Police, housing, homelessness: Austin City Council back from summer break

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After returning from summer break, Austin City Council has nearly 200 items on its agenda Thursday. Here’s some of what we’re watching:

Police reserve for special events

Council members could vote to create a “police reserve” unit to help the Austin Police Department with large events as it faces a staffing crisis. That unit would be staffed by retired police officers.

“I think that we’re at a point with our staffing at the police department where we need all the help we can get,” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said, “and by creating a reserve police officer program, we will get additional officers who’ve previously worked for the department and are retired and able to assist with the staffing needs.”

According to documents, the unit would consist of no more than 75 officers.

The police chief will ultimately be tasked with appointing members to the unit. They must also be approved by the city council, according to agenda documents.

Read more about the resolution and reaction from Austin groups here.

Single-family lot changes

Council Member Leslie Pool is bringing forward an item that starts the process of reducing minimum lot size requirements and allowing up to three units on a single-family lot.

The change could “encourage more townhomes, rowhouses, and garden homes or cottage courts that are more attainable to middle-income households,” Pool wrote.

Pool is calling the resolution Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment or HOME.

“I’ve heard some misinformation floating around about item 126: specifically, that this initiative would do away with single-family zoning and replace it with multi-family zoning. This proposal does not eliminate single-family zoning – in fact, my proposal would add options and entitlements to single-family use, and create more housing opportunity for middle-income homeowners,” Pool wrote on the city council message board.

Several groups have reached out to KXAN with concerns about the HOME resolution. KXAN’s Dylan McKim is covering those concerns and responses from council members Thursday.

Homeless shelter beds at the Marshalling Yard

The City of Austin intends to use the Marshalling Yard, near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, as a temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Thursday it could approve a one-year contract with Family Endeavors for $9.1 million to run that operation.

According to a city memo, a portion of the 70,000-square-foot building will be used as a space for 300 emergency shelter beds. The goal is to use the shelter for roughly a year while more permanent shelter is created, the memo said.

The Marshalling Yard was built to be an extension of the Austin Convention Center where trucks could be parked and materials could be stored, according to its website.

Several local groups have vocalized concerns about the plan on social media including the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance which cited “lack of clarity on what resources will be provided or how the shelter will be built to best serve people. It also doesn’t include a plan for what happens after one year.”

KXAN reached out to Endeavors earlier this week. They were not available for interview until after the item was voted on.

Money for emergency generators

Austin City Council could approve some of the funding for generators that will go to EMS and fire stations along with city warming centers.

The allocation comes after Austin Fire said it has had 15 stations fluctuating in and out of power during this year’s winter storm. A memo from the city shows they identified 72 sites that needed new generators.

“The estimated total cost of procuring and installing the generators, including utilities, and docking stations, is $20,521,000. Projected funding sources include Austin Energy, ARPA, CIP and debt,” the memo says.

Homeless camp cleanup

Council will revisit an item designating $20 million for homeless camp cleanup over the next five years. The money would be split among four groups including The Other Ones Foundation and Kyle Lawn Works.

According to City of Austin finance documents, 10 groups applied for the contracts.

“Funding in the amount of $1,000,000 is available in the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Operating Budget of various City departments. Funding for the remaining contract term is contingent upon available funding in future budgets,” the agenda item says.

Borden Dairy site rezoning

Council members have a final reading on the former Borden Dairy location near 183 and Colorado River.

In June, activists gathered in east Austin to demand more studies be done before Austin City Council allows a local real estate company to transform the current home of the Borden Dairy Plant near U.S. Highway 183 and the Colorado River.

According to our partners at the Austin Business Journal, Endeavor Real Estate Group, known for The Domain and Saltillo, wants permission to rezone the 21-acre site off Levander Loop in order to construct 1,400 residential units, more than 400,000 square feet of offices, more than 100,000 square feet of retail space and a 220-room hotel.

ABJ reported Endeavor wants to change the property’s zoning from industrial to mixed-use with a height limit of 120 feet, which would allow buildings of 10 stories or more. The Austin Planning Commission voted March 28 in favor of the change. Council will consider that change Thursday.

Pay rate for musicians

Scott Strickland, a full-time musician, hopes the City of Austin bumping minimum pay requirements for musicians will be an example for the rest of the city. He called being a musician right now “dire.”

“It’s pretty hard to be a musician. You’re doing a lot of small gigs to make ends meet, a lot of the bars don’t really pay that much,” Strickland said.

Council could approve a new, uniform pay rate scale for musicians hired to perform at City-led music events. The item was brought forward by Council Member Ryan Alter.

Austin City Council will weigh in on the following proposed standard pay rate for all city-led performances across departments:

  • $200 per musician for groups of up to six people
  • $150 per musician for groups between seven and 10 people
  • $1,500 total for groups of musicians of 10 or more

South Terminal settlement funding

Putting a bow on a years-long fight with the owners of the South Terminal, the city council is expected to approve the shuffling of $88 million from the airport’s operating budget to pay off LoneStar Holdings LLC. for a settlement approved in June.

“This fund is separate from the City of Austin’s general fund and does not receive any Austin taxpayer dollars,” the city previously said.

The agreement allows Austin-Bergstrom International Airport the ability to move forward with its expansion and redevelopment program, according to an AUS press release. 

As part of its expansion plans for AUS, the city decided last June to use eminent domain to take over the property near the main terminal where the South Terminal sits.

The city agreed to a 40-year deal with Lonestar in March 2016 and then in June 2022 offered to pay the group $1.9 million to take the property back, which Lonestar denied, citing the amount it took to renovate the South Terminal. As a result, the company filed a lawsuit against the city last August.

Additional items

  • Council could approve a settlement between Bomani Barton and the City of Austin. Barton sued the city after May 2020 protests where Barton claimed police shattered his jaw with “less-lethal” beanbag rounds.
  • A vote is expected on whether to allow buildings up to 140 feet along a strip of 6th street near Neches, roughly two blocks from I-35. It would allow Realty Partners LLC. to create buildings in the area higher than the current accepted limit, our partners at the Austin Business Journal reported
  • It could also renew a contract with El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission to continue its “I Belong in Austin” program which helps people with the cost of “rent, moving, storage and relocation costs” to keep people from becoming homeless. The contract is for three years and will cost the city $17.8 million.

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