Tens of millions of city dollars for social service work and a wide range of planning decisions are up for City Council review during its Sept. 1 meeting.
Council could push along plans to reshape the Austin American-Statesman property on the district's lakeshore following an Aug. 30 work session where officials considered complex planning questions facing the city in its South Central Waterfront. Officials could also seed Austin's first community-owned grocery cooperative and adjust how the city grows its parkland assets through new developments.
Council will next meet Sept. 13 and 15.
License plate readers
After being pushed back during budget discussions, District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly's request to reboot the Austin Police Department's license plate reader program will be considered this week. Kelly and APD representatives said reinvesting in the technology, which several police vehicles are already equipped with, would help track down criminals and find people in need of assistance. The program has received support from Austin's police union and Williamson County Sheriff Mike Gleason.
"If we can save one child who is abducted or if we can help one victim of a heinous crime get justice, then that’s worth it to me," Kelly said in July.
The program, which would cost just under $115,000 to bring back this year, has encountered some resistance on council and in the community given concerns related to APD's data collection—and the possibility of other law enforcement agencies or government entities accessing such information. District 4 Council Member Chito Vela is proposing an alternative to Kelly's item that would limit APD's data collection, sharing and retention while also requiring regular audits of the program by the city's police oversight office.
"I appreciate the usefulness of [automatic license plate readers], but I have serious concerns about saving the personal data of thousands of innocent people whose comings and goings will now be subject to monitoring by the state," Vela previously said on council's message board.
Homelessness service funding
Tens of millions of dollars may be sent to multiple organizations to help manage different aspects of Austin's homeless response, including the dedication of more than $40 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for long-range housing work. The proposed funding includes:
- Eight contracts with multiple agencies totaling up to $37.1 million for rapid rehousing services and Housing-Focused Encampment Assistance Link, a program to move people from encampments into shelter: Groups were selected through an Austin Public Health bidding process with funding pulled from American Rescue Plan Act dollars council directed toward homelessness last year. Council also funded the continuation of HEAL in the new city budget with a goal of housing hundreds more people by late 2023.
- Four contracts with three groups for permanent supportive housing totaling up to $9.36 million: The services are also funded with ARPA dollars and the organizations were selected through an APH request for proposals this year.
- A $2 million contract with Integral Care for permanent supportive housing services at Seabrook Square, the recently approved city-backed affordable housing project on Manor Road: More than one-fifth of the complex's 262 housing units will be for people experiencing homelessness.
- A $1.32 million contract extension with Integral Care to continue its Homeless Health and Wellness Center behavioral health care program
- A $1.05 million contract for Family Eldercare to manage permanent supportive housing for Downtown Austin Community Court clients
- A nearly $394,000 contract with the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center to run a permanent supportive housing center for disabled homeless Austinites
- A $160,000 amendment to an agreement with The Salvation Army for its Passages Program providing child care services for families experiencing homelessness
- A $130,000 extension to the city's agreement with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition that manages and analyzes aspects of regional homeless system management
East side development updates
An update to city land use plans along the East 11th and East 12th street corridors could wrap up this week. Some community members have pushed for one of those documents to allow a range of business uses, including cocktail lounges along East 12th following decades of what District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison has called "benign neglect" in the historically Black neighborhood. Others have opposed that conditional use, citing concerns over the possibility of a growing nightlife scene. Harper-Madison's office has proposed an amendment to limit how prevalent bars could be on the street.
Another planning initiative tied to one developer's vision to reshape the image of East Sixth Street is also up for a vote. District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo's move to establish a local historic district around "Dirty Sixth" ahead of redevelopment there is supported by several of her colleagues but is not favored by Stream Realty Partners. That firm now owns dozens of pieces of land in the district that it is seeking to fill with new tenants, a hotel and an office building—goals that led Harper-Madison to support granting additional building height in the area earlier this year. However, Stream representatives have said they are hesitant about Tovo's idea due to its ambiguity and some local business opposition.
EMS contract approval
After extended negotiations, council could sign off on a new labor agreement with Austin-Travis County EMS including pay raises for EMTs and paramedics. The framework was tentatively agreed upon in August after extended negotiations and would be the first of three public safety labor contracts the city is working to finalize.
Project Connect planning
The rollout of the Project Connect light rail system will affect places throughout Austin's core, including the Waller Creek Boathouse on Lady Bird Lake. City officials and transportation planners are working on a smooth transition plan for the Austin Rowing Club, a boathouse tenant, ahead of the facility's demolition to make room for the new Blue Line. The rowing club will likely end up relocating to a former youth hostel site on the lakeshore east of I-35, and a resolution from Tovo would cement the city's role in that transition, including work with the nearby water sports rental business EpicSUP.
Separately, a new interlocal agreement with the Austin Transit Partnership for its work with the city on Project Connect is also up for approval. The ATP was formed to help manage the transit system's creation with Austin and Capital Metro, and planners are now navigating the effects of rising costs ahead of an expected project update next spring.