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Watson faces public

Thursday, April 19, 2001 by

In Buda town meeting

Mayors explains positions on deannexation

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson visited Buda last night for a two-hour “town hall” meeting on the subject of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) in Hays County. He was joined by Council Member Daryl Slusher, City Manager Jesus Garza, city planner Ben Luckens and Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd. They fielded questions and criticism from about three dozen Buda residents over issues ranging from water rights to the city’s tax base to problems with a building permit.

Buda Mayor Billy Gray opened the meeting by presenting his own timeline of the negotiations between Buda and Austin over the transfer of more than 5,000 acres from Austin’s ETJ. Those negotiations date back to 1997. The Austin City Council was set to approve the transfer earlier this year, but requested additional conditions on the deal from Buda to ensure protection of the environmentally sensitive land. Gray played a videotape of the March 1st Austin City Council meeting during which Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance encouraged the Council to reject the plan (Bunch was also in attendance at last night’s meeting, but did not address the group). Instead, the Council requested that Buda annex two tracts of land as an additional condition on the deal. That measure would have ensured that all the land in question would be either in Austin’s ETJ or Buda’s, and therefore would remain subject to SOS water quality restrictions, which Buda approved earlier this year. Without being in the ETJ, the land would be governed by Hays County, despite its having virtually no say in how the land would be used.

Some owners of these strategically-placed strips of land refused to request annexation by Buda, stalling negotiations. This has angered Gray. “We passed your proposal as you sent it to us. Instead, your Council added two new restrictions on third parties. Many of us feel that the City of Austin changed the deal,” he said. “I would like to understand what we, as your neighbors to the south, need to do to convince the City of Austin to be a good neighbor.

Watson offered his own detailed version of the negotiations, including a briefing on the Texas laws concerning ETJs. Since the city’s ETJ must be contiguous, leaving out the two key tracts the city requested that Buda annex would change the geography of the entire deal. Structuring the deal to keep key tracts in the ETJ, said Watson, “would let the city keep water quality controls.” Allowing the land to remain outside the ETJ of either Austin or Buda, said Watson, would be a mistake. “Hays County is not in a position to make sure it is protected.” Counties in Texas do not have the ability to pass ordinances.

Watson went on to stress the city’s good-faith negotiating efforts and his desire to see the ETJ eventually transferred to Buda’s control, making special note of Austin’s offer to surrender control over land along I-35 in Hays County. “Here is this valuable commercial property . . . and all we’re asking is to keep the environmentally-sensitive land protected,” Watson said, noting that the land would be a major boost to Buda’s tax base. “I’ll continue to be an advocate for Buda to get that land along I-35.”

Watson’s legal analysis and promises of future co-operation received a lukewarm response from many of the Buda residents at the meeting. The walls of the room at the Buda Upper Elementary School were plastered with signs reading “Do the Right Thing – Release to the County Line”, “We Had A Deal”, and “Help Us Plan for the Future – Release the ETJ.” A member of the Community Alliance of North Hays County accused Austin of bearing sole responsibility for the problem because of its aggressive annexation strategy of the mid-1980’s—to which Watson, in part, agreed. “To some degree, the City of Austin is responsible for the problem. Part of the reason I’ve worked as hard as I can to give up land that when developed could be part of Austin’s tax base, is I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Harsher questions came from other members of the audience like Jerry Keesee. “If you have the power, by the law, to do it (take the ETJ), do you not have the same power to give it back? Then you should just do it!” He said. “What you’re doing is, you’re assuming that the landowners in that area . . . don’t have the common sense to protect the environment.” Watson reiterated his concerns about some land winding up under the jurisdiction of Hays County without SOS-level water quality protection. “We can (return the ETJ), but we can’t do it in a way where those of us who have been involved in these negotiations feel comfortable that that land would be covered by water quality regulations that we all seem to think are important.”

State Representative Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) sounded a similar theme of self-determination during his remarks. Responding to Watson’s opening comments citing the need for regional co-operation, Green said local control was a priority. “While you talk about ‘we control this’, none of the people out here got to vote for those controls that you now have on that land,” Green told Watson. “That’s all these people are asking for—to let our community make the decisions. That’s what this really boils down to, everything else is a bunch of smoke and mirrors. It’s not as complicated as everybody would like to make it be. All we’re asking is to let us control our own destiny,” Green said to a round of applause.

No formal action was taken at Wednesday night’s meeting. Gray says it should serve to re-focus the negotiations. “There’s been a lot of good things said. We’ll see where it goes from there. Any kind of dialogue has to start somewhere.”

LCRA hears mild opposition

To water, wastewater plan

Study includes growth projections for Hays, western Travis Counties

On Wednesday, local environmental leaders presented the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors with fairly mild opposition to proposed LCRA water and wastewater projects in western Travis and Hays Counties, after which the Board voted to approve part of the plan.

