Laura Morrison

Austin City Council member Chris Riley talks about the transportation networking companies ordinance Thursday night.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council continued to discuss an interim ordinance allowing transportation network companies to legally operate in Austin and passed a resolution to revise the city’s sound ordinance at a meeting Thursday. 

The TNC ordinance passed 6-1 on its second reading, and the Council will revisit the ordinance for the final time at its next meeting. 

Council member Chris Riley, who sponsored the resolution, proposed passing the TNC ordinance immediately, on an emergency basis. Riley said the ordinance addresses a number of issues regarding ride-sharing services.

“With respect to the issue about accessible service, and I thought that was the biggest issue we needed to address in real detail,” Riley said. “There is new language that clarifies that the goal is to have successful rides with wait time equivalent to other TNC times.”

Council member Laura Morrison, who gave the only “no” vote on the ordinance, said the Council ought to look at the plan more closely.

“I don’t think it’s an emergency and would much prefer to see the whole issue go forward,” Morrison said. “If we are going to pass this, I do want a few things clarified and make sure we have the language right.”

Morrison expressed concern about language issues in the ordinance, including the requirement that TNCs provide outreach to underserved communities.

“I do think handing it over to the TNCs to do their best is not adequate,” Morrison said. “I think there should be some requirement in the law that allows us to evaluate it and put new requirements in their agreements if they’re not doing it adequately.”

While Riley said a task force would continue to work on a more long-term solution beyond the temporary ordinance, Morrison said she thought addressing all aspects of the ordinance, temporary or not, was necessary.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said legalizing ride-sharing transportation is the next necessary step in Austin transportation.

“I realize that something needs to be done about our transportation system,” Leffingwell said. “I want to make sure we provide a level playing field for all kinds of transportation agencies, including cab companies. It’s silly to put a restriction on the number of cabs in service. The best approach is to deregulate — not totally, but still have requirements for insurance and vetting drivers.”

Council member Kathie Tovo expressed concern with surge pricing and proposed capping the level where pricing could rise. After a
representative from the Lyft ride-sharing service explained surge pricing is explicitly posted on the app during prime time, Council member Bill Spelman said he did not agree with the practice.

Chris Johnson, a senior policy associate with ride-sharing app Uber, said Uber is working to ensure that everyone has access to their agency.

“We do have a staff here, and we’re learning the nuances of the city,” Johnson said. “We are looking to continue to build relationships with the community.”

The council also passed a resolution to look at the city’s existing sound ordinance. After Austin police and fire department officers informed students the current city sound ordinance would be enforced more strictly, students became concerned that the rules would hinder West Campus events and parties. Leah Bojo, policy aide for Riley, said the procedures to obtain a permit would be almost impossible for students.

“The cops have said you’re not going to be able to get these permits,” Bojo said. “It’s reasonable to think that students want to have parties, and they need to be safe and respect the quality of life of other residents.”

Under the resolution, City Manager Marc Ott will present city code amendments defining a “private party” to the Council on Nov. 20.

Due to the controversy surrounding the purchased wildlife, Austin City Council recently passed a resolution that will insure that the Austin Aquarium follows animal safety guidelines.    

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Aquarium — under fire for its owners’ animal buying practices — may see increased scrutiny from the Austin City Council, which passed a resolution Thursday to make sure the aquarium follows proper animal safety guidelines.

The aquarium, set to open in December, attracted controversy after owner Ammon Covino was accused of animal abuse, in addition to purchasing animals illegally at an aquarium he owns in Portland. The Oregon Humane Society is currently investigating that aquarium.

Covino pleaded guilty in September to three counts of illegal purchase of wildlife, including three spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks, according to the United States Department of Justice.

Prior to the indictment, the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT was considering a partnership with the aquarium, but the center stopped those discussions with the aquarium’s owners when the University found out about the aquarium’s legal issues, center spokeswoman Faith Singer-Villalobos said.

