Ever since Austin voted for 10-1, people have been making suggestions on how to change Austin. Here is our round up of the most promising 10 ideas:
1. Ask the State Auditor to audit the City of Austin
Another day, another troubling audit from the City Auditor's office:
There continues to be many questions swirling around about City finances, from hotel taxes to the pension plan. If the new City Council wants to clean up City Hall, then they need to start by having the books checked by the State Auditor's office.
2. Fix Cap Metro
What is there to be said about Cap Metro that hasn't already been said? Again and again and yet, again.
Here's a possible fix - break Cap Metro into 5 sectors compromised of 2 Council districts (roughly, since some service areas extend past city limits). Assign a "sector chief" to each sector and the task the 5 sector chiefs to do three things:
1) Give a report to the Cap Metro board each month that focuses on metrics and customer satisfaction in thier sector.
2) Hold a quarterly public forum every three months where those living in their sector can come and talk about their issues and concerns, and give feedback.
3) Provide a yearly survey to all the public schools in their sector, to ensure that families who may be too busy to attend the forums can still provide feedback. Make sure the survey is also available to small businesses and other organizations in their sector.
This will not only make Cap Metro more accountable to its customers, but it also would eliminate the need for costly and expensive studies.
Click read more for the other 8 suggestions!
3. Fix Voting
Its past time for the City to ask Travis County to expand their voting locations - there should be at least two permanent early voting locations in each City Council district. Voting locations for Williamson county also need to be expanded; and Travis, Williamson, and Hays county all need to have more Asian translators available at the voting booths.
4 Virtual Meetings
Austin is a high tech city with a big traffic problem. Why, then, are all the meetings downtown?
Here's a possible fix - have equipment at the libraries and County precint offices so citizens can attend meetings virtually, instead. It doesn't have to cost a lot, either:
1) Create a team of volunteers to help citizens with the use of the equipment.
2) Ask companies like Apple, Dell, and Google to be partners--they would surely help with the infrastructure cost in return for the bragging rights that they helped make us the first truly virtual city.
3) Recoup some of the cost by charging other organizations a small fee to use the system.
5. Create a Long Term Solution for Flooding and Wildfire Concerns
Austin lies in the heart of Central Texas, a region known for flash floods, drought, and wildfire. As the City grows, impervious cover, annexation, and changing creeks mean the code needs for some neighborhoods will be very different than other neighborhoods.
The old City Council took a big step in the right direction when they voted to include green infrastructure in CodeNext, but it's not enough. Austin needs to look at creating both a wildfire and a flooding overlay. This would allow the City to ensure areas with wildfire and/or flooding risks have appropriate code needs (like better egress for evacuation) without bogging down the code on properties that don't have these needs.
Without these overlays, we run a very real risk of forcing future City Councils to tack on more and more regulations - which is exactly what CodeNext was supposed to avoid.
6. Rental Registration
There are two reasons why the new City Council should be looking at rental registration - affordability and safety.
Most cities rely heavily on the data collected through their rental program to have accurate, up-to date information on what the rental rates are in different parts of town. Without rental registration, the City is forced to rely on realtors and landlords to provide this information - which is one of the underlying reasons Austin continues to be woefully behind on addressing affordability problems.
Cities that have threats to public safety (like flooding and wildfire) also use rental registration to ensure adequate evacuation and emergency response. A rental registration plan can require an emergency contact for each rental property, who then maintains a list of the number of residents living in those units. As a city where rental rate is 60-80% in many neighborhoods, Austin should be looking at rental registration a valuable public safety tool.
7. Create a Land Bank
Austin currently does not have a way to seize the property of landlords and other property owners that continue to act in bad faith. Not only does the City waste millions in trying to get voluntary compliance from a small number of landlords and motels/hotels, but the lack of a land bank also limits the tools the City has for affordability. There is a state law allows municipalities to seize property and then give it to non-profits - a law that other cities are using to turn problem properties into affordable housing stock.
8. Ask UT for help
One of the biggest cost for affordable housing projects is actually the design phase. Other cities have started asking their colleges to step up and have students do this work pro bono. These kind of partnerships are a win-win; non-profit organizations can build more units cheaper and students get hands-on experience and better resumes.
9. North End Hotel District
City staff will tell you we need more hotels, but actually, Austin needs to rethink the hotels it already has. There are nearly 40 hotels and motels along I-35, from 2222 to Parmer. Unfortunately, a few blighted properties mean that the other hotels are not getting the occupancy rates that would help the hotel crunch.
Creating a North End Hotel District and revitalizing the area would not only help occupancy rates, but it would also help with traffic problems. Cap Metro could run shuttles on I-35, decreasing the traffic for downtown and Convention Center events. And if Cap Metro was willing to run shuttles to Pflugerville and Round Rock (whichare desperate for hotels) then Austin could collect the hotel taxes for those events as well.
It also makes good economic sense. A North End hotel district could create an anchor between Mueller and the Domain, especially if the City and the Chamber of Commerce were willing to consider seed loans for small businesses, like restaurants, that could link the three areas.
10. Rethink Parmer
There are already many high tech and IT jobs in the Parmer/Mopac area. Once Apple opens its campus, Austin will see even more jobs and growth in this area. There is also plenty of room for dense development in the Northeast corner of Austin. The only thing lacking is the vision to put a robust bus system along Parmer linking the two areas.