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Mayor Gus Garcia made official his intention not to seek re-election yesterday. At ease and apparently happy with his decision, Garcia faced a gaggle of cameras and microphones at a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

Thursday, December 19, 2002 by

In response to questions, Garcia explained that “family issues played a heavy part” in his decision not to run again. “My wife and I have three sons, two of them got married and they now have five grandchildren. Every time we have a situation where we’re going to get together with them, there’s a Council meeting or a committee meeting or something. That’s been going on since ‘91, except that period of time when I was out.”

Garcia had previously stepped out of city politics in 2000, when he chose not to run for re-election to the City Council. But he returned to City Hall in 2001, winning the election to serve the remainder of Kirk Watson’ s term when Watson left office to run for Texas Attorney General. “I jumped back in because Austin found itself in need of somebody who was experienced,” Garcia said. “When Mayor Watson stepped down to run for Attorney General, I looked around and felt that I had something to offer.” And while Garcia indicated he would be interested in pursuing opportunities in the private sector in the future, he also said he would also continue to be active on those issues he found important. “I’m from here . . . I served the Latino community initially, and broadened my involvement . . . and I’ll be quite frank with you, this city has been very, very nice to me.”

Council Member Daryl Slusher said Garcia’s experience would be missed. “I’m disappointed that Gus is not going to be here and we won’t be able to work with him for a few more years, but I really respect his decision,” Slusher said. “When you look at his experience, it started out in the civil rights movement . . . and he moved on to a number of issues through the years. He became a real strong environmentalist, and he never abandoned one issue to take on another. He just grew throughout his time in public life, so I really respect and admire that a lot.”

Garcia predicted that the next Mayor’s biggest challenges would be dealing with the city’s budget situation and economic development. But he noted that neither the city’s financial pinch nor the possibility of a strong challenger next spring had affected his decision. “I’m not bowing out because I think I can’t win . . . If I run, I win. I don’t have any doubt about that.” Garcia estimated his support in Austin’s “inner circle” at about 50 percent, but said that his support has grown stronger in the city’s outlying neighborhoods. As for who the next Mayor will be, Garcia declined to speculate or offer any endorsements, although he did say he believed that the Place 5 Council seat would be open soon, since the occupant would be seeking higher office. Current Place 5 Council Member Will Wynn declined to comment yesterday. “This day is about Gus,” he said. “By the way, this isn’t goodbye; he’s not going anywhere. He will continue to be our Mayor until June and these next six months are going to be very important.”

Paul Saldaña, the Mayor’s chief aide, told In Fact Daily that Garcia had urged him to run for Place 5 on the assumption that Wynn would run for Mayor. But Saldaña said he has no interest in making himself a candidate. He said chances are slim he would continue to work through the end of Garcia’s term, indicating that he is already looking at a number private sector opportunities. Adam Smith and Adana Barry, who also serve as mayoral assistants, are both weighing their options. Smith, who has a master’s degree in urban planning, said he would be doing some heavy thinking over the holidays while on a belated honeymoon with his new wife. Barry and Smith both said they would consider continued city employment if the right job were offered.

Although some of his friends were hoping that former Dell executive Ben Bentzin would throw his hat into the mayoral ring, Bentzin said last night that he was “definitely not interested.” The former Senatorial candidate said he had received phone calls urging him to run, but “My interests are still state issues.”

Since Garcia took office, the Council has dealt with several difficult issues, including the Stratus negotiations and hearings and the renegotiation of the lease with the Seton Healthcare Network for Brackenridge Hospital. But Garcia said he would be proudest of the work done by the Mayor’s Committee on Excellence in Education. “If we’re going to do economic development that is sustainable, we have to have a workforce that’s well educated and well trained,” he said. As for things he wishes could have gone differently, he mentioned some aspects of the current city budget. “We put together a budget that I think is very solid. But we didn’t do things we should have done . . . We didn’t give salary increases to our employees and I didn’t like that. I just don’t think that that’s right.”

Garcia will remain in office until after the May 3 municipal elections, which means he will be at the helm through most of the upcoming legislative session. While Max Nofziger and Jennifer Gale have both expressed their intention to run for office, the first day to officially file an application for a place on the ballot is Feb. 17th.

LCRA board agrees to MOU For ridding lake of hydrilla

Obnoxious weed to face carp, lake lowering, pesticide

The Lower Colorado River Authority board of directors approved an integrated pest plan yesterday that may rid Lake Austin of hydrilla once and for all.

