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TipSheet: City Council, 6.10.21

Thursday, June 10, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Today City Council will meet for the last time before its summer break, which ends in late July. So, let’s make the most of it, shall we? The meeting itself promises to be on the reasonable side, though we’re slightly nervous that the executive session might drag on in an attempt to square things away prior to vacation. (This could be catastrophizing.) As usual, the entire Council agenda is posted online, and this TipSheet is simply a guide to the things we intuit might be interesting. 

Though there was a special called meeting earlier this week that was essentially dedicated to the topic, we’re guessing that the biggest thing on today’s agenda will be items 77 and 78, which deal with how to spend $143.6 million in American Rescue Plan money. Council seems committed to spending a large portion of the money on homelessness, but as we reported this week, there are a lot of details to be worked out. One of those details, in a somewhat-related item from Council Member Mackenzie Kelly’s office, is Item 85. Kelly’s resolution asks the city manager to work with Williamson, Hays and Travis counties on homelessness (and other issues), which is a reflection of the city’s need for help in addressing the issue, if it is going to invest heavily in solving it. 

Speaking of details, with the convention center’s westward expansion now scrapped, a more modest redesign is on the table. The redesign is approached in items 5 and 96, which focus on quality (over the previous manifest destiny of it all). Item 5 is the practical item from staff, which sets the redesign in motion with a construction contract. Item 96, which comes from the office of Council Member Kathie Tovo, is far more poetic. Comparing the convention center to the much-loved Central Library, it asks that the redesign process result in – and we’re quoting from the resolution here – “a landmark of great distinction, a bustling and vital public gathering place, and a point of pride for the community” through a design competition. 

Apologies, but we are also looking forward to seeing what happens with Item 2, which is a service extension request for wastewater for 34.4 acres on FM 620. The land is in Austin Water’s service area, and the request has the blessing of the Water and Wastewater Commission, but it’s also in the Drinking Water Protection Zone, and the Watershed Protection Department and Environmental Commission are against it. This memo does a good job explaining the differences of opinion, which Council members will have to navigate today. 

If you recall, the city has created an Economic Development Corporation that is intended to help preserve and create cultural spaces in the city. Item 11 puts $15 million behind that mission, which is exciting. 

Speaking of real estate, and homelessness, Council continues on its hotel-buying spree with items 89 and 90, which concern the purchase of hotels in districts 6 and 7 for “domestic violence or other shelter, housing, or related social services.”

Item 94 will double the city’s homestead exemption. The resolution is extremely likely to pass, but was only approved on two readings last week after some Council members expressed a desire to see it paired with rental assistance over worries that the exemption would disproportionately benefit those who are more well off in the city. (Item 91, which comes from Council Member Greg Casar’s office, does just that by appropriating $20 million to the city’s rental assistance program.)

Also of note, Item 11 approves the ambitious, delayed plan to expand the Carver Museum (here’s the presentation on the expansion). And, the backup for Item 38 shows that Kate Mason-Murphy will be removed from the Parks and Recreation Board following a heated meeting about plans for Williamson Creek and a subsequent request from Council Member Pio Renteria that Mason-Murphy resign.

Then there’s zoning. First of all, for all of you agenda-readers, there was a posting error in the initial agenda, so all of the zoning has been reposted later in the agenda under items 102-127.

Before their break, Council members have a bunch of zoning to consider, basically. Today, we are most interested in the two proposed planned unit developments on the agenda. First up is the Central Health PUD, which has been approved on first reading. Council will also take up the Springdale PUD for the second week in a row. Last week, sparks flew over a proposed postponement that may have caught the attention of opponents, who held their first press conference Wednesday after being called out by Renteria from the dais.

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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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