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Futrell explains process for Limiting employee losses

Tuesday, July 22, 2003 by

Priority rehire list to be left open for one year

Bad news—especially inaccurate bad news—travels fast. That’s one reason why rumors about the number of impending city layoffs continue to make the rounds. City Manager Toby Futrell said yesterday that even she does not know the exact number because employees who leave the work force between now and July 31 are creating openings that those who might otherwise be unemployed can fill.

Futrell said she started talking about the projected layoffs early in the budget process in an attempt to help city employees who might be losing their jobs. She said she acted on the idea that more information is always better than less, but now she fears that the opposite has been true for some. Because she empathizes with those being displaced, Futrell said, her reaction to the layoffs has been dramatic. Perhaps that has also added to the anxiety level, she said.

Layoffs will be announced within departments on the morning of July 31, with department heads talking individually to each employee losing his position. “My goal is nobody hears it on the street,” she said. At the same time employees are told that they are losing a job, many will be informed that they can move into another city position, Futrell said. She said the picture seems to be improving every day as managers find more vacancies that need to be filled within the city.

Right now, Futrell said, “a monumental effort is going on to place people.” She said the number being laid off is not very important to individual employees because even if it were only one or two people, those people would be greatly affected. She said there would be layoffs in every department, including Austin Energy and the Water & Wastewater Utility, and among managers as well as rank-and-file employees.

She said the week following the layoffs, there would be meetings for everyone who has not been placed. At that meeting, employees will be able to ask questions about benefits and other matters. At the suggestion of one employee, she said, the city will keep a list of all those who were not placed in another position and they will be on a priority rehire list for one year. The city is also trying to find a way to ensure that those laid off who are rehired will not lose their tenure in the system.

Finally, Futrell said, she has been heartened by the number of emails she has received from employers outside the city offering to keep positions open for those laid off.

Neighbors stand up

For coffee shop owner The parking variance hearing for the Flight Path Coffee House was only notable in that owner Jason Burch was able to rally so much support in favor of the variance in the Hyde Park and North Loop neighborhoods.

The central city north neighborhoods are known for their vehement opposition to most variances and zoning changes. In the case of Burch’s coffeehouse on Duval, however, neighbors couldn’t say enough good things about the business. Burch collected 50 letters of support from neighbors and patrons who supported a variance on the limited parking.

Burch owns the 10,000-square foot strip center at 5011 Duval, which also includes the Arabic Bazaar and Limbo, a vintage clothing shop. The small shopping center, which was built in 1951, has always shared 26 parking spaces among the three businesses. The variance would effectively only bless what has already existed for 50 years.

Commissioner Herman Thun pointed out that the strip center, under current city code, should have 75 parking spots for the three businesses. He added that the coffee shop had expanded by an extra 1,000 square feet in recent years, without a proper parking permit. Burch bought the business in 2000, after the expansion was completed.

Burch told commissioners he had made every effort to find or lease additional parking, but the neighborhood was landlocked. The use of a local church parking lot could not be counted toward the city’s parking requirements. A local veterinarian clinic would not negotiate a lease arrangement because of liability issues, Burch said.

Burch said he had even cut back on hours and seating capacity to accommodate the shortcomings in parking. Commissioner Betty Edgemond questioned why Burch had added a beer and wine permit if he wanted to control the number of people in the coffee shop.

Burch said the permit really hadn’t increased traffic that much, but it had offered an alternative if some chose to drink and others did not. He pointed out that Flipnotics and the Spider House both had beer and wine permits.

Burch’s neighbors were happy to say the Flight Path Coffeehouse and its neighbors were just the kind of tenants that could “keep Austin weird,” in the best way possible. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association declined to oppose the variance, a sterling recommendation from the neighborhood association.

HPNA Co-President Bruce Nadig described Burch as a “stand-up guy.”

“This is the kind of business we want to have in our neighborhood,” Nadig said. “Jason is the kind of guy who wants to find solutions to the problems before they get here. When people had issues with parking, Jason was out there on his own, painting curbs and making signs and talking to the people in the neighborhood.”

