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All three Travis County Democratic reps hit the road

Tuesday, May 13, 2003 by

Local Democrats joined with their counterparts from around the state on the steps of the State Capitol on Monday to celebrate the absence of dozens of Democrats from the House of Representatives. Enough Democrats stayed away to prevent the House from obtaining a quorum, which meant there could be no discussion or vote on a controversial redistricting proposal which would split Travis County into four separate congressional districts.

“Some people will call these individuals obstructionists,” said State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. “They are strong-willed patriots.” The walkout included State Representatives Dawnna Dukes, Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez of Travis County and Patrick Rose of Hays County. The lawmakers are believed to have crossed one or more state lines in order to escape the reach of the Department of Public Safety, which has been ordered to seek out the lawmakers and return them to the House chamber.

The maneuver had many at the Capitol reminiscing about a similar quorum-breaking effort in the spring of 1979 by the group of progressive Democrats dubbed “ the Killer Bees.” That group, including then-State Senator Lloyd Doggett, hid out in an apartment in West Austin to prevent a vote on changing the presidential primaries in Texas. Doggett’s current congressional district, District 10, would be one of those divided under the GOP plan before the Texas House. “I salute those who had the courage not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk today!” said Doggett. “Thank you for standing up for Texas.”

Although it’s been more than 20 years since the famous incident, Congressman Doggett said his memories of his time spent in hiding are still vivid. “I got to know my colleagues much better than I wanted to, and I’m sure the same will be true for them,” he said. The DPS, he told reporters at the Capitol, was vigilant in its efforts to ferret out the renegade lawmakers. “Our house was staked out; our house was searched; my parents house was searched; their place out in the country was searched,” he said. “There was certainly that concern more than once that we might be detected, and I hope that they’re far enough away that they won’t be.”

Local activists and elected officials hope the move will help re-energize the Democratic Party, which has gone from the majority to the minority in the state over the past decade. “I would like to say, ‘Thank you,’ to Tom Craddick for introducing this redistricting bill and waking us up!” said Democratic strategist Alfred Stanley. “Thank you, Tom Delay, for waking us up! We are not going to sleep again until we get a majority again back in this Legislature.” Stanley will attempt to make the redistricting push an election issue. He’s planning to launch a web site, AustinUnited.org, later this week, and to distribute bumper stickers reading “Keep Austin United in the 10th Congressional District”.

While Stanley is planning for the future, other Democrats are stressing the significance of their party’s efforts up to this point. “We need to celebrate this victory,” said former City Council Member Brigid Shea. “Finally, we got organized enough in the House for enough people to pull together their strength and prevent the House from meeting and engaging in this kind of corrupt practice.” Shea is organizing a party on Wednesday at 5 pm at Shady Grove 1624 Barton Springs Rd. Partygoers will be encouraged to bring food to send to those hiding out. The food gathered at the celebration will be sent to the Food Pantry.

About 10pm last night, a number of news organizations reported that a group of 35 to 40 missing Democrats had been located in Ardmore, Oklahoma. According to Harvey Kronberg’s Quorum Report, speaker Tom Craddick said, “The missing members were eating at a Denny’s, which is now being surrounded by Texas DPS.” Of course, Texas law enforcement officials have no authority to arrest them there. Today should bring further developments. See Whispers.

Parking requirements for Guadalupe, South Congress relaxed

The Board of Adjustment approved variances on cases last night that will bring a new retail twist to three different areas of Austin.

First, the board agreed to “zero out” parking requirements for the space on Guadalupe at 21st Street that was once Sound Exchange. Agent Melissa Whaley, representing J.P. Morgan Private Bank, presented the proposal to the commission. She argued that Guadalupe was primarily a pedestrian street catering to University of Texas students, and that paid parking is available on 21st Street behind Dobie Mall.

Whaley had cut a similar deal on Quackenbush up the street, when the long-time coffee house was converted to retail space. The retail buildings along Guadalupe Street, she asserted, have existed for 50 years with minimal or no designated parking. Under current City Code, the 3,240 square foot structure would require 43 off-street parking spaces.

The location will serve as a Baja Fresh, catering to walk-up traffic from the university. Mike McHone of University Area Partners, who is vice-president of the local neighborhood association, joked that his association was for it because they liked the menu.

McHone—who has been in the neighborhood long enough to remember the GM Steakhouse in its former incarnation as Ted’s—added that perhaps the BOA should send a letter on to the city’s Neighborhood Planning team, exempting the Drag permanently from parking requirements, given the number of times retail has turned over in the area.

The BOA approved the variance unanimously. On a second case presented by Whaley, the BOA also agreed to shave 10 parking spaces off the required 43 off-street spaces for the former cinema at South Congress and Live Oak. Vice chair Betty Edgemond joked that the well-known building could be known as “the new Mayor’s campaign headquarters” rather than “the old adult theater.”

South Congress to have upscale grocer

Local attorney John Pecore would like to convert the building into a neighborhood grocery store, which he described outside the meeting as a cross between a conventional grocer and an upscale market. Pecore, also a graduate of culinary school, intends to focus his store on local products—Texas wines, produce and specialty items.

