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Final vote on Special Events Ordinance may wait until January

Friday, October 25, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Though Council members unanimously approved the pending on first reading Thursday, that action came with anticipation of the creation of a Council subcommittee that would deal with lingering issues about the matter. Chief ordinance sponsor Council Member Mike Martineztold his colleagues that he and Council Member Chris Riley would bring forward an item to create the subcommittee at Council’s Nov. 7 meeting. Sponsors hope to streamline the applications process for special events and codify those efforts. Discussion over the matter touched on sensitive issues for what South by Southwest attorney Michael Whellan cast as a major economic driver for the city.

As part of the ordinance, Council members could act to create events districts. That issue raised concerns from Zilker Neighborhood Association’s David King. “I think it’s going to be important that folks understand that special events districts will be created, and particular uses will be allowed in those districts,” King said. “Permits will be issued for those districts. That sounds a lot like zoning to me, and it sounds a lot like it could have a lot of impacts that may not be understood.”

King’s worries could find their way to the subcommittee, as could those presented by Council Member Laura Morrison over “several big ticket items.” At Thursday’s meeting Morrison passed out a motion sheet with a series of proposed amendments, including Council approval of fee-paid events, and a provision that would grant notice and an appeals process for special event permitting, among other issues.

Meanwhile, Whellan presented Council members with a series of his own suggested alterations to the Ordinance. These include specific language adjustments that could make some tier three events into tier four events – depending on the level of impact to city services – would solidify Council’s authority to enter into agreements with ordinance. They would do so with an eye toward the coming 10-1 administration of the cityand assurances that Council, the Urban Transportation Commission, and the Music Commission would all have review over the rules that would go along with the new ordinance.

He also asked Council members to inquire about rationale from the City Attorney’s office that some of his suggestions could run afoul of the first amendment (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 24). “Please ask (the City Attorney) to explain where any of these proposed revisions that I’ve included violate the First Amendment or the equal protection clause or otherwise make the ordinance, ‘less defensible,” he said, quoting Assistant City Attorney Patricia Link. “I just cannot and do not understand what is being suggested by that statement.”

Circuit of the Americas, Transmission, and C3 – support his suggestions. “These changes that I am proposing are content neutral, they do not establish categories based on Constitutionally-suspect classifications such as race, gender, ethnicity, or religion,” Whellan continued. “We know that distinctions based on economic factors or other non-suspect classifications are rational and defensible – we know that.”

Whatever the result, the ordinance has been a long time coming. Still, as part of his remarks, Whellan suggested that – despite his support of the rules review – full implementation could be even further away. He suggested that it could be 2016 before city officials would be able to enforce the ordinance. Whellan is with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody.

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