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Wynn, Katz, would agree to no-loophole term limits

Monday, March 24, 2003 by

Mayoral candidates Marc Katz, Brad Meltzer and Max Nofziger all told members of Independent Texans Saturday that they favor expanding the city’s anti-discrimination policy to include people with “gender identity” issues. At a lightly-attended meeting, candidates responded to questions from members of the audience on a wide range of topics. Council Member Will Wynn and four others running for the office did not attend.

On the issue of single-member districts, Nofziger reminded the group of his long-time support for the proposal, while Meltzer was opposed to the idea. “We’re all one people,” he said. Katz said it should be up to the voters whether the city switches to the system, and that he would be in favor of holding a referendum to find out what the people want. Voters rejected single-member districts for the sixth time last year. (See In Fact Daily, May 06, 2002 .)

Candidates were also asked about the Mueller Neighborhood redevelopment plan and the city’s arrangement with Catellus Development Corporation . “As Mayor, I would want to set the vision and get it done in a short period of time, say a year,” said Meltzer. Nofziger reminded the group of his involvement in the effort to close the airport, and said he had visited with neighbors and was satisfied with the list of proposed uses at the site so far. However, he noted that the city should continue to monitor any changes at Catellus, which had recently decided to reorganize its corporate structure as a Real Estate Investment Trust ( http://www.catellus.com/ps.html ). “That’s alarming to me, because part of the appeal of the city staff hiring them is that they were willing to put up the big up-front money necessary for infrastructure,” he said. If that has changed with the new corporate structure, he said, “That might be a little bit of a kink.” Katz said, “It should be publicly voted on,” but added that he didn’t have enough information about the project to offer a further opinion.

Aside from the city budget, transportation problems and light rail are emerging as subjects at the various candidate forums. Nofziger opposed light rail during the last election and has an extremely detailed transportation proposal available on his web site ( http://www.maxformayor.com ). Meltzer is also against light rail. He stressed the need to fix potholes and synchronize traffic lights, but is also open to the idea of a monorail promoted by a local group (http://www.austinmonorail.com). Katz has said the city needs to quit spending money on consultants, needs to synchronize traffic lights and stressed the need to build “I-30, east of I-35, getting the trucks away from Austin.” Meltzer also referred to I-30 at the Independent Texans Forum. Visitors from North Texas will know that I-30 is an east-west interstate freeway that runs through Dallas. The north-south road through eastern Travis County in its early stages of development is called SH-130.

In addition to the forum, Independent Texans, which is led by professional petitioner Linda Curtis, asked candidates to respond to questions regarding petition rights and term limits. When asked if they would support an amendment to the city charter to abolish the petition option that allows two term incumbents to run again and prevents incumbents from running for a different position on the Council, Katz and Wynn said yes. Under this change, Council Member Daryl Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman would not be allowed to run for any place on the Council—except Mayor—and if re-elected, Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez would be prohibited from running again.

Nofziger said he believes elections serve as term limits. He said, “If the voters aren’t happy, they can vote for someone else.” Meltzer said he supports the petition option, but opposes allowing Council members to run for a different seat after two terms.

The candidates were also asked if they would “be willing to participate in Independent Texans ‘experiment’ to increase the participation of young and first-time voters in city elections.” IT is conducting a field test in the current Council races to “mobilize 3-5,000 new, young voters.” All four candidates said they were in favor of mobilizing young people to vote. Wynn said he was in favor increasing the participation of all voters. Katz said, “For too many years our city has favored protecting the status quo. I am dedicated to bringing as many Austinites to the polls and that includes young and first time voters . . . The limits have given an unfair advantage to incumbents and wealthy candidates and have reduced competition.” However, Katz admitted during the forum he had not “voted in years.”

Finally, candidates were asked if they would vote for an amendment to the City Charter to reduce the number of signatures required to place an initiative or referendum on the city ballot from the current number—ten percent of qualified voters—to the same number required for a charter amendment—either five percent of qualified voters or 20,000, whichever number is smaller. Katz, Nofziger and Wynn said they would support it. Meltzer said the approximately 40,000 signatures required “is not a prohibitive number.”

The questionnaire and respondents’ answers can be found at http://www.independenttexans.org/ . Click on 2003 Austin candidates.

Some believe regulation needs variance process

The Downtown Commission is asking the City Council to look once more at the noise ordinance, less than two months after city leaders approved the regulation to control sound levels at music venues.

Except for Sixth Street and the Warehouse District, music venue owners must comply with strict standards for both noise levels and hours of entertainment. For Michael Parker, who owns Opal’s on Fifth Street, that means the outdoor music must end by 10pm on most nights. In the Sixth Street and Warehouse Districts music can continue until 2am.

