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Wary Council not ready

Thursday, September 26, 2002 by

For commitment to RMA

Representation, environmental concerns top list of worries

The Austin City Council did not welcome the idea of a regional mobility authority (RMA) at Wednesday’s Council briefing with the same open enthusiasm as had Travis and Williamson counties.

CAMPO endorsed the concept of the Central Texas RMA last week, with the Austin members of the regional planning authority abstaining from the vote. Yesterday, Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department, outlined the concerns the city must address before signing on to the concept. The first two toll projects proposed for funding under the Central Texas RMA would be US 183A through Williamson County and the southeast leg of SH 45.

The two counties both see a number of advantages in establishing a Central Texas RMA. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe called it “another funding mechanism” to move projects more quickly through the construction process. Commissioner Margaret Moore spoke of greater local control and greater responsiveness to local issues as the RMA “stands in” for the Texas Department of Transportation. And Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the funding strategy would allow the counties to recoup expenditures on right-of-way acquisition that are impossible to recapture under the current funding structure.

The main question in the minds of Council members was representation. The governance structure of the Central Texas RMA, modeled on the North Texas Transportation Authority, would be three representatives apiece from Williamson and Travis counties and one representative appointed by the governor. Council members, some fearing a far less pro-environmental stance from the two counties, expressed concerns about the representation of Austin in the whole process.

Council Member Will Wynn called the regional mobility authority a “two-headed coin.” In one sense, the process simplifies the problem of “too many conflicting perspectives” and “too many cooks stirring the pot,” Wynn said. On the other hand, Wynn told the counties he was still trying to figure out how Austin’s voice could be heard in projects that were located within Austin’s jurisdiction. He wondered whether the counties understood the inner-city neighborhood conflicts over issues such as hooking HOV lanes from MoPac into downtown Austin.

Moore stressed two points about the Central Texas RMA: All projects within the RMA would also be in the CAMPO regional mobility plan. And no one will buy bonds for a project if they know it is opposed in the jurisdiction where it is located.

“Many of the same negotiations that you would go through with TxDOT, you would go through with the RMA,” Moore said. “The RMA board, however, will be a more local one. The way we envision it is that it will be more in tune with the kinds of issues that would come up here.”

The Central Texas region will be the first to take a resolution for an RMA to the Texas Transportation Commission. The commission is likely to vote on the proposal at the end of October, and both commissioners courts should sign off on the transportation organization the first week of November.

Librach outlined other concerns for the city beyond governance. Toll revenues may or may not cover debt service for the projects; it may be years before any RMA shows a surplus; and early management costs will have to be covered by the members of the governing boards. Librach was also worried that the counties’ approach to environmental concerns may differ from that of the city.

If the Central Texas RMA moves forward with plans for SH 45 South, it will involve building over the aquifer, Librach said. The city’s transportation plan differs somewhat from the CAMPO plan, and the priorities of the city might be different from the RMA.

Sonleitner responded that four of the five members of Travis County Commissioners Court live in Austin. And the beauty of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is that the view is regional. The construction of US 183A might be in Williamson County, but it would directly benefit Travis County residents on the north shore of Lake Travis.

The legislation still has shortcomings that must be addressed during the next legislative session. Rep. Mike Krusee, ( R-Round Rock) also on hand for the briefing, told the Council he would be addressing some of those problems, which include bonding and condemnation authority for regional mobility authorities. The next legislative session must also address Exclusive Development Agreements and the ability to participate in plans that include the development of regional rail.

Mayor Gus Garcia told the Council he had put together a group of staff members to review the RMA proposal and mobility legislation. Their concerns and conclusions will be presented to the Council and then forwarded to the two counties. Krusee said the counties need to move forward with the Central Texas RMA as soon as possible to build some leverage during the legislative session.

Goodman, Dunkerley express support for Arts Commission recommendation

The Arts Commission is recommending changes in the Art in Public Places (AIPP) program to boost the amount of money available for public art projects, and has the support of at least two Council members. The commission adopted a resolution urging the City Council to raise the percentage of money set aside for art in certain types of public works projects, along with eliminating the spending cap of $200,000 for any single art project.

On Wednesday, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said, “All the recommendations from the resolution that the commission passed are reasonable, beneficial and long past due, and I support them.” Gloria Aguilera, aide to Council Member Betty Dunkerley, said Dunkerley would also support the change. Both attended the Arts Commission meeting during which the resolution was approved. Paul Saldaña, chief aide to Mayor Gus Garcia, commented, “Since our office and the Mayor have not had an opportunity to hear directly from the Arts Commission and review the resolution, we do not have an official position on their proposal. While the recommendation prospectively could be something we consider for future projects, it may not be feasible to consider for current projects underway (both in the design and construction phases).”

