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Ordinance adoption could

Wednesday, December 5, 2001 by

Cause killing of many pets

Commissioners face big problem if they ban wild beasts

Banning the ownership of wild animals could turn into a public relations nightmare, the owner of the non-profit Austin Zoo told the Travis County Commissioners Court at a public hearing yesterday.

The state has given local counties the authority to regulate dangerous wild animals, such as bobcats, hyenas, chimpanzees, lynxes or alligators. Counties can choose either to ban the ownership of such animals or ask owners to register the pets. Cindy Caroccio of the Austin Zoo warned commissioners against banning wild animals altogether. This has already led to endangered animals flooding East Texas. Caroccio expects the problem to snowball across the state.

“The Black Beauty Ranch in East Texas already has 32 big cats on a temporary emergency basis,” Caroccio said after the meeting. “I have no space. I know zoos won’t take them. If you do an outright ban—especially with the way Travis County has added reptiles—there’s going to be an onslaught. I think it will be a public relations nightmare. Owners will have to euthanize these animals at an ungodly rate.”

However, Caroccio and a handful of other speakers appeared unable to sway the Travis County Commissioners to allow ownership of wild animals in the county. The bulk of Travis County is the City of Austin, and Austin prohibits the ownership of wild animals, Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told the speakers. Sonleitner said she feared the floodgates would open if wild animals were allowed in the county.

“All of a sudden, we are the safe haven for a lot of these animals, in a county that’s largely urban,” Sonleitner said. “There are very few places where somebody’s not next door to somebody else or to a neighborhood. Other counties may be more rural in nature.”

The state also provided no funding for the regulation of wild animals, Sonleitner pointed out. A $50 fee for registering an animal would hardly cover tools necessary to do more than register them.

County commissioners will vote on a proposed ordinance next week. The county would be required to implement either banning or registration by the end of June. Bob Brown, who owns a cougar, said he wanted the county to consider grandfathering the ownership of certain animals.

“There’s no place for them to go,” Brown told the commissioners. “I do not relish the fact that I’m going to have to tell my family that we’re going to have to euthanize the family pet because we’re not allowed to own him.”

Commissioners did agree to consider the input of wild animal owners. The court will also review the ordinances of Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar counties. Commissioners also were uncertain whether the ordinance was an “all or nothing” proposal, or if the county could consider some mix of both regulating and banning.

Caroccio fears animal owners will release wild animals, just as they released emus when the animals were no longer popular. The bigger problems in the state, Caroccio said, exist outside Travis County. Houston has had a serious problem with wild animal attacks. The Austin Zoo, which is at capacity, will not be impacted by the ordinance. Caroccio said she would like to take in more animals, but it would probably require some financial support from animal owners to expand the facilities at the Austin Zoo.

“We are in a tough position,” County Judge Sam Biscoe told the speakers. “If we had the ability to start from scratch, we would handle this differently. We’re going to touch base with the County Attorney'’s office again and check on the parameters of this.”

Demographer weighs in on

Single Member District numbers

Suburban voters may tilt the balance in next spring's vote

City demographer Ryan Robinson, Austin’s population expert, told In Fact Daily Tuesday he expects the city’s population to reach 681,000 by mid-2002. The current population is 675,000, he said, up from 656,000 on April 1, 2000. That’s important, he noted, because a population of 681,000 is the number needed to trigger two additional seats should the city decide to adopt 10 single-member districts.

Monday night the current Charter Revision Committee made clear that it was adopting the previous committee’s single-member district proposal, which called for 10 districts, expanding to 12 when the population reaches the appropriate number. ( See In Fact Daily, Tuesday .) It will be up to the City Council to decide whether to put a 10-district or 12-district proposal—or any other proposal—on next May’s ballot. But there will no doubt be arguments about the numbers as soon as activists wake up to the fact that they are going to be asked to vote on the matter again.

Robinson says he feels confident about his projection, which assumes a growth rate of one to 1.5 percent, less than half the previous rate. “We have slowed our growth rate significantly, ” he said, but the model he is using predicted the population would be 642,000 last April, only 14,000 below the actual number. Given the model’s accuracy, Robinson expects a continuation of the current trend. Some of the data the model uses includes job creation rate and residential construction. What could change the projects, and the population figures, he said, would be “two or three more rounds of heavy layoffs in the tech companies in town, or if the real estate market completely falls apart.” At that point, the demographer said, “We would want to go in and revise the number . . . but I think our model currently reflects the current economic situation, which is a dramatically slowed economy.”

