Wednesday, August 15, 2001 by

Watson runs with gusto;

Garcia files treasurer forms

Council to set Nov. 6 election next week

An energized and enthusiastic Mayor Kirk Watson set out on his quest to be Texas Attorney General Tuesday, but promised Austinites he would continue to be their mayor until his successor is elected. Watson, who said he had talked with 34 other news organizations yesterday, introduced himself to members of the Capitol press corps as he stopped by their offices for one-on-one interviews. He said he is not ready to “get into the specifics” of the campaign. “I just need to get the ball rolling,” he said.

So far, Watson’s campaign staff includes Margaret Justus, press secretary, pollster Anna Bennett of Petts & Blumenthal, and Tom Meredith, finance chair. Meredith, former Dell chief financial officer, should provide Watson with high tech dollars to battle Republican Attorney General John Cornyn’ s war chest, much of which may come from insurance companies and their lawyers. Watson said he would be making decisions on a few more staff members in the next 10 days, but wants to keep the organization lean to save money.

Watson said he knows of no other Democratic candidates for Attorney General. He said he has received so much encouragement from around the state that he is optimistic about his chances of entering the primary without an opponent.

Watson’s announcement creates a vacancy in the office of mayor, but does not mean that he would not continue to serve until the next mayor is elected—presumably on Nov. 6. As noted in an Attorney General opinion last year, “A municipal officer who automatically resigns pursuant to article XI, section 11, holds over in office until his successor qualifies for office.” (From Tex. Att'y Gen. Op. No. JC-0318, 2000) He said he had informed City Manager Jesus Garza of the need to put the setting of the election on next week’s Council agenda. The nearly three months between now and election day should give citizens an opportunity to decide who they want to be their next mayor, and November elections typically bring out more voters than those at other times of the year.

A trial lawyer, Watson said Tuesday that he’s not yet ready to talk about specific issues or criticize Cornyn. For now, the message from his campaign is: “The Attorney General should apply the law justly and fairly and use common sense. The law should not be used to advance the next election; it should be used to benefit the next generation.”

Meanwhile, former Council Member Gus Garcia lost no time in designating a campaign treasurer for his race to be the first Hispanic mayor of Austin. Longtime friend and Democratic Party stalwart Robert Chapa Sr. will serve in that capacity.

Garcia said he had not decided when to hold a press conference on his candidacy because the Council has not yet called the election. Normally, he said, a candidate announces that he has officially filed for a position. He cannot file for the election until after next week’s Council meeting. Garcia noted that next Thursday would be the 41st anniversary of his marriage to his wife, Marina.

David Butts, who has advised a large number of winning City Council candidates—will serve as campaign consultant, Garcia said. Butts’ frequent partner in Council campaigns, Mark Yznaga—who also served as Garcia’s aide for some time—said he is not yet sure whether he will be participating in the campaign. Yznaga’s wife is State Rep. Ann Kitchen.

Former Save Our Springs Alliance Chair Robin Rather said, “I’m really happy Gus is running and I completely support his campaign.” Rather said Garcia has the right values and credentials to take over as mayor. “He’s an environmentalist and he’s completely ready for the job,” she said. Rather and her husband, David Murray, are new parents, having adopted a baby boy, who will be nine weeks old on Thursday, she said. Rather did not rule out a future mayoral race for herself. She said, “I would love to run.”

Council Member Beverly Griffith, who is on vacation in Colorado, said she has been having conversations with numerous people about the environment, affordable housing and neighborhood protection. She said she had not arrived at a decision on whether she would run for mayor this year. Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman have both said they would not run against Garcia.

Developers competing for Mueller

Redevelopment narrowed to three

Lennar Partners, Mueller Redevelopment Team,Catellus Development get nod

Three developers— Lennar Partners Austin, Mueller Redevelopment Team and Catellus Development Corp—will be asked to submit business plans to redevelop the site of the city’s former airport.

