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A look back at 2022, a relatively ‘normal’ year

Friday, December 30, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

In 2022, after a chaotic couple of years that included a global pandemic and a historic winter storm, life mostly returned to normal in Austin (whatever normal is). But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t news, so we’re taking a look back at the past year as we look forward to the next. Happy New Year!

The Austin Energy rate case

It wasn’t the best year for a rate increase: The cost of living in Austin has risen sharply over the past few years, inflation isn’t helping matters and those who lost power during Winter Storm Uri continue to eye Austin Energy with skepticism. Still, the city-owned utility determined it was time to raise electric rates, and City Council managed to strike something of a compromise in the final hours of its work year (and after the two incumbents up for reelection had been elected).

Police contract stalls, oversight concerns linger

At the moment, negotiations over a new police contract seem to have met their Waterloo in the issue of police oversight and whether or not it should be included in the contract at all. Though it looks like there’s some hope that negotiations will resume in the new year, it will be under increased pressure from a looming March deadline and with a Council that will have four new members to get up to speed. Meanwhile, the issue of what kind of oversight will take place is headed to voters in May, with the possibility of competition from a deceptive campaign aimed at getting a competing proposition on the ballot as well. 

Compatibility and VMU2

Apparently, everyone has completely given up on a rewrite of the city’s outdated Land Development Code. Given the amount of time and effort (and money) that went into the proposed rewrite, that’s depressing. But with surrender comes a certain freedom, and this year Council took some steps toward fixing some of the issues a rewrite would have addressed. Among those was a change to compatibility standards on some city corridors – meaning that single-family homes will no longer dictate how larger-scale housing is built on some larger roads. In addition, Council approved new mixed development rules, dubbed VMU2, that are also aimed at getting more housing built in the city. 

The battle over abortion

Austin always has a certain amount of disagreement brewing with the State Powers That Be (to put it mildly). This year, that disagreement reached new heights when the repeal of Roe v. Wade activated a state trigger law instituting an abortion ban in Texas. That, combined with gun laws and legislation targeting transgender youth, has made things very uncomfortable and contentious as local leaders look for ways to preserve the rights of Texans in a state that is increasingly hostile to liberal values.

Interstate 35 expansion

This was on our list last year, and will probably be on next year’s list, too. This year, not a ton changed about plans to expand I-35 through downtown, but it became increasingly clear that the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan is probably moving forward, and the city threw its effort into mitigating the expansion with a cap-and-stitch approach to bridge east and west. Stay tuned!

Downtown preservation (or lack thereof)

This year saw the loss of several downtown warehouse properties once slated for historic status. Though the facades of Fourth Street will remain, an impassioned effort to save the spaces was not enough, given the development pressures that continue downtown. Along similar lines, a plan to create a historic district for Sixth Street completely fell apart, as plans to remake a portion of the street continue to chug along.

Statesman PUD

It seems like every year there’s a development case that drags on throughout the year. This year that case was the planned unit development on the site of the old Austin American-Statesman building on South Congress at Lady Bird Lake. Because of its location and scale, all eyes were on the project. After deliberation that took up most of the year and involved everything from Project Connect to funding mechanisms to bats, Council eventually approved it.

Airport headaches

Despite soaring passenger counts, it was kind of a rough PR year for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Early in 2022, disastrously long wait times led travelers to actually abandon their rental cars in the road so that they could make their flights in time. Long TSA lines continued in the spring before ultimately calming down, but it all bolstered a plan to expand the overburdened airport. However, that plan was not without its hitches. Neighborhood horror at proposed jet fuel tanks adjacent to their homes ultimately didn’t alter the plan. But an attempt to get rid of the fairly new South Terminal is proving more costly.

Bye-bye to (some of) Council

After eight years on the dais, Mayor Steve Adler is taking his talents elsewhere. Along with him, Council members Kathie Tovo, Pio Renteria and Ann Kitchen are departing, making for a major shift. Adler has been at the helm since City Council switched from the at-large system to the current 10-1 system and largely defined how it has operated. Though Mayor-elect Kirk Watson’s term will only be two years, it will be a test to see what sticks. In addition, of course, District 4’s Greg Casar was elected to Congress! (Here’s a nice new Austin Chronicle profile on his change.)

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