Response to Jovita’s report in Austin Powell’s “Off The Record” Column

Received a nice shout out in Austin Powell‘s “Off the Record” column in the Austin Chronicle’s recent April Fools Day issue. Below the relevant quote from the column is my 3-part response:

Permission To Speak
Off the RecordAustin PowellFri., April 1, 2011

“Local booker Joyce DiBona describes Jovita’s issues with the city during South by Southwest as “a comedy of errors.” Despite years of successful unofficial events during the music portion of the Festival, the South Austin venue neglected to apply for the Temporary Use Permit and Sound Permit necessary to host live music.

Public Assembly Code Enforcement officials subsequently forced Jovita’s to move its annual Twangfest inside on Thursday, March 17. That’s when Gary Etie of Austin City Permits went to work. Over the next 24 hours, the local consultant sent 47 e-mails to city officials, requesting the expedition of necessary permits for the following day’s Irish showcase, while noting provisions in the city code that would allow for it and having the Fire Department informally (and later officially) approve the temporary setup.

Due to deadline constraints, the city denied the request. Jovita’s moved a portion of the event indoors, canceled some acts, and took a calculated risk by having SXSW Keynote Speaker Sir Bob Geldof still perform outside as planned, after which Jovita’s received two citations that were later dropped.

“This was a case of old Austin not really assimilating to all of the bureaucratic changes that have taken place,” says DiBona, “and it was an omission that we paid for.” Part of the confusion faced by Jovita’s as well as South by San Jose and Home Slice Pizza, among others, boils down to the poorly timed changes to the Austin sound ordinance, passed by City Council on Feb. 10.

The amendment requires a temporary event impact plan to be approved by the city’s music office and office of special events for 24-hour permits, and for multiday special events, a city official must also give 14 days’ notice of the events to homeowners and registered neighborhood organizations within 600 feet of the site.

In other words, that two-week buffer left live music venues less than three weeks to submit the proper applications for SXSW. Even so, the number of special event permits approved rose from 37 to 45 this year.

“We had sandwich shops and dry cleaners that knew the rules,” counters Don Pitts of the Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. “There should be a clear-cut deadline, because it’s difficult for us to honor last-minute requests, and frankly, more planning needs to go into events than that.”

Pitts says his office will be more proactive over the next year in educating venues about the process and requirements. Thankfully, construction has already begun in Bastrop on a new entertainment complex – similar to the Villa Museproject – that will help alleviate these issues. For more on this breaking development, see “Dome Sweet Dome,” and “Dome and Domer,” News.”

3-part Response:

1. The Devil Is In The Details:
AustinCityPermits.com Mar 31, 2011, 12:02 pm

Austin, thank you. To clarify the issue of “deadline constraints” – The 24-hour Live Music Permit does NOT require a “14 days notice”, that applies only to the Multi-day Permit. Your sentence states that correctly, but the way it reads, readers might get the impression that the 24-hour permit requires “14 days notice”.

On the three weeks buffer: The Feb 10th Ordinance allows for 14 days, after application, for Notification for a Multi-day permit, and requires 14 days to pass AFTER Notification goes out, prior to the Permit being issued. … that means it COULD take 28 days, a full 4 weeks after applying, for a Permit to be issued. One could have applied on Feb 16th, 6 days after the new ordinance was passed, and still could have failed to receive a permit, the way the Code is currently written.

Inexplicably, the ordinance allows 30-days for the Music Office to come up with the required Temporary Event Impact Plan … “the music office shall provide a recommended temporary event impact plan to the accountable official within thirty (30) days after receiving the application” How that actually can affect a permit applications timeliness, I do not know.

As it happened, a deadline of Feb 25th was declared, for Multi-day permits, for the March 16th SxSW Music start date, meaning Notification would go out within 4 – 5 days (the following Tuesday) … I found out about this Feb 25th deadline on … Feb 25th … and I try my best to keep up with these things.

That means live music venues were left with, not three weeks, as stated in the column, but two weeks after the new ordinance was passed, to submit the proper applications.

Then March 4th, a full 12 days before SxSW Music, was declared the deadline for 24-Hour Live Music Permit applications, even though neither a notification, nor a 14-day wait period, is required. Neither of the deadlines were properly announced, and neither are written in the Code.

Big warning – if you think they messed it up this time, by being given direct access to the Code writing process(?) Downtown (DANA) is announcing, proudly, that round 2 is coming. The numerous mistakes in the Feb 10th ordinance were bad enough, many of which were taken directly from a DANA letter to the Mayor & Council. ( http://austincitypermits.com/?p=4170 )

2. Trouble, You Can’t Fool Me
AustinCityPermits.com | Apr 01, 2011, 02:39 pm

Austin, and Chronicle readers, note, the fox in the henhouse:

Feb 9, 2011 – First Draft version of the new “Temporary Event & Live Music” Ordinance appeared on the Council Agenda web page.