“[The resolution] was definitely sparked by the fact that we have a new aquarium being built,” said city councilwoman Laura Morrison, the resolution’s sponsor. “It raised a lot of concerns. We heard from a lot of constituents who were concerned about the welfare of the animals that would be kept there, so we are asking our staff to help us understand what — if any — authority we have and what certifications might be applicable.”

The resolution’s goal is to encourage city staff to become more informed about regulations the aquarium must abide by,
Morrison said.

“The resolution asks [city] staff to investigate and tell us what the authority is, but we asked them to also talk with the Animal Advisory Commission as they’re developing their research,” Morrison said.

Citizens expressed concerns that the aquarium would not be a healthy and safe environment for animals, Morrison said.

“We have a good record in the City of Austin of speaking out and implementing strong animal welfare approaches,” Morrison said.

Morrison said the goal of the resolution is to help city council members learn about which regulations — such as guidelines about enclosure size, maintenance and aquarium operations — the law requires aquariums to follow.

“Obviously, we depend on our Animal Advisory Commission in significant ways for advice and recommendations,” Morrison said.  “If, in fact, there are some steps that we can take, I would envision that we would definitely work through the Animal Advisory Commission.”

Patricia Fraga, Animal Services spokeswoman, said the Animal Advisory Commission is likely to discuss the resolution at their December meeting.

Lisa Aitala, a local activist who is vocal about the aquarium, said she thinks the council should have
become involved in the aquarium issues earlier. 

“Ultimately, I hope the city council will take a really serious look at the Austin Aquarium,” Aitala said. “I’m seriously hoping that they’ll start pushing for more rescue, rehab, release education and not so much the money-making part of it.”

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Google Fiber will bring Austin residents and UT students access to some of the world’s fastest internet speeds in 2014, challenging Austinites to find ways to use the service at its full potential.

Google Fiber is a project that provides fiber-optic broadband internet and TV service to customers at a rate of up to 1 gigabit per second. This is 100 times faster than most connections today, according to the Google Fiber website.

City of Austin and Google officials announced to members of press and invited guests that Austin would be the second city to receive Google Fiber on Tuesday at Brazos Hall. Distinguished speakers at the event included Gov. Rick Perry, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Laura Morrison.

Starting in mid-2014, the service will be provided in select communities called “fiberhoods” depending on the level of interest in those areas. Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber, said pricing has not been determined for Austin yet, but residents can look to the current Kansas City price model for an idea of what to expect. Kansas City, Kan. was the first city to be chosen to receive the service, edging out Austin in the 2011 application process.

Kansas City residents can currently choose from three plans, which range from free internet with only an installation fee all the way to gigabit internet and TV for $120 per month. Google Fiber’s HDTV channel options will include the Longhorn Network.

William Green, director of Networking and Telecommunications for UT’s Information Technology Services, said the University will take full advantage of Google Fiber, though the details are currently unknown.

“The University plans to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to connect with the community at the highest speeds offered,” Green said. “Students, faculty and staff already have high-speed capabilities when they are on campus — the new use cases when they have those same capabilities through Google Fiber off campus will be interesting. “

Milo Medin, vice president of access service for Google, said residents living in high-density spaces such as apartment complexes will need permission from apartment owners to install the service.

“We have programs with multiple-dwelling unit owners,” Medin said. “Because of the way U.S. regulation works, we can’t just install in an apartment building without the apartment building owner’s permission. So we have a program where apartment building owners can sign up, have us come in and wire Fiber for all their units, and then be able to deliver services there.”

Tech bloggers, such as Farhad Manjoo from Slate Magazine, have questioned whether the utility of Google Fiber has truly been realized beyond the scope of faster uploads and downloads, calling the service “totally awesome, and totally unnecessary.”

“During my time in Kansas City, I spoke to several local businesspeople, aspiring startup founders and a few city boosters,” Manjoo wrote on March 12. “They were all thrilled that Google had come to town, and the few who’d gotten access to the Google pipe said they really loved it. But I couldn’t find a single person who’d found a way to use Google Fiber to anywhere near its potential — or even a half or quarter of what it can do.“

Morrison said the campaign “Big Gig Austin” has become an online collaboration of Austin residents coming up with innovative ideas for how the service can stretch the limits of technology, and was launched during Austin’s original application to receive Google Fiber.

