Austin City Council

12:35 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

The 11 (or 12 or 13) Ballot Proposals That Could Change Austin for Decades (Updated)

Changes to elections, protections for rank-and-file city employees, and civil service status for EMS responders are among the items voters will consider this fall.
Ambulance photo Daniel Reese for KUT News; all other photos credit KUT News.

Update: The city has  finalized the fall 2012 ballot since this post was originally written. For a look at the City of Austin's ballot propositions, read "The 18 Propositions Before Austin Voters This November." 

Original post: While a potential 10-district scenario for electing Austin City Council members – and the council’s controversial decision to put a competing “hybrid” plan on the same ballot – may be getting the most attention when it comes to November’s city charter election, those aren’t the only items Austin voters will face.

Not by a long shot.

By KUT News’ estimation, 11 items are in the bag already, set to be put before Austin voters. And two other potential changes to the city charter – Austin’s governing document – are still a distinct possibility.

Some are small housekeeping measures. Others could impact how the city runs for decades to come. But as a charter election can only be held once every two years, when voters head to the polls  they’ll face a dozen or so proposed charter changes.  Here, we run them all down.

Read more
11:12 am
Wed August 8, 2012

How to Complain About Payday Lending Problems

Payday lenders have been subject to new city regulations since the start of the year.

The City of Austin is encouraging consumers to come to city staff with complaints about payday lenders and auto title lenders.

It’s been almost one year since the Austin City Council passed an ordinance that requires lenders to register with the city and to follow restrictions on loan amounts and refinancing.

“Recently, the City of Austin put together a resource – an informational website – for both credit access businesses as well as consumers,” says city spokesperson Patricia Fraga.

Read more
City Council
8:47 am
Tue August 7, 2012

Council Closer to Setting November Election

Under two proposals reorganizing city government, the council dais would grow from seven to 11 seats.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

The Austin City Council is focusing on the November election in a work session today.

The council is set to consider putting another option on the ballot for voters who want council members to be elected from geographic districts. The so-called “8-2-1” plan would allow for eight council members from geographic districts. The mayor and two additional council members would be elected at-large.

If approved, the option would be one of two on the November ballot. Under the competing “10-1” plan, which was placed on the ballot by petiotion, only the mayor would be elected at-large. Currently, all council members are elected at-large.

Read more
City Council
10:39 am
Fri August 3, 2012

Council Passes Short Term Rental Regulations, Punts on Concert Approvals

Protesters calling for a ban on types of short term rentals rallies outside City Hall yesterday.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Austin City Council members voted 5-2 last night to pass a plan that regulates short term rental properties.

The plan puts no limit on the number of short term rentals that are owner-occupied. But council members put a cap on the percentage of homes per census tract that can be used primarily as short term rentals. All short term rental homeowners will have to register with the city and pay hotel tax.

Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, who had been pushing for an outright ban on rentals that aren’t the renters' primary residence, voted against the regulations.

Read more
City Council
8:54 am
Thu August 2, 2012

City Council Preview: The Concerts Are Coming!

City Council returns to a full agenda this Thursday.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Austin City Council faces a long agenda today, convening for its first full meeting in over a month.

The issue of regulating short term rentals (STRs) has reached a fever pitch over the break, ever since the council’s initial June vote to add new regulations.

While some council members have signaled their intent to finalize that initial suite of regulations – which would require property owners to obtain a license, and limit the number of STRs by zip code – opponents have called for a ban on “commercial” STRs, or properties that exist solely to be rented out. And the city didn’t help the issue by publishing a memo that inadvertently stated the council had acted in legal error on their first vote.

Read more
10:32 am
Wed August 1, 2012

Taxes, Fees Rise in Proposed City Budget

Daniel Reese for KUT News

A 2.2 cent property tax increase and additional raises to utility rates and city fees means the median Austin homeowner will paying an additional $18 each month in city fees and taxes, as laid out in City Manager Marc Ott’s proposed city budget for Fiscal Year 2013.

The 2.2 cent property tax increase is higher than the 1.8 cent increase the city originally forecast in April, when it began work on the city budget. According to the City Budget Officer, Ed Van Eenoo, the reason for the boost is a half-billion dollar difference between the Travis County Tax Assessor’s April estimate of the tax rolls, and the certified tax roll delivered in July.

The city's current tax rate is 48.11 cents for every $100 of property value . But without the increase the city budget would see a $17.8 million shortfall as currently written.

Read more
4:49 pm
Tue July 31, 2012

Short Term Rentals Making for a Long Council Meeting

The memo in question: The city stated a previous short term rental vote occurred in error, but later found that wasn't the case.
City of Austin

The Austin City Council is expected to take action on new regulations for short term rental properties this Thursday.

