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ZAP Commission hopes to

Thursday, October 25, 2001 by

Keep more zoning cases

New ordinance could slow down development review

Members of the Zoning and Platting Commission have sent a message that they are not happy with proposed changes in the jurisdiction of ZAP and the Planning Commission. That proposal stems, at least in part, from changes in the Neighborhood Planning process. Staff and members of the new Planning Commission have recommended that that body, not the ZAP Commission, have authority to act as the land-use commission for the Downtown area, the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site and any property within the boundaries of a proposed neighborhood plan. It is the last of the three changes that most worries ZAP commissioners, since the Planning Commission’s jurisdiction would begin with “the effective date of a Council resolution or ordinance directing the Planning Commission to consider a neighborhood plan for an identified area.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the ZAP commission voted 7-0 to recommend that the City Council amend the proposed ordinance to leave jurisdiction over Downtown zoning and other land use matters with ZAP, but allow the Planning Commission to take over jurisdiction in the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport area. The proposal for areas designated for neighborhood planning was also changed. Commissioners Keith Jackson and Diana Castañeda were absent. However, Chair Betty Baker said she had talked to both of them and they were in agreement with the rest of the commission, except that Castañeda wanted ZAP to retain authority over Robert Mueller.

Baker started the discussion by asking Commissioner Jean Mather to discuss why Downtown zoning should remain in the Zoning and Platting Commission’s hands. Mather said, “For the Downtown to remain the responsibility of the Planning Commission will only serve to increase its workload and possibly delay other plans. Downtown is the heart of the city and what occurs there concerns all citizens of Austin.” She noted that development and redevelopment of Downtown usually involves large, expensive projects. Delays for such projects are particularly costly. It would be much more expedient for staff to review and make recommendations on individual zoning projects than for the Planning Commission to try to formulate a neighborhood plan for an area that is not really a neighborhood, she said, noting that the average neighborhood plan takes nine to 18 months.

Commissioner Michael Casias took the lead in discussing why the Zoning and Platting Commission, not the Planning Commission, should have jurisdiction over areas just getting into neighborhood planning, as opposed to those with plans ready for approval. “This is why we took some of the work away from the Planning Commission—so they would have more time for planning,” he said. When a plan is ready to be presented at a public hearing, the Planning Commission should take over jurisdiction. Before that happens, Casias said, “The neighborhood is still formulating and meeting. If you send cases (to the Planning Commission) at that point, then you defeat the purpose of why we separated the commissions.”

Commissioner Niyanta Spelman strongly agreed, saying, “During that time before the neighborhood plan is adopted, it’s a moving target.”

Baker helped fellow commissioners put their thoughts into ordinance language. Their final product states, “If a zoning application is filed within the boundaries of a neighborhood plan for which a proposed plan has been presented to the neighborhood at a noticed public hearing, the jurisdiction for such as an application would be at the Planning Commission.” All other applications would go to the ZAP. The ordinance presented by city staff would have sent all zoning cases to the Planning Commission for areas where the City Council had directed the Planning Commission to start a neighborhood plan.

Baker concluded, “On behalf of the commission and myself, this is not an us and them situation. We are trying to make things work more smoothly for us and for the public for which we work.”

Federal deregulation proposals

Worry LCRA, other providers

Mandell says changes on Congressional agenda

Business may have slowed on Capitol Hill, but Congress continues to push to pass a bill on electric deregulation this session, the Lower Colorado River Authority board heard from staff yesterday.

Missy Mandell, executive advisor for external affairs, handles the LCRA’s federal representation. She told the LCRA board that the Capitol is officially open for business, and that business includes swift movement on electric restructuring, despite a lack of consensus among the administration, Congress and electric utilities. That unnerves many of the larger community-owned utilities like the LCRA, Mandell admitted. The LCRA is part of the Large Public Power Council, or LPPC, a coalition of the 24 largest community-owned utilities.

Issues on the table include how to open up markets, the best ways to ensure adequate power generation and how to provide consumer choice without a repeat of California’s problems, Mandell said. One of the most controversial issues is the correct structure for a national electric grid. The same problems that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is grappling with on a state level are now the fodder of national debate.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has therefore proposed creating four national Regional Transmission Organizations, or RTOs. Utilities like the LCRA are expected to commit to one of the RTOs by Dec. 15. Groups like the LPPC worry that the RTO model may be a “one size fits all” approach. Leaders of FERC plan to move forward with the plan, despite some doubts raised by the LPPC and others that the country is moving too fast without considering the risks and benefits, Mandell said.

“At least from our perspective, the question is how do you balance short-term risk with long-term benefits so that the short-term benefits will not be damaging to the system,” Mandell said.

On the Senate side, lawmakers continue pushing to add electric restructuring to the anticipated energy bill, and that could cause some problems, Mandell told the board. Because of some of the more controversial provisions of the bill—like drilling in Alaska—leaders want to bypass the committee process and go straight to the Senate floor. That could short-circuit any opportunities for negotiation on electric restructuring. The administration continues to meet with utility leaders on the issue.

