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Garcia tells SBCA local water

Tuesday, September 25, 2001 by

Supply needs increased security

Mayoral candidate got bored during short retirement

Gus Garcia told a friendly crowd at the Save Barton Creek Association last night that retirement had become boring.He said he had briefly thought he and his wife might move to Mexico, but the former Mayor Pro Tem said they did not want to leave their grandchildren and their longtime home.

The leading candidate—some would say the only viable candidate—for Mayor still wants more green space, even though he knows the 2003 budget will be even tighter than for FY 2002. Perhaps the recession will lower land prices, giving the city some unexpected opportunities to acquire environmentally sensitive land. The former AISD board president has not lost his interest in schoolchildren. He said 65 percent of the district’s students are minorities, and he accused district officials of fabricating improved scores on standardized tests. “Teachers are teaching kids how to takes tests,” Garcia said, instead of really teaching them how to learn. He said Austin’s economy depends on a good educational system and vowed to help on that front.

Garcia also reminded his listeners of the events of September 11, saying he had recognized since the terrorist attack that Austin’s water plants are vulnerable to poisoning. He said he would be working on increased security for those all-important facilities, adding that he is not worried about Austin Energy’s plants. He said the electrical system is sufficiently decentralized to protect the city from that sort of attack.

Garcia, who was dressed comfortably in tennis shoes like much of his audience, said he has thus far raised $52,000, adding that the $100 per person contribution limit makes fundraising difficult. He said he expected Jennifer Gale, Leslie Cochran and Daniel Nazar, all political unknowns, to be on the ballot with him. Former Council Member Eric Mitchell first called to say he was going to file for Mayor and later called to say he would just have a write-in campaign, Garcia said. He said he does not believe that radio personality Sammy Allred would run and that attorney Bob Binder has not returned his phone calls. In response to a question about County Republican Party Chair Alan Sager, Garcia said the American-Statesman gives Sager too much ink. Sager has said he is looking for a Republican to run for Mayor. In response to another query, Garcia said he would be willing to support a vehicle emissions inspection program to deal with Austin’s deteriorating air quality.

Neighbors tell MoPac/ US 183

Advisors of TxDOT's shortcomings

Expansion could mean loss of many homes

The team of outside consultants hired to assist Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) in coming up with appropriate alternatives for congestion on MoPac and Highway 183 got an earful Monday, but the public meeting was pretty tame by Austin standards. Representatives of city and county neighborhoods did most of the talking, much of it critical of the Texas Department of Transportation. One of their major concerns is that TxDOT is proposing removal of up to 150 homes in order to build HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes and longer exit and entrance ramps.

Sid Covington, representing Travis County neighborhoods, said the number one complaint is, “We don’t think there has been a public input process.” He said there has been a “public hearing process, but we don’t think (public comment) been heard and acted upon. This gets moving like a steam ship,” and then the highway is built as TxDOT wants it.

Ian Inglis, co-chair of MONAC (MoPac Neighborhoods Alliance) said, “I’ve been involved with the public process and I haven’t been impressed.” For example, he said he suggested lowering the speed limit back down to 55 miles per hour on MoPac. At the next hearing, he saw the result: that lowering the speed limit was listed in a category of “things they could not consider . . . That was sort of reflective of the input process we went through. Folks were deaf. TxDOT had HOV lines in mind from the outset. This is a big deal in our neighborhood . . . Safety of our homes is a neighborhood concern.” Since the speed limit was raised to 65 mph, he said, “We’re starting to see is people crashing through the back fences into our neighbors’ backyards. We haven’t seen anybody hurt yet. We also see some of the fences catching on fire from cigarettes.”

Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told the team, “The neighborhoods (along MoPac) understandably have very long memories on this project. They think they were promised things back in the mid-70s,” that they never got, such as noise abatement. “We have a history of having a lot of reports that sit on a shelf. I am not interested in a report that will sit on the shelf.”

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, who chairs the CAMPO Policy Advisory Committee, told the seven-member team, “ I know it sounds like something you’ve heard before. We want you to fix the problem, but don’t do anything.”

Paul Bay, a highway/rail joint-use consultant from Redmond, Washington, is the team leader. He said, “It’s not possible for us to know more about your community than you do. What we might be able to do and I hope we can is bring a new perspective to what is obviously a very difficult and controversial set of issues . . . we might see a new perspective. To make that happen, it will also require a willingness of all parties to come in and take a new look, just as we will as outsiders, not that we as experts know more than you. We couldn’t possibly know that.”

The team is expected to present its findings and recommendations to the committee on Friday.

Second empowerment zone

Meeting calmer than first

Critics still not happy with 'top down' approach

Another public meeting for Austin’s Empowerment Zone application drew a smaller but more supportive crowd last night, but the process still has critics.

Organizers count another five meetings—including a public hearing on Oct. 8—before the application for a federal Empowerment Zone in East Austin is submitted before a deadline recently extended to Oct. 22.

Austin’s move to neighborhood plans, mayoral candidate Gus Garcia told the crowd at Rosewood Zaragosa Community Center, puts the city in a much better stead this year. This is also the third round of the program, meaning the nation’s most blighted areas have already been addressed. Garcia stressed that the process was open and urged the community to participate.

“The goal of the group that organized the process at the outset is to reach out as far as possible,” Garcia told a crowd of about 30. “We have said from the outset that we want this to be as broad a community effort as possible.”

