood

Austin’s commitment to becoming a “zero waste” city by 2040 came into question today, as the City Council approved adding exemptions to the plastic bag ban that takes effect in March 2013.

Restaurants will now be exempt from the bag ban. Some citizens expressed that the exemption deviates from the goals of the original ban and provides too big of a loophole. (Whole Foods, Central Market and Wheatsville Co-op all serve hot dishes, for example.) 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell disagrees. "This is addressing in a meaningful way something that's a real problem," Leffingwell said, "and we've done that for other uses of plastic bags where we've seen that there's not a reasonable alternative – newspapers, dry cleaning for example. I think it's pretty obvious once you think about it – obviously we didn't think about it [then], but once you do think about carrying out a bag full of barbeque sauce in a paper bag, it's not a good idea."

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Transportation
3:55 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

The City Hopes These Signs and Kiosks Will Help You Navigate Downtown Austin

Design plans also include signs displaying parking garage capacity.
MERJE, via the City of Austin

The Austin City Council hopes to make downtown Austin easier to get around.

The city's Planning and Development Review Department presented progress on the Downtown Austin Wayfinding System this morning. Under this plan, inconsistent and vague signs downtown would become more uniform and detailed. Gateways into downtown (like the passage under I-35 on Seventh Street) would also get a facelift.

In addition to increased signage, the design firm the city has contracted with – Pennsylvania-based MERJE – has created signs that are in step with international logos for parking, transportation, information and more, with an Austin flair. 

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Austin City Council
9:52 am
Thu November 8, 2012

City Council Preview: F1 Coming In for a Landing

Back at it: City Council shakes off its election hangover today.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Thanks to this week’s election fever, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there’s an Austin City Council meeting this week. But there is (albeit mercifully, the 98-item agenda isn’t a terribly contentious affair). Here’s a few agenda highlights:

Raising Hel(icopters): A pair of items related to helicopter permits hover onto the dais this week. The impending Formula 1 race (eight days away and counting) means charter helicopter companies are looking to ferry high-rolling race attendees to and from the track via chopper.

Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo have sponsored two resolutions (Items 51 and 52) relating to both temporary and permanent “helistops.” The former would limit temporary stops to a cumulative total of 18 trips, far fewer than the dozens anticipated. The Austin Chronicle says that “judging from Tuesday's work session, it won't be an easy sell, at least not quickly – other members were skeptical that they knew enough yet to regulate the process and, even should such an ordinance pass, it could not take effect in time for this month's race.”

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Election
1:04 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

The 18 Propositions Before Austin Voters This November (Updated)

When Austinites cast a ballot this fall, they'll have numerous propositions to consider.
KUT News

Update 2 (Nov. 5): Early voting is over in Austin, but on Election Day (Nov. 6) Austin voters can cast ballots at any polling place in Travis County. For more on the local issues facing voters, see our topic page, "Austin Election: Bonds, Props and More." 

Update (Oct. 22): Early voting began today, Monday, Oct. 22. KUT News has more information, including a map of early voting locations. And for more information on the $385 million in bond spending proposals, check out KUT News’ bond election coverage.

Original post (September 13, 2012): Austin elections are traditionally sleepy affairs – you can look at local turnout to bear that out.

But moreover, the elections themselves are pretty straightforward: the election of the mayor and city council members (held in May), or every few years, a bond election to fund city initiatives (usually held in November.)

This fall, it’s a different story: While no elected positions are on the ballot, a $385 million bond election, coupled with several possible amendments to the city charter, means Austin voters will face a whopping 18 propositions when they head to the polls on Nov. 6. Below, we list them all.

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Transportation
7:30 am
Fri November 2, 2012

The Good and The Bad of More Cabs in Austin (Updated)

Cab drivers say more cabs on the street means less income and working longer hours.
Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update (Nov. 2, 7:30 a.m.): Austin City Council members voted 5 to 2 Thursday to grant a total of 30 new taxi permits to two of the city’s cab companies.

Members of the Taxis Drivers Association of Austin had argued that there are too many cabs on the road and that they’ve seen a decline in income.

But the two cab companies say the new permits are necessary to help level the playing field between them and their larger competitor.

"[We are in favor of the vote] In order to improve our company's service to not only our passengers, but to our drivers. We've been waiting since December of last year to find out if were receiving 10 additional permits," Bertha Means of Austin Cab said.