“I look at the South Congress area as a community that is underserved in a lot of ways,” Pecore said. “We looked for a location that was diverse, that was progressive. We’re going to have a little bit of funk.”

The first floor will be devoted to the grocery store. Pecore has yet to determine what the second floor of the building will be, although it is likely to focus on personal services, offices and retail. The two-story space has a total of 8,671 square feet.

Pecore will be one among a number of new retail establishments along the South Congress corridor, as the retail core continues to stretch further south to Oltorf. The Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association submitted a letter of support for the variance, citing the compatibility of the grocery store with the intent of the neighborhood plan: locally owned neighborhood businesses, oriented to providing services to the surrounding residents, with some accommodation for bicycle and pedestrian access. The vote authorizing the variance was 4-1, with Edgemond voting no because she opposes any more stores selling liquor in the vicinity of the junior high school across the street.

For her part, Whaley said she was encouraged by a South Congress community that chose to rehabilitate and reuse, rather than demolish. The Twin Oaks Hardware Store is now the White Crane. The Capital Rubber Stamp Co. is now Prima Dora. The efforts show an effort and vitality along the corridor, she said.

The third project, presented by Amelia Lopez-Phelps, was a variance for a 120-foot tall bungee-type ride at a new amusement park in far North Austin. The 20-acre amusement project, being developed by California-based Newmark Entertainment, already has an approved site plan. Construction is underway on the site.

The site straddles Austin and the extra-territorial jurisdiction of Pflugerville. Lopez-Phelps said the owner thought the project was located outside the city limits. Construction was red-tagged by city inspectors, despite an approved site plan and development permit.

This is the first request for some type of variance for a “thrill ride” in Austin. Lopez-Phelps compared the height variance to the height of a Ferris wheel, although the ride will actually contain twin towers. The Newmark project would be one of the only permanent amusement parks in the Austin area. The amusement park is more than 3000 feet from the closest residential neighborhood, Lopez-Phelps said, and its closest neighbor is a John Deere tractor dealership on I-35.

Commissioner Frank Fuentes voted to approve the variance because he considered City Code to apply to buildings, not to amusement rides. Commissioner Laurie Virktis raised some concern that the ride’s elevation had not been clarified, but then went ahead and voted in favor of the variance. The vote granting the variance was 5-0.

Spotted at Monday’s rally at the Capitol . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, County Commissioner Ron Davis, Education Austin leader Louis Malfaro, Travis County Pct. 5 Constable Bruce Elfant and both Margot Clarke and Brewster McCracken, candidates for Austin City Council Place 5 . . . Senate continues action . . . Even though the House of Representatives has ground to a halt due to lack of a quorum, the Senate continues its work. So, any House bill that has made its way to the Senate and onto a committee calendar has a chance of passing, including HB 2130, which would makes some changes to the 1704/Chapter 245 scenario. The bill, which has support of the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, among others, would eliminate an exception in the law allowing cities to enforce new regulations to “prevent imminent destruction of property or injury to persons.” The provision would remain in effect only in flood plains “established by a federal flood control program.” The Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, which includes groups from Austin, San Antonio and Hays County, was making phone calls Monday to encourage those in Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s district to call his office voicing their opposition to the bill. Wentworth is the Senate sponsor of the bill, which is scheduled for a hearing at 8:30am Wednesday in the Intergovernmental Relations Committee in Room E1.028. Rep. Ed Kuempel (R-Seguin) was the House sponsor . . . Oops! . . . Last Friday’s report on zoning of properties in the Holly Neighborhood Plan area contained some errors. In Fact Daily mistakenly reported that city staff had recommended that the Balcones Recycling Property on East 6th Street be allowed only two types of operations, not including recycling. Actually, staff recommended recycling along with light manufacture and arts and crafts studios. Council Member Raul Alvarez pushed for the more restrictive overlay that would prohibit recycling uses and his proposal won initial approval. Also, it was the Council, not its staff, which made the decision to use the Govalle/ Johnston Terrace area as a test case for how to rezone LI properties . . . First cuts . . . Thirteen executives within the city’s Information Systems Office have received notice that their jobs are being eliminated. The office is part of the Financial and Administrative Services Department. City Manager Toby Futrell told all city employees about the change in a memo stating that the changes were organizational, as opposed to part of the budget process . . . A retort found in the Quorum Report . . . Harvey Kronberg and staff worked a lot of overtime yesterday getting reports on the missing Democratic House members. He reported that Gov. Rick Perry had contacted officials in New Mexico, among others, concerning arrest of the protesting legislators. Patricia Madrid, Attorney General of the state of New Mexico, said she was still researching the question but doubted an arrest without a warrant and extradition would be possible. She concluded, however, “I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy.” The House finally adjourned about 11pm and will be back in session at 9am today. The new Killer Bees plan to hold a press conference in Ardmore, Oklahoma at 1pm.

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

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