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Paul Salda

Monday, February 25, 2002 by


Paul Saldaña managed Gus Garcia’s successful mayoral campaign and is now one of three Executive Assistants to the Mayor. Saldaña had previously spent six years working as office manager for Garcia during his tenure on the City Council.

Born and raised in East Austin, Saldaña had his first exposure to City Hall during a stint as liaison for the Health and Human Services Department. Next, he went to work for Oscar Rodriguez, Camille Barnett’s Administrator for Development Services. Having thus been introduced to the realm of public officials, Saldaña and Garcia began to get to know each other.

Saldaña began working in Garcia’s office in 1996. “I developed a lot of admiration for his work,” says Saldaña. He was particularly drawn to Garcia because, “Obviously the fact that he’s Latino and cares about young people, particularly minority children in Austin. I think that because of his previous tenure in the School District, he was very vocal about education.” Saldaña adds, “Also at the time he was a strong supporter of the Opportunities for Youth Program. The whole goal behind that initiative was to try to do some intervention with kids who were at risk early on in their lives so that later on they wouldn’t come back to the City through the court system, to try to establish some type of programming with Health and Human Services, with the Library and with Parks and Recreation.”

Saldaña appreciates the mentoring he has received from Garcia along the way. “I had his undivided attention and benefited from his knowledge and historical perspective, from 30 or 40 years of service.” According to Saldaña, mentorship has always been a goal of Garcia’s. “Gus was also the first Council member to start an internship program, which led me to have respect for him.” Garcia’s mentoring paid off for Saldaña. “Gus has always been firm believer in promoting from within. I think he gave me an opportunity to grow and develop that other people may not have. I guess he saw something in me.”

After Bobbie Enriquez left Garcia’s office, Saldaña was promoted to the top spot. Garcia has benefited from Saldaña’s strong connection to the East Austin community. “I’m originally from here and grew up on Riverview Street, which literally abuts to Holly Power Plant, an issue that’s very important to Gus. Many of the constituents that contacted the office grew up with my family and knew my grandparents and knew my dad and knew me. Granted, they didn’t always agree with Gus’ positions on certain issues, but if anything it created an opportunity for there to be open communication and mutual respect.”

After the end of Garcia’s tenure on the Council, Saldaña went to work in the private sector, as a regional director for Western Integrated Networks, a telecommunications firm. During the telecom meltdown, he rejected an offer to relocate to California and instead took a year sabbatical. Soon afterward, Garcia called upon him to manage the mayoral campaign, and eventually to be his lead policy assistant.

Saldaña’ main areas of concentration as Executive Assistant are education and economics. “One of the first three things we received upon coming into office was a briefing from the City Manager on the budget forecast. Gus looked at it and said, ‘Now I know why Kirk Watson left!’ We have a full plate, given the relatively short term before June 2003. To make things more difficult is that come May, we could potentially have three new Council members.”

A single parent with two sons, Saldaña describes himself as “an Austin native boy and a mama’s boy—I’ll be the first to admit.”

Adam Smith

Adam Smith came to the Mayor’s office with a planning background, and works primarily as Garcia’s land use and transportation policy assistant. Smith first worked with the Mayor as the Case Manager for the Bennett Tract.

Smith describes his route to the Mayor’s Office as a circuitous one. After growing up and attending undergraduate school in Southern California, Smith’s thoughts turned to urban planning. “I like the concept of working at a civic level on planning things that will hopefully improve the lives of the residents. Some of this stems from the environment I grew up in, which was Fullerton, a suburb in Orange County. There were some aspects of living in that suburban culture that frustrated me, so the first thing I did upon graduating was move up to Oregon . . . That’s where I learned that there is another way to live, besides living in your car going from point A to point B. So I think my interest in planning came largely out of frustration, frustration of sitting in traffic jams and seeing some misappropriate land use. Along with the frustration, though, was the promise that things really can change.”

Inspired by James Kunstler’s landmark New Urbanist book, “Home from Nowhere,” Smith attended graduate school at the University of Arizona, studying sustainable development. He spent his time in Tucson studying the Civano Project, a New Urbanist venture, and sustainable technologies.

Smith followed his girlfriend (now-fiancé) to Austin, and got his first job with the City as a Zoning Reviewer. “After a little bit of research, I found out that going the civic route was probably the best way for me to do some planning-related things. My observations from private planning here is more representing developers on zoning cases . . . which is not something I was interested in. The idea of working for the City also stemmed out of this idea of serving the public good at more of a macro level.” Smith then worked as a Neighborhood Planner with the North Loop and East Cesar Chavez Neighborhoods.

