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Reporter’s Notebook: Let the games begin

Monday, December 4, 2017 by Austin Monitor

He’s running… The 2018 election cycle has gotten off to a painfully slow start on the local level, but we finally have our first big and thoroughly unsurprising candidate to take the field. An eagle-eyed reader tipped us off on Sunday to the new look of, the campaign website of Mayor Steve Adler. Gone are the old promises of “A New Way Forward” and issue prescriptions from the 2014 campaign (“We must adopt the 20 percent across-the-board property tax exemption for homesteads,” ahem). Instead, the new single-page website features an image of the mayor in front of an aerial shot of downtown and a donate button for Adler’s re-election campaign. This jibes with the hiatus from City Hall taken last week by mayoral aide Jim Wick, Adler’s go-to guy for campaign operations. Also not surprising is the fine print at the bottom of the website that declares that Adler will eschew public financing and its attendant contribution and expenditure limits by not complying with the Austin Fair Campaign Ordinance. In his 2014 campaign, the mayor smashed local records by spending more than $1 million to bury his closest competition, then-council members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole. And speaking of the last class of Austin’s at-large City Council, the air is crackling with speculation that it’s only a matter of time before former Council Member Laura Morrison announces her challenge to Adler.

CodeNEXT by another name?… As a way to circumvent some of the knee-jerk opposition to CodeNEXT, Planning Commissioner Greg Anderson suggested at the Nov. 28 joint land use meeting that maybe the new land use code needed better marketing. “I get asked far too often, ‘What is CodeNEXT?” he said at the meeting. In any business, big or small, that kind of branding problem would be resolved as soon as possible, Anderson said, and he thought the city should respond accordingly. He proposed a concise alternative: “Rewrite of the 1984 Land Development Code.” It doesn’t make sense to give something a “sexy” label when a to-the-point title would suffice, Anderson said. A problem with that idea, CodeNEXT Project Manager Jorge Rousselin explained: “We printed a lot of T-shirts.”

Police want to know what we think… The Austin Police Association wants to know what you think, specifically about the proposed labor contract between the city and APA. It hired pollster Mark Littlefield to find out, and at least one of the Austin Monitor‘s reporters was lucky enough to receive a call. Questions ranged from whether the Austin Police Department and City Council have a good working relationship, whether the city should continue to pay police officers the relatively high salaries they have received in the past and whether it is worth it to the city and the citizens to pay those high salaries in return for certain concessions. The poll also asked whether Council should approve the contract that rank-and-file officers have already voted to accept. The poll explained that failure to adopt the contract would mean that the police would operate under state law, which lacks many of the provisions in the current and proposed contracts to make police activities more transparent. And just to keep the caller on the line, perhaps, the last question was whether or not the person being polled views President Donald Trump in a favorable or unfavorable light. According to Ken Casaday, president of APA, the group does not have results yet but is expecting them in the next day or two. Although Council is currently scheduled to vote on the contract at its final meeting of the year, Dec. 14, Casaday said it’s possible it will have a special called meeting on Dec. 13 just to address that issue.

Microbreweries too big in CodeNEXT 2.0… During a conversation about CodeNEXT land uses at the Nov. 28 joint land use meeting, Planning Commission Chair Stephen Oliver challenged staff’s interpretation of what constituted a neighborhood pub. In response to the changes made by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission over the past few legislative sessions, CodeNEXT has included a more diverse option of land uses for serving alcohol on-site. It has defined the microbrewery, winery and distillery uses by their output, but Oliver suggested that the cutoff of 15,000 barrels was far too high. “There are only a handful of breweries in the entire state that (produce) 15,000 barrels. This is not micro anything,” Oliver said. As an alternative, he suggested focusing on limiting square footage as a way to control the scale of breweries and bars in residential areas.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Joseph Caterine and Jo Clifton.

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