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Dunkerley gathers funds and celebrates surprise victory

Tuesday, May 7, 2002 by

Council Member Beverly Griffith gracefully stepped out of a runoff election with Betty Dunkerley yesterday, leaving some supporters bereft and others applauding her decision and years of service. Griffith won only 29 percent of the vote in Saturday’s election to Dunkerley’s 42 percent. Recognizing that her positive campaign could not overcome Dunkerley’s huge margin—especially if Brewster McCracken’ s voters came back next month to support the former Assistant City Manager—Griffith was looking at what could have been a nasty campaign. Click here to see the In Fact Daily map of Place 4 results.

In announcing her decision, Griffith said in a written statement, “My only regret in withdrawing is that I will not have the opportunity to set the record straight in the run-off and respond to the constant barrage of half-truths and misrepresentations in the attacks by my opponent. In order to win in the run-off, I know that I would need to immediately ‘go negative’ and I am not willing to run that kind of campaign.” She filled out the appropriate forms with the City Clerk and is officially no longer a candidate, leaving a surprised and happy Council Member-elect.

But Griffith’s withdrawal does not erase Dunkerley’s campaign debt, and the current Charter provision ( Linda Curtis’ “little less corruption” amendment) does not allow a candidate to continue to collect campaign funds once the election is over. For Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman the election was over Saturday at midnight. For Griffith and Dunkerley, the campaign was over at midnight Monday. Dunkerley told In Fact Daily that she took $55,000 out of her retirement fund to pay for the campaign. She might have taken even more out to fund the runoff, but she had not counted on having to find all the money in one day. Nevertheless, she sent out a email to her friends at the Real Estate Council of Austin asking them to help pay off her debt. She said checks had to be dated as of yesterday.

Jim Cousar of Thompson & Knight, who serves as election law expert for many campaigns, said Dunkerley could accept either verbal or written pledges yesterday, as well as checks and cash. In determining when a candidate becomes an office-holder elect, Cousar explained, “The city is trying to mesh a badly-worded Charter amendment with a state law.” Since Dunkerley was a candidate at the beginning of the day, her status did not change until midnight, he said. An impromptu celebration at Threadgill’s World HQ Monday afternoon drew a big crowd. A few lawyers and representatives for development interests were in attendance, as well as a large group of city employees. Dunkerley said she is ready to serve, adding, “I think Beverly Griffith was incredibly generous to this community. By stepping down, she’s allowing us to focus on budget issues and all the other issues important to this community.”

Mayor Gus Garcia, who has known and worked with Dunkerley for a long time, said he looked forward to her serving with her. “She’ll make an excellent Council Member.” Garcia said Dunkerley’s impressive showing on Election Day surprised him, since he expected the incumbent to lead into the runoff.

Council Member Will Wynn, who has had more than his share of disagreements with Griffith, was wearing a broad smile and a name tag that said, “I sit next to Betty Dunkerley on the dais.”

Detective Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, was enjoying the third of three victory parties since Election Day. He said, “I think the police officers of this city are extraordinarily well-served by the outcome of the elections.” Goodman, Slusher and Dunkerley all expressed a strong commitment to maintaining appropriate levels of funding for public safety services, “to keep Austin one of the safest cities in America.” He expressed appreciation to Griffith for making the decision that spares the city several more weeks of bitter campaigning.

Dunkerley will begin serving on the City Council on June 15. As a city retiree, she will receive a check that might help replenish the retirement account she raided to fund the race, but she's by no means headed for retirement.

Surface parking area may be sticking point for some

The developers of Sixth +Lamar went before the Design Commission Monday evening to show off the drastic changes proposed for the site since it had been approved for Smart Growth points. Schlosser Development Corp. is working with Whole Foods Market Inc. to build a new, 80,000 square foot Whole Foods store and a seven-story office tower housing the company’s corporate and regional headquarters. The original plans for the site called for a major retail store, additional shops, office space and a movie theater. As part of the deal, Schlosser Development would gain rights to the existing Whole Foods store at 601 N. Lamar and would convert it into a variety of retail outlets.

According to David Vitanza with Schlosser Development, the company had been in confidential talks with Whole Foods for several months before the new plans for the site were revealed in late April. “We felt it was important to get in front of you early,” Vitanza told commissioners. “We want your support. We’re hoping that you will support our reapplication for the Smart Growth packages that we are already approved for on Sixth and Lamar, but also any entitlement requirements that might come along the way,” Vitanza said, referring to the waived fees for permits and city infrastructure allowed under the Smart Growth program. “We have a whole list approved on this project already and I’m not certain that we’ll need anything more.”