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City Council
10:00 am
Thu November 1, 2012

City Council Preview: Cab Permits, Cheer Up Charlies and the Future of East Riverside

The City Hall "stinger" points toward a workmanlike council meeting today.
flickr.com/diorama_sky

The Austin City Council convenes to a relatively small agenda today: a total of 63 items, counting the agenda addendum.

If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, it’s no Halloween hangover: this meeting’s high profile items cover some well-tread ground. Let’s take a look.

More Taxi Trouble: Items 27 and 28 comprise the third and final reading of additional taxi permits for Lone Star Cab (20 permits) and Austin Cab (10 permits). As KUT News previously reported, the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin is opposing the new permits. They cite a city report stating the since a first round of additional permits were issued this spring, cab drivers are taking home less pay. Still, with Formula 1 on the horizon, the council feels some pressure to increase the number of cabs on Austin roads. It’s that rock-and-a-hard-place situation – balancing cab drivers’ and customer needs – that’s let the permit approval languish, the Austin Chronicle writes in its council preview.

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Austin
8:49 am
Wed October 31, 2012

Austin Taxi Drivers Say There Are Too Many Cabs on the Road

Cab drivers say that even business at the airport has declined with more drivers on the road.
Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

Austin taxi drivers are working more but seeing a decline in income and business. And, as you might imagine, many aren’t happy about that. The Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA) is even more upset that the trend may be exacerbated if the Austin City Council approves 30 new cab permits on Thursday.

The TDAA says the noticeable decline in business happened after a first round of new cab permits approved by the Austin City Council hit the streets in July. Because, while more taxis on the streets means more options for riders, it means more competition for drivers.

A new report released by the City of Austin’s Transportation Department finds the average cab driver made about one fewer trip in July 2012 than in July 2011. Cab drivers made an average of $461 less this July than last—equivalent to a drop of $2.40 an hour. That’s despite an increase in cab fares but doesn’t take tips into account.

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Austin
5:58 am
Thu October 25, 2012

No Indictments Over Open Meetings Law

City Council deliberations are supposed to happen in public view.
KUT News

Some members of the Austin City Council will avoid prosecution for alleged violations of open meetings laws.

On Wednesday, the Travis County Attorney’s Office said it finished its investigation into a nearly two-year-old complaint that council members deliberated among themselves in ways that may violate government transparency laws.

City Council
5:06 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Council OKs Changes to Short-Term Rental Rules; Lowers Notification Fee to $50

The Austin City Council voted 5-2 to slash the notification fee associated with short-term rental registration.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

City Council waded back into the choppy waters of short-term rental regulation earlier today – and emerged largely unscathed.

By a vote of five to two, council decided to lower the fee for notifying neighbors about a rental property, and directed the city manager to re-evaluate other issues surrounding the rentals.

Owners who want to register their rentals with the city need to pay $476 for licensing and the notification fees. But over half of that – $241 – was just for the city to notify owners of properties within 100 feet about the existence of a rental. Today, council voted to lower that fee to $50.

Many short-term rentals are already rented for the opening weekend of Formula 1 in November – but only a handful are registered with the city.

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City Council
10:02 am
Thu October 18, 2012

City Council Preview: Short-Term Rentals, F1 Briefing and Naming a Waller Creek Winner

It's a full list for members of the Austin City Council today.
Callie Hernandez, KUT News

The Austin City Council convenes this morning. It's tackling a 104-item agenda. Here’s a rundown of the hot topics:

The Return of Short-Term Rentals: After wreaking havoc and sowing division on the council dais mere months ago, short-term rental regulations returns to council today. As KUT News reported earlier this week, council is looking at whether more people would comply with recently-passed regulations if it were easier and less expensive to do so.

Council is looking at two rental-related items – one asking the city manager to look at revamping several areas, and another lowering the cost of neighborly rental notification to a flat $50 – but some council members have concerns. "Responding to the growing pains of getting these registered immediately is just really problematic to me," council member Laura Morrison said earlier this week. "Until we get some feel for how things are working under our belts, otherwise, I can assure you there will be another set that we need to be working on soon."

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The Lead
9:17 am
Thu October 18, 2012

The Lead: Council Open Meetings Settlement, Austin Charter Election, 2013 Lege Preview

Good morning. Let's get to it this breezy, sunny Thursday, with some of KUT's  morning stories. 

