councilman

Gender neutral bathrooms are great first step for inclusion

Council Member Chris Riley takes part in an Austin City Council meeting Thursday afternoon. Riley was the lead sponsor of the gender-neutral bathrooms resolution, which requires the city to explore the idea of changing single-occupancy bathroom labels to “gender-neutral.”
Council Member Chris Riley takes part in an Austin City Council meeting Thursday afternoon. Riley was the lead sponsor of the gender-neutral bathrooms resolution, which requires the city to explore the idea of changing single-occupancy bathroom labels to “gender-neutral.”

On Thursday, the Austin City Council approved a measure that would allow for the possibility of requiring all single-occupancy restrooms in the city to become gender neutral. The resolution, sponsored by councilman Chris Riley and co-sponsored by councilman Bill Spelman and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, would have positive consequences that will make a simple task — going to the restroom — easier for many Austinites. Disabled citizens who require assistance when using the restroom and parents with small children of the opposite sex would have a more comfortable environment for using the restroom. But the resolution also makes great strides by creating an avenue for the integration of a community that will probably be among the last fighting for acceptance — the trans community.

 

Long ignored and even derided by other members of the LGTBQ community, the trans community faces an incomparable road to societal tolerance. Many, including myself, fail to understand the struggle that people who identify with a gender that conflicts with their sex, face every day when they have to decide between being labeled as male or female. From a designation at birth to applying for a driver’s license, people are forced to fit within two categories that do not consider alternatives to the standard gender binary.

 

A key factor of a progressive society is the inclusion of all people despite major differences. And although progression is associated with acceptance and tolerance, the Austin City Council is making the right move by first acknowledging the trans community; to be acknowledged is among the most basic human rights. As simple as a bathroom sign may seem, it could lead to powerful social change.

 

Davis is an associate editor.


 

Gender neutral bathrooms are great first step for inclusion

Council Member Chris Riley takes part in an Austin City Council meeting Thursday afternoon. Riley was the lead sponsor of the gender-neutral bathrooms resolution, which requires the city to explore the idea of changing single-occupancy bathroom labels to “gender-neutral.”
Council Member Chris Riley takes part in an Austin City Council meeting Thursday afternoon. Riley was the lead sponsor of the gender-neutral bathrooms resolution, which requires the city to explore the idea of changing single-occupancy bathroom labels to “gender-neutral.”

On Thursday, the Austin City Council approved a measure that would allow for the possibility of requiring all single-occupancy restrooms in the city to become gender neutral. The resolution, sponsored by councilman Chris Riley and co-sponsored by councilman Bill Spelman and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, would have positive consequences that will make a simple task — going to the restroom — easier for many Austinites. Disabled citizens who require assistance when using the restroom and parents with small children of the opposite sex would have a more comfortable environment for using the restroom. But the resolution also makes great strides by creating an avenue for the integration of a community that will probably be among the last fighting for acceptance — the trans community.

 

Long ignored and even derided by other members of the LGTBQ community, the trans community faces an incomparable road to societal tolerance. Many, including myself, fail to understand the struggle that people who identify with a gender that conflicts with their sex, face every day when they have to decide between being labeled as male or female. From a designation at birth to applying for a driver’s license, people are forced to fit within two categories that do not consider alternatives to the standard gender binary.

 

A key factor of a progressive society is the inclusion of all people despite major differences. And although progression is associated with acceptance and tolerance, the Austin City Council is making the right move by first acknowledging the trans community; to be acknowledged is among the most basic human rights. As simple as a bathroom sign may seem, it could lead to powerful social change.

 

Davis is an associate editor.


 

City council redistricting won't do much for students

In November, voters will choose 10 city council members, one from each of the geographical districts shown in this map.
In November, voters will choose 10 city council members, one from each of the geographical districts shown in this map.

On August 18, the Austin City Council released the 78-person list of hopeful Austinites running for mayor and 10 council positions. District 9, the district encompassing the majority of campus as well as neighborhoods where the population is primarily students, is the only district with any incumbents running. In fact, incumbents make up two of the three candidates. The third candidate, Erin McGann, does not appear likely to win at this point, if the first round of three planned financial reports — and in the case of a run-off, one additional report — are any indication, although it is possible that she raised a significant amount of money shortly after the first deadline to file financial reports, which was July 15. This seems unlikely, though, partly because of her lack of name recognition when compared to the two other candidates, councilman Chris Riley and councilwoman Kathie Tovo. The Daily Texan Editorial Board plans to interview all three candidates at our earliest convenience.

