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Protest attempt to break up Doggett's Congressional District 10

Tuesday, May 6, 2003 by

Dozens of community leaders and elected officials stood shoulder to shoulder on Monday to support Congressman Lloyd Doggett in his call to stop the latest attempt at congressional redistricting currently taking place in the Texas House of Representatives. The House Redistricting Committee held hearings all weekend on plans to split Congressional District 10, Doggett’s seat, into several different districts covering hundreds of miles and stretching to the furthest reaches of the state. Those hearings are scheduled to resume upon adjournment of the House today.

“For decades, Austin has been the center of a congressional district, and one of its citizens has been our voice in Washington for this community. A determined few are now committed to eliminating that voice,” said Doggett, D-Austin. “Looking at the plan, it proposes to divide Travis County so that one part of our city would be attached to a district that reaches to the New Mexico state line….another would be attached to a largely rural area that would go down to Aransas County…part of it would actually reach within the city of Houston.”

While Republican supporters of the proposed redistricting maps have said that splitting Austin into three or even four congressional districts would give the city more representatives on Capitol Hill, Doggett and others questioned whether the people elected to those seats would actually represent the city’s interests. “I see this as a plan that cannot stand,” said Doggett. “But it is clear that some have almost a fanatical desire to split our county into three or four parts.” While the individual plans are being put forth by members of the Legislature, the redistricting effort is being pushed by US House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Sugarland. Delay and other members of the GOP say that the Texas congressional delegation should contain a proportionate number of Republicans to reflect the GOP majority solidified in the last state-wide elections. Delay is calling for new congressional district maps to make it easier for Republicans to elect up to 20 members of the statewide delegation as compared to the current total of 15.

When drawing new maps, lawmakers and judges are supposed to group “communities of interest” together. Since a “community of interest” can be defined using race, income level, or several other factors; the maps can become quite convoluted. State Representative Dawnna Dukes believes the maps being put forth by Republicans are designed only to promote the election of Republicans, excluding the natural “community of interest” formed by the city of Austin. She also noted that state lawmakers have several other pressing matters to deal with before their session expires, including the state budget. “Quite frankly, redistricting is not a crisis for anyone but Tom Delay,” she said. “Why was so much mental gymnastics put into cutting this district up? It’s because Travis County has historically voted in one solid voice for representation that would be appropriate for it in Washington.”

Joining Dukes was State Rep. Elliott Naishtat and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who agreed that the Legislature has far more pressing priorities. “Everyone knows that congressional redistricting does not have to be addressed during this session,” Naishtat said. “The Republicans have insisted on opening up one of the most divisive issues there is at the end of the legislative session that’s facing huge problems: the budget shortfall, school finance, insurance reform…just to name a few.”

Mayor Gus Garcia told the crowd he would have nothing to do in June after Council Member Will Wynn becomes Mayor. He announced he would volunteer to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit that would result if Republicans are successful in gaining approval of the plan. Wynn, Council Member Danny Thomas and former Mayor Kirk Watson joined Garcia in opposing the change. Garcia said, “To hear this news distresses me tremendously, because when I go to Washington…the congressman from this district is the guy I go to see. I don’t want to go to see the guy from San Antonio or from the Rio Grande Valley. Every major city has their own congressman. To divide us into three or four districts and have folks from anywhere else representing us is not the American way.”

While the redistricting issue may appear to be one pitting Democrats against Republicans, officially non-partisan groups like the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are also joining in the fight against the proposal. “For the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce this is not a partisan issue,” said Chair Charles Barnett. “This is a fundamental structural question with regard to how we can maintain the continuity and coherence in this community so that the businesses of this community can have representation in Washington when they need it. In central Texas, we have been well served by representatives elected locally by communities of common interest. From a business perspective, it is essential that our community have representatives familiar with our needs and committed solely to this community.”

Endeavor spokesman confident questions can be answered quickly

Council Member Daryl Slusher said Monday he has questions that should be answered before the Council agrees to grant incentives for Endeavor Real Estate Group’s mixed-use project proposed for MoPac and Braker Lane. Slusher wrote that the Domain “would be an asset to Austin at its proposed location” and has the potential to help stem the erosion of Austin’s tax base. The Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on an item directing city staff to negotiate and execute a contract that would allow tax rebates after the project is completed and jobs have been created.

Endeavor principal Kirk Rudy told In Fact Daily that he had just received Slusher’s email but believes that Endeavor can provide Slusher with the answers he needs to approve the project. Rudy stressed the need for haste in a competitive environment. “There are a number of projects in the region that are competing for users and jobs and tax base. It’s been public now that we’re looking for a public investment. To the extent that we’re delayed it hurts the momentum for the Domain.” Rudy said he did not interpret the Council member’s questions negatively.

