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Reporter’s Notebook: Petitions, among other things

Monday, February 8, 2016 by Austin Monitor

Pilot Knob, revisited… Over the weekend, City Council’s recent Pilot Knob deal got a lot more ink. As you might remember, the Austin Monitor first wrote about the deal, which will bring affordable housing to the planned unit development, at a cost of millions to Austin’s water utility. Since then, plenty of other places have caught up on the story. Most recently, the Austin American-Statesman published two pieces. Andra Lim wrote a story reporting that Council Member Ellen Troxclair is calling for reconsideration of the deal. And, over in the Opinion section of the paper, Alberta Phillips wrote in defense of the deal. The one thing that is apparently clear is that the deal has not been relegated to the past – in a Friday post on the City Council Message Board, Mayor Steve Adler announced that there will be a discussion about the deal at this Tuesday’s work session. He wrote, “From recent media reports and brief discussions with Council colleagues and their staffs, it is very apparent that there are questions and concerns regarding the affordable housing component of the Pilot Knob PUD. … In retrospect, we should have more clearly communicated the mechanics of the agreement and the broader policies implicated in the days leading up to the council meeting and from the dais at third reading. I take responsibility for not taking the opportunity to explain the deal in greater detail. But we welcome the upcoming chance to do so, because we believe it is a fiscally sound deal that makes meaningful progress on one of our city’s top priorities – affordability, and does so in a way that does not irretrievably divert any money from the City’s water or any other department.” Meanwhile, Troxclair has sponsored an item on Council’s Feb. 11 agenda asking the city manager to “provide financial analysis and briefing regarding Austin Water Utility impact fee waivers for affordable housing and to initiate amendments to the affordable housing and fee waiver portion of the Pilot Knob PUD zoning ordinance.” That item is co-sponsored by Council members Don Zimmerman, Ora Houston and Leslie Pool.

Sign here (and here and here and here)… For those of you keeping count at home, there is yet another “dissatisfied with local government petition” to add to the pile. Late last week, “Manage Austin Better” emerged with its own petition, seeking signatures from residents who “support replacing the current city management and request that the Mayor and City Council take such action now.” You can read the group’s reasoning on its website here, but ultimately it boils down to a laundry list of “poor management of departments and projects” (particularly in regard to the findings of the 2015 Zucker Report), “poor recognition and addressing of social and economic equality problems” (particularly in regard to Austin’s affordable housing crisis), “poor stewardship of public tax dollars,” “poor enforcement of city ordinances and regulations” and “poor transparency and accountability.” Fred Lewis, who identifies himself as an “organizer” of the group, sent out an email to potential supporters, and in that email he suggests that the scheduled February performance review of the city manager be used “to replace them.” (Lewis isn’t the only one talking about putting city management in the hot seat right now, as Jo Clifton reports here.)

Zimmerman v. Gallo v. one lucky Boy Scout troop… A group of Boy Scouts attending a meeting of the Mobility Committee as part of their efforts to obtain citizenship and community merit badges received conflicting life advice from two members of the committee. Addressing the preteen guests, City Council Member Sheri Gallo asked that they promise her that the “first thing” they do when they turn 18 is register to vote. “It’s very, very important,” she said. Council Member Don Zimmerman disagreed. “I have some alternative advice,” he said. “When you turn 18, you will either set yourself on a course for education to develop your skills and get into a profession or else you’re going to develop some kind of vocational work skills. So the first thing you do is learn how to be useful, learn a craft or develop a profession, and be a productive member of society. The second thing you do is vote.” It wasn’t immediately clear whose counsel the tweens took to heart.

And, in case you missed it… “Spring Festival Season” is right around the corner, and last week news broke that some of Austin’s most enduring South by Southwest events might not happen due to a miscommunication between the city and those holding the events. This year, the Austin Center of Events announced that it was implementing restrictions on event permits: Permits would no longer be accepted after Feb. 5, or after 120 applications were filed. The cap was reached before the deadline, but many assumed that the application process was still open after it had quietly closed, leaving events like South by San Jose, Ray Benson’s Birthday (!) and even SXSW showcases at St. David’s Church in the lurch. Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan is still working toward a resolution with the city but expressed her frustration with the confusing permitting process in an email to City Council and staff on Friday. She wrote, on behalf of AMP, “To recap, ACE – without statutory authority – stopped accepting applications for spring festival season on February 2, several days in advance of the advertised application deadline of February 5. The music and event community was not advised of this early process closure at all until February 4, and even today – the original deadline – many small businesses and events are visiting ACE to drop off their permits only to be notified that the process is closed, and turned away without recourse. … Make no mistake: ACE is acting without authority granted in code, and this arbitrary change required council approval that the city manager did not get in advance.” In that same email, AMP asked for a reconsideration that would allow applications submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday to be assessed and permitted if code and safety standards were met.

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

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