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Mayor Gus Garcia: Some
thoughts on the job as he retiresGarcia says Mayor must keep lines of communication open to all Today is Mayor Gus Garcia’ s final Council meeting as Mayor. Sitting in his small City Hall office earlier this week, Garcia reflected on his 19 months as the city’s top elected official and compared it to other roles he has played in his many years of public service. “Being Mayor is intense. Much more intense,” than being a Council member, he said, “by a factor of 100. You’re never off.” Garcia, 69, is preparing to retire for the third time. An avid Longhorn fan, he compares being Mayor to coaching a winning baseball team. “I follow the philosophy of (UT coach) Augie Garrido. He said, ‘It’s not about me. It’s about the team.’ It’s the same with me. It’s about the people of Austin.” Although he is Austin’s first elected Hispanic Mayor, Garcia is an elder statesman of the entire community—not just the Hispanic community. That change, he believes, occurred in 1997, when he switched from Place 5—the traditional spot held by the Hispanic member of the Council under the so-called gentlemen’s agreement. Garcia was easily elected to Place 2, but Bill Spelman won the Place 5 seat and Raul Alvarez has since been elected twice to Place 2. Garcia says his great-great-great grandfather was Mayor of the town the family established in northern Mexico. The son of that long-ago Mayor also became Mayor. But after the family moved to the US, the tradition lay dormant until this Garcia decided to become involved in opening up opportunities for minorities, who were treated unequally for many years. Garcia was first elected to the Austin Independent School District board in 1972. He says at that time, “There were issues from the Hispanic community that needed to be addressed and those issues were going to take a lot of time. When I leaned toward helping the Hispanic community, it didn’t depend on whether I wanted to be a hero . . . but the Hispanic community did not have leaders to address many issues. We didn’t have teachers, we didn’t have principals.” But all of that changed. After the mid-1980s, the Mayor says, the Hispanic community had a number of leaders and there was less need for each individual elected official to concentrate on the goals of that segment of the community. All minority groups need representation When Garcia moved into Place 2 on the Council, one of his first acts was to appoint an Asian to the Planning Commission. “I got some criticism there and that wasn’t important. To me, I did it because Asians needed to have representation on the Planning Commission and never had representation on the Planning Commission.” Again he refers to the Augie Garrido philosophy, “It’s not about what I do; it’s about what the community does.” Garcia wants to make sure that the social infrastructure is in place to help every part of the community. “So I worked to help the Asian community, the African-American community, the Hispanic community . . . and I think Austin has done as good a job as any city in the country,” in making sure that minorities are represented. Garcia says he most enjoys “working on the social fabric.” In Austin, that means not only paying attention to different people, but also matters such as environmental protection. His least favorite duty as a member of the Council is making zoning decisions. He understands that such matters are important because of the impact zoning can have on a neighborhood, but he finds the matter tedious. But he praised Council Member Raul Alvarez and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman for their zoning expertise. He also praised each of the other members of the Council for his or her expertise in various areas: Council Member Danny Thomas in public safety; Council Members Betty Dunkerley and Will Wynn on building the economy, Council Member Daryl Slusher on environmental protection. “The Mayor doesn’t exist separate and apart from the Council. This is not a strong Mayor form of government,” such as exists in Houston and El Paso. “The Mayor (of Austin) is fundamentally the presiding officer and carries with him that extra responsibility. If he can’t get the others to go along, he can’t do anything. You run the meetings and you use that technique to control the discussion (but) successful Mayors are ones that are able to build coalitions with other Council members and respect their agendas . . . Above all, in this office I cannot have favorite Council members . . . I have to keep lines of communication open with all the Council members and this smoking ordinance, because there were some Council members that did not like what I was doing, I heard all kinds of reports about what they were saying. But I was not going to close the door and not be available to the Council members that were going to vote against the ordinance. I had to keep it open. “Mayors can offend other Council members very easily—like by being too close to the city manager—it’s something that comes with the job.” Under previous