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TipSheet: City Council, 3.25.21

Thursday, March 25, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

With more than 100 speakers signed up to speak, it’s likely that today’s meeting will be on the long side. Thankfully, the items we are watching on this week’s City Council agenda represent a wide array of issues, so at least it won’t be monotonous!

Though we expected a discussion about items 16, 34, 74 and 82 at work session, Council ran out of time on Tuesday, so it looks like today is the day Council Member Kathie Tovo will air her concerns about this group of three proposed residential towers in the Rainey Street District. Though Rainey Street is an area of town that has specifically been planned for dense residential development, some residents complain that things have gotten too dense and that infrastructure has not kept up. For her part, Tovo has said she is focused on taking full advantage of money that could go toward affordable housing through density bonus programs, and worries that the current $3 million or so is less than the city could get for the increased height Council is being asked to approve. On the other hand, housing advocates argue that the proposed downtown units are a crucial step toward solving the current housing crisis in Austin.

Height and density bonuses will continue to be an issue on today’s zoning agenda, with the downtown Delta Kappa Gamma project. The project, Item 107, was postponed the last time it was before Council, but not before a quick discussion that made it clear there would be a battle over whether to increase the height from the allowed 120 feet to the proposed 375 feet. (Now that the battle over whether the current building is a historic landmark has been fought.) 

Pivoting to police, Council will also take up the issue of the long-delayed cadet class today with Item 37. Currently, classes are scheduled to resume in June. Council members Greg Casar and Alison Alter have indicated that they have amendments to the current plan that promises to realign police training at the academy through increased community involvement, establishing a culture of adult learning and transformative change in line with the city’s response to last spring’s protests and ongoing criticism of the status quo at APD. It’s a tall order, so it would be understandable if this one takes a bit of time today. In addition, with Item 117, Council will officially endorse the appointment of Joseph Chacon as interim chief of police.

The last time Council met, recovery from Winter Storm Uri took up most of the meeting. Today, some of that work continues with items 64, 67 and 112. Item 67, which comes from the office of Council Member Tovo, puts together an audit of the city’s emergency response to the storm, with room for public comment that will come in the form of work sessions and task force meetings. (You can read the draft resolution here.) Council Member Vanessa Fuentes has put together Item 112 in response to the storm, and that resolution looks at the health and safety issues that afflicted residents – particularly renters in multifamily buildings – and asks city staffers to compile a report on how to address these issues and strengthen tenants’ rights in the wake of disaster. Item 64 looks at establishing “resilience hubs” that can serve Austinites during disasters to come.

A plan to widen I-35 downtown continues to agitate everyone, and with Item 63 Council charts a course to try to convince the Texas Department of Transportation to do something other than the current plan, if this letter from Council Member Casar is any indication. (The resolution itself focuses on expanded public input about the project.)

As we reported Wednesday, Council is tasked with allocating a windfall in Covid relief funds from the federal government. On Tuesday, the push was to see how much of the $195.8 million could be applied toward permanently solving homelessness in the city. 

In a roundup of other items, Council will look at closing the “bull hook loophole today with Item 2. A model that promises to make funding equitable across the city’s chambers is going to be postponed, or withdrawn, as the process outlined in Item 27 goes back to the drawing board (continuing a yearslong process). The city’s Watershed Protection Department is getting a grant to map floodplains with items 60 and 61. And a bunch of public art is probably on the way, thanks to items 17-24.

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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 2015, 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 as of 2015, 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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