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Capital Metro votes

Tuesday, January 23, 2001 by

More money for MoPac

But Travis County must still find more

After two hours of discussion yesterday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors voted to assist Travis County in its quest for money to acquire right-of-way for the extension of North MoPac. However, the amount allocated does not equal the $6.5 million the Texas Turnpike Authority has requested from the county.

The board had previously announced that it would dedicate ¼ of the agency’s one-cent sales tax revenues for transportation projects in its member cities and counties. Based on projections, Cap Metro expects to collect $707,000 in Travis County’s Precinct 2. The board voted 7-0 to support a resolution directing that all such funds be used for transportation projects and must be in addition to money already allocated by each jurisdiction for such projects. Specifically, the board resolution said, “The Capital Metro funds can not be used to replace or transfer transportation funds to other areas of the jurisdictions’ budgets.”

The board also agreed to allow Travis County to collect early on Build Greater Austin (BGA) funds—money already earmarked for transportation projects, but not in the pipeline for the current year. If the county agrees to accept the funds, it would receive about $549,000 right away. Cap Metro had previously allocated more than $414,000 for BGA spending in Travis County in 2002. Another $134,578 had been projected for 2003.

Adding the ¼-cent sales tax to the BGA money would give the county $1.26 million. County voters have approved $4 million in bonds for the project, but the county is not scheduled to sell those bonds until next year, said Commissioner Margaret Gomez, a member of the Cap Metro board.

Several board members, including City Council Member Beverly Griffith suggested that the county issue certificates of obligation now and use the bond money to pay those off next year. In addition, the board discussed parceling out money from Capital Metro’s $91 million in “tool box” funds.

The money is to be spent over the next 10 to 12 years on various traffic improvement and mobility programs. Board member Fred Harless of Lago Vista seemed particularly anxious to divide up those funds immediately. He suggested that General Manager Karen Rae and Board President Lee Walker meet with Mayor Kirk Watson, the county judges of Travis, Williamson and Hays Counties, the executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos to decide how to divide up the $91 million.

Council Members Griffith and Daryl Slusher did not like the suggestion. Griffith said, “Let’s not return to cash cow disease,” a favorite theme of Gomez’. Griffith explained later, “When this board came in, Capital Metro was making big donations to every kind of entity,” including United Way and other organizations that had no connection to buses, trains or transportation. “It’s real important to be careful and thoughtful in setting up the process for input and guidance of stakeholder groups.” The process is important, she said, because whatever is decided “is probably going to be in place for a long time.”

Slusher suggested that other members of the area’s legislative delegation be invited to any meeting on dividing up the money. He also said, “I would think that kind of meeting would need to be open to the public.”

During a break in the meeting, Gomez told In Fact Daily she was under the impression that Pete Winstead, chairman of the Texas Turnpike Authority, wanted the county to come up with the $6.5 million right away. She said Winstead had not given commissioners an explanation of the accelerated timetable. She added, “If they’re doing it on MoPac, I bet they’ll do it on SH 130 too.” Winstead could not be reached for comment Monday.

Design Commission troubled

By aspects of City Hall plan

Group worries about size of structure

Members of the Design Commission last night expressed numerous concerns about the recently unveiled design of the new City Hall, but all agreed they did not want to dampen architect Antoine Predock’ s creative genius with a barrage of negative feedback.

“I hope we will resist handcuffing the guy,” said Commissioner Edgar Farrera during a lively discussion of the proposed four-story $37.3 million City Hall and plaza. Farrera said he had long been an admirer of Predock’s work and he was excited when he first learned Predock had been chosen. He doesn’t want his creativity obstructed. Farrera said his personal observation is that Predock’s best work has been on projects in which he had the most artistic freedom.

Considering the importance of this project, the commission decided to meet again next Monday (at 5:30) to ensure they articulate a solid and persuasive recommendation to the City Council on Feb. 1.

“All of the buildings downtown create the urban fabric,” said Commissioner Leslie Oberholtzer. City Hall ought to be special; it should be “elevated.”

Commissioner Janet Seibert agreed. “I think the building should be a piece of art, it should be civic art,” she said. And the statement the commission makes to the City Council “should say: this is the most important project that this commission can review.”

As part of the design team, Chair Juan Cotera and Commissioner Phillip Reed recused themselves from the discussion. Concerns that cropped up repeatedly during the animated meeting Monday included:

• The overall size of the facility might be too small. • The amount of shade and canopy protection proposed may not be adequate. • The plaza area may be too small or unsuitable for large outdoor events. • The terraces may not be accessible to the public, and they cut into plaza space • The “human scale” of the design may not best serve the purpose of such a public place.

