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Meeting on RFQ progress becomes shouting match

Thursday, November 14, 2002 by

By Melissa Whitfield

Tempers flared last night at Terrazas Library as representatives of Capital Metr o and the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood shouted over each other at a meeting called to discuss development of an area rail corridor. Instead of discussing a planned Request for Proposals, attendees pointed fingers and accused each other of secret meetings and spreading “chismes” (rumors). Cap Metro had inadvertently stepped into the middle of a continuing battle between members of the El Concilio political group and leaders of the ECC neighborhood.

Dianne Galaviz, director of business and economic development for Cap Metro, began by describing the progress made during a Saturday work session on elements of the Request for Qualifications for a rail corridor study. ECC neighbors did not participate in that meeting, which Galaviz said had attracted more than 200 community members. (See below)

Galaviz told the group that Ray Ramirez would play a key role in inviting people from the neighborhood to get involved. But Ramirez—who along with Lupe Banda had been elected to co-chair ECC’s Capital Metro RFQ committee in September—is no longer is trusted by the group. (See In Fact Daily September 11, 2002.) ECC activist Lori Renteria said Ramirez’ involvement was Cap Metro’s choice, not theirs, because he had resigned from their committee last month.

Galaviz said Cap Metro had not been informed of his resignation. ECC Chairman Joseph Martinez then spoke up to confirm it. Galaviz said they would continue to include Ramirez, founder of Con Ganas, because of his work with the community. Renteria accused Cap Metro of reneging on its commitment to work with the ECC RFQ subcommittee. “After negotiations broke down between Lupe (Banda) and Ray, and Ray resigned, you and Sam (Archer) made a conscious decision to work with Ray.” Archer is also working on the matter for Cap Metro.

Galaviz, clearly upset, raised her voice over Renteria’s and said, “No ma’am. That is not true and I take issue with you. We got an email from Ms. Banda never to contact her again. I have documentation to that effect.” She said she and Archer tried to reach Banda. Galaviz said she had wanted to work out their differences but Banda wrote to Capital Metro General Manager Fred Gilliam “and the rest of the world, ‘You do not call me. You do not e-mail me. Don’t ever call me again. Don’t ever talk to me again.’ She severed the relationship on behalf of this community. This staff did not.”

Renteria said the point she was trying to make was that Cap Metro representatives had said they were committed to having someone from the ECC team as one of the two community representatives, but it now appeared that they had someone from El Concilio and Ray Ramirez representing the community.

Galaviz said some members of the community said they were left out of the planning process and feel that neighborhood groups don’t express their interests. Martinez said she was “vocalizing a lone wolf.” He added, “You and Cap Metro better start showing up with more wisdom than showing up here and repeating chismes.” He said she should show proof from reputable groups because such prejudicial statements lowered her credibility.

Galaviz said she was just reporting what had happened without saying whether or not she believed it. She also said that the only commitment made about evaluation team members was that they would be from East Austin.

Capital Metro Board Member John Treviño said staff was being put in an awkward position, and that they couldn’t make any deals. He said committing themselves to two groups would “leave out a lot of people.”

Renteria said that was ridiculous, “because the City of Austin recognizes the Holly Neighborhood Planning team and members of the East Cesar Chavez team as the official implementers of the two neighborhood plans which control the land use and design guidelines that are under consideration for the land in question.” She said she was disappointed in Treviño because he “knows the twenty-year history” and accused him of holding secret meetings with El Concilio and Andy Ramirez. Ramirez is the eastside businessman who has said he wants to do the rail study. Treviño just shook his head.

Renteria said the people who feel disenfranchised are the “contras” because they oppose everything. In ECC parlance, members of El Concilio are known as “las contras.” Galaviz replied that Cap Metro’s goal was to get people to engage, and it’s working.

Martinez said East Austinites “are a group that is so thirsty and hungry for change for getting what we should have had years ago, that we are willing to do whatever it takes to fight for that—even if it means fighting amongst ourselves.”

meetings show huge disparity in viewpoints

Dianne Galaviz,director of business and economic development, spoke positively about the agency’s progress with the East Austin community at a Capital Metro board committee meeting Wednesday afternoon. Goals for the rail corridor RFQ will be clarified at another meeting on Dec. 4, Galaviz told board members. From that, a scope of work will be developed. That scope of work will be presented in January when the Capital Metro board of directors considers the RFQ.

Board member John Treviño praised the community meetings, saying that Cap Metro staff had been “very responsive” to community questions and concerns. “The whole tenor of the meetings, in general, has been positive,” said Trevino, adding that many appreciated Capital Metro’s openness to addressing areas that had long been eyesores for the community.

Saturday’s meeting, Treviño said, put participants into teams challenged to articulate a vision for the corridor. The resulting goals of each team, Treviño said, were remarkably similar. By using such a process, he said, the transit agency “can avoid allegations that deals are being cut.”

Treviño predicted that staff members would come up with specifics on the corridor plan within the next two to three weeks.

Black contractos complain; Hispanics give award to Rivera

The Austin Police Department, Travis County District Attorney’s Office, US Attorney’s Office and the FBI are conducting an investigation into possible irregularities with the process of awarding city contracts. While the investigation is in process, Lino Rivera, director of the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources, will be reassigned to other duties. A city employee since 1978, Rivera has been head of the DSMBR since February 2000.

“This is the department that helps support our diversity in contracting efforts for minority and small businesses,” said City Manager Toby Futrell. “The first review of allegations of some irregularities began in June.”

Deputy City Manager Joe Canales, who oversees the DSMBR, will handle additional duties in the department until an interim replacement is found.