“We envisioned medical patients consulting with physicians in real time, sharing data and video conferencing to enhance the quality of care to Austin residents,” Morrison said at the event. “We envisioned a place where working from home was more viable thanks to reliable video connections and virtual networks, freeing us from our daily commutes and reducing our carbon footprint.”

Morrison also highlighted ideas unique to Austin, such as hosting online film and live music festivals. 

Tracy King, vice president of public affairs for AT&T, said AT&T is encouraged by the ability for service providers to compete in bringing the best service to consumers. On Tuesday, the same day as the Google Fiber announcement, AT&T published a press release announcing its intent to create a 1-gigabit fiber network in Austin.  

“Competition is fantastic for the consumer,” King said. “Robust competition between us and Google is a great thing. The customer ultimately gets to decide who is going to serve them better. We look forward to competing with Google.”

Remedios Avila cleans the compost machine twice a day with wet cardboard. The Division of Housing & Food Service has composted over 250 tons of food waste between September 2011 and September 2012.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Austin residents will see more visible changes to the way food waste is handled after City Council declared 2013 the “Year of Food Waste Prevention and Recovery.”

The resolution passed by the council lays groundwork for establishing food waste protocol in food retail establishments and nonprofit organizations throughout the city. The city manager’s office will oversee participation by other departments in the effort to become a national leader in food waste recovery.

Brandi Clark Burton, founder and chief inspiration officer of Austin EcoNetwork and EcoCampaigns, was the lead author of the resolution. Burton said she and members of the Food Surplus and Salvage Working Group — a group she founded — started conducting research in September 2011.

The group’s research states the city should universally follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which involves first decreasing the amount of unused food, and then sending usable food to people and animals in need. Inedible food should then be used for industrial purposes such as oil or then sent to composting facilities. The group’s recommendation states that food waste should only go into a landfill after these options have been exhausted.

“I have a lot of goals, and they are different for different audiences,” Burton said. “My hope is that by the end of 2013 that everyone living and/or working in Austin will have come across this conversation about food waste and the food recovery hierarchy and started preventing and redirecting their own food waste and that associated with their businesses too.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by council members Laura Morrison and Mike Martinez. Morrison said she was struck by the staggering amount of food waste in the nation, which includes about 40 percent of all edible food.

“It’s definitely an environmental issue as far as the impacts, but food is also a precious resource, and we need to do better,” Morrison said. “I’m really excited about this. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to raise the bar as a community.”

Robert Kingham, program supervisor in the city’s Health and Human Services Department, said the city has yet to make personnel assignments to oversee food waste reduction. Various city departments will be forming small work groups to work with both restaurants and nonprofit organizations to prevent their food waste.

Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for the University’s Division of Housing & Food Service, said DHFS’s current single-stream composting system allowed for over 250 tons of food waste to be composted between September 2011 and September 2012.

“It’s great and it’s a commendable effort,” Mangrum said. “It’s that much that’s not going into a landfill, but it also is kind of a terrifying number to think that that much is essentially waste that has to be dealt with.”

Mangrum said food waste at the University is difficult to halt entirely due to the sheer volume of students DHFS serves on a regular basis, but UT intends to continue adhering to the city’s standards.

“Some of it can be attributed to taking too much, especially at our all-you-care-to-eat locations, and then some of it can be accredited it to things in the kitchens such as over-preparation and over-ordering,” Mangrum said. “But I think really it’s just because of the large scale that we operate on. In some form or fashion we’re always going to have high numbers, but even with our high volume we are committed to reducing our food waste.”

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: City reuses food waste 

City Council Member Laura Morrison introduces the Austin Code for America fellowship, a program that aims to improve government by mixing technology and transparency Wednesday morning at City Hall. Morrison is Chair of the Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

City officials welcomed Code for America to Austin yesterday, an organization that helps make government work better for everyone with the efforts of people and the power of the Web.