He said the Domain is competing with the Hill Country Galleria, a project in Round Rock and a proposed project in Georgetown.

The Domain would become the first project for which Austin has granted tax rebates based on economic development and job creation since planning began for a new city economic development policy. Slusher points out that the Council has not officially adopted the policy and that the last hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Wednesday. The Council approved somewhat similar packages for Vignette and the Bennett Tract in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Slusher said he was also concerned about the fact that the Domain, if approved now, would be “moved ahead of the Whole Foods project, which has been in the queue for many months without resolution.” Part of the reason that project has not moved forward is the association between it and Borders Books & Music, which withdrew from a plan that would have made the national chain the anchor tenant in a block across the street from Whole Foods.

David Armbrust, attorney for Endeavor, told In Fact Daily, “Daryl has been very above board with us expressing his concerns…I’m really pleased with the email because it gives us a chance to respond to his questions.” He said he believes they will be able to answer Slusher’s questions before Thursday’s meeting.

The Save Our Springs Alliance is not trying to postpone consideration of the project but is opposing it outright. In an email to supporters sent yesterday, SOSA urges a campaign against Endeavor because the company is “developing” a Wal-Mart over the recharge zone of the aquifer. Actually, Endeavor is selling the property to Wal-Mart. The proposal does not comply with the SOS Ordinance—nor is it required to under terms of a legal settlement, Rudy said. He added that Endeavor has worked with Wal-Mart to lower the impervious cover on the property, do rainwater harvesting and participate in the city's Green Building program. In addition, he said that Endeavor had agreed to contribute to an organization such as the Hill Country Conservancy to acquire 100 acres of land over the recharge zone. That would mitigate the effects of the higher-impervious cover land, making the overall impervious cover 15 percent allowed under the ordinance.

SOSA is also opposing the Hill Country Galleria, one of the projects Endeavor would compete with for tenants. Rudy said the group’s opposition to the Domain is not surprising but is disappointing. “I do not think it is in the best interests of the community…What you’re seeing SOS do by opposing the Domain, essentially, is supporting a continued outflow of tax base and other money to other regions. If the community and the city don’t support this reinvestment in the urban village project, then they are comfortable with our region’s shrinking sales tax base . . . and they are comfortable with other regions getting the jobs and they’re saying they really don’t care about affordable housing because in the Domain we’ve allocated 10 percent to affordable housing.”

Commissioners may have questions too

Travis County commissioners said little during last week’s hearing on Endeavor's request for tax incentives. The court is scheduled to take up the project again this morning.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told In Fact Daily that partnering opportunities such as the Domain that may not have made sense in Austin’s booming economy may now be a bit more attractive during the down times, when the county is looking to build its tax base.

“It’s an intriguing idea, but like everything, the devil is in the details,” Sonleitner said of Endeavor’s mixed-use proposal, which would be located in her precinct.

Sonleitner points out the county did have an abatement policy in place with Samsung and Photronics – one that tied the abatement to job creation – but that policy has since expired. If the county does agree to negotiate with Endeavor, Sonleitner suspects a new policy, or an extension of the old policy, will have to be put in place.

Sonleitner’s questions this week will likely include how often value will be re-appraised and how appraisal protests will be handled. She also wants to know what happens if the county’s investment is rebated sooner than its 20-year timeline.

“My questions should be interpreted as that – questions,” says Sonleitner. “The idea is intriguing, but we have to see the final proposal. It certainly could turn the tide of erosion of sales tax to the suburbs and beyond our county line.”

Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday.

Zoning and Platting Commission tonight. . . After a two-week hiatus, the ZAP will be back in action tonight. The meeting may not be on Channel 6, however, due to legislative coverage . . . Room change for redistricting hearing . . . The Democrats claim Republicans are trying to keep Yellow Dogs away from hearings on redistricting by changing the room. Tonight’s hearing, which could start as late as 9pm or as early as 6pm, is scheduled for Capitol Extension E 1.010. The committee clerk might have more information on the timing.His number is 463-9948 . . . Parking garage questioned . . . The Design Commission wants to take a look at the proposed parking garage for Austin Community College. While a multi-storied parking garage for the Rio Grande Campus, at West and Twelfth streets, may have been part of the student vision for ACC, the Design Commission is looking for stronger design controls over parking structures downtown.

©

2003 In Fact

News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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