Today our community is brightened by two celebrations of Juneteenth, the annual recognition of the final emancipation of slaves in Texas in 1865. This day began early with artists who assembled at 5 am and volunteered their skill and time to paint “Black Lives Matter” in bold yellow on 8th Avenue in front of the Federal Courthouse. This afternoon, the first of two celebrations with food, music, children’s games, and historical information will draw the community together; followed by another Juneteenth celebration at Alton Baker Park on Saturday. This is all good: protests demanding action; and community gathering to honor Black culture and history in our community, State and nation. I am grateful to the organizers and volunteers who have orchestrated peaceful nightly protests and who bring us together in community this weekend. As a city, we’re respecting the call to gather for Juneteenth, counting on the organizers will do all they can to ensure safety with respect to COVID by encouraging people to wear masks and maintain physical distancing.
Under these headline events, Council continued its ongoing work in several areas. Most significantly, after probably the most challenging-ever temporary role as City Manager, Sarah Medary was appointed to the job permanently by universal acclamation and gratitude from the Council. Her capacity to navigate our overlapping crises in the past weeks should instill confidence in all of us that we have the leadership we need to recover from the pandemic and institute the changes we need assure racial justice.
Later on Monday night, Council heard testimony for five public hearings. Of these, two related to micro-mobility. The city is proposing to initiate a pilot program for e-scooters and to create a licensing system encompassing all micro-mobility devices including e-bikes, scooters, e-scooters, skateboards and e-skateboards. Two other ordinances related to traffic: one to reduce speed limits on residential streets from 25 mph to 20 mph; the second to amend the traffic code to reflect legislative changes since 2017. The reduced speed limit aligns with Vision Zero. Speed is correlated with lethality: at 20 mph there is a 10% change of serious injury or fatality. That number leaps to 40% at 30 mph.
The majority of speakers on Monday addressed a proposed ordinance to regulate Short Term Rentals like Airbnb. This continues to be challenging. Our goal is to create enough of a regulatory structure to ensure safety and neighborhood livability while still enabling this important “gig” economy to provide income for responsible owners. The city proposed three things: the creation of a license, requiring information indicating whether the STR is owner-occupied, and requiring quarterly provision of a registry of guests. The goal is to gain better data regarding the size, location and nature of the STRs in our community before the Council considers whether additional regulation is needed. The continuing conflict of opinion expressed at the hearing suggests that Council will need another work session before committing to this ordinance as drafted or offering changes.
On Wednesday, Council received their first briefing regarding the revised Climate Action Plan 2.0. As you may recall, the draft CAP 2.0 was released in December, and feedback both from Council and the public called for the framework for our plans to meet our climate goals to be more accountable and also to incorporate more substantive public engagement. I re-convened the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee whose 26 members met four times in facilitated discussions to work through a dozen broad categories of revision – such as more detail, prioritization of strategies, and accountability measures. The final draft also includes specifics about who and how the community will be engaged: envisioning a strong role for the Sustainability Commission and planning for communication and suggested actions for individuals, households and neighborhood groups. The final CAP 2.0 will come to council for approval in July.
Finally, Council closed out the week with a report about progress and improvements made to our Parks and Recreation Systems thanks to the voter-supported bond and levy. Two take away messages from this work: throughout the pandemic, work has continued at multiple levels – construction is well underway at both the Campbell Senior Center and Echo Hollow Pool, with planning moving forward for renovation at Sheldon Pool. Investment in on-going maintenance has reopened bathrooms and added lighting and irrigation throughout the system. The second message was the inspiring transition by city staff to meet community needs through the pandemic. This included everything from live-streamed story time for children, to a slow roll disco party on a flat-bed truck through neighborhoods, to wellness calls to older customers of the library. Staff also were redirected from their regular duties to support our outreach to the unsheltered who are camping in our parks and open spaces. The city relaxed our ongoing prohibitions in order to enable homeless campers to stay in place during the pandemic