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Laborious process could be completed by end of week

Monday, March 25, 2002 by

Employees of City Clerk Shirley Brown this weekend began doing a random sample of signatures on petitions signed by thousands of Austin voters allowing Council Members Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith and Jackie Goodman to run for re-election. Brown said her employees began the work at 6:30am Saturday. On Friday Slusher and Goodman sent written requests to the clerk asking that she perform the validation. Council critics, as well as the American-Statesman, had called for the verification, and the Council members said they wanted to remove any doubts about the validity of their petitions.

On Sunday, Brown said the City Auditor’s office had selected which signatures to check for sampling, based on a mathematical formula. She estimated it would take 15 persons working eight hours per day for five days to complete the check of 25 percent of the signatures. Fifteen computers, including laptops, are being used, she said, but she did not have 15 people working over the weekend. Other departments promised to send workers to the clerk’s office to assist in the effort—but Brown said training those workers would add more time to the process.

Early Sunday afternoon, Brown said her staff had checked about one-third of Griffith’s signatures. Because Griffith turned in her signatures first, those names are being checked first, Brown said.

Once a name is matched to a registered voter, she said, that name is entered into the computer’s petition validation system and is counted. Using the formula prescribed by the auditor, the computer will tally the valid signatures from those submitted. Griffith turned in 26,683 signatures on Monday. At that time, the clerk disqualified 741 as invalid. Slusher and Goodman each turned in more than 24,000 signatures on Wednesday. Some of those were ruled invalid also, but all three collected far more than the 18,263 required because they knew that a certain percentage would be disallowed.

According to Brown, Friday is the final day that a candidate may withdraw from the May 4 ballot. Bicycle activist Robin Stallings, who supports Goodman, said Sunday he will remain in the race as long as there is a “legal cloud” over the incumbent’s candidacy. “I see myself as a relief pitcher,” he said. Noting that he has already hired a campaign manager and started raising campaign funds, Stallings said he wants to be prepared in case he is needed. He hopes to raise $10,000 during his first week of campaigning, and is nearing that goal, he said. Stallings also said he is urging organizations that endorse candidates, such as the AFL-CIO, to do back-up endorsements in case an incumbent is knocked out of the race.

“If Jackie Goodman is on the ballot, she’s going to beat everybody. People like Jackie . . . We are no threat to her in this short race.” He said he also believes that incumbents Slusher and Griffith would win handily over their opponents, especially given the six-week race.

Sifuentes criticizes Goodman,

Decries Prop. 2 land purchases

Former officer wants more money spent on citizens' immediate needs

Billy Sifuentes is an optimist. Even if he doesn’t win this year in his race to unseat Austin’s Place 3 City Council Member Jackie Goodman, the retired police officer thinks single-member districts will be approved by the voters and then he would have a chance to run in a southeast Austin district next year.

He told In Fact Daily there were several reasons why he decided to run against Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman instead of Council Member Beverly Griffith, whom he had initially targeted. “I like Ms. (Betty) Dunkerley a lot. I think she’s a very profound, educated, finance person. I had a discussion with a couple of people in my campaign . . . who knew Ms. Dunkerley as well . . . if the issue was to run a campaign to defeat Beverly Griffith it would be better to have someone who had the backing like she did.” Sifuentes was referring to the numerous former Council Members and others who attended Dunkerley’s announcement. “Not because we were afraid of competition, but because we thought Ms. Dunkerley would bring something to the table as well.” Dunkerley is running against Griffith.

In addition, Sifuentes said, “ Council Member (Bob) Larson called me and said . . . if I would consider moving over to another seat that he would help me with my campaign, as well as other people would help me with my campaign.”

However, an In Fact Daily reporter 10 days ago talked to a Goodman volunteer, who displayed Larson’s signature on one of the Mayor Pro Tem’s petitions.

“The only reason I picked Ms. Griffith’s seat (initially) is I just thought she was the most arrogant of the three of them,” Sifuentes said, “and she just hasn’t done anything for the communities I’m concerned about—northeast, central east, southeast . . . I told Slusher one day I would not run against him . . . because I liked some of his ideas, so the Place 3 came up and that’s where it is.”

