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Monday, February 25, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Chinese Democracy

The press release is made of cheese… How best to follow up a City Council meeting that saw unanimous action to ease the development of affordable housing? If you’ve got the big office on the second floor at City Hall, the answer is getting farcical and sending the recipe for Kerbey Lane Cafe queso, along with some pronouncements about the fate of mankind and plenty of other high-minded stuff. The stunt struck a chord and became something of a news sensation on Friday, generating headlines in basically every platform covering Austin. As of Sunday, a Google search for “adler moon queso” returned 191,000 results. Check-ins with media and advertising folks with more than casual links to Mayor Steve Adler tell us that “the mayor drove it,” and another said they were “glad (Adler) recognizes the need for humor.”

Now we’re meeting with… Last Thursday’s City Council meeting attendees may have noticed an odd odor in City Council chambers. Though lots of us old-timers are used to meetings where participants are running on fumes, the most recent regular meeting of Council actually was running on fumes – gasoline fumes. Austin Monitor sources tell us that, following the meeting and several complaints, the leaking gas tank of a BMW in the city parking garage was found to be the culprit. Gentrification strikes again.

Speaking of parking… The University of Texas study on the viability of an expanded Austin Convention Center has been delayed and delayed again to the point where it’s become the “Chinese Democracy” of city-level documents. (Rock music fans will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek comparison to the Guns N’ Roses album from 2008 that was more than a decade in the making, and for a time speculated it would never arrive at all.) The study by UT’s Center for Sustainable Development was commissioned by City Council in late 2017 for $250,000, with an expectation of delivery in fall 2018. That didn’t happen, then talk around City Hall had it arriving in early February, then Feb. 28, and now that date and accompanying plans for a public discussion session on the study have been scrapped as well, with no actionable info either from UT or the city on what might be next. While that waiting game plays out, the document continues to be a source of speculation and debate at the city’s Tourism Commission, where the pro- and anti- arguments over the possible convention center expansion are growing more heated by the month.

Temporarily out-of-commission… As we reported last week, appointments to the Planning Commission have conjured the ghosts of lawsuits not-quite-past. The temporary delay of a full dais may have also led to a recent unusual situation at the commission, when the meeting on Feb. 12 was canceled due to lack of quorum. City bylaws state that commissions need seven members present to vote on agenda items in order for them to pass. Historic preservation officer and meeting attendee Steve Sadowsky said some of the other commissions have the problem with meeting quorum, but it wasn’t a typical issue for the Planning Commission. He said in his near two decades of working for the city he hadn’t witnessed a Planning Commission meeting canceled for that reason. According to Commission Liaison Andrew Rivera, in about the last five years, only one other regular Planning Commission meeting had been canceled due to lack of quorum. Commissioners Fayez Kazi, Patricia Seeger, Greg Anderson, Angela De Hoyos Hart, Karen McGraw, and Jeffrey Thompson were absent. Several commissioners told Rivera ahead of time that they would not be present at Tuesday night’s meeting, but he explained that he expected a quorum until he was informed that one more commission member had a last-minute family emergency and could no longer attend.

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

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Convention Center: This city department operates the downtown convention center and associated events.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Mayor Steve Adler: Mayor of the city of Austin, elected in November 2014

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