Tuesday, September 12, 2000 by

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman's effort to beef up Neighborhood Planning was among two dozen budget amendments approved during the first reading of the city's $1.8 billion fiscal 2001 operating budget yesterday. The city plans to spend an additional $195.4 million on capital projects during the year.

The second reading of the budget is scheduled for this morning with the third and final vote set for Wednesday.

Among amendments, council members approved another $100,000 toward Eastside Story, an after-school program that includes cultural programs and tutoring for East Austin children. But City Manager Jesus Garza said the program ought to be warned: "This is it. You must manage the program with what we have."

Mayor Kirk Watson told Council Members the proposed budget would result in the lowest city tax rate in a decade: 46.3 cents per $100 valuation–also the lowest tax rate of any major Texas city. Part of the reason Austin can afford to have the low rate, of course, is because of increased property values.

Council Members worked through slightly more than $5.2 million in redirected funds with little discussion or dissent. Garza proposed about $662,000 of that amount to increase pay for good performance by city employees. Only two amendments–adding a helicopter for the Austin Police Department and boosting the Parks and Recreation Department staff–failed to pass unanimously during the special called meeting.

Goodman's proposal to mesh city services into one holistic plan to serve neighborhoods was pared from almost $2.2 million to $650,000 before it reached the table Monday. The Mayor Pro Tem said her budget amendment amounts to "a comprehensive move toward positive neighborhood planning and input and the structure to support that."

"Budget year 2000-2001 is when we must dedicate enhanced resources to the strategic implementation efforts that can connect many of the pieces of our comprehensive initiatives together, or we can continue to leave major community imperatives in limbo," Goodman wrote council members in an eight-page memo.

Goodman's memo states: "The efforts to achieve our strategic goals can be enhanced more effectively, I believe, by using some of our existing resources more effectively, and by practical investment to support program, resources and personnel we have introduced in the last five years."

Goodman’s plan adds six staff members to the Planning Environmental and Conservation Services Department to provide added support to neighborhood plans. Enhanced services will include a contract for mediation to bring all sides to the table during the planning process and a transportation team that focuses on overall urban growth. She included funds to rewrite the city's Land Development Code and add an Impact Development Officer to city staff. (See In Fact Daily, Monday, Sept. 11, 2000)

The impact development officer, Goodman says, will serve as an ombudsman and advocate for neighborhoods dealing with developers by presenting neighborhood issues early in each project, before permits are pulled at the city. Goodman also added $150,000 to the budget to underwrite smaller short-term projects in neighborhood plans. That could be a project like a long-awaited traffic sign or leased space in a neighborhood for social services, Goodman said.

On a related front, Goodman has proposed splitting the Planning Commission into a Zoning Commission and a Planning Commission. Under Goodman's arrangement, which has not yet reached the council for consideration, the Zoning Commission would handle "subdivision and existing code application cases" and the Planning Commission would handle "the planning and codifying of mechanisms,” such as small lot amnesty and granny flats. Goodman said neighborhood planning would become a strong framework with timely coordination instead of a piecemeal effort coordinated through a variety of commissions and eventually codified

After yesterday's Council meeting, Goodman said she was satisfied that other items in her proposed $2.2 million budget amendment–-such as the much-needed addition of inspectors–were addressed by other budget changes. If new staff is not in place by the end of December, Goodman said she would propose additional mid-year budget amendments to achieve the goals of her plan

While most budget amendments were unanimously approved, Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas abstained from the helicopter vote. After the meeting, Thomas said he would have preferred to free funds for other initiatives. Thomas is a strong supporter of Eastside Story and East Austin parks. Goodman and Griffith abstained from adding $350,000 in maintenance personnel to the Parks and Recreation Department. Both said that amount proposed for park maintenance was totally inadequate.

Last night the Board of Adjustment (BOA) postponed reconsideration of BFI Waste Systems’ request for variances to set back requirements and parking regulations for a proposed recycling center at 4711 Winnebago Lane in southeast Austin. Last month, the five-member board refused to grant the requested variances after hearing pleas from members of the Kensington Park Neighborhood Association. About 25 members of the neighborhood were on hand Monday night, but one of the five permanent board members, Frank Fuentes, was absent, so the matter was put off for another month.Fuentes was one of those who initially rejected BFI's request.

In 1996, the City Council directed the city manager to investigate the cause of a 6-alarm fire at BFI’s current recycling location, 4712 Bolm Rd. In addition, the Council directed city staff to work with the company to relocate on a site “out of proximity to neighborhoods.” Subsequently, the city told BFI that the site on Winnebago Lane would be a good one for their facility. The site is zoned LI (Limited Industrial). Jack Howison, a neighborhood representative and Rick Carpenter, a BFI official, don’t agree on much– but they do agree that the city is caught in the middle between the neighborhood and the company it has forced to relocate.

Howison explained that his group is opposing BFI’s request to reduce the minimum side yard setback requirement from 10 feet to zero, not because they have strong feelings about the setback, but because “this is our only toehold.” Howison said the Board of Adjustment offered the neighborhood its only opportunity to protest the recycling facility’s plan to locate there. “This is an administrative site plan process,” he said, so no other body would be able to put a roadblock in BFI’s path.

Carpenter said his company has been evicted from its Bolm Road location and has done exactly what the city and BFI agreed to do last year. Howison said he has found another site, not located adjacent to a neighborhood, but still inside the city limits. Carpenter said the owner of that property, Trammell Crow, does not want the site to become a recycling center. The case will be on next month’s BOA agenda.

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

Democratic fundraiser… State Rep. Elliott Naishtat is holding a fundraiser this evening from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Children’s Museum, 201 Colorado… More on Dr. Laura… The Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus has targeted seven sponsors of the "Dr. Laura Show" on K-EYE 42 for phone calls of protest over their sponsorship of the homophobic TV counselor. These include Taco Bell, Concord Insurance, Dreyfus Antiques, Fitness Connection, Zanzibar Home & Gift, and attorneys Terry Bryant and Payne & James… New Planning Commissioners? … Along with city budget items the City Council agendas for today and Wednesday include postings for appointment of Planning Commissioners. How to achieve the right mix of gender, ethnicity and experience has eluded Council so far… Condolences… Our sympathy goes out to Betty Baker, who lost her brother Saturday… Diez y Seis ceremony… The Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will unfurl the newest installment of the downtown banner program on Friday at noon in the Capitol Rotunda. The new banner commemorates three signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Jose Antonio Navarro, Jose Francisco Ruiz and Lorenzo de Zavala. State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and Consul General of Mexico Rogelio Gasca Neri, will speak. The event is free and parking is available at 12th and San Jacinto.

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

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