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Austin City Attorney Martin

Thursday, May 17, 2001 by

Stepping down after 6½ years

Martin says it's time to find new opportunities

City Attorney Andy Martin, who has been at the helm of the city’s legal battleship for the past six years, announced Wednesday that he has submitted his resignation to City Manager Jesus Garza. Martin said he turned 50 in January and is ready for new challenges. He is considering a number of options, he said, including starting a solo practice.

Martin said he was a solo practitioner in Washington DC and he is “fairly confident” that he can prosper in private practice. “This is intended to be a step up in the world,” Martin said, adding, “Being City Attorney has been the best job I’ve every had.” But the hours have been long. “I already know that I don’t want to work any harder than I’ve already had to work. I’m willing to swap out some Thursday evenings with my family for a little weekend time.” He is the father of twin girls, age 3, and two boys, ages 10 and 14. He is mindful of the cost of a college education.

Deputy City Attorney Sedora Jefferson will become Acting City Attorney after Martin’s departure on June 30. Garza confirmed that he asked Jefferson to oversee the legal department while the city recruits a new City Attorney. Jefferson began working for the city about two years ago as division chief of the environmental and housing division. She was promoted to Deputy City Attorney in Feb. 2000.

Martin came to the city in 1984, serving as Assistant City Attorney advising on land use, planning and zoning matters until 1991. He resigned then, thinking he would move to Minnesota, his first wife’s native state. But six months later, he took a job as general counsel at the Texas Ethics Commission. He returned to be City Attorney in 1994.

Garza said he was surprised by Martin’s decision to pursue a career in the private sector. “Andy did a great job for the city, particularly in winning a number of lawsuits that had put our legal regulations in jeopardy. He was the one that assembled the legal teams in each of those instances in which we were successful. It started with Maple Run and then Harris Branch,” the manager said. The Maple Run subdivision was annexed by the city, Garza said, because “a piece of legislation was adopted (by the Legislature) that forced us to take it. They were in financial jeopardy, and Andy helped negotiate that settlement.”

Martin’s astute handling of land use litigation “continued with SOS and the water quality zones,” Garza said. “It was his work with the legal teams to look at what local and special law was and how the Texas Constitution prohibited that. And that really was the key to our success on SOS and the water quality zones and Bradleyville. Andy has done a great job for the city and we’re going to miss him.”

Martin said he did some research to see how his tenure stacks up against prior City Attorneys. Since 1970, Martin said, his tenure of six-and-a-half years is longest. Don Butler was City Attorney for somewhat less than six years and Jerry Harris kept the job for five years, he said, but none of the other top city lawyers have held on to the job for more than three years.

Martin said he ran his first marathon last December and plans to run two per year. He is currently training for another run in October. He added, “I’m expecting and hoping that I will remain active in city affairs. It’s not good-bye, it’s just so long.”

"Given the choice between deciding to leave when nobody expects it versus having everybody say it’s just a matter of time until he quits, I think I’m doing the right thing.”

Environmental Board votes to change

Housing impervious cover assumptions

Board has struggled with questions on affordability

After a discussion nearly ninety minutes, the Environmental Board voted unanimously last night to recommend changing the impervious cover assumptions for single-family homes set last year. Two lot sizes fall under the purview of this recommendation, lots ranging from 5750 to 10,000 square feet and lots from 10,000 square feet up to 15,000 square feet. Assumptions for the former would increase from 2,500 to 3,250 square feet, according to this recommendation, and up to 3,750 for the latter. No other lot sizes are affected by the recommendation. The Board also decided to recommend not using restrictive covenants and plat restrictions to enforce impervious cover limits. SMART housing projects are exempt from the recommended assumptions.

Separating the issue of affordable housing from the environmental effects of impervious cover turned out to be a key to ending a months-long discussion on the assumptions. “We do not believe there is an inherent conflict,” said Stuart Hersh, director of the city’s SMART Housing program, between environmental restrictions and affordable housing.

