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City officials listen to public on

Thursday, July 19, 2001 by

Seton-Brackenridge options

Dunkerley says finding new provider not an option

Some of the bad feelings left over from the city’s initial agreement with the Seton Healthcare Network to operate Brackenridge Hospital were back on display last night at a public hearing on the hospital’s reproductive health services policies. Seton is affiliated with a Catholic charity and is facing new guidelines on those reproductive services. While many of the speakers at last night’s meeting urged the city to end the contract with Seton and find a health-care provider without religious ties, city officials indicated that they weren’t considering that option.

According to Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley, the three options that are on the table include setting up a “hospital within a hospital” for reproductive services, contracting out with other facilities and providers or offering city insurance benefits to those women unable to pay to have the services performed elsewhere.

Dunkerley indicated it was too early to say which might prove to be the best option. “We found that we didn’t have enough of the financial data to complete the various models we need to do to evaluate any of these,” she told the audience at the Waller Creek Center. “We have the accountants trying to get the information, so you’re getting in right at the beginning of that process.” She expected some of that financial data to be compiled by next week.

Although the suggestion from an audience member that the city cancel its contract with Seton prompted an outburst of applause, Dunkerley explained that it wasn’t likely to happen. “That is not an option we are considering,” she said. “When I came to Austin in 1990, our hospital was $38 million in the red. Each year, we were digging a deeper and deeper hole,” Dunkerley noted. “In this day and age, with the hospital industry the way it is, you really need a partner. All of the other hospitals in Austin are now for-profit hospitals. Seton is now the only non-profit hospital we have left.” Although the new directives from the Catholic Church are causing some difficulties, Dunkerley believes they can be overcome. “We think you need a partner, and we think that they are a good partner.”

Most of those speaking at the meeting didn’t share that opinion, but a few stood up to praise Seton. “They’re an exemplary partner in this city,” said Sandy Dochen. In their management of Brackenridge, Dochen said, “I think Seton saved the day.” (Dochen is active with the Community Action Network, but stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the organization.) Brenda Thompson with the United Way agreed, “Seton is a highly valuable partner for everyone in this community. Last year alone they gave more than $127 million in charity care. As a community, we can not afford to lose this public/private collaboration.”

Regardless of which option is eventually chosen, members of groups like the National Organization for Women and the Texas Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League stressed the need to keep reproductive services accessible as part of a “seamless” system. There may be at least one more chance for public comment before the City Council votes on any amendment to the contract with Seton. Dunkerley said any proposal would likely be released to the public for feedback before the item is placed on the Council agenda. She anticipates that the proposal could be ready by the end of August.

Seton took over operation of the hospital in October 1995.

Designers to reconsider bike,

Pedestrian connections for Seaholm

Dunkerley says finding new provider not an option

The Downtown Commission and members of the Planning Commission have told designers of the Seaholm District Master Plan that they need to work out the alignment of bicycle and pedestrian access to the area before the plan is adopted, not afterward as designers have suggested. The city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Linda DuPriest, told the Environmental Board last night that she would not personally support the master plan without prior integration of bike and pedestrian pathways . Board members strongly supported her position.

Jana McCann, Division Manager for Urban Design and Historic Preservation, told the Planning Commission Tuesday she is hoping to bring together bicycle activists and Seaholm stakeholders to meet with Jim Adams of the ROMA Design Group next week. She said she expects to be closer to resolution of pedestrian and bicycle issues after that meeting.

The Downtown Commission sent a letter to McCann, expressing “serious concerns . . . about the bicycle/pedestrian routes and connections in the Seaholm District.” The commission heard a presentation on the Seaholm District Master Plan last month but did not send out the letter until this week.

At the time of the presentation, the commission heard that bicycle and pedestrian connections would not be delineated until after adoption of the Master Plan. The commission told McCann it has strong objections to waiting. “The bicycle and pedestrian routes in the Seaholm District have a tremendous potential to help bring life and activity to this area, and to promote alternate transportation in the central city. They should not be an afterthought, they should be among the essential building blocks of any Master Plan for the area,” the letter says.

The commission said it was especially concerned about changes in the alignment of Sandra Muraida Way, which leads from Lamar Boulevard to Cesar Chavez St. “We would like to see your department ( Transportation, Planning & Sustainability) take immediate steps to facilitate a planning process for bicycle/pedestrian connections in the Seaholm District, which would include consideration of potential extension of the Pfluger Bridge and alignments of Sandra Muraida,” the letter concluded.

At Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, the committee on the Comprehensive Plan presented a recommendation, which reads, “This plan presents many desirable, even admirable features, but it should take a more active and near term approach to pedestrian and bicycle commuter access.” Specifically, the committee wanted addition of “streetscape connectivity from the Sandra Muraida Way extension to the West Avenue extension.”

