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Communications director says group gaining members

Tuesday, September 3, 2002 by

By Keith Sennikoff

Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) Communications Director Colin Clark is cautiously optimistic that Barton Springs can be saved and that the organization’s efforts to stem growth and expansion of infrastructure further out into the Barton Springs watershed are having a positive effect. Due to recent events—in particular, the Stratus hearings and new outreach efforts—SOSA is experiencing an accelerated period of growth.

A native Austinite, Clark interned at SOSA during the summers of 1997 and 1998 and was hired into his current position last October, a year after receiving his BA in American Studies from Amherst College (Massachusetts). His functions at SOSA include public education, community organizing, fund-raising, research, writing and media relations. His burden may be considerably heavier in the coming months as SOSA Executive Director Bill Bunch takes an extended vacation in the Czech Republic. He will continue to work for the organization part-time from there.

Clark noted that SOSA membership has been increasing recently, “in large part because of the attention that we’ve been able to generate over the Stratus deal. A lot of people were awakened and are now getting active. And that’s translating into both people joining the Alliance and wanting to help out with monetary contributions.” Hundreds of people, he said. “We were in the media a lot with our tenth anniversary, so obviously that was helpful in generating exposure and increasing awareness. And as the population of Austin has skyrocketed you have a lot of folks moving here who either have no idea what natural resources we have, or assume the natural resources we do have are being protected. So, there are a lot of potential members out there we’re going to try to reach.”

“We built some alliances with a lot of the neighbors in the Circle C area and a lot of the folks who live out there who maybe hadn’t been thinking much about the future of the undeveloped land are now really concerned about it and want to be a part of the planning process. So we’re going to work cooperatively with them to figure out what’s going to happen out there. And then also there are a lot of folks who live in subdivisions over the Edwards Aquifer are now getting more interested in what they can do in terms of their individual lawns to prevent pollution. That’s a newer outreach twist . . . traditionally our base has been what’s now known as the central city. We’re expanding . . . into predominantly rural areas.”

IFD: “Is SOSA willing to help raise funds to purchase land—in particular Tract 110 of the Stratus property?” Council Member Daryl Slusher in particular has been trying to raise the profile of that piece of property.

CC: “There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Tract 110. That’s kind of narrowing the focus of land acquisition onto a hundred and some-odd acres. We are working to find money to buy land for the entire watershed, so to the extent that we’re drumming up support to buy Tract 110: we’re not doing that immediately. We’re looking at the bigger picture of ‘how do we finance land acquisition that will encompass tens of thousands of acres?’ If when that money arrives Tract 110 is available at a reasonable market price . . . We’d love to have something other than three quarters of a million square feet of office space. However, (Stratus CEO) Beau Armstrong said he doesn’t think they would start constructing on that for three years, so what’s the rush to buy that out right now? There’s eight million empty square feet of office space in Austin.”

Although SOSA is frequently in the news as a plaintiff in a lawsuit or taking an adversarial role in its push to get results, Clark says the organization would prefer to work cooperatively with the city, county, state and the Feds. But sometimes, he said, “factors out of our control leave us no choice but to oppose certain proposals.”

Clark stressed that SOSA worked closely with the city on the Prop 2 bond money to preserve land in the Barton Springs watershed. He believes it was extremely successful and a good example of SOSA working cooperatively. “Unfortunately, a lot of more recent bond proposals have focused entirely on road building and we haven’t been able to support those. So it’s a mixed-bag, but we’re going to try to get everyone on the same page in the effort to save the springs.”

IFD: “Keeping in mind that the city only governs about 27 percent of the watershed, what can SOSA do in other jurisdictions—besides litigation?”

CC: “Well, what we’re trying to do—and what we’re glad the Council seems interested in doing—is regional planning: working with both Travis and Hays Counties, City of Buda, Dripping Springs, Village of Bee Caves and Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, and actually we’re trying to expand to an aquifer-wide level” of planning.

