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Public Safety panel punts on Special Events regs

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 by Gene Davis

A vote, or more specifically, a  non-vote, by the Public Safety Commission on the proposed Special Events Ordinance proved anticlimactic Monday night.

Rather than vote on the proposed ordinance as a whole, commissioners voted only to approve a definition change for one section of the ordinance. The definition change approved by commissioners sought to clarify that a special event venue should not cause emergency services to be weakened in other parts of the city.

Commission Chair Kim Rossmo had a simple explanation for why he didn’t think the commission should weigh in on the ordinance as a whole: “It’s above our pay grade.”

Austin Center for Events head Bill Manno urged commissioners to vote, and recommended that City Council pass the entire ordinance. He said the ordinance pulls together special event-related regulations currently located under seven different areas of code. The proposed ordinance separates special events into different tiers based on their size, with set requirements for each tier.

Manno added that many other city commissions signed off on their own special events ordinances in 2013 and that opposition to the proposal is misguided.

But Rossmo reiterated that he and fellow commissioners think the entire ordinance is beyond their area of expertise.

“That’s not in our purview, and many others are much more involved in those areas and have been involved in this entire process over time, which we have not,” added Commissioner Kent Anschutz.

Before the vote on the definition change and non-vote on the entire ordinance, commissioners heard aspects of the proposed ordinance that relate to public safety. Commissioners expressed their approval of the ordinance’s requirement that organizers of special events pay for the public safety costs directly related to those events, a longtime sticking point with commissioners.

Other aspects of the proposed Special Events Ordinance discussed during the meeting primarily revolved around limiting the number of special event venues in an area and requiring those venues to provide sufficient crowd control, traffic control and safety plans to ACE before the event.

Following Manno’s presentation, Laurie Velasco of South by Southwest reiterated that the event organizers believe the proposed ordinance is not ready for approval and that existing code already covers many of the stated concerns.

“We think it adds an unnecessary layer of rules and regulations,” she said.

On the other side, David King, a Zilker Park resident and frequent speaker at commission meetings, said the city should consider limiting special events.

“I know we are trying to mitigate the impact (of special events), but really one of the strategies that I think should be on the table is that there needs to be a strict limit on where these large events are and how often they occur,” he said.

Austin City Council is scheduled to consider the special ordinance on second and third reading Oct. 16.

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