Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 

MBE/WBE matrix still needs

Tuesday, October 15, 2002 by

Work, say Council members

Professional services contracts problematic

The second time around on a new selection matrix for city contracts might be quicker than the first, but a City Council committee is finding it no easier to please everyone at the table.

A Council committee on minority and women-owned business enterprises ( MBE/WBE) and its accompanying advisory committee are considering a new matrix for the selection of professional consultant services for the city. That would include professional service providers such as engineers, architects and landscape architects. This matrix is in many ways an echo of the construction contract matrix that has already passed through the committee. At a hearing last week, the Council subcommittee took testimony from consultants on the proposed matrix.

The purpose of the new matrix is to increase the participation of women- and minority-business owners on city contracts. CEO Jonathan Betcher of the Associated General Contractors association, who serves on the advisory committee, told the Council subcommittee it was obvious from studying the response of professional consultants to the new proposal that “no matrix would completely satisfy everybody.”

The advisory committee chose to back the second of two proposed matrices from city staff, with one exception. After some extended discussion and comments from local consultants, the advisory committee questioned how previous City of Austin work should be calculated and assessed, especially when it seemed to be counterbalanced in the professional services matrix by another category that covered the City of Austin’s experience with the prime contractor.

The total matrix is worth 125 points. One category, worth 10 points, would assess the prime contractor’s experience with Austin issues. The goal would be to reward those contractors who were familiar with Austin and had completed work successfully.

Previous City of Austin work—a separate category—is worth 5 points. It would award more points to a firm that had not done work for the City of Austin, theoretically encouraging smaller minority- and women-owned firms who had never bid or completed a city contract to compete for projects.

Thus, a firm could be rewarded for good work with the city but punished for too much of it. Council Member Betty Dunkerley said that many larger professional contracts typically go to a smaller handful of competent firms, and she would prefer to see a better method to rotate contract awards rather than see companies penalized that have simply had a large number of city projects in the last 5 years.

Council Member Raul Alvarez agreed it was an inherent conflict in the matrix, one that needed to be considered further by the subcommittee. Consultants at the hearing also expressed some concern that only prime contractors were being considered. Many more subcontracts than prime contracts are awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses.

Chien Lee, who also serves on the Water and Wastewater Commission, told subcommittee members he supported some kind of enforcement aspect to the matrix. Prime contractors often fail to follow through on the subcontractor participation they promise as part of their bid, he said.

Lee also suggested taking the subcontractors out of the shadow of the prime and reward points on the quality of their work. On the current matrix, 15 points is used to assess the prime firm’s comparable experience and 15 points for the subcontractors’ comparable experience. Subcontractor assessment is not part of either of the proposed professional services matrices.

“Many contracts—40, 50, 60 percent—are completed by subcontractors,” Lee told the subcommittee. “If we fail to evaluate for education and experience, then I think we failed to do a good job ourselves. Most of them, the local sub-consultants, are MBE and WBE firms—local specialized firms—and we need to take advantage of that experience.”

At the close of the session, Alvarez suggested a third matrix option that would provide for a fairer assessment of subcontractors. All three professional services matrices will go back to the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee for further discussion.

Neighbors say they will take the matter to court

Neighbors of the El Taquito mobile food vendor lost their battle before the Board of Adjustment Monday night, but vowed to continue the fight in court. Consultant Sarah Crocker told the board, “The Riverside area is basically an area in crisis.” All of the six to twelve mobile food vendors in this area would be watching the board’s decision, she said, so “your decision tonight is very important.”

Neighbors have been trying to remove or limit El Taquito’s operation in the 1700 block of East Riverside Drive for more than a year, citing the traffic and noise generated by its late-night customers. (See In Fact Daily, June 5, 2002, July 10, 2002 .)

The El Taquito site is zoned LR (local retail), Crocker said, “meaning it should provide services to the neighborhood . . . There’s no way that El Taquito could be considered a service for the neighborhood. Its patrons do not live in the neighborhood . . . Any use that’s placed in that classification should serve the needs of the community around it.” El Taquito had originally filed for a permit to operate a fast food restaurant on the site. But in order to obtain a permit for that classification, owner Eloy Saenz would have been required to go through the conditional-use permit process. By amending his application to the limited restaurant designation, neighbors say he circumvented the public hearing and commission decision-making process.

Crocker argued that city administrative staff erred when they authorized El Taquito to become a limited restaurant as defined by the City Code . What will really be a fast food restaurant has been redefined as a limited restaurant, she said. “But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

There was no disagreement that the code is fuzzy on the meaning of limited. But there was a philosophical split with Chair Herman Thun and Board Member Frank Fuentes on one side and Board Members Betty Edgemond, Laurie Virkstis and Barbara Aybar on the other. Thun and Fuentes voted to reject the appeal, while Edgemond, Virkstis and Aybar voted to grant it. Overturning the director’s decision would have required four affirmative votes.

