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Watson's last meeting as mayor

Friday, November 9, 2001 by

Marked by laughter and tears

Long good-byes for Austin's Supermayor

Outgoing Mayor Kirk Watson received an emotional send-off from fellow members of the City Council, city staff, friends, family and supporters at the close of his final regular meeting of the Council on Thursday. Watson will officially step down this afternoon once the votes are canvassed and Mayor-elect Gus Garcia is sworn in.

Although Watson was probably anticipating the many tributes, plaques and proclamations in his honor, the week’s musical performer caught him by surprise. The O Henry Middle School Orchestra, which includes Watson’s son Preston and Imani Glasco (daughter of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Director Alice Glasco), played several pieces. They ended with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and were joined by everyone in the audience.

Watson presented distinguished service awards to members of his office staff “It has been a wonderful group of people to work with,” he said. “Many times it is my picture on TV or in the newspaper with nice things being said about me. When that is being said, it’s because I’ve been standing on the shoulders of these people.” His staff, in turn, thanked Watson for his service to the city. “That Council and this Mayor have changed the dynamic of this city and have changed the rhetoric,” Chief of Staff Kristen Vassallo said. “Government has become bold and exciting. The pace was fast and energetic. I hope we now expect more and do more. We have seen what can be done and it is truly amazing.” Vassallo is going with Watson and will be campaign manager in his bid to become Texas Attorney General. The rest of the staff have found new city jobs.

Other city staffers also lined up to pay tribute to Watson’s energy and accomplishments. “Your leadership enabled us to complete in four and a half years what we have tried to do for decades,” said City Manager Jesus Garza. He also praised Watson’s new style of rhetoric in city politics. “In the past four and a half years, the following words were coined: ‘brainstorming without judgment,’ ‘below the line,’ ‘moving beyond our concept of perfection,’ ‘jump ball politics,’ ‘common ground,’ ‘the desired development zone,’ ‘Smart Growth,’ ‘the three E’s’. . . each of these words had a meaning that provided us a guidepost for the way that we went about our work and our business.”

When it came time for his address, Watson delivered an emotion-filled speech on the virtues of public service and benefits of living in Austin. “What has been great about this job is so much opportunity to do so much for so many people, and to have the opportunity to be touched by so many people. I cannot think of what I could have done over the past four and a half years would have given me as much fulfillment as I have had being Mayor of this wonderful city.”

While some of the Mayor’s detractors have criticized the pace of change in the city during his tenure in office, Watson said Austin has retained the defining characteristics that make the city great. “This city continues to have the magic that has caused so many of us to call it home, that has caused so many of us to fight for what we believe in in this city, and to love it,” Watson said. “It has it, and we need to preserve it.”

Watson also expressed confidence in longtime friend Gus Garcia, who will be sworn in as the new Mayor this afternoon, and thanked wife Liz and sons Preston and Cooper for their support. As he began to wrap up his speech with, “I’m going to shut up, because my three minutes have long passed,” city staffers triggered the electronic tone used to signal speakers that, as Watson himself frequently said, “Your time has expired.” The interruption of Watson in mid-sentence caused the crowd, and Watson, to erupt in laughter. He concluded with a piece of advice to incoming Mayor Gus Garcia. “Enjoy yourself,” Watson said. “It is one incredible experience.” He adjourned the meeting with “Thank you very much, God bless every one of you and God bless Austin, Texas.”

Watson has a full schedule today. As he did on his first day in office, he’ll be visiting several city facilities including Fire Station #1, Austin Bergstrom International Airport and Town Lake Center to meet with department heads and staffers. He will hand over the duties of Mayor to Gus Garcia at a swearing-in ceremony at the Austin Convention Center at 2:00pm.

Some previously contentious

Zoning cases generate little heat

Voluntary air pollution reduction plan approved

The City Council Thursday voted 7-0 to approve, on first reading, MF-6 zoning for the Villas on Guadalupe condominium project at 2717 Guadalupe and 2804-2810 Hemphill Park. Last week, the Council voted unanimously to send the developer and the North University Neighborhood Association to mediation for a one-week trial period. (See In Fact Daily, July 11, 2001, Nov. 1 2001, Nov. 2, 2001.)

Tracy Watson, director of special projects, told the Council that the developer had presented a new design, featuring condominiums wrapped around the parking garage, which the neighbors found much preferable to the previous plan. However, he said that the mediation ultimately broke down because of a disagreement on density.

Neighborhood representative Suzanne Pringle said area residents would like to limit the project to 100 units and the number of student residents to 500. The issue of parking spaces is still unresolved. Mike McHone, who represents the developer, said he had already negotiated with University Area Partners to reduce the project from 170 to 163 units. He estimated residents would number between 500 and 515 and said that he was already offering more parking than required by the City Code.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman made a motion to approve the zoning, but added a number of site development regulations, including setting the heights of the buildings stair-stepping down from Guadalupe to Hemphill Park, requiring at least two entrances and exits from the parking garage and dictating the minimum size of each unit. Council Member Beverly Griffith wanted to know how those changes would impact density; but Alice Glasco, director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, told her that staff had only just heard Goodman’s motion. She promised an analysis on second reading.