A couple of neighbors did express concern about on-street parking. Commissioners accepted the argument that the property did not allow for additional parking and that leased parking in the area was limited. But they did encourage Burch to continue to work with neighbors on parking issues. The variance passed, 4-1, with Edgemond voting against it.

Urban renewal board offers Changes to 11th-12th street plan

Last night the Board of the Urban Renewal Agency agreed to recommend changes to the plans for revitalizing East 11th and 12th Streets. The City Council will consider those recommendations at their next meeting on July 31st.

Most of the changes were recommended by both city staff and the board of the Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA). They cover what can be built on 11th and 12th Streets, block by block, including limitations on building height, parking spaces, and the potential demolition of existing structures. Some of the changes call for allowing existing commercial space to be preserved on the northern side of East 11th between Branch and Curve Streets (the site of Ben’s Barbecue) and the preservation of two historic homes in that same area.

The board also got an update from Byron Marshall, executive director of the ARA on the progress of the East 11th and 12th Streets Redevelopment Project. Work on Phase One, involving improvements to the streetscape and utilities along the corridor, should be complete by August 8th.

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

What was not said . . . Yesterday’s story on the Downtown Commission’s recommendation that changes be made to the City Code to prevent development within the Waterfront Overlay District from getting waivers from certain requirements raised some temperatures. (See In Fact Daily, July 21, 2003.) One caller noted correctly that In Fact Daily initially made no mention of the fact that Chris Riley, chair of the Downtown Commission, is also a member of the Planning Commission. Riley sponsored the Downtown Commission’s resolution to allow appeals to the City Council from decisions on waivers granted by the Zoning and Platting Commission. Last week, ZAP granted a waiver to Fairfield Residential for the Rainey Street Apartments, eliminating the need to have first-floor pedestrian-oriented space. Riley objected strenuously and raised the question of appeals at the Downtown Commission’s meeting. He also sponsored a resolution adding the Downtown Commission to the list of boards that comment and make recommendations on alley vacations. The current City Code gives that oversight to the Planning Commission and the Urban Transportation. However, Riley said yesterday that staff has interpreted the code to mean the matter goes before ZAP, presumably because ZAP considers downtown zoning cases. Riley responded, “If you leave all the turf issues aside and you think about the reasons why we have a Planning Commission and a Zoning and Platting Commission then I think it’s hard to understand why (downtown zoning issues) go to the Zoning and Platting Commission” . . . Reconsideration . . . Riley said he had heard that two members of the Zoning and Platting Commission have said they want to reconsider the Rainey Street Apartments' waiver. Presumably, the matter will come up at tonight’s ZAP meeting . . . Deadline extended . . . The deadline for applying to become a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Saltillo Redevelopment Master Plan has been extended to Wednesday. The group will advise Capital Metro and the City of Austin on plans for using an 11-acre piece of property between 4th and 5th Streets just east of I-35. For more information, call George Adams at 974-2146 or Sam Archer at 389-7546 . . . Symphony presents Beto y los Fairlanes . . . The Austin Symphony will present Beto and friends this Wednesday from 9:30 to 11:30am at Symphony Square. The show, part of Children’s Day Art Park, is one of a series continuing on Wednesdays through July 30. There may be a film crew there, so be ready . . . City Council audit and finance meeting today . . . The committee will meet at 10am in Room 304 of City Hall. Two items on the agenda concern the status of Office of the City Auditor’s projects. . . Lowe’s on County agenda . . . Travis County Commissioners are scheduled to take up the request of Lowe’s Home Center for approval of its preliminary plan for a store in the Sunset Valley area. Commissioners could decide to give the City of Austin more time to work out a deal with Lowe’s, which sued the city over its failure to approve Lowe’s request . . . Thank you and farewell . . . Outgoing Director of Watershed Protection and Development Review Mike Heitz presented City Manager Toby Futrell and Mayor Will Wynn with gifts on Thursday as he received his Distinguished Service Award. Heitz is retiring on Aug. 1 from his position in Austin to take the job of Parks and Recreation Director for Louisville, Kentucky. “Louisville is famous for a couple of things,” Heitz said. “One of them is the horse race . . . and bourbon is pretty well known in Kentucky. We also have these other instruments called Louisville Sluggers.” He gave Wynn and Futrell their own baseball bats, each engraved with their signature.

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