Feb 10th – The Draft was revised, and became Final, approximately 2 hrs before Council went into session (10 AM). The ordinance was rushed into law, on an emergency basis, on the consent agenda, with NO public or council discussion, at least not while Council was in session. ;^o

Feb 11th: DANA claims the leadership role in the changes that were made, along with claims that the amendments helped clarify the Code.

“DANA Supports Sound Permit Changes
Friday, 11 February 2011 14:15
by Josh Allen and Jamie Lagarde

On Thursday, February 10, Austin City Council passed a series of noise related code changes that were principally focused around Multi-day Special Event Permits. DANA supported these revisions because, even more important to downtown residents, there were also broader code changes that impact all sound permits such as measuring sound at the source instead of the property line, requiring permit signs posted at all outdoor music venues, reducing the appeal time frame, and defining the factors used by the Music Department in granting new Outdoor Music Venue (OMV) permits. Council also took the opportunity to reorganize the code which should reduce confusion in the community. Issues related to noise downtown has become an increasingly larger issue for downtown residents, and DANA has been working with APD, City Council and staff on proposed changes.

The code revisions passed on February 10 are a first step at solving some critical noise related issues downtown. City Council Members have heard DANA’s concerns, and realize this is only a first step. DANA supported the revision and reiterated residents concerns when address the second phase of the sound ordinance revision. For more details on DANA’s position letter, click here.

The City’s Music Department and City Council are working on further revisions to the sound ordinance that address the most critical issues such as cut off times, and overall noise ordinance enforcement. DANA will continue to take a leadership role in making sure that the changes create a balance downtown where great downtown establishments thrive but residents can also sleep at night. We are excited about the Council’s changes so far but the most critical work is ahead of us. … Contact us at info@downtownaustin.org”

3. (No Title)
AustinCityPermits.com | Apr 01, 2011, 03:14 pm

… stayed up all night, first chance to read & study the 18 page document.

5:01 AM, Feb 11, 2011: I posted a warning about what I felt certain would be a catastrophe, if allowed to remain in the Ordinance: http://austincitypermits.com/?p=4494

A corrective ordinance was passed, to fix that problem, and DANA responded:

“Sound Debate Phase 2 is Coming
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 18:29

Amplified sound, noise, music and live music. There is a difference in these, especially when it comes to outdoor music near downtown residences. The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) is a strong supporter of Live Music.

Live Music is why we supported the recent changes to the Sound Ordinance adopted by Council to create Multi-day Special Event Permits for outdoor live music, which are most applicable during SXSW. That ordinance revision also simplified the code, reducing confusion for music promoters, entertainment businesses and residents alike. In short, the code revision was a first step in the right direction as a stop gap for SXSW to once again grace our downtown with fine music, a great time and significant economic benefit.

In the scurry to finalize the ordinance in time for SXSW preparations, the ordinance changed the place sound is measured from the property line to the source. On March 3, Council will consider a corrective ordinance to return the measurement of sound to the property line.

DANA is concerned about measuring sound at the ground-floor property line as the problematic sound from the rooftop deck shoots over the top of sound meters. Nevertheless, DANA believes the location for appropriate measurement of sound should be part of a larger conversation, in what some Council Members have called “phase two” of Sound Ordinance revisions.

We support the corrective amendment and look forward to continuing our work with City staff, City Council and our fellow stakeholders during “phase two.” Together, we can create a balance downtown where great entertainment establishments thrive and residents sleep at night, in accordance with DANA’s mission to improve the quality of life for those who live, work and play downtown.

We always want to hear from you. If you have comments or questions, please let us know! Contact us: info@downtownaustin.org.”

Combine the statements in the 2 DANA letters; couple that with the unanimous 7 – 0 “walking quorum” vote that took away Lustre Pearl’s approved Outdoor Music Venue Permit, against staff recommendation, and what do you have? … You tell me.

Thank you,
Gary Etie – Austin City Permits

  1. Blah says:

    You really arent too familiar with all the zoning infractions that jovita’s had over the years. Unpermitted expansion and code violations of their primary building, illegal construction along the creek, illegal overflow parking onto residential lots owned by the proprietor of Jovitas, as well as number of other niggling problems coming out of their property.

    • Gary says:

      Blah,

      Your assumption that I’m not familiar with the history of Jorge’s actually gives me an opportunity to explain what it’s like, to be a Permit guy, in a town that one has called home for most of 36 years.