Mayors, he said, there were Council members who would accuse the city manager of being just an aide to the Mayor. “I have come to the conclusion that because of the way the system works, there has to be a strong relationship between the city manager and the Mayor, but not to the detriment of the relationship between the Mayor and the rest of the Council members. That’s because the city manager is not a policy maker.” The citizens elect six other Council members, “but I need to understand very well that I cannot use the city manager to push my agenda forward.” That would only anger the rest of the Council and cause strife within “the very delicate kind of relationship that exists” between the Mayor and other Council members, he said. Garcia, first elected to the Council in 1991, said he could recall situations in which other Mayors would not take calls from certain Council members. “And the Mayors pushed to the extreme, because everybody wants to have the Mayor on their side and so it’s very easy to blow up . . . to have temper tantrums . . . but that doesn’t do a damn thing to forward your responsibilities as the Mayor.” Garcia said he always tries to explain why he is doing any particular thing. “They are just policy issues . . . and if somebody votes against a special project of mine, I’m not going to vote against one of theirs.” Asked whether he was concerned about the possibility that the new smoking ordinance, which he championed, would be overturned by the new Council with the addition of Brewster McCracken, Garcia replied, “Of course. And I had calls this weekend from people who supported him who said they would come and talk to him and say, ‘Don’t you dare.’” Council member-elect McCracken did not seem eager to take up the matter on his own last weekend, saying that he would defer to the judgment of other members of the Council. Garcia added, “I told some other reporters, I would hate to think that Austin’s economy hinges on people’s ability to smoke in a public place. It’s a matter of public policy, so once I leave it’s their thing to do and, like everything you do, has consequences.” Garcia said he will be looking at opportunities both in Austin and in Mexico after he steps down on Monday. He stressed that he does not have any definite business plans because he thought it would be inappropriate while he was still in office. He indicated that he would continue to be involved as an advisor to the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives. He also is looking forward to his annual visit to Saltillo and plans to attend the National Council of La Raza Convention in Austin next month. Council approves Children's Hospital move second time Only Goodman expresses real concerns about change The City Council could finalize an amendment to its lease agreement with the Seton Healthcare System as early as today and give Seton the chance to build a $215 million campus for Children’s Hospital of Austin on the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site. The Council approved a second reading of the lease amendment at yesterday’s work session, as well as the issuance of $7.2 million in debt to prepare the site. The city also has agreed to waive the requirement for fiscal security and approved zoning changes to create the Seton Planned Unit Development, or PUD. The Seton PUD would be located on 32 acres at the northwest corner of the 700-acre Mueller Airport site. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who eventually abstained from the final vote on the amendment, drove much of the discussion on the Seton PUD yesterday. Goodman wanted to know why there was such a rush to finalize the deal. She also questioned how some of the ethical issues would be handled at the hospital—such as end-of-life and pre-teen pregnancy questions—in light of future directives from the Pope. She also wanted to know why Seton needed to buy the land, rather than lease. Council Member Daryl Slusher, who made the motion for approval on second reading, said he respected Goodman’s concerns, but went on to read an email from the former chief of staff at Children’s Hospital of Austin, urging the Council to move forward with the expansion. Doctor James Strong said he and the rest of the pediatric community were ready to see the hospital open tomorrow. Slusher said the fact that Seton would own its own Children’s Hospital troubled him somewhat, but that the new arrangements strengthens the city’s hand financially and boosts development at Mueller. It also allows expansion of facilities as indigent care expands. The bottom line: Slusher said he supported it because no one had come forward with a better suggestion. “I haven’t heard an alternative to this proposal,” he said. City Manager Toby Futrell said she was uncertain that city staff could give Goodman the assurances she wanted to hear. The move of the proposed campus from Parmer Lane to the Mueller Airport site has already delayed the project by six months, Futrell said. To fail to vote the lease amendment out on Thursday would mean another month delay