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Reporter’s Notebook: Coming around

Tuesday, May 31, 2016 by Austin Monitor

I told you so… City Council Member Don Zimmerman may not get his Council colleagues to embrace his libertarian beliefs, but he appears hopeful that there may be a day when they view city staff with as much suspicion as he does. On Thursday, Zimmerman posted a video excerpt of a recent meeting of the Council Public Safety Committee, in which Council Member Leslie Pool seemed surprised to learn that the new police body camera policy that Austin Police Commander Ely Reyes was presenting to the committee did not need to be approved by Council. The policy was implemented internally by the department, Reyes explained. Neither Zimmerman nor Pool said much in response at the time, but Zimmerman was clearly delighted by the interaction, which he described on Facebook, in a press release and in an interview with the Austin Monitor as proof that city officials often make important decisions without input from Council. The eight seconds of silence that followed Reyes’ answer to Pool’s question gave Zimmerman particular hope. “It felt like, to me, that during that long, pregnant pause, the truth of my allegations was sinking in with one of my colleagues,” he told the Monitor.

Everybody’s talkin’… Though their meeting ran for more than seven hours last week (!), champs at the Planning Commission voluntarily opted to return to City Hall this week to take up two of this city’s current favorite civic topics: CodeNEXT and mobility. Regarding CodeNEXT, commissioners plan to review the second “prescription paper” from the code rewrite, which is all about affordability (and available online here). Commissioners will also work toward identifying mobility priorities for City Council — getting into the transportation bond discussion just under the wire. The meeting is scheduled to take 30 minutes, and we at the Monitor wish luck to all involved.

The system… works? At the most recent meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission, there was some unexpected news out of East Austin. Namely, that the 1911 house at 2205 East Cesar Chavez St. was no longer up for demolition. The owner had reconsidered the plan and opted to initiate historic zoning instead in the face of rapid change. Phil Thomas, who is the preservation president of the East Town Lake Neighborhood Association, originally opposed the historic zoning but told the commission that he changed his mind after an “extensive” conversation with the homeowner during the meeting. “Amidst the carnage of this evening, East Town Lake supports the staff recommendation and the property owner,” said Thomas, who explained that his conversation earlier in the evening assured him that the owner was seeking historic zoning “for all the right reasons.” He added, “Depending on the motives of the applicant … we are sometimes initially opposed. I signed up opposed because I had no information.” Commissioners voted 6-2 to initiate historic zoning, with Commissioners Arif Panju and Alexander Papavasiliou voting in opposition.

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

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