“The impression I have is . . . as designers, they have huge problems,” said Commissioner Girard Kinney. The space is too limited; so to create an effect of more space, they tried to move the plaza up, thus creating the terraces, he said. The result: “it’s not plaza anymore.” But the problem of space is fundamental and trying to solve that problem could lead to unraveling the city’s whole deal with Computer Sciences Corporation, he said. Seibert said she was upset about how the overall size of city hall became more limited during the city’s negotiations with CSC. “I’m angry at myself for not screaming when that happened,” she said.

Commissioner John Patterson agreed. “Maybe the building really is too small,” he said, for a facility that is being designed to function for 75 or a hundred years. If you look at other cities with cutting edge projects that truly illustrate the vision of great designers—and even other projects underway in Austin, like the Performing Arts Center—“this building warrants not being a thumbtack,” he said.

New Commissioner Rebecca Allmon said she was also a fan of Predock’s work and excited when she learned he was designing city hall. “When I saw this, it was obvious he had been handcuffed to some extent,” she said.

Oberholtzer said, “the human scale is my main concern.” And because it didn’t appear to be proper for the purpose, the plaza is “not that comfortable,” she said.

Seibert noted that the terraces in the design are exclusive, without public access, and therefore not part of a public plaza. “Someone said to me, ‘this really does look like Austin, broken up spaces that don’t talk to each other,’” she said. The part with the wide-open feel to it is the side facing Town Lake, she said, while the part facing the street looks like the backside. “We need to look at this not just as a project, but as urban design,” she noted.

“I have been a great admirer of Predock’s work for many years,” she said, it is art—very sculptured, but she never has been satisfied with his answer on “civic art.”

She said she hoped the façade of the City Hall would not be the same limestone used for the CSC façade because, she believes, it’s important for the civic facility to stand out. Farrera said he wanted to see some creative use of color. Not so vivid as a project in San Antonio, perhaps, but something away from the trend of dull hues so common in Austin today… “So we won’t get another vanilla-colored building,” he said.

Commissioner Joan Hyde also noted the exclusive terraces extend into the plaza area. “I like the terraces but I think the whole space should be public,” she said.

Federal trial begins today on

LCRA's Hays County water line

Three environmental groups ask for injunction

The Hays County Water Planning Partnership and its sister organizations, the Save Our Springs Alliance and the Save Barton Creek Association, this morning will ask federal Judge Sam Sparks to enter an injunction to stop construction of the Lower Colorado River Authority’ s water line to Dripping Springs. In a brief filed on Monday, attorneys Amy Johnson, Bill Bunch and Grant Godfrey argue that allowing the line to be built will cause “permanent harm that cannot be remedied later,” a critical claim in seeking an injunction.

The environmental organizations say, “Even if LCRA builds the project now and commits to hook up no new development, the pipeline will be in place, stimulating growth that cannot now occur, changing permanently, dramatically and irreversibly the rural character of Hays County and causing pollution that will harm the Barton Springs salamander.”

In addition to the LCRA, the environmental groups are suing the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Department of the Interior because the Corps and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allegedly failed to complete “a valid consultation” on the effects of the water line.

The LCRA decided to move forward with the water line after the agency determined that parts of Hays County were facing an emergency during last summer’s drought. USFWS issued a memorandum of understanding allowing the LCRA to build the line before completing its environmental impact study. Judge Sparks must decide whether building the line without doing the study first will cause irreparable harm to endangered species and whether the agencies have violated the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.

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

City, banks cooperate on housing rehabilitation . . . Mayor Kirk Watson is scheduled to cut the ribbon on the Austin Housing Finance Corporation’ s new Community Lending Office Wednesday morning. Austin area bankers will also participate in a joint venture to give homeowners a chance to spruce up their homes . . . New program manager . . . Frank Flauto has joined the city as its first International Program Manager, focusing on cultural and educational exchanges with non-sister cities. He also serves as staff liaison for the Mayor's International Infrastructure Task Force. Flauto’s international experience includes acting as the sole U.S. observer for a UNESCO-sponsored Central American peace forum and serving as protocol assistant for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela . . . Congress Avenue addresses. . . Rumor has it that lawyers at Jenkins & Gilchrist have signed up for the top floor of the office tower to be built by Block 42 Congress Partners, Ltd. at 4th and Congress.

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

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