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City and company continue to work out details of agreement

Thursday, July 18, 2002 by

Mayor Gus Garcia may have his hands full today trying to curb the enthusiasm of those who have already spoken, not to mention new speakers who did not sit through the hours of emotional speeches of June 27 and July 11 concerning the Stratus Properties settlement agreement and zoning cases.

The City Council will take its second vote on the agreement and associated zoning cases today. Because of an earlier posting error, two additional zoning cases for Stratus’ property at Circle C will also be up for consideration. The public hearing on the agreement and the other cases closed last week, but the Save Our Springs Alliance has been urging supporters to come to this week’s meeting to speak on the new cases.

One of the SOSA’s main goals is to postpone the third and final vote on the deal. While the Council could take that vote today, it seems unlikely to do so, not because of public pressure but because Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman—and possibly other Council members—is not yet satisfied with certain provisions. The next meeting is Aug. 1, so city staff should have time to get some sleep before nailing down those last-minute provisions.

Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong told In Fact Daily Wednesday, “We’re very, very close in principle,” to a final agreement on the deal, including the difficult provision about what will happen if the city initiates downzoning on any of the tracts currently under consideration. “It’s like a pre-nuptial agreement,” Armstrong said. “You’re planning for something you hope will never happen.”

Some callers to Council offices have suggested that the city should now offer to swap the land for Robert Mueller. Armstrong scoffed at that idea. “We would have swapped for Mueller two years ago, but Bill Bunch killed the deal. We now have Catellus,” the master developer chosen by the city this spring. (See In Fact Daily, April 12, 2002 .) When Council Member Daryl Slusher tried to push negotiations in that direction two years ago, Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, joined Mueller area neighborhood leaders in opposing the idea.

Mueller neighborhoods leader Jim Walker said Wednesday, “The basic concept of a transfer of development rights was never the problem. The problem was never getting the Mueller Master Plan locked in.” Walker pointed out that the property has not yet been rezoned in accordance with the master plan and that the city is still negotiating with Catellus. He said the development rights might be transferred later in a three-way negotiation, but that he is not ready to swap Catellus, which has considerable urban development experience, for another developer.

On Wednesday, the SOS Alliance delivered a statement to Slusher, who has complained that no one had acknowledged his effort to reach out to Hays County to do regional planning. The statement said SOSA appreciates Slusher’s efforts “in support of regional planning for the Barton Springs watershed and in initiating programs to reduce pollution from landscaping chemicals and other sources in existing neighborhoods. The board also expresses its appreciation for Council Member Slusher’s interest in trading City assets of considerable value in order to secure additional preserve lands in the Barton Springs watershed.” The board also said they would cooperate with the city in such efforts.

Downtown mobility plan likely to be postponed

The West End Austin Alliance (WEAA) plans to be out in force at today’s Council meeting to oppose a plan they say will take customers away from burgeoning West End businesses.

A proposal to restrict left turns on 5th and 6th Streets off Lamar during peak-hour traffic has sparked opposition from local business owners and the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. The proposal is part of the Downtown Austin Mobility Project, otherwise known as DAMP. Late Wednesday, at least one Council member had requested that the matter be postponed.

Yesterday, the WEAA—composed primarily of 5th and 6th Street merchants—pledged to fight the city’s six-month trial that would reroute traffic around their businesses. The proposed signal changes were presented to a few Council members last week, but the rest of the Council did not attend the presentation because it had not been officially posted.

“Our criteria is a reduction in delay on both Lamar and MoPac,”city traffic engineer Gordon Derr told the WEAA at an afternoon meeting on Wednesday. “They’re both equally critical in the system. The goal is to improve efficiency of the intersection both ways.”

That means a better flow of traffic off 5th and 6th Streets into and out of downtown, as well as better north-south access on Lamar, Derr said. But the merchants along those streets have different goals: a more pedestrian-friendly environment that would encourage commuters to stop and shop at the growing number of retail businesses in the West End.

“I’m not sure that your objective to try to save time is an objective this group shares,” said David Vitanza, a partner in Schlosser Development. He ticked off proposals the merchants’ group could support, like adding a left-turn lane to Lamar and running an extra left-turn light signal both before and after through traffic to increase traffic flow and avoid the queuing that tends to delay through traffic in the area.

Merchants criticized the city’s solution as one devised by engineers rather than the community. Patricia Bauer-Slate, owner of Sweetish Hill Bakery, said the Four Corners area of the West End is fast becoming an “incredible place in Austin for families to eat and shop and work.” Add that to the developing Seaholm project and other neighborhood attractions, and the area will soon be a destination spot for shopping in Austin, Bauer-Slate said. The traffic changes don’t take that into account.

“What we’re making happen here is the most sophisticated shopping and eating area that has ever happened to Austin, that could happen in Austin,” Bauer-Slate said. “What we want is for people to be able to walk across the streets, get them into parking lots.”

While Derr acknowledged the group’s concerns and agreed that “no traffic solution is ever purely an engineering solution,” he added that it was probably no one’s goal to sit in traffic staring at the GSD&M Building. Vitanza countered that traffic was something merchants needed, although those merchants admitted they’d like to encourage through traffic onto other arterials such as Cesar Chavez and 15th Street.

Moving through traffic onto alternate routes is the key to the problem, Vitanza said, especially given that the older streets in the area have insufficient capacity and would be very difficult to improve. Lamar Boulevard, he said, will likely never be widened, no matter how many engineering studies might recommend it.

Derr said he appreciated the group’s concerns, but pointed out that almost every downtown neighborhood group, including those that bound 15th Street and Cesar Chavez, felt the same about their neighborhoods. The WEAA encouraged Derr to pass along its strong objection to the proposal to the Council on Thursday.

