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Reporter’s Notebook: Alternatives to hissing

Monday, December 9, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Instead of hissing… On Saturday, the city held a public meeting to discuss the draft Land Development Code, which City Council is scheduled to vote on today. How did it go? In a nutshell: 392 Austinites spoke on the draft code at the special called Saturday Council meeting. Of the 700 people who signed up to register their opinions, 485 were against the current draft, 158 were in favor of the draft and 57 citizens signed up as “neutral.” For those who missed the meeting and were hoping to glean the tone of the meeting, two things capture the general vibe fairly well. First, Mayor Steve Adler took the unusual step of updating his typical plea to use “jazz hands” to indicate support instead of applause in order to minimize noise and allow things to move more quickly. Answering a question, he explained that the opposite of the supportive jazz hands was simply an emphatic thumbs-down. “Please do that instead of hissing,” he said.

And then there is this brief video, captured by AURA outside of the hearing Saturday:

Fact check… One of the refrains heard again and again at Saturday’s meeting was a plea to slow down. Given the pace of the most recent revision of the Land Development Code, that’s understandable. The current draft was released in October and City Council is expected to make its initial vote on the draft today. For a document that weighs in at around 1,300 pages, that’s a really fast turnaround. However, Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas did the math and concluded that today’s meeting on the code will be the 68th public meeting held by the city on the rewrite since 2017. In an email to local media, he noted, “These dates include those hosted by the city, those hosted by commissions including Planning Commission (PC), Zoning and Platting (ZAP) and others. The number does not include public meetings held by business groups, neighborhood associations, and events held by Council members not posted on social media (I’m told by one CM that he held a total of 20 public engagement meetings), and many more … In reality, very likely have had more than 100 meetings – a meeting every 10 days for three years.” As a reminder, the revision of the land use code began in 2012, following approval of the city’s new comprehensive plan, Imagine Austin.

So very special… The city’s Special Events Task Force has asked for an extra six months to produce recommendations on how to enforce the ordinance covering special events as large as South by Southwest and as small as neighborhood block parties. That likely extension is in keeping with the city’s progress on special events, with the ordinance itself taking nearly six years of work before it was eventually adopted by City Council last year. In a memo published Friday, Deputy City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde informed Council and staff that the task force has requested an extension until the end of September 2020 to produce its recommendations instead of the late March deadline that was put in place with the formation of the group. The need for extra time isn’t all that surprising since an assortment of members contacted by the Austin Monitor earlier this fall said the plan to study the impact and requirements for events based on a tiered system was moving far slower than first anticipated.

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

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