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The Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA) filed suit against the City of Austin and Stratus Properties’ subsidiary Circle C Land Corp. once again Monday over the development agreement approved last summer by the City Council. This time, the suit alleges that there was insufficient notice and insufficient public process, and asks a state district court to nullify the agreement and issue an injunction preventing the city from processing applications resulting from it. The agreement covers 14 zoning cases for 1,253 acres of land at Circle C in southwest Travis County.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003 by

In a press release accompanying the lawsuit, SOSA Communications Director Colin Clark says the city “granted Stratus high density zoning changes to pave the way for massive development over the most vulnerable watershed in the state of Texas. The city also contracted away its authority to change zoning regulations affecting the property for the next 30 years.”

Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong said Stratus is in the permitting process for about half a dozen of its tracts at Circle C. “The earliest we would want to break ground would be May.” Armstrong called the new suit “disappointing. The City Council got a fair deal,” he said, after putting in “a tremendous amount of effort.” Armstrong denied that the city and Stratus had engaged in contractual zoning, saying that the city could change the zoning on the property at any time. The agreement between the parties would not prevent rezoning, but would trigger other changes, including release of other properties from the agreement. Armstrong said John McKetta of Graves Daugherty and Roy Minton of Minton & Burton would represent his company. Brad Rockwell is representing SOSA.

SOSA filed suit last summer while the agreement was pending. That lawsuit, filed by attorney Amy Johnson, argues that the Save Our Springs Ordinance supercedes the state’s grandfather law for land development—known as HB 1704 or Chapter 245. The matter is scheduled for a summary judgment hearing in state district court next Wednesday. The city has argued that the court lacks jurisdiction over the case and all parties have requested summary judgment on different motions. If SOSA loses that suit, it would still be able to pursue the new case.

The City Council gave final approval to the agreement last August, after months of negotiations, stakeholder meetings and public hearings. However, SOSA is not satisfied with that process, alleging that the city’s notices were insufficient because, among other things, “none of the public notices mentioned the contractual nature of the zoning cases.” The city has consistently denied that it engaged in contractual zoning, which is illegal. In addition, the organization argues that notices for the Zoning and Platting Commission hearings in May and June were insufficient because they failed to mention that the land involved is over the Barton Springs watershed or that the agreement “required an amendment to the citizen-approved Save Our Springs Ordinance and . . . the city’s Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan.” The Council approved the agreement by a vote of 6-1, the number needed to amend the ordinance, but the city has not said the ordinance was amended by that vote.

In Fact Daily reported on June 28 that 427 people had signed up the previous day to discuss the agreement. The hearing continued past the newspaper’s 2:30am deadline, but only a fraction of those who signed up got to speak. Those who did not speak were promised a chance to testify at the next meeting on July 11, but only about 200 attended that hearing. The agreement received preliminary approval at that meeting.

Casey Dobson, the city’s outside counsel in the agreement, said, “The idea that everybody didn’t get to have their say….that there was inadequate opportunity is laughable.” He added that he had spent more than 100 hours in official City of Austin commission and City Council hearings, plus several hundred hours more in meetings with various stakeholders. Stratus’ attorney Steve Drenner said he thought it was “completely without merit to complain of the process. There’s never been a zoning case that had that much process.”

For background on last summer’s hearings and vote, see In Fact Daily, June 25, 2002, Aug. 2, 2002 ).

Travis County commissioners seem poised to hand Waste Management a contract for hauling the county’s trash next week, but will do so only if the company agrees to meet higher performance standards.

The county received only two bids for its trash-hauling contract. Waste Management bid $104,000 on the contract to Texas Disposal System’ s bid of $151,000. State law requires the county to take the lowest bid. The prospect of sending even more trash to the Austin Community Landfill raised the hackles of neighborhood activists.

Neighbors argued that Waste Management should be disqualified because of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notices of violations filed against the landfill operator earlier this year. In its own defense yesterday, representatives of Waste Management countered that the violations were filed against its landfill operation and not the hauling company owned by Waste Management that bid on the county contract.

Activist Trek English said Waste Management clearly should be disqualified on its safety record, which includes notices of violation for problems with odor, leachate and methane. It should not be allowed to hide behind its hauling company, English said.

“I realize it’s a lot of money (to go with TDS) when you look at it,” English told commissioners. “Unless you are giving them a message they are not good operators, they will never get better. If they are really truly serious about their site, they will make the site better so people can co-exist with their operation.”

Neighbors reminded the court that Travis County had gone so far as to send a letter to the City of Austin, urging the city to choose another vendor over Waste Management when the city’s own contract came up for renewal the last time. The county asked the city to look at WMI’s performance when considering the contract.

Waste Management current holds the trash-hauling contract with the county. Last year, the bid for hauling services, which includes county facilities and parks, was $78,000. On this year’s bid, Waste Management and TDS were in-line with similar bids in every area, except for parks. TDS estimated an extra $37,400 to haul trash out of county parks.

