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Reporter’s Notebook: Overheard, signs of the times

Monday, May 21, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

And on and on… Last week brought a tentative update to the ongoing labor negotiations with the Austin Police Association. Those negotiations resumed after City Council voted against a proposed contract in December. Since then, police have been operating without a contract. In a memo to Council members and Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk estimates that the contract negotiations “will continue for several more months at a minimum.” However, Cronk did report on some vague/specific progress, noting that the parties have “tentatively agreed to 12 contract articles so far. These articles involve largely non-controversial terms such as definitions, recognition, non-discrimination, union dues check-off, etc. The parties have not yet begun negotiations on the more complex articles (e.g., wages, promotions, hiring, discipline, citizen oversight).” Bargaining sessions are scheduled to continue May 23, June 11 and June 25, and staff will have an update on nationwide oversight practices at the May 22 City Council work session.

No lie… For the past year or so, City Council has been tackling the city’s homelessness problem from almost every angle, which culminated in April’s passage of a comprehensive plan to end homelessness in Austin. Is the city now reconsidering ordinances that critics, and audits, say make life harder for those without homes? A memo from City Manager Spencer Cronk explains that the current solicitation ordinance is headed to a Council agenda in June after a stop at the Public Safety Commission on June 4. Cronk continues: “For next steps, I want to dig a little deeper into the ‘camping’ and ‘sit/lie’ ordinances, to determine how those ordinances are used and enforced as part of the action plan to end homelessness. I am open to your thoughts and suggestions. After I have had the chance to study the ordinances and the data surrounding their enforcement and effectiveness in a more comprehensive way, I will come back to you with suggestions. I intend to do that in the next six months.”

Prime real estate real estate… It’s doubtful that old reliable haunts like the Headliners Club and high-end cocktail bars around downtown have fallen off as choice places for real estate and developer bigwigs to put together deals, but a recent afternoon spent working at the Bennu Coffee location on Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive offered your correspondent a chance to eavesdrop on three different confabs between local property owners and business types looking to get moving on new projects around town. Whether it was the particulars of adding 200,000 square feet of office space along North or South Lamar Boulevard, finding warehouse space in Southeast Austin (tough to come by at present, apparently) or casually running through all the people and projects of interest for a Dallas-area speculator looking to move into the Austin market, the day and location offered an uncanny glimpse into some of the people looking to make moves in America’s current big boom town. This is not to say that nursing a cold cup of house blend for a whole day at Bennu is going to lead to a tip on the next hot deal in town – most of the convos overheard on the day in question were kind of small potatoes or too far along for new participants to pounce. But as a locale for bumping into players in the real estate and development community after they’ve spent a day scouting and networking downtown, sometimes you just get lucky.

Signs of the times… At the end of the most recent Board of Adjustment meeting, Board Member Melissa Hawthorne had a few minutes to express her befuddlement at a summary of how sign regulations could change under the upcoming CodeNEXT process. Despite her long service on the board, a backup presentation remained mysterious. “It was a little weird; it was a little bizarre,” she said. “There’s a document that tells you how the document changed, but do you ever get to the document?… So then I had to go in search of the other document, and I was like, ‘weird, this is weird, folks.’” More precisely, Hawthorne explained, “It didn’t actually tell you the sign rules.” In order to address the weirdness, BoA members are shooting for a more informative briefing at their next meeting, although that scheduling was done with a fair bit of assuming that their effort to comment on the code will continue to fall on seemingly deaf ears.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki and Elizabeth Pagano.

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