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Reporter’s Notebook: Urgent plodding

Monday, December 10, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

District 3 gets into it… The gloves are off in the race for the District 3 City Council seat between siblings Susana Almanza and incumbent Pio Renteria. The long-combative candidates have taken their campaign charges to the digital and physical realms with charged attacks on each other’s level of community involvement and the contributions they’ve accepted from outside groups. In a recent Medium post, Almanza said Renteria’s campaign support from developers has shaped his push for density in fast-growing East Austin, with demolitions and displacement as a result. Another ad in support of Almanza goes so far as to depict Renteria as a literal marionette for local development interests. Meanwhile, in a recent mailer to D3 residents, Renteria’s campaign has linked Almanza as a political ally of the controversial Austin-based nonprofit group Southwest Key. That same mailer also aligned her with the activist group behind Prop K, the unsuccessful ballot question that called for a comprehensive efficiency audit of city finances.

Hurry up and slow down… The unclear wording on last month’s bond proposal question that will create $12 million for “acquisition and improvements of creative spaces” has created something of a “chicken or egg” scenario for arts proponents trying to help determine how the money will be used. At last Monday’s meeting of the Music Commission, talk turned to the upcoming meeting of a joint working group of the commission and the arts commission, which aimed to work on shaping the process for how groups could apply for the money. That talk was quickly sidetracked with input from Erica Shamaly, manager of the city’s Music and Entertainment division, that the city would need to own any of the facilities that would receive any of the bond money, which would create a pretty high bar for existing groups that had hoped to qualify for the funds to improve their spaces. That discussion prompted commissioners to ask Shamaly and other staff to clarify the legal requirements attached to the bond funds, with Shamaly encouraging the working group to devise scenarios for dispersing the money that could then be vetted by city staff. “The first question is what are we allowed to fund with the money? In the bond language itself it didn’t say city-owned, but that may be assumed,” Commissioner Oren Rosenthal said. “The city manager could say the instructions are to build or purchase a building with the money.” Commissioner Graham Reynolds said he would like to see the creative spaces bond be a recurring item on the commission’s monthly agendas so the group can keep the issue moving forward in the new year instead of allowing the bond funds to sit idle, remarking, “This is an urgent thing that is going to move very slowly.”

Dripping Springs … to drip… After years of fighting against Dripping Springs implementing a discharge permit for the city’s effluent into Onion Creek, it looks like Austin will not win the fight. “If we think of this as a war for protecting Barton Springs … we certainly appear to have lost this battle. Thankfully we didn’t lose it entirely because of the provisions that were secured,” said Chris Herrington, the city’s environmental officer. One of the major provisions that was secured was that Dripping Springs agreed to lower its output from an initial 995,000 gallons per day to 825,000 gallons per day. He explained that one of the reasons the city of Dripping Springs chose the discharge pathway to dispose of its water is the lower cost for land development going forward. Herrington noted that with the passage of this discharge permit, Austin will not be able to provide the protection for lands that were purchased with voter-approved bond funding. However, he noted that there are other opportunities going forward with other municipalities to protect the sensitive Hill Country recharge zones. According to him, there are several discharge permits waiting in the wings for properties along the Blanco River and Long Branch Creek. “This is not going away. We need to think about the best ways to manage our water and wastewater,” he said. Commissioner Hank Smith noted that part of the city’s growth regulation strategy was not to provide water and sewer to these municipalities, “and this is the result,” he said.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki and Jessi Devenyns.

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