It’s strange to see democracy in action, or rather process over people. In a response to one person who asked me before the meeting what they had to do to ensure the “event” community won the current battle, I replied, the city process isn’t set up to create winners, it’s there just to make sure there are no losers!
And so it was tonight, at the City Council meeting where the staff recommendations for implementation of the Downtown Street Closure Task Force recommendations were heard. It was public hearing and a large number of people from 4-sides showed up, with a few others including marginalized neighborhood associations.
The Churches were well represented, as were the Race and Event organizers, and the task force members. In addition there were a large number of runners and event participants, but they had been effectively neutered by the race organizers through their emergent AREA organization. The Austin Races and Events Alliance (AREA), had appealed for people to attend but not speak until they’d spoken, probably fearing a backlash similar to the earlier one at the early taskforce meeting.
In the end the meeting was conducted in a relatively orderly and positive fashion, with Mayor Wynn and a number of the speakers enjoying entertaining interaction. After some 2-hours 30-minutes, most of it hearing public testimony, what became clear is that the City staff had turned months of work from the taskforce into a lose-lose-lose situation and wasn’t clear why this was.
The staff recommendations introduced rules like ensuring that Caesar Chavez was ALWAYS open, which the task force had never considered, as far as I know. That, had the Art Austin, 1st Night Austin and many other event promoters and producers losing out. The recommendations did not institute the Special Events office that the Task Force had recommended, thus they were losers. The Churches didn’t get their access needs met and they lost out, and well, the race organizers didn’t get it their way either, so they lost out too.
After the meeting I was asked “did we win?” My answer was, no, but you got what you wanted. What did they want? Well almost no one it seemed wanted it to go ahead as prescribed, and that’s what they got.
What happened was Council Member Leffingwell proposed to adjourn the public hearing and pass the staff proposal on the caveat that the letter submitted by the Task Force would considered and the proposal amended to accommodate. After a small amount of discussion and clarification from council members and Mayor Wynn, thats what they got, approved on first reading with the Leffingwell compromise. 2nd reading with be on either the 23rd or 30th of April, based on City Staff’s ability to meet with Task Force members and incorporate the changes.
However, quite why and how we got to where we did is beyond me? Why would staff come forward with these recommendations that were so out of line with a process that had taken months of compromise? Given that it’s been three of four months for staff to come forward with that, how likely is it that they’ll come back in as little as two weeks with the update thats acceptable to the task force and everyone else?
I found it personally interesting that none of the Mayoral candidates publicly took a stance on this and push it through one way or the other. One can only wonder if they really hope they’ll get the election over and done with before the Street and Event Closure really does claim a loser, the mayoral candidate that backs the wrong horse.
And so it was, process over people. – Oh yeah, before anyone suggests I’m a conspiracy theorist, I’m not. I also know that things don’t happen by accident.