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Two Council Members react to

Friday, January 19, 2001 by

Rep. Keel's attacks on Cap Metro

Keel filed the same anti-transit agency bills last session

State Rep. Terry Keel’ s broad swipe at Capital Metro—a quartet of anti-agency bills filed yesterday—drew a swift response from General Manager Karen Rae and the two Austin City Council Members on her board.

Keel, the former Republican sheriff who represents a swath of West Travis County that includes Westlake Hills, filed four pieces of legislation on Thursday. Under his bills, Capital Metro—and four other transit authorities in the state—would be prohibited from presenting election information without providing both sides ( HB 748). A second bill would prohibit transit authorities from hiring lobbyists ( HB 750). A third bill asked that the entire seven-member Capital Metro board be elected by voters and serve two-year terms ( HB 751).

And—biggest of all—Keel asked that an election be held in November 2001 to decrease Capital Metro's tax rate from a penny to one-half cent ( HB 749). At a hastily-called dinnertime press conference during a break in the Austin City Council meeting, Rae defended the agency's record against Keel's criticism. Rae said her agency had made progress in terms of ridership numbers, mobility projects and fiscal responsibility.

“I feel passionately that Capital Metro has come a long way in the last several years,” Rae said.

The bills, long anticipated in light of the defeat of light rail, surprised no one. This is Keel's second round of bills regarding Capital Metro. Rae steered clear of talk about the legislation, but City Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith, who represent Austin on the Capital Metro Board of Directors, were more than happy to step to the microphone.

“ The Legislature should let Cap Metro continue to operate under the governance structure set up three years ago,” Slusher said. “I feel we've made progress on restoring accountability and integrity.”

Griffith also stressed the progress of the transit authority, calling Rae “one of the most outstanding transit administrators in the country.” The Capital Metro board, she pointed out, has already voted to give a quarter-cent of its sales tax back to cities for mobility projects. Griffith predicted that the bills would fail as they had last session. Lawmakers would be hearing from their constituents, Griffith said, and adding that she welcomed any kind of discussion with Keel on the Capital Metro issue.

Responding to questions from the media, Rae said Capital Metro has one of the smaller lobbying contracts among similar agencies in the state. That representation at the Capitol, Rae said, “is intended to monitor and advise us about legislation and regulatory changes.” She also firmly denied that Capital Metro had ever lobbied on one side of an issue without presenting a fair balance of information.

Slusher agreed and said that if the agency had gotten close to campaigning, the opponents of light rail probably would have marched them down to the courthouse. “The fact that it didn't happen is very strong proof that the Capital Metro staff was very balanced during the election,” he said.

Keel’s bills have yet to find co-sponsors. He could not be reached for comment, but colleague State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Williamson County) said last week he considered Capital Metro's quarter-cent sales tax rebate to be only a short-term solution. Capital Metro, he said, needed to consider longer-term measures to share dollars. Krusee, who represents the fast-growing part of Williamson County, co-sponsored Keel's legislation last session.

City Council votes to assume

Responsibility for Koenig Lane

City to take between Lamar and Airport from TxDOT

By Doug McLeod

The City Council decided Thursday to request that the Texas Department of Transportation transfer responsibility for the stretch of Koenig Lane between Lamar Boulevard and Airport Boulevard from the state to the city. The resolution also calls for city staff to examine the feasibility and cost of upgrading the roadway.

With Mayor Kirk Watson in Washington, the Council voted unanimously to move toward assuming control over Koenig Lane, despite a recommendation not to from Austan Librach, director of Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services.

City Manager Jesus Garza also cautioned that the move might not be cost-effective because the city would lose state funding for that section of the road and would assume all maintenance costs. Council Member Will Wynn amended the resolution to include in the request $900,000 in matching funds from TXDOT for construction improvements on the street.

Wynn said the state will be so happy to release responsibility for Koenig Lane, “the TXDOT manager will probably kiss the City Manager on the mouth.” Garza expressed another note of caution on that front. “I’d punch him in the nose if he tried,” he said.

Librach said if the city takes over this section of Koenig Lane, it will move the city closer to taking over the stretch of Koenig Lane from MoPac to Lamar Boulevard, which means the city would incur an additional cost of approximately $11.5 million to upgrade that section. He said TXDOT is anxious to have the city take it over, but the city won’t be able to do any better than the state to modify road improvement plans to fit requests of the surrounding neighborhoods. “To narrow or tighten” the street more, as the neighborhoods want, is not feasible, he said.

The residents of the area want to shorten turning lanes, make existing turns sharper and have trees planted in a proposed median, Librach said. But state and national safety standards rule out sharper turns because of traffic flow impedance, and “planting strips” in the median are deemed too dangerous, he said, because they limit site distance. Maintenance costs increases, including ongoing costs from deterioration of roadway integrity due to tree-root expansion, also factor in, he said.

In the end, Librach said, the final product of the roadway upgrade will not be changed much at all by the city assuming responsibility.

Council Member Beverly Griffith said, “It’s not time to call the nursery and order trees.” The resolution under discussion deals strictly with the section of Koenig Lane from Lamar Blvd. to Airport Blvd., and it charges city staff to examine the feasibility and cost of such a project. “So there’s little risk in getting this process going with this resolution today,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said this resolution wasn’t meant to address other sections of Koenig Lane. The small area being considered can serve as a “testing ground” to see how the process goes, she said. “The goal is to move forward somehow.”

