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As expected, the Austin City Council yesterday approved a resolution urging President Bush not to take unilateral preemptive military action against Iraq and to give United Nations inspectors more time to complete their work. Mayor Gus Garcia and Council Member Danny Thomas voted in favor of the resolution, along with sponsoring Council Members Daryl Slusher, Jackie Goodman and Raul Alvarez. Council Members Will Wynn and Betty Dunkerley abstained, but said they were personally in favor of a peaceful resolution.

Friday, February 7, 2003 by

On a day when the Council dealt with only minor controversies, the audience was heavily dominated by citizens favoring the resolution. The handful of speakers opposed to the resolution were each offered the customary three minutes speaking time, while those in favor were granted only a total of 15 minutes.

Clint Smith, a volunteer who has served on a number of city boards, including the one dealing with homeland security, urged the Council to approve the resolution. He said, “This Council stands for housing the homeless (and) feeding the hungry (as well as) homeland security . . . This resolution is very much in the spirit of this Council.

The Rev. Don Bobb told the Council, “True patriotism demands criticism as well as support . . . We as US taxpayers are paying for a war of potentially phenomenal destruction . . . It requires more guts to love and pray for our enemy than to destroy him.”

Resolution opponent Wilton Stone said Austin has “two terrorist organizations now at play,” namely apathetic citizens as a whole and the City Council. He said the inertia of the apathetic had “allowed splinter groups to dominate” the city’s agenda. He also said, “It is becoming the increasingly clear to me that you never see a feel-good spending item you don’t fall in love with.”

When she spoke later on, Goodman asked that anyone with a list of “feel-good” items come forward with it to make the coming budget retreat less painful. She asked opponents to read the resolution, saying, “Unless you are twisting or trying to read between the lines, I have a hard time finding anything to oppose.”

Mayor Gus Garcia noted that he is a first generation American. “I’m a veteran. I served during Korea . . . Until I was 18, I had dual nationality. My father wanted me to choose Mexican citizenship.” Garcia said he chose to be a US citizen because, “in this country the government is of the people, by the people and for the people…and I learned to appreciate the magic that is the American form of government.”

The Mayor then quoted the late Tip O’Neill, who said, “All politics are local,” and pointed out that the city had already lost a number of employees who were called up for the war. “And those of you who sent us emails and called us idiots and everything else—don’t expect us to sue you. This is a message that says we don’t think it is appropriate to go to war until you exhaust all options that are available…So this is not necessarily a position against the President and let me say that the President is just one American.”

The four-page resolution approved Thursday states that the Council “supports the men and women serving in the armed forces and honors their commitment to our nation’s safety and security.” It also condemns Saddam Hussein as a repressive tyrant, but asserts that “the imminent threat of Iraqi actions against its neighbors or the United States has not yet been demonstrated.”

Other sections outlined arguments for the City Council to take a stand in an area outside their purview. “Whereas, most American cities and states are suffering fiscal crises that threaten funds for basic services and endanger programs that benefit working people and the poor . . . military action against Iraq would cost billions of dollars at a time when the American economy is struggling and at a time when the federal government is operating with a deficit.”

Slusher said the resolution is similar to those approved by 63 other cities including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Des Moines, New Haven, Gary, Portland (Maine), Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, San Francisco, Oakland, Madison, Charlottesville, Santa Fe, and Washington D.C. In a prepared statement, Slusher said, “After deep consideration, I decided that the Council should join other cities around the nation and people around the world in opposing a unilateral United States attack on Iraq, and in seeking more time for the U.N. inspectors.” He said he was sponsoring the resolution in response to requests from the public that he do so.

Some critics of the proposal had suggested that the Council should not be spending time on a national issue over which they have no control. But messages to Council offices this week indicated a great deal of support for the resolution.A spokesperson for Slusher’s office said phone calls and email messages were running about four to one in favor of the resolution. Slusher wrote that the “issue should not be allowed to divert a significant amount of time from our local responsibilities. Among other challenges, we face a large budget gap, challenges to our health care system, the need to maintain social services as revenues decline and demand increases and a myriad of environmental challenges. I am confident that the Council can address this resolution as part of one Council meeting and then move back quickly to dealing with those local issues.” The issue took up less than an hour of yesterday’s meeting.

Wynn noted that he had received “hundreds and hundreds of emails over the past 10 days,” regarding the Iraq resolution. “On a personal level I share many of those concerns,” said. Wynn added that he had never abstained on a Council item before and has voted against past resolutions that dealt with national, as opposed to local issues. However, he said, “I’m very concerned that a no vote on this . . . might be misconstrued as to my personal opinions . . . and I have already expressed my opinions to my representatives in writing.”

Dunkerley said she had “wrestled with this issue for a while . . . I really support very, very strongly the concepts that are in this resolution . . . and because of that I will not vote against this resolution . . . I’ve drafted a letter directly to the President expressing my views and my hopes and prayers for peace.” Even though she abstained, she said, “My voice will be heard.”

AHFC also loaning $1.2 million for single-room occupancy facility

The Austin City Council, acting as the board of directors of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, approved financial assistance for three affordable-housing developments on Thursday. Two of the projects will be exclusively for senior citizens, while the third will offer transitional housing in south Austin.

