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Travis County elections net wide-margin victories, few runoffs

Wednesday, March 15, 2000 by

Political contests pull 15.67 percent of registered voters

The final tallies on the Travis County elections straggled in at midnight last night at the City Coliseum, with few surprises for the small crowd of hangers-on. The only race in doubt at that point was between two Democrats running for judge of the 53rd Judicial District Court. But Scott Jenkins had a lead that only widened as the last boxes came in, giving him 15,967 votes to Susan Haney's 14,337, a margin of 52.68 percent to 47.31 percent. A very tired Jenkins wasn't too talkative after a long day of campaigning to bring home the victory. Direct mail expert Robert Hernandez speculated that Haney came as close as she did, though underfunded, because, "It's easier to elect women." Jenkins' son Jack, age 10, also had a theory: "It was bad to hold (the election) during spring break," he said. In November's general election, Jenkins will face Republican John Drolla, who was not challenged in the primary.

In the race for District 48 State Representative, Democrat Ann Kitchen whomped Mandy Dealey 5,813 to 2,006, for 74.34 percent of the vote. This was only slightly below the 75.11 percent that Kitchen scored in the early voting. Just after 9 p.m. Kitchen announced that initial lead at Threadgill's World Headquarters to loud cheers from a room packed with friends. "I have to go to the Coliseum and then let's party," Kitchen said, leading some 50 sign-toting supporters in a two-block march down Riverside Drive to reach election central. On the GOP side of the District 48 ledger, Jill Warren garnered 2,697 votes for 34.69 percent and Scott Loras netted 1,882 votes for 24.2 percent and they will face each other in a runoff for the honor of taking on Kitchen in the November general election. Whoever wins, the District 48 seat will go to a lawyer. Kitchen is a former assistant attorney general and health care expert. Warren is a high-tech lawyer and Loras, also an attorney, engages in mediation. Other GOP candidates in the District 48 race were Joe R. Anderson, 1,553 votes for 19.97 percent, Maria Gavillan Burbridge 807 votes for 10.38 percent, Robert R. Wycoff 485 votes for 6.23 percent, and Albert J. Stowell 350 votes for 4.5 percent.

In the District 50 State Representative's race incumbent Democrat Dawnna Dukes easily turned back challenger Stella Roland with 5,762 votes to 2,217, taking 72.21 percent. Among the crowd of sign waving supporters who surged into the Coliseum was Council Member Willie Lewis, who later circulated in the crowd soliciting signatures to get his name on the ballot for reelection. Since no Republican filed in District 50, Dukes' primary victory gives her an automatic new term.

In the race to fill the unexpired term in County Court at Law No. 5, incumbent Democrat Gisela Triana, who was appointed to the post, easily turned back the challenge from Gus Garcia Jr., winning 21,603 votes or 66.37 percent to his 10,946. In November Triana will face Republican Grant Goodwin, who had no opponent in the primary.

In the Democratic Party's Precinct 1 Constable's race, incumbent Luke Mercer won 3,118 votes for 54.71 percent, defeating challengers Michael A. Carter with 1,706 votes and Flynn A. Lee with 875 votes. With no GOP opponent, Mercer gets another term.

In the Republican Party's Precinct 2 Constable's contest, Bob Vann drew 8,475 votes to Jeff Hill's 4,817 to win the nomination. Vann will face Democrat Kevin Ward in November.

In the GOP race for Precinct 3 Constable, Drew McAngus took 8,137 votes to Xavier Montalvo's 4,821 and will face Democrat Kevin Miskell in the general election.

In the Democratic Party's Precinct 4 Constable's race, Maria Canchola took 1,940 votes for 48.21 percent, besting incumbent Rocky Medrano's 1,530 votes for 38.02 percent, but not enough for outright victory so there will be a runoff. Joe Hardin took 554 votes for 13.76 percent. The winner of the Canchola-Medrano runoff will win the job, since no Republican filed for that office.

Travis County Republican Party Chair Becky Motal netted 10,448 votes for 29.02 percent, well behind challenger Alan Sager's 15,939 votes for 44.27 percent. The two will face each other in the runoff. Hank Davis Gonzalez got 6,067 votes for 16.85 percent and H.R. "Mickey" Bentley got 3,403 for 9.45 percent. Motal seemed unconcerned about her own race Tuesday night. She said Sager had spent a lot of money just getting his name before Republican voters. Motal said, "I've not spent anything to speak of," on this race. "I did not aggressively campaign, but I had name ID." Motal ran for City Council in 1996 and 1997, losing both times without making it into a runoff. She said many supporters had urged her to do a campaign mailing, but added, "I don't believe in spending money on a county chair's race." Motal said she probably would send a letter now, targeting Republican voters, to boost her chances in the runoff.

The Democratic Party will be led by Scott Ozmun, who had no opponent for the chair's job.