Thun said he thought it was not the job of the Board of Adjustment to make city policy or define City Code. “There’s no question that this is a very special issue that can impact neighborhoods all over the community. My concern with all of this is that I don’t see that our job is to design the duck . . . We’re here to interpret, not design regulations . . . We have to rely—and we do every meeting—on staff input and their overview . . . I don’t believe we make public policy . . .”

Greg Guernsey of the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department represented the city, and Veronica Rivera of Minter Joseph and Thornhill represented the property owner, Saenz. This was the second Board of Adjustment hearing on the matter. In July, the board also rejected the neighbors’ appeal. Rivera said her client had not been able to get his permit because neighbors had filed the appeal. Now he may be able to do so. However, if a lawsuit is filed this week, the city may decline to issue the permit or to suspend it. Cases against the mobile vendor are also still pending in Municipal Court, although his attorney said he has corrected the violations alleged in those complaints.

Neighbors say SF-1 too dense for narrow, rural street

Arguments by neighbors that failed to sway the Zoning and Platting Commission a few weeks ago made sense to a majority of the City Council last week, as they rejected a developer’s request to change the zoning of a South Austin tract from RR (rural residential) to SF-1 (single-family). The change would have allowed the Stone family to build 28 houses on 13 acres of land, whereas RR allows only one unit per acre.

Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told the Council that staff had recommended that the property at 9601-9641 Chisholm Trail remain RR because a traffic analysis showed the road to be substandard. Glasco said the road is only 16 feet wide in some areas and the developer would only promise to make improvements on the portion in front of his property. She said the city has no plans to improve the road either.

Paul Linehan of Land Strategies, who represented the Stone family, said they had originally hoped for SF-3 zoning, but had adjusted downward to accommodate complaints from neighbors and concerns voiced by the staff. Linehan said his client had hoped to have emergency access to the area via a road through Mary Seawright Park. However, the city’s Legal Department contends that a park road may not legally be used for any private purpose.

Neighbors who attended Thursday’s South Austin meeting, argued that their children would be jeopardized by additional traffic on the substandard street. Marie LaDoux of 9600 Chisholm Trail, said the road is so narrow in some places that two cars cannot pass. Her neighbor, Sandra Greaney, said there are only 13 homes on the street now, but many of them have small children. Her husband, T.J. Greaney, told the Council, “You really have to see Chisholm Trail to understand this street.” He complained that when Linehan visited the neighborhood meeting, “He left the meeting and we really didn’t feel we were understood.” He said the area is “a rural gem,” and “We like it that way.” He said the neighborhood does not oppose development per se, but that rural residential is the most intense zoning the road can take.

The Zoning and Platting Commission had recommended SF-1, with a conditional overlay allowing only 28 homes. Council Member Betty Dunkerley made a motion to approve that recommendation and Council Member Will Wynn seconded. However, Council Member Daryl Slusher made a substitute motion for RR—or no change. Council Member Raul Alvarez made the second. That motion passed on a vote of 5-2, with Wynn and Dunkerley dissenting.

The Council is likely to take up the matter on second and third reading later this month.

Monday

, Tuesday,

Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday.

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

Height problem resolved . . . David Vitanza, vice president of Lamar + Sixth, sent a letter to the city asking to withdraw the request for a Board of Adjustment variance. He wrote, “After several months of working with the OWANA neighborhood and other groups, we have been able to make concessions in the required height of our building that, though not ideal, are acceptable to the owner” and Whole Foods . . . Attorney General endorsements . . . The Austin American-Statesman and San Antonio Express-News have both endorsed Democrat Kirk Watson for Texas Attorney General. The Amarillo Globe-News has endorsed his opponent, Republican Greg Abbott . . . SOS continues to haunt Bradley . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance has released a letter the organization wrote to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regarding collection of the $73 million Gary Bradley owes the government. In the letter, SOSA attorney Brad Rockwell lays out the case for continuing to pursue Bradley, rather than allowing the time period to lapse. According to the alliance, the FDIC has responded by asking the court for more time to try to collect the money Bradley owes. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9:30am Wednesday before Judge Frank R. Monroe in the federal judicial complex at 903 San Jacinto St. SOSA is encouraging citizens to attend, not to protest, but to express concern . . . . Tonight’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission, Airport Advisory Commission and the Resource Management Commission will meet this evening. Subcommittees of the Downtown Commission and the Planning Commission have mid-day meetings scheduled. Council Member Daryl Slusher' s program will not be on the air today.

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

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top