A look back at 2022, a relatively ‘normal’ year
Friday, December 30, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano
In 2022, after several chaotic years that included a global pandemic and a historic winter storm, life has mostly returned to normal in Austin (whatever normal was). But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t news, so we’re taking a look back at the past year as we look forward to next year. Happy New Year!
The Austin Energy rate case
It wasn’t the best year for a rate hike: The cost of living in Austin has risen sharply over the past few years, inflation isn’t helping matters, and those who lost power during Winter Storm Uri continue to view Austin Energy with skepticism. However, the city-owned utility determined it was time to raise electricity rates, and the City Council managed to strike something of a compromise in the final hours of its year on the job (and after the two incumbents were up for re-election). .
Police contract stalls, oversight concerns continue
For now, negotiations for a new police contract appear to have met their Waterloo on the issue of police oversight and whether it should be included in the contract at all. Although there appears to be some hope that negotiations will resume in the new year, it will be under added pressure from a looming March deadline and a Council that will have four new members to pick up speed. Meanwhile, the question of what kind of oversight will take place goes to voters in May, with the possibility of competition from a fraudulent campaign aimed at getting a competing proposition on the ballot as well.
Compliance and VMU2
Apparently, everyone has completely given up on a rewrite of the city’s old Land Development Code. Given the amount of time and effort (and money) that went into the proposed rewrite, this is disappointing. But with surrender comes some freedom, and this year the Council took some steps toward fixing some of the issues a rewrite would have addressed. Among them was a change in compliance standards in some city corridors — meaning single-family homes will no longer dictate how larger-scale housing will be built on some larger streets. In addition, the Council approved new mixed development rules, called VMU2, which also aim to build more housing in the city.
The fight over abortion
Austin always has a certain amount of disagreement with the Powers That Be (to put it mildly). This year, that dispute reached new heights when the repeal of Roe v. Wade triggered a state law to trigger an abortion ban in Texas. That, combined with gun laws and legislation targeting transgender youth, has made things very uncomfortable and contentious as local leaders look for ways to preserve the rights of Texans in a state that is increasingly hostile to liberal values. .
Interstate Extension 35
This was on our list last year, and will probably be on next year’s list. This year, not a ton changed about plans to widen I-35 downtown, but it became increasingly clear that the Texas Department of Transportation’s plan may be moving forward, and the city dropped its efforts to softened the expansion with a cap and- approach with weaving on the bridge to the east and west. Stay tuned!
Preservation of the city center (or lack thereof)
This year saw the loss of several downtown warehouse properties that were once designated for historic status. Although the Fourth Street facades will remain, a passionate effort to save the spaces was not enough, given the development pressures that continue downtown. Along similar lines, a plan to create a historic district for Sixth Street was completely scuttled, as plans to redo part of the street continue to go along.
It seems like every year there is a case of development that drags on throughout the year. This year that case was the planned unit development on the site of Austin’s old American-Citizen building on South Congress in Lady Bird Lake. Because of its location and scale, all eyes were on the project. After discussion that lasted most of the year and covered everything from Project Connect to funding mechanisms to bats, the Council finally approved it.
Despite the increase in passenger numbers, it was kind of a tough PR year for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In early 2022, catastrophically long waits prompted travelers to abandon their rental cars on the road so they could make their flights on time. Long TSA lines continued into the spring before finally easing, but it all solidified a plan to expand the overcrowded airport. However, this plan was not without obstacles. The neighborhood’s horror at the proposed jet fuel tanks adjacent to their homes ultimately did not change the plan. But an attempt to get rid of the fairly new South Terminal is proving more costly.
Farewell to (some of) the Council
After eight years on the square, Mayor Steve Adler is taking his talents elsewhere. Along with him, Council members Kathie Tovo, Pio Renteria and Ann Kitchen are leaving, making a big difference. Adler has been at the helm since the City Council switched from the at-large system to the current 10-1 system and largely defined how it has operated. Although Mayor-elect Kirk Watson’s term will only be two years, it will be a test to see what sticks. Plus, of course, Greg Casar of District 4 was elected to Congress! (Here’s a nice new Austin Chronicle profile of his change.)
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