The fact that, come January, the only council member who knows all the ropes of the city council will likely be charged with representing the student population may sound appealing at first, but while these incumbents might have a better idea of what students care about than do people brand new to the council, this by no means indicates that they will work to ensure students' interests are represented. Obviously, I would love to see the council consider students more in their decisions, but from a political standpoint, why should they? College-aged people don't really vote at any significant rate, and students are such a transient population that although the candidates have said they will work to represent students' interests, we don't know who will hold the District 9 representative accountable in the long run. Students don't stick around for long, and while people who work at universities, such as councilman Bill Spelman, an LBJ School of Public Affairs professor, may prioritize students' interests, we can't simply rely on non-students to voice our concerns.

Austin City Council voted to reduce the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a single-family dwelling, on Thursday afternoon. Councilman Bill Spelman believes that the stealth dorm ordinance will negatively affect lower-income individuals.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council gave final approval to a city code amendment reducing the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a single-family dwelling from six to four, in a 6-1 vote on Thursday.

Without additional public comment, the council heard both the second and third readings required to pass the amendment, which will go into effect for two years, beginning in 10 days, according to the Austin-American Statesman. The ordinance will affect greater central Austin in the areas from U.S. 183 to William Cannon Drive. The city code amendment contains a grandfather provision, so those who currently reside in a single-family house will not be affected by the amendment.

Councilman Bill Spelman, who is also a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that although the code change is intended to disincentivize developers from building high-occupancy dwellings, the code change will affect students more than developers.

“[What] concerns me the most is that any restrictions we put on people being able to live together in single-family houses is going to put the biggest restrictions on students, not the people who are building the stealth dorms,” Spelman said.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, the council has not sufficiently addressed the concerns of neighborhood associations or University students.

“We have not really heard enough with the students involved,” Cole said. “I think we need to reach out to our university students not only at UT but throughout the city in our other colleges and universities more and get their input.”

Spelman, who voted against the measure, said the ordinance will negatively affect lower-income individuals, including those who have not come forward to give their input because they are undocumented immigrants.

“They just don’t have very much money and have decided to double and quadruple up to share the cost in single-family houses because it’s the only way that they can live,” Spelman said.

Councilman Chris Riley said he does not think the amendment fixes an underlying issue of affordability.

“It’s going to affect those who would like to live in high-occupancy [houses], and it’s going to continue to affect the neighborhoods in central Austin because we’re going to continue to see those development pressures manifested in some other way,” Riley said. 

Austin City Council may choose to vote on banning so-called “stealth dorms” at its meeting Thursday, even though a study assessing the impact of the ban on housing affordability concluded that there was not sufficient time to determine the potential effects of the ban.

The study, which was released Monday, was conducted in six weeks, although Sheryl Cole, city councilwoman and mayor pro tem, originally proposed that an eight-week period be allowed. The council ultimately voted in favor of Councilman Chris Riley’s amendment to shorten the analysis period to six weeks, which passed 6-1.

In February, Austin City Council made an initial vote to pass the city code amendment, which would lower the number of unrelated adults who can live together in a house or duplex from six individuals to four. The amendment would only apply to residential complexes built in the future.

The amendment must be voted on two additional times before it is passed, with the second vote scheduled for Thursday, though Cole, speaking at a Student Government meeting Tuesday, said there is a possibility the council will take both the second and final votes necessary Thursday.

The economic study was conducted by the Austin Board of Realtors, who worked with Civic Analytics LLC, a research and consulting firm.

Civic Analytics founder Brian Kelsey, who was the principal researcher of the analysis, said in the report he thinks a more in-depth analysis is necessary if City Council members want to know the impact the ban would have on housing affordability.

Kelsey said he does not know how long a more in-depth analysis would take but thinks it would be beneficial to make any significant conclusions.

“You really need a housing economist to weigh in on this, or at least somebody much more familiar than I am with housing economics,” Kelsey said. “If more time leads to a more thoughtful analysis and results in a more data-driven evaluation of the proposed policy, then I’m all for it.”

According to Kelsey, the report reflects a city-wide issue rather than one that pertains only to University students. Kelsey said the city requested data from UT that could not be produced in the six weeks allotted for the report.

“It’s a preliminary analysis that was done in a span of about 72 hours after waiting nearly four weeks to collect as much data as we could,” Kelsey said. “My hope is that it presents a new way of analyzing the issue and that it can undergo some peer review and further refinement if anybody is interested in additional study.”

Lorre Weidlich, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association steering committee co-president, said she does not think the progress of the amendment will be affected by the report’s findings.

