This Week at the Austin City Council #ATXAgendaAware
August 7, 2019
By Michael Searle, Executive Director
Notable Items on the Austin City Council Agenda for August 8, 2019
Items 15, 16, 17 – November 2019 Election: Stadiums & Conventions
What do these items do?
These three items call an election for November 5, 2019 and set the ballot language for each proposition. In addition to the ten Constitutional Amendments you will be voting on this November, there will be two local propositions, both initiated by citizen petitions each signed by more than 20,000 Austin residents.
The first, a response to the soccer stadium deal attempted to undo what the city and the soccer team agreed to. The City claims that the ordinance does not have retroactivity and will only pertain to future sports or entertainment facilities. If approved by voters in November, future deals would require a vote of at least three-fourths of the Council (9 votes) and a vote of the public. The second proposition, related to hotel occupancy taxes, if approved by voters, would require a vote on any future expansion of the convention center and would repurpose hotel taxes that go to the convention center to be used to promote cultural and heritage programs and facilities, including live music and musicians, film and TV productions, local businesses and parks.
We will likely have a whole future post dedicated to those two items, so stay tuned. Given our experience with the audit last November, you can expect some ballot language shenanigans and smear campaigns. That is the City’s playbook.
Items 19 & 20, 41 & 42, 71, 72 & 77, 141 & 142 – Action on Homelessness
What do these items do?
There are so many items, it is difficult to keep up. With City Manager Cronk’s proposed budget yesterday, Departments have some indication of how much money they will be working with next year and have wasted no time getting more money out to deal with homelessness. However, aren’t we supposed to be breaking away from the status quo? 6 of the 9 items are just growth of existing efforts. Don’t get us wrong, the Salvation Army is a great organization, but we have to forge a new path on homelessness, which means reviewing all existing efforts and contracts BEFORE approving more funding for them.
In addition, the City Council is proposing to look at installing water fountains across the city and creating Economic Development Corporations to identify more funding for homelessness. All of these things may be the right thing to do, they may not. We just don’t know because they are being done piecemeal and haphazard, without the context of a strategic plan and proper measures of success. As an example, maybe we should be building laundry, restroom, and shower facilities instead of water fountains? We just don’t know until we have done the planning. And as this pastiche of policy makes clear, we do not have a plan.
Item #78 – Climate Emergency – Save the Planet!
What does this item do?
This resolution declares a climate emergency and calls for “immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.” Regardless of where you fall on the climate change debate spectrum, we can all agree it is beyond the city’s capability to restore the climate. The resolution focuses on two components: excellerating the City’s current climate goals and an education campaign for the public on the effects of the climate crisis.
As many of these resolutions are, this will prove to be rather symbolic, both in implementation and effect. The city has no ability to affect the “climate crisis” and affordability constraints should limit the city’s ability to be more aggressive in it’s fleet electrification, zero waste, and renewable energy goals. But those realities won’t limit the City Council’s ability to show how green they are, with the education campaign
“helping families engage with methods like recycling to ensuring that Austin residents understand the potential catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, especially for vulnerable communities at home and abroad.” Apparently, Austin City Council is going to school our friends in Bogota about the climate crisis.
Item #81 – Rail
What does this item do?
This item appears to be the next stop on the track toward a 2020 transit bond. With some little known election happening that year, the City Council and CapMetro plan to place a transit bond on that ballot. Although, the details and cost of the proposal are lurking in the shadows, people close to City Hall believe it to be several billion dollars, and to include some rail component, in addition to bicycle lanes, urban trails, and dedicated transit lanes. Given rails failure in the past, the city knows it has to be packaged with something voters support, like fixing traffic. But the city’s real goal was actually contained in the last item : “a shift to 50 percent of trips being independent from single occupancy cars, a means of addressing the climate crisis.” What that actually means is: the city is going to ignore the needs of the vast majority (more than 75%) of Austinites who rely on cars, and continue making it impossible to get around in Austin, hoping that will drive people to use government transit.
But, in this case, the city is not only going to ask property tax payers (a.k.a. everybody who lives in Austin) to foot the bill, the city is looking at how they might conceal the cost in your water and energy bills. Yikes.
Item #140 – Maximum Tax Rate
What does this item do?
This sets the maximum tax rate, which City Manager Spencer Cronk has recommended at the maximum allowed under State Law – 8% above the effective rate. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet the City Council takes that suggestion. That means, if you are a property owner or a renter (who property taxes are passed to), you will likely be paying 8% more for your city taxes this year, which according to the proposed budget is another $100 per year ($359,000 home with a homestead exemption).
See your Taxpayer Impact Statement here.
THIS WEEK AT THE ATX COUNCIL
Almost every week the Austin City Council convenes, and collaborates on issues related to running the City, including everything from purchasing items to zoning cases to budget allocations to new ordinances and resolutions. On a typical meeting agenda, there are anywhere from 50 to 100 different items on which the Council will debate, take public input, and vote or postpone.
The local media often covers the more compelling issues, but typically simply acts as a megaphone for the ideologically monolithic City Council, rather than asking tough questions, investigating the effects of policy decisions, or expressing interest in the effectiveness or outcomes of the action. Policy at City Hall has become an exercise in pandering to influence groups, a wink-and-nod parlor game between friends, rarely measured for effectiveness.
Special interest groups, lobbyists, and City Hall regulars show up to say a few words, but the vast majority of the public are not tuned in to the happenings of City Hall political decisions, trusting in their elected officials and taxpayer-funded City staff to make decisions that help Austin thrive.