The public hearing was an opportunity for citizen input on land use assumptions for the LCRA’s Western Travis County Regional Water System (WTCRWS), designed to bring water and wastewater facilities to areas around the Village of Bee Caves and Highway 290 near Dripping Springs. An advisory committee recommended the assumptions, which will be used to set fees.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save our Springs Alliance, chastised the Board for not providing a fair opportunity for public input. To emphasize his point, he wryly noted that the visitor parking spaces in the LCRA parking lot were cordoned off and empty, not very accommodating and conducive to public input, he said.

“Sprawl is destroying major swaths of this country” and it’s happening in the Hill Country around Austin, Bunch said. “Ninety percent or more of this system (WTCRWS) is for developers,” and it’s coming out of the wallets of existing LCRA customers, he said. Older, loyal LCRA customers should get reduced rates instead of having to subsidize development for new customers, he added.

Longtime Austin environmentalist Mary Arnold called the information provided in the fee study “very minimal.” She said she was also curious about the LCRA’s timing on this project, and she was not happy with the location of the wastewater facility. It’s nestled between two environmentally sensitive canyons which include endangered species habitat, she said.

Bunch also commented on the research made available to the public. “I agree there’s almost no information here,” he said. That makes it really difficult to make decisions, “you need some real information,” he added.

Jon Beall, president of the Save Barton Creek Association, said he was concerned about the project because it was in the Barton Springs recharge zone, which also supplies drinking water for about 45,000 people. “I want to urge you to be very careful about the numbers,” he said, referring to growth figures projected in the study.

Hays County landowner Ira Yates said he was concerned about the development of increased water services along Highway 290 because he doesn’t want to see development in that area spiral out of control like it has along Highway 183 North. Repeating such mistakes is insanity, he said. “I don’t want to continue insanity.”

Bunch told In Fact Daily that the hearing was business as usual, with only perfunctory input from citizens. He expressed his dismay at how the process lacks provisions for meaningful public input. The process of developing water and wastewater infrastructure is normally carried out by a municipality with decisions made by voters and officials elected by citizens. In the case of the LCRA, with state-appointed board members, there is no public accountability, he said. It might not be such a concern if the board were not acting on issues that spur growth over the Edwards aquifer.

Earlier in the meeting, LCRA General Manager Joe Beal briefed the board on business goals. Leading off his presentation, he stated the goal “to deserve to be known as an environmental leader.” Reinforcing that ambition, he related an experience he had had on a recent airplane trip. He asked a stranger sitting next to him what came to mind when she thought of the LCRA, and she responded by saying, “protector of the environment.” She told him she associated the LCRA with parks and recreation, not as an electricity generator.

Besides being an environmental leader, Beal said other LCRA goals include:

• To expand electrical generating capacity • To expand transmission capability • To be a regional water supplier and wastewater provider • To be better known as a provider of parks • To increase environmental education

“I’m personally real excited about (environmental education) because I think it will pay off in spades,” he said. After the briefing on goals, Board Vice Chair Gale Lincke said she noticed one word missing from the presentation: conservation. “I think conservation is something we need to practice and I think conservation is something we need to teach,” she said. Beal acknowledged her and said he agreed. Next month, the staff expects to bring a budget for Capital Improvements Projects to the board for its review. In addition, the board is expected to have a public hearing on the CIP and impact fees.

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

Getting ready for future races . . . The Austin Women’s Political Caucus is revving up for 2002 races, which will include several City Council seats in the spring as well as county offices in the fall. Last night the caucus held a membership mixer at Jalisco Bar, bringing in a large number of new members, says Vice Chair Bobbi Enriquez. The group wants to make sure the Victory Fund, which helps finance women running for office, has plenty of money before next year’s battles begin. Of course, there’s still the possibility that Mayor Kirk Watson will resign to run for statewide office, but Watson is keeping his own counsel on that issue. Still, political tea-leaf readers continue to speculate that the mayor will vacate his post in June, necessitating an August election . . . Billboard battle continues today . . . The City Council is scheduled to take up the billboard ordinance again today. The Scenic Austin folks, who want all the signs removed, have aligned themselves with Reagan National Advertising, the gorilla of local billboard companies. But the smaller companies appear to have the upper hand . . . Bradleyville continued . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance has written to the Mayor and the Council asking that the city notify Gary Bradley and the Bradley Parties to last year’s settlement agreement that they are in violation of the agreement because of HB 3644 and SB 1812, which were filed without the city’s consent. SOSA requests that the city initiate non-binding arbitration, as set forth in the agreement. “Since Mr. Bradley feels free to continue to promote Austin-bashing legislation as though there were no agreement, (the) City must seek the return of the powers it gave up in the agreement.” For example, the city agreed to waive significant capital recovery fees for extending water and wastewater service. So, writes staff attorney Grant Godfrey, let’s just call the whole agreement off.

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