Joseph Martinez, vice-chair of the Zoning and Platting Commission and a member of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team, led the meeting. Monday night’s meeting, like last week’s, eventually broke up into small discussion groups. Group leaders came prepared this week with a presentation and a handout to answer some of the more pressing issues from the last meeting.

Dusty McCormick, chair of the Rosewood Neighborhood Planning Team, admitted that their plan had faced a roadblock in the community because of a “significant lack of information.”

Local residents questioned the shortened timeline, McCormick said. They questioned the initial zone map. And they had an overall mistrust of the grassroots benefits the title of “Empowerment Zone” might bring. The publisher of one local newspaper called the results of prior efforts of the city, “poverty pimping,” meaning that the resulting programs created breaks for outside businesses but brought few benefits to the local community.

“There’s a litany of stories that people are able to tell you that speak to the issues that occurred in our local area that are linked to government,” admitted McCormick, who supports the application. “Maybe there was a situation that was not intentional where the information didn’t get out, or they didn’t get everybody included. That can happen. I think the more meetings we have and the more information that gets out, the more questions we’ll answer.”

For Rosewood, the Empowerment Zone would be the impetus for neighborhood leaders to create a non-profit corporation to seek grants to rehabilitate homes of the area’s senior citizens and create more affordable housing opportunities, McCormick said. This is a neighborhood where people grow up in the local projects, but can find no affordable house to buy when they move up to a more stable income.

“We want to be able to provide and build affordable housing when they move out of Booker T (Washington),” McCormick said. “This would be there first major asset, and we don’t to have to make them leave the neighborhood where they grew up to buy it.”

Melvin Wrenn, whose company authored the slum and blight study for the creation of East Austin’s ARA, has been one of the most vocal critics during the Empowerment Zone meetings. He has doubts the city can pull off the application because this round, like the one in 1994, is being run from the top down. City staff members were familiarized with the Empowerment Zone application as far back as June, Wrenn said. That’s when the process of encouraging neighborhoods should have started.

“At that point, the city should have pulled in various neighborhood groups and had an introduction to it and formed the small groups we have now,” Wrenn said. “This proposal is top down versus bottom up, but the community should be driving the proposal . . . I don’t think that’s going to happen in the next three weeks.”

The city has applied for grants and created incentives to address blighted areas—and cited East Austin as a part of the inner city—but most of the money has been channeled to downtown Austin, Wrenn said. New services and new development remains west of Interstate 35. Poverty remains east of Interstate 35 with few signs of any change.

Wrenn pointed out that the city had also overlooked two other key factors: the need to pull local business into the proposal as key participants and the failure to launch studies that could provide quantifiable figures on health, safety and poverty. Without those numbers, it’s hard to prioritize Austin as being more important than any other applicant, he said. It’s hard to prove Austin is any more needy than San Antonio or Dallas, Wrenn said.

While he praised the participation of the chamber in the effort, Wrenn also criticized the city for not sending department representatives. Stronger applications, he said, include the assessment and commitment of people across the city. It also includes a clear assessment of what the city does and does not offer the neighborhood in its budget.

Wrenn gives Austin’s proposal a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding. He said he hopes some hard questions and a look at the current RFQ and successful proposals of other cities will improve Austin’s chances for its Empowerment Zone.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Arnold attacks Hailey. . . Open space activist Mary Arnold yesterday accused Jay Hailey, the lawyer for Lumbermen’s Investment Corp. (LIC), of “engaging in scare tactics meant to obscure the relevant issues,” relating to LIC’s proposed 180-foot condo building north of Town Lake. Arnold was referring to Hailey’s assertion that his client will build a 220-foot office and/or condo on the site, since that site plan was approved in the 1980s. Arnold also quoted 86-year-old park advocate Roberta Crenshaw, another opponent of the project, saying she is “appalled at his behavior.” Hailey told the Downtown Commission last week that his client prefers to build the newly redesigned project, but would build according to the old site plan if the CURE zoning LIC seeks is rejected. On Monday, Hailey told In Fact Daily that he still believes his assertion to be true. He said LIC currently has permission to build under the old site plan and would have to get a zoning change to build anything else, if the requested zoning is not approved. He said he believes LIC would not want to spend “a whole lot more money” to go through the zoning process again. In a press release, Arnold wrote that the LBJ Holding Co.“has seemingly dropped out of the project, leaving Lumberman’s Corporation, the owner of the tract, to go it alone.” In Fact Daily could not reach a spokesman for LBJ to confirm whether the company is still involved. Hailey said the position of the LBJ Holding Co. has not changed. “They’re waiting to see what happens,” he said, noting that LIC owns the property. Consultant Mike Blizzard said Monday that Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman have said they are opposed to the zoning change. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the request Thursday . . . Honoring victims of terrorism . . . TreeFolks, a local non-profit urban forestry organization, has announced it will expand its annual tree seedling giveaway in response to the tragic events of September 11. Every Wednesday in October at noon, TreeFolks staff and volunteers will hand out free trees at a different Austin location to honor victims of terrorism. The first location will be the northwest corner of Sixth and Congress on Wednesday, October 3 . . . CAMPO study . . . For those who can’t wait to hear more about MoPac . . . The technical team (see above) will meet with representatives of MoPac neighborhood organizations at 5:30pm today and with representatives of US 183 neighborhoods at the same time Wednesday. Both meetings are scheduled for the Liberty Room of the Omni Hotel . . . Hays County parks and open space meeting . . . Tonight will be the first meeting for public input on the Hays County plan. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. at Susie Fuentes Elementary School in Kyle.

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