caused by the Council’s summer hiatus. Seton President and CEO Charles Barnett told the Council that the need to expand Children’s Hospital and be responsive to the surrounding community was critical. While Seton was sensitive to the city’s fiduciary responsibilities, every additional day the decision is put off is critical. All four of Seton’s hospitals are at capacity. Two are currently expanding or planning expansion. “We should have been under construction (at Children’s) 12 months ago,” Barnett told the Council, stressing the hospital system’s commitment to serve all the people in Austin, regardless of income. “The thing that constrains us today is capacity, and we need to move as quickly as possible.” Children’s Hospital of Austin is really no more than a portion of Brackenridge Hospital. As the needs for the Children’s Hospital have grown, beds have been converted at Brackenridge and treatment rooms have been added to the hospital’s Emergency Room. Moving Children’s Hospital to Mueller would double Children’s Hospital’s size and free up additional space for Brackenridge. Eventually, the talk is that space at Brackenridge could possibly be a teaching hospital for a medical school. Children’s trauma care will remain on the Brackenridge campus. Goodman appeared bothered that construction of a children’s campus at Mueller would take Seton out of city-owned facilities and put them on their own campus. Seton provides indigent healthcare for both children and adults in Austin. Goodman wanted to know why the hospital would not agree to some kind of public/private partnership to build the campus. Barnett told the Council that Seton had secured $175 million in debt from Ascension to build the Children’s Hospital, but only if the land was purchased by Seton. The land purchase makes it easier to guarantee the debt, which is already difficult in an environment where federal dollars are shrinking and indigent care is growing, Barnett said. Barnett added there would be other areas in which Seton could and would turn to the city for assistance in fulfilling its mandate of indigent healthcare. Goodman said the attention of Austin’s health care community had been focused on the hospital district bill for much of the last six months. Many of them had not realized the decision on Seton would come so quickly. She questioned why more community meetings had not been held, although Trish Young did name a number of boards and commissions that had met to discuss the Seton move. Futrell assured Goodman that the staff had made every effort to invite the community into the process. She told Goodman the proposed lease amendment strengthened the city’s position and provided protections for the city if Seton backed out of the deal. Other Council members had few questions. The vote was eventually 6-0-1, with Goodman abstaining. Futrell promised that city staff and Seton would try to answer all of her questions before third reading of the lease amendment today. Council set to consider Downtown Design Guidelines Staff still wants a few rules to be mandatory After months of discussion and negotiations with the Downtown Austin Alliance and every relevant board and commission, the city staff is finally ready to recommend codification of some Downtown Design Guidelines. Downtown Design Guidelines have been in place since 1997. For well over a year, the discussion has been over which guidelines could, or should, be codified. The downtown business community objected to codification, saying the cost might drive development out of downtown. Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning & Sustainability Department and Urban Design Officer Jana McCann p resented the city’s final recommendation at yesterday’s Council work session. Council members asked for clarification on some of the recommendations. None gave an indication of what the vote might be when the Council meets again today. Some of the guidelines have been amended to meet broader approval and three of them will not be recommended for codification. Here are the guidelines recommended for approval: • Waive annual fees for pedestrian overhead cover in the street right-of-way. Historic buildings have already been exempted. The revised recommendation includes a fee waiver for roof drains. • Screen view of equipment and other accessory items. The screening would include street-level trash bins and loading areas, as well as HVAC equipment on roofs. • Require a Green Building rating of at least one star—which was not considered onerous. • Screen views of autos in parking structures and on surface parking lots. Parking structures would be required to obscure sight of cars so headlights are not visible from adjacent buildings or street right-of-way. • Require proposed surface parking landscape requirements. Surface parking lots must be at least partially obscured from street right-of-way view by landscaping or structures. McCann said the intention is to create an edge to properties so pedestrians can walk by safely. • Require street-level secondary spaces, capable of conversion into other