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Almanza files Ethics, Bias Complaints

Wednesday, August 2, 2000 by

Accusations concern East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan hearing

Planning Commissioner Susana Almanza has filed a complaint with the city Ethics Review Commission charging fellow Planning Commissioners and the city’s Development Review and Inspection Department (DRID) with discrimination and ethical violations. Part of Almanza’s complaint relates to the failure of the commission to allow El Concilio and other groups to postpone a June 20 hearing on the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan. In addition, Almanza has complained about the presence of police officers at the commission’s July 11 meeting. (See In Fact Daily, June 21, July 12, 2000)

Ginny Agnew, chair of the ethics panel, told In Fact Daily she has not finished reviewing the materials that have been provided by Almanza. However, in looking at the City Code, Agnew said she had not found any section that would give the commission jurisdiction over the complaints. In general, the Ethics Review Commission investigates allegations of conflict of interest. “Thus far I haven’t found in the materials that there is a conflict of interest. I have placed it on the Aug. 10 agenda for us to review whatever materials are presented to us and determine whether we have any jurisdiction,” she said.

Almanza sent copies of her complaint to the Human Rights Commission, “because somebody needs to address these issues. I’m not quite sure which commission, but somebody needs to respond,” she said. In her letter Almanza said the two police officers who attended the July 11 meeting “harassed and intimidated community residents and leaders…the residents and community leaders were harassed and intimidated outside of the planning commission meeting, as they prepared to leave on the elevator. There was no disruption by these individuals at the Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission should not be allowed to discriminate against people of color from East Austin.”

Almanza had already complained about the presence of the officers to Alice Glasco, director of DRID. In her letter to Glasco, Almanza said she wanted to know why the officers were present, and requested a response from Glasco within fifteen days. That letter was dated July 17. Tuesday night Almanza said she has not yet received Glasco’s response. However, she said Glasco told her that the letter was in the mail. Almanza is the director of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources) and wrote both letters on PODER letterhead.

In the letter to Glasco, Almanza said, “In my past two years of serving as a Planning Commissioner for the City of Austin, I have witnessed a discriminatory policy enforcement. These discriminations have occurred when East Austin issues are on the agenda.” In the letter to Agnew, Almanza said the commission had gone against its general policy of granting a first request for postponement by either party.

However, the postponement policy has been observed in zoning change cases. No other neighborhood plan has drawn opposition at the Planning Commission.

One staff member said that city employees had felt threatened by language and gestures used by members of El Concilio during the June 20th meeting. Because of the heated nature of that hearing, the staff member said, a decision was made to ask for a police presence.

During that June meeting, several speakers insulted the commissioners, both collectively and individually. Several commissioners said they felt threatened by the remark, “We know where you live.”

Commissioner Robin Cravey said Tuesday, “I can certainly see how the behavior at that first meeting would give folks some concern and I think their (El Concilio members) behavior was a graphic demonstration of why we didn’t send them to meet with the neighborhood planning team to negotiate.”

Del Curto Road project too dense, neighbors say

The Planning Commission last night postponed a decision on rezoning two acres in the 3600 block of Del Curto Road until August 22. Several outraged neighbors said the change from SF-3 to SF-4 would cause too harsh a contrast to many homes nearby. Many of the houses are on deep, tree-shaded lots with a country feel, some as large as two to four acres. By comparison, the new small-lot homes would be allowed to have as little as three feet of side yard and 10 feet of backyard.

Don Perryman of the Development Review and Inspection Department recommended approval of the zoning change on the basis that it “should promote compatibility with adjacent and nearby uses” and would be consistent with the City Council’s goals. Bill Howell, one of the principals in the development, said he thinks it would be appropriate urban infill, but he is willing to meet with neighbors to talk about location of exits, traffic and other concerns. He proposed cutting a street through the property rather than making it a cul-de-sac.

He said the plan is to build 16 new two-story homes and preserve the two that are already on the property. “It essentially will be similar to the Villages of Kinney Court,” he said.

That comparison was not well received by the neighbors in attendance. “It’s just ticky tacky slammed in there,” said resident Bryan King. “It’s just out of character with the neighborhood.”

Neighbor Jennifer Marine said, “This whole idea of infill has to be reasonable. To think I’m going to have to look at this, it’s unfortunate.”

One speaker praised the condominium project to the north of the property in question as one that retains the feel of the area.

Another neighbor, Suzanne Bell, suggested that the planning commission postpone a vote on the project until a traffic impact analysis can be done. “How will you turn left and right on Lamar Boulevard?” she asked. The staff did not recommend a study because they estimated that the new residents would generate only 281 vehicle trips per day and the threshold is 2,000 vehicle trips per day.

Commission Vice Chair Betty Baker moved for a three-week postponement, saying, “We are not going to reach a decision tonight.” She told Howell that he needed to talk to protesting neighbors and assured residents that Howell would keep any promises he makes. Commissioner Sterling Lands was absent.

Chair Art Navarro told fellow commissioners that he had enjoyed working with each of them and said he wanted to thank the Mayor for appointing him to the commission. Navarro said he expects new commissioners to be appointed before the next meeting, August 15. Navarro, who did not apply for reappointment, is retiring from his volunteer duties with the city and other community organizations after twenty years of service.

Same hat, different horse… Lou Dubose, co-author of Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, with Molly Ivins, is planning to join the staff of the Austin Chronicle as political editor. Before his ascension to the New York Times Bestseller List, Dubose labored for many years as editor of The Texas Observer… Music issues forum… The Austin Music Commission will host a town meeting next Monday from 6-8 p.m. to discuss music industry issues. Everyone is invited to Austin Community Access Television Studios, 1143 Northwestern. Call 478-8600 for directions or contact Kevin Connor, kevin@kgsr.com No excuses for not neutering…the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Services Department is offering free spay and neuter services and rabies vaccinations for pets of East Austin residents beginning this Friday at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call the city at 499-7684 or EmanciPet Mobil Spay & Neuter Clinic at 587-7729… Skip West Avenue between 12th and 15th Streets starting today. The street will be blocked for about a week, due to utility repairs…

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