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Doggett begins campaign for Congressional District 25

Friday, October 24, 2003 by

Barrientos says he too will consider race if map survives court challenge

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett stood in the baking hot parking lot of an East Austin construction company yesterday and announced that he would file for Congressional District 25, the seat which puts most of East Austin and Hyde Park into a district that snakes down to the Rio Grande. Doggett said he would move into the district—just a few blocks away from his current home in District 10. “The election is going to be close enough that I want to be sure that both Libby and I vote in the district,” he told the crowd of supporters.

“With the dirty work of dismantling Travis County now complete, Republicans expect me to announce my retirement,” Doggett said. “Let me join you today to say, ‘Austin’s not a retiring place.’” But Doggett will have to represent a lot more than Austin. District 25 includes parts of Travis County plus rural Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes, and Live Oak Counties and the Valley counties of Duval, Jim Hogg and Starr.

Entering the race now, Doggett will likely face State Rep. Kino Flores, D-Mission, in next March’s Democratic Primary. Flores has begun campaigning for the seat throughout the Valley but has not made an official announcement. Flores has good name ID in South Texas, but Doggett has the same advantage in Travis and Caldwell Counties. Doggett is also reportedly sitting on a war chest of more than $2 million—a major factor in what is likely to be an expensive, as well as divisive, race.

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, the dean of the Travis County delegation to the Legislature, was clearly less than thrilled by Doggett’s move. He told In Fact Daily, “I would hope that no congressman would take any action that would jeopardize our effort to defeat these maps in the courts. These maps are not the law of the land, so that I would hope that Lloyd’s statement would not detract from the battle to defeat what I think is illegal congressional redistricting. I would hope Lloyd and other candidates would spend their time and money defeating the plan. Of course, it’s important for Austin and those counties south of us to maintain a strong voice in Washington. If the courts do not protect us from this congressional carving I will strongly consider running for Congressional District 25, which is considered a strong Hispanic district.”

Barrientos added that he expects to go to Washington, DC next week to appear before the Justice Department. “We’ve got to think about the whole state. It’s hurting everybody,” he concluded. Some friends of former Mayor Kirk Watson were hoping Barrientos would go to Congress to leave a vacant senate seat that Watson might fill.

Doggett told the assembled crowd Thursday that although he believes the new map will be overturned by the courts, it may be too late for him to run by the time a court overturns the plan unless he begins now.

“I have friends who have been calling and asking over the last week, ‘Are you in? Are you coming down? Do we have an alternative to one of (Speaker) Tom Craddick’s top lieutenants (Flores) down here trying to spread division as fast as he can? This is not something that can wait ’. . . I want to be talking to the folks in the Valley and I think they’re right. They need someone who will be an advocate for them.” He said there are plenty of people in Austin, like Michael Von Ohlen, who hosted the press conference, “who have their roots in the Valley. I believe I have a record that is very compatible with the Valley.”

Those standing with Doggett Thursday included Pct. Commissioner Margaret Gomez and Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis. Gomez said she would work for Doggett both here and in South Texas because, “Lloyd has the experience . . . He has been taking care of our issues. I never had to twist his arm to do the right thing for the right reason. I never had to barrage him with information.” She made several references to Majority Leader Tom “Delay’s crooked plan” and the “crooked map” that resulted from Republican redistricting.

Speaking before the press conference, Gomez said she believes Barrientos should stay in the Senate because “We need to protect the seat. If Gonzalo leaves, a Republican,” like former candidate Ben Bentzin, will take the seat, she said.

Also voicing strong support for Doggett was Beverly Silas, Executive Director of Envision Central Texas and a member of the Austin Community College Board of Directors. She praised Doggett’s effectiveness in representing community interests—especially education. “Outside attempts to divide us will only unite us more strongly,” she said.

A reporter asked Doggett whether a Hispanic ought to represent it the heavily Hispanic district. He replied, “It’s a very important question…this district was not drawn to empower anyone. It was drawn to destroy me” and prevent any Austinite from serving in Congress. He added, “It is as unfair to Hidalgo County as it is to Travis County. We have more Anglos than African-Americans in Travis County. But the important seat of County Judge, thank heavens, is not an Anglo seat.” He added that the position of Mayor and president of the school board is not necessarily Anglo.

