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Events ordinance draws criticism

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Alex Dropkin

The Austin Center for Events unveiled its revised version of the city’s special event ordinance in front of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission on Wednesday night, drawing both praise and criticism for its new waste management policies.

The proposed ordinance would require more than 600 events held each year in Austin — categorized as Tier 2, 3 and 4 events — to have approved waste reduction and diversion plans. However, only the largest events — about eight a year — would need to submit a sustainability plan, drawing ire and confusion from both the commission and environmentalists.

“Eight events? That’s pathetic,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Bill Manno, special events manager for the events office, told the commission during his presentation that limiting the sustainability plan mandate to only Tier 4 events was a recommendation on behalf of both Austin Resource Recovery and the city’s Office of Sustainability.

“The change for sustainability plans was a recommendation … particularly because of the number of events and the lack of staff to review those,” Manno said. “If Tier 2 and Tier 3 were included as mandatory, that would be over 600 events that would have to be reviewed for compliance.”

While the proposed ordinance does not make a sustainability plan mandatory for Tier 2 and Tier 3 events, it does recommend that they have one.

“The Sustainability Office is working on some language for some incentive for (event planners) to comply with that within the rules,” Manno said. “Once we get more of those events in compliance and willing to do that voluntarily, then it’ll be a lot easier to make that a mandatory requirement.”

Some commissioners were not satisfied with Manno’s explanation.

“I get the 818 (annual events) is a lot, but I don’t really see the reasoning to eliminate (the other events),” Commissioner Joaquin Mariel said.

Tier 1 events — of which there are approximately 200 each year — are exempt from mandatory waste reduction and diversion plans (either recycling or composting). As defined in the ordinance, Tier 1 events don’t involve the consumption of alcohol and either impacts no more than one block, sidewalk or city right of way; is moving and consists exclusively of people in a police-escorted bubble; is an assembly at a city facility and lasts less than five hours; or is an assembly exclusively on private property and lasts less than one day.

Commission co-chair Cathy Gattuso said after the meeting that she was glad to see the three top category events required to have a waste reduction and diversion plan, but that the most important changes will come with those new rules.

“A lot of people have been working on this a long time. This is good,” she said. “The only thing is, let’s do it sooner than later and make sure the rules are good, we get composting in the rules and not just the easiest stuff.”

The events staff is ushering the ordinance through a series of city boards and commissions before taking it to City Council. Presentations are scheduled for the Downtown Commission (Aug. 20), the Parks and Recreation Board (Aug. 26), the Public Safety Commission (Sept. 12) and the Music Commission (Sept. 15). After that, the events office expects to have its revised special events ordinance on the Sept. 25 Council agenda.

Manno said many new rules that have yet to be fully fleshed out would be finished by then.

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