IFD: “Some people are saying the SOS Ordinance isn’t stringent enough and should either be amended or replaced. How could the ordinance be improved?”

CC: “The first step would be to actually enforce it as it was written! I mean if you want to argue that it’s not stringent enough—I don’t see how you could argue that if you’re advocating that it shouldn’t be enforced as it was written. How on earth are we going to strengthen it when it’s not even being applied as it’s supposed to be?”

“There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about what the SOS Ordinance can and can’t do. And it was repeatedly represented during the Stratus hearings that the SOS Ordinance somehow dictated density levels. Well, it can’t. It’s a water quality ordinance. It can only dictate impervious cover limitations. So in terms of how could it be strengthened you could . . . reduce the amount of impervious cover allowed. But given the difficulty of enforcing what limits there are, I think the development community would be openly hostile to any amendments or alterations that would further reduce impervious cover.”

Asked whether the he perceived the losses by candidate Kirk Mitchell and former Council Member Beverly Griffith in the May City Council election as a setback, Clark said. “We don’t ever back political candidates during elections. We’re a 501(c)(3) non-profit. We can endorse issues, but we don’t endorse political candidates. We have a Council in place that’ll be there as it is until next May, and we want to work with them.” However, he did allow that considering some recent head-butting with certain other Council members they might have an easier time with Mitchell and Griffith on the dais.

IFD: “How do you feel about the future? Are you optimistic?”

CC: “Most days I’m an optimist. I think it’s pretty obvious we have a small window of time left to save the springs. I think if we don’t get a lot of land preserved during this economic downturn when the next boom hits the springs will be done. Because there’s a lot out there that are already approved . . . just waiting for the market to rebound before they start turning dirt. So I’m optimistic that given the small window we can get it done—but it’s not going to be easy.”

“Our ideal scenario would be to prevent the massive development that’s proposed first, and if we can achieve that, then let’s go back and clean up what’s already there. But . . . we have to prevent the mega-development that’s planned first—because if we don’t stop that it doesn’t matter.”

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

Debate tonight . . . State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and his rival in the November election, Republican nominee Ben Bentzin will square off in a debate at 7pm tonight at the banquet hall of the UT Alumni Center, 2110 San Jacinto. The hour-long debate is open to the public. Last week, the Bentzin campaign announced that the Texas Association of Business had endorsed the Republican. The Barrientos campaign responded that the incumbent has received numerous endorsements and called the TAB nod Bentzin’s “very first endorsement from a legitimate non-partisan organization.” Barrientos also released a statement of support from a number of local businessmen endorsing his candidacy. The incumbent won endorsements last week from Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas as well as local police and firefighters groups . . . Labor Day politics . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson spent Monday attending Labor Day rallies in San Antonio, Austin, Pasadena, Dallas and Hurst . . . Mayoral press conference . . . Mayor Gus Garcia and representatives of Goodwill Industries will hold a press conference at 9:30am today at City Hall to announce a special program to assist those with disabilities in finding employment . . . Shakespeare show starting this week . . . The Austin Shakespeare Festival will be starting its fall production this Friday at the Zilker Hillside Theater. Jim Cousar, president of ASF, says this year’s show, Twelfth Night, is Shakespeare’s best loved comedy. Admission is free. The show will run Thursday through Sunday for the next five weekends, with the final performance on Sunday, October 6, except the weekend of Sept 26-29, when Austin City Limits Music Festival has booked the hillside theater. That weekend the cast will perform at Southwestern University in Georgetown. For more information, visit the web site: . . . Visions of the future . . . Envision Central Texas, chaired by Neal Kocurek, will hold a regional workshop designed to start development of a “community-based vision for addressing growth wisely” on Friday, September 13. The process runs from 7:30am to noon at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez. For more information, visit the web link . . . No city meetings tonight . . . The guys at Channel 6 will be hauling out the reruns, evidently. The city’s web site shows all quiet on the day after Labor Day. The Water & Wastewater Commission will meet Wednesday evening.

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

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