Friday, August 18, 2000 by

At Thursday's City Council discussion on bond proposals for the Nov. 7 ballot, just about everyone talked about the need for balance. Voting in favor of the road bonds were Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Members Daryl Slusher, Will Wynn and Raul Alvarez. Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas abstained. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was absent, attending the Democratic

Griffith continued her plea from the previous week for roads, parks/open space and affordable housing bonds that support the three "Es"–economy, environment and equity.

But Griffith, with support from Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez, couldn't muster enough votes for the parks and housing bonds to break a three-to-three tie against the nays of Mayor Watson and Council Members Daryl Slusher and Will Wynn.So for now, only Watson's $150 million road bond package has made the ballot. The road item will require two more readings for final adoption.

Griffith made her own motion to "continue the dialogue" on the bond packages, which is required, since no item received the five votes needed to pass on all three readings. Watson called the special meetings for Monday at 11 a.m. and Wednesday at 9 a.m. The ballot proposition must have three readings.Wednesday is the last day under law to put items on the Nov. 7 ballot. Goodman can expect heavy lobbying when she returns to Austin.

Watson's road proposal includes $90 million as matching funds for roadway projects, $40 million for improvements to signalization, street maintenance and other traffic flow techniques, and $20 million for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. Griffith's proposal asks for $55 million for new park acquisition and existing park renovation, and $40 million for open space and conservation acquisition. Alvarez dropped his request for $25 million in affordable housing bonds. As an alternative, he has located $3 million annually in general fund revenue to devote to housing.

Griffith, environmentalists, East Austin leaders and homeless activists mustered a strong argument for all three proposals under the moniker of a "Livable City" package. Speaker after speaker said balance could only be achieved with all three.

However, a few speakers did grumble about putting so much money into roads. Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch represented a smaller contingency of environmentalists against road bonds unless they were specifically intended for techniques to reduce congestion, not new lane miles over the Edwards Aquifer.

On the other hand, environmentalist Robin Rather– who offered up to $50 million in matching funds for the proposals relating to green space– said she could support the road bonds if they were accompanied by the other proposals. "Roads are important, but they don't feed the spirit, they don't feed the soul," she said. "They're not what Austin is about."

Others questioned the "equity" of the three proposals. Susana Almanza, director of People in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources, asked where the balance was when comparing $150 million for roads to $25 million for housing. "I think it should be the reverse, $150 million for housing and $25 million for roads…Somebody got it backwards here."

Griffith seemed to gain momentum when she introduced figures from City Manager Jesus Garza showing plenty of "bonding capacity," up to $82 million in years 2001-2005. Additionally, future councils would still have bonding capacity of $55 million a year from 2006-2011. She stressed that Austin could support the three bond packages. "All of that with no tax increase."

But Slusher pointed out that Griffith would have to wait until 2006 to make significant expenditures for parks and housing, because road bonds would eat up that capacity. Alvarez's new proposal would actually make more money available for housing faster, he said. Wynn also proposed putting together a new bond oversight committee–much like the one that crafted a package in 1998–to examine possibilities for next year.

Watson merely stressed that transportation and mobility were the number one priority in a survey of Austin residents outlined in a "Community Scorecard" handed out to the council Thursday. These two areas scored the lowest grades, he said. The scorecard may have been convenient for Thursday's argument, but the mayor has been hearing the same reports from business leaders for months.

The mayor also accepted a list of "covenants" from Slusher that outline how the road funds could be used. Slusher said he wanted to ensure the funds would be used for roads following Smart Growth ideals and City of Austin roadways.

In other bond news, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce released the report from its Light Rail Task Force recommending passage of Capital Metro's light rail system on the Nov. 7 ballot. The task force noted, "The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce believes that both roads and rail provide a comprehensive solution for the community. The Chamber wants to discourage 'either/or' approaches when looking at the region's transportation and mobility future. The question is how the region invests both in rail and in roads to solve its problems." The entire report can be found at www.austinchamber.org.

Almost everybody loves the Triangle development, and the City Council proved no exception yesterday, as it unanimously approved nearly $6 million in funding for the project. Below are selected excerpts from Council Members' comments:

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “Somebody said the city is being nimble here—and I have to agree. That is not something the city is frequently criticized for being. There is some creativity…and (the criticism) hurts a little after all we’ve been through.” Slusher noted that 65 percent of the area’s residents said they were in favor of the project. He said he was impressed when developer Tom Terkel of Cencor Realty and members of the surrounding neighborhood came to his office together to seek his support for the deal.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said he noticed that the Triangle had received one of the highest scores he’d ever seen—and he’s looked at a few—on the Smart Growth matrix. He said public participation added a lot to the strength of the project. He urged the developer to “do something that has a unique flair” which would be a draw within the city. We can make this a jewel if we do it right. The same is true with Robert Mueller. We can make it another jewel. And the Prairie Grass Golf course(at Decker Lake), if approved, could create something unique and incredible and spectacular for the city. So we can continue the unique character that is Austin.”