      1. There are many, many Austin businesses currently in operation, where the old way of doing things, and the new way of doing things, have been in conflict for years, and remain so today.

      You have business owners who:
      a) are proactive and play strictly by the rules
      b) do the least bit necessary, just enough to be in compliance
      c) actually enjoy skirting the rules and/or messin’ with “the Man”.
      d) know how to play the media for free publicity

      2. Jovita’s happens to be in a particularly sensitive and contentious location. While I try to banish the idea of what could happen, if a typical Central Texas turd floater were to rain down upon the upper reaches of Bouldin Creek, and turn the tranquil stream into a raging torrent, this is what happens when a NIMBY mentality forces property owners to do what they want to do, instead of what they are required to do, by law.

      The Bouldin Creek neighborhood was represented, for many years, by folks who, consistently, wouldn’t agree with ANY business improvements, of ANY kind, if the proposed plans had anything to do with music. They opposed everything so consistently that the City, if I am not mistaken, kicked the BCNA out of the neighborhood planning process at one time.

      3. As far as your assumption that I’m not familiar with the history of Jovita’s, that would be incorrect. Up and down Bouldin Creek … from silently sharing a table, out of necessity, with a road weary Sir Doug Sahm, at the full to capacity, original La Reina Restaurant … to drinking the infamous Casita Jorge’s Margarita’s and eating Jorge Aredondo’s enchiladas (again 30+ years ago) at the original Casita Jorge’s … then following Jorge to Jovita’s, where he cooked, for a spell, when Jovita’s first opened ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/416523 ) … to being the wholesale Wine, Beer & Water rep, in the early 90′s, to the “Spaghetti Western” restaurant (next door to Jovita’s, now Freddie’s) … to straightening out and resolving recent Code Compliance issues for businesses that shall remain unnamed, currently operating in the immediate vicinity, I am intimately familiar with the history of many things that I’d rather not know, and choose to not talk about.

      That said, the history of a location such as Jovita’s has absolutely no bearing, none, zilch, nada, on whether the Fire Dept will deem a location fit for the issuance of a 1 – day Temporary Use Permit (AKA, “TUP”, and required in addition to a Sound Permit).

      In this particular instance, the problem was with the Feb 10th passage of an emergency Ordinance amending the Noise and Sound Ordinance, and charging the Music Office with the duty of creating a “Traffic Impact Plan” for every “Live Music Permit”, so that APD, P.A.C.E., and others, could coordinate their plans for controlling and monitoring parking, traffic, and safety issues, prior to the issuance of any Live Music Permits.

      In my attempt to obtain a 1-day Live Music Permit, or a 24-hour Sound Permit, or a “Director” issued, last minute Sound Permit (all available in this circumstance, according to the Code) .. hell, I didn’t care what kind of 1-day Permit they were willing to issue … I just knew that one of those three ways were available, for a 1-day Permit, and that there was enough time remaining in the work day to process a Permit in time for Bob Geldorf’s expected show that night … and that would have been good enough for me, but at the time of this request, on a Friday afternoon, the answer I received was a big, fat NO.

      4. The facts are:

      a) Because the “Traffic” reviewer refused to sign off on the prerequisite review for the Temporary Use Permit at Noon, saying it was “too late”, the Fire Dept was unable to fulfill my original TUP request … but two Fire Marshall’s did eventually stop by, mid-afternoon, in response to my pleas, and after discussion of past transgressions by Jovita’s, issued a Temporary Permit for the Use of the Parking Lot for a Live Music performance for the public, by Sir Bob.

      b) Jovita’s was then informed, informally, of the following, by a department head :

      1) they also needed a Sound Permit
      2) it was not going to be possible to get one, due to the unavailability of Music Office staff. (!)
      3) The fact was that P.A.C.E. (Public Assembly Code Enforcement) would not be on the streets until 9 PM, and that, as long as they music ended at 8:45, everything would be OK.

      c) I remain unclear on exactly what occurred that night, but from what I’ve been able to gather, someone called in a complaint, APD showed up at precisely 9 PM, after the music had ended, with the crowd still in the Parking Lot, and, in spite of the Temporary Use Permit, issued 2 citations. If I am not mistaken, the charges in those citations were dropped the following Wednesday.

      5. The Fire Department’s handling of this should be held up as a model for other City of Austin enforcement departments, on how to handle a request that can be fulfilled, if issues that would affect the health and safety of the public can be inspected, and approved for what is, in actuality, a very, very minor use.

      In closing, note one important thing. The show did indeed, and as it must, go on.

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