Fort Worth-based Volunteers of America-Texas will use a $466,000 loan to help develop affordable housing for senior citizens on property at 3001 Oak Springs Drive. The 3.4-acre lot was formerly owned by the city but transferred to the AHFC in June of 2000. Plans call for a 56-unit complex for low-income senior citizens in east Austin. “I’ve had calls from people who are living in the neighborhood who can’t wait until it’s built,” said Keith Harlin with Volunteers of America. “People will be able to age right where they are…it’s so important for people who are elderly to remain in the environment they’re familiar with…Some of them have been in the neighborhood for 50 years.” The complex, which will be called Oak Springs Villas, will be limited to residents 62 years old or older whose incomes are less than 50 percent of the area median family income.

The Council also approved an $800,000 loan to Family Eldercare to finance construction of the Rosewood Senior Housing Community at 2720 Lyons Road. Like the Oak Springs Villas project, the complex will be limited to low-income elderly residents. “What’s really wonderful about this project is the location,” said Family Eldercare Executive Director Karen Langley. “This land is right across from the Rosewood-Zaragosa Medical Clinic, a half a block from the Conley-Guererro Senior Center, a couple of blocks from Austin Community College, and just about six blocks from a very large grocery store. Everything that seniors need is right there.” The 54-unit, three-story facility will have a monthly rental rate of $290. According to Family Eldercare Board Member Dusty McCormick, there is an increasing need for this type of facility in east Austin. “In the Rosewood area specifically, I know that we have a lot of residents who are 75 years and older…this project provides an opportunity for them to live in another type of environment but remain in their community,” McCormick said. “This project is perfect for the 78702 area.”

In south Austin, the Council approved a $1,275,000 assistance loan for Foundation Communities to buy and convert a building originally used as a retirement home into a “single-room occupancy” facility. Those single-room occupancy facilities, called SRO’s, can be used to help transition people from being homeless to finding market-rate housing. More than one-third of the units at the Garden Terrace complex will be reserved for individuals classified as “working homeless”. While there will be no age restrictions on tenants, there will be income guidelines similar to those for the Oak Springs Villas and the Rosewood Senior Housing Community.

Suit will be dismissed in return for city's promise to review ordinance

Attorneys for the Travis County Republican Party and the City of Austin have agreed to settle a lawsuit over the city’s sign ordinance. Jennifer Riggs, attorney for the Republicans, said she told Federal Judge James Nowlin this week that her client would not move forward with the suit in return for the city’s agreement to reconsider certain provisions of the ordinance affecting what landowners can do with their property.

City Attorney Sedora Jefferson said Thursday that the city would be considering changes to the ordinance—which was the subject of a lawsuit and temporary restraining order last October. Nowlin granted the TRO, preventing the city from conducting the ‘Great City Sign Off’ event planned for Oct. 12. The plaintiffs were most concerned about the possibility of losing signs promoting political candidates shortly before the General Election.

Although he granted the original order, Judge Nowlin told the Republicans that they were unlikely to prevail in a final ruling. But he added, “The city needs to look at its policies about when these sign sweeps occur.” (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 13, 2002. ) During that hearing, Nowlin said, “I’d be very surprised if the other cities scheduled their (sign clean-ups) 30 days before the election. To schedule it when it was scheduled was very suspicious. It was a big error. You’re just asking for trouble. It’s the kind of policy that engenders litigation.”

Riggs said Thursday that the city’s outside counsel had assured her that “the city had taken seriously the court’s concerns.” The suit will be dismissed without prejudice. That would allow it to be refiled at a later date if the city’s review does not relieve the Republican’s concerns. Riggs noted, “It’s kind of hard to try to influence an ordinance with a lawsuit pending.”

Thursday, Friday.

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

No news is good news for someone . . . All six of the new zoning cases on Thursday’s agenda were approved unanimously on consent. Council Member Daryl Slusher stopped an older case—in the Barton Springs zone—from clearing the final hurdle. He asked for a comparison between what the SOS Ordinance dictates and what the developer has proposed under a grandfathered site plan . . . City web site wins top honors . . . The City of Austin’s web site, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us, has been selected by MuniNet Guide & Review’ s as a ‘Top Pick’ among government web sites for the sixth consecutive year. Austin is the only city to have won that honor. The web site won praise for “clean layout and handy navigation tools that make it easy to locate specific information” . . . Wynn’s web site up . . . Speaking of web sites, www.willwynn.com went up yesterday. It’s a spiffy site with a links to government, charitable, arts and civic organizations as well as the usual info about the candidate, his views and how to volunteer or make contributions. The candidate says he will not accept contributions from non-Austin residents . . . Momentum . . . Wynn’s site was designed by www.campaignmomentum.com, an award-winning Austin company . . . Rail meet today . . . The board of the Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail District is holding its first-ever meeting today in San Marcos. The district was authorized by the Texas Legislature several years ago, but Travis and Bexar Counties didn’t vote to create the district until late last year. The group will look at the possibility of diverting some traffic away from I-35 and onto rail lines between Austin and San Antonio. Austin representatives on the board include Sid Covington, Mayor Gus Garcia, State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Dougherty, Mariano Camarillo of Allied Consultants, and Dave Marsh of the Capital Area Rural Transportation Service . . . Gardening seminar Saturday . . . The city’s Water Conservation Office is holding a gardening seminar tomorrow at the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Anyone interested in learning more about the Transition to a Green Garden training can call 974-2199 . . . Citizen input sought . . . The Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department is looking for comments from the public on site development regulations, scale and design of duplexes and garage apartments. The survey responses will help shape the drafting of a proposal by city staff to amend the Land Development Code requirements for such development. Responses are due to the city by Feb. 21. You may complete the survey or print it out at the following site: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/planning/twounitsurvey.htm

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

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