AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin made history when it shifted to a 10-1 city council system this year–representation based on districts. The move came with promise and a platform for forgotten voices to finally be heard. KXAN’s City Hall Reporter Kylie McGivern takes a look at how the new city council fared and which projects they’re proud of and which items they still need to work on.
“We learned that the 10-1 system could work and that it’s worked really well,” Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN. “There were some people that were concerned that with this new system, we would devolve into a ward politic state of affairs and it didn’t happen. We have a council that worked together. The overwhelming number of votes taken on this council, even with disparate views, were STRONG majority votes.”
Some of Council’s major decisions included cutting the property tax rate, lowering Austin Energy rates, taking steps to create and preserve affordable housing in various forms and paving the way for major transportation improvements.
“2016 is going to be the year of mobility,” Adler said.
District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman has his doubts.
“We need a loop around this city, a freeway like every other major city has, we need an east/west freeway, we need road expansion projects all over the place,” Zimmerman said. “I think I stand with the majority of our Austin voters and taxpayers who are demanding traffic congestion relief. And you can’t do that with a train and a bus.”
As for the committee system, Adler admits it’s far from a perfect 10, but said it worked “infinitely better than its worked in the past… there are some inefficiencies, there are some problems and challenges we’ve run into, but we’re gonna make it even better next year.”
Others have a stronger take.
“If a board and commission, after being spoon-fed all the information from city bureaucrats unanimously says no, then why do they still bring it to council? And if they do, what’s the point of having commissions? You know, it doesn’t matter. The commissions are there for show,” Zimmerman said. “I think the bigger struggle is making the 10-1 really relevant in the face of tremendous power in the hands of the bureaucracy, both policy-making and administrative.”
“I think we spent this year setting up a lot of things that we are going to see come about next year,” Adler said. “Great cities do big things, and that is still our agenda moving forward.”
2015 Accomplishments from Mayor Steve Adler’s Office
- Created a homestead property tax exemption, saving homeowners a total of $3.5 million
- Cut the city property tax rate from 48.09 cents per $100 to 45.89 cents, saving the average homeowner roughly $14 a year, the first time tax bills for median city homeowners has not increased in at least 25 years.
- While cutting taxes, added 50 new police officers, secured $3 million for body cameras for 500 officers, and increased spending for health and human services by $7 million and parks by more than $3 million
- Increased senior and disabled property tax exemption from $70,000 to $80,000, a total tax cut of $1.6 million
- Cut utility bills for Austin Energy customers by an average of $3.33 a month
- Increased living wage for city employees from $11.39 an hour to $13.03 an hour
- With Councilmember Delia Garza, won approval for the Pilot Knob Planned Unit Development that includes the addition of approximately 1,000 affordable housing units with no additional city spending, setting a new benchmark for the city’s SMART Housing program
- Moved forward with implementing Homestead Preservation District A with TIF, and, with CM Renteria’s Committee, created three additional Homestead Preservation Districts (B, C & D) with Public Hearings, creating the first homestead preservation districts in Texas that leverage growth to pay for affordable housing in those neighborhoods where growth threatens to displace residents
- Reduced barriers to fair housing in Austin by strengthening the density bonus program with CM Tovo, changed PUD rules to eliminate fee in lieu instead of density bonus to increase affordable housing opportunities by directing money generated by new development to poor residents seeking housing
- Won a compromise that would make accessory dwellings (AKA granny flats) easier to build along transit corridors, increasing housing stock where it is wanted while respecting neighborhoods
- Initiated legal action to ensure an appraisal process that is fair to homeowners and aligned with the Texas Constitution
- Voted to create new rules to assist low-income tenants when developers plan to demolish apartment complexes where they live
- With CM Casar, passed resolution directing fair housing as part of CodeNext, which will increase the number of affordable housing options for Austinites
- Passed resolution calling on City Manager to implement permitting recommendations to expedite the review process and streamline approvals, which would make remodeling more affordable and feasible for homeowners and small business owners and decrease construction costs
- Passed CAMPO 2040, a long-range transit plan that includes several MetroRapid bus routes and commuter rail to get people out of cars on congested roadways and into mass transit
- Won national competition for RMI mobility transformation and named lead implementation city for RMI’s global mobility transformation initiative to find innovative and holistic solutions to congestion
- Announced Austin as first test city for autonomous Google car
- Directed the City Manager to implement the Traffic Congestion Action Plan (T-CAP), resulting in the following achievements:
- Among the intersections that were a part of the City’s Don’t Block the Box initiative, there were 5 intersections that experienced a blockage during at least 10% of the cycles with an average blockage of 32% of the time. While officers were station at these intersections, the blockage percentage was cut in half to 16% of the time. The two intersections for which we have after data shows that the blockages percentage increased to 22 percent after officers stopped enforcement.
