Break-down of hot button items to be tackled by City Council

Austin City Council
Austin City Council (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Transportation Networking Company (TNC) and short term rental (STR) regulations are among the hot button issues Austin City Council is expected to tackle Thursday, in its first meeting of the new year. All of the TNC items will be brought up at 2 p.m.

Here’s a look at just some of the many items Council will take on.

25. Negotiation to purchase human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) medication.

The city’s Health and Human Services Department recommends the Council authorize the negotiation and execution of an agreement with Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to provide HIV medications to eligible clients. Staff says the cost providing medications increases each year, and purchasing them through this agreement would counteract the rising costs for the number of HIV clients that only continues to grow.

The Austin Transitional Grant Area (TGA) includes clients in Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. The Texas AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) supplies the medications. The Ryan White Grant Program “provides medications approved by the Federal Drug Administration to low-income individuals with HIV who have limited or no coverage from private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare.”

In its recommendation, staff warns that the agreement is time sensitive to ensure that services are provided to the community without delay. A delay could lead to the funder terminating or suspending funding.

33. Agreement with the City of San Antonio for forwarding additional 911 calls during critical instances.

This agreement would increase the number of lines carrying 911 calls and open up staffing capabilities to handle call volume. Right now, Austin’s 911 call center can divert calls to Rock Rock’s call center if necessary. However, there are only 10 phone lines that divert to Round Rock, whereas Austin could have fifteen 911 phone lines by contracting with San Antonio. With over 40 lines San Antonio has an additional 35 set to open at their back-up facility late this year.

The police department’s recommendation to Council also indicates that San Antonio staffs between 17 to 35, 911 call takers, with an additional 14 available for backup, while Round Rock staffs an average of four to six people. The recommendation states that Austin is more dependent upon a relationship with San Antonio than San Antonio is on Austin during critical situations because San Antonio has more locations within the city to divert 911 calls to before routing to Austin.

35. Restore Rundberg funded program, to add approximately 10 months to the term.

The current term of the inter-local agreement is Nov. 27, 2012 – Nov. 26, 2015. Austin Police reports that the city received a one year grant period extension, bringing the new end date to Sept. 30, 2016. UT has agreed to extend the agreement term with no additional funding beyond the original $300,000.

50. Utilize the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority quarter-cent fund.

In December, Council passed a resolution 9-2 with Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler voting against. The resolution directed each council member to submit a list of priority infrastructure improvement projects for their District, totaling no more than $1.9 million that meet the purposes for use of the ¼ cent funds. Funds not designated for projects will be used for citywide priority projects the Mayor determines. The ¼ cent fund is $21.8 million.

Any improvement project must enhance “regional mobility; support public transit; provide leverage for federal or private funds; add to an existing program; or expedite a critical mobility project. Resolution 20150618-093 also directed that ¼-cent funds be used in these types of improvements, as well as those that address the following purposes: transportation safety, improved access to schools, new traffic signals, existing infrastructure needs, traffic calming, and improved access to transit.”

The updated project list can be found here.

67. Exploring options for providing 24-hour free public toilets. (Item passed)

Two weeks ago, the Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor (3-0-1 with Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining) to send the resolution to Council. The resolution directs the City Manager to work with downtown stakeholders to determine downtown and campus locations for 24-hour free public toilets. The resolution states the restrooms “could provide a benefit to families with young children, seniors, bikers, runners, homeless individuals, and late night crowds who enter the streets when the bars close.” There is also concern about four of Austin’s watersheds that that have elevated levels of bacteria. Outdoor toilets are recommended to help curb those bacteria levels.

91. Short-Term Rental use.

The ordinance outlines new Short Term Rental (STR) Type 2 regulations, license and notification requirements, occupancy limits, and penalties for repeat offenses. A type 2 STR is one where the owner is not present. When Council met Tuesday to discuss the new potential regulations, including noise limits, mandatory guest registries and required distances between type 2 STRs, people from Austin’s east side rallied outside City Hall to voice concerns of type 2 STRs taking over their neighborhoods. Keep in mind, type 2 rental licenses are not being handed out until next year, as there is a temporary ban in place.

For months opponents of short term rentals have been coming to council members saying noise, trash, and additional traffic is coming to their neighborhood because of these rentals. Those who rent out their property argue there is only a small group who is against short term rentals and there isn’t a widespread problem. The city’s code enforcement has had a hard time in the past keeping up with those who didn’t register their rental with the city because there were limited rules and city officials want more enforcement in an effort to require those renting their properties to pay city taxes on it.