The decision comes after some confusion about whether the council would postpone action until August 23. As KUT News previously reported, the city inadvertently muddied the waters last week by posting a memo stating the council’s initial vote on the matter would be disregarded as notice of the meeting was not publicly posted. But later that day, city staff realized the action was publicly posted, and its previous statement was in error.

Council Member Kathie Tovo expressed concern over whether the public knows that council will be moving forward on short term rentals this Thursday. But Council Member Mike Martinez doesn’t think it’s an issue.

Read more
3:35 pm
Tue July 31, 2012

Council Takes Another Step Toward District Showdown

Council member Mike Martinez was one of only two members to vote against putting the 8-2-1 plan before voters.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Voters are one step closer to seeing competing plans for Austin City Council representation on the ballot this fall – a move supporters say gives Austinites a choice, and opponents argue will doom both proposals to failure.

At its work session today, the council approved placing the so-called “8-2-1” scenario for future city council elections on the ballot this fall. As KUT News reported earlier this week, the item proposes eight individual, single-member council districts, with the mayor and two additional council members running citywide.

The proposal  is at odds with Austinites for Geographic Representation’s (AGR) 10-1 district plan – 10 single-member districts, with only the mayor running at-large. With the AGR plan earning a place on the ballot via petition, some council members argued against putting a competing measure before voters.

Read more
City Council
2:01 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

City Council Back With a Three-Peat This Week

The city council faces a full schedule on its first week back.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

After nearly a month off the Austin City Council is getting down to business, with three major meetings this week.

The fun starts Tuesday, as the council convenes for a work session. Instituted last year in the wake of alleged open meetings act violations, normally Tuesday work sessions are a chance for members to vet topics they’ll consider at their regular Thursday meetings. But this Tuesday’s meeting includes potential action on two long-simmering issues:

Discussion of November 2012 election matters and potential direction to staff.

This item could include matters related to the anticipated November bond election. 

Read more
Austin Energy
4:34 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

Push for Independent Board to Run Austin Energy

Not everyone believes the Austin City Council should be at the wheel for Austin Energy.
Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

Austin’s Electric Utility Commission voted last night to recommend the City Council put a measure on the November ballot that would allow voters to choose whether to have Austin Energy governed by an independent board, rather than the council.

Phillip Schmandt is the chair for the Electric Utility Commission. He says the change was recommended back in 1996 and is back in the spotlight since the recent vote to increase Austin Energy rates.

Schmandt says many people believe the time and energy required to run Austin Energy is just too much for city council. He also says another advantage of having a five-person board is that representation could include people who live outside of the city limits.

Read more
3:59 pm
Fri July 6, 2012

Looking Back at Austin's 'Library For the Future'

A rendering of the new central library, along Cesar Chavez Street.
City of Austin

A new central library – an updated replacement for the 1970s-era  Faulk Central Library downtown – has been in the works since 2006. It was that year that voters approved $90 million in bonds to finance the project.

Six years later, and construction hasn’t  started on what the city touts as the “library for the future.” And the Austin City Council recently approved an additional $1.3 million in funding.  

In the spring of 2008, the Council approved the library’s site, nestled between the slated-for-redevelopment Seaholm Power Plant, and the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant.  The library was officially defined as the “Library for the Future” when the council approved an “Architectural Program Building Narrative” later that year. That’s also when the council also selected the architects to guide the project.

Read more
Formula One
3:07 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Is the City’s $5,500 F1 Trip Worth It?

The Silverstone circuit in Northampton, England, in 2009.
David Ashcroft,

Just months before Formula One arrives in Austin, city officials left today to tour the F1 Silverstone circuit in Northampton, England, and meet with race and safety officials.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott have their full travel expenses covered the Circuit of the Americas, the organization responsible for building the Austin-area track and hosting the race.

The other city officials, including Police Chief Art Acevedo and Fire Chief Rhonda Mae Kerr, have a portion of their expenses covered; their flights are being paid for with approximately $5,500 in city taxpayer dollars.

Read more
City Council
3:03 pm
Fri June 29, 2012

Four Months Before City Election, the Knives Are Already Out

Austinites for Geographic Representation brought an estimated 30,000 signatures for its 10-1 plan to city Hall yesterday.
Andy Uhler for KUT News

“I’m a little bit surprised  that the two primary contagonists here are divulging their strategies before the race is even on .”

So said Mayor Lee Leffingwell at last night’s Austin City Council meeting, debating the merits of competing plans for geographic representation. Judging by the late hour at which the comment came (just half an hour shy of midnight) one can forgive the mayor for coining a new term: contagonists, a seeming mash-up of antagonists, competitors and/or comrades.

