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Intel incentives inspire heated debate among Planning Commissioners

Wednesday, May 17, 2000 by

Almanza attacks Intel incentives and decries impact on East Austin

Planning Commission Member Susana Almanza attacked the city's plan to provide $15 million in incentives to Intel Corp. Tuesday, calling the plan "insulting."

"I want the general public to know what's happening to East Austin. It's not a gravy train for us," Almanza said, because bringing business to downtown has meant higher prices and less housing stock in East Austin. She said, "Software has already crossed I-35. We've lost 20 (low-income) housing units. We see the spin-off of having these companies downtown. It's oppression."

Almanza's comments were in response to three Planning Commission items relating to amending the city's Capital Budget for sidewalk improvements and waived water and wastewater fees. (See In Fact Daily May 16 for a full discussion of the Intel package.)

Almanza complained that people in East Austin are being told they must wait two to five years for sidewalks. She asked Vickie Schubert of Infrastructure Support Services whether the $192,000 being appropriated for Intel's sidewalks would further delay what has already been approved for other parts of town. Schubert replied that the sidewalks being built around the Intel site at 501 W. 5th Street would be coming out of this year's Capital Improvement Project's contingency fund. Schubert said the Intel package would not have any impact on projects that have already been approved for funding.

Commissioner Gwen Webb said she understood Almanza's point. "We're finding…a way to get it done and done quickly for some," but not for everyone. "When we give a $15 million incentive package to Intel…we ought to balance it for other areas of the city where people have been told 'no' time and time again," Webb said. Webb also said she was worried about the long-term impact of bringing too many of one type of company to Austin.

Commissioner Ray Vrudhula told fellow commissioners, "There is a tangible benefit, as well as an intangible benefit," to the incentives, and asked Sue Edwards, director of Redevelopment Services, to explain how her department makes incentive decisions. Edwards said that within a 20-year period Intel would generate $22 million to $23 million dollars more than any incentives the city approves.

Commission Chair Art Navarro asked Edwards whether the incentives for Intel are part of a City Council established policy. Edwards said the council has attempted whenever possible to bring companies to downtown or into the Desired Development Zone.

Commissioner Robin Cravey said, "It's costing real money to accomplish this (but)…there are some really good reasons to do this. Moving a major employer off the Drinking Water Protection Zone and into downtown is a good thing." He said he thought that the city should try to phase in development rather than having so much occur at the same time.

Webb said she would like to see the city prepare a budget for incentive packages, as it does for most other items.

Almanza said the city does not have a long-term business plan and complained that small businesses cannot get incentives like big corporations. She said, "What we've seen is a lot of imported workers…driving the prices up and driving people out of our community." She said she could not support the budget amendment for the incentive package.

Commissioner Jim Robertson said the commission could not see the whole plan, which he called "a complex quid pro quo and a complex development agreement."

Five commissioners–Vrudhula, Navarro, Betty Baker, Cravey and Robertson–voted to recommend the package to the City Council. Almanza voted "no." Mather and Webb abstained. Commissioner Ben Heimsath departed midway through the incentive discussion and did not return for the vote, which was the final item on the commission's agenda. The council is scheduled to consider the package on Thursday.

Clean air campaign…The Governor's Mansion will be the site of a press conference today at 2 p.m. as Public Citizen, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, and the Sierra Club announce an aggressive new campaign to close the loophole that allows outdated power plants to pollute at levels above modern standards. Citizens call for "clamping down on four pollutants and for the retirement and replacement of dirty, old plants in order to achieve clean air goals." They will ask Governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush to define his position on cleaning up power plants. For more info, call Public Citizen at 477-1155 or the SEED Coalition at 479-7744… Early voting begins today…Early voting to fill the Place 2 seat on the Austin City Council begins today and continues through May 30 leading up to the May 3 election in which Raul Alvarez or Rafael Quintanilla will be elected to fill the position being vacated by Gus Garcia. Early voting locations are set up all over town and in addition many temporary voting locations will be operated each day. For more info, check the Austin City Connection at www.ci.austin.tx.us or call Betty Brown at 499-2498 or Patty Gonzales at 499-2395…Democrats raising money…Longtime political fund-raiser Alfred Stanley will host a reception at Ninfa's on 6th Street Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. for this year's recruits to Participation 2000. Stanley is president of Participation 2000, a national organization that recruits young people to work in Democratic campaigns throughout the United States. Contributions of any amount will be appreciated, Stanley said. For more information, call him at 474-4738… Kitchen needs dough…Speaking of Democrats, State Representative Sherri Greenberg, who is stepping down from her District 48 legislative seat this year, is hosting a fund-raiser for Ann Kitchen Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The fund-raiser will be at Greenberg's home, 2524 Tanglewood. For more information, call the campaign at 444-3750… Alvarez wants you…A large group of sponsors are backing a fund-raiser for Raul Alvarez this Friday, May 19, at Las Manitas, 211 Congress Ave. The event goes from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and includes music by Correo Arreo. For more info, call 476-7969… Phelps quits to campaign… Shane Phelps, the Republican candidate for Travis County District Attorney, resigned from his position as deputy attorney general yesterday and announced he will campaign full-time in his second attempt to unseat incumbent Democrat Ronney Earle in November. As deputy AG for criminal justice, Phelps supervised more than 300 employees and oversaw a budget of $15 million. He claims credit for doubling the amount of financial assistance last year for victims of violent crime. He's running for DA with the slogan, "A prosecutor…not a politician." For more info, call the Phelps Campaign at 891-6112.

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