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Creation of 'Black Embassy,' credits for Austin Energy customers among items approved on Austin City Council agenda

The Austin City Council will be covering several hot-topic items on its Thursday agenda.

AUSTIN, Texas — From winter storm relief to the creation of a Black resource and cultural center, The Austin City Council on Thursday is meeting to address several hot-topic items on its agenda.

Here's a rundown on some of the items:

Item 3 - prohibit the declawing of cats: APPROVED

RELATED: Austin City Council approves ordinance banning the declawing of cats 'for aesthetic reasons'

Approve an ordinance amending City Code Chapter 3-1 (general provisions) and Chapter 3-2 (restrictions on animals) to add definitions relating to declawing cats; prohibit the practice of declawing cats; creating an offense; and establishing an affirmative defense.

Item 4 - utility relief: APPROVED

Approve an ordinance amending the fiscal year 2020-2021 operating budgets of Austin Water and Austin Energy in Ordinance No. 20200812-001 to appropriate an additional $5,000,000 for each of the utilities’ Plus-One payment assistance programs, for a total additional appropriation of $10,000,000, to help address the ongoing economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The $10 million emergency relief bill will assist customers experiencing financial difficulty due to the winter storms or COVID-19. 

Item 7 - credit for Austin Energy customers: APPROVED

 Approve an ordinance authorizing waivers of the residential electric service initiation fee and establishing a one-time credit on residential electric bills to offset the customer charge for service during the recent cold weather event and declaring an emergency. 

The bill relief is available to residential customers, effective immediately, and includes:

  • Reductions to residential water rates, effective until April 26, to help mitigate high bills due to above normal water usage trends during February’s extreme weather event. Rate reductions include:
    • Tier 2 - Capping the residential fixed fee at $3.55
    • Tiers 3-5 - Reducing the residential volumetric rate to $0.01 per 1,000 gallons
  • Temporary expansion of billing adjustment program for all retail customer classes (residential, commercial, multi-family and large volume customers)
     
  • Wastewater Averaging Period will estimate wastewater bills using a historical water usage beginning on Feb. 14, instead of actual metered
  • Waive the Emergency Water Shutoff fee of $31.25
     
  • Temporarily suspend late fees beginning Feb. 12 for all residential customers
     
  • Waive $20 initiation fee usually charged when service is transferred to a new residence for Austinites who had to relocate due to residence storm damage. This waiver is currently in effect for customers who started, stopped or relocated service beginning Feb.15 through April 3
     
  • Apply a one-time $10 credit on electricity bills for all residential customers, which will appear on bills issued after March 19

Item 28 - public camping ban election: TBD

Approve an ordinance amending Ordinance No. 20210209-004 ordering a special municipal election regarding a criminal offense and a penalty for camping in public areas without a permit, certain types of solicitation, and sitting, lying, or sleeping outdoors in certain public areas; and declaring an emergency. 

Items 60-62 - 2020 mobility bond funds: APPROVED

The Austin City Council approved the release of funds from the 2020 Active Transportation and Safety Bond, which voters approved last November as Proposition B. The action allows Austin Transportation and Austin Public Works to hire the initial staff necessary to begin work on the $460 million in local mobility projects across the city.

Projects funded by this proposition include:

  •  $102 million: Major Capital Improvements
  • $80 million: Sidewalks
  • $80 million: Urban Trails
  • $65 million: Safety/Vision Zero
  • $53 million: Substandard Streets
  • $40 million: Bikeways
  • $20 million: Safe Routes to School
  • $19 million: Local Transit Enhancement
  • $1 million: Neighborhood Partnering Program

Item 67 - creation of a Black resource and cultural center: APPROVED

Approve a resolution acknowledging the City’s role in disenfranchising Black Austinites through past discrimination, urban renewal policies, and the 1928 Master Plan and directing the City Manager to analyze and report on the economic and other harms caused by such programs and policies and to provide a planning scope, process and funding recommendations for the creation of a Black resource and cultural center.

"As the snow begins to melt and Austin begins to reckon with its fundamental failures in the emergency provision of the most basic needs — electricity, water, food, and shelter — it is understood that there must be an established centralized resource and cultural center for Black individuals in Austin," wrote the Black Austin Coalition in a press release. "This 'Black Embassy' must be geared to the success and cultural promotion of the demographics in need by providing relevant resources, and support for existing and future black-led businesses and organizations, in a central location in East Austin."

Mayor Steve Adler issued the following statement:

“More than a century of deliberate segregation, compounded by a lack of investment over generations have had disastrous and completely predictable results on Austin’s African American community. We have seen the impacts of this history in stark details during the last year of the pandemic and the recent winter storm.

“This reality reflects, not a deficit of an ability, ambition or effort but rather a shameful combination of racist policies compounded by decades of inattention and disinvestment by Austin privileged and mostly white leadership.

“We have done a lot recently to begin to address these facts, but we have not done near enough.

“Thank you to the Black Austin Coalition. Today’s resolution sets us in the right direction for correcting these past injustices.” 

During a press conference with a portion of City Council members and activists who had a hand in crafting the resolution, Nook Turner with the Black Austin Coalition said the end goal is equity.

"The ultimate goal is for us to find out what we have lost as Black people dealing with the institution of the City of Austin and that is then paid in a form of restitution that allows us the economic opportunity, the social opportunity and resources for us to rebuild," said Turner. 

Pam Benson, who was also on the call, said the Black Embassy would be a hub for all of the Black activist coalitions to provide resources under one roof. 

"It will be a hub," said Benson, "a centralized place where our citizens can find resources, access to health care, access to support for entrepreneurial ventures."

To read through the council's full agenda, click here.

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