But serendipitously enough, that’s a fitting term for the pair Leffingwell was referring to: veteran political consultants Peck Young (there on behalf of Austinites for Geographic Representation’s 10-1 district plan) and David Butts (pushing for the council to propose a “hybrid” scenario – eight single-member districts, with two additional council members and the mayor running at-large).

Read more
City Council
9:06 am
Fri June 29, 2012

City Council Wrap-Up, F1 Trip to England for City Officials

The copper ceiling inside City Hall.
Paulo Martins for KUT News

The Austin City Council wrapped up its Thursday meeting at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning.

Council members rejected a proposal to build a $5 million temporary customs and immigration processing facility at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

They postponed until August a discussion on ordinance changes for short-term housing rentals.

Read more
3:09 am
Fri June 29, 2012

Will the November Ballot See A Pair of Geographic Representation Plans?

Andy Uhler

Right now - every member of the Austin city council runs city-wide. But early this morning, the council voted to put the so-called ten-one plan on the November ballot. That plan would divide Austin into ten geographic districts represented by individual council members, with only the mayor running at-large. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Mike Martinez decided earlier in the day that they would support a ballot measure containing the exact language of a group called Austinites for Geographic Representation. That group says it has gathered 30,000 signatures in favor of its 10-1 plan. Council Member Martinez noted that this is not the first time city council has been tasked with this issue.

"There's a fundamental difference this time," Martinez said. "And that is a movement has occurred and that there are thousands and thousands of signatures. The work has been done. And it should be respected and honored."

Read more
City Council
12:16 pm
Thu June 28, 2012

Council Members Plan to Place 10 District Proposal on the Ballot

A detail of the petition Austinites for Geographic Representation is circulating.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Austin City Council members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez just announced that they will move to place the 10-1 geographic representation proposal pitched by Austinites for Geographic Representation on the ballot this November, in an attempt to avoid the headache of validating the group’s thousands of signatures – and potentially give the initiative a little wiggle room.

The announcement states Cole and Martinez will withdraw a similar, but not identical, item calling for a 10-1 plan today – ten single-member districts represented by individual council members, with only the mayor running at-large – and instead, replace it with the “language contained in the Austinites for Geographic Representation’s citizen-led petition efforts.”

Read more
City Council
9:53 am
Thu June 28, 2012

City Council Preview: Running the Geographic Gauntlet

Geographic representation is the topic du jour at City Hall.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Austin City Council faces a full agenda today. It’s the last scheduled meeting before a month-long break.

They may well need a break, considering what’s on the agenda.

Sure to be the center of discussion are City Council proposals for geographic representation. As KUT News reported earlier this week, Mayor Lee Leffingwell is proposing a hybrid 8-2-1 system – eight council members representing individual districts, plus two additional members and the mayor running at large. Council member Mike Martinez is proposing a 10-1 system – 10 council members in single-member districts, with only the mayor running at-large. In its numbers, Martinez’s proposal is similar to the 10-1 proposal brought forward by Austinites for Geographic Representation, which is wrapping up a signature drive to place the initiative on the ballot.

Read more
City Council
2:18 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

As Meetings Go, This One's Quick: Council Members Inaugurated Tonight

Mayor Leffingwell delivers 2012 his State of the City address . Leffingwell is among the council members to be inaugurated tonight.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Compared to recent all-night  gatherings, tonight’s meeting of the Austin City Council should set a land-speed record.

That’s because the only topic on the agenda is the inauguration of the council members – all incumbents – and the naming of the council’s Mayor Pro Tem.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, plus council members Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez and  Bill Spelman will be inaugurated at City Hall this evening. 

Read more
Formula One
3:09 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Austin Ponders the Winning F1 Formula

One of the racers on display at this weekend's Formula One expo.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Get your helicopter permits in now.

That was one of the takeaways from a presentation to the Austin City Council yesterday, regarding planning underway for the Circuit of the Americas’ inaugural Formula One race this November – displaying the size, scope and expense of hosting the Grand Prix.

“We don’t know where to direct them,” council member Mike Martinez said of entrepreneurs inquiring about helicopter permits to chauffeur high-rolling F1 attendees. “They’re asking us questions that we’ve never heard of before, like where do we land a helicopter in downtown.”

Read more
City Council
11:29 am
Fri June 15, 2012

Imagine That: Council Approves New Comprehensive Plan

An Austin resident shares her views on what she wants to see for the future of Austin.

Austin City Council members voted unanimously early this morning to adopt the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for the city's growth in decades to come.

A public hearing on the plan lasted past 1 a.m.

The Imagine Austin plan was created from thousands of ideas submitted by residents about how Austin should develop over the next 30 years.

Read more