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TipSheet: City Council, 3.4.21

Thursday, March 4, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Editor’s Note: We’re trying out a new format for our City Council TipSheet this week, but the goal remains the same: to highlight the items on the agenda we are keeping an eye on. As usual, the entire agenda is also posted online and real-time updates can be found on the City Council Message Board

Today, City Council will convene for its first regular meeting since Winter Storm Uri. As you might expect, a number of items are aimed at those continuing to recover from the storm’s effects. Council will take up three items aimed at reducing the economic impact of the storm. There are 83 speakers signed up to speak on the regular agenda, and 16 signed up to speak on the zoning agenda. 

The first, Item 7, issues a one-time credit of $10 on electric bills and waives new electric service initiation fees for residents who had to move out of their homes because of the storm. Item 80 on the agenda attempts to counteract spikes customers could see in their water bill due to leaks by using historic average customer water use to determine bills. The ordinance also allows the utility to adjust water bills for customers who received unusually high bills because of the storm – due to burst pipes or other things – and totally waives the emergency water service repair cut off/on fee. Council will also vote on Item 30, which waives permitting fees for storm-related repairs.

(By the way, if you wanted a deeper dive into the storm response and recovery by the city-owned utilities, Council met yesterday as the Austin Water and Austin Energy Oversight Committees to do just that. The video of that meeting can be found here.)

Of course, in addition to the crisis brought on by Uri, there continues to be a Covid-19 pandemic, and the agenda has a number of things aimed at that, too. Item 4 adds $5 million each to the Austin Water and Austin Energy budgets for payment assistance programs that help address the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Item 19 gives about $1.4 million more to El Buen Samaritano to provide rental assistance for households hit by Covid. And Item 99 extends, once again, an ordinance requiring landlords to give 60 days’ notice of a proposed eviction before issuing a notice to vacate. Council’s approval of this extension means it will have been in place for more than a year. The ordinance was originally adopted on March 26, 2020, due to the pandemic. 

Believe it or not, there are a few items on the agenda that don’t have anything to do with the myriad crises that have befallen our city as of late. 

Though the backup seems to indicate that the recommendation was forwarded to City Council way back in October 2018, it appears it’s finally time to consider outlawing the barbaric practice of declawing cats with Item 3. To be clear, the change being proposed would ban surgeries done for aesthetic reasons or the owner’s convenience, while procedures deemed necessary by a veterinarian would still be permitted. Oddly, the backup on the item contains a letter of support from Los Angeles.

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison’s resolution – Item 67 – has garnered the most attention in the form of speakers this week. The resolution looks at the history of systemic racism in the city and asks the city for a few things: an apology, a refutation of racism and a commitment to correct systemic racist practices. To that end, the resolution directs staffers to report on “the economic value of the direct, indirect, intentional, and unintentional harm caused through economic, health, environmental, criminal injustice, and other racial disparities,” and creates a Black embassy in East Austin.

And finally, the zoning case we are most focused on this week is the Delta Kappa Gamma case. With historic zoning off the table, there still remains plenty to talk about, and we are expecting a fight over the proposed height; the backup for Item 94 shows that the proposal of 360 feet is a lot different from the 60 feet recommended by staff and the Downtown Austin Plan. 

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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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