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Reporter’s Notebook: Games and old friends

Monday, November 16, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Convention center “Ping-Pong”… City Council voted to delay adoption of a proposed master plan for the Austin Convention Center on Thursday, but not before having a discussion on the merits of the potential expansion with some interesting similes. “It’s kind of like a Ping-Pong match,” said Council Member Don Zimmerman. “The hotels say … ‘We need a bigger convention space so we can fill up the hotels,’ and when the hotels fill up, the convention center says, ‘Well, …’” Zimmerman trailed off. “They Ping-Pong back and forth – more hotels, more convention space, more hotels, more convention space – and the taxpayers want to get off that treadmill.” Zimmerman made the comparison after Eric Goff, a board member of local advocacy group AURA, described a dynamic in which major cities compete with one another for convention center traffic, which benefits large hotel chains in those cities. Goff also questioned whether an increase in hotel occupancy tax collections since 1999 could be attributed to convention center visitors. “We’re the live music capital of the world, not the live convention center capital of the world,” quipped Goff. The resolution that Council passed in a 10-0 vote with Zimmerman abstaining sends the plan back to the Council committees with a request that city staff come up with responses to concerns about potential dead zones around the expanded center, potential traffic impacts, whether the local venue tax would cover the cost of the expansion, and more.

Welcome… Over the weekend, Council Member Ellen Troxclair posted an Austin Business Journal article that details the trials of 1307 Waller St. from the perspective of the homeowners, with a note that she would like to discuss the case with Planning and Zoning Department staff. As the ABJ was unable to get comment from anyone other than the homeowners for its piece, we invite curious minds to visit our coverage of the case. Most recently, Caleb Pritchard wrote about Blake and Toria English’s suit against the city, but prior to that we detailed their lease of the house to a candy company as a “crash pad” for musicians as well as the English family’s ongoing, unsuccessful battle with the city and neighbors to retain the 61.8 percent impervious cover on their lot, which exceeds the 45 percent allowed impervious cover.

At least there’s no dysentery… The Colorado River Alliance and the Texas Water Development Board have released a game to help players get “acquainted with the threats and potential solutions to our dwindling water supplies.” The Texas 2040 sustainability game invites players to manage the region’s water, with an aim toward not dooming everyone in the area. (One Austin Monitor reporter was radically unsuccessful and quickly doomed the region.)

If at first you don’t succeed… “I just wonder how many times we are going to go through it.” That was the comment of Council Member Greg Casar, who on Thursday took his turn trying to dissuade Council Member Don Zimmerman from his continued, time-consuming scrutiny of city contracts. Explained Casar, “I understand Council Member Zimmerman’s dislike for ‘negotiate and execute,’ and if we want to have a discussion on that, and if four co-sponsors were at a committee, we could handle it then. But I think the taxpayer dollars wasted and the amount of time we sit there going through every amendment at times – it just doesn’t seem a good way of going about it. … I would advise just vote no on this contract so we don’t keep doing this every time.” In response, Zimmerman remained resolute, saying, “I’m going to keep doing it because I think it’s a terrible practice to keep voting for spending when we can’t see what the agreement is and we don’t know what the metrics are as to whether the money was used wisely or if it ended up getting wasted. This is the way we waste taxpayers’ money. We don’t see what we’re voting on; we don’t know if it’s effective or not.” Indeed, halfway through the nearly 13-hour meeting, Zimmerman’s office issued a press release to that effect.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook items come from the notebooks of Tyler Whitson and Elizabeth Pagano.

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