Saturday, January 11, 2020

What happened at the 1/7/20 Council meeting: requiring a fence permit killed, raising taxes by hiding in the water bill passed, most other major stuff deferred.

This meeting is little over two hours long. If you are going to watch the meeting, follow this link to access the agenda, agenda analysis and my commentary on the agenda. You will get a lot more out of the meeting if you know what's going on.

Pat Nolan gives a good overview of the important items on the agenda and the Vice Mayor gavels the meeting to order at timestamp 5:00. The opening prayer is offered by an Islamic cleric, guest of Councilman Johnathan Hall. I am pointing this out simply because I know some will find it interesting, not as a criticism.  I think it is appropriate. Muslims are part of our community and it serves no one's interest to marginalize them.

There are eleven nominees for the two open position on the Community Oversight Board. That is the new agency acting as watch dog of the police department.  Also, since those vacancies were announced an additional vacancy has occurred. If anyone wants to know more about how the vacancies will be filled see timestamp 10:35.

Public Hearing: At timestamp 21:05 the Council begins consideration of items on Public Hearing. All of those that were rezoning bills were approved by the planning commission. I am not very interested in rezoning bills but did watch it to see if any had generated much public interest. Most rezoning bills are of interest only to nearby neighbors. These are the bills on interest on Public Hearing.

Bill BL2019-8 would amend a portion of the code concerning the program that, under certain circumstances, allows developers to pay money into a sidewalk fund rather than build sidewalks in front of his development. Currently, that money is to stay in the "pedestrian benefit zone" from where the payment was made. This ordinance would instead require funds to stay within the Council district of the new development. The Planning Commission recommended indefinite deferral.  The sponsor defers to the first meeting in March.
Bill BL2019-48 is substituted and the bill and the public hearing is deferred to the first meeting in March.  This a relaxation of the ban on home-based businesses.Home businesses now are allowed only if no customers are served by the business on the premises and the business employs no more than one employee who is not a resident. That neighbor who gives local kids piano lessons is operating illegally. That lady with one a one-chair beauty shop who does hair by appointment-only is illegal. This would allow home-based businesses if no more than three vehicle trips are generated each day related to the business, customer visits are by appointment-only and operating hours are between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  I support this.


Resolution RS2020-149 would appropriate more money to the Sheriff's Department so the Sheriff's department would have the capacity to contract with the Federal government to hold federal prisoners. This would make money for the city.  Some of those prisoners however would be illegal aliens and there are some who do not want the city engaged in this. This resolution was deferred one meeting. 
Resolution RS2020-154 passes. It directs the Metropolitan Department of Water and Sewerage Services to make payments in lieu of ad valorem taxes. The amount is $10 million. I don't oppose this because we are broke and need the money, but this is a con shell game and I don't like it.  The water department operates off of its own revenues but it is still a part of metro government.  This is like charging the schools a tax since they don't pay property taxes or charging the police a fee since they don't pay property tax, except the schools and police don't generate money. The money the Water Department generates is from the water bills we pay.  This is like paying taxes with money that is in your left pocket rather than paying with money in your right pocket.   If the water department did not pay an "in lieu" payment our water bills would be lower. As Council member Vercher says in her comments on the bill, "it is a way to raise taxes, without raising taxes." Councilman O'Connell proposed to increase the amount to $15 million to include $5 million for affordable housing but that does not pass. There was an attempt to defer the resolution one meeting and it failed.  There were reasons why a deferral would have been ill advised and it would not have changed anything. The resolution passed 34 in favor, 2 no's, 1 abstaining and 3 not voting. To see the discussion see timestamp 1:07:41 - 21:28:00.

Resolution RS2020-160 passed on a voice vote. It puts the Council on record asking the mayor to restore the $4.5 million he cut the Barnes Fund for affordable housing. The mayor cut that fund to balance the budget which he was required to do.  If he had not taken it from the Barnes Fund he would have had to take if from somewhere else.  He has done a remarkable job of fixing the financial mess he inherited.  I am not going to second guess him on this.  If I were serving in the Council, I would have opposed this resolution. 
All bills on First Reading passed, lumped together, by a single vote, as is the norm.  Include in these is the bill that prohibit idling a car for more than 3 minutes. I oppose that bill but if I were serving in the Council, I would have voted for it on first reading.  First reading is a formality that gets in on the agenda. It is rare that a bill is considered on its merits on first reading. I think it is unfair to criticize a council member for a vote taken on first reading.

Bills on Second Reading:
Bill BL2019-109 is deferred one meeting. It makes changes in the city policy toward scooters or what is termed
"shared urban mobility devices (SUMDs)." Back in July 2019 the Council passed a bill cancelling all scooter permits and allowing existing scooter companies to operate with half the number of scooters they currently had on the streets while the Traffic and Parking came up with a RFP (request for proposal) system to replace the current system. This bill extends the time the Traffic and Parking Commission has to develop its RFP system and changes the guidelines for what would be in the RFP.  Some of the guidelines are more specific and this also authorizes the Traffic and Parking Commission to set fees to charge to the scooter companies to carry out the enforcement of the agreements. The Commission would not have to come back before the Council to have their fee amount approved. This is better than the previous bill in my view in that it does not limit the number of providers of scooters to only three, however it restrict each provider to only 500 scooters.  I don't support that restriction because there may be some economy of scale. This requires the RFP to have a commitment to safety including helmets.  I don't like requiring helmets.  There is a lot in this I don't like, but I fear if this does not pass a complete ban may pass and I do not want to see scooters banned.  
Bills on Third Reading:
Bill BL2019-30 (as amended) passed on a voice vote without discussion. It bans barbed wire and razor wire fencing in the Urban Zoning Overlay District along arterial and collector roadways. They are already banned along sidewalks in the Urban Services District. While I sympathize with those property owners who are trying to protect their property, this type fencing creates a feeling of living in a war zone. It makes a street ugly and devalues enjoyment of public spaces. An Urban Design Overlay (UDO) is a zoning tool that requires specific design standards for development in a designated area.  This is a minor expansion of where this type fencing is banned.

Bill BL2019-31 (as amended) is deferred indefinitely which as the effect of killing the bill. To bring it back up would require starting all over. This bill would have required a permit for all new fencing except for property zoned AR, AG, R80, or RS80. I am pleased this was killed. To see the sponsor's explanation see time stamp 1:08:40 at this link where it was discussed on second reading. It passes on a roll call vote of 27 to 9 and one abstention at that meeting. 

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