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Friday, January 25, 2002 by

Bird delivers stinging analysis of proposal The Charter Revision Committee will recommend that the Austin City Council refrain from putting any alternative campaign-finance proposals on the May ballot. The Committee had been asked to study possible alternatives to the proposal submitted by the “Clean Campaigns” organization, which will likely be placed on the ballot after supporters gathered more than 20,000 signatures. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 12, 2001.) An analysis of the Clean Campaigns measure by city staff raised questions about its eventual cost to taxpayers, and Council Member Daryl Slusher had requested suggestions on other options to present to voters. (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 04, 2001.)

The group reached its decision after hearing from the members of a subcommittee formed to study the campaign-finance measure. The subcommittee didn’t make a formal report to the full group, but Committee Member Ricky Bird did present his own analysis. “My problem is . . . this is something that should be an ordinance instead of a charter amendment,” Bird said at the beginning of a long speech listing perceived flaws in the measure. Handling campaign finance at the charter level, Bird said, was a flawed and ineffective procedure. “It’s like trying to shape glass with a sledgehammer. I support the objectives of the amendment . . . my problem remains this is an ordinance being placed into the City Charter.” Bird later proposed recommending to the Council that they place a measure on the ballot to delete the existing campaign-finance charter provision that had been approved by voters so the issue could be dealt with by ordinance, but he was unable to find any support on the committee. (For the group's statement on its amendment, but not the text, visit http://www.cleancampaigns.org )

Bird’s detailed critique of the proposed campaign-finance measure was disrupted briefly by a testy exchange with Committee Member Charles Miles, who attempted to raise a point of order in response to Bird’s reading of a prepared statement. “He’s campaigning against something that we have no choice over,” Miles said. “We don’t have an option as to whether that goes on the ballot.” The verbal sparring between Bird and Miles was eventually smoothed over by Committee Chair Bobbie Barker, who allowed Bird to continue.

Bird concluded with a call to make it easier for citizens to alter city ordinances, but more difficult to change the City Charter itself. “The available process of ordinance amendment is too high, and this has produced too many amendments to the charter.”

The committee discussed officially submitting Bird’s report along with its own report to the Council, but instead decided that would not be necessary and that individual committee members could communicate their concerns directly to Council members.

Next week, the committee will discuss proposals to change the organizational structure of city management to require some city employees, such as the Police Monitor, to report directly to the City Council instead of the city manager.

The Environmental Board spent nearly three hours Wednesday night grappling with two variance requests for the proposed Greenshores on Lake Austin subdivision. In two separate votes, the Board agreed to recommend conditional approval of the variances. But the measures were made with caution because the Board did not want the recommendations to serve as a nod of approval for the development.

“I’m reluctant to weigh in on this in a positive way,” said Vice-chair Tim Jones, noting he didn’t want to give US Fish and Wildlife the impression that the Board thinks this development is okay.

Chair Lee Leffingwell also expressed discomfort with making a recommendation that could assist in a deal that may be swapping potential Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) land—and documented endangered species habitat—for a housing development. But the only way for the Board to provide input on the issue is to craft some sort of a recommendation. “I don’t think we ought to be silent on this issue,” he said.

Thus, the Board made recommendations with conditions, some of them strict, hoping to influence in favor of the environment a development that appears inevitable.

The proposed subdivision is located in Travis County within the city’s two-mile ETJ. A small section of the 171.3-acre site, which is divided into four tracts, is on the shore of Lake Austin and within the city limits. The development area is between Emma Long Metropolitan Park and Lake Austin and includes the existing Greenshores resort. The proposal calls for demolition and removal of existing structures to make way for a park, a marina and 126 single-family lots.

According to city documents, 100 to 125 acres of Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat are in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development. Last June, city scientists documented sightings of the endangered bird on the banks of Connors Creek, which flows through the property. Because part of the land is endangered species habitat and adjacent to BCP, special permits would be required for development to proceed. The land could be included as part of BCP, but according to attorney Michael Whellan, who represents the developer, “we paid a fee in order to develop an area.”

Whellan said the fee, which allows approximately 100 acres of endangered species habitat to be developed, goes into a fund to buy more BCP land.

Jones expressed dire concern about development on both sides of the creek where Golden-cheeked Warblers nest. By removing the buffer between the endangered species habitat in BCP and new development, you create what’s called the “edge effect,” and “the edge effect creates predation,” he said. When a new subdivision goes in, the buffer will be lost and other species will encroach, thereby forcing out the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, Jones said.

“I do not want to see an abbreviation of the BCP,” Jones said. “I went to jail for that bird twice . . . so I’m pretty serious,” he added.