Some commissioners agreed with the neighborhood concerns. After an executive session, Commissioner Ron Davis tried a motion to disqualify Waste Management, saying the company had been non-responsive on the bid proposal. Only Commissioner Gerald Daugherty joined him, causing the motion to fail.

County Judge Sam Biscoe then made a motion to approve a contract with Waste Management next week, but only if the current contract is modified. Those conditions would include performance measures to avoid additional environmental violations. Biscoe won the support of Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Karen Sonleitner for his motion.

After the meeting, Sonleitner said the court had been hemmed in by the state Purchasing Act. Both TDS and Waste Management had violations, but those violations were not enough to disqualify either bidder, Sonleitner said.

Initially, Sonleitner had proposed splitting the contract between TDS and Waste Management—the big difference between the two companies’ bids was the extra $37,400 from TDS on park pick-ups—but the contract couldn’t be adjusted. That, Sonleitner said, would have sent Waste Management the message it needed to clean up its act.

Instead, commissioners want a modification to the contract that Waste Management would sign requiring the company to meet certain performance standards. If Waste Management does not agree to those performance measures, it could still be written into the contract as a sufficient reason not to renew at the end of the first year, Sonleitner said. The contract, she said, will give the county some ability to control how Waste Management runs its operation at the Austin Community Landfill.

Sheffield says he has no problem with Jones or office

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Tuesday called on members of the Austin City Council to show their support for the city’s police monitor, claiming that the existence of the position was in jeopardy as the city works on a new Meet and Confer Agreement with the Austin Police Association (APA). The two civil rights groups point to a grievance filed last November by the APA against Police Monitor Iris Jones as a sign of the tension between the union and the office created to provide civilian oversight of the department.

“We call out to our City Council members to keep the police monitor’s office in Austin, and keep it strong,” said ACLU member Ann Del Llano. Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder asked for a public stand by Council members about the future of the office. “We ask of all elected officials, religious leaders, spiritual leaders and community activists to voice their support for not only the police monitor’s office, but for Iris Jones,” Linder said. “We think that the City Manager and the police chief should come forward and visibly announce their support for Jones and the office.”

Jones last week presented a report to the City Council about her first 11 months on the job, including material about her office’s efforts to bring in an outside law firm to review the shooting of Sophia King last summer by an APD officer. But that investigation is on hold after a legal challenge by the APA. The union claims that the procedures and scope of the investigation were not specified in the Meet and Confer Agreement and that the investigation should not proceed until those terms are clarified. In addition, APA President Mike Sheffield filed a grievance with the police department last November accusing Jones of bias against the union and of making false accusations against the APA. The complaint stemmed from remarks Jones made to local media regarding the investigation into the Sophia King shooting. The complaint concludes with a request for Jones to recuse herself from the King investigation and a call for a separate investigation into Jones’ fitness to serve as police monitor.

However, Sheffield says now that there is no feud between Jones and the union. “We had lunch together not long ago,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with Iris. I think some other people are trying to stir things up. We support the process, we support the contract, and we support the monitor’s office. We’re not trying to get rid of the monitor.”

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday .

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Briefings today . . . The City Council is scheduled to hear about Austin Energy’s competitive strategies and financial planning issues during executive session today. In open session, the Council may hear more about the projected gloomy outlook for the General Fund. In addition, Austin Energy General Manager Juan Garza is slated to discuss environmental policy and other electric utility issues . . . New partner announced . . . Attorney Nikelle Meade, who has represented numerous developers and contractors before the City Council and various boards and commissions, has been named a partner at Brown McCarroll . . . Professional services matrix amended . . . The City Council last week amended the matrix staff uses to rate various professional engineering and architectural firms vying to do business with the city. The Council voted to remove a section that penalized firms by subtracting points for previous work done for the city. Instead, city staff will be able to award up to 11 points for previous experience the city has had with a prime contractor. That would be an advantage to some firms but penalize those who were the subject of complaints on prior jobs. Paul Saldaña, chief assistant to Mayor Gus Garcia, said one important change is that city staff would set policies for when to do interviews. In the past, those decisions were made on an ad hoc basis. Saldaña said City Manager Toby Futrell has directed staff to amend all the currently pending RFPs and RFQs to reflect changes to the matrix . . . Crime task force chief to speak . . . Commander Harold Piatt of APD will discuss the Downtown Command’s first year of operations at the Downtown Austin Alliance’ s monthly Issues & Eggs Breakfast Thursday at 8am. The meeting will be at the Austin Community College Downtown Education Center, 211 E. 7th St., Room 111. Following Piatt’s presentation, the organization and APD have promised to unveil the latest in a public information campaign against vehicle theft and burglary. For more information or to RSVP, contact daa@downtownaustin.com or call 469-1766.

© 2003 In Fact

News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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