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell and Laura Morrison, chair of City Council’s Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee, inducted three fellows into the Austin Code for America fellowship program yesterday morning at City Hall. The fellows include Internet lawyer and web developer Joe Merante, graphic artist and designer Emily Moore and web developer Aurelio Tinio. They will work with the City of Austin for one year to come up with creative solutions to improve government efficiency and public access through Web-based technology, Leffingwell said at a press conference.

Leffingwell said Code For America takes a unique approach to public service and supplies local governments with tech-savvy professionals who share a goal of developing innovative projects that will help the community.

Code for America was founded in 2009 by Jennifer Pahlka to make giving back the community easier and more attractive for the Web generation by connecting developers and designers with governments, Merante said.

This year’s other Code for America cities include Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Macon, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Santa Cruz, according to Code for America’s website.

Open government, which promotes transparency, efficiency and collaboration through technology, has been a main priority of the city of Austin, Morrison said.

“I know the Code for America fellows are helping to leverage Austin’s tech-savvy spirit and our engaged citizenry to move us much farther along and more effectively into the realm of open government,” Morrison said.

Last week, Austin’s Code for America fellows met up with a UT student organization, the Apollo Project, which focuses on various topics of technology policy, Morrison said. The fellows spoke about the purpose of Code for America and discussed broad policy objectives dealing with helping the city establish better open data standards and to get more data available online.

“We want to help more software coders get interested in civic technology and build applications that will help government officials,” Merante said.

On Feb. 25, Code for America will host a national day of civic innovation where each partner city will host “Code Across America,” an event where programmers, designers, project managers and people with public policy interests can gather and brainstorm suggestions received from various city departments, Merante said.

“Everyone is welcome to come and share their ideas about how to improve the Austin community,” Merante said. “People and students with backgrounds in computer programming, graphic design, data visualization and public policy have the opportunity to assist in producing and implementing the many applications we are currently working on.”

The YMCA of Austin has proposed the building of a 40-acre recreational aquatics center downtown that would include an Olympic-sized competition pool, water slides and sports fields. The estimated cost of constructing the facility is projected to be between $38 and $42 million (Photo Courtesy of YMCA).

The YMCA of Austin is looking for help from Austin City Council to build a 40-acre recreational aquatics center in downtown Austin as a family-friendly escape from the heat.

If constructed, the complex would be located between South Mopac Expressway and the intersection of Lamar Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street, said YMCA spokesman Sean Doles.

It would include an Olympic-sized competition pool, a recreational pool with water slides and a lazy river as wells as several sports fields, Doles said.

The city of Austin owns the area and will retain ownership of the land if the project moves forward, although the YMCA of Austin will manage the facility, Doles said.

“What we are talking about is an unused piece of land that is largely inaccessible,” Doles said. “We have a comprehensive park plan that would be a destination not only for residents, but for people from all over the world. The state-of-the-art competitive pool would attract national events, potentially bringing thousands of people to Austin and millions of dollars in revenue to the city.”

Doles said the pool would be open to Austin residents on a day-to-day basis for free or for a nominal fee. He said it would be a resource for families, a place where school teams can train and a new venue for the YMCA’s existing programs, such as free community swim lessons.

“Our aim would be for [the complex] to be a self-sufficient entity,” he said. “We are confident that after receiving these initial funds we will not need further government subsidies.”

Doles said cost estimates for the facility are fluid, but he estimates the project to cost between $38 and $42 million. The YMCA has suggested that the city contribute $25 million towards the project, Doles said.

Austin City Council member Laura Morrison said proposed city costs were only $6 million when she first heard of the project in September and have ballooned since then.

“The funds would need City Council approval to be placed on the November ballot for the voters to consider,” Morrison said. “The proposed YMCA project has not been [reviewed] and is not in the staff’s recommendation for consideration.

Morrison said the city currently has more pressing concerns than the YMCA’s proposed complex.

“At a time of tight budgets, investing this amount of taxpayer money on an extravagant facility is ill-advised and raises serious concerns about our priorities,” Morrison said.

