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Public Works, Police fail to

Thursday, March 1, 2001 by

Communicate, says Auditor

Departments not working together on goals

City departments dealing with transportation must do a better job of communicating with each other to achieve city goals, according to a City Auditor’s report presented to the City Council Audit Committee on Tuesday.

City Council members articulated those goals in a series of resolutions in 1998. The Council wanted to increase both walking to work and riding public transit by 8 percent annually and bicycling to work by 20 percent annually. Corrie Stokes and Marion Jarrett of the Auditor’s Office gave the presentation, observing that a number of barriers stood in the way of achieving those goals.

While Public Works and the Austin Police Department are both working toward actions that will increase alternative transportation and decrease accidents, the Auditor’s Office wrote in its report that the two departments had failed to share information with each other. For instance, while APD had compiled an injury and fatality database from state public safety data, it had not shared that data with Public Works. Each is separately studying the data, Marion Jarrett said. And neither had reported their findings to the Council.

“Although some improvements implied in the recommendations have been initiated, we found that Public Works and Police have not developed more achievable goals for Council approval, nor have they worked to develop strategies together to achieve any goals,” City Auditor Stephen Morgan wrote in his memorandum to the City Council. “Moreover, results of efforts made have not been reported to City Council.”

Jarrett made a number of points to the audit committee:

• Transportation goals were not being included in budget initiatives. • Data was not being collected to measure a baseline or progress. • A certain percentage of the goals could not be achieved. • Additional efforts were needed to clarify Council goals.

The audit recommended new goals and strategies for transportation, as well as frequent updates to the Council on their progress. Those goals would be developed through the departmental business plan, which drives the budget process for various city departments each year. A prior audit in 1999 also indicated that the city was not making sufficient progress on these goals, Jarrett said. The role of Public Works in the transportation goals will soon be taken over by the newly created Transportation Planning department. Matthew Kite of Public Works and Lt. Calvin Smith of APD were on hand for the audit. Smith said the two departments communicate frequently, albeit informally. Kite said the two departments had focused on some of the tougher accident sites in the city, each with the goal of improving safety. APD would bring in lights and signs, while Public Works would address engineering issues on the roadways, such as additional crossings or pedestrian bridges, Kite said.

During the discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she would like to see other departments—such as Parks and Recreation, Development Review and Planning—brought into the process. Council Member Beverly Griffith asked for baseline information on traffic incidents, as well as more regular monitoring of overall progress. While pedestrian and bicycling accidents have increased, so has the population in the Austin area, Kite said. He recommended that the city’s accident data be broken down on a per capita basis for a truer picture of progress.

“We’ve taken a lot of heat when it comes to automobile/pedestrian collisions,” Smith said. “But look at the sheer number of vehicles driving. We’ve had a dramatic increase.”

Smith said the city would like to secure funding through Capital Metro for APD to set up a war room on traffic accidents. It would be a place to track accidents, analyze the types and frequencies of accidents and focus attention on improving problem areas, he said.

Stokes described the need to meet the city’s transportation goals as the four E’s: Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Encouragement. Council members agreed that engineering and enforcement were being addressed, while encouragement and education were still issues. Stokes recommended a stronger focus on educating adults about driving and cycling safety. She also pointed to cash-out programs for alternative transportation—such as the program being used by Austin Energy—as one way to encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation.

Council Member Daryl Slusher, who sits on the audit committee with Goodman and Griffith, admitted those goals, while well intentioned, were probably too ambitious to meet.

“We set those goals unrealistically, and I think we need to acknowledge that and go back and set some that are more realistic,” Slusher said after the presentation, adding that the high numbers might have made it difficult for city staff to take the goals seriously. “Clearly, a number of efforts are going on here.”

Stokes said Austin had studied cities with large college student populations, such as Phoenix and Tallahassee, to look at measures Austin might adopt. She said successful efforts often include combining enforcement and education, such as requiring classes for those who are issued traffic citations. She added that the Neighborhood Academy could also be a way to increase education efforts.

Slusher said that education was a good idea, wryly pointing out that poor driving abilities in Austin were often matched by “less-than-brilliant pedestrian activity.” He said the city could use a hard-hitting education campaign that would address safety. “I still remember my pedestrian safety in elementary school,” he said. “Obviously, we have a lot of people in this city that missed that day.”

Goodman said the City Council would hold a work session on traffic issues on March 8, which would give the auditors time to consider additional options regarding transportation goals.

Planning Commission recommends

Zoning for affordable apartments

Affordable housing a scarce commodity

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to override a staff recommendation that would likely have resulted in the loss of a 100 percent affordable housing complex for Montopolis. The vote was 8-0, with Commissioner Silver Garza absent, to recommend that the City Council grant a change of zoning from LO (office) to MF-3.