The final choice on a master developer won’t be made by the City Council until next March. Between now and then, the three developers will be asked to submit an extended business plan. And the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Implementation Commission—which heard the short list of developer candidates last night—wants to have input in the decision-making process.

Purchasing Officer Sue Brubaker and Sue Edwards, director of Redevelopment Services, presented the final list of developers invited to offer a business plan.

Lennar Partners contracted with the City of Vallejo, California to redevelop the 650-acre Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Catellus Development Corp. has signed on to develop two major public-private projects in the San Francisco Bay area: Mission Bay with the City of San Francisco and Pacific Commons with the City of Fremont. Mueller Redevelopment Team is a coalition of companies that have already done business in Austin: DR Horton/Milburn Homes, JPI, Cousins Properties and Cencor Realty Services. Another three developers, Staubach Co/West Group of Dallas, WorkPlace USA of Dallas and Bryan Properties of Holly Springs, NC, failed to make the cut. The three finalists will make their presentations to the implementation commission by early February.

Last night’s implementation commission meeting was not a formal meeting because the group failed to achieve a quorum. Brubaker and Edwards, however, presented the names to the group. The first topic of discussion that followed was about how much information could be released to the public, given the proprietary nature of the developer’s plans.

Chair Jim Walker argued that some portion of the information about the developers’ plans—even in the form of an executive summary—should be made public before the oral presentations.

“I’m worried about waiting until January or February to get a look at who the teams are,” said Walker, who wanted to allay fears of neighborhood groups about what the developers intended to do. “Even an executive summary is going to be better than nothing.”

Walker and Commissioner Matt Moore also wanted to make sure that the developers closely follow the intentions of the ROMA plan whenever possible and avoid sidestepping the goals of that plan during the development process. Moore compared it to the making of a movie. A director can be given an idea, but any number of movies could be made from the same idea. Edwards assured Moore that items in the development agreement—like the one with CSC Corp.—would be negotiated to the last detail.

“The controlling document is a contract. That’s binding,” Brubaker said. “A breach of contract is not something that they want to do, or we want to do.”

Brubaker said the provisions and elements under the contract would be the city’s safeguard. The city would not hesitate to yank the contract and hand it to the next company on the list if the master developer failed to follow city guidelines, Brubaker assured commissioners. The city will spend at least nine months negotiating the details and expectations of development with the contractor, Edwards said. The developer will also have to comply with zoning guidelines.

“We will go through every detail about the development and it will outline what they can do and what they can’t do,” Edwards said. “As painstaking as the CSC documents were to complete, I’m very glad we have those documents now that we have retailers coming in to do Second Street.”

Walker intends to draft his own list of concerns he would like to see addressed in the business plan. Those issues include balance of lease versus sale of land and how the developer will protect and develop right-of-way set aside for light rail or any other future transit needs. Walker also wanted to know the process for amending the plan.

Edwards told him the process for amendments could be drafted by the city but required some input from the developer. The city has strong controls on the process, Edwards said. When it came to the CSC project, the city had requirements down to the pavers in the road and the knobs on the doors.

“I’ll get used to this thing of telling them,” Walker said of the process. “I like that.”

Walker said he understood the developer’s goal of turning a reasonable profit on the Mueller project. For instance, Walker pointed out, the Mueller neighborhood had agreed to denser development on the project if the developer deemed it necessary after proper analysis. The neighborhood can be flexible as long as the goals of the project are not sacrificed, he said.

Commission committee wants

To speed up neighborhood plans

New panel may set separate rules for Plan postponements

New suggestions are on the table to revamp the neighborhood planning process, even as the Planning Commission moves toward its redeployment as two separate commissions next month.

Neighborhood planning is one of a number of issues the Comprehensive Plan committee of the Planning Commission is focusing on. Last week, commissioners divided feedback on neighborhood planning into the categories of process, plan development and global issues and will tackle each area one at a time. The first topic was process, and commissioners agreed a position on plan postponements was important.

