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City Council Preview: Pedicab Regs, Pocket Parks, Citizens United and So Much More

Not all the action in City Hall today centers on City Council: the Charter Revision Committee is set to recommend a scheme for future elections.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT
Not all the action in City Hall today centers on City Council: the Charter Revision Committee is set to recommend a scheme for future elections.

The confetti’s been swept up, the bubbly’s gone flat, and 2013 is getting underway in earnest.

And what better reminder that time marches on than the first Austin City Council meeting of the new year. And clocking in at 99 items, the council has a lot to consider.

With Mayor Lee Leffingwell off the dais, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, many controversial items – including a suite of zoning regulations that could remake the East Riverside corridor, and a request for a boutique hotel on Fourth Street downtown – will likely be postponed. Most of the meeting’s noteworthy items are resolutions drafted by the council members themselves. Let’s take a look:

  • Item 51 is council member Chris Riley’s resolution calling for a pilot program keeping downtown bike trails open 24 hours, in a bid to get cyclists off streets and prevent another record year of traffic deaths. But it looks like it may be postponed.
  • Item 53 from council member Bill Spelman calls for a symbolic resolution opposing the Citizens United ruling, the controversial supreme court ruling that said “corporations are people, my friend,” – at least in regards to spending corporate money on electioneering. It reads, in part:
“Money affects the quality and quantity of speech and is NOT, in itself, speech; and allowing artificial entities with great wealth to use it as speech effectively drowns out the protected free speech of the People in our diverse society.”

  • Item 49 would call for pedicabs with a trailer hookup (instead of a welded connection) must pass an annual safety inspection from a third-party provider approved by the Transportation Department.
  • Item 54 would take land once slated for an Austin Energy substation – but since turned into an unsightly outdoor storage area – and give it a new lease: An item from lead sponsor Kathie Tovo calls for the area, on Ryan Drive, directly opposite the MetroRail tracks from the Crestview Station, for what’s called a “pocket park and model energy efficient, affordable, and family-friendly multi-family development”
  • Item 55 amends the city’s legislative program – items the city’s lobbying for this legislative session – to preserve its limits on payday and auto-title lenders. Similarly, Item 59 calls to add language allowing meet and confer bargaining for non-public safety employees a priority of the 83rd Texas Legislature
  • Item 57 calls for a study of Austin’s marked increase in traffic fatalities last year.
  • Item 60 calls for a mid-year budget session on Jan. 29, looking at a variety of funding needs. The list includes wildfire fuel mitigation, 1115 Medicaid Waiver projects (the funding behind Austin’s new medical school), affordable housing, council districts and much more.
  • Item 61 is a proposal asking the City Manager to report on the feasibility of calling a bond election this year to fund affordable housing initiatives. In November, Austin voters approved six bond proposals – but voted down a nearly $80 million bond aimed at affordable housing.
  • And Item 62 is a proposal waiving $2,000 in fees companies that previously provided free water to joggers on Town Lake would have to pay when the coolers return.

The fun starts at 10 a.m.; as always you can watch online.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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