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Planning Commission spends long evening

Wednesday, June 21, 2000 by

Hearing arguments on Neighborhood Plans

East Cesar Chavez partisans still fighting

The battle over the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan continued last night at the Planning Commission. El Concilio political activists verbally attacked city staff, members of the planning team and Planning Commission members, both individually and collectively, in their efforts to prevent consideration of the plan. The Commission refused to grant opponents a continuance—normally done on a first request. However, a postponement would not have softened any attitudes within the warring East Austin factions, who have fought over turf and loyalties for years. After several hours of listening to pros and cons, Commissioner Betty Baker offered the opposition a chance to suggest constructive ideas to amend the proposed zoning plan. Baker’s plan gives opponents until July 5 to turn in written recommendations to be considered at the commission’s July 11 meeting. The City Council has no meetings scheduled for July, so the postponement should not delay council consideration. Among those speaking in favor of the plan were planning team members Joseph Martinez, Sabino Renteria, Lori C-Renteria and Darlene Camacho Rosales. Mrs. Renteria said she was disappointed that the city did not do a better job of notifying her neighbors about Tuesday’s hearing. Those opposed to the plan clearly outnumbered those supporting it last night. However, Mrs. Renteria said she could have brought in a lot more of her neighbors who favor the changes envisioned by the plan. Commissioner Ben Heimsath said, “The plan has been three years in the making We’ve laid the groundwork for (the plan); putting it in place is important to me.” Heimsath noted, “Cesar Chavez was one of my heroes when I grew up.” Members of El Concilio hooted and hissed at that remark. Commissioner Robin Cravey, who is a former aide to Council Member Daryl Slusher, said, “The city assembles a planning team from all strata in the neighborhood… It’s also true that it involves a long process and there has been great outreach. When that process is going on in your neighborhood, get involved. Don’t wait until you get down here and ask us to referee your dispute. Every inner city neighborhood is going to change.” Commissioner Susana Almanza said, “We’ve been working on neighborhood plans for decades. I just saw a house go on the market at 1107 Willow for $200,000 and the flyer had the audacity to say ‘the next Tarrytown.’” Almanza has consistently expressed concerns about the effects of gentrification in East Austin. She remains unconvinced that the city cannot do more to change market forces.

Old West Austin finds concensus

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend City Council adoption of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan. The plan, which calls for mixed income residential development and preservation of historic structures in the area bounded by Lamar Blvd, MoPac, Enfield Road and Town Lake, puts heavy emphasis on pedestrian amenities, including sidewalks and improved crosswalks. Members of the neighborhood team spoke briefly on different parts of the plan, and neighborhood leaders described the cooperative effort that had gone into arriving at a consensus. Dave Sullivan, a former planning commissioner, said the plan attempts to meet all of the objectives of SMART housing. For those who may have forgotten, SMART stands for safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, and transit-oriented. Attorney Jim Cousar, who has been involved in zoning battles on behalf of neighborhood groups, told the commission, “I was skeptical about whether we could make this (neighborhood planning process) work. It has worked.” He said that members of the planning team and City of Austin planner Steve Barney worked hard to create compromises to ensure its success. He urged the commission, “Please vote for this plan as it is, because we really prefer not to take it back to the neighborhood.” The Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department assists neighborhoods in developing their plans. Commissioner Ben Heimsath praised the neighborhood team, telling them, “You’ve taken the central core (of the neighborhood) and made it possible to enhance and improve that core…I don’t think any number of brilliant planners could have done better than you have.” Heimsath is an architect.

Chestnut Neighborhood Plan approved

Residents of the Chestnut Neighborhood area endured hours of wrangling over the East Cesar Chavez plan before they were to able present their own neighborhood plan. The commission then voted 6-1 to recommend approval, with one suggested change. The commission also recommended adding counseling services to the list of permitted uses in the neighborhood’s conditional overlay. The area is bounded by 12th St., Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chicon and the Austin & NW Railroad track. Commissioner Susana Almanza opposed the plan, because she said it fails to protect residential and small business properties. The vote came at 1:05 a.m. The six voting in favor of the plan were Commissioners Betty Baker, Ben Heimsath, Jim Robertson, Robin Cravey, Ray Vrudhula and Jean Mather. Commission Chair Art Navarro and Commissioner Gwen Heimsath were absent. All seven commissioners stayed through the entire seven-hour meeting..