Jill Bedgood, chair of the AIPP panel, told commissioners the percentage reserved for art in the budgets of major public works projects had been stagnant since the AIPP program was established in the mid 1980s. “It’s time we actually increased the amount from 1 to 2 percent,” said Bedgood. “We deserve the best art we can get.” Under the plan endorsed by the commission, the increase would apply to future bond-funded infrastructure projects including street improvements, streetscape improvements and bridges. The increase would also apply to other projects recommended by the AIPP Panel. Bedgood told commissioners the increase would help cover rising costs for artists working on city projects. Beginning this fiscal year, those artists will have to provide worker’s compensation insurance for their employees

More than a dozen artists attended the Arts Commission meeting to voice their support for the proposal. “For a city our size, we stick out for our lack of public art,” said Phillipe Klinefelter. “It’s time that changed.” John Yancey, a former chair of the AIPP Panel, agreed. “In 1985, the program was an experiment,” he said. “Now, it’s ready to fly, but there’s a string tied around its foot.” Kathleen Ash told the commission that under the current program, some artists were reluctant to bid on projects because they were not financially rewarding. “When you’re done, you have another testament to how you’ll work for not as much money as you deserve,” she said. “If we’re going to be a great city instead of just a cool town, artists need to get paid what they deserve.” And UT Professor Margo Sawyer said the increase in spending on the arts would have an impact on other sectors of the economy. “Last year, when local jobs were on the skids, I basically kept two factories working for two months,” she said. “You’re also supporting local industries . . . and you’re supporting the community at large.”

The resolution urging the City Council to amend the AIPP ordinance passed unanimously. Other cities, including Dallas, Houston and Corpus Christi, set aside between 1.5 and 2 percent of city construction budgets for public art. “In 1985, when I heard that Austin had passed this ordinance, it turned my head,” said Commissioner Sue Graze. “Suddenly, Austin had was taking a great leap forward and becoming a leader in the state. Seventeen years later, we need more money.” Commissioner Bruce Willenzik agreed, stressing the need to compensate artists fairly for their efforts. “For us to be competing as a city, we need to keep our artists,” Willenzik said. “We’ve got to take the steps to pay our artists . . . or we’ll end up telling them goodbye.”

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

Commercial zoning recommended for Eastside tract . . . The Planning Commission last night recommended CS zoning for a tract at 5100 E. 7th Street. The owner, Rosa Santis, wants to open a banquet hall and restaurant on the site. Parents of children at nearby Allan Elementary School are opposed to any zoning on the site which allows the sale of alcohol, but the school is more than 300 feet away so it would be allowed under city code. Allen Elementary parent Geneva Oliva says they plan to take their concerns to the City Council. The property owner had originally requested CS-1, which would have allowed the facility to be designated as a bar or cocktail lounge instead of a restaurant . . . The Planning Commission also postponed consideration of the East MLK Combined Neighborhood Plan and the associated re-zonings. Some neighborhood groups complained they had received notice about the case less than two weeks ago . . . Fire chief to wed . . . Fire chief Gary Warren and Milissa Jazwiak have sent out invitations for their wedding on October 5. The reception is appropriately planned for the Manchaca Fire Hall . . . Longhorn delays gas . . . The target date for the operators of the Longhorn Pipeline to begin pumping gasoline through the pipe is being pushed back. Longhorn is a partnership of five companies that had originally planned to send gasoline from Houston to El Paso at the beginning of October. But financial problems point to the first quarter of 2003 before the pipeline begins operations, according to a Williams Company spokesman. The pipeline is constructed and ready to go, but Longhorn’s Austin representative, Don Martin, said he has not been informed of a definite start-up date. Martin also said Longhorn’s spill response plan has been filed with the Office of Pipeline Safety . . . Today the City Council will be considering thirteen new zoning cases, the Southeast Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan, and zoning to accompany the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan. The Council will also have a chance to consider final approval for six other zoning cases, including the controversial La Hacienda Market on Teri Road . . . Zoning and Platting Commission still short . . . The Council has not yet found the perfect commissioner to fill a consensus appointment on the commission and Council Member Danny Thomas still needs to find the right citizen to take the spot of former Commissioner Vincent Aldridge. But In Fact Daily i s not expecting those appointments today . . . Searching for new manager . . . Round Rock City Council has chosen current City Manager Bob Bennett and former Assistant Manager Joanne Land to lead the search for Bennett’s successor. Bennett and Land will conduct a nationwide search, screen and interview applicants and make recommendations to the City Council. The search is expected to take about three months. Bennett resigned last month and plans to leave Round Rock on Jan. 4.

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

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