Austin City Council meets for first time this year



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Posted on January 17, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 17 at 7:29 PM

AUSTIN -- It is expected to be a busy day for Austin City Council members as their first meeting of 2013 gets underway.

The council passed a number of items on general consent, including authorizing a study to dissect traffic fatalities in the city.
With the item passed, City Manager Marc Ott will study last year's numbers. APD Assistant Chief Patrick Ockletree said fatal car crashes in the city hit a disturbing high in 2012.
"Reality is that last year we had 78, which is an all time high in traffic fatalities, and also our limited resources impacted us greatly on being able to get on top of that," said Ockletree.
The council wants to know what solutions may help curb those numbers. Assistant Chief Ockletree said the department has already conducted a study itself. It presented those numbers to the council last week, highlighting where and how the crashes are occurring.
To help decrease traffic and make getting around downtown easier, the council awarded a 60-month contract to Bike Share of Austin.

"The closest comparison is Car2Go. It basically works the same way. You have a membership card you pay an annual fee for. There are kiosks that will hold the bikes," explained Bike Share of Austin Director Craig Staley.

The bike share program is a public-private partnership that won't cost Austin anything. The non-profit organization will raise $500,000 and the federal government puts in $1.5 million. The bikes will be available in downtown and East Austin by late summer or early fall.

Or if you prefer to let someone else do the peddling, you can ride in ease. The council passed an ordinance requiring pedicabs to have a third party inspection -- an effort to keep Austin roads safe.

The council also approved an incentive program for Austin Energy. The company will pay out about $2.69 million to 13 companies over 10 years. Those companies put solar panels on their buildings, putting energy back into the grid.
Austin Energy may have to find a new location for equipment and vehicles. The council looked at city parks and expanding park services.
It instructed the city manager to look into turning the city-owned property on Ryan Drive into a park.
"I love parks. I love to be outside, especially on days like this, so I think it'd be a great idea," said Brigeda Hernandez who lives nearby in the Crestview neighborhood. 
But not everyone agrees. "If we have a park in the area, why do we need another one?" said Frances Tate who frequents the area. 
One park issue, however, has been postponed until the end of the month. It would have kicked off a pilot program designed to keep certain trails open 24 hours a day for those walking and biking.
One thing those trail users have been missing will soon be back. The council voted to move forward with plans to get water coolers back on the trails. It's waiving fees for RunTex, Rogue and Luke's Locker. The fee waiver allows those companies to put the coolers out for trail users once guidelines for safety are established.
The council is also putting more resources into protecting the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler. It increased efforts to research the bird by $20,000.
Council also approved a $150 million special facility bond sale to build a rental car facility at ABIA. That money will be paid back to the city through user fees.
Perhaps the most talked about action -- the city council directed the city manager to look into having another bond election to support affordable housing.
"To people that are concerned that we are asking them again, we're only doing that because the need is so critical," said Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole. "If we didn't know that there were 2,000 homeless children through AISD on the streets, maybe we wouldn't ask, but these are real problems, real critical conditions."
This past November, the $78 million bond package for affordable housing was the only proposal that failed. Council members say they will be grateful for a second chance.
"I think we are really going to have to get out in the public and explain what the affordable housing bonds cover, what they mean for the community, and just how large of a vulnerable population that we have," added Cole. 
The city manager will have a report and timeline on the possibility of another election by Feb. 14. Council members say an election could happen as soon as this November.

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