Local elected officials meet

With aide to President Clinton

President commends Former Council Member Gus Garcia

Tuesday's roundtable discussion with Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Assistant to the President Mickey Ybarra, was well attended by local elected officials. Representing the City of Austin were Mayor Kirk Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, and Council Members Daryl Slusher, Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas. Other elected officials present were State Representative Elliott Naishtat, Hays County Judge Jim Powers, Bee Cave Mayor Caroline Murphy, Mayor Larry Barnett of Leander, and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Ybarra opened his remarks by explaining that his "essential mission" was to assist local government officials. He told the 40-plus participants that President Clinton was proud of the fact that he had inherited and converted a $290 billion deficit into a $160 billion surplus. He then listed the six items the President will be focusing on for the rest of his term: 1. A three-pronged attack on gun safety legislation. a. Closing the gun show loophole. b. Stopping the import of large magazine clips. c. Mandatory gun safety locks on all new weapons. 2. Providing voluntary prescription drugs for the elderly. 3. Raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour (as 60% of all minimum wage earners are adults, this would affect a large segment of the population). 4. Passing the trade pact with China. 5. Passing the budget, which presently contains a $24 billion dollar difference of opinion between the President and Congress. 6. Building new schools and modernizing old ones. The subsequent question and answer period began with Barnett asking Ybarra if anything could be done to reduce the amount of bureaucratic red tape that small towns must endure when accepting any federal funds. While empathizing with Barnett on what small towns must endure, he reminded the crowd that all municipalities regardless of size must obey the law. "As the keeper of the checkbook, we are responsible in seeing that your money is well spent." Naishtat reminded Ybarra that Work Force Commissions needed to do a better job disseminating money for services as "$175 million had been left on the table." Naishtat added that Work Force Commission Boards need to be more flexible in how they conduct their business. Ybarra responded by saying that money falls through the cracks because "half the battle is knowing where to find the menu." He took the opportunity to remind the crowd that included in their packet was a list of White House intergovernmental affairs contacts. "If you have a specific problem, that's what we are here to help you with. Please call on us." A representative of the Texas Workforce Commission suggested that the White House convene a forum of experienced Work Force Commission administrators to share tips on how to make Work Force Commissions run more smoothly. Ybarra liked the idea and asked her to follow up with a letter suggesting such a forum. Ybarra closed the session by first thanking Watson, then delivering a letter from President Clinton to former Council Member Gus Garcia, which reads as follows: Dear Gus, I'm delighted to join your family, friends and colleagues in saluting you as you retire from the Austin City Council after three terms and more than 30 years of dedicated public service. Throughout those years, you have worked tirelessly to build a brighter future for the people of Austin. You have been a strong voice for social justice, stirring a vision and energy to promote fair housing, economic opportunity and excellence in education for all, regardless of race or background. Most important, you have been a steadfast and devoted champion of Austin's children and young people–expanding youth employment services, promoting new recreational and cultural facilities and initiatives and striving to create a safer, healthier environment in which they can grow and thrive. Your efforts have been a true investment in the future of Austin, and you have created a lasting legacy of public service that will continue to benefit your fellow citizens for years to come. As you begin a new chapter in your life and career, I extend best wishes to you and your family for every future happiness.

Garcia told In Fact Daily that he is currently involved in "six or eight community projects. Basically," he said, "I want to go to the next level of mainstreaming the Hispanic community." He said he hopes to work closely with Alvarez on various issues. "I figure I have 10 or 15 good years left," he said, laughing.

Fall fundraising season starts… Supporters of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who started the state’s first child abuse prosecution unit, will be holding a fundraiser for him at the home of Melissa Stevens, past president of the Settlement Club from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight. The address is 2514 Wooldridge Dr. Call 472-7233for more details. Other sponsors of the even include Cathy Casey, president of the Children’s Advocacy Center, and Tom Forbes, past president of that organization, as well as Winnie Gage, past president of CASA, a children’s advocacy group.Earle will face Republican Shane Phelps in the November election.

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