Matt Haviland, public health senior, said he did not know how financially feasible the project is, but he thought that it could be a significant resource for students, faculty and staff. Haviland said he could see transportation being a slight issue, but the city and UT bus systems offer fairly convenient transportation to downtown Austin. He also said UT faculty and staff who live near campus could benefit significantly from the new facility.

“The Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex is a little small based on the student population,” Haviland said. “It is really nice to have outside facilities like Barton Springs where students can exercise. From a health perspective, even 30 minutes of exercise a day can create substantial health benefits.”

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: Proposed gym faces economic challenges

While many UT students geared up for a trip to Dallas on Friday, Austin’s City Council made a controversial and highly questionable decision regarding a seemingly innocuous topic: election dates. Instead of moving the 2012 municipal elections to November, the council voted 4-3 to keep them in May. The highly symbolic move significantly limits the principle of democracy in Austin while simultaneously creating a de facto limitation on the student vote.

A new state law allows for cities to move their municipal elections from May to November. The arguments in favor of such a move are numerous and incontrovertible. In the last city council election, an abysmal 7.4 percent of registered Austin residents voted, according to city data. In stark contrast, November elections in Travis County have consistently seen voter turnout above 30 percent. It would make sense that elected officials would be in support of an opportunity to engage more citizens in voting during municipal elections. However, four of our council members apparently disagree.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and council members Bill Spelman, Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison have cited concern over violating Austin’s charter as the reason for their opposition. Cole said that a vote “against the charter provision” would go against her mandate as an elected municipal official in Austin, according to the Austin American-Statesman. However, this reasoning is blatantly illogical. SB 100, the state resolution that legitimizes the move, specifically declares that the state law “supersedes a city charter provision that requires a different general election date.”

So why are these four council members still opposed when their stated rationale is patently illegitimate? To be fair, they have expressed a desire for formal voter approval, but the issue is much more complicated than it seems. According to the Statesman, Spelman argued recently that “we’re not doing [voters] any favors” by moving the election to November, implying that the electorate doesn’t endorse the switch. In actuality, a poll by Littlefield Research proved that 75 percent of traditional Austin municipal voters support the November election. How can a measure that involves more citizens in the decision-making process and is overwhelmingly supported by those same citizens do a disservice to the population? As is the case in most matters concerning elections, it seems the culprit is political ambition.

The feigned concern about the charter seems to be merely a symptom of self-interest on the part of some council members. Austin’s so-called political “elites” have traditionally wielded considerable power in May elections. It turns out that support from these Democratic clubs and organizations is “key to the prospects of Sheryl Cole and Bill Spelman,” who are considering running against current Mayor Lee Leffingwell next year, according to the Statesman.

Their refusal to move the election to November can be seen as a political move calculated to undermine Leffingwell. It’s a travesty of democracy when dissatisfaction with a mayor, whether justified or not, supplants the desire to enhance the level of public involvement in elections.

For students, the issue is of particular concern. Currently, the May elections fall during finals week. College students, usually sleep-deprived and singularly-focused during their exams, do not have the opportunity to participate in elections as they might if the election were at another time. Likewise, any possible run-off elections take place during June, a time when most students go back home or are away on vacation. Moving the election to November would substantially increase the number of students able to vote.

Moreover, keeping the election in May is not just damaging to democracy and voter involvement generally; it is also economically negligent. Refusing to move the election to November will cost the city around $1 million in new voting equipment, said Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, according to Community Impact Newspaper. Just a few months ago, massive cuts were made to many city programs because of a lack of funding. Paying extra money to have fewer people vote is an idea that has rightfully been described by Leffingwell as “fiscally irresponsible.”

The hard facts in favor of the November election heavily outweigh the arguments made by proponents of the status quo. Keeping municipal elections in May during 2012 will preserve low levels of voter turnout and cost the city money. Councilwoman Laura Morrison wrote in a Statesman column last week, “There is no compelling or pragmatic reason” to shift the election date. If saving money and involving more people in voting are not compelling enough reasons, what are? As long as our city council members are willing to perpetuate low voter turnout, students have every reason to be worried.