When Smith found that the Garcia Office was looking for a policy assistant with a land use/zoning background, he interviewed with Paul Saldaña and was quickly hired. Some of the contentious zoning cases that have Smith’s attention are the Villas on Guadalupe and Stratus Properties’ Bear Lake PUD. Smith indicated that current top transportation issues include SH130, Loop 1 and SH 45 South, as well as bicycle commuter lanes around town. He is known as an avid bicycle commuter.

Adana Barry

Adana Barry, who joined the Mayor Gus Garcia ‘s office last week as the Mayor’s third executive assistant, is returning to City Hall after more than three years in neighborhood services. Prior to her work in that department, Barry was an aide to Council Member Willie Lewis, a post she held for three years.

Barry says she is excited to be coming back to the political world. “I will focus on community outreach and improving community services,” she said, with an additional focus on opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. According to Barry, she got to know then Council Member Gus Garcia while working on such initiatives for Lewis. Barry hopes to strengthen ties with the African-American community while serving in the Mayor’s office. She said she has already met with Council Member Danny Thomas and his assistant, Linda Dailey, and will be working closely with them.

She said she expects to be doing a lot of the types of duties that she did in her neighborhood services job. She may be the only person at City Hall who can’t wait for Thursday’s Council meeting, as others enjoyed the break.

Before joining the city, Barry worked at Capital Metro for four years, serving in special transit services and internal auditing. Prior to that, she said she discovered her “auditing eye” while correcting all incorrect drivers’ licenses for the Department of Public Safety. Barry is currently working on a BBA at Concordia University. She is considering pursuing law school later.

Barry is certified in basic mediation, a skill that will no doubt come in handy in her new job. She enjoys spending time in Austin’s parks, travel, cooking and reading.

Area residents say they are sympathetic with cause

Even though the Planning Commission may be generally sympathetic to the pleas of neighbors when it comes to zoning changes, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association could not persuade commissioners recently that the latest request for a conditional use permit was unreasonable.

The association hasn’t heard the end of the saga with the Baptist Church’s proposed parking garage. Although a federal magistrate heard the church’s arguments—and the city’s response to a request for summary judgment in favor of the church last week—the case is still under advisement. And there have been a number of zoning cases they have vehemently opposed. Two dozen neighbors also attended the most recent Planning Commission meeting to protest the conversion of a house on Red River Street into a childcare center for a dozen toddlers with special needs.

A lot of neighbors stood up to say they were sympathetic with the cause of Sammy’s House. Gary Penn, co-president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, said the community struggled with the zoning application because it was not a case where “clearly some people are right and clearly some people are wrong.” But when it came down to converting the house, neighbors still said they wanted to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood and avoid the traffic snarls the daycare center might create.

That kind of protest has worked in the past, but it was a tearful applicant Sylvia Odem who swayed the commissioners this time. Odem told the story of her daughter Riley, born with a rare chromosomal defect almost four years ago. Her daughter has both learning disabilities and eating problems and must be fed through a tube. Odem found it almost impossible to find adequate day care for her daughter in Austin. Then she found Sammy’s House, which gave her peace of mind and the ability to go back to work.

Odem and her partner Robert Griffice now live in Eanes to be close to school-based services for Riley, but the couple was so grateful to Sammy’s House that they offered to rent their home in Hyde Park to the non-profit group. The conversion of the 1,300-square-foot house into a “homelike environment” for toddlers will allow the group to triple the number of children served by the center’s caregivers and therapists.

Local residents were opposed. Even families that knew Odem and Griffice—and one neighbor who teaches special education in the Austin school district—stepped to the podium to say the daycare would set a bad precedent for the neighborhood. Some said the Cap Metro bus traffic through the area made a commercial business impossible. Others complained that the center would negatively impact property values.

But Griffice was skeptical of those protests, saying it was hard to imagine Sammy’s House impacting the fabric and integrity of a neighborhood where absentee landlords owned 50 percent of the property. He added that one of the protesting residents already ran a business out of her own home without a permit, with employees on site coming and going during the day.

“We’re willing to work through these issues, but some of these issues were not ever brought to us,” Griffice told the commissioners. “I think we have been trying to work with the city on the issues and the concerns of the neighbors, and we’re willing to abide by all of the restrictions that can be put on us.”

Sammy’s House currently serves four young children in a house off Slaughter Lane near Brodie. In a letter to city staff, Griffice wrote that the facility is the only one of its kind in the county and probably one of the few in the country to take on the emotional, physical and education needs of very young special needs children.

Commissioners—a number of whom had been to the Sammy’s House site—agreed with Griffice’s arguments. Commissioner David Sullivan said that despite neighbors’ protests to the contrary he had never seen buses encountering problems turning the corner near the house. Commissioner Cynthia Medlin said the driveway looked wide and long enough to accommodate more than enough cars. And, she added, neighbors complain about a lack of parking on the streets, not about too many cars in driveways.

