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Proponents and opponents of police oversight gear up for council hearing

Wednesday, May 31, 2000 by

Briefing and public hearing scheduled for Thursday, June 1

Civilian oversight of the Austin Police Department (APD) is back on the City Council's agenda this week–but only for a briefing and public hearing, and not for action.

As reported by In Fact Daily May 18, the Police Oversight Focus Group (POFG) spent nine months of intensive work to prepare the recommendations submitted April 14. The central recommendation is that the APD should have civilian oversight and it should be in the form of a Police Monitor, an experienced attorney who would be hired by and report to the city manager, and a Police Review Panel whose members are appointed by the City Council. Implementation cannot be ordered by the council. The council may instruct that the matter be made part of negotiations for the Meet and Confer Agreement between the City of Austin and the Austin Police Association (APA). Those negotiations have recently begun, and Detective Mike Sheffield, president of the APA, has told In Fact Daily that the union will not bring the matter to the bargaining table (In Fact Daily May 18).

Former Austin Mayor Roy Butler was the strongest dissenting member of the POFG, contending that civilian oversight was not needed. He conceded, however, that if the City Council chose to have civilian oversight the methods recommended were the best way to organize it. Butler reiterated his opposition yesterday by faxing a memo to the mayor and council members. The memo says, "As a member of the Oversight Committee I respectfully ask that on the June 1st, 2000 meeting you do not necessarily approve our report but consider it and ask the city manager to evaluate its cost and benefit. As I stated in my part of the report, I have serious concerns as to whether this is the best way to spend $700,000 to $1 million a year for the number of citizens involved."

Butler's written dissent in the formal report that he and the other POFG members signed placed the cost of oversight at a half-million dollars. The report itself recommends an annual budget of $400,000 to $500,000 per year.

As to the number of citizens involved, Butler is referring to the number of complaints lodged against police officers each year and the relative few of those in which a citizen appeals the APD's decision on the complaint. Advocates of civilian oversight contend, however, that the number is artificially low because citizens are intimidated by the current system of having to file complaints with the APD. The proposed new system would allow citizens to file complaints with the Police Monitor and would allow the Police Review Panel to hear appeals for complaints in which citizens are not satisfied with the APD's response or with the Police Monitor's action to follow-up the complaint. After a hearing the Police Review Panel could only make recommendations as to the disposition of the case. In some cases the Panel could request that an independent investigation be conducted, but the investigation could proceed only if recommended by a majority vote of the Panel and the recommendation is concurred in by the Police Monitor and either the police chief or city manager.

Attorney Ann del Llano, another POFG member, is doing everything she can to raise awareness of the group's report and get people to speak at the public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Lower Colorado River Authority's board room, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. (The briefing on the POFG report is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.)

"We're trying to make sure the council knows we really do care," says del Llano, who co-chairs the Sunshine Project for Police Accountability and is a past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Central Texas. However, del Llano notes, "We have no budget. It's not like we're fighting the Longhorn Pipeline and people will dump money in our lap. But with no resources we're trying to notify as many people as we can."

Del Llano was disappointed that the June 1 council agenda does not contain an action item. "I hope the council will understand the community has an interest in these issues," she says. "If it goes to Meet and Confer (negotiations) it will go where the public cannot access it. They are the community leaders and only they can make sure the community's interest are represented."

New developer trashes Gotham plans and works for residential project on site

John McKinnerney of Simmons & Vedder heading up project

The Gotham Condominium project has a new developer and will also have a new name–once they figure out what it's going to look like. The high-rise condominium project at the southwest corner of the Congress Avenue Bridge is back on the agenda for tomorrow's City Council meeting, but there's one thing consultant Sarah Crocke r wants to make perfectly clear: "It's no longer going to be called the Gotham," she says. "We don't have a name yet, but it's not Son of Gotham or Gotham III. And it's not going to look like Gotham."

If approved, second and third reading of the zoning case for 200-210 S. Congress would rezone the property from LI (Limited Industrial Service District) to LI-PDA (Limited Industrial Service District-Planned Developer Area Combining District) with conditions. First reading passed Sept. 30, 1999, on a 5-2 vote with Council Members Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher voting no. On Dec. 9, 1999, the council voted to postpone the matter indefinitely ( In Fact Daily Dec. 10, 1999). Griffith's motion to kill the project was narrowly defeated on a 3-4 vote, with only Slusher and Council Member Willie Lewis voting to reject the zoning. The indefinite postponement occurred despite numerous concessions by Houston-based developer Randall Davis for the 57-unit project.

