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Travis Commissioners remove

Wednesday, October 10, 2001 by

Frate Barker Rd. from bond ballot

With Biscoe chaning his mind, majority opposes ballot item

Travis County Commissioners pulled Frate Barker Road off the November ballot yesterday, but not before questions were raised about how the controversial road project got so far without the City of Austin’s approval.

The court was already split on the $14 million road extension project, which Commissioners Ron Davis and Margaret Gomez firmly opposed. Frate Barker was put on the ballot as a separate proposition, leaving voters to decide. On Tuesday, County Judge Sam Biscoe regretfully withdrew his support for the Southwest Travis County project, intended to relieve congestion on Brodie Lane.

Biscoe said he had given the ballot proposition a lot of thought in light of the City Council decision on September 27 to remove the road from the city’s road plan. Biscoe said the unanimous vote gave the county a clear indication that the city “does not see Frate Barker as a viable transportation segment.”

“In my view, the good government thing to do was to put it off the ballot,” Biscoe admitted to the court when he opened discussion. “The main reason for this right now is that I don’t see myself to do an unfriendly condemnation against City Council.”

The majority—Davis, Gomez and Biscoe—voted to pull the project. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner abstained on the motion. In a speech to the court, Sonleitner said she was perplexed by the discrepancy between the wishes of the city and the action of the county on the project, especially given the letter from Planning Director Austan Librach that appeared to support the projects on the county ballot. Sonleitner stated her strong desire to “let the voters decide on the project,” but added that she could not justify putting herself in an adversarial position with the city.

Commissioner Todd Baxter, who represents the area where the road project was planned, was the most passionate advocate for the road. Baxter said it would be ill advised to pull the project from the ballot because it would send the message that the county didn’t trust the voters.

Frate Barker, Baxter told the court, should be no surprise to the city or the county. It had been on the Austin transportation plan since 1994, he pointed out, putting the road project ahead of the Proposition 2 bonds approved by Austin voters in 1997 (intended to protect the aquifer). Frate Barker, he said, would be built to all environmental standards set out by the city and federal government. Transportation solutions and environmental sensitivity are not mutually exclusive concepts, Baxter told commissioners.

Baxter was not the only one disappointed by the decision. Jim Mann of Shady Hollow, who also served on the political action committee to pass the bonds, called the decision to pull the road project a disgrace. To pull the ballot issue two weeks before early voting—after seven years of work by the neighborhood—amounted to an ambush, he told the court. Where was the trust in the voters, he asked.

“We are apparently so concerned about having an adverse proceeding against the City of Austin that we’re going to put ourselves in an adverse position with our voters, the electorate,” Mann said. “I wonder if we’re telling the electorate, ‘Please, come and pass this bond issue tomorrow, but if there’s something really bothersome, we might not want to go through with that, either. Please have confidence in us, but don’t really count on us.’“

Environmentalists were equally vehement, calling inclusion of the road “a back-room deal.” Sonleitner strongly contested that characterization. Mike Blizzard of the Save Our Springs Alliance said studies should be completed before the issue was taken to the voters. The road project left a lot of unanswered questions, such as what alignment the road would have, how many cars it would divert off of Brodie Lane and how the county would reimburse the city for Proposition 2 lands.

With or without Frate Barker, the county is committed to find other alternatives to address neighborhood concerns for traffic and safety issues, Biscoe said. Sonleitner also pledged her support to find a solution to the neighborhood’s transportation problems. Biscoe said he would put the issue of transportation parity among precincts on a future agenda.

Garcia, Mitchell and six

Also-rans on mayoral ballot

Several perennial candidates to reappear

Austin voters will have eight candidates to choose from when they vote in the November 6th special election to replace Mayor Kirk Watson. Twelve Austinites filed paperwork with the City Clerk’s office, but four of those were disqualified because of a an insufficient number of valid signatures on their petitions. Woody Burley, Byron R. Browne, John Harvard McPherson, and Dean Zegub all collected petition signatures instead of paying the filing fee, but the City Clerk’s Office determined their petitions were not valid.

Along with front-runner Gus Garcia and former Council Member Eric Mitchell, perennial candidates Jennifer Gale and Leslie Cochran are also running. They’re joined by Ray Blanchette, 70, best known for his long-standing legal battle with the city over his habit of collecting junk cars and scrap metal on a lot he owns in northeast Austin. Blanchette actually won a round in court in June, when a municipal judge ruled that Blanchette’s property did not violate the city’s nuisance ordinance. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2000 and for Mayor in 1997. David “Breadman” Blakey will also be on the ballot. He’s a charitable services worker who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2000 and also challenged State Rep. Glen Maxey in 1997. The remaining candidates are Allen Phillips and Greg Gordon.

While Mitchell is the only candidate other than Garcia with significant experience in local politics, he has not mounted much of a campaign so far. Mitchell has held no campaign announcements and reports no campaign expenditures. A friend of Mitchell’s told In Fact Daily that Mitchell does plan to have a press conference on his candidacy.

The only candidate other than Garcia to actually mount a campaign at this point is 29-year-old business owner Greg Gordon. Gordon, a former UT student who left school before graduation to start his own catering company, once volunteered for the George W. Bush campaign. He held a news conference Tuesday at the Omni Hotel to announce his candidacy. He lists his priorities as public safety, economic diversity, public transportation (including road construction in South and Southwest Austin) and affordable housing. He has no previous political experience, but lists community involvement with the Chamber of Commerce and Red Cross. “I love this city and I want to help fix the problems facing our economy,” Gordon said. Key positions of his platform, including his stand on economic incentives for luring the AMD plant to Austin, are explained on his web site at www.greggordon.net.

