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Council postpones deliberation on parks fees, plate readers

Friday, August 19, 2022 by Jo Clifton

At the urging of Mayor Steve Adler, City Council members put off consideration of two controversial items from this week’s budget agenda. Council will now consider reinstatement of the license plate reader program for the Austin Police Department, as well as an ordinance that would require commercial property developers to pay into the city’s fund to purchase parkland, during the Aug. 30 work session.

Harper-Madison wrote on the City Council Message Board that Council should not raise the parkland dedication fees for the upcoming budget year, noting that these fees more than doubled for the current year. She also proposed that the fee be locked in at the time of site plan to give developers more certainty about what they might have to pay. She wrote, “Even in our current red hot real estate market, I’m concerned that these increases are outpacing rising property values across Austin and could negatively impact housing projects already struggling with inflated construction costs, all of which will ultimately get passed on to renters and buyers.”

And on Tuesday, two groups, the Austin Housing Coalition and a group of business and real estate leaders, sent a letter to Council asking them to support Harper-Madison’s proposal.

Council eliminated the license plate reader program in 2020 as part of budget cuts at APD. While police say being able to capture license plate numbers is an invaluable tool in solving crime, privacy advocates have been critical of such programs, particularly with regard to sharing of data. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly proposed a resolution directing the city manager to find about $115,000 in funding to reinstate the program for the upcoming fiscal year.

APD proposes to keep the data for 30 days except for any data associated with a major crime, which would be put into a file. Council Member Chito Vela, a criminal defense attorney, proposed an amendment to the resolution that would direct APD to delete that information after three minutes.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kelly asked APD Chief Joseph Chacon what impact deleting the data so quickly would have on officers’ ability to use the information. Chacon said, “It would severely limit our ability to use that type of data for more serious types of crime. … Many times when that data is captured, APD is not aware that a crime has been committed – and therefore would not know to key in on that data and be able to save that data within a three-minute time period.”

He added that the purpose of the 30-day period is to ensure that investigators have some historical data so they can look at the data after a crime is committed. Kelly said a friend of hers had her car stolen and officers did not get to her house until three hours after she had reported it. Kelly asked Chacon if APD would have access to the information in that instance under Vela’s amendment. He said no.

This issue, along with the arguments over parkland dedication fees, could make the Aug. 30 work session a lengthy one.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license

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