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Houston City Council delays ride-share law, starts budget debate

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Houston City Council met in the Council Annex with a packed audience  to debate rideshare ordinance, a new permit parking zone, and the next municipal budget Jun 11, 2014
Houston City Council met in the Council Annex with a packed audience to debate rideshare ordinance, a new permit parking zone, and the next municipal budget Jun 11, 2014
Marc Pembroke
Council members Robinson, Badford, and Boykins Jun 11 2014
Council members Robinson, Badford, and Boykins Jun 11 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

At the regular meeting of Houston City Council Wednesday, June 11, a controversial new regulation on Internet ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft dominated the debate. Several members stated that they were ready to vote that day, but others sought a broader consensus between traditional taxi services such as Yellow Cab and the ride-share services that rely on smart phones. Two members asked that Council Members Green and Stardig both with mediation experience talk with both sides and report back as soon as possible, with a vote to be scheduled on July 30. Mayor Parker's position is that the ordinance has been under discussion for nearly a year, and the all issues had already been brought to the attention of the administration and presented in several lengthy public sessions. Nevertheless, because the regulation can have a significant long-term impact on the evolution of the industry, a delay was preferred to assure that the new law will “get it right.” See the City Website for a copy of the proposed new ordinance.

The Council approved a new perrmit parking zone in Super Neighborhood 24, the Neartown-Montrose area (Item 57) after several minutes of debate and discussion about the cost of parking meeters. (Item 57). Several members had questions about changes in the projected rate of cost recovery. Part of the change was an unexpected decision on the part of several paid parking lot owners to make their lots free for serveral months.

The Council also heard the regular monthly financial report by the Comptroller's office and Finance Director Dow. A required public hearing on the budget was opened, but no one signed up to speak at the hearing, and none of the audience members present came forward. Council members posed a number questions about the impact of a new contract with the Firefighters' union to be submitted to the rank and file this week. If approved by the union, City Council must accept the agreement by ordinance next week. The new contract provides for a pay increase, but limits the way firefighters can take paid leave time hopefully preventing the need for “brownouts” in which certain units might be taken out of service. As in the past 2 years, each council member submitted written proposed amendments to the budget.

This meeting was held in the City Council Annex due technical problems with the audio system in the historic City Council chambers. Nevertheless, the press conference was held in the rotunda of the historic City Hall, partially to announce the 2014 “Liftoff” business plan writing competition, and partly to field questions on the City Council meeting.