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Interim process would eliminate new applicants for next year

Tuesday, October 29, 2002 by

The Arts Commission will recommend to the City Council an interim process for funding Cultural Arts contracts for fiscal year 2003-04 that relies heavily on the contracts issued for the current fiscal year. The interim recommendations, if approved by the Council, would expire after one year asa new process shaped by an outside consulting firm is put into place. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 11, 2002 .)

Commissioners will recommend to the Council that they establish a base funding level of approximately $2,500,000 for cultural arts contracts for the next year. That’s close to the amount allocated for this year, and would have the practical impact of extending the current contracts for another year. “We’re stuck in a position where we’ve got to come up with an interim process and we’ve got to come up with it quick,” said Commissioner Bruce Willenzik . “We’re sure that no one’s going to like it.” The primary benefits of extending the current contracts with artists, commissioners agreed, were simplicity and predictability. “I feel that knowing how much you’re going to have from one year to the next can be very helpful for some organizations,” said Commissioner Sue Graze. “Some arts groups should be able to move forward in a very positive way.” On the downside, all organizations received a 30-percent funding cut for the current fiscal year, and basing next year’s allotments on this year’s would represent continued hardship. “We’re looking for a better future,” said Commissioner Maxine Barkan, “but we might have to tighten our belt right now.”

Commissioners considered recommending a formula for averaging the FY 2002-03 and FY 2000-01 contract amounts, but rejected it as too complicated. Some arts groups received funding in only one of those budget years, while others may have received funding in both years under different names. Fiscal year 2001-02 was not considered for averaging purposes because of several problems with arts funding contracts.

The commission will also recommend to the Council that applications for new contracts not be accepted for the 2003-04 fiscal year. Commissioners struggled with this recommendation, noting that they had received conflicting requests from Council members. “We have a limited budget,” said Graze. “We should rally around the people we do want to support. Any money we would grant for a new applicant would not sustain them.” Commissioner Kathleen Harman agreed, noting that a continued economic slump could result in further declines in the hotel-motel bed tax revenue which funds the cultural arts contracts. “From a business standpoint, we don’t know what the numbers will be,” she said. Other commissioners stressed the need to improve outreach efforts to seek out new applicants for the 2004-05 fiscal year. That would likely involve the African-American Technical Assistance Center run by Boyd Vance, which received funding from the Council this year and would receive funding again next year under the commission’s proposal.

Council members should soon receive a letter from the commission outlining those recommendations, along with several others. Under the commission’s proposal, artists and arts groups would still have to reapply for their funding from the city. The application deadline is tentatively set for March 17, 2003.

Where is draft RFQ? asks community memer

At a community meeting last week, East Austin residents told Capital Metro representatives they need to know more about a plan to explore options for transit-oriented development along the 4th and 5th Street Retail Corridor between IH-35 and Comal Street. They also said they want to be an active part of the development, like the neighborhoods are in the Mueller Redevelopment area.

Ray Ramirez, former co-chair of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood group’s Capital Metro RFQ committee, reminded the group at least three times to stick to questions instead of making statements, but his message went unheeded. The group was formed last month in response to concerns that the neighborhood would not be consulted before the request-for-proposal was out for bids. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 11, 2002 .)

Jorge Guerra, an East Austin resident for 45 years, said Capital Metro “needs to provide sidewalks to Cap Metro buses. People are walking like cows all over the place.” He added that Capital Metro needs to prioritize projects, and that redevelopment isn’t at the top of the list. Capital Metro Board Member John Treviño said Capital Metro provides the city money for projects, such as building or repairing sidewalks.

Many residents also said they didn’t want an outsider to develop the plan. Gloria Moreno, who heads the Pedernales Neighborhood Association, said the problem with consultants is that the neighborhoods waste too much time explaining their situation.

Others wanted to know whether the city would take over the project. Sam Archer, assistant director of business and economic development for Capital Metro, said the city would be an active partner, as would the neighborhood associations, but the agency wants to expand the number of partners.

Lori C-Renteria with the United East Austin Coalition demanded to know why Capital Metro didn’t provide any drafts of the RFQ. She said the group was being asked to give input on a project most of them had not seen. “You need to hold another meeting so all can see and agree before it’s put out. Let’s have a real meeting where we aren’t distracted by a meal.”

Diane Mendoza Galaviz, director of business and economic development for Capital Metro, said it was a draft RFQ, but they were asking for input on guidelines for the RFQ to define the scope of work for the consultant.

Galaviz told In Fact Daily it had been a productive meeting. She said, “We have the community’s suggestions and they’re participating in the process. They want business and neighborhood representation and they want taxation answers. But we know they do want economic development.” She said the transit agency wants to move forward with this project as soon as possible because it’s already been delayed too long. She added that Capital Metro would set up a hotline and an email address where people can submit their questions or concerns and then post the questions and answers in Spanish and English. Several people at the meeting suggested the hotline.

Capitol Metro finds downtown

Shuttle has added safety benefit for student riders

The Capital Metro Board of Directors voted Monday to approve an interlocal agreement between Capital Metro and the University of Texas to keep the “EBUS” entertainment shuttle running through the end of next spring semester for students who like to party downtown.