The Council voted once again to postpone the Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District ordinance. Goodman made a motion to revisit the third reading of the proposed zoning changes on November 29. “I know the Mayor hates to miss this,” she said, but city staff needed more time to finish drafting the ordinance.

Because it was Mayor Kirk Watson’ s final meeting as Mayor, he jokingly said he would come back and sign up to speak on the subject at the end of the month.

Cottage Community, a proposed Smart Housing project in Northeast Austin, was approved on second reading by a vote of 5-1-1. Council Member Danny Thomas voted against it and Griffith abstained. There is a valid petition against the zoning change required for this project.

The proposed development, at 10300 Dessau Road, would consist of 30 detached, cottage-type units ranging in size from 800 to 1250 square feet. Two-, three- and four-bedroom units would be available to prospective residents who earn 50 percent or less of the median income in Travis County.

Council Member Daryl Slusher urged fellow Council members to support the project, saying he didn’t want them to kill it off when it comes up for third reading.

Thomas said he had strong safety concerns about the location of the project. “We have to look at safety . . . it’s just not a particularly safe place for this project,” he said. “I think what we need to do is look at another location for this project,” he added.

Slusher said he appreciated Thomas being up front about his intentions, but he wondered where the project would go instead. “I’d like to hear more specifics on that,” he said.

The Council passed on consent a resolution that gives a green light to forging an interlocal agreement with multiple jurisdictions in the five-county Austin-San Marcos Metropolitan Statistical Area to improve air quality in Central Texas. “Air quality in the central Texas area is deteriorating . . . it doesn’t know boundaries,” Watson said. This agreement, referred to as the O-3 Flex Plan, will allow local governments to address air quality problems from a scientific viewpoint, he added. “It appears we will be the first region in the nation to do this before reaching non-attainment,” Watson said, noting that with this voluntary action, “We’re probably confusing the EPA.” And by doing this, he said, the City of Austin is creating a national model.

The Council also approved on third reading several zoning changes on the Brodie Tract. Council Members Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez dissented, as they had on the previous readings of the ordinance. Goodman orchestrated a number of improvements to the development plan intended to prevent deterioration of water quality. Pat Murphy, city environmental officer, told In Fact Daily that if homeowners fail to live up to the complex agreement, the city might take them to court for violating contractual obligations. (See In Fact Daily Oct. 12, 2001, Oct. 29, 2001.)

Since it was Watson’s final meeting as Mayor, Council Member Will Wynn posted item number 40 on the agenda “to approve a resolution blaming everything that has gone wrong in Austin since I was elected on Kirk Watson.” Wynn then went into a PowerPoint presentation titled “Great Failures of the Watson Administration.” He showed slides depicting hilarious front-page headlines and photos from the Austin American-Statesman reporting on fabricated policies and public events during the Mayor’s tenure. The parody included such items as Watson’s Alien Abduction Abatement program on neighborhood leaders from South Austin.

After the presentation, which ended in a long round of applause, Watson announced, “item 40 has been successfully removed from the agenda.” He noted that someone had actually signed up to speak on the item, but he was not going to recognize the speaker. “What are you gonna do, throw me out of office?” he quipped.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Veterans Day holiday Monday . . . In Fact Daily will take the day off and most city offices and services will be curtailed in observance of Veterans Day. Individual recreation facilities, including Barton Springs Pool, Stacy Pool and the Austin Nature and Science Center will remain open . . . Sunday is the real Veterans Day . . . A parade in honor of veterans begins at 9:30am Sunday from the Congress Avenue Bridge to the south steps of the Capitol where a ceremony is planned for 11am. That bridge will be closed beginning at 8am. Also on Sunday, Computer Sciences Corp. is sponsoring a marathon beginning at 5am from its new building at Cesar Chavez and San Antonio. The race will close blocks 700-1100 of W. 6th Street and blocks 600-700 of Henderson Street until about noon . . . Garcia swearing-in today . . . After the canvass of the votes at City Hall at 1:30pm, Mayor-elect Gus Garcia and the City Council will proceed to the Austin Convention Center, Ballroom A, for the swearing-in ceremony, scheduled to begin at 2pm . . . Changes in the Mayor’s office . . . Paul Saldaña, Garcia’s campaign manager and former aide, will join the Mayor staff as his first executive assistant. Saldaña told In Fact Daily that Garcia would be hiring two more executive assistants in order to “meet the needs of the community.” Cindy Cervantes, who has worked for Watson, will stay on as special assistant to the Mayor, and Cecilia Gratias will be in charge of the Mayor’s calendar and special events, Saldaña said. . . Waiting for the man . . . While Watson made his farewell address in the LCRA boardroom Thursday evening, Nelson Linder of the NAACP waited outside for a meeting with Mayor-elect Gus Garcia, who was in the audience. Linder served as manager of Eric Mitchell' s campaign in which the former City Council member received 16 percent of the vote citywide, but actually received a majority in a select number of precincts in east and north-east Austin. “What happened this week in terms of our turnout with Eric Mitchell was no fluke,” Linder said. “We're serious about getting equitable and equal representation for everybody on this Council.” The meeting, said Linder, was to open a dialogue with Garcia. “We wish him good luck . . . we're going to constantly communicate.”

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