The elections drew a total of 82,555 voters to the polls, either in early voting or on election day. That represents 15.67 percent of the 526,711 registered voters in Travis County.

Traditional Neighborhood Development to draw city investment of $4.9 million

Walnut Creek Destination Park to surround mixed-use development

The city's plan to join traditional neighborhood developments (TND) with Destination Parks will have its first test on a northeast hillside overlooking the Walnut Creek greenbelt, the new Dell Computer Corp. campus and the Samsung Semiconductor facility. Sean Compton of Bosse & Compton Associates, who designed the master plan for the 252-acre tract, said the location is also close to Advanced Micro Devices and the Walnut Creek Business Park. "As planned," he said, "you can live there and work at one of those major employers without ever getting on a freeway."

The development was previewed at the Planning Commission's Comprehensive Plan Committee Tuesday. The committee enthusiastically voted to recommend the project and its hefty incentive package to the full commission next week. Tracy Watson, director of Special Projects & Development Dispute Resolution, said he expects the incentive package, which is tentatively valued at $4.89 million, would likely appear on the City Council's March 30 agenda. Fee waivers total $1.3 million; infrastructure reimbursements total $2.8 million for water and wastewater; and signals, sidewalks and park land acquisition total $836,000.

Watson told the committee the subdivision will be bounded on at least two sides by the new, and as yet unnamed Destination Park, just east of Dessau Road and adjacent to the southern portion of Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farm. Watson said homes in the project would be in the affordable range–$80,000 to $120,000. The area will be annexed for limited purposes first and later be annexed for full purposes, Watson said. Commissioner Robin Cravey said, "This is great! These days that (price range) is affordable."

Watson said Milburn Homes would build the residential sections, with other builders providing offices and retail, making the subdivision a true mixed-use development. Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell, who began talks with Milburn about five months ago, later told In Fact Daily one of the difficulties of implementing TND is that most builders stick to one kind of building, either single-family, apartment or office building. So, Milburn will build the single-family homes, but will form partnerships with others to complete the project.

Normally, Futrell said, Milburn would buy a tract of land and build all single-family homes. "In this case, they had to have a retail developer, a multi-family developer, and an office developer. They're in the process of having that all put together. Milburn is going to be the principal builder and they're going to bring to the table at least two, if not three, other builders," she said. Calls to Milburn Homes were not returned.

"It also has a mixed price range," Futrell said. In most subdivisions all the homes are close to the same price, she said. "There's nowhere in the City of Austin where you can buy something in the 80s. (The TND subdivision) will be some of the lowest priced ownership opportunities in the City of Austin. Part of the package we're putting together is working with the Housing Department," which will assist in finding qualified buyers and providing down payment assistance, she said.

Futrell said one of the reasons for this part of Smart Growth "is to find a way to bring different housing stock, different prices, inside the city limits." A previous study indicated that outlying areas had some affordable housing, but Austin generally lacked such housing, she said. Futrell said there are a couple of modified versions of the TND in Austin suburbs. However, the Walnut Creek project will be the first one that's "pure TND," she said.

Futrell said the city passed its award-winning TND ordinance two to three years ago. But Austin's hot real estate market has worked against implementation. "When the normal package is selling like hot cakes, why try something new?" In addition, Futrell said, lenders are less likely to want to get involved in developments that don't fit in the standard mold.

Futrell said the agreement between the city and Milburn will include a proviso for the homebuilder to share financial information with the city as the project progresses. "We'll be able to see what some of the market forces are, and what some of the market barriers are for TNDs," Futrell said.

Watson said the city wants to do at least two more TND projects in conjunction with destination parks, and is working to that end.

Architect raises ethics question over new City Hall and Plaza project

Nyfeler thinks hosting a fund-raiser for council member may be improper

Who gets the $4 million in fees to design the new City Hall and Plaza is a decision pending before the City Council, and one of the teams is raising a question about whether another team is playing by the rules that prohibit lobbying. On March 2 the City Council heard presentations by the four teams competing for the job. The council was to have picked the winning team on March 9 but instead postponed the matter for two weeks. A fund-raiser for Council Member Willie Lewis scheduled for Thursday, March 16, is being sponsored by a principal in one of the teams, causing a competitor to question whether this is an impropriety that could sway the council member's vote.

John Nyfeler of the Nyfeler Organization Inc. notified In Fact Daily that a competitor for the contract is among those who are sponsoring a fund-raiser at Juan in a Million. "Austin has a strict anti-lobbying ordinance," Nyfeler says. "I cannot approach officials to advance our case. But it's interesting that on Thursday evening Lewis is enjoying a fund-raiser sponsored by Juan and Martha Cotera," he says. "I'm sure there's no connection between the contract and the fund-raiser," he added. The fund-raising letter also lists as sponsors Hilbert Maldonado, who is Lewis' campaign treasurer, Roberto Chapa, Planning Commission Chair Art Navarro, and Garden's Neighborhood Association President John Limon.