Commissioner Chris Riley clarified with the daycare operator that under state regulations no more than a dozen children could ever be housed in the space at Sammy’s House, regardless of neighbors’ concerns that the center might eventually expand. Director Isabel Huerta told him that the center had rejected available commercial space in the neighborhood because of a specific desire for a “home-like setting.”. No child at Sammy’s House will be over 3 years old; half of them are expected to be infants.

And city staff found no reason to deny the conditional use permit that would allow day care services for up to 20 children at 4814 Red River. Staff pointed out that the exterior of the house would not need to be altered since a day care center is permitted under SF-3 zoning. In addition, the house provided adequate and convenient parking.

Commissioners supported Sammy’s House so strongly that they made an allowance for a garage apartment to be added on the site to generate additional income. Commissioner Cloteal Davis Haynes moved to approve the conditional use permit, saying that while she had sympathy and empathy for neighborhood concerns, the one-of-a-kind facility served very important needs.

Commissioners voted in favor of the motion with the exception of Lydia Ortiz, Silver Garza and Chair Ben Heimsath. Ortiz wanted to see the city do its homework to address any traffic issues that might be exacerbated by the daycare center. Heimsath said the area had a bad history of daycare centers as an accessory use. He also was concerned with the city’s “miserable” track record on enforcement for such facilities.

Heimsath pointed out that the petition submitted by neighbors was appropriate for zoning changes but not for conditional use permits. He explained that any decision could be appealed to the City Council.

Tuesday, Wednesday,


Joint effort . . . City Council candidate Betty Dunkerley called to say that Hazel Obey and Terri Buchanan will be managing her campaign along with Bobbie Enriquez, who was named in In Fact Daily on Friday as the sole manager. Dunkerley said she expects to name yet a fourth person to that management team . . . Also organizing . . . City Council candidate Brewster McCracken, who will make his official announcement on March 7, said he’s “definitely running,” but will not make a decision on which place to run for until he knows the plans of Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher. McCracken said his campaign consultants are Jeremy Warren and Rick Svatora, former aides to State Sen. Rodney Ellis . . . Neighborhood uprising . . . Representatives of several neighborhood associations plan a rally at noon today at City Hall to protest developments they oppose and to indicate their displeasure with the neighborhood planning process. The North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA) is leading the charge, complaining of the high-density student housing planned along Guadalupe and 27th St. A zoning change for the Villas on Guadalupe is scheduled for second reading before the City Council this week, but attorney Richard Suttle, who represents the developer, said the case is likely to be postponed. Representatives of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, the Heritage Neighborhood Association and the Eastwoods Neighborhood Association, also plan to discuss development issues in their neighborhoods. Will Bozeman, a member of NUNA and former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said neighborhood planning was begun to reconcile the poor development decisions of the past and grant more predictability and compatibility to development in the future. Mary Gay Maxwell of NUNA complained about the neighborhood planning process. “We asked about doing a neighborhood plan for all four neighborhoods (NUNA, Heritage, Eastwoods and Shoal Crest). That’s one way that the lack of resources could be addressed. We were told by Alice Glasco that we could not be put higher on the list” . . . Dawson named Austinite of the Year . . . Susan Dawson, president and co-founder of the Athens Group, was the top honoree at Friday night’s Austin Under 40 Awards Gala. Dawson just stepped down after a year as chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce for the past year. The gala serves as a fundraiser for the Young Men’s Business League and the Young Women’s Alliance. The men’s league sponsors the Sunshine Camps for disadvantaged children and the women’s organization provides scholarships for junior and senior college women. In addition to Dawson, the group chose eight other honorees in areas ranging from arts and entertainment to youth education. Those chosen include: musician Sara Hickman; Bill Morrow, vice-chairman and CEO of Grande Communications; David Shaw, vice-president of Tate Austin; Amy Erben, appointments manager in the Office of the Governor; Michael Martin, attorney with Vinson & Elkins; Marsha Malish Jones, vice president of governmental relations for the Texas Hospital Association; Nav Sooch, chairman and CEO of Silicon Laboratories and Hector Ortiz, educational services administrator for the Division of Continuing and Extended Education at the University of Texas . . . Kitchen fundraiser . . . Kirk Watson, former Mayor and Attorney General candidate, is hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Ann Kitchen at his home, 2301 Woodlawn Blvd., from 5:30 to 7:30pm Wednesday. Kitchen, a Democrat, will face Republican Todd Baxter, the former Travis County commissioner, in the fall, to keep her redistricted House seat. For more information, call 306-1270.

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

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