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ZAP Commission zapped

Friday, March 30, 2001 by

For now, by Council majority

Goodman frustrated by slowness of Planning Commission

“We need a Planning Commission that has time to plan,” declared Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman yesterday, as she tried to convince her City Council colleagues to move forward with her proposal to give most zoning and subdivision cases to a new Zoning and Platting Commission. The Planning Commission would act only on subdivision and zoning cases in areas with approved neighborhood plans and would make recommendations on long-range planning and ordinance amendments.

The chief task of the Planning Commission now is hearing requests for zoning changes. Changes to ordinances, such as those that might be needed to implement a neighborhood plan, are often the last item the commission considers and are frequently postponed.

After Goodman made her motion, Council Member Will Wynn said that he would like to postpone the item until he had heard specific recommendations from the Planning Commission. On Tuesday, a majority of the Commission voted to request the postponement until they have a chance to express their concerns to the Council. (See In Fact Daily March 28, 2001) Mayor Kirk Watson asked Goodman if she considered Wynn’s amendment to be friendly.

She replied, “No, I consider it to be very unfriendly. I do not want to wait until I’m older and grayer than I am to get a recommendation from the Planning Commission.”

Watson and Council Members Beverly Griffith, Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez joined Wynn, in voting to postpone the action indefinitely. Slusher said he would normally expect commissioners to oppose a change in their duties. He said he simply had not had enough time to consider the proposal, suggesting that the Council might set a date next week for the item to be reconsidered. Alvarez said he was not comfortable about dividing the two commissions’ duties based on whether or not properties are located within approved neighborhood plans.

Betty Baker, chair of the Planning Commission, has asked that the Commission reconsider their requests for postponement at Tuesday’s meeting. Goodman nominated Baker to the Commission.

Council approves continued

Use of Day Labor site on I-35

Griffith grills Dunkerley on staff decision

The Austin City Council unanimously approved extending the contract on the city’s day labor site, but not without some verbal sparring about its location. It is currently situated on the south frontage road at 50th Street and I-35.

Council Member Beverly Griffith didn’t say in so many words that she wanted the day labor site moved, but she did question Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley closely about why the city had failed to follow a neighborhood recommendation to move it.

“In light of what the recommendation was, I hope that you will go into that (discussion of the city’s options) with a completely open mind and without ruling out many options and opportunities that might present themselves and be sensible,” Griffith said.

Dunkerley did not back down from the city staff’s recommendation that the day labor site be kept at its current location, even if other satellite sites were created. Both Dunkerley and Mayor Kirk Watson, who appeared to be armed with statistics to specifically dispute Griffith’s criticism, defended the performance of the day labor site. Dunkerley said problems with the location had been “very minor issues.” Watson pointed out that crime statistics had dropped at the location since the day labor site opened.

The first day labor site, Watson told Council, had shared facilities with the Austin Homeless Resource Center, which had been a poor mix. Crime had been the result, and the day labor site had suffered from association. Watson went on to say the day labor site had met two goals: employing more than 150 people a day and making sure that day laborers in the city were paid a fair wage. The current site, he added, offered easy access on the frontage road of Interstate 35, and in a less-residential area.

“I'm going to be interested in watching the open-mindedness of people going forward,” said Watson, adding that the neighborhood wanted the city to be open-minded about moving the site out of their area, while other neighborhoods were likely to push the city to be equally open-minded about locating the sites in distant parts of town.

Watson said crime in the immediate area of the site was down 64 percent overall, with a decrease of 43 percent in violent crime and 66 percent in property crime. One sexual assault near the site, he said, did increase the overall percentage of that category of crime.

Council Member Daryl Slusher commented on the assumptions people make about the workers who used the day labor site. “Assuming bad characteristics is just plain wrong,” Slusher said. “I hope everyone can get beyond that and look at the ways this can be operated a little bit better. The vile things they were predicting did not happen.”

City Council unanimously approved the interlocal agreement between the City of Austin and Travis County to amend the current contract to fund and administer the day labor site together. The split on the cost is $223,176 for the city and $28,039 for the county. The contract with First Workers’ Corporation also offers a 12-month extension.

Griffith did win one small victory in the day labor fight. Dunkerley told the Council that the city had abandoned a second site selected for the program because of the $400,000 it would cost to administer the site. She added that a committee, including neighborhood representatives, would be formed to come up with a model that could include multiple sites and to address minor issues with the center.

News reports questions

On legislator's aid to felon

Rep. Green denies impropriety

State Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) helped a convicted felon—who had loaned $400,000 to Green’s company—win early release from prison, according to a story in the Dallas Morning News. Green said the loan and his representation of Melvin Cox were unrelated and that he represented the man because the two are friends.

Cox was convicted of defrauding investors of $30 million and some of the cheated investors are now accusing Green of improperly using his influence to assist Cox, the News said. According to Thursday’s story, Cox was a business associate of Green’s father. In 1996, a company started by the Greens borrowed the $400,000 from Cox’s investment firm, without collateral, just one month before federal officials froze the assets of Cox’s companies, according to the News.

Cox, 72, served less than 3 years on a 16-year sentence. The full story can be found at http://www.dallasnews.com/texas_southwest/324206_1Agreen_29tex.html

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

What’s in a name . . . The City Council blessed City Manager Jesus Garza’ s reorganization of the Development Review and Inspection Department, the Watershed Protection Department, and the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department Thursday, but got hung up on what to name two of the new entities. Council Members readily agreed to call one new department Watershed Protection and Development Review. However, Austan Librach’s new combination of duties caused more consternation. Staff had suggested that the new name be Transportation, Planning and Design. Council wanted to maintain either an emphasis on conservation or an emphasis on sustainability. After several minutes of brainstorming, the Mayor said he thought the process might be done better off the dais. However, everyone’s new duties were approved, even if they can’t yet order the stationery . . . Piling on the Bradley bill . . . On Thursday, Clean Water Action joined the list of local organizations opposed to developer Gary Bradley’s plan for a development district with condemnation powers in Hays County. Council Member Beverly Griffith requested that the City Manager direct city staff to analyze five aspects of the legislation, including traffic and environmental impact. She also requested that the analysis be provided to the Council at least five work days prior to Council consideration of Bradley’s request for the city’s authorization to proceed with the legislation. Council will meet on April 5, 19 and 26 next month . . . National Library Week . . . April 1-7 is National Library Week, during which libraries hope to remind the public of their importance in literacy, information and entertainment. Current library customers may return overdue items without paying late fees when they apply for the new Library Star Card.

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