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Reporter’s Notebook: You should see the other guy

Monday, March 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

CodeNEXT, now… Though in the background (for some people), the CodeNEXT Land Development Code rewrite continues to chug along. And this month: a new milestone! The city has released its draft “Natural and Built Environment Code Prescription” (found in its entirety here). The prescription is the first of four such drafts that, according to a city memo, “can be thought of as ‘previews’ of how the new Land Development Code will address key challenges and opportunities facing Austin.” This one tackles topics like flood mitigation, water quality, tree protection, design for mobility, infill development, new development and parks. Upcoming prescriptions will deal with household affordability, mobility and fiscal health. And, with a cheery wish of Good Friday [editor’s note: ?!], the city also announced that it will be holding an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit about the prescription this Tuesday, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. As our readers might have guessed, questions have already commenced with a debate over the idea of “neighborhood character.”

A tale of two one city… On Thursday, the city of Austin was ranked the 22nd best employer in the country by Forbes magazine, placing Austin first among those in the government services sector and just under Harley-Davidson on the list proper. The distinction was celebrated through an official press release, as expected. But it was also brought up several times during the sometimes emotional testimony on Thursday that preceded City Council’s vote in favor of taking a closer look at how the city currently handles employee discrimination. Council overwhelmingly supported the resolution, which could change how discrimination claims are handled for city employees, with Council Member Don Zimmerman voting in opposition and Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining from the section of the resolution that concerned an appeals process for complaints. The other section of the resolution, which asked for a review of the city’s anti-discrimination policies, an audit and a review of best practices, passed 10-0, with Council Member Sheri Gallo absent. The vote came after nearly an hour of testimony from labor advocates and employees fearing retaliation for speaking out about their experiences of discrimination and a human resources process that they said had failed them. Speaker after speaker detailed their strikingly similar experiences, backed by 40 supporters who were present but chose not to speak. It wasn’t, it seemed, a hard sell for a majority-female Council that had, less than a year ago, been the subject of a sexist, city-sanctioned training exercise. Further, Council Member Delia Garza shared her own experience, prior to becoming an elected official. “I started my career in the city of Austin in 2001 as a fire cadet, and there was a training lieutenant there that made it very clear that he didn’t think women should be firefighters. And none of the women in my class was going to speak up. We just wanted to get through that training,” said Garza. “With women issues specifically, these are cultural things that aren’t new for many women. We’ve been facing these kinds of circumstances and situations throughout our careers. … I’m not saying it’s specific to this organization. It’s a cultural thing that I’m sure many organizations deal with and many women have to deal with in separate organizations.” Garza thanked Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo for her lead on the reform, pointing out that earlier in that very meeting, Tovo had been the target of sexist comments about her appearance.

Get Into the Grove… Miss the fight over the Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development? That might mean that you aren’t spending enough time on Facebook, where the battle rages onward on the Bull Creek Road Coalition’s page. Last week, a graphic that purports to illustrate the difference between the proposed development at the Triangle and Crestview Station appeared, sparking a debate on the page that’s worth checking out, if that’s your bag. Representatives from the ARG Bull Creek issued a statement about the graphic to the Monitor on Sunday night. It read, in part, “Unfortunately, the graphic is misleading and mischaracterizes The Grove. It is a gross over-simplification that lacks context and fails to account for important considerations such as parcel size, transportation improvements, traffic operations, and the numerous benefits proposed at The Grove that simply are not present in the other projects. We are confident that the community is smart enough to look deeper and will know that the graphic is not a fair or objective picture of The Grove.” Also potentially worth checking out: an upcoming stakeholder planning meeting about the development that will be held this Wednesday.

The virtues of various topics… Citizen Communication exists pretty much so that anybody can talk about anything before City Council. That principle was made clear on Thursday by Sylvia Mendoza, who, clad in a sparkling Star Wars shirt, informed Council members at the beginning of her three-minute address that she was “going to be jumping all over the place with this speech, so try to keep up!” She told Council that she was torn over whether to support Ted Cruz or Donald Trump for president. Trump “says what people are thinking but are too afraid to say,” she said, while Cruz made a promise “to my face and has kept it ever since.” Deeming the subject of presidential politics to be exhausted (“What else can I talk about to keep you interested?”), Mendoza moved on to genealogy and epidemics. “The last time I was here, I informed you that I’m a U.S.-born American, but I failed to tell you my ancestry. That may be one of the reasons I talk the way I do: mean-spirited. It’s in my blood, and I can’t very well get a blood transfusion, especially not now with the Zika virus. Nah, I think I’ll keep my three fiery types of blood: Jewish, Italian and hick.” Mendoza did not entirely neglect city issues, however, admonishing City Manager Marc Ott for getting up from his seat during citizen testimony and applauding Council Member Don Zimmerman for being outspoken: “You’re goooood,” she said. “This Council needs ya.” On the form Mendoza filled out in order to speak during the meeting, she wrote that she would be addressing “various topics.”

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