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Mauro lends support to

Friday, July 20, 2001 by

City regulation of Longhorn

Supporters say city not pre-empted on property protection

Susana Almanza of PODER ( People Organized in Defense of the Earth and Her Resources) and Jon Beall, president of the Save Barton Creek Association, got some high profile help in their battle against the Longhorn Pipeline on Thursday. FormerTexas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro joined them in presenting a plan for a local ordinance to place new restrictions on the pipeline, which runs from Houston through Austin to El Paso. The operators of the 50-year-old pipeline, which include Chisholm Holdings, BP-Amoco and Exxon-Mobil, want to use it to transport gasoline across the state.

Federal law regulates inter-state pipelines (like the Longhorn, which eventually runs into New Mexico). But Mauro and PODER believe the city could use its existing authority to force the operators to make safety improvements. “We’ve specifically looked at the federal pre-emption issue, and we have built an ordinance that would protect the property rights of the citizens of Austin, the property rights of the City of Austin and the water quality of our city,” Mauro told reporters gathered for a news conference outside the City Council meeting. PODER presented the ordinance to the Council for its consideration, although no action could be taken on it at Thursday’s meeting because the item had not been posted on the agenda.

The ordinance, Mauro said, had been specifically tailored to get around federal proscriptions against cities passing their own pipeline regulations. “We can’t regulate the pipeline for safety. We can regulate a pipeline to protect property rights, to protect the city’s property and to protect water quality.”

Officials for the Longhorn Partners Pipeline sent out a brief news release disputing that the city would have any authority over the pipeline in any way. “We’ve just received a copy of the proposed Austin City ordinance suggested today by Garry Mauro, and have passed it on to legal counsel for review. Federal regulations, not city ordinances, govern all interstate pipelines and any city ordinance that attempts to regulate pipelines would be subject to federal preemption. We are skeptical that any city ordinance can pass constitutional muster,” said an email release from Don Martin of Don Martin Public Affairs.

Mauro and officials of PODER and SBCA said they hope to have the item on the Council’s agenda this fall. “I would be stunned, with the wonderful leadership that the City Council and the Mayor give us, if it wouldn’t pass overwhelmingly . . . if not by acclamation,” Mauro said.

Griffith withholds support on

Smart Growth incentive funds

Urban sprawl still a concern for Council

The City Council voted 5-1 Thursday to approve $195,001 in development fee waivers and up to $77,000 in street and infrastructure improvements for the Plaza Lofts project under the Smart Growth program. Council Member Beverly Griffith voted against the item, saying the money is needed more for other things, including housing assistance for low-income families.

Griffith, the Council Member most likely to run for Mayor if Kirk Watson resigns to run for higher office, said she would be more inclined to vote for the incentive package if the project’s 56 residential units were in the affordable category. However, the 12-story mixed-use project, to be built across the street from Republic Square at West 5th and Guadalupe, falls into the luxury class.

After Griffith announced that she would not be supporting the waivers and expenditures, Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, and a leading proponent of Smart Growth, explained that the point of the program was to induce more developers to build downtown. He said he thought the program had been successful in convincing downtown developers to include more urban design features in their projects and making them more pedestrian- and transit-friendly.

The city adopted the Smart Growth Matrix in early 1999, as a tool for city staff and citizen commissions to judge appropriateness of proposed land uses. Including the Plaza Lofts, the Council has approved financial incentives for eight projects based on that matrix. The Plaza Lofts scored 324 out of a possible 635 points on the Smart Growth Matrix, Librach said. City documentation explains that the “score qualifies the project for incentives not to exceed the net present value of the incremental increase in property taxes generated by the project over five years.” Based on a value of $31 million upon completion, the maximum incentive that the city might reimburse is nearly $600,000—more than double the amount awarded.

Council Member Will Wynn hastened to point out that most of the money would be in fee waivers as opposed to General Fund dollars.

Griffith was unmoved by that argument, saying, “The money is still spent. The budget of the city is not reduced by that amount—it’s just who pays it.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher also defended the program, but said Griffith had a good point concerning the number of high dollar housing units coming downtown. He said he would be willing to look at amendments to the Smart Growth Matrix later. However, he added, “I would remind folks that just a few years ago we were tying to get folks downtown to address urban sprawl . . . I don’t think we should offer up the Smart Growth Matrix and then have them go through that process and come to City Council and be turned down because we don’t like a particular aspect of a project.” He pointed out that it is less expensive for the city to have development downtown than in the suburbs, but more expensive for the developer to build. Mayor Kirk Watson was absent. (For what we said about Smart Growth before the ordinance was enacted, See In Fact No. 175, Dec. 22, 1998).