Lewis' campaign manager, David Terrell, says that he personally arranged the Thursday fund-raiser and called Juan Cotera for permission to use his name on the invitations that were mailed to some 500 Hispanics. "There's no quid pro quo of any kind. It's just an average basic fund-raiser," Terrell says. "I called Cotera and asked to use his name. He hasn't given us any money." He said, "Willie probably hasn't even seen the letter. He'll show up and meet his Mexican-American supporters." As to the design contract, Terrell says, "I wasn't aware there was a contract up…Someone's looking for a boogie man in the closet when there isn't any."

Cotera says, "I had a call from a friend of Lewis who asked to use my name (on the fund-raising letter) and I said yes. I had no contact with Mr. Lewis on this. I think it's odd for Nyfeler to even mention this–I'm real upset." Cotera says he has not contributed money to Lewis' campaign. He went on to say, "We have never lobbied for a project in our 28-year history."

Assistant City Attorney John Steiner had not seen the specific anti-lobbying affidavit required for the teams competing for this project but said, "Generally there's no prohibition of people with business before the city from making political contributions, although many do. That's why we have disclosure laws. People can judge what they think it means."

A copy of the anti-lobbying affidavit, obtained later by In Fact Daily, states: "My agents, representatives, subconsultants and I will not undertake any activities or actions to promote or advertise my proposal to any member of any City Commission reviewing the proposals, member of the Austin City Council or city staff except in the course of city-sponsored inquiries, briefings, interviews or presentations between the qualification statement submission date and award by City Council."

Informed of Steiner's statement, Nyfeler said, "I'll leave that to the lawyers." But he went on to say, "Some of us take that sworn affidavit not to advance our case…very, very seriously. It may be very innocent but to have a candidate under consideration to award a contract to be a sponsor of a political fund-raiser a week before the decision is to be made, an argument can be made that it could be persuasive."

Lewis spoke to In Fact Daily late last night at election central. "The fund-raiser was set up before we knew who was in the presentations (for the City Hall and Plaza Project)," Lewis said. Asked if Cotera's help in fund-raising would influence his vote on the contract, Lewis said, "No."

Nyfeler is working with Moore/Andersson Architects and introduced lead designer Arthur Andersson to the council for the presentation on March 2. Cotera is with Cotera Kolar Negrete & Reed Architects and introduced lead designer Antoine Predock. The other two teams competing for the contract are headed by Carter-Burgess Inc. and Black & Vernooy + Barnes Architects joint venture. (See In Fact Daily March 6, 2000.)

The city's project manager for the new City Hall and Plaza is architect Nathan Schneider of the Public Works and Transportation Department. He says the council is scheduled to debate and decide who gets the design contract in the morning segment of the March 23 council meeting, which will be held at City Hall, 124 W. 8th St., in the third floor conference room.

Correction…The March 6 issue of In Fact Daily carried a lead article about the architects under consideration to design the new City Hall and Plaza. The last section of that article contained errors: Arthur Andersson is the correct spelling (vice Anderrson). And the last two quotations attributed to Dan Biederman were actually statements made by Andersson. In Fact Daily regrets the errors… Hard time…As the city moves to change regulations so that central sewer service is not extended outside the city limits, work continues on revising regulations for on-site sewage facilities within the city limits. Planning Commission Member Robin Cravey said, " Jean ( Mather) and I have been sentenced to life–serving on the on-site sewage facilities committee." That committee, which has considered every comma in the proposed regulations, will meet once again this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Room 105 of the Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th St…Protest continues…Members of the Hyde Park Baptist Church will face picketing again this Sunday, and every Sunday morning, "until they decide to negotiate," according to activist Becky Helton, who described the demonstrations as "very courteous." The beef is with the church's plan to build another five-story parking garage… Money man…Place 5 City Council Candidate Will Wynn tells In Fact Daily that he appointed a campaign treasurer Tuesday, Intelliquest founder Peter Zandan… Election comments… Precinct 3 County Commissioner Todd Baxter, a Republican, was feeling fine last night as he sailed through with no Republican challenger in the primary and no Democrat to face in November–quite an achievement after his narrow victory to win the office in 1998. "I'm just here to bask in the victory," he said. Also basking was Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, a Democrat with a free pass in both the primary and general elections. His third term will be the last, Elfant says. "If you do this job right, it takes a lot out of you," he said." Also kibitzing was Precinct 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, a Democrat who was not up for reelection this year who went through nail-biter in 1998… Alvarez on the web… Matt Watson, campaign manager for Raul Alvarez, candidate to succeed Gus Garcia in the City Council's Place 2 seat, says the candidate's web site is up now at His next big fund-raiser is set for March 23, 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Juan in a Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez. Alvarez filed his application to get on the ballot March 10, as did Gloria Mata Pennington, who is also running in Place 2. Rafael Quintanilla, Monty Markland and David "Breadman" Blakely have previously filed for the Place 2 seat.

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