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East Cesar Chavez residents say agency must win their trust

Friday, September 13, 2002 by

Members of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood leadership team told representatives of Capital Metro this week that they want to participate fully in the agency’s process for planning a rail corridor through their neighborhood. They made it equally clear that the process cannot be rushed—apparently eliminating the possibility that Cap Metro will try to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) next month.

Dianne Galaviz, Capital Metro’s director of business and economic development, met with members of the neighborhood team this week to explain the transit agency’s plans for the area. Rumors about the RFQ and the possibility that local businessman Andy Ramirez was in line for the contract had put neighbors on alert. But Galaviz told a small packed room at the Terrazas Library that Cap Metro would not proceed without their blessing.

Galaviz explained that her presentation to Cap Metro’s Board of Directors in August included a deadline of September 30 for completing revisions to the scope of work for the RFQ, and October 15 as a target date for releasing it. However, the board did not direct Galaviz and her team to proceed with those dates. And Galaviz assured the ECC team that “If there’s not consensus from the neighborhood, we don’t want to do it. If we need to have many more meetings, we will.”

Lori Renteria told Galaviz that the neighborhood was upset because they had learned about the proposal from the Austin Chronicle. She said, “I read that other planning teams were working with Capital Metro.” The ECC team wondered why they had been left out. Joseph Martinez said, “You do not understand the history,” of the relationship between the city and East Austin and Capital Metro. “We are very distrustful of anybody who comes in and promises good things.” But if Capital Metro works with the neighborhood, he said, “We will be your biggest supporters.”

Sabino Renteria, chair of the Community Development Corporation, told Galaviz that he was excited about the possibility of rail service in his neighborhood. But he also stressed that the neighborhood is concerned about the effects of gentrification. “We want to create housing—not just low-income housing,” but also some for higher income residents. “We need some high-density housing so that rail can be successful.”

The team elected Lupe Banda and Ray Ramirez to chair the group’s Capital Metro RFQ committee. Banda said Thursday she and Ramirez would meet with Galaviz next week to talk about a timeline for the project. Ray Ramirez is the director of Con Ganas, a non-profit corporation that does small home rehabilitation projects. Banda is a paralegal. Both serve on the neighborhood planning team.

Ramirez says he already has experience to do plan

BusinessmanAndy Ramirez, who wants to do the planning project, told the group that he had already done two studies on the rail corridor for Capital Metro, one in 1993 and the other in 1995. He said those plans were never implemented and urged the group to move quickly into the new planning process. “Things are happening today,” he stressed. Ramirez is owner of RZ & Associates.

The proposed budget for the RFQ was originally between $100,000 and 150,000. Banda said yesterday that Galaviz told her the budget for the study would be between $50,000 and $150,000.

Ramirez is remembered for his involvement in the 1987 sale of the Avante Building to the City of Austin, a purchase that was heavily criticized as extravagant in a time of falling real estate values. In early 1993, the American-Statesman reported that Ramirez and Ben Dukes Sr. were the majority shareholders in Austin Parking Inc., which formed a partnership with industry giant AMPCO to bid on the parking contract at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. City staff had recommended a competitor, Allright Parking, for the contract, but the Council chose AMPCO because of its ties to the minority businessmen.

There are also environmental concerns. Capital Metro owns a 10-acre tract at I-35 between 4th and 5th streets. People who have lived in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood for decades recall that the tract was once a dump. The Renterias, as well as other members of the planning team, say that an environmental impact study must be done before there can be any planning for that property, which the Neighborhood Plan designates as CS-MU (commercial services, mixed-use). Although the neighborhood would like to see the tract devoted to mixed uses, including housing, they believe that Capital Metro wants to turn the site into a parking garage—which they do not want.

The meeting with Galaviz did allay some of those fears, however. Lupe Banda said, “We’re real optimistic at this point.” She noted that Paul Hilgers, director of the city's Housing and Community Development Department, had offered his assistance in bringing affordable housing the neighborhood “We’re all pretty excited about getting something going.”

Design Commission, Parks Board, have their own recommendations

The Design Commission this week recommended more funding for the city’s Art in Public Places program, but chose to delay its support for proposed ordinance changes.

The Arts Commission, through its Art in Public Places subcommittee, is lobbying for three changes to the current ordinance: raising the AIPP budget from 1 to 2 percent on city-backed projects; removing the $200,000 cap on each individual art project; and adding infrastructure such as road and street projects to the AIPP umbrella.

Administrator Martha Peters and Arts Commissioner Mel Ziegler have presented the proposed changes to the Downtown Austin Alliance, Parks Board, Downtown Commission and now the Design Commission.

Over the past 17 years, the AIPP program has underwritten $3.6 million in artwork at 57 public facilities including Austin Bergstrom International Airport and the Palmer Events Center. Through the program, one percent of the budget for construction of new public buildings, major renovations and parkland acquisition is dedicated to the creation of public art, Peters explained to the commissioners.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board also voted to support more funding for the AIPP program, but said that arts money for CIP projects should be limited to streetscapes, street improvements and similar projects. That board said the AIPP program should not be designated for street reconstruction projects, sidewalks or bicycle lanes.

The Council can choose to opt out of the program as it has done in the case of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve purchases or to raise the contribution as it did in the case of the Austin-Bergstrom Airport, Peters said.