Katsounas is a business and government sophomore.

City Hall

City Council will meet today to discuss more than 50 different issues facing Austin, including a potential ban on plastic bags, changing city council election dates and delaying implementation of a new schedule for parking meters.

One important item the council will discuss is the reduction of single-use retail plastic bags within city limits, according to the meeting agenda.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who sponsored this item, said Austin residents use approximately 363 million plastic bags every year, which cost the city nearly $850,000 to dispose of annually.

“It’s a recommendation for a comprehensive end of plastic bags within the city,” Leffingwell said.

City Manager Marc Ott will be directed to generate an ordinance that will provide a widespread phaseout of single-use bags in the city after discussion with retail stakeholders and concerned citizens, according to supplementary information on the city’s website.

The council enacted a similar voluntary program in the past that attempted to halve the use of plastic bags but only reduced the number of discarded bags by 20 to 30 percent, said Andrew Moore, policy aide to council member Mike Martinez who co-sponsored the item. Moore said the numbers soon returned to normal, mainly as a result of pushback from retailers.

“[The item] will try to bring together the stakeholders, big retailers, environmental groups and everyone involved to come up with an ordinance that says we will ban these types of plastic bags and to figure out all the details,” he said.

The council will also consider approving a resolution to investigate the administrative costs of both moving city elections to November 2012 and keeping them in May, according to the agenda.

A bill passed during the most recent legislative session adjusted timing requirements for federal primary elections and allows the city to move municipal elections to November in order to increase voter turnout.

Postponing city elections would conflict with the May re-election of four council members and require extending their terms for six months, said council member and item sponsor Laura Morrison. However, Travis County is already planning to move their elections to November, so it may be more beneficial to keep the two together.

“This is a resolution to ask the city manager to evaluate all our options and come back with information on the alternatives and their feasibility and cost,” Morrison said.

City Council will also consider creating the Charter Revision Committee to gather public input and provide recommendations regarding plans to switch to single-member districts and other charter amendments.

“There will be 15 members, three appointed by me and two appointed by council members,” Leffingwell said.

He said the committee would make recommendations on the size of districts, the construction of district lines and amendment language after seeking input from a number of citizens and organizations.

“It would be a significant change in our governing structure so it’s a very important issue,” Morrison said.

Council members will also consider a resolution to delay the implementation of extending parking meter hours downtown from Sept. 6 to Jan. 1. Morrison, who sponsored the bill, said the council may postpone making the decision, but she believes the later implementation date is necessary.

“My concern is that we haven’t done an adequate job yet of really hearing all of the issues of how extending the parking meters will affects folks that live and use downtown,” Morrison said in a separate interview in July.

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: City Council may ban plastic bag use

Michael Loredo feeds the parking meter on Seventh Street and Congress Avenue on Thursday afternoon. A city ordinance has been passed to extend parking meter hours downtown, with the start date still under discussion.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The City Council may once again postpone the extension of downtown parking meter hours, this time until at least January.

Council members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison will present a measure next week to delay implementation to allow for discussion on the impact the ordinance could have on downtown employees, Tovo said.

Current rules dictate parking meters operate citywide from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. downtown, said city of Austin Transportation Department spokeswoman Leah Fillion.

The new rules would extend citywide metered hours until 6 p.m. and include Saturdays, while downtown hours would extend to midnight, Fillion said.

The extension was originally voted on in March and was planned for implementation on Aug. 1, but was delayed to Sept. 6 and has endured opposition from the public, Tovo said.

“I’m concerned because I’m hearing from many downtown workers that this is going to be an additional cost for them,” she said.

Tovo said the delay would allow the council to revisit concerns that may not have been heard before the ordinance was originally voted on.

Additional time may also allow the council to find alternative solutions that will help mitigate any negative impact before the new rules are implemented, Tovo said.

Fillion said the idea of extending the hours is to create turnover in parking spaces so that visitors will be able to find parking through the later hours of the day.