Both Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman called for rewriting the Waterfront Overlay that governs development along Town Lake. Roma Design Group Inc. of San Francisco was subsequently hired to work with a council appointed advisory group to revise the Waterfront Overlay.

Crocker says that the project has been optioned by John McKinnerney of Austin-based Simmons Vedder & Co., which offices across the street from the tract at 210 Barton Springs Road. She said the project was put back on the council's agenda at the direction of staff and not at the request of the developer.

Crocker says the project will be changed significantly but will remain residential. "It's still a work in progress," she says. Crocker says a video is being prepared by Visix to show what the project would actually look like. She used a similar video technique for a high-rise apartment project that was proposed by Michael Voticky for a half block of land at 17th and Lavaca. The video gave viewers a virtual fly-over to see what the project looked like from all angles. (That project was not approved due to intervention of the State Preservation Board.)

"We decided to get serious to show what the project would look like looking down Congress, looking up Congress, and to see what it would look like at the approved height (60 feet), 120 feet (as originally requested) and in between. My client wants to build something that would actually be constructed that could garner some community support."

McKinnerney says, "We're still trying to figure out what the project look like first, and then figure out how tall and how many units. There's not a lot of details yet. We're still working with the city, Roma and neighbors to bring about a better project. We're trying to make it a better project for everybody."

He says Simmons Vedder does most of its development projects outside Austin, including Houston, Orlando, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. "Typically we work on larger projects and have had a difficult time finding things to do in Austin," he says.

At present, McKinnerney says, he is working with architect Page Southerland Page, which designed the Gotham. "We've thrown the old plans in the trash and we're starting over," he says. "We're going to try to come up with something with a little more local flavor. We hope in the next 30-45 days we will have some details on how high, how wide and how fat."

The current focus of design is on the street-level scheme, access to the lake, and the Congress Avenue frontage would look like. "It's a challenging site," he says, noting that the land sits 30 feet below the street level of the bridge. "It's like building in a 30-foot hole." Although McKinnerney wasn't personally familiar with the details of the Downtown Design Guidelines, he said street-level retail is being examined and consideration is being given to enhancing the sidewalk by picking up the design scheme used on north Congress Avenue downtown. "It's pretty awful now," he says.

The only project Simmons & Vedder has completed in Austin is the Reserve at Bull Creek, McKinnerney says. That project has three, two-story office buildings on the east side of Loop 360, south of Spicewoods Springs Road and north of FM 2222. He says the Reserve at Bull Creek has about six developed acres on a tract of some 26 acres. That project was finished at the end of last year and is leased up with high-tech firms such as Netpliance Inc. and the law firm Cantilo & Bennett. The property was purchased after the permits had already been obtained, he said.

Council Member Gus Garcia roasted alive in farewell and fund-raising event

Wicked licks delivered by mayor and others

Outgoing Council Member Gus Garcia was honored and teased by six of his friends at a fund-raising event for Avance Austin last night. Former Council Member Brigid Shea said Garcia taught her a lot of useful Spanish words when they served on the council together. For example, Shea said, the word pendejo means "you blank, blank, blank, don't ever come to the city council again." Shea said, "He really did teach me these things."

Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor at the Austin American Statesman said, "Gus has added a new word to barrio slang. "At Rabbit's (East Austin bar) he's called kiwi–because he's brown on the outside and green on the inside."

Mayor Kirk Watson issued a proclamation proclaiming Tuesday to be "Gus Garcia Day" in Austin. He said, among other things, that Garcia should be commended for having listened to the same citizen's communication from the same people more than a hundred times. In addition, he said, Garcia has listened to nine hours of Bill Bunch making the same argument.

Hays road plan revised… Erin Foster, chair of the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, says the Hays County Commissioners Court reconsidered the 2025 Transportation Plan and formally revised it yesterday. The plan was originally approved May 16. Foster filed a lawsuit May 25 alleging that the plan was changed after the Commissioners Court approved it. (See In Fact Daily May 26.) An addendum was put on the Commissioners Court agenda for May 30 to address the plan and the lawsuit. Foster says changes to the plan approved yesterday included eliminating Ruby Ranch Road and adding crosshatching to indicate the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, but the southern extension of Escarpment Boulevard was left in the recharge zone. "All we sued them for was to make it an open process," Foster says. "We asked for an open process and they had an open process, so we will ask for attorneys fees and move on."… Soul supporter s… Waterloo Records at 6th and Lamar will hold a benefit day Friday, June 9, and donate a percentage of sales to benefit the Save Our Springs Alliance. KGSR-FM 107.1 will be pumping the June 11 Soul of the City bash as well. For ticket info, e-mail sosa@io.com or call 477-2320.

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