Board Secretary Karin Ascot agreed. “I’m disturbed about seeing a lot of habitat taken because there is only so much habitat out there,” she said. “The habitat is an issue of great concern to the people of Austin . . . they’ve worked on it and funded it for years.”

The first variance, which the staff of the Watershed Protection Development and Review Department did not recommend, is to allow the applicant to use less than the required 7,000 square feet of irrigated land per Living Unit Equivalent (LUE) for wastewater treatment. The applicant, Edward Moore, an engineer with The Moore Group Inc., is requesting 5,000 square feet instead, of which only 3,000 square feet is intended to be used.

Whellan said the wastewater system the developer plans to use is a “superior system,” and the surrounding neighborhood approves of the design. “We are delivering state-of-the-art effluent systems,” he said, adding, “state-of-the-art ain’t cheap.”

Less Tull, a water quality manager with WPDR, said drip irrigation systems, like the one proposed in this development, have advanced considerably in the last five to ten years. “I think we have systems that are much more technologically advanced and much more capable of distributing wastewater than back when these standards were adopted,” he said.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the Board voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the variance with a long list of detailed conditions. Board Member Connie Seibert voted against the measure. Board Members Ramon Alvarez and Matt Watson were absent.

Conditions include:

• Specifications approved by the TNRCC and the City of Austin (COA).

• Seeding of the irrigation area with a mix of native grasses approved by the COA.

• The irrigation area will have at least 16-18 inches of topsoil (if it’s necessary to import topsoil to meet this requirement, the soil will be a COA-approved native topsoil).

• A final contingency plan for effluent storage will be developed and approved by COA.

• All undeveloped land (as shown in the preliminary plan) in Section A is to be dedicated as a conservation easement.

• A tree survey and mitigation plan for all of the developed portion of the subdivision, approved by the COA, and in compliance with the COA Tree Ordinance as if the subdivision were located entirely within the COA.

All conditions are to be included as plat restrictions.

The Board’s recommendation offers further rationale:

“The Board is very concerned that significant portions of the proposed subdivision are within the BCP acquisition area, and include known areas of Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat. Although discussions with the (US Fish And Wildlife Service) have been initiated, no final HCP has been approved . . . The Board therefore has reluctantly agreed to conditionally support development in possible Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat with the assurance that any restrictions imposed by the 10(a) permit will be observed as a matter of law.

The Board believes that the advanced technology utilized in the proposed wastewater system will be environmentally equal or superior to the systems contemplated when the 7000 square foot per LUE requirement was established. The Board believes that this technology, when coupled with the provisions stipulated in the above Board conditions, will provide a less environmentally detrimental consequence overall.”

The second variance, which was recommended by staff, is to allow development in a Critical Water Quality Zone (CWQZ) for the purpose of improving or upgrading an existing driveway. The Land Development Code does not allow a driveway to cross the CWQZ, however, the driveway currently in place has been in use for forty years, according to city documents.

The Board voted 5-1, with Jones dissenting, to recommend approval of the variance with the condition that staff recommendations be followed. The Board also strongly recommended that there be no upgrade to the driveway, and if so, that only minimal changes be made for the purpose of health and safety.

RECA to decide on single-member districts . . . The board of directors of the Real Estate Council of Austin is expected to meet on Tuesday to hear what the group’s committee studying the issue has to say. Susan Harris, a former RECA president, has made it clear that she strongly favors the recommendation put forth by the Charter Revision Committee and its predecessor. But she says she cannot speak for the other members of the committee. One RECA member told us there should be a lively discussion among board members when the topic comes up . . . Political events this weekend . . . Beverly Griffith’s Campaign is hoping folks will bring signatures to her campaign office at 1206 West 6th St. between 11am and 3 pm Saturday. The campaign is offering food and refreshments for those who drop by. If you can’t make it, you may email the campaign at campaign@BeverlyGriffith.org for the best times to turn in your petition . . . Working the crowd . . . Council Members Jackie Goodman, Daryl Slusher and Griffith are still working hard to raise the 20,000 or so signatures each needs to overcome Austin’s term limits provision. They will have people working the crowd expected to show up for Ralph Nader’s People have the Power Tour Saturday beginning at 7pm at Tony Burger Center . . . Slusher, Goodman fundraiser Sunday night . . . The party’s at Antone’s, 213 W. 5th Street, beginning at 6pm. The musical lineup includes Joe Ely, Ruben Ramos, Los Jazz Vatos and many more . . . No City Council . . . You might not have felt a void, but there was no City Council meeting yesterday. Next week’s agenda will be packed..

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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