Conversely, for the figure to increase rapidly, the city would have to experience a sudden spike in job creation rates and a corresponding increase in residential construction.

As for what might convince voters to support a proposal they have already rejected on several occasions, Robinson points to demographics again. “The city now contains much more suburban territory than it has in the past. There’s a whole new community and that community might actually warm up to single-member districts.” Robinson says that a change to single-member districts “would theoretically greatly empower suburban voting blocks.”

Given a chance, those suburban voters who have unwillingly become city residents might be more than happy to vote the current City Council out of office. Even those who have become accustomed to the idea may dislike some of the incumbents, particularly those who prefer fewer miles of roadways rather than more. So, it will be interesting to see who ends up arguing in favor of districts, who opposes them, and who remains silent on the issue. Mayor Gus Garcia has always supported districts in the past. Political consultant Mike Blizzard, who works for progressive candidates and causes, says he thinks most voters would be happier with a mixed system, with some members elected at large and some through districts. That way, he notes, the citizen could have a connection with more than one Council member.

Next spring when the Council has to make ballot decisions, Council Members Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman may still be busy bringing in those 18,000 signatures they need to overcome term limits. But that’s another City Charter issue. It remains to be seen whether any member of the committee will successfully focus the committee’s attention on that thorny issue.

SRB gives Austin High

Variance for lighted sign

Cesar Chavez sign to be dark at 10 p.m.

Austin High School has won the right to add a lighted sign on its property, even though the property is located on a city-designated Scenic Roadway.

Jim Bennett, who represented the high school before the Sign Review Board, argued that the sign would not be seen from West Cesar Chavez and would be barely visible from MoPac as drivers passed the school. West Cesar Chavez is designated a Scenic Roadway. The 16-foot sign with a non-illuminated panel would be programmed with messages such as “PTSA Meeting Tonight” or “Drama Production on Saturday,” Bennett said.

The sign itself, which will also feature the school’s logo, will be 10 feet across and 6 feet tall.

The goal of the sign, a gift from the Austin High School Class of 2001, is not to advertise but to provide parents picking up their children with information about school events, Bennett said. It would also be of minimal impact on the surrounding property, he added. Austin High School sits on land that is surrounded by land owned by the City of Austin and by the MoPac Expressway. Disturbing the neighborhoods—even if the sign was visible from the roadway—would not be an issue, Bennett told the Board of Adjustment.

Bennett also pointed out that the topography of the campus and the curvature of the local roads meant the sign would not interfere with other signs in the area. Nor would the sign be a hazard, he said.

The Board unanimously approved the sign with the proviso that the lighted message be turned off at 10 p.m. That way, Board member Betty Edgemond said, the sign could be turned off at the same time or earlier than the lights on the parking lot and tennis courts at the campus. .

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Huge water supply increase on agenda for BSEACD . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board will hold a public hearing at 6pm Thursday on a request for a pumpage amendment for Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corporation. Creedmoor-Maha currently has a permit to pump about 205 million gallons per year from the aquifer. The company is requesting a 300 percent increase—to more than 600 million gallons. The City of Buda and the Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County have already expressed opposition to the expansion. Members of the City of Austin’s watershed protection staff have made inquiries. The hearing should provide some lively entertainment, but not necessarily a decision. District directors will consult with their attorneys about whether they are required to hold a formal hearing, which probably would not happen until January . . . LCRA meeting rescheduled . . . The public meeting on the Northern Hays County waterline, which was cancelled due to weather concerns, has been rescheduled for next Wednesday at 7pm at the Bowie High School Cafeteria, 4103 Slaughter Lane. The LCRA also has extended the comment period to Jan. 15. For more information, contact Moorhouse Associates, Inc. at 361-883-6016 or www.hayscountywater.com . . . Flower and light fiesta . . . For a small fee, you can enjoy the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s third annual Bluminarias, the festival of lights and music, from 6 to 9pm Thursday through Saturday. For more information, check http://www.wildflower.org/bluminarias.html . . . Unnamed Villas on South Congress wins last round at ZAP . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission approved a zoning change for a 30-foot wide strip of land at 118 East Alpine Rd.last night. This is adjacent to the project in the 3700 block of South Congress formerly dubbed by opponents as the “Villas at Expose.” Those opponents have since reached an agreement with the developer and dropped the nickname. The developers acquired the land on East Alpine, which was abandoned railroad right-of-way, in order to provide for a driveway accessing the parking area for the proposed apartment complex. ZAP commissioners agreed with the staff recommendation of MF-6 for the strip of land, which was previously unzoned. The additional land will not alter the existing limits on the project’s height or total number of units.

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