Last night, the Stonewall Democrats of Austin, a group of mainly gay and lesbian Democrats, announced its endorsement of Garcia. According to press release quoting SDA co-chair Stan Main, “Gus is a friend to the gay and lesbian community in Austin and a supporter of inclusion and equal rights for all citizens of this city. He has shown himself to be an experienced, intelligent and dedicated public servant.” See Whispers for Garcia’s campaign finance report.

Council hears from Onion

Creek: "Don't annex us."

Luckens responds firmly to residents on tax issue

The City Council was met with open hostility last night from Onion Creek residents at the second of two public hearings to discuss a 1,200-acre annexation scheduled for the end of 2003. Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas did not attend the hearing.

More than 150 mostly white, tanned and affluent residents crowded into a room at the Onion Creek Club, and they were not in a friendly mood. They described the city’s action as a hostile takeover. They snickered at talk of the city’s garbage pick-up services, describing city services as clearly inferior to the county’s. One man got up to say he believed the city would increase his tax bill by 23 percent. Several speakers implied they would be more than pleased to go to the polls and vote the City Council out of office.

“We chose this area for a reason,” Irma Underwood told Council members. “I chose where I live, and people I had no choice in voting for have decided that I should change my services. I feel that before a decision is made that happens to a community, that community should have some say in what I do.”

The talk of city departments did not appear to appease residents. Most questioned the city’s legal right to annex land into the city. After some discussion, city planner Ben Luckens acknowledged that annexation was a method for the City of Austin to raise money. It was a way, he told the audience, that cities afford to underwrite the cost of the regional services they provide.

“I’m not embarrassed by this at all,” Luckens said. “It’s a way for cities to remain healthy.”

Luckens added that city residents pay 75 percent of the tax bill for county services. So while some people may move to the outskirts of town to avoid paying higher taxes, they’re just passing off the cost of their services to others who live in the city, Luckens said. Cut out city taxpayers’ contribution to the county services, and the services would be entirely different. “You can’t stay in that catbird seat forever,” he said.

Travis County appointed five people Tuesday to negotiate on the area’s behalf in the annexation process with the city. A final service plan must be in place by June 2002. Arbitration, if necessary, would last through October 2002. Annexation would take place on the last day of 2003, and the first city tax bill for residents would arrive in October 2004. Taxes would be due in early 2005.

City staff members did point to a number of newer facilities in South Austin that would serve the proposed area for annexation, including a fairly new fire station and a police sector facility. Six additional police officers were recently approved for the sector in which Onion Creek would be placed when annexed, residents were told. The city would take over street maintenance. Homeowner association deed restrictions would stand.

Council Member Daryl Slusher defended the advantages of annexation to the residents, explaining that city services would provide quicker police response time, more police officers and the same EMS services that are currently provided. The area also would have the benefit of the city’s zoning laws, Slusher said.

The annexed area would include the Onion Creek subdivision, as well as undeveloped land owned by Lumberman’s Investment Corp. and the proposed Legends Way subdivision. Those who would like a copy of the service plan can email their request to Ben Luckens at benluckens@ci.austin.tx.us.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jumping on the bandwagon . . . Some familiar names in Austin and Texas politics are lining up to show their financial support for the Gus Garcia mayoral campaign. Two prominent Garcia donors are former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Other contributors include CAMPO executive director Michael Aulick, attorney John Joseph of Minter, Joseph and Thornhill (along with several other people at the firm), lawyer David Armbrust and developer Matt Mathias. Garcia’s campaign reports having raised $59,630, all in increments of $25 to $100. Total expenditures were reported at $24,094 . . . Arguments about Seton and Brackenridge . . . As In Fact Daily went to press last night, the members of the Brackenridge Hospital Oversight Committee were hearing public comment about plans for the proposed hospital within a hospital system. Members of the board have expressed serious concerns about the option that city management has presented. Two members in particular said they are worried about a possible deterioration in patient care. A briefing on how the hospital would administer emergency contraceptive services was postponed. City Manager Jesus Garza told the board the decision could not be put off until after next month’s meeting. He stressed the need for the committee to provide some input to the Council as soon as possible. The change in services is necessitated by a ruling of the Catholic Church . . . A popular guy . . . Christian Smith of the county’s Planning and Budget Office appeared to be the big draw at the dunking booth at the combined charities kick-off for Travis County. The event raised $6,800 toward the county’s charitable giving goal of $170,000 this year. Last year, the county raised $150,000 . . . Subdivision rollback near Bee Caves . . . Travis County Commissioners have approved the rollback of subdivision plats for the Ribera Canyons subdivision outside Bee Caves Village. The new owner, 6D Ranch Ltd, is expected to combine the land with adjacent property to launch a new project . . . More about trees . . . In support of Austinites’ desire to do something meaningful in memory of the victims of September 11 and victims of terror worldwide, TreeFolks is expanding its tree seedling giveaway into Northwest and South Austin. The seedlings will be handed out in Guero’s patio, 1412 South Congress, at noon on October 24 and at Cedar Park City Hall, 600 North Bell Boulevard, at noon on October 31. Due to heavy demand, trees will be limited to one per person. For more information log on to www.treefolks.org or call (512) 443-5323 . . . Dental clinic for kids . . . St. David’s Foundation plans to roll out Theo’s Tooth Mobile, a traveling dental clinic for Austin children, at 11:30 a.m. today at Zavala Elementary School. The project is described as “a collaborative project to provide dental care to children who may not otherwise have access to care.” Theo’s Tooth Mobile will visit 46 AISD elementary and middle schools during the 2001-02 school year. Project sponsors include the St. David’s Foundation, the Central Texas Children’s Dental Health Collaborative, 3M Corporation and Austin Energy.

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