Commissioners on the committee— Chair Jim Robertson, Ben Heimsath, Lydia Ortiz and Robin Cravey—were in agreement that neighborhood postponements are used too frequently. Delaying votes at the Planning Commission usually takes little more than a wish stated by an interested party under current procedure. Neighborhood plans, however, should have their own separate standards and policy.

Widespread participation in National Night Out might be a viable reason for delaying consideration of a plan, Robertson told his colleagues. Thrashing out an issue—such as a new vote on the airport overlay—might be considered. Another week or two to review a plan is not an adequate reason, he told commissioners. After some discussion, commissioners agreed to draft a recommendation to the full commission on how, and under what circumstances, neighborhood plan votes should be delayed.

It is important, Heimsath said, to establish the date of the public hearing early and stick to it "barring catastrophic or unusual circumstances.” Delays would be “on only rare occasions,” Robertson agreed.

Committee members made other points, not the least of which was the fact that the city's planning departments and the Planning Commission need to be more closely aligned. Both groups tend to make decisions in isolation, they agreed. Robertson said the commission should be highly conversant on the priorities and goals of the department as opposed to occasionally and briefly talking at meetings.

Commissioners also added that the city is not simply a facilitator in the planning process; instead, the city should be a player at the table with its own interests and priorities to present. The city's goals for city facilities, for instance, should be incorporated into the overall neighborhood plan. The friction between SMART housing and opposition to multi-family development are dueling priorities and the interests of the neighborhood must be balanced with the priorities of the city, Heimsath said.

The committee also will recommend commissioners of the new Planning Commission get involved in the neighborhood planning process during initial meetings, at the recommendation of Carol Barrett, assistant director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning. Commissioners can often advocate for other city priorities where staff members cannot, Heimsath said. The goal of the commissioner would be to push the group toward solutions. Commissioners also expressed a desire to have at least one commissioner with knowledge of the plan before it gets to the Planning Commission so that decisions can be more thoughtful.

Future committee topics of discussion will include outreach efforts and the ballot process, which commissioners stated they would prefer to be a tool for input rather than a definitive vote on a plan. The goal would be more qualitative, as well as quantitative, results. Selection of neighborhood planning teams, the coordination of plans and planning areas and consensus building will also be considered in the discussion.

The scope of neighborhood plans also was a topic of discussion. Ortiz pointed out the scope of neighborhood plans was often beyond simple land use issues. Other city departments should be aware of neighborhood plans – such as sidewalks, libraries or economic development issues – and agree to make them priorities. Capital Improvement Project plans should dovetail with neighborhood planning goals, Robertson said. Discussions will continue as the committee meets at noon today.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

They warned you . . . City water officials said yesterday that Austinites used more than 240 million gallons on Monday. Not only was it a record for use, but 240 million is the magic number. Use of that much water on one day is supposed to trigger mandatory water regulations. But Laurie Lentz, a department spokesperson, said officials had decided not to take that step unless water consumption reaches that level again. However, she stressed that three days at 235 million gallons or one more day at 240 million will be the last straw for a system already stretched by a long hot summer and mechanical problems . . . Houston theatre district needs help . . . The Austin Theatre Alliance is organizing a benefit—called H2O (Helping Houston Out) for the storm-ravaged district, which suffered millions of dollars of damage during Tropical Storm Allison. The benefit is set for 8 p.m. Aug. 27. Featured performers include: Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Musical Theatre, Austin Symphony, State Theatre Company, Tapestry Dance Company, Women in Jazz, and Zachary Scott Theatre. Texas author Kinky Friedman, blues man Guy Forsyth and rock musician Patrice Pike have also joined the growing line up. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson will serve as master of ceremonies. Tickets for H2O are available at the Paramount Theatre box office and all Star Ticket Outlets, or charged by phone at 469-SHOW.

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