Native plant initiative

Flourishes in Austin

Organic nursery owner wants more

By Doug McLeod

Council Member Daryl Slusher appears to have a green thumb when it comes to environmental policy. His native landscaping initiative from last spring has flourished into a thriving proposal with widespread community support, and it now boasts six different city departments as stakeholders.

Nancy McClintock, with the Watershed Protection & Development Review Department, briefed the City Council Thursday morning on the proposal’s progress. She said six city departments would benefit directly from ideas that grew out of a Green Gardening Summit held last spring.

The Summit was a direct result of Slusher’s landscape initiative, which directed city staff to look at “environmentally-friendly landscaping alternatives.” Slusher’s resolution was approved by the City Council on May 3.

“A large number of city staff participated in this,” Slusher said, along with numerous people and organizations from the community, including retailers—such as Home Depot—citizens, landscapers, pest control companies, neighborhood groups and developers—including Stratus Properties. He said he would like to see measures from this initiative “cover the whole area and hopefully spread over the region.”

The broad-based support is a testament to the potential health and environmental benefits that can be achieved by implementing such measures. “We need to reduce the amount of pollution we’ve had . . . and we need to talk to people about what they’re putting on their lawns,” Slusher said.

McClintock said nitrogen levels have increased in Barton Springs. The city has determined that runoff containing lawn chemicals from neighborhoods in Northwest Austin, over the Edwards Aquifer, is contributing to nitrogen build-up in the springs at levels up to eight times higher than normal. “We are attributing these high levels of nutrients to fertilizers,” she said. Herbicides are showing up in Barton Springs at a level four times higher than normal from the same area, she added. “We routinely see these herbicides in our water quality ponds,” she said.

Even so, as part of a benchmark study of 94 urban-area environmental programs around the country, “Austin ranks exceedingly well,” she noted.

John Dromgoole, owner of The Natural Gardener nursery and Lady Bug Natural Brand gardening products, spoke to the Council in an effort to push the city even further. “Austin should be a leader in this area, but we are woefully and tragically behind,” he said. He suggested the city move to using only organic gardening methods to set an example.

“We believe organic gardening is the most sensible way to protect our environment, children and pets,” he said.

Dromgoole, who has been an organic gardener for about 30 years, told the Council there are toxins found currently in Barton Springs that have been associated with brain cancer in children. He said four well-known herbicides and pesticides could be found in Barton Creek right now. Diazinon, used in a popular insecticide, is found in high concentrations throughout, he said, and residues remain in runoff for seven weeks after application.

He told In Fact Daily he thought it was his duty to give the City Council the “angry organic gardener” report to create a sense of urgency and prod them to take action now and not later. Since funding admittedly is scarce, he said he’s concerned that these proposals could end up on the shelf, instead of serving to implement new policy. “Our children will pay for this” in terms of quality of life, he said.

These problems will only increase, Dromgoole said, until the hazardous products are no longer available and people quit buying them. The city needs to lead the way, he said.

Some of the overarching principles that came out of the summit include a desire to keep the dialogue positive and celebratory. There was a common interest in defining an “Austin style” of landscaping, a look unique to Austin. She mentioned Santa Fe as a city with a very distinct landscape style. “In Austin there seems to be much more confusion,” she noted.

The summit report also makes mention of ways to increase public awareness. Having native landscape displays and posting signs in nurseries to educate customers about specific plants and their benefits is one possibility, McClintock said. And creating templates for homeowners to follow so they can easily do their own landscape design is another, she said.

Participants at the summit also agreed that a catchy slogan to promote the program would go a long way in raising public awareness. In line with the ubiquitous “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan, some of the ideas that came out of the focus groups included, “Go Native” and “Are You Native Yet?”

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Agreement at last . . . The Champion sisters and their neighbors came to an agreement, which the City Council readily approved Thursday. The tract will be allowed to have 6 flag lots for homes and the homes will be set back substantially from homes to the north of the tract. Once the agreement was reached, the neighbors withdrew their petition opposing the zoning change. The property, at the intersection of Loop 360 and FM 2222, is slated for much more substantial development, but the future of one tract remained in dispute . . . Stakeholders meeting in Wimberley. . . The Wimberley City Council is holding a stakeholders’ meeting at 9 a.m. this morning to hear from citizens on all ordinances so far adopted by the Council . . . Hyde Park plans postponed . . . City staff requested a postponement of consideration of neighborhood plans for Hyde Park and the Hyde Park Baptist Church yesterday. Neighbors and the church agreed on one thing: they must have a copy of the proposed plans at least two weeks before the next hearing date, Aug. 23, and they will not request a postponement from that date. Planner Greg Guernsey said staff was seeking the postponement because more property owners are requesting to be left out of the neighborhood plan . . . He still looks like a young man . . . The City Council honored Richard L. Harris, who is retiring from the Municipal Court Clerk's office after 32 years with the city. Harris has served as Deputy Municipal Court Clerk for several years.

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