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Kitchen bill aims to give Community

Monday, April 9, 2001 by

Court more options for repeat offenders

Downtown property owners support bill

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Ann Kitchen (D-Austin) is asking the state to add treatment and assessment options for repeat drug paraphernalia offenders to aid Austin’s Community Court to more successfully address their problems.

Community Court Judge Elisabeth Earle brought House Bill 3384 to Kitchen. It was passed out of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence last week. Austin’s downtown Community Court was formed and launched under legislation two years ago to handle chronic offenders who were not being adequately treated within an overburdened justice system. Earle has been given the broad latitude to require testing and assessment for those who have a fourth conviction on personal intoxication or disorderly conduct.

“What it does is require the court to offer them testing, assessment and education as a condition of community supervision,” Kitchen said. “My discussion with Elisabeth Earle was to make sure these kinds of treatment programs are available to people.”

Anyone who had a fourth conviction on the drug paraphernalia offense—with three prior convictions in the last two years—would be required to go through drug testing and assessment and be offered the option of drug treatment, Kitchen said

It is called an enhanced penalty. It’s a carrot-and-stick method of encouraging offenders to seek the alternative of testing and treatment rather than go straight to jail, says Charlie Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, who attended last week’s hearing.

Go downtown on any evening, and it’s not unusual to find people who are high or intoxicated lying in storefronts and doorways, Betts said. He maintains that the community court’s efforts have made a difference in addressing the problem.

“This is a special court set up to deal with repeat Class C misdemeanor offenders,” Betts said. “Our selfish interest is that we want to get these guys off the street because of the continual revolving door where people don’t get treatment and don’t get off the street. When that happens, it’s my downtown property owners and business owners who have to deal with the failures of the social service agencies and municipal court system.”

The punishment for a Class C misdemeanor—a couple of days in jail and a fine up to $500—is hardly enough to force a chronic offender into treatment, Betts said. However, a fourth offense is punishable by a fine of $2,000 and/or 180 days in jail. This bill will make it easier to get people treatment, Betts said. He adds that the court can mandate restitution, requiring the offender to complete public service in the area where the offense was committed.

“This bill simply gives the judge the leverage to encourage the offender to get into treatment,” Betts said. “The Community Court brings the municipal justice system into cooperation with the social service agencies. It brings the social service component to the table by the threat of a more stringent penalty, and that’s going to give the judge more leverage to get the person into testing and treatment.” HB 3384 is in line to be put on the House calendar.

In other legislation filed by Kitchen, the Energy Resources Committee has appointed a subcommittee to review one of Kitchen’s two pipeline safety bills. The subcommittee, Kitchen said, does not indicate whether the bill has strong support on the committee. It simply makes it easier for committee members to consider amendments to the legislation.

Design Commission looking for

Specifics for Smart Growth matrix

Commission wants guidelines for developers

Chair Juan Cotera is currently working to streamline the Design Commission’s review process, to make commission recommendations more methodical and consistent overall.

Commissioners have asked for more specific parameters in rating downtown projects and the points they receive under the city’s SMART Growth matrix. The Design Commission’s tally of approval on each project is worth 50 points under the city’s matrix. The higher the point totals the more fees can be waived for developers. Those fees can make a critical difference for downtown projects.

Cotera previewed the recommendations he’ll make to commissioners at last week’s Design Commission meeting and asked them to e-mail suggestions to him before the May meeting. The final format is likely to be approved at that meeting.

After a developer makes an initial presentation before the Design Commission, a three-member committee of commissioners reviews it and returns a recommendation on the project before the full commission.

“What I'm proposing is to get together a format that each review committee can have,” Cotera told his colleagues. “We need to take each guideline and each recommendation that we have, and our review has to be based on what degree they met those recommendations.”

Sometimes, Cotera said, aesthetic or subjective aspects of a project—not not covered by guidelines or recommendations—have swayed project approvals. Cotera’s goal is to present a checklist for each design guideline, as well as space on the form for comments under each particular area. Those guidelines are as broad as reinforcing the historic continuity of an area or creating a safer downtown, or as narrow as screening mechanical equipment, increasing the number of street-level windows or situating construction as close to a property line as possible.

Cotera’s recommendations were well received by commissioners, who outlined a possible document on a blackboard in the meeting room. Commissioner Philip Reed told Cotera he liked the idea of the checklist. Going down a generic review document, he said, could go very fast, but “it can also trigger in your mind what you meant by that guideline.” Commissioner Girard Kinney recommended that the commission try to find some way that points could be used as an incentive for developers.

Cotera proposed taking the 50 Smart Growth points handed out by the commission and automatically reserving 10 of them for the holistic and aesthetic aspect of a project. The remaining points would be divided and weighted accordingly between the various areas recommended under the design guidelines. Developers could lose points for not addressing each particular area. Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Design Department, said city staff can assign a total of 630 Smart Growth points. No other commission makes recommendations on individual projects.

Commissioners were also asked to bring notes next month to tweak the actual design guidelines being used by the group. Cotera noted that most were “little things here and there” that needed to be tightened up in the document. While some commissioners wanted more specifics on the guidelines, Commissioner John Patterson, who drafted them, said some guidelines were intended to be broad.

“We tried, in my opinion, to stay away from specificity because we could not get an agreement,” Patterson said. “We were afraid when the document was adopted by the city that there would be so much negative reaction from developers and builders that we wanted to try to stay away from . . .” mandates. “We also wanted to steer the document so it wouldn’t be pure code versus a group of guidelines to suggest.”

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

Austin will host the Wings of Freedom Tour for three days, beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Two fully restored World War II heavy bombers, a B-24 Liberator, known as the “Dragon and his Tail” and a B-17 Flying Fortress, named the “Nine-O-Nine”, will be on display at Signature Flight Support, Bergstrom International Airport. The planes are restored and maintained by the Collings Foundation of Massachusetts as a way of remembering and honoring the World War II generation. A small donation is requested to tour the aircraft. Flight experiences are available for a $350 tax-deductible donation. For more information call 530-5451 . . . The City Council appointed the following to committees and commissions last week. All appointments were by consensus unless otherwise noted: Bond Oversight Committee— Rob Latsha; Brackenridge Hospital Oversight Council— Donna Ammons and James Gjerset; Child Care Council— Jon Kyle Holder; Commission on Immigrant Affairs— Tosan Eruwayo, Amy Hoang and Stanley Main; Ethics Review Commission— Ilan Levin (Wynn); MBE/WBE Advisory Committee— Mahesh Naik and Michele Pettes; Music Commission— David Glasco (Wynn) and Jay Woods ( Griffith).

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