Austin City Council

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.

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.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Update: You can now read the full letter HUD sent to its grantees around the country, including Austin. 

Original Post (12:05 p.m.): Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says the federal spending cuts known as the sequester will have an effect on affordable housing in the city.

Mayor Leffingwell says he was notified of the cuts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

The Austin City Council convenes this Thursday to a 78-item agenda. And one item – on first glance – might strike fear into the heart of even the most hardened council watcher: short-term rentals.

Or maybe not this time. In contrast to the council’s hard-fought first-round of rental regulation, the sponsors of Item 40 – the rental resolution – see it as more of a clean-up item. With the number of properties participating in the city’s rental registry painfully low, the measure creates new classes of rentals – like renting one room, instead of an entire dwelling – and creating fines for unlicensed rentals – up to $2,000 a day.

Police may begin impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers who offer rides for money – and that includes drivers using online apps like SideCar.

Item 30 on this week’s Austin City Council agenda would allow police to impound “a ground transportation service vehicle operated in violation” of the city code governing transportation franchise agreements, like the ones in place with Austin taxi companies.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

It isn’t everyday that citizens stay late into the evening to tell the Austin City Council what a good job it’s doing. But that was the case last week.

“You’ve guys have won awards – dozens and dozens and dozens of awards – for being the most innovative, green, efficient, well-managed, best customer satisfaction utility in the state of Texas,” environmentalist Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen told the council. “And you want to change this?”

Spencer Selvidge via Texas Tribune

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is considering a run for mayor of Austin and won’t seek another term in the Texas House, he said Wednesday.

“I genuinely have not decided whether to run for mayor — I can think of as many reasons not to do it as to do it,” he said. “Regardless, I have decided not to run for another term in the House. All good things must come to an end, and on a separate note, so must my time in the Texas House.”

KUT News

This summer, Austin will begin drawing its first city council districts.

The long slog towards geographic representation has been an uphill one: a fight to get the measure on the ballot, a hard-fought campaign and, once the measure was approved, fear an all-volunteer committee to draw council districts would fail to attract diverse and representative candidates. But with the help of the city auditor and community groups, the list of applicants has swelled from fewer than a hundred nearly two weeks ago to just under 250 at last count on Feb. 14.

Despite protests from some clean energy and consumer advocates, the Austin City Council voted unanimously last night to take to the first step towards creating a board of legal and energy experts to oversee Austin Energy. 

The resolution directs the city manager to develop the ordinance that will outline the dynamics of this board by March 21. While the board will oversee Austin Energy, city council will retain final approval of electric rates, transactions of more than $100 million and any board nominees.

Update: The council gave preliminary approval to an independent Austin Energy board Thursday night. You can read more here.

Original Post:The Austin City Council has made short work of today’s agenda, passing most items early.

One agenda item is still outstanding, and should create some sparks: a resolution calling for an independent governance board to oversee operations at Austin Energy.

Joy Diaz, KUT News

Happy Valentine's Day! The National Weather Service says Austin is looking to stay sunny with high 60s in this afternoon. 

Lead Story: Austin City Council votes today on a measure that could create an independent board to oversee Austin Energy. The resolution is sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Bill Spelman. 

City of Austin

The backlog in forensic DNA evidence in Austin is so serious that local judges and the Travis County district attorney called the mayor and City Council members to discuss the situation. Then they followed up with letters.

On Tuesday, the council agreed to fund three new jobs for forensic chemists. But the embarrassment prompted council member Laura Morrison to promote a new idea in dealing with the city’s forensic needs.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

What’s $14 million between friends? Grounds for argument, if the Austin City Council is any indication.

On Tuesday the council wrangled with how to spend a $14 million mid-year budget surplus, the result of higher than expected sales tax and development revenues. The day’s big winner? Affordable housing initiatives, which were earmarked for $10 million. 

Bobby Blanchard / KUT News

Austin Energy’s power structure is up in the air.

Tomorrow, the Austin City Council will vote on a resolution that would relinquish much of its control of the city-owned utility to an appointed board of legal and energy experts. Currently, the city council oversees Austin Energy. But following the recommendation of the Electric Utility Commission – not to mention the council’s protracted and politically-fraught redesign of electric rates – Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and City Council Member Bill Spelman are supporting a resolution that would change that.

Joy Diaz, KUT News

Update: In a protracted and somewhat testy meeting, the Austin City Council budgeted and allocated the sum of the city’s $14 million budget surplus.

The day’s big winner? Affordable housing initiatives, which were earmarked for $10 million. Wildfire fuel mitigation received a little over $1 million, the Child Inc. after-school program received $557,000, and a pilot program for 24 hour patrol of the Hike & Bike Trail received $350,000. You can view a complete list of the council’s actions.

Flickr user mvongrue,; Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

We’re still about a month away from March Madness, but Austin City Council members are already filling out their brackets.

The council is deliberating what to do with a $14 million budget surplus at mid-fiscal year – the result of higher-than-expected sales tax and development revenues. The council held one work session delving into the topic already; at its work session tomorrow, the council’s posted to take action spending all or part of the available surplus.

If you’re going into work today, you must not have gotten the memo.

Today, many City of Austin employees and employees from some local business are partaking in Austin’s first “Work from Home Day." It's a citywide initiative to reduce the environmental impact of thousands of people driving to work.