Nanny State: Is Austin's 10-1 City Council over-doing it with the regulation?

"There is a tendency in Austin...has been for a very long time. It's not a good thing but there's a tendency to want to regulate every aspect of your life frankly. And we need to get away from that."  That's former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell speaking with Fox 7 a couple of weeks ago after a press conference in support of Prop 1.

When Leffingwell sat in the Mayor's seat at Austin City Hall, he often mentioned there being too many pages to the Austin rule book. Well the new 10-1 council is being accused of adding some more depth to that rule book.

"If it had been 3 years ago would we make the same decision to start our business in Austin given what has recently happened? Absolutely not," said T.J. Clark, the CEO and co-founder of Turnkey Vacation Rentals.

Instead of San Francisco, they decided to start their business here.  And he's talking about council's recent decision to phase out Type 2 Short Term Rentals in the city by 2022.

Type-2 means the owner doesn't live on the property, it's basically a mini-hotel in a residential neighborhood.  A Type-1 is owner occupied and those are still okay.

The idea of the phasing out came about after complaints of loud parties coming from the Type 2's.

"It doesn't seem that the 10-1 council has anyone there anymore that's thinking about Austin as a whole as opposed to just listening to neighborhood groups that don't want anything in their backyard," Clark said.

And who could forget?  The seemingly endless ridesharing debate.

Uber and Lyft have been operating in Austin since 2014 under an ordinance put into place by Leffingwell's council. 

In December of 2015, the 10-1 council voted in favor of a new ordinance with added safety measures like fingerprint background checks for drivers.  The ridesharing community revolted and got tens of thousands of signatures in favor of keeping Leffingwell's ordinance with a few added bells and whistles.  The people of Austin will vote which ordinance they like on May 7th.

Council Member Ann Kitchen who has spear-headed the added safety measures doesn't think its over-regulation.

"You're talking about very, very basic common sense rules.  Requiring fingerprinting, requiring you identify the car and requiring that you not stop in the middle of the travel lane, you can't get much simpler than those 3 things," Kitchen said.

Mayor Steve Adler agrees...saying "innovation" is in Austin's DNA.

"Car2Go came into this city, new technology, and we were able to test that and prove that.  [Google] is driving autonomous vehicles on our streets right now.  This is a community that has been repeatedly supportive of innovation," Adler said.

T.J. Clark also wasn't impressed with the Fair Chance Hiring initiative --pointing out that some of the same people behind forcing private Austin employers to stop asking about criminal history at the very beginning of the hiring process are the same people fighting for fingerprinted Uber and Lyft drivers.

"Where's the consistency?  Have any of these people ever started a business?" he said.

Believe it or not someone that adamantly believes Austin is overdoing it with the rules sits right on the dais.  He recently protested another council member's resolution for Austinites to be more "compassionate" with his own amendment lifted from the Church of satan...just to make his point.  Don Zimmerman, District 6.

"It doesn't make sense to me that the center of Texas would be such a city with an appetite for over-regulation.  Thousands of pages of rules and ordinances.  I can't square that with the spirit of Texas and the Alamo and the struggle for liberty," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman who often abstains from votes or says "no" to items important to the majority of the council feels the political nature of the city is changing.  But progressive democrats still have the voting power.

"People who don't trust their neighbors right?  They would say 'Well it's up to the government to define what 'safe' means.  And we can't let you make the decision of what it means to be 'safe.'  Progressive government is going to decide what safe means and we're going to mandate what we think safety means and you're going to have to comply," Zimmerman said.

Peck Young has been somewhat of an Austin City Council expert for decades.  He's the head of Public Policy and Political Studies at ACC and a former political consultant. 

So what does Young think about the idea that council is over-regulating?

"Well I think that's baloney," Young said.

As for ridesharing...

"I don't think asking for the benefit of this community that they want to require the safest way to ensure that people are who they say they are when they're driving people around is over-regulation.  It works in Houston, why the Hell it can't work here, I don't know," he said.

And short term rentals...

"The point of government is to protect the citizens not to make HomeAway rich," he said.

Earlier this year, Mike Maples, Jr. with the venture capital firm Floodgate tweeted that Floodgate " has policy not to invest in on-demand companies in Austin.  Local government - too hostile."

Young isn't concerned with the tech industry's sentiments about Austin.

"This city needs to quit pandering to people whose only jobs they offer are jobs that can buy million dollar houses," Young said.

"Regulation has a place.  City regulations, state, the federal government, there's a place for that.  But it needs to be minimal.  It shouldn't impose unnecessary restrictions on people who want to operate their business here," Leffingwell said.

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