Council Member Beverly Griffith said, “I don’t know of another project that has been a catalyst for learning like this one has.” She said the project would use “the newest urban design principles. I think the standards here will raise the standards all over the city. All of the city will benefit.”

Mayor Kirk Watson said, “This may end up being a benefit for the entire community.” He said the project contains an affordable housing component, which was set in motion by the previous Council. He said the city must make sure that it receives a good return on its investment, and he said adding the property to the tax rolls would help ensure that return. “We need to get a return to make Smart Growth work.” Watson also gave special thanks to Land Commissioner David Dewhurst for his help..

voluntary

monitoring

The City Council yesterday approved a contract with Waste Management of Texas, Inc. (WMI), after receiving assurances of the company’s intention to monitor migration of hazardous waste. Neighbors of the Northeast Austin Landfill run by WMI complained that the company would be doing only voluntary monitoring and could not be forced to test wells that they believe show infiltration of benzene and other carcinogenic agents.

The $471,516 contract covers trash dumpsters, compactors and cardboard balers at various city departments and facilities for 12 months. In addition, the contract allows four 12-month extensions for a total contract amount of more than $2.3 million.

Neighborhood leader Janet Klotz complained to the council that WMI had done a pollution study that did not address the neighborhood’s real concerns. She said, “The report says the ground water flow is to the west. But a map (in the report) shows ground water flow to the north. There is a reference to the ground water/surface connection but the report says there is no connection.” Klotz said benzene has been detected in a well on the northern perimeter of the property.

Trek English said that during the last two years WMI has had four different site managers. She said she hopes the company can keep the current manager because every time the staff changes the neighborhood loses its communication link to the company.

Rick Green of WMI told the Council it is the company’s intention “to continue the conversation with the neighborhoods” about their hazardous waste concerns. In addition, Green responded to questions concerning WMI’s financial stability. The Solid Waste Advisory Commission had recommended that the city not enter into the agreement because of financial concerns. Green explained that the city is protected from liability by a surety bond filed with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). He said, “There’s a standby trust agreement in back of the surety bond.”

Pam Giblin of Baker & Botts, attorney for WMI, said the company is willing to do more monitoring but wants “some guidance from TNRCC about the appropriate way to do long term monitoring. It’s a 10-acre industrial waste site inside a 200-acre site. We would like it to be meaningful monitoring, driven by the science.”

Addressing the financial question, Giblin said WMI, a Fortune 500 company, carries pollution insurance. In addition, she said the company has written a letter to the city guaranteeing indemnification in case of hazardous waste problems.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “There are some legitimate concerns on the part of the neighbors that we would approve the contract and then not have anything (any monitoring) happen.” However, Slusher noted that the Council is constrained by state law which favors giving municipal contracts to the low bidder. The contract had already been postponed for two weeks while staff was gathering answers to questions about the company’s financial stability.

Council Member Danny Thomas made a motion to require that WMI make a written commitment guaranteeing longterm monitoring of the site.

Sue Brubaker, who worked on the contract for the city, explained that the requirement was not written into the contract that the Council was considering. However, she said the city and WMI could reach an agreement for the monitoring to be voluntary.

As they approved the contract, Council Members asked when they could expect to hear back on the status of the monitoring. Green and Giblin said they could come back with the agreement in two weeks. However, it may take as long as six months to come up with a monitoring program.

Following the vote, Council Member Beverly Griffith told In Fact Daily, “When contracts are this far gone, they can’t reopen negotiations.” Noting that Waste Management was the low bidder, she said the real problem was failure to include monitoring in the negotiations from the beginning. She said she was especially concerned about reports of benzene in the monitor well.

East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan delayed… City Council postponed consideration of the controversial neighborhood plan for 60 days Thursday. Alice Glasco, director of the Development Review and Inspection Department, said she has received two petitions opposing the plan. She said it would take some time for her staff to determine which protests are valid… Information received… Susana Almanza, director of PODER, said she had received information from the Ethics Review Commission on how to file a sworn complaint. Almanza had written a letter to the ethics group and to the Human Rights Commission complaining about police misconduct and about the actions of fellow Planning Commissioners during the hearing on the Cesar Chavez plan.The commission could not consider her accusations without a proper complaint. She said she would be studying the ordinances forwarded to her by the ethics panel… Appointments… City Council appointed Council Member Danny Thomas to the Police Retirement Board by consensus; Michael Risden to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission by consensus; the Mayor appointed Silver Garza, Jr. to the Planning Commission and Norma Garza to the Arts Commission. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who was attending the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, appointed her former opponent Amy Babich to the Parks and Recreation Board…

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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