Thursday, a 14 page ordinance with dozens of rules will be presented to council for a vote. Some of the big items include inspections every three years, requiring type 2 rentals to be 1000 feet apart from each other, and limitations on noise and music.

Right now there’s a moratorium on issuing new type 2 rental permits until March of 2017. That was passed last month and is not part of Thursday’s vote. The short term rental issue is scheduled for a public hearing at 4 p.m. prior to a vote.

92. Voluntary background check program for people using a variety of online services involving peer-to-peer transactions.

This ordinance outlines an incentive program, which can be created and implemented by an independent third party, or by the City of Austin if needed. To participate in the incentive program, badge holders must undergo a fingerprint background check and have a valid chauffer’s license.

Among the list of incentives: Allow only badge holders the preferred ability to pick-up, and where feasible drop-off, passengers at a designated or geo-fenced location: (1) during large gatherings and special events, including but not limited to South by Southwest Festival, Austin City Limits Festival, and the Trail of Lights, reward passengers, or participate in programs that reward passengers who choose badge holders for their transportation needs, and reward ground transportation service companies that establish methods to enhance the ability of drivers or passengers to identify and choose a badge holder for transportation services.

93. Transportation Networking Company, relating to ground transportation passenger services.

Included in this ordinance: “A criminal background check is required and must be national in scope and prevent any person who has been convicted, within the past seven years, of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who has been convicted at any time for fraud, sexual offenses, use of a motor vehicle to commit a felony, gun related violations, resisting/evading arrest, reckless driving, a crime involving property damage, and/or theft, acts of violence, or acts of terror from driving for a TNC.”

The ordinance calls for each TNC operating in the city to pay an annual fee of one percent of the company’s annual local gross revenues. The ordinance strikes previously reported desired benchmarks, the most notable benchmark, 99-percent compliance by Feb. 1, 2017. As of right now companies have a one year grace period to get everyone up to date. The ordinance also strikes a line that states, “The Austin Transportation Department may provide assistance to drivers with the cost of fingerprint collection.”

During the city council meeting, members will meet in executive session with the legal department to go over the petition filed by ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft earlier this month. Those companies collected more than 65,000 signatures from Austin voters who want to decide if drivers for ridesharing companies should be required to have a fingerprint background check. The city only needs to verify 20,000 signatures for it to land on the ballot.

District 10 council member Sheri Gallo said by allowing this issue to go for a vote will cost tax payers $900,000. “I just want to make sure we have choices available to the community so that those people who want to get into a car with someone they don’t know, a stranger, at least they can know they are who they say they are,” said Gallo.

94. Approve an ordinance relating to ground transportation passenger services.

This ordinance adds general provisions for ground transportation passenger services related to geo-fencing during large gatherings, travel lanes, and trade dress with distinctive emblems.

Prototypes of “Thumbs Up!” Austin validation stations will be set up in City Hall during Thursday’s meeting for demonstration. Eventually, the Mayor’s office says Thumbs Up! could be available throughout the city, everywhere from local grocery stores to libraries and fire stations. The city will provide Transportation Network Company (TNC) drivers, free-of-charge, the chance to be fingerprinted and have a criminal background check.

The mayor’s office wrote in a release, “A badge, called Thumbs Up! Austin, would be provided by a new, third party nonprofit or B-corporation, and the City would provide incentives to badge holders. These incentives are yet to be determined, but they could include access to areas into which TNC drivers are currently not allowed, as well as financial incentives.”

“I want Uber, Lyft, GetMe and other rideshare companies to stay in Austin, and I also want people who feel safer with a fingerprinted option to have a widely available, meaningful choice. I believe Thumbs Up! Austin is the best way to fulfill our responsibility without mandatory fingerprinting to ensure safety, but success depends upon drivers volunteering to take advantage of incentives to be validated,” Mayor Steve Adler said in the news release.

Thumbs Up! Will be demonstrating from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Free DPS fingerprinting will be available between the 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the First Floor Press Room. In order to complete the fingerprinting process, drivers must bring their valid, not-expired State or Federal-issued photo I.D.

Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m., council members also plan to announce the next steps for transportation improvements and funding. Agenda items the mayor’s office points to include “funding for a traffic management center operations expansion project, membership in the Lone Star Rail District, a video imaging detection system to improve traffic signals, a dynamic parking system, and mobility improvements all across the city.”

For a look at the complete agenda, click here.

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