Alibi V.16 No.11 • March 15-21, 2007 

Council Watch

Hold Your Fire!

Rex Barron

People attending the March 5 Council meeting found stacks of 103-page, ring-bound proposals presenting Mayor Martin Chavez' General Obligation bond. They also found single-sheet handouts from the City Council announcing that a budget compromise had been reached that afternoon.

Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
That Fuzzy, Cuddly Third Rail of Politics

The Council put together its own G.O. bond proposal to go on the next ballot. In general, councilors moved monies from Animal Services, BioPark amenities, a therapeutic pool and the Balloon Museum to basic services like streets, parks and drainage.
The public, many of them at the meeting, erupted in objection to cuts in money for city animal shelters. After the Council announced that the compromise budget restored full funding for animal facilities, most shelter supporters thanked the Council. The compromise budget passed unanimously. Most councilors thanked those who worked out the compromise. But don't assume everyone is happy. Some animal advocates complained that the Capital Improvement bonds do nothing to improve staffing and care standards. Operational budgets don't come up for another month or so.
Low-Flow Toilets

Councilor Martin Heinrich sponsored a bill mandating the installation of low-flow toilets when a residence is sold, estimated to eventually cut the city's water use by 3 percent. The revised bill no longer requires professional installation for the householder to receive the up-to-$150 rebate.
Representatives from business and environmental groups thanked Heinrich for working out a bill they could support. Martin Haynes urged a similar bill for public facilities. The bill passed unanimously. You get what you pay for. Katherine Yuhas from the Water Authority said initial engineering had been faulty on the 1.6 gallon-per-flush toilets but had greatly improved, particularly for the higher-priced models.
High-Flow Mouths

Councilor Don Harris sponsored a bill moving general public comment to the end of the meeting, restricting comments to city operation and governance, and limiting each person to three times at the microphone. Several speakers opposed the bill, a couple of them referring to Nazis and organized crime.
Councilor Michael Cadigan said the intent was not to restrict freedom of speech. He said the Council frequently reached 10:15 p.m. with several agenda items still to be debated because of time spent on public comment. He challenged the critics to offer a solution. Harris deferred the bill to look for a compromise. How can we protect citizens' rights to express relevant opinions about matters before the Council and to initiate discussion on issues that need attention? But limit the few people who chronically abuse the captive audience with endlessly repeated, irrelevant rants and gratuitous insults?
Sooner or Later?

The streetcar debate returned to the Council in the form of similar bills by Councilors Harris, Isaac Benton and Brad Winter that fund studies of how streetcars might affect area transportation and economic needs. The agenda also included Winter's bill repealing the previous extension of the 1/4-cent gross receipts transportation tax.
All three councilors deferred their study bills. Saying it would be a $36 million hit on the city's transportation budget, Councilor Sally Mayer moved a 90-day deferral of Winter's tax repeal. Winter said, "I completely disapprove of a deferral. This has been hanging over taxpayers' heads." A deferral until May 21 passed 6-3, Winter, Cadigan and Harris opposed. Proposed streetcar funding depends on increased revenues from gross receipts and property taxes on businesses along the Central Ave. route. But much of what makes Central a unique draw is the little independent stores along the route, stores that can survive serving their own niche markets. What happens to them when their property taxes skyrocket?
This Isn't About You, Personally

The city charter says the mayor shall, "with the advice and consent of the Council appoint the members of city committees, commissions and boards." In reality, the Council often passes ordinances requiring specific qualifications for such members, which the mayor ignores.
Winter's bill lets voters decide whether to add the language "except as otherwise provided for by ordinance" to the advice-and-consent portion. Harris proposed an amendment adding "prior" to "advice" and "final" to "consent." The amendment and bill passed unanimously. I hope voters pass this. That even the mayor's strongest allies on the Council voted for the bill strengthens the argument that it is not so much about current office holders as about clearing up conflicting language.
Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
"Tuscany on Steroids"

Council President Debbie O'Malley moved to allocate Council Services funds for design regulations for the North Valley Area Plan. She said a lot of people were upset about certain developments, which she called "Tuscany on steroids," referring to a currently popular style for large houses using lots of roofing tile and decorative stone.
More than style, O'Malley objected to density, saying some developers were wrapping homes around a gravel ponding area and calling it "open space." She said residents wanted to preserve the North Valley's look and its permeable, unpaved land. The bill passed unanimously. Any architectural style can be executed well or badly, but traditional adobe construction, along with its frame imitators, discourages tacky design. Adobe's structural qualities rule out spindly "up periscope" towers, rashes of cantilevered pop-outs and walls slathered with fussy decoration.