Also Wednesday, the Real Estate Council of Austin released a letter to the Mayor and Council endorsing the mobility plan—except for the two-way street proposal for numbered downtown streets outside of the 2nd Street retail corridor. The group had already released conclusions from its task force on the matter.

Most recent C&E reports filed this week

.Campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk’s office show that supporters and opponents of the failed Proposition 1 raised and spent comparable amounts of money. Opponents of the campaign-finance reform measure raised and spent their money in the final days before the election, while supporters raised their money over a much longer period. After voters rejected Prop. 1, supporters of the measure pinned some of the blame for their defeat on the last-minute media blitz launched by the opposition. (See In Fact Daily, May 6th, 2002 .)

The Citizens Committee for Proper Expenditure of Local Taxes spent $30,000 in its anti-Prop. 1 campaign effort. The bulk of the money ($28,500) went to McDonald Public Relations, Inc. The group also lists an expense of $1,142.70 paid to Reagan National Advertising on April 25th for the printing cost of 15 billboards.

Clean Campaigns of Austin spent $32,829.32 during the period from the end of April to election day. Most of that money ($26,902.73) went to political consulting firm Grassroots Solutions. The group also lists itemized expenditures for equipment rental, telephone soliciting and bank fees. Unlike the Citizens Committee, the Clean Campaigns organization raised and spent a significant amount of money between mid-March and mid-April. The group’s April 29th Contribution and Expenditure report shows $12,533.50 in expenses, compared to $24,410 in contributions during that time frame.

While supporters of Prop. 1 decided on a grassroots approach and opponents chose a high-profile media campaign, they did have one element in common. They were both financed by large donations from outside groups, with relatively little or no funding from individuals. And since both sides accepted major donations from organizations and devoted most of their resources to third-party political or media consultants, it is difficult to precisely track who contributed the money or exactly how it was spent.

The Citizens Committee formed to oppose Prop. 1 does not list any contributions from actual citizens. The campaign was funded almost entirely by the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), either through in-kind donations (of billboard space and P.O. box rental) or through contributions made by its political action committee. The Texas Capital Area Builders Association’s political action committee made a $5,000 contribution, a portion of which was returned after the election.

Funding for the Prop 1 support group Clean Campaigns of Austin came largely from Texans for Public Justice ( http://www.tpj.org/ ). The non-profit group contributed $15,800 during the reporting period that ended April 29th, and gave another $10,900 during the remaining time before the election. The Massachusetts-based Solidago Foundation contributed $5,000, as did Campaigns for People founder Fred Lewis. The group also received donations from several individuals in amounts ranging from $10 dollars to $500.

While funding for RECA and its associated political action committee presumably come from RECA members, funding for Texans for Public Justice comes from several different sources. The group lists its major benefactors on its web site at http://www.tpj.org/supporters.html, including The Alliance For Better Campaigns (which is in turn funded by the Pew Charitable Trust), the Solidago Foundation of Massachusetts and the Rockefeller Family Fund.

For news from July 8-July 12, click here:

Friday

It’s a boy! . . . Jim and Scheleen Johnson Walker are the proud parents of James Boone Walker, born June 30. He is named for Daniel Boone, one of Scheleen’s ancestors. Both are well . . . Rockwell to work for SOS . . . When Bill Bunch, who serves as both Executive Director and General Counsel to the Save Our Springs Alliance, starts his sabbatical in the Czech Republic in September, attorney Brad Rockwell will take over some of his legal duties. Bunch, whose wife is Czech, said he would be gone for “a little less than a year,” and would continue working for SOSA, primarily through email. Rockwell has recently represented such high profile clients as the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, Linda Curtis and Kirk Mitchell. He currently works for Scanlan Buckle & Young . . . Honoring Crenshaw . . . The City Council this week will honor Roberta Crenshaw, one of the city’s oldest supporters of parks and open space. The pedestrian crossing under MoPac will be named the Roberta Crenshaw Walkway . . . Environmental group wants to educate Dell shareholders . . . The Texas Campaign for the Environment has been contacting owners of Dell stock and will be at today’s shareholder meeting, beginning at 8am at the Convention Center. The group has asked Dell to recycle old computers in a way that is environmentally friendly, instead of sending the cast off equipment to China. They said Dell should provide the same service to its US customers that it provides to Europeans, namely taking the old computers back when they’re obsolete. “Electronic waste does not belong in landfills, incinerators or on barges for developing countries. Dell is the national corporate target of the Computer TakeBack Campaign because it has been a sales leader, but not an environmental leader,” according to Robin Schneider, executive director of TCE. For more on this issue, see http://www.ban.org/ . . . Austin Energy launches first fuel cell . . . Austin Energy unveiled its state-of-the art fuel cell this week at the Rebekah Baines Johnson Health Center. The 200-kilowatt fuel cell, which operates on natural gas, is the first of its kind in Austin and the first to feed power into the Texas electric grid. The RBJ Health Center uses waste heat from the fuel cell to heat water. Austin Energy officials say the unit will allow them to do research on a multitude of issues relating to the new technology, which operates on natural gas and produces only 10 to 20 percent of the emissions generated by gas boilers. The US Department of Defense provided about $200,000 of the $1.2 million cost of installing the fuel cell. For more information call 322-6559 . . . Stratus names Bruce G. Garrison new director . . . Stratus Properties announced Wednesday the election of Bruce G. Garrison to its board of directors. Garrison is vice president and portfolio manager of Pinnacle Management & Trust Co and has 30 years of experience as a certified financial analyst.

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

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