The trial program, which began on September 26, has been extremely successful from the first night. Amber Mitchell, a planner with Capital Metro, told the board that ridership has thus far exceeded expectations and continues to rise rapidly. The average rider trips per night during the trial came to 323 for the seven-hour operating period, she said. Ridership peaked last Friday night with 579 rider trips, she added.

Board Member Daryl Slusher praised the success of the program, noting the strong potential for increased safety by having fewer students driving downtown to party.

The shuttle runs from the University area and West Campus to the entertainment district, dropping students off at Sixth Street and in the Warehouse District. Buses run from 8 pm to 3am, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Mitchell said the program began after the Austin Police Department (APD) went to officials at UT to “find ways to lower the amount of DWIs, accidents and auto theft in the downtown area.” She said EBUS is the result of strong coordination between APD, Capital Metro and UT.

According to the interlocal agreement, which is between Capital Metro and UT, Capital Metro will pay no more than 50 percent of the overall cost of the program. The agreement will come up for renewal annually, she said.

Mitchell told In Fact Daily the program has been exceeding its goals from the beginning. She said her office has received only two complaints from cab drivers, even though it cuts out a chunk of cabbies’ traditional business. On the other hand, she said, her department has received numerous calls from students in the East Riverside area, which is densely populated with students, asking for the service.

Stacey Kounelias, vice president of student government at UT, told the board she was grateful to Capital Metro for working with UT to provide the service. “On behalf of the students, we’re very excited about it,” she said.

The vote was 5-0, with Board Member John Treviño, who is employed by UT, recusing himself and Chair Lee Walker absent.

In other action, General Manager Fred Gilliam reported on Capital Metro’s standings and statistics for fiscal year 2002. He said ridership totals were up 3.2 percent overall.

Gilliam said he was disappointed that on-time performance statistics had faltered in September. He noted that the number of early trips declined from August, and impacting the trend even more, the number of late trips in September increased significantly over August. The number of late trips declined from a July high of more than 90 percent to 86.9 percent in September. But Gilliam said he intends to end this year on a positive note, and the agency was working hard to get the numbers back up to 90 percent. He cited mechanical failures, passenger loads and traffic as reasons for the declining numbers.

He also noted a significant cause for delays was switching over to a new radio system. The conversion took some time, but it’s complete now and should solve the problem, he said.

Gilliam’s report shows that Capital Metro’s revenue for Fiscal Year 2002, which ended September 30, totaled $131.6 million, which is 9.5 percent under budget.

Customer complaints regarding bus routes increased one percent from August to September, according to the report, but those same complaints were 28 percent lower than in September 2001. In September 2002 there were 366 such complaints.

Gilliam told the board that the agency received 67,272 customer service phone calls in September, of which 62,437 were answered. That left 4,835 abandoned calls, a rate of 7 percent. In September 2001, the call center had a five-percent rate of abandoned calls, the maximum rate the agency is willing to tolerate.

The president’s report shows there has been a 6.29 percent reduction in collisions from Fiscal Year 2001. The accident-rate statistics “show the number of miles traveled is going up and the number of accidents is going down,” Gilliam said.

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

Taco trailer report . . . City Inspector Jesse Washington will make a report to the Zoning and Platting Commission tonight on the numerous mobile food trailers along Riverside Drive . Last week, neighbors of the El Taquito mobile vendor filed suit against the City of Austin, the Board of Adjustment and El Taquito’s owner. The ZAP will also hear the appeal of a citizen who opposes an administrative decision to grant a site plan extension at the Village of Western Oaks. The commission will also hear a request for historic zoning from a South Austin homeowner, along with the usual number of zoning change requests . . . Mexico Trade Center opens today . . . Mayor Gus Garcia ,Council Member Raul Alvarez and Congressman Lloyd Doggett will help unveil the Mexico Trade Center at 10am this morning. The trade center will share space with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development/Technology Center at 2800 S. I-35, Suite 220. The center is a joint effort by the Hispanic chamber, the City of Austin and Austin Community College. The center will offer classes in areas such as business protocol in Mexico, exporting and importing and preparing for trade shows . . . Historic Halloween house . . . The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously last night to approve historic zoning for the Whitley-Keltner residence at 200 E. 32nd St. The owner is Catherine Attal, who noted that the house has been known as the “Halloween House” to students and area residents. The home, which was built in the 1890s, was first owned by Sharp Whitley, founder of the Whitley Printing Co. Commissioner Jim Fowler said he remembered the house from his student days. “This was, for one shining brief period in the 60s . . . one of the notable hippy hangouts . . . You could stay in your car and still attend the party . . . It was just wonderful and I’m so glad it is up for historic designation.” Commissioner David West agreed. “I know that architecturally it’s sort of a jumble but it’s representative of the eclectic nature of the neighborhood, he said. The owner is also seeking a zoning change so that the house can be used as a neighborhood office. The matter will now go to the Zoning and Platting Commission. North University Neighborhood leader Will Bozeman was on hand to support the historic designation.

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

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