AUSTIN (KXAN) — The man Austin City Council and Mayor Kirk Watson tapped to take over the city manager roll will be at the dais for his first regular Austin City Council meeting Thursday since the body agreed to part ways with Spencer Cronk.

Jesus Garza was the city manager in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s during Mayor Kirk Watson’s first term as mayor. He was also behind a PAC that supported Watson during last year’s election.

Here’s some of what we’re watching during this week’s city council meeting:

Affordable housing for college students

Council Member Ryan Alter, the co-chair of the housing and planning committee, put forward a resolution that would direct the interim city manager to work with colleges to make a goal for student housing development that can be added to the city’s Housing Blueprint.

The study was requested by the College Student Commission to get a better understanding of the housing problem affecting students at local colleges and universities.

University of Texas students have previously told KXAN that finding off-campus housing that’s clean, has good management, working utilities and is safe is a growing challenge, especially as a full-time student.

“I’m reminded of someone who always used to say, ‘What gets measured gets fixed.’ So, if we are able to measure and set metrics for where we want that metric to go, then I think we can make real progress,” Alter said.

I-35 TxDOT requests: Passed

In a 10-1 vote Thursday, Austin City Council voted on a list of demands to the Texas Department of Transportation over its I-35 Capital Express Central Project, which has drawn intense criticism from some people living in Austin. Mayor Kirk Watson was the lone dissenting vote on the overall resolution.

The resolution essentially asks TxDOT to make it easier to cross the highway going east and west, saying ideally they would like to see crossings within a half mile of each other. It also added in language for the city’s official public comment on the project that critiques its environmental impact and property displacements.

“TxDOT worked extensively with the City of Austin during the design process for the I-35 Capital Express North, South and Central projects. Designs for North and South are complete and contracts have been awarded. We continue to receive input from the public and our partners at the city on the Central project,” a spokesperson for TxDOT said.

Police-related settlements

Austin City Council approved almost $5 million in settlements with four people who filed separate civil rights lawsuits against the city. Three of the settlements involved people injured in the May 2020 protests in downtown Austin.

A fifth settlement was also approved for a woman involved in a crash with an Austin police vehicle. The five settlements total $4,899,900.

Two of the settlements were approved unanimously Thursday morning. Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly voted no on the three protest-related settlements.

Cases include:

  • Ida Nobles, who’s 24-year-old son, Landon, was shot and killed by police | Settlement of $3.3 million with the family
  • Jason Gallagher, who says he was pepper sprayed in the face and pushed with a police baton during 2020 protests | Awarded $375,000.
  • Steven Arawn, a medic who says he was hit in the face by a bean bag during 2020 protests while he was helping someone | Awarded $450,000
  • Nicole Underwood said in her lawsuit she was on a hill near Interstate 35 when she was hit by a beanbag projectile. | Awarded $675,000

Continuation of police contract discussion

Austin City Council is expected to agree on a path forward for police officer pay and benefits when the police association and city labor contract expires at the end of March.

If passed, the ordinance would establish a city policy that would extend current pay and benefits for APD officers until a new agreement is made.

The City of Austin’s former city manager Spencer Cronk and police association initially claimed they had reached a four year deal in principal earlier this month. It was the last straw for council who days later terminated Cronk.

Some Austin City Council members argued signing a four year contract would strip the will of the voters this May when they go to vote on two police oversight propositions.