Other company representatives presented designs they categorized as being in the early schematics stage. They call for a new landmark supermarket combined with 200,000 square feet of office space. The 80,000 square foot store would be the largest Whole Foods store in the country. Those plans include 950 underground parking spaces, with another 120 at street level. “People do expect to put their car somewhere,” said John Fry of Whole Foods. He noted that some spaces must be visible from nearby streets in order to attract customers, citing studies done at other stores. Vitanza agreed, and said that maintaining the visibility of aboveground parking was an integral part of the deal reached between Schlosser Development and Whole Foods. “Although 85 percent of the parking for this complex is below grade, the 120 or so surface spaces are a critical item. It’s not a lot of parking, but it’s enough to entice people in there,” Vitanza said.

Several members of the Design Commission expressed reservations about those street-level parking spaces and the impact they would have on pedestrians in the area. “I understand that you need the surface parking, and I think that grocery stores should have some concessions for what they are,” said Commissioner Joan Hyde. “It’s difficult to get a grocery store downtown, and it’s important, so I’m willing to see more surface parking than you would for other things . . . but having it in the proposed location on the site is a problem.” Company representatives said they had studied several possibilities for the placement of the surface parking on the site, but were constrained by the need for large delivery trucks to have access to the grocery store and other operational factors. They agreed to consider the commission’s feedback. Other commissioners noted that disrupting the flow of pedestrians along the Sixth and Lamar block could potentially have a detrimental effect on surrounding businesses.

The Design Commission formed a subcommittee to study the project and report back to the full commission next month. While the changes to the project are significant, Vitanza said he would be working with city staff to try to maintain the current site development permit, although with a “major revision.” “The entire district will come through the Smart Growth process for your recommendation later this year while we are processing our site plan,” he said. The Sixth + Lamar block would require two building permits, one for the grocery store and one for the office tower, but could potentially remain under one site development permit. The existing Whole Foods Market at 601 N. Lamar would fall under a separate site plan, Vitanza said, but he would likely ask for both locations to be considered together when it came time to calculate Smart Growth points.

Both Whole Foods and Schlosser Development are anticipating breaking ground on the site before the end of this year, with completion of the project planned for early 2005.

Goodman’s debt retired . . . Alfred Stanley, Goodman’s campaign consultant and fundraiser, told In Fact Daily that the incumbent had collected enough funds by the end of her campaign to pay the attorneys fees for the lawsuit brought by city gadfly Linda Curtis. We got no word from Curtis on whether she has raised the funds necessary to pay her attorney . . . It’s Kirk Mitchell’s birthday . . . and he’s inviting all SOS Alliance supporters to celebrate with him at the Zoning and Platting Commission meeting tonight to oppose the Stratus Properties plan for Circle C. He admits it’s a “weird party idea,” but promises friends they can drink beer with him after the hearing is over. His email says, “it’s my birthday, so the only gift I want is for you to read Bill Bunch’s Action Alert below and come on down!” Who could resist? The meeting starts at 6pm . . . Also at the ZAP . . . Sarah Crocker, representing Austin Bergstrom Airport Ltd., is asking for a change in zoning on Highway 71 East to allow for construction of a major new luxury hotel. The current zoning is I-RR (interim rural residential) and the applicant is asking for LI-PDA, the only zoning category outside the urban core that will allow a height of 101 feet. Crocker has indicated that her client might be willing to lower the height somewhat and offer numerous amenities. The case has already been postponed three times and has worked its way up to first on the agenda . . . Canvass of vote at 1:30pm today . . . The City Council will meet at City Hall Room 304 to officially accept the results of Saturday’s City Council election. Because of Council Member Griffith’s decision, they will not be required to call a special election for June 1, as previously planned . . . Community Court Open House . . . The Downtown Austin Community Court will be showing off its new digs at 719 E. 6th St. from 4:30 to 6pm Wednesday. The event is sponsored by the Downtown Austin Alliance . . . Tour de France photo exhibit coming . . . “Eyes on the Tour de France,” a photo exhibit by internationally acclaimed photographer Graham Watson, featuring Lance Armstrong and the 2002 US Postal Team, opens at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday . . . MBE/WBE meets tonight too . . . The advisory committee on minority and women-owned business participation in city contracts will meet at 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd at 6pm. They will discuss developing a process for large Capital Improvement Projects and procedures for determining when a company has made a “good faith effort” to enlist minority help. They will also discuss public disclosure of bid information.

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

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