Council Member Raul Alvarez said there was a real need for improvement of the road and the process has been delayed for a long time. “The reason it’s been held up so long is because there’s been no meeting of the minds,” he said. “The whole idea came from TXDOT, that’s something people need to know.”

Mueller RFQ timeline set

In other action, the Council voted to keep the ball rolling in the process of finding a master developer for the Robert Mueller Airport site. The Council set firm deadlines for completing a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) document in an effort to find, as Griffith has stressed repeatedly, “the finest redeveloper possible.”

The Council set Feb. 22 as a preliminary completion date for the document, and March 22 as the final deadline.

Griffith said “we are now at implementation,” and it’s time to “let the country know what we’re doing and what a jewel we have…”

Council Member Daryl Slusher asked if this resolution was an attempt to speed up the process, noting that he wanted to ensure the city did not rush the search for a developer. He questioned whether city staff would do a good job if the RFQ process were rushed.

Garza said he thought the originally proposed March 8 deadline was a bit aggressive, emphasizing the importance of the RFQ and adding that the city wanted to conduct as broad a search as possible.

Griffith, expressing strong interest in moving forward, said, “we’re setting targets here.” She said the city could shoot for the March deadline and “see where we are” at that time.

Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition, said he wants to make sure the city creates “a solid document.” The primary concern of the neighborhood is to have a proper and precise RFQ with all the “i’s dotted and t’s crossed.” He doesn’t want to look back on the process in the future and say it was rushed. “From the neighborhood point of view, we do not want to get off on the wrong foot with (planning consultant) ROMA…but we’d love to see things get expedited,” he said.

Money for music network

The Austin Music Network (AMN) is alive and kicking with fresh blood, thanks to the Council’s unanimous vote to increase funding and shift the city’s contract for the cable TV station. “There are great discussions going on about the future of the network,” said Wynn.

By approving this resolution, the city pumps new life into the station and transfers the license agreement to K. Threadgill’s Musical Foundation. This allows the city to keep the network on the air during the transition, Wynn said.

The third-year funding of the three-year contract, formerly with Music Management Group, now jumps to $325,000, an increase of $225,000. The entire contract amounts to $1,383,000.

“The future of Austin Music Network is gonna be so bright you’re gonna have to wear shades soon,” Said Eddie Wilson of Threadgill’s Restaurant and Threadgill’s Musical Foundation. “I didn’t bite this thing off because it wanted to be chewed,” he said, but it was presented to him and he decided to take on the challenge of bolstering the beleaguered network.

Griffith lauded Wilson’s contribution to the community and his ability to turn sticky situations around. “You took over troubled waters as has rarely been seen,” she said.

Woody Roberts, managing consultant for AMN since November 1st, said as they rebuild and improve the programming, “we’ll all see the network become much more than we imagined it would be back in 1994 when it was started.”

John Villareal, executive director of the Austin Community Access Center, said there was “going to be a big change in how music is presented to the public. We’re going to make sure Austin, as the live music capital of the world, remains at the forefront.”

Council Member Thomas

Announces goals for 2001

Inventory of East Austin infrastructure first

Council Member Danny Thomas has announced an ambitious set of goals for 2001, focusing on “policies that will reduce slum and blight in East Austin and foster economic development.”

The first task, Thomas says, is to bring a proposal to the City Council directing city staff to do an assessment of undersized and obsolete water, wastewater and storm sewer lines in East Austin. Then staff should develop a timeline for upgrading those lines. Linda Dailey, Thomas’ executive assistant, said the study of the East Austin lines has already been done, but the Council Member has not seen the report. “The unofficial word is the lines were put in during the ‘30s and they were small,” she said. She said Thomas is anxious to find out about the infrastructure because, “It’s going to be difficult to develop central East Austin without adequate utilities.”

Thomas’ second goal is to work with the city housing department and the Austin Independent School District to identify surplus land that could be used for affordable housing. He says he wants the city and school district to “initiate an aggressive affordable housing building campaign that is coordinated with AISD’s expansion program . . . To ensure our teachers and other public servants have an affordable place to live within the city limits, I will support employer assisted housing programs.”

Thomas is hoping to work with the Teacher in the Neighborhood Program that Mayor Kirk Watson is promoting, Dailey said.

A former police officer, Thomas also says he wants to work with law enforcement officials “to identify illegal drug havens and put them out of business for good, reducing crime in our neighborhoods.” He also said he intends to work with city departments to make sure those neighborhoods who have adopted neighborhood plans receive funding to carry out the plans.

Thomas’ other goals include encouraging the use of “environmentally-friendly” landfills and continued scrutiny of the problems with the gasoline tank farms in East Austin. In addition, Thomas will continue to push for progress on the Bennett tract and at the Robert Mueller Airport site.

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

More about rumors . . . The rumor mill says Robin Rather has definitely decided to run for Mayor when—now this is still rumor— Mayor Kirk Watson steps down to run for Attorney General. Rather won’t confirm or deny, but says, “We have a great Mayor and I hope he doesn’t go anywhere. Until he does . . . I’m on the team of people hoping he hangs in and keeps doing the great job he’s been doing.” Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, the only announced candidate in the yet-to-be announced race, will be reading to children at Odom Elementary School this morning, along with her husband, Jack. They will be participating in a project called “ Real Men Do Read,” marking the end of Literacy Week . . . Anti-inaugural ball . . . Local songwriter-singer Bill Oliver is playing at anti-Bush gathering at the Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 River St., Saturday night. For more information, check the web site: http://www.georgybush.com/protest.html

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

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