McCann said ROMA had suggested a flyover from the new Pfluger Bridge to Sandra Muraida. She said different consultants are working on the Seaholm Master Plan and the Crosstown Bikeway, making coordination more difficult.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said the committee did not want to discourage those who are working on the plan. “It impressed us that this is the largest coordinated plan that the city has going in the entire downtown . . . What we’re talking about is fine-tuning some of the priorities.”

After hearing from activists Mary Arnold and Chris Riley, the Planning Commission decided to postpone a decision on recommendations. Arnold asked that the group put off making a recommendation until the Environmental Board has taken action. Arnold is still concerned about misuse of parkland, a subject she has been tracking for several years. If Cesar Chavez Street is moved north, as has been suggested, Arnold wanted to know, how will it affect the parkland?

McCann said she would be seeking a clarification from the Law Department on the parkland issue. The department currently plans to ask the City Council to set a public hearing for late August, she said.

Living wage ordinance may be

First step to equity in Austin

Commission offers comprehensive report

Commentary on the interim report from the Austin Equity Commission on Tuesday night was a foregone conclusion.

The parade of speakers that addressed the 15-member steering committee represented many of the social service agencies in Austin and all supported a renewed emphasis on a living wage, affordable housing and equal opportunity for all Austin residents.

The Austin Equity Commission, a blue ribbon task force appointed by the City Council in January 2000 and chaired by former US Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, will present its findings to the City Council on August 23. The 104-page interim report, “Building a Comprehensive Opportunity Structure for Austin,” covers wages, education, workforce development, affordable housing, early education, community health and transportation.

Marshall said the issues faced by the commission covered far more than just legal and economic ground. Most people agree a person working a 40-hour work should be paid enough to afford housing in Austin is a moral argument, not an economic one, he said.

“I very much hope this report will not simply gather dust,” said Marshall, alluding to comments made by some audience members. “It might, but I don’t think it will. We need to see to that in our community.”

Close to three-dozen speakers—from the Gray Panthers to members of the Center for Public Policy Priorities—addressed the commission, many of them commenting on the report’s commitment to closing the gap toward a living wage. The commission proposed that the City Council pass a citywide minimum wage as a possible solution. Living-wage ordinances have been adopted in 50 cities. The commission also suggested incentives and standards for employers who committed to paying above the federal minimum wage.

Speakers included not only social service organizations who helped the homeless but also the homeless themselves, who talked about living under bridges because $5.75 an hour could not rent an apartment in Austin. Bruce Banner, co-president of Education Austin, took Austin ISD to task, observing that 700 of the district’s employees made less than $900 per month in classified positions.

“The district’s wage policy is creating poverty conditions for children, even as they are trying to address the conditions of children in poverty in the classroom,” Banner said.

Richard Troxell of House the Homeless, also national chair of the Universal Living Wage Coalition, said those who live in Austin must make a minimum of $10.25 an hour to afford an efficiency apartment here. Minimum wage workers are far from meeting the requirements for the most basic kind of shelter, he said.

Affordable housing was also a secondary theme among speakers. Karen Poff, co-director of Texas Low-Income Housing Information Services, expressed her support for suggestions in the report such as zoning that encourages the inclusion of affordable to moderate- or low-income housing. She suggested that housing issues alone might warrant a blue-ribbon community. She also stressed the need to further the city’s housing trust funding, suggesting that the fund needed at least $10 million to provide for the long-term needs of the community.

In his speech to commissioners, Gavino Fernandez of El Concilio pointed out that it required more than suggestions on paper to move Austin forward. The community needed to step up to the challenge. It will take a “radical revolution” to address such fundamental problems of the community.

“It’s taken me 18 years working in city government and 4 years working in county government to realize why we continue to have inequities,” Fernandez said. “It’s a mindset and a behavior that a lot of us have that will take years to overcome, but we must begin somewhere. We need to begin taking action.”

In his closing remarks, Marshall quoted the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who told one Congressional leader that it was great they agreed on a policy point. “Now go out and convince me to do it,” He said.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Commission duties still murky . . . This week’s Planning Commission’s lengthy agenda did not contain a staff explanation of the duties of the new Zoning and Platting and Planning Commissions. However, Chair Betty Baker assures In Fact Daily the matter will be discussed next week . . . Kids at Bergstrom . . . Austin Bergstrom International Airport will host the annual employees’ “Take Our Daughters/Sons to Work Day” today from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The children will spend time getting to know the airport as well as learning about their parents’ Aviation Department jobs. The kids will visit the Air Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) station, the FAA’s air traffic control tower, and the Airport Police Department. The summer event is sponsored by the Ms. Foundation . . . Charter group gathering signatures . . .Political consultant Mike Blizzard has sent a call for help to those who support the Clean Campaigns for Austin charter amendment. The group has gathered about 17,000 signatures and hopes to have at least 20,000 by the end of August . . . Republicans starting early for 2002 . . . The Republican Party of Texas has started an email campaign to get its members involved in recruiting primary and general election voters for Governor Rick Perry. The party is asking supporters to become e-Wranglers and e-Rangers, warning that Democrats will be targeting Texas in 2002 to try to embarrass President Bush.

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