AUSTIN (KXAN) — Here’s what we’re watching at the Austin City Council meeting Thursday.
Fight Back for Reproductive Health Agenda
Facing a potential end to Roe v. Wade, Austin City Council is desperately doing what it can to protect reproductive rights.
District 2 councilmember Vanessa Fuentes introduced a series of resolutions — the Fight Back for Reproductive Health Agenda — which provides protection for women, trans and non-binary people.
“We cannot allow discrimination based on medical choices or conditions anywhere in the city,” she said.
The proposed agenda aims to eliminate barriers that people in poverty face accessing period products.
Austin City Council approved Thursday to direct the city manager to provide free menstrual products in various city-owned facilities, including recreation centers, city libraries and Austin Public Health facilities.
Councilmembers will discuss an amendment that would create a new category, VMU2, a voluntary program that would allow an increase in height up to 90 feet on a designated corridor in exchange for more affordable housing.
These vertical mixed-use developments are buildings with apartments on top and commercial space below.
The density bonus program allows developers to gain height in exchange for designating affordable units.
The city’s need for more affordable housing is critical along transit corridors to provide opportunities for all Austinites to live close to major transportation assets,” Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen said.
As the city grapples with an affordability crisis, VMU2 could deliver more medium-density housing while building bonus tools for affordable housing.
District 4 city councilmember Jose “Chito” Vela has suggested waiving parking requirements in order to allow even more of these units to be built.
“Compatibility and parking requirements on highly affordable buildings can dilute the positive change that these constructions seek to achieve,” he said.
Some speakers supported Vela’s proposed parking requirement waiver, calling it an opportunity to help expand how many affordable homes can be built under the VMU2 changes.
Robert Ochoa, president of the Austin Habitat for Humanity Young Professionals, said Austin’s lack of affordable housing is “its reputation across the country.”
“There is room for improvement in this city in how we respond to this crisis,” Ochoa said.
Others, however, said removing parking requirements would disproportionately impact some residents who are dependent on vehicle access for labor-intensive jobs, or who have families.
“Removing parking completely is impractical. It is not rooted in affordable housing. It actually promotes white privilege,” one commenter said.
She said more affluent or “knowledge workers” like desk employees can bike or seek alternative ways to work, while those working in landscaping, construction, teachers or other employees are dependent on vehicle access.
The postponed vote on VMU2 changes will take place June 9.
Plenty of people across Austin are upset about the closure of the city pools because of the lack of lifeguards.
The Parks and Recreation Department has trained and hired 196 lifeguards. However, it will need an additional 550 lifeguards to operate all city pools this summer.
Council will decide whether or not to waive $12,000 worth of training fees related to becoming a city lifeguard.
PARD is offering a $1,250 signing bonus for prospective hires but hasn’t yet increased the lifeguard’s hourly wage.
“We must work to continue increasing wages and benefits for lifeguards in order to close the gaps and let our pools operate safely within our city,” councilmember Fuentes said
Austin lifeguards have held meetings with local leaders, urging them to increase the minimum pay to $22 per hour.
City council members postponed until June 16 voting on an agreement with the Austin Independent School District to expand access to no-cost, full-day pre-kindergarten.
If approved next month, this agreement would allow all 3-year-old children within AISD’s school boundary to attend classes.
Mayor Steve Adler is a proponent of the proposal.
“Pre-Kindergarten is an important first step to foster learning and bolster early learners’ education,” he said.
This item would also add two additional Pre-K classrooms to this interlocal agreement, if approved in June.