Monday, October 14, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Reporter’s Notebook: Think of the children

Cub Scouts bring improvement initiatives to the Planning Commission… Webelos Scout Pack 81 Den 4 arrived at the Oct. 8 convocation of the Planning Commission to speak solemnly to the commissioners about their concerns for the city and what they appreciate. The appearance was part of the pack’s Building a Better World requirement, in which scouts learn about the government and public process. The five scouts applauded initiatives like the Austin Central Library while asking for improvements like more green space, community parks and bike trails. The scouts frowned upon the incessant construction within the city. Alex Galati specifically asked for more protected bike lanes, “so I could ride my bike to my grandpa’s house.” Pack leader Donna Galati, who also happens to be with the city’s Development Services Department, thanked the commissioners for their attention to the matter.

Environmental Dems reject city ballot measures… Austin Environmental Democrats voted last week to reject two propositions brought to the city by citizen petition, but voted in favor of a proposition from Travis County as well as most of the state constitutional propositions. The most controversial questions on the ballot are propositions A and B. The former started in reaction to the city’s decision to grant a long-term lease on city property for a new soccer club called Austin FC. Since the language for the ballot initiative was released, numerous supporters of arts groups and youth sports have expressed alarm about the unintended consequences of the proposition. Environmental Democrats rejected Prop A with 80 percent of the membership present voting to oppose it. Prop B would require a public vote before plans to expand the convention center could move forward. The mayor and Council have voted to expand the convention center with varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the mayor promising money to support homelessness initiatives as a result of the expansion. Sixty-nine percent of those voting on Friday opposed the measure. Travis County Prop A, which has drawn considerably less attention, would dedicate 2 cents from the Hotel Occupancy Tax to renovate the Travis County Exposition Center. However, even if voters approve this, Travis County is unlikely to get the money if the convention center expansion moves forward. Environmental Democrats voted not to support Texas Prop 4, which would enshrine a prohibition on the state income tax in the Texas Constitution. The group also voted against Prop 9, which would prevent the state from assessing property tax on gold held within the state. They endorsed the remaining state propositions.

Not from around here… Months after both the Austin Police Department and City Council called for an independent review of APD’s handling of sexual assault cases, the reviewers have been selected. The contractors are the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, a research entity out of Washington, D.C., that has general expertise in law enforcement training, and the Women’s Law Project. “It was a challenge, and I think we have a decent contract,” said Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt. Bernhardt was part of a four-person working group along with members of the Commission for Women that was tasked with providing feedback on the consultant selection. Although the contract was deemed acceptable, Bernhardt told the Austin Monitor, “We were frustrated that there weren’t more applications,” and “We were frustrated at the lack of diversity.” At the Oct. 7 meeting of the Public Safety Commission, she said the members of the selected organizations are not particularly diverse or bilingual. “They’re not Texans,” she said in summation. Texans or not, the groups are going to be reviewing half of the cases APD has handled over the last seven years. The comprehensive review will include interviews with APD leadership as well as survivors. Bernhardt told the Monitor she was disappointed that many of these conversations will be conducted in focus groups rather than one-on-one sessions, and she fears participants “wouldn’t be as frank” describing their experiences. Still, it will be a while before anyone sees the results, as the police department does not expect to receive the final results before 2022. Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon said that the department would look at implementing changes on an ongoing basis as findings roll in.

And some clarification... In last week’s Notebook, we noted some concern raised at the Environmental Commission by Craig Nazor that “the discharge from the Walnut Creek Water Treatment Plant may potentially be harmful to park visitors.” In a clarification from city staff, we learned Nazor was referring to one of the satellite water treatment plants along Harris Branch, where discharge flows near the Pioneer Crossing PUD. Environmental Officer Chris Herrington told the Monitor he was referring to routine monitoring along nearby Harris Branch, which has recorded violations in E. coli levels over the years.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jo Clifton and Jessi Devenyns.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Environmental Democrats: An Austin environmental advocacy group.

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.

Public Safety Commission: The Public Safety Commission is a City Council advisory body charged with oversight of budgetary and policy matters concerning public safety These include matters related to the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department."

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