future uses. An amendment has bumped this requirement up from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. • Require street-facing windows on both first and second floors. The requirement will be that at least 50 percent of the first floor must be clear or lightly tinted glass. The second-floor requirement is 40 percent. • Establish 10-foot maximum front and street-side building setbacks. The revised staff recommendation has doubled the setback from 5 feet to 10 feet, with an additional provision that no parking be located within the front or street side. • Add historic Wooldridge Square to the Downtown Parks Overlay District. • Orient building entries toward the remaining historic squares. The original proposal was that the main entrance must face the square; now it can be any entrance to the building. A revision to the guideline deletes the requirement for buildings on parcels oriented catty-corner to squares. • Clarify the “clear and lightly tinted glass” definition. The requirement goes to Congress Avenue, East Sixth/Pecan Street, Downtown Parks and Downtown Creeks. Guidelines that are proposed as preferences rather than rules are: • No drive-in services. The city will require, however, that the businesses have some services to pedestrians at street level. A single curb cut cannot exceed the maximum width of 30 feet. • No service stations. Businesses think market forces will minimize service stations. • Make floor-to-area ratios for the Central Business District and Downtown Mixed Use zoning categories outside the historic district. The suggested minimum FAR is 3-to-1 in CBD zoning districts and 2-to-1 FAR in DMU zoning districts. The Downtown Austin Alliance has a slightly different take on the guidelines. Representatives of the group have been discussing their ideas with Council members this week and are expected to reiterate their suggestions at today’s meeting. ©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. Gephardt speaks to party faithful . . . Democratic Presidential candidate US Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri had nothing but praise for the Killer Ds during a stopover at the AFL-CIO on Wednesday morning. Gephardt, whose strongest support has come from labor, said the Killer Ds had revitalized Democrats across the nation and reminisced about his summer vacations outside Ardmore as a child. Gephardt joked that he had probably been to the Holiday Inn in Ardmore and called it a “good Democratic hotel.” Retired Congressmen Jake Pickle and Bill Patman were in the audience at the event . . . Bradley bankruptcy follow-up . . . The US Attorney and the trustee in Gary Bradley’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case have requested that the assets of the Lazarus Trust, which reportedly pays Bradley out of funds he once directly controlled, have requested that the court freeze the trust’s assets. In addition, Bankruptcy Judge Frank Monroe has given Trustee Ronald Ingalls another 90 days to pursue claims that Bradley intentionally defrauded creditors. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 18 . . . Smoking? . . . Not at UT football games. The University of Texas has announced that beginning with the 2003 football season DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium will be a non-smoking facility. Smoking will be permitted only outside of the stadium or in an area outside the stadium proper that is within the stadium secured areas . . . Austin Symphonic Band presents free Father’s Day Concert . . . The event is scheduled for 7:30pm Sunday at Zilker Hillside Theater in the park . . . Philosopher’s Rock talk tonight . . . Tonight at 7pm Jack Robinson, who grew up in Zilker Park during the 30s and 40s, will share his memories of the three men depicted in the Philosopher’s Rock in front of Barton Springs: J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb. Don Graham, the J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English literature at the University of Texas and past president of the Texas Institute of Letters, will also speak about the philosophers’ accomplishments. The discussion will be at the Sheffield Education Center at Barton Springs Bathhouse . . . Domain wins commission recommendation . . . Zoning changes for the land that will become the mixed-use retail project in Northwest Austin known as The Domain sailed through the Planning Commission last night. The changes were approved unanimously, with a few remarks from Commissioner Dave Sullivan regarding bicycle access. Other commissioners held the project up as an inspiration for future developers. “I was really impressed with the material you gave us,” Commissioner Maggie Armstrong told agent Steve Drenner. “Especially the photographs showing how you’re taking a site and making it much more attractive. I think that the proposal is really what we’ve been looking for . . . so that other people can see mixed-use on the ground, what it looks like and feels like. I hope it will serve as an example for others.”
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