Parker, who had attended a couple of meetings of the city’s noise ordinance task force as an observer, told the Downtown Commission he was shocked to learn his club could not apply for a variance for its Sunday and Monday night music shows. Parker said it was hard to understand how the city could penalize a club that had never had a complaint filed against it. He added that the ordinance, as it is currently being enforced, is dictating whether music venues can exist, rather than addressing problem music clubs.

“Some places just don’t care,” Parker said. “We’re talking about places like Jovita’s, Mother Egan’s and Aussie’s. We pay our payroll, rent and property taxes. We’re responsible club owners. But we’re told by the city we can’t have live music at certain hours, even though we have never been fined, and we’ve never had a problem with our neighbors.”

Parker’s comments resonated with many commissioners, even though some recognized the commission’s limited knowledge on the issue. Teresa Ferguson of the Music Commission led the charge to ask the Council to revisit the variance process. Two weeks ago, the Music Commission passed a resolution to ask the Council to establish the Red River Entertainment District and enact a variance process.

The Downtown Commission was much more cautious, agreeing only to recommend a review of the variance process. Chair Chris Riley, for one, couldn’t support such a move by the commission. Riley said he had to trust the work of the 14-member commission that has met for over 5 months on the issue.

“These are very, very difficult issues, possibly intractable issues,” Riley said. “I think the city made a good faith effort to come up with a variance process, but could not do it.”

The Council cut the variance process from the ordinance on Jan. 30, the day of the final vote. Ferguson said many people closely tied to the process were surprised the variance process was not discussed, in full, before the Council.

Tom Pham, who co-owns the Red Eyed Fly, also spoke before the commission. Pham said he had no problems with the city or the ordinance, but questioned why the entertainment districts stopped just short of the Red River corridor of clubs. Joey Rhode, who served on the city’s noise ordinance task force, told the Downtown Commission the entertainment districts were drawn as a compromise, based on the results of a 1998 civil suit against the city.

Rhode filed a civil suit against the former owners of the Red Eyed Fly. Pham estimated he spent $30,000 to sound-proof the Red River venue.

Ferguson argued that the task force did not recommend a variance process because members did not have specific details, in writing, to outline it. She called it a miscommunication.

At the final vote, commissioners agreed to make a simple statement, asking the Council to revisit the variance topic. Riley and Downtown Austin Alliance representative Tim Finley abstained from the vote. Finley abstained because his own personal views on the ordinance varied from his colleagues at the DAA. The DAA supported the ordinance, as passed.

Flooding, lake lowering and luck were factors

Measurements taken this month show that hydrilla—the aquatic weed that periodically threatens to take over the shallow waters of Lake Austin—is at its lowest level in years, due to recent flooding, lowering of lake levels during cold weather and plain old luck, an official with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) said Friday.

Still to be determined, however, is the effectiveness of 1,600 Asian grass carp released into the lake last month to devour the plants, said senior aquatic biologist John Wedig.

Wedig said a March 5 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) survey of the lake showed only 74 acres of hydrilla, down from 320 acres in May of 2002 and the lowest level since 1999. A section of the lake formerly tangled by the vegetation—from Loop 360 to the Tom Miller Dam—is now almost clear.

Wedig attributed about 100 acres of reduction in deeper water to flooding on the Colorado River last year. “It’s definitely a management tool for hydrilla, but not one folks would want to count on,” he said. It has been reported that the hydrilla might even have clogged floodgates, causing further flooding. That was not the case, according to LCRA spokesman Bill McCann, who said, “The hydrilla in the water acted as a kind of dam, backing up some of the floodwaters coming out of Mansfield Dam's floodgates. This caused some minor problems with a few houses in the floodplain on Lake Austin in the vicinity of the hydrilla beds. What got clogged at Tom Miller Dam was the hydroelectric unit, which had to be shut down.”

Additionally, Wedig said the reduction of another 90 acres was likely the result of drawing down the water this winter to clear out the weed during freezes. The cold doesn’t actually kill the plant’s roots, but it temporarily gets rid of the long, stringy stalks. No one knows where the remaining reduction comes from, but sometimes the plant dies off on its own and has growth patterns dependent on many different factors, Wedig said. Hydrilla flies, whose larvae tunnel through the plant, also have been used in the past to reduce the severity of infestation.

The plant had been growing rapidly, causing officials and Lake Austin users to fear that the entire lake would soon be infested. Hydrilla tangles motors, impedes lake access and can even threaten swimmers with entanglement.

Scientists with the LCRA, TPWD and the City of Austin hope the grass carp will control the hydrilla that was diminished by the draw down. The March 5 survey will serve as a baseline, with an additional survey in May to measure the possible effect from the carp. The city uses a formula to define how many additional carp may be needed for each acre that the hydrilla grows, and a TPWD permit would allow a maximum of 6,400.