Then, the retired police officer criticized Goodman for the way she responded to comments by police critic Ann del Llano. Del Llano had been complaining about the “many police lobbyists” present during Council discussion of police monitor and oversight issues. Goodman responded that she didn’t see any police lobbyists, but told both sides she was working on language that she hoped would be a compromise. “She rolled her eyes . . . I believe she’s lost contact with those individuals who need clarity in communication.”

Switching gears, Sifuentes continued, “I am not afraid to take on environmentalists. I firmly believe our ozone layer’s in trouble. I firmly believe that our creek waters are in trouble—and I really believe it. You can see it after rain storms. You can see the erosion of Shoal Creek. They’re dredging it up now. I can see that. But I can’t see why we’re continuing buying property in the name of the future, when in the present we need so much more to be done. If we want to stop sprawl and suburban growth, we could do it in many ways. But buying property at a million dollars a pop is not helping that lady in a northeast clinic, or in South Austin where her baby needs shots.”

In May of 1998, Austin voters authorized $65 million in bonds to purchase 15,000 acres for Water Quality Protection Lands. The money generated by those bonds may only be used for outright acquisition of land or conservation easements in the Barton Springs contributing and recharge zones. Bond covenants prohibit the city from using the money for other purposes. In November 1998 voters approved issuance of an additional $19.8 million in Utility System Revenue Bonds “for making improvements and expansions to the City’s waterworks system,” including improvement of facilities “to preserve and expand the City’s water supply including the purchase of land.” Sifuentes said he did not know whether bond money or General Fund money was being used for the land purchases.

After listening to an explanation of the bond situation, Sifuentes said, “I understand that. But the perception is that we’re buying property while other things are not happening in the city.”

Sifuentes suggested that perhaps the city needed to “change real estate companies,” in order to find affordable inner city land. “Nothing personal against Ms. Goodman. I believe she has served the city well,”prior to the last term. But he said his concerns about the environment were different than hers. “You could say I’m pro-environment, but my issues are not with the aquifer or buying property to prevent sprawl. My issues are over the air we breathe. We’re unattainable right now in ozone. We need a plan for the people that are not going to be able to meet the requirements in three years. What are they going to do?”

Austin has been flirting with the non-attainment designation for quite some time, but has not been given that designation. The city and surrounding jurisdictions have been working on a voluntary program to try to prevent stringent air quality rules being forced on Central Texas. That voluntary program, called the Flex O3 agreement, is to be signed this week.

Sifuentes also criticized the city for failing to install adequate street lights in some neighborhoods. He said, “The city light company cannot put up a street light in your neighborhood because they have no money for it, or the sidewalk money is tied up. And yet when they put up sidewalks, they put them in the stupidest places. And the bicycles and walking paths, nobody’s even paying attention to them. Those are just being forgotten . . . And we’re continuing to spend money outside the city, and yet the services in the (inner) city are not being delivered.”

Others in the Place 3 race include activist Linda Curtis, who has challenged Goodman's petition, and Robin Stallings, who is running in case Goodman is knocked off the ballot.

Off-site parking lot owners say city plan will close their businesses

The Airport Advisory Commission has voted to reject a proposal by the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport staff to raise parking fees for off-site parking companies and proposed to bring its own proposal back for consideration at next month’s meeting. The companies have complained that rate increases proposed by the city would drive them out of business.

The Aviation Department has proposed doubling the permit fee for off-site parking businesses to 4 percent of their gross revenue in fiscal year 2004, and then further raise it to 6 percent in fiscal year 2005. Permits for each courtesy van would be tripled, from the current $100 per van through 2003 up to $200 per van in 2004, then $300 per van in 2005. Still another charge would be $1 per trip per van to pick up customers.

Charles Gates, director of finance for the airport, said the fees are comparable to what other airports charge. The fees would cover roughly a quarter of the $12.5 million annual cost for roads and maintenance.

Super Shuttle, by comparison, pays between 5 and 7 percent of its gross revenue. Rental car companies pay 10 percent of their annual revenue to the airport, about $6 million. Gates called the proposal, “a fair and reasonable fee” for the off-site parking companies.

The parking companies—and eventually the Airport Advisory Commission—disagreed. Owner Michael Anderson of Austin Fast Park said he had yet to open his off-site parking business and was already convinced the high fees would kill him. Even phasing the increases in over three years would do nothing but delay the inevitable, Anderson said.

