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Reporter’s Notebook: What’s wrong with _______

Monday, November 13, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Sad CSAC… Exactly who is the “customer” in the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Customer Satisfaction Advisory Committee? That’s the existential question the body and the agency’s board of directors will grapple with in the coming months. As we reported recently, some board members have expressed concerns about the committee’s workings, or lack thereof. When the Austin Monitor attended November’s gathering of the CSAC, some institutional problems were apparent: The Capital Metro Transit Store, where the meetings are held, was locked and only after encountering a security guard were we at last able to gain entry; for the first 20 minutes, just two of the committee’s five current members out of a total of nine seats were present (a third walked in late); and the staff members on hand for a Connections 2025 briefing very nearly failed to get the audiovisual equipment to operate. When the committee got around to a discussion item about its own operational issues, Capital Metro’s Sam Sargent suggested that the individual members are eponymous customers and that they do not necessarily need to act as a conduit to the board of riders in general. Committee Member Betsy Greenberg held that the five current members do not have the breadth of experience needed to speak on behalf of the agency’s vast ridership, leaving open the possibility that the committee could ramp up its public input efforts. To that end, Sargent suggested that the meetings could be relocated to a more amenable location, specifically the brand-new Central Library. We’re totally on board with that idea.

ZWAC supports overhauling the ALO, but quickly… Two days before City Council was set to vote on revising the current Anti-Lobbying Ordinance, it removed it from the agenda instead, deciding to delay the adoption of a new lobbying ordinance. Since April, waste contracts have been exempt from the city’s Anti-Lobbying Ordinance while a new one was being drafted in response to Texas Disposal Systems saying that city lobbying regulations infringed on its First Amendment rights. The Zero Waste Advisory Commission was in support of this suspension. “I think the last resolution we passed was an effective one,” said commission Chair Gerry Acuna at the Nov. 8 commission meeting in reference to ZWAC’s recommendation to Council that the ALO remain suspended until certain clarifications were made. However, Commissioner Joshua Blaine said that suddenly requesting such a long revision period wasn’t necessary since Council and stakeholders weren’t far off from coming to a consensus on the emendation of the ordinance. He said that delaying the vote for another six months was excessive. “Six months without a functioning ALO does sound like an invitation for chaos,” Blaine said. Acuna noted that the ALO only came about in 2007 and that prior to its installment, “business got done.” Nevertheless, according to Adam Gregory, son of Texas Disposal Systems founder Bob Gregory, “There isn’t any reason that this should take six months.” In fact, an extended timeline may be detrimental to the city when it requests bids on new contracts. Steve Shannon of Waste Connections explained, “Until we get a fair and level playing field that’s free of interference we are not going to be inclined to bring our benefits to the city of Austin.” The ZWAC voted unanimously to recommend that Council expedite the ALO revision process to be completed in no more than three months.

Texas socialism… On Thursday, a number of small business owners successfully urged Council to continue a 12-year-old deal that offers patrons of businesses located in the Second Street District two hours of free parking in the City Hall parking garage. Among the business owners pleading the case for free parking was Tim Dowling, co-owner of Ride Indoor Cycling, who told Council members that 90 percent of his customers drive to attend spin classes and therefore depend on low-cost parking nearby. Jay Crossley, an urbanist activist, fumed on Twitter that that argument embodied everything wrong with Texas:

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Jack Craver and Jessi Devenyns.

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