“[The researcher] drew some correlations, but, aside from that, he couldn’t draw any causations,” Weidlich said. “I don’t think the city council members will find this report any more useful than I did. I doubt that [they’ll request more time].”

According to Weidlich, the association cannot afford to wait much longer for the amendment to pass because historic houses would be torn down by developers and replaced with large duplexes.

“This ordinance is only for two years,” Weidlich said. “Take that two years and do a good analysis during that period, and then revisit the question.”

When the council originally debated and passed the first vote, councilman Bill Spelman — the only council member who voted against the ordinance — said he felt the data was necessary in order to make an informed decision.

“We’re flying blind,” said Spelman, who also serves as a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “We’re talking about a potentially enormous change in land usage in the city without any analysis, with only qualitative affordability assessments.”

The full report can be found below.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

At approximately 2:30 a.m. Friday, Austin City Council took an initial vote to limit the number of adults who are not related to each other allowed to live in a residence built on single-family zoned property.

In a 6-1 vote, council members approved language to amend the city code to limit “stealth dorms” — groups of adults, often students, living together in a single-family house. The members agreed to reconvene in six weeks so an economic study could be conducted on the amendment’s possible impact on affordable housing, though they rejected a proposal to allow eight weeks for the study. If the amendment is ultimately approved, the legal limit of unrelated adults living together will be reduced to four. 

The measure would only affect homes built in the future, while homes that currently house six unrelated people would be unaffected.

Lorre Weidlich, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association steering committee co-president, said she believes the city code change is aimed at disincentivizing developers from tearing down historic houses and building large duplexes in their place. Weidlich, who lived in Hyde Park as a graduate student, said she is not against students living in the area, but said when too many students live in a single-family dwelling, issues including noise and limited parking arise.

“We have students living in apartments here,” Weidlich said. “It’s just that when you get a group of unrelated adults together in a super duplex, the problems multiply. You get a lot of garbage and they aren’t very good neighbors.”

Sheryl Cole, city councilwoman and mayor pro tem, said she thinks an economic analysis is essential and proposed that eight weeks be alotted to conduct the study. Her motion requesting the longer time frame ultimately failed in a 3-4 vote in favor of councilman Chris Riley’s amendment to shorten the analysis period to six weeks, which passed 6-1.

“Because [this process] has been going on for many, many years, people involved in the process wanted us to make a decision, but at the same time, that cuts in the direction of ‘Are we making sweeping, city-wide impacts?’ and ‘We’re not taking the time to get that [economic analysis],’” Cole said.

Councilman Bill Spelman, who also serves as a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said he agreed with Cole that an objective economic analysis is necessary because the impact of the change is unclear. Spelman was the only councilman who voted against the ordinance to shorten the analysis period to six weeks.

“We’re flying blind,” Spelman said. “We’re talking about a potentially enormous change in land usage in the city without any analysis, with only qualitative affordability assessments.”

Plan II senior Brooks Naylor said he acknowledges trash and parking issues as valid concerns but said he thinks the code change will not fix the issues.

“Blaming kind of a city problem on the number of people living in a certain house doesn’t seem like it’s going to change that much,” Naylor said. “Limiting [the number of people] to four may force [students] to live in other places like West Campus and Riverside, which would cause overcrowding in those places.”

Weidlich said the association was happy with the council’s decision.

“We felt like it was a very positive step forward for preserving the central Austin neighborhood,” Weidlich said. “I think that it’s clear that it will pass.”

All on the house: check out a story from November when the council first started thinking about this measure.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

At approximately 2:30 a.m. Friday, Austin City Council approved an initial vote to limit the number of adults who are not related to each other allowed to live in a residence built on single-family zoned property.

In a 6-1 vote, council members voted to amend city code to limit “stealth dorms” —  groups of six or more adults, often students, living together in a single-family house. If the council makes the same decision over two more rounds of votes in the coming weeks, the legal limit of unrelated adults living together will be reduced to four.

According to The Austin-American Statesman, the measure would only affect homes built in the future, while homes that currently house six unrelated people would be unaffected.

In November, councilman Chris Riley said the council has received various complaints from residents in areas near stealth dorms, which mainly exist north of campus. Those in favor of decreasing the occupancy limit say stealth dorms result in overfull trash cans and a lack of street parking, which can have detrimental effects on other residents’ lives.

Opponents of the measure have cited affordability problems and lack of student housing options as reasons not to limit students’ living options. Councilman Bill Spelman, who also serves as a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, was the only councilman who voted against the ordinance.