On the House side, the issue of FERC’s authority has been raised, Mandell said. Negotiations could include giving FERC authority over ERCOT, which to date has been exempt from federal authority. The LCRA is opposed to FERC having such broad power. Mandell said the fight has turned political. At an LPPC meeting in Georgia over the weekend, one House energy committee member told LPPC members that if a Texas President and Texan Pat Wood of FERC planned to broaden FERC’s authority, then he planned to introduce an amendment that Texas’ ERCOT could be the first to fall under FERC’s new authority.

“He made it quite clear that he would personally introduce ERCOT under FERC jurisdiction,” Mandell said. “He said if our President was from Texas and the head of FERC was from Texas, then it was not fair for Texas not to have the same advantages as the rest of the country.”

Mandell said the LCRA would continue to monitor progress on the electric restructuring issue, and she would continue to be involved in representing the LCRA’s interests at the table.

LCRA chief says task force

Working on security measures

Board advised to say agency handling security appropriately

A new security task force for the Lower Colorado River Authority met with General Manager Joe Beal last week to outline goals for the new group.Beal reported on those efforts at yesterday’s LCRA board meeting. Beal said he challenged the task force on a number of issues, asking them to take what security measures had been implemented by other professionals and apply them to the LCRA. He also asked the group to identify and prioritize security actions, identify the cost of those actions, and pinpoint federal and state funding sources to underwrite the new security measures.

A plan for implementation may require changes in policy, Beal told the board members. He also told board members the LCRA had received a number of threats and harassing phone calls, which the authority had handled in the manner outlined by the FBI. Such threats, Beal said, are not uncommon for the industry.

“I will tell you that I have—more than ever—an appreciation for the fact that we do have peace officers that are part of our staff,” Beal told the board. “Not many public power entities across the nation have the capacity that we have—and (they) wish they did have now. We’ve been able to respond very quickly.”

Board members who are asked by constituents how the LCRA is protecting water sources should say the agency is on top of security and that “we are appropriately protecting the facilities that need to be protected,” Beal said. “That’s all you need to say. I wouldn’t say anything else.”

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New TMC revealed . . . City Council Members and Austin transportation officials showed off the improved Traffic Management Center on Toomey Road near Lamar on Tuesday. In the 1998 bond election, voters approved money for a new system to synchronize traffic lights and monitor traffic flow. Mayor Watson praised several city staffers for helping to bring the new system on-line, including Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department Director Austan Librach, Public Works Department Director Peter Rieck and Sue Brubaker with the purchasing division of the Finance Department. Watson also thanked Council Member Daryl Slusher for his dedication to the project and his enthusiasm for synchronizing traffic lights. “I used to joke that when you talk to Daryl Slusher, if you asked him ‘could you turn that light on?’ he would first ask you ‘are they synchronized?’ He took it very seriously,” Watson said . . . Loss expected at LCRA . . . The private sector is not alone in its money woes. The Lower Colorado River Authority is anticipating a net loss of $16 million this year, according to a report from the board’s finance and administration committee. The losses are tied to a one-time write-off for capital expenditures associated with bringing the new power plant at Lost Pines in Bastrop on-line. The losses will not require a rate increase for customers . . . Oops! . . . While admitting that life is uncertain, a spokesman for Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said Wednesday that she will be back for Thursday’s City Council meeting, even though she will not be there at 10am. In Fact Daily was in error quoting him as saying that there was a possibility that Goodman might miss the meeting altogether . . . Secret plan to elect a mayor?. . Alan Sager, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, has written to Republican donors asking for funds for a get out the vote effort. The letter indicates that the party would be endorsing a mayoral candidate who “most fits our Republican views and we believe there will be at least one.” Sager told In Fact Daily yesterday that the party’s local issues committee had interviewed all eight candidates for mayor and would soon be making a choice. Sager said, however, that Republicans did not intend to send out a press release because they want to do their get out the vote effort “quietly.” He said the party is also supporting Travis County Bond Propositions 1, 3 and 4. He said Republicans are opposed to Proposition 2, which would provide $28.6 million to acquire parkland and build park facilities. Sager described Prop. 2 as “too much of a boondoggle (that) requires too much money down the line.” We think the lucky candidate might be the one who says he did volunteer work for the President, Greg Gordon . . . Celebrity block-walking. . . Former Mayor of San Antonio Henry Cisneros plans to help get out the vote for mayoral candidate Gus Garcia this Saturday. At 2 pm, Cisneros, Garcia and neighborhood leaders will begin walking door-to-door to remind residents of the Tillery Square area that absentee voting is in progress. At 2:30pm, the campaign will move to the HEB at 2701 East 7th St, an early voting location. Activities will conclude with a Get Out the Vote rally at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. 6th St. Early voting runs through Nov. 2 . . . SOS alerts members about possible road funds . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance yesterday sent an email to its members urging them to ask the Council to oppose a $27 million for right-of-way and “utility relocation” proposal for the Mopac North extension. This is the same item the Council had delayed two months ago at the request of Mopac neighbors. But some of those neighbors now support the funding. SOSA leader Bill Bunch argues that the Council should vote no or postpone consideration of the project until CAMPO has committed to preserve the neighborhoods along Mopac, as well as the environment. SOSA has also sent a newsletter to supporters urging them to vote against all of Travis County’s bond propositions.

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