Six members of the City Council must now vote for the change if it is to occur, since neighbors have filed a valid petition against the change. Owners of the property known as Stonebridge need a zoning change so that developers can get final approval from the state’s bonding authority for $23 million in tax incentives.

The property at 2201 Montopolis Drive is a part of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan, which envisions a Home Depot, Lowe’s or similar store at that location. Because of that Neighborhood Plan, staff decided to recommend against the zoning change. The case was postponed from last week at the request of staff, who wanted the project to be considered at the same time as or after the Neighborhood Plan. The plan is scheduled to come back to the planning commission on March 27.

Last week, senior planner Don Perryman was set to tell the Planning Commission that he would recommend a zoning change from LO to LO-MU, which would allow about 300 apartment units to be built on the property. However, at a meeting two days later, officials from the neighborhood planning, community development and development review departments decided that the recommendation should be changed, Perryman said.

In a letter to Alice Glasco, director of the Development Review and Inspection Department, Jerry Harris wrote, “The extraordinary circumstance we face in this case is that the zoning for this affordable housing development must proceed now, or these affordable units will not be built in Austin.” Harris, attorney for the property owners, said if the commission failed to act his clients would lose $23 million in tax-exempt bond and tax credit financing.

Nikelle Meade of Brown McCarroll told the commission that a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the new complex would rent for $587 and a three-bedroom apartment would rent for $662. The market rate for a three-bedroom apartment is $1250. Meade said under the agreement with the bonding authority the apartments will remain in the affordable category for at least 15 years.

Meade also said that at the time the zoning application was filed in December, the neighborhood plan listed the property as multi-family.

Anthony Bertucci, owner of the property, said he has been approached on at least six occasions to sell the land for apartments, but he has never been asked to sell the land for offices. “There’s no way you are going to put a Lowe’s or any other kind of commercial on there. The highest and best use for that land will be apartments. I’m not going to fight the market.”

Speaking in favor of the project was former planning commissioner Susan Almanza who lives in the neighborhood. “It is not true that we want a moratorium on housing,” she said. “There is a housing crisis in Austin, especially affordable housing.” Almanza, a member of the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning team said she believes that the team actually voted for mixed uses on the subject property, not commercial services. “We would never want commercial next to single family homes,” she said.

John Robert Stratton, an attorney who was on the neighborhood planning team, urged the commission to reject the project and follow the plan. “The suggestion that this plan is the result of a few large landowners is insulting to the people who spent nine months working on the plan,” he said.

Commissioner Robin Cravey told Stratton, “I don’t question your assertion that people want to keep apartments out of the neighborhood. Yet we are going to have apartments built in this city…You were at the comprehensive plan committee and said you wanted a Wal-Mart.” Cravey said he felt both incredulity and gratitude toward Stratton because he found it hard to believe that anyone wanted that kind of development in his neighborhood, but gratitude that anyone did. However, Cravey argued that affordable housing is far too important to let negative attitudes towards multi-family housing stop such a project.

Commissioner Ray Vrudhula made the motion to grant multi-family zoning and Commissioner Lydia Ortiz gave him a second. Vrudhula said, “I think it is an excellent project and some of the rents described can’t even get you a bathroom (elsewhere in the country).” He pointed out that most young people start out in apartments, and “when the dog dies and the kids leave, you’re back in an apartment.”

Chair Betty Baker said she was saddened by the animosity demonstrated by the warring factions in the neighborhood. “You’re hurting the neighborhood the way you’re pulling back and forth.” She urged both sides to find some compassion for their neighbors. The case is likely to be on the Council agenda near the end of March.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

False Alarm . . . Jim Walker, a member of the city’s task force on Robert Mueller and a leader in the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition, notified city officials and others interested in the property’s fate that a bill had been filed to take a portion of the land. However, Walker was mistaken and later sent another message to undo the alarm raised earlier. Coincidentally, Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston) told news organizations yesterday that he plans to file a bill requiring the state to build a central Texas airport. Wilson would like Mueller, he said, but would accept another location, such as Manor. Walker urged interested parties to maintain their vigilance . . . Friendly Roast . . .The Texas Women’s Political Caucus will honor Senator Leticia Van De Putte at their celebrity roast beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Hyatt Regency. Call 443-8894 for more information. . . . More Roadwork . . .The city will begin construction on Toomey Road Monday as the first phase of the Barton Springs Road construction project. The city says the Capital Metro Park and Ride lot will remain open, but spaces will be reduced. Work on Barton Springs Road itself is expected to start in June . . .Today’s Council meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Conley-Guerrero Center, 808 Nile Street. Next week the Council returns to the Lower Colorado River Authority building.

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