However, one group devoted to preservation of fish habitat— Sensible Management of Aquatic Resources Team (SMART)—is trying to stop any additional carp releases and has filed a lawsuit against the TPWD to halt the strategy. “We want to be absolutely certain to do anything to stop the introduction of the carp,” said Mike Hastings, a SMART board member. “Carp are not a management tool for vegetation that you can rely on,” he said. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 24, Feb. 14, Jan. 28, Jan. 31, 2003. )

Using carp to control vegetation has long been controversial and battles have been fought at other locations throughout Texas over their introduction. Although sterile and unable to multiply, they live a long time, can grow quite large and can often escape into unintended waterways and lakes. SMART’s main objection to the carp is that that their voracious appetites will destroy habitat for other fish, such as bass sought by sportsman. “They eat the native vegetation just like they eat the hydrilla . . . The result has been the eradication of all vegetation wherever they’re released,” he added.

SMART won a temporary restraining order against the city’s carp release in late January, but backed off on seeking a temporary injunction in February after hearing from its attorneys that a favorable court outcome was unlikely and that a lengthy court battle could hurt the primary goal of reducing the carp use statewide, Hastings said. The city, TPWD and SMART came to a temporary settlement agreement that no additional carp would be added until the organization’s lawsuit can be heard, hopefully by May before an additional survey defines whether the fish are needed or not, he said.

Environmentalists alarmed . . . The SOS Alliance has sent an urgent message to its members to ask for their help in defeating HB 2130 by Rep. Ed Kuempel (R-Seguin). The message begins: “We need your immediate help to defeat a bill that represents one of the most egregious attacks on public health, safety and local, municipal control of any proposal from this session.” The bill would amend the state’s grandfathering law for land regulation, Chapter 245 (aka HB 1704) by eliminating the current provision that allows cities to enforce new regulations in order “to prevent imminent destruction of property or injury to persons.” The small city of Sunset Valley used that exception to win a court case, which upheld a portion of the city’s land use rules designed to prevent pollution of its drinking water supply. Kuempel’s bill would allow the imminent destruction argument only in a federally-established flood plain. A hearing on the measure is scheduled for 10am today in the House Land and Resources Committee, in the Capitol Extension, Room E2.012 . . . HLC meets tonight . . . The hardworking members of the Historic Landmark Commission will hold their regular monthly meeting at 7pm tonight. They met last Monday to make up for a lost meeting caused by the February ice storm . . . Candidates dashing . . . This week’s candidate forums all seem to be on Tuesday. The Retiree’s Coordinating Board will host one at 9am Tuesday at the Senior Activity Center, 2874 Shoal Crest Ave. The South Austin Democrats will hold a forum that evening at 6 pm at Gardner Betts Juvenile Center. The Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus candidate forum is also scheduled for Tuesday, 7 pm at the AFL/CIO Auditorium at 11th and Lavaca St . . . Clarke campaign kick-off . . . Place 5 candidate Margot Clarke will celebrate her 49th birthday and have her first fundraiser at Nuevo Leon, 1501 E. 6th Street, beginning at 5pm Thursday night . . . Next week . . . The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association will host a mayoral candidate forum April 7 from 6-7:30pm at the Nokonah at 9th and Lamar. According to DANA member Cid Galindo, the four major mayoral candidates plan to attend. Due to time constraints, the group is not having a forum for candidates in the other races . . . Moving employees . . . City Manager Toby Futrell announced last week that Brownlee Bowmer, the city’s Chief Information Officer, has been reassigned to the Water & Wastewater Department, where he will be in charge of departmental information technology. Peter Collins, who has been overseeing the Radio Dispatch Mobile Technology project at Mueller, will become acting chief information officer for the city . . . Attention Francophiles . . . What with all the France-bashing going on, the Women of Masse Production have decided to hold a Viva la France party to honor French culture and American diversity. They promise music by Dakota Smith and food and readings of French literature by local notables, from 6-10pm Friday at Escapist Bookstore, 2209 South 1st St., #D. For more information, call 912-1777, or visit http://www.escapistbookstore.com . . . HB 1445 update. . . Efforts to resolve the issues between the city and county over implementation of HB 1445 are still moving slowly. Members of the Joint City-County Subcommittee got an update on those lingering differences on Friday. The key points of contention still revolve around whether the CAMPO road plan or the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP) should be the basis for subdivision regulations. The county is sticking with the CAMPO plan, which is different from the AMATP on a few key roadways such as Frate Barker. “What the commissioners want us to do is negotiate toward the middle on those outstanding roadways where the city plan and the CAMPO plan are different,” said Joe Gieselman of the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department. “Quite frankly, the county is still trying to understand the differences, and if they’re material to the issue of HB 1445.”

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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