“I’m imploring you guys to look again at the numbers in 18 months. That’s a short period of time,” said Anderson, asking the airport to delay its fee increase. “Please err on the side of caution. If we’re gone at the end of that 18 months, we’ll be dark. We can’t come back.”

While airport officials presented figures last month they felt showed the fee increases were fair and reasonable, Anderson said his own information indicated that 27 of the 72 comparable airports were without any kind of van permit or off-site parking fees. Only 8 of the 72 airports had a fee of 8 percent or more.

What bothered Anderson and the owners of Express Parking the most, though, was the favored status the city appeared to be giving to AMPCO, which holds its on-site contract. Not only did the company have easy access to the terminal—without waiting in the “bullpen” area with taxis and off-site vans—but also the city had begun a major marketing campaign in March to promote “Zip In Zip Out” parking at the airport.

Owner Mark Aldrete, who owns the 800-space Parking Express next to the airport, said his company has been operating for six months and had yet to generate a profit. Occupancy is at about half of what it should be, or 30 percent. His partner, Brad Scott, said he had not flown in from Salt Lake City to fight over a minor fee increase.

“I’ve got two attorneys here and a lobbyist here with me,” Scott said. “We’re here because we will not be able to survive if you talk about imposing this kind of money.”

Scott was willing to compromise with the city to some extent, tripling the current fee to $3.75 per occupied space per month, or the equivalent of 2 percent of gross revenue. He shot down the idea of a trip fee, saying that his vans decreased rather than increased volume on the roads into the airport.

Commissioners sided with the off-site parking companies, favoring the end of the bullpen and a move to raise on-site parking rates to cover road costs. Commissioners voted against the staff proposal and recommended their own fee proposal for consideration next month: 12.5 cents per occupied space per day. That would raise the occupied rate from $1.25 to $3.75 per occupied space per month.

Commissioner Amanda Cagle, who proposed the alternative, also wants drivers for off-site parking lots to be utilized as additional “eyes and ears” for airport security, reporting any problems they see to airport police. Drivers would be screened and trained in the same manner as airport personnel to spot problems on the airport grounds.

Commissioners also wanted to give the off-site parking companies the same access to curbside service as Super Shuttle and AMPCO. ABIA Executive Director Jim Smith said the off-site parking vans were staged with taxis because consultants on the airport master plan suggested the airport had insufficient curb-side space for all the various shuttles, hotel buses and limousine services.

The only commissioner to disagree with Cagle’s proposal was Floyd Davis, who said the counter-proposal by the commission was outside the commission’s jurisdiction and superceded the negotiations taking place between the aviation department and its vendors. Davis said the commission’s role was to advise and analyze, not take over the discussions.

Back to the commission . . . Esther’s Follies will be back at the Historic Landmark Commission again tonight. The HLC must decide whether the colorful sign on the front of the building is artful enough to fit in with the historic character of 6th Street. (See In Fact Daily Feb. 28, 2002.) . . . Cap Metro meeting today . . . The Cap Metro board is scheduled to authorize Interim General Manager Fred Gillam to execute a contract with one of the four marketing firms competing for the transit company’s business. The four bidders are SWG&M Advertising, Inc. (Sanders Wingo, Gadis & Morton), Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, Fellers Marketing & Advertising and Christian-Hubble Media & Communications. The board is also scheduled to consider the Stran Tran Retirement Plan and authorize a contract to lease a new park & ride lot on Highway 290 West in Oak Hill. The lease would initially be for a three-year period, with five one-year options . . . Rapid transit update . . . Members of the Real Estate Council of Austin will hear from John Almond, project director for the Capital Metro’s Rapid Transit Project and William Lieberman, a consultant on the project, at a luncheon Tuesday. For more information, call 684-5793 . . . More on transportation . . . Austan Librach, director of the city’s Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department will address the Austin Sierra Club’s Conservation Committee at 6:30pm Tuesday at the Austin History Center, just north of the downtown library. Librach will give a powerpoint presentation on “making Austin’s central city safe and accessible, lively and pedestrian-oriented.” . . . Environmentalists to TxDOT: Clean up your act . . . Clean air activists will gather on the East steps of the State Capitol at 9:50am today to protest the fact that TxDOT continues to run the largest state agency fleet of diesel vehicles. According to Robin Schneider of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the agency has no plan to clean up its diesel vehicles and refuses to consider the impact of the sooty particle pollution on the lungs and hearts of Texans.

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

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