Currently much of the parking spaces on-street are taken by employees who leave their cars parked until their shift ends later on at night, she said.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the condition downtown and try to make parking easier to find and encourage alternate modes of transportation,” Fillion said.

Extending hours for parking meters would persuade long-term visitors to park off-street and leave street parking to customers who will only stay for a few hours at a time, she said.

Fillion said there are more than 14,000 parking spaces downtown and that people often don’t realize this because many of them are in off-street garages.

The city is working with parking garages to provide downtown business employees with spaces at a discounted price or approximately $50 per month, she said.

Councilwoman Morrison said while the proposal was originally meant to increase parking turnover for businesses downtown it ended up going beyond only businesses and being applied to the entire area.

“I think that you could certainly adjust and diminish the hours or where it’s actually implemented as opposed to just all downtown,” Morrison said.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis said the council has expected to make changes before implementing the new rules since it originally voted to extend the hours.  

An F1 construction worker, who declined to be named, attended the City Council meeting in order to show his support for the project. After four hours of debating, Austin approved to fund a race to be held in 2012.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council approved a contract Wednesday that enables the city to host the first U.S. Formula 1 race since 2007, allowing construction on the track to move forward.

After lengthy public input over the past few weeks, the contract passed in a special session Wednesday. Under the terms of the contract, no city money will be used to fund the track. It also outlines environmental standards for the track that should make it the “greenest motor sports facility in the world,” according to a City Council press release. The track will host other events including bike races and concerts.

The revenue from events at the track should help the Austin economy said Roy Benear, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau senior vice president.

“It’s not just about the one race. It’s about the events,” Benear said. “They want to build a long-lasting relationship in the hotel industry. They are a venue operator that have this track that is designed for various races whether it’s motorcycle, car, human driven.”

Rodney Gonzales, deputy director for economic growth and redevelopment services for the city, said there will be an estimated 4,000 employment opportunities during large events such as the F1 race.

“This is a great opportunity to create jobs for all types of people, especially in an area that has been economically depressed,” Gonzales said.

Council member Chris Riley helped establish an agreement for the environmental standards that the track will be expected to meet.

According to the press release, plans for the track include investment in on-site renewable energy, aggressive recycling and composting practices and carbon offsets such as planting trees.

“I think it presents a package that includes a wide variety of sustainability on site and in the community in terms of carbon offsets,” Riley said. “We’ve provided the basis for future research and development. In the future, there will be growing pressure for us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, so we now have set up for Austin to be at the center for those research efforts.”

Council member Laura Morrison and newly elected council member Kathie Tovo voted against the contract. Morrison said the state funding controversy led her to vote against the measure. The state comptroller offered Formula 1 $25 million every year for the next few years if they hold the race in Texas.

“It’s something I always struggled with, the fact that we are party to unlocking the state funds,” Morrison said. “I don’t think we should be participating and enabling a quarter of a billion dollar tax payment to a private for-profit enterprise.”
In public statements, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said public testimony should focus on specific items in the contract, not its overall merits.

Austin resident Susan Moffat testified against the contract before the vote Wednesday, expressing concerns about vague language and haste in the decision making process. These concerns contributed to a delay in voting on the contract originally scheduled for last Thursday.

“Nothing in this deal is solid, and I think it would behoove you to take the time you need to get all this vetted by my imaginary, pit bull, ruthless attorney and somebody who has vast experience dealing with the statutory obligations in the context of these complex legal instruments,” Moffat said.

The agreement outlines collaboration with local educational institutions including UT, Texas State University, Huston-Tillotson University and Texas A&M University to do green racing and transportation research, according to the press release.

Finance senior Mark Wise is a member of UT’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers. The student organization placed eighth overall out of 80 university teams competing for car design at the most recent Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competition.

“We could partner with Austin Formula 1, not only for sponsorship, but for expertise,” Wise said. “It’s probably the most serendipitous thing to happen for the team in a while.”

Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Formula 1 to bring wealth, greener energy to Austin