The city also accepts donations to pay for projects. The Junior League will contribute almost a million dollars to create the Town Lake Park Children’s Garden. Created by a team of artists, the garden will use interactive activities to teach children about artistic concepts such as light and shadow, shape and texture. The Junior League has agreed to commit $480,000 to the project and is expected to donate another $480,000 to complete the work.

Paying artists a living wage is a major goal for Ziegler, an art professor at the University of Texas. Subcommittee members explained to the Design Commission that whereas the city will spend $8,000 for three days of work to tile a bathroom, it pays only $12,000 to $15,000 for a two-year commitment by an artist or artisan to complete a commissioned project in the AIPP program. The bulk of the 101 commissioned projects completed in the AIPP program were accomplished for less than $25,000.

Peters pointed out Austin is the only one of 200 cities using the AIPP process that has set a cap on expenditures. Ziegler said the cap was approved when AIPP was created in 1985 because it allowed the Council to “test the waters” to see if the program could be successful. Now, Ziegler said, the program has demonstrated the maturity to handle larger sums of money.

Adding infrastructure to the list of AIPP-eligible projects is intended to broaden the scope and the visibility of the program, Peters said. Under a 2 percent formula the AIPP commitment for Barton Springs Road would have been $112,000. An art commitment for the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge – if an infrastructure AIPP program had been in place – would have been $193,907.

The members of the Design Commission, almost all of whom are architects, support the AIPP program. In fact, Chair Juan Cotera called it “preaching to the choir.” Phillip Reed and Girard Kinney worried that the new limits did not go far enough.

Reed discussed more flexibility in AIPP expenditures, moving the program beyond city construction projects. Cotera suggested using a sliding scale on art projects, starting with small projects requiring a 5 percent commitment and going up to larger projects requiring a 1 percent commitment. Some contributions are so small, Cotera said, that they don’t generate enough money for a significant art project.

Kinney, chair of the Design Commission subcommittee that deals with AIPP, asked that any resolution to support the changes be tabled. Instead, Kinney asked that his committee meet between now and the next Design Commission meeting to draft its own recommendations. Council Member Will Wynn is expected to champion the AIPP recommendations.

The Design Commission also appointed a review team to meet with architects and representatives from the Texas School for the Deaf and make recommendations for improvements along the South Congress side of the school. The commission was concerned about the embankment along South Congress not being made of limestone, a native rock. The State of Texas has said using limestone would be too expensive. The review team, Eleanor McKinney, Phillip Reed and Joan Hyde, will give their report to the commission at their next meeting.

The street improvements are part of a resolution voters passed in 1998 to improve South Congress Avenue. The improvements proposed along the school are part of a larger project that includes the Texas School for the Deaf, Capital Metro and the city.

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

No fireworks this week . . . The Board of Adjustment granted postponements to the neighborhood hoping to prevent the El Taquito taco stand from becoming a limited restaurant and to the developers of the new Whole Foods Store at 6th and Lamar. In the case of the former, neighbors did not wish to go forward without all the members who heard the first case. In the second case, Richard Suttle, who represents the developers, and the Old West Austin Neighborhood both indicated they need more time to reach an agreement on the height of proposed buildings . . . Alvarez to show his dance skills for Diez y Seis . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez and his girlfriend, Theresa Michalak, will perform Jarabe Tapatio (known to many as the Mexican Hat Dance) at the Fiesta de Independencia Celebration Sunday. The celebration, to be held at the Plaza Saltillo, 412 Comal St., will run from 7 to 11pm, with the Council Member’s dance scheduled around 7:30pm. The festivities mark the 192nd anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain . . . Endorsement dance continues . . . It’s that time of year. Numerous clubs and interest groups around town ask candidates to answer questionnaires, make presentations and ask for endorsements. Next Wednesday, the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus will hold a candidate forum and endorsement meeting for the November election. The group will meet at 7pm at the AFL/CIO Auditorium at 11th and Lavaca St. The ALGPC promises to “publicize its endorsements and provide volunteer and financial support to endorsed candidates.” For more information, see the group’s web site, http://www.outaustin.org . . . Bentzin says no to questionnaire . . . Ben Bentzin, Republican candidate for State Senate District 14, sent the following message to ALGPC: “The Ben Bentzin for Texas Senate campaign maintains a strict policy regarding candidate questionnaires; subsequently we are unable to respond to your candidate questionnaire at this time.” In Fact Daily contacted the campaign, but no one was available to comment further. . . Firefighters’ non-endorsement explained . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters endorsed a slew of candidates in local races this week, but failed to name a favorite for county judge. Mike Martinez, president of the firefighters’ PAC, told In Fact Daily that neither Judge Sam Biscoe nor his opponent, Bob Honts, had asked for the group’s endorsement. “So, we decided to stay out of that race,” Martinez said . . . Kitchen HQ opens . . . Rep. Ann Kitchen will have an open house at her new campaign headquarters, 3006 Bee Caves Rd., Suite A-290, from 5:30 – 7:30pm today. Democrat Kitchen faces a tough opponent, former Pct. 3 Commissioner Todd Baxter, in the redrawn district. Baxter’s HQ is at 7200 N. MoPac, suite 400. Baxter will appear at a candidate coffee for residents in the Westlake and Lost Creek areas next Thursday night. For more information and directions, call the headquarters at 342-0070.

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

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