- Retimed a third of the signals, resulting in 15% reduction in travel times and 40 percent reduction in stops.
- Voted to approve $20 million to install a roundabout at the intersection of the 51st Street and IH-35 to decrease traffic congestion
- Voted for $54.5 million in traffic improvements at IH-35 & Oltorf to increase mobility
- City of Austin achieved ambitious milestone goal for employee peak-hour commute reduction and now working toward goal of 30 percent reduction underway. Movability Austin worked with multiple downtown employers to reduce their employees’ commute trips, or shift them to transit/bike/walk trips; new Transportation Demand Management program launched at ATD; new Smart Trips Program to encourage people to sue active transportation options, being piloted with people in the Rundberg/N. Lamar area.
- Led smooth transition from at-large seats to 10-1 system
- Made appointments to boards and commissioners and staff in the Mayor’s Office that reflect the city’s demographics [details TOKUM]
- Created the position of Education Outreach Coordinator in the Mayor’s Office
- Created new City Council committees to allow for more public discussion of the issues
- Banned dark money in local campaigns to increase transparency in city campaigns
- Reformed regulations of lobbyists to close loopholes to increase accountability and transparency in city government
- Reduced fee waivers to SXSW, saving Austin taxpayers $230,000 over last year, while increasing police presence throughout Austin during the three-week-long festival in 2016
- In Paris, signed the Under MOU 2 agreement with local governments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, providing leadership on climate change
- In partnership with the citizens of Austin, managed through the worst drought since the lakes were built by surpassing the ‘140 GPCD by 2020’ water conservation goal set by Council in 2010 by achieving 122 Gallons Per Capita Per Day (GPCD) and bringing the five-year rolling average down to 137 GPCD
- Austin Water repaired almost 7,800 water leaks, the third-highest recorded count for the department. Of those, almost 4,300 leaks were Priority 1 leaks and responded to within 3 hours almost 89% of the time
- Authorized with the City Council the purchase of 400 to 450 megawatts of solar power and to solicit bids to purchase or build another 150 MW of solar by the end of 2019. Austin Energy signed purchase power agreements for an initial 288 MW of solar as part of the Council authorization to negotiate for 400 to 450 MW. The agreements position Austin Energy to be among the biggest users of solar power in Texas
- Passed an ordinance to increase reuse and recycling of materials from construction and demolition projects. Beginning Oct. 1, 2016, the Construction and Demolition Recycling Ordinance will require 50 percent diversion of materials from construction projects larger than 5,000 square feet. In 2019, the ordinance will expand to include commercial demolition projects. Construction and demolition projects generate at least 20 percent of all materials that go to Austin-area landfills. This ordinance takes a huge step toward achieving Austin’s Zero Waste goal by requiring more recycling and reuse of valuable materials
- Austin Energy surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015. Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, increasing the use of renewable energy in Austin Energy’s portfolio
- Launched partnership with national retailers such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s to offer point of sale discounts to customers to purchase energy efficient products. The initiative leverages the combined size of the utilities to reduce administration costs and pass savings on to customers
- Achieved slightly over 64 MW demand reductions, driven by strong performance in GB ratings and energy codes, small business lighting and residential demand response
- Weatherized 520 low income homes; our multi-family program reached over 8,400 apartment units
- Installed 7.7 MW of residential and commercial solar, providing long-term savings and cutting greenhouse gas emissions
- Surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015, making Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas
- Joined the Downtown Austin Alliance, downtown businesses, and Austin Resource Recovery to unveil an expansion of public recycling in the downtown area, an initiative called Recycle on the Go. Starting with nearly 50 new recycling cans this year, recycling containers will be installed throughout the downtown area over the next three years
- Council approved one of the first energy storage systems tied to a community solar project in Texas. Part of the $3 million cost for the 1.5 MW battery storage system is offset with a $1 million grant received by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
- First Texas Mayor to take National Wildlife Federation’s “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge” to take 16 specific actions to help the Monarch butterfly.
- Austin designated most wildlife-friendly city in America by the National Wildlife Federation.