“We’re asking you to exempt SMART Housing,” he said, briefing the Board and opening the subject for discussion.

Pat Murphy, of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, said after the vote he was glad the Board removed the use of restrictive covenants from the recommendation. “I don’t like having to rely on deed restrictions and plat restrictions for enforcement,” he said. “I’ve said all along that I have a concern with using plat restrictions.”

“It’s extremely difficult to enforce,” he noted, especially after a home is built. “Once all the homes are built and occupied . . . it’s a very difficult thing to police and enforce,” he said.

Murphy said he had been working in this area of water quality control since 1986. “Our water quality provisions have to cover both the ETJ and the city,” he said, so it’s problematic and difficult. The assumptions “allow us a mechanism to predict the impervious cover” and that makes enforcement easier, he said.

Chair Lee Leffingwell said better methods of enforcement are foreseeable in the future. “I think all of us would like to have individual enforcement . . . but it doesn’t appear to be feasible right now,” he said.

Board Member Debra Williams said she didn’t want the recommendations to seem punitive to developers. The Board is “not trying to do something to developers,” she said, “we just want accurate data.” It’s better for everyone that way, she added.

Dominic Chavez, with the Real Estate Council of Austin, told the Board increasing the assumptions would increase the cost of housing and seriously compromise certain builders’ efforts to provide affordable housing.

He said he came before the Board to reiterate the “prohibitive costs that would come from this proposal,” and he argued that the environmental benefits are not worth the increase in expenses. “We are not convinced that this is creating a problem,” he said. “Overall there does not seem to be a problem with this study,” he added.

Board Member Matt Watson said that with the majority of new homes being built way over the assumptions a very serious problem was brewing.

Chavez insisted that in terms of overall environmental impact, the assumptions were not a problem, at least not with the lot sizes used for affordable housing. “It’s not a significant enough problem to justify changing” the assumptions and making homes unaffordable, he said. “We think you need to have more evidence,” he told the Board.

Leffingwell said it was unfortunate that costs go up but this issue was about impervious cover and protecting the watershed.

Murphy said, “I support you in your recommendation to adjust the assumptions.” And “I certainly support exempting SMART housing.”

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

City Hall construction costs . . . Material prepared for today’s City Council meeting shows nearly $3 million in increased costs for the parking garage under City Hall and nearly $4.7 million for changes to the building itself. But when you look further, you find one of the main reasons for the increased cost of the garage is called, “uniquely designed building on top, increasing structural requirements in garage.” What that means, according to an architect familiar with the project, is that the garage had to be reinforced to sustain the weight of the building when the two were not designed to work as one unit. Documents from last July show that City Hall architects were told from the beginning that they should “attempt to attain the Silver rating . . . as measured by the US Green Building Council . . . ” Attaining that designation was the subject of a meeting August 10, 2000, city records indicate . . . If you really cared . . . Doctors and administrators at Brackenridge Hospital are putting some public pressure on the Texas Legislature to pass HB 893. The measure would allow a $5 fee on motor vehicle registration in Texas to fund trauma centers. It has passed in the House but is stalled in the Senate. “We think that the community should make their senators aware that this issue is critical,” said Dr. Pat Crocker, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Brackenridge during a hospital news conference to explain why the emergency room was placed on “diversion” status last week . . . News Hound reports . . . Former American-Statesman reporter Ben Wear has a new job as assistant managing editor of Education Week. He moved to Washington earlier this year after his wife Gail Randall took a job at George Dubya's White House. Chuck Lindell has returned to reporting after a stint as assistant metro editor for the downtown daily. Statesman environmental reporter Ralph Haurwitz has moved to projects; Kevin Carmody replaces him on the enviro beat . . . Turn down the heat . . . The City Council will hear a presentation on lowering the city’s overall temperature today. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez are sponsoring a plan to reduce the “Heat Island Effect” by encouraging use of light-colored roofs, streets that reflect the sun’s heat and other measures.

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