​And here's two big overnight stories from Austin:

  • City Leaders Signing Deals To Avoid Charges In Open Meetings Saga (Statesman)

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a lawyer representing Council Member Mike Martinez confirmed to the American-Statesman on Wednesday that they had entered into a “compliance agreement” with prosecutors in the Travis County Attorney’s Office. The deal, which has been offered to other council members as well, caps a two-year inquiry and an embarrassing saga at City Hall. …

Turner and Brian Roark, an attorney representing Leffingwell, declined to publicly release the document Wednesday because they didn’t know if other county members had signed it yet. Travis County Assistant Attorney Mack Martinez declined to comment other than to say, “There has not been a conclusion to our case.”

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City Council
2:07 pm
Tue October 16, 2012

Council Considers Changes to Short-Term Rental Rules, Fees (Updated)

This is no game: Rules governing the registration of short-term rental properties return to the City Council this week.
flickr.com/wwworks

Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2:07 p.m.:

The Austin City Council is already considering changes to the rules and fees surrounding the short term rental ordinance that went into effect Oct. 1. As of Friday, the city had issued just 19 licenses. Council wants to know if more people would comply if it were easier and less expensive.

But council member Laura Morrison said in a work session Tuesday morning that it may be too early to make changes at all.

"Responding to the growing pains of getting these registered immediately is just really problematic to me," Morrison says. "Until we get some feel for how things are working under our belts, otherwise, I can assure you there will be another set that we need to be working on soon."

Right now, those applying for a license have to do so in person. They also have to pay a $241 notification fee to send letters to neighbors within 100 feet of the property. The city’s Planning and Development Review Department is recommending that the fee be reduced to $50. That’s because the $241 flat fee is the standard for other city notifications—which require notifying within 500 feet.

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Austin
9:23 am
Fri October 12, 2012

City Holds On to Rainey St. Land Near Cultural Center

Due to council action, the Mexican American Cultural Center won't have to contend with a nearby parking garage.
flickr.com/mirsasha

The Austin City Council voted late last night to remove a plot of land next to the Mexican American Cultural Center from consideration for sale or development. Instead, the City Manager will develop options for using the land for parks and recreation.

MACC officials asked the council not to sell the land for development because they feared it would limit the visibility of the center and impede its plans for future expansion. MACC Advisory Board Chair Juan Oyervides told KUT News earlier this week the board had expressed interest in the land earlier this year, and “were shocked to suddenly see a For Sale sign [on the property].”

The council will discuss by December what will ultimately happen to the land. Council also approved a broader resolution “directing the City Manager to develop a review process for potential real estate sales of City-owned land.”

City Council
10:05 am
Thu October 11, 2012

City Council Preview: Rainey St. Standoff, Urban Rail Funding, F1 Annexation

Plans to sell land next to the Mexican American Cultural Center appear to have been taken off the table.
flickr.com/mirsasha

The Austin City Council is tackling a full agenda today. While no one item looks to have the potential to grind the meeting to a halt, a clutch of smaller controversies have the potential to make this meeting a long one. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

The proposed sale of a plot of land on Rainey Street, next to the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), has likely been taken off the table.

As KUT News reported earlier this week, a private group of investors had offered to buy the parcel and build a parking structure; today, the council was set to consider offers for the land.

The MACC’s board of directors protested that it was never consulted about those plans, which it said would impact the MACC’s view and future plans for the area. 

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Urban Rail
2:26 pm
Wed October 10, 2012

Council Member Asks: Are Urban Rail Plans 'Putting the Cart Before the Horse?'

An prototype rail vehicle on display in Austin. City leaders are wrestling with whether to make another rail investment.
Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

The Austin City Council will consider Thursday whether to authorize an agreement with Capital Metro to spend $5 million for urban rail planning. The bulk of the money ($4 million) will come from a federal grant that requires a local match of 20 percent ($1 million).

So why spend such a large sum when previous money hasn’t produced any visible results? That was a question raised by council member Bill Spelman at council’s work session Tuesday. “A lot of people are concerned that we are putting the cart before of the horse,” he said. “We are spending four million dollars when we really haven’t decided what to do”.            

In May, the city released recommended routes for the first two phases of Urban Rail. Robert Spillar is the director of the city’s Transportation Department, and he sees the release of the money as the next step. At Tuesday’s work session he said getting the city’s stamp of approval would allow the Transportation Department to “restart” the alternatives analysis. 

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