The Asian weed has been a chronic problem on Lake Austin for three years now and was blamed as a contributing factor in one death. Lake lowering, to date, has been the only answer that could win the broad support of the city, environmentalists and fishermen.

But $300,000 in damage from hydrilla to the LCRA’s hydroelectric system and exacerbated flooding on the upper channel of Lake Austin have prompted the LCRA to propose a more aggressive solution. That solution will combine the four key alternatives for hydrilla management: lake lowering, grass carp and turtles, mechanical harvesting and EPA-approved herbicides.

Fishermen have opposed carp because the uncontrolled use of the fish can denude all aquatic vegetation. Environmentalists have expressed concerns about herbicides getting into drinking water. And the benefit of mechanical harvesting is only temporary on the fast-growing weed.

Each method has its pros and cons, says LCRA senior aquatic scientist John Wedig. The key is a conservative and balanced approach to the problem.

“What we’re going to strive for is integrated pest management,” said Wedig, who is convinced the use of multiple tools will resolve the situation. “We want the appropriate tool for the most appropriate setting. No one tool is going to give you the answer to this problem”

Not only is the problem in Lake Austin growing, but LCRA officials fear the aquatic weed could spread to other lakes and channels in the area. Wedig labels the hydrilla as a “320-acre seedbed” that can spread to other lakes via plant fragments. Even if the hydrilla were limited to the Lake Austin basin, its impact would be dramatic, Wedig said.

“Given the depth and the clear water conditions, hydrilla has the potential of controlling 80 percent of that lake,” Wedig said. “Everything from the Loop 360 Bridge to the Mansfield Dam could be socked in with hydrilla. The problems associated with excessive duckweed on Lake Austin is a “warm puppy” compared to the damage wreaked by hydrilla, said LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick.

The one positive note, Cullick said, is that when the flooding in July tore the weed from streambeds and moved it downstreamthe plant fragments failed to take root, saving the LCRA from a big headache growing downstream.

Implementation of the plan, which is to begin next month, will start with a lake draw down in January, Wedig said. Nancy McClintock, manager of the City of Austin’s Environmental Resource Management Division, said a limited number of grass carp would be released into the water in February and March. The plan indicates that mechanical harvesting and use of EPA-approved herbicides may be used later in the spring in areas where hydrilla is growing within five feet of the surface, McClintock said.

Fishermen say the use of grass carp on Lake Conroe devastated the ecosystem and ruined the fishing stock. But Wedig said the number of carp used in Lake Austin would be much smaller than the number used in Lake Conroe in the late ‘70s. About 270,000 carp were dropped into Lake Conroe, denuding the lake of vegetation in six months. LCRA officials are talking about 1,600 grass carp that will be, most importantly, neutered.

Wedig is convinced the combined method will work, even if the plan does not have total support yet. The memorandum of understanding for the project among the LCRA, City of Austin and Friends of Lake Austin states that the LCRA will manage the lake lowering, the City of Austin will purchase the carp and the Friends of Lake Austin will pay to treat up to 100 acres of hydrilla with an EPA-approved herbicide, if needed. The City Council has already approved funding for the grass carp purchase.

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

Holidays . . . City business is winding down quickly now, with final meetings of the year being held today. The Brackenridge Hospital Oversight Council will meet at 6pm in Room 304 of City Hall. No meetings are scheduled for next week or the following week. The Zoning and Platting Commission will start up again on January 7. In Fact Daily will take an extended holiday and will return to your computer on January 10—the day after the first City Council meeting of the year. We wish each of you peace, relaxation, and a cessation of worry and strife . . . New job . . . Bob Moore, former spokesman for the Ben Bentzin campaign, has joined the staff of Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty . . . New leaders . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority has elected its leadership for the coming year. Robert Lambert of Llano County will serve as chair; F. Scott LaGrone of Williamson County was elected vice chair; and Ray Wilkerson of Austin was elected secretary . . . LCRA web site changed . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority has overhauled its website as part of its new external communications strategy. The streamlined website, which has cut the number of web pages from 4,800 down to 300, includes a new e-mail newsletter on local water issues. The website address is http://www.lcra.org . . . Ozone compact signed . . . Representatives of five central Texas counties and several cities signed the Early Action Compact on Wednesday. It is the first voluntary agreement to develop a regional plan to reduce ozone levels. Representatives of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA were on hand to witness the event. Williamson County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein says the plan allows for local control as the plan is developed. “This gives us an opportunity to pick our own criteria to meet the standards,” he said. “We are the leader in this whole effort . . . and we’re piloting this voluntary approach.” Parts of the clean air plan will have to be in place by the end of 2005.

©

2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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