Austin City Council

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.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Austin’s city auditor is practically begging more people to apply to be on the board that will draw the first geographic districts for the City Council. So far, fewer than 100 have applied, and they are overwhelmingly white and male.

It’s not the kind of wide participation proponents of the charter amendment that created district representation had in mind. But it’s similar to what happened in San Diego, a city that was just redistricted in 2011.

Austin’s ban on some single-use bags goes into effect in just over three weeks. Today, area businesses will get training on the new bag rules.

The city is holding two training sessions for restaurants, grocery stores and retail stores: one this morning, and another one at 6 p.m.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

There’s no City Council meeting this week: Instead, City Hall watchers’ eyes were on Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s 2013 State of the City address, delivered at a Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon on Tuesday.

Owing in part to Austin’s good fortunes, the mayor’s speech is traditionally a rosy affair, full of economic achievements. And that was the case this time:  “Austin, Texas is today, I think without question, one of the most widely admired and most emulated cities in America,” said Leffingwell in one of the speech’s many paeans to the city.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

That's a Wrap: That does it for Mayor Leffingwell's remarks. At the bottom of this post, you can view a video of the mayor's remarks. And keep reading below for a recap of the mayor's speech. 

Wages for Construction Workers: Speaking about city economic incentives, Leffingwell says he does not support a hard wage floor for construction workers on projects receiving city benefits. "I don’t think we ought to change our economic incentive policy to make it an entry-level position," he says. Instead, he says a living wage floor should count as an additional credit to businesses applying for incentives. He also floats the idea of paying a wage difference with public funds.

City of Austin

Transportation and Public Works officials briefed the Austin City Council today on proposed renovations to Rainey Street, the popular entertainment district plagued with more than its fair share of parking and transportation problems.

Officials said converting Rainey Street to a one-way street could add metered parking spaces, two bike lanes, and increased accessibility for those with disabilities, but also presented another, less drastic, proposal that would keep the street a two-way. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The hottest item at today’s Austin City Council meeting got dispensed with quickly: the controversial proposal from council member Bill Spelman that would have allowed up to four lobbyists to serve on an 11-member board working to rewrite Austin’s land development code.

“I’m not a great politician but I know that to govern a great city you have to listen to everybody,” Spelman said this morning as he withdrew the item from the agenda. “And I think we are not going to be listening to everybody in as good of a way as we should in this transaction. Nevertheless I will succumb to the inevitable and withdraw this item.”

Joy Diaz, KUT News

The Austin City Council could decide today whether to start a pilot program aimed at keeping some hike and bike trails open 24 hours a day.

The proposal by council member Chris Riley has little support from his peers because it comes with the hefty price tag: a little over $3 million a year for extra police patrols. But whether it goes forward or not, the program is making the city think about how it will patrol trails in the future.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

An admittedly wonky but far-reaching undertaking at the City of Austin is getting started – and the question of lobbyists’ roles in what happens next is putting pressure on the Austin City Council.

All development in Austin is governed by city code – zoning, land uses and just about everything conceivable in the built environment. The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan – the recently-passed blueprint for the city’s long-term growth – calls for a revision of the city’s dense, endlessly-amended development code, and in December the council obliged. Late last year, it passed a resolution calling for an 11-member advisory group to craft changes and revisions to the code.

Liang Shi for KUT News

A larger than expected surplus from fiscal year 2012, plus higher sales tax revenues has Austin City Council members discussing which projects should be funded.

That was the talk yesterday at a special mid-year budget session, and with more than $14 million on the table, the possibilities are near endless.  

Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, City of Austin

Austin got a look at the return on its investments Thursday. 

The city currently has 11 active economic incentive agreements in place – deals with companies like Visa and Apple stipulating that as long as a company meets negotiated hiring and spending goals, they’ll receive annual benefits from the city, often in the form of tax breaks.  Total incentives, if honored over the course of their entirety, approach $73 million.

The familiar orange water coolers are poised to return to Austin’s hike and bike trail, after the city council agreed today to waive permitting fees for the businesses that operate the watering stations.

RunTex has been bringing water to Lady Bird Lake since 1990, but the coolers were removed last November after concerns about their security and sanitation. 

Paul Carrozza of RunTex estimates that his store spends $100,000 a year transporting water and ice to the trails. The store spends $3,000 a month in paper cups alone. 

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

The confetti’s been swept up, the bubbly’s gone flat, and 2013 is getting underway in earnest.

And what better reminder that time marches on than the first Austin City Council meeting of the new year. And clocking in at 99 items, the council has a lot to consider.

Mose Buchele, KUT News

The Austin City Council could take the first step toward another bond package aimed at affordable housing today. The proposal from council members Sheryl Cole, Bill Spelman and Chris Riley tells city staff to start preparing for a bond election, although it does not specify a dollar amount.