The Austin Black Contractors Association complained this summer that African-American contractors weren’t getting enough city jobs. (See In Fact Daily, June 12, 2002.) At the same time, the United States Hispanic Contractors Association honored Rivera and the DSMBR, presenting an award to Rivera at its national conference in August ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/02/hispanicreg.htm).

Tract is one of two finalists for Project Atlantis, says consultant

Development consultant Jim Wittliff told the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday that his client needs industrial zoning on a 172-acre tract east of the airport in order to accommodate the mystery drug company looking for an Austin location. The property, owned by a John Lloyd partnership, is near the intersection of FM 973 and Highway 71.

The undeveloped property slopes southeast toward Onion Creek. Part of the land is zoned DR (development reserve) and the remainder is set to be annexed on Dec. 25, Wittliff said. Staff recommended LI-CO zoning, with a number of conditions, including limiting use of land within the 100-year flood plain to water quality installations, stormwater detention and utility crossings.

The city has had a policy of prohibiting building within flood plains since 1986, and generally zones such land RR (rural residential). Wittliff indicated that the contour of the flood plain would be changing because fill dirt would be taken from the site for construction of SH 130.

Since the preferred category for flood plain property is RR, Commission Chair Betty Baker asked, “If we zone LI—all of this tract—when do we get the flood plain zoned RR?”

Wittliff said that would not happen. The 30 acres of flood plain would remain LI, but would serve the rest of the tract as a detention area.

Manager Greg Guernsey told the commission, “If you want to use the land for LI, the land for the parking lot or the detention pond would also have to be zoned LI . . . Although the (flood plain) area would be zoned LI, you wouldn’t have a warehouse or parking lots . . . Without that zoning, you could not build the detention pond.”

Wittliff said the drug company had narrowed its search for what the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has dubbed Project Atlantis. “The unnamed pharmaceutical plant that Austin is coveting . . . this is one of two finalists for the site,” he said, so the zoning question is “rather critical.” He added, “I think this project is going to be in complete compliance with all city regulations.”

Baker said the lack of specific information made her uneasy. She said she could not support the zoning change, “because I don’t understand what’s going on. When you come in and ask for LI zoning and your only use is going to be for detention—detention for some kind of LI use . . . If it’s a chemical company, what kind of a chemical company—especially when you’re going to be on the banks of Onion Creek?” She asked Wittliff to return next week with maps showing where the project would be in relation to the planned SH 130 and to Pete Dwyer’s Planned Unit Development, which includes residential zoning.

Commissioner Keith Jackson said he would have to abstain from a vote on the matter, without indicating a reason. Only four other commissioners were present at the time, too few to issue a recommendation. Commissioner Melissa Whaley added that she would like to see exactly where the detention area would be and asked Wittliff if he could present all the requested information next week. Wittliff said he would do so, and the matter was postponed. Outside the meeting, Wittliff said he thought the commission should “just trust the staff.” Baker later commented, “It’s sort of like having a piece of a big puzzle and not having the other pieces . . . I hope he can bring us the other pieces, and I hope he can bring us a good employment base for that site.”

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

Leaping lobbyists . . . Not too many hours after the Quorum Report highlighted a joint venture between conservative lawyer/lobbyists Bill Messer and Mike Toomey and Ellen Williams, Speaker-Elect Tom Craddick announced that Messer would be a part of his transition team. Other team members include former State Rep. Bill Ceverha and local consultant Bill Miller, who has recently served as spokesman for Farmers Insurance Company. A few hours later, In Fact Daily heard that Toomey would join the staff of Governor Rick Perry as chief of staff. Texans for Public Justice says that Toomey’s 2001 client list included “ Texans for Lawsuit Reform and behemoth health insurers Cigna and Aetna” . . . Public opposes pipeline ordinance at Environmental Board hearing . . . After a lively public hearing, the Environmental Board voted unanimously (7-0) last night to recommend, with conditions, the proposed hazardous pipeline ordinance. Most of the residents in attendance who live near pipelines spoke out in strong opposition to the ordinance, claiming the resulting restrictions would impose undue hardships, increase living expenses and diminish property values. In Fact Daily will present a full report on the matter tomorrow . . . New and improved . . . The City of Austin's Neighborhood Planning web site ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/default.htm) has undergone a major revision, thanks in part to planners Mark Walters and Kelly Crouch. It now includes maps of adopted neighborhood plans, including future land-use maps. The site also features explanations of the neighborhood planning process and a glossary of terms. “I personally think that this is an historic moment for neighborhood planning,” said Planning Commission Chair Chris Riley. “I really believe that until now, we have not taken advantage of all the benefits that having a web site can offer” . . . Helping our federal government . . . In order to assist taxpayers who want to make sure that developer Gary Bradley does not escape paying his $73 million debt to the nation’s taxpayers, the SOS Alliance has set up a new web site. Those visiting www.MakeGaryPay.Org will find several pages of documentation and be invited to send an email to the FDIC, among others, urging them not to give up pursuit of Bradley. SOS also will introduce the documentary “Become the Sky” at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown at 2 pm Sunday. According to SOS, “The film, nominated for the 2002 Student Documentary Academy Award, maps the web of energy, power, and politics across 4,000 miles of Texas, from offshore oil-rigs to the Longhorn pipeline to the dry mouth of the Rio Grande” . . . Where the bikes are . . . Planning Commissioner Dave Sullivan sent us the following observation on his panel. “At (last night’s) Austin Planning Commission meeting (downtown) . . . three of the seven attending Planning Commission members commuted by bike to and from the meeting. One other member who rides a Vespa-like motor scooter and another who generally carpools were absent. Had they attended, we possibly would have set an American record for the fewest wheels and least horsepower used to attend a full Planning Commission meeting. As it is, we had an astounding 43% transportation split for bikes,” which included Sullivan.

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

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