Council says no more big box stores over aquifer

45-day moratorium will give public, staff time to study impact of change in rules

The City Council last night unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on staff approval of site plans and issuance of permits for buildings of more than 50,000 square feet—or grocery stores of more than 100,000 square feet—over the Edwards Aquifer. While there was no dissent on whether to enact the temporary development rules in order to study changes needed to better protect the aquifer, Council Member Brewster McCracken caused some consternation when he tried to tack on a study of design standards for future buildings citywide.

McCracken said he would like to direct the City Manager to hire a mediator to meet with stakeholders involved in coming up with the new regulations and to work on design standards for large retailers. He said, “There’s broad consensus in the community that the design of these stores is a big problem, no matter what part of the city you live in. So I am asking the City Manager to consider a broader range of site-appropriate standards for these mega-stores.” He said he had asked for the design recommendations to be done at the end of the 45-day time period, “so that everybody in the city can have better looking stores.”

That was news to sponsoring Council Members Daryl Slusher and Raul Alvarez, who rejected the linkage of design standards to their environmental protection proposal. The third sponsor, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, had earlier expressed support for design guidelines. Alvarez said he was concerned that opposition to architectural rules would have a negative impact on a fairly straightforward ordinance designed to protect the aquifer. Slusher seemed especially irritated, “I was told we’re not even posted for the guidelines . I don’t think anybody’s up here to argue about the wonderful design attributes,” of big box retail, he said. “But we have a narrowly focused issue that three of us put on for a Council vote—not even to pass new regulations, but to establish a period where we look at potential new regulations and it’s true that those have been sort of controversial over the last few days. I am concerned about adding something else in on top of it without a vote of the Council that further confuses it.” Slusher held up a letter from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) asking that he postpone action on the ordinance to allow time for studying the proposed changes. Of course, time to study the proposal was what the moratorium was all about.

Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon was called upon to explain what promises had been made to McCracken prior to the meeting, but she said there had been none. Gordon said the staff could furnish a mediator but she seemed to want more direction from the Council as to how she should proceed. At the time of the vote, the design standards had clearly been uncoupled from the ordinance.

The sponsors took the word moratorium out of the ordinance, but representatives of retail developments larger than 50,000 square feet will not be able to get approvals before the Dec. 4 Council meeting unless they obtain a waiver from the Council. At that time, the Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on new development regulations for large retail stores in the Barton Springs zone. Alvarez said, “This has been a big issue in the community for over a year.” During that 45-day time frame, city staff and stakeholders can “analyze the effects of these types of developments and figure out how we can best go about mitigating some of the adverse impact,” such developments have on the aquifer.

Slusher pointed out that the ordinance would be “consistent with what we’ve been doing for a long time.” The Stratus, Bradley and Forum development agreements all limited or prohibited large-scale stores that might be magnets for more traffic and development. The ordinance would level the playing field between those who have made agreements and those who have not, he said. Buildings that are only changing uses but not increasing impervious cover or gross floor area may proceed with the city’s approval process, he said.

Sandy Hentges, vice president for public policy for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce did not address the Council but shared a letter signed by representatives of the chamber, RECA, and the both the Hispanic and African-American chambers of commerce. The signers of the letter urged the Council to clearly define the objectives of the proposed ordinance and commission a detailed economic impact analysis of the proposal. They also asked that the Council consider the ordinance in the legal context of “takings law.” The Council went into executive session before beginning discussion of the ordinance.

Hentges told In Fact Daily the chamber “has been working very closely with the city on improving our tax base. We’ve been trying to help create jobs for those people who have lost jobs. Businesses moving into this community want to see consistency.” She said the business community is concerned that companies viewing last night’s actions from outside the community may think that they are not welcome here. “They’ll just kind of scratch us off the list. We don’t want to be scratched off the list. We want Austin to remain competitive in the nation for bringing companies here.”

Environmentalists were confident of their victory last night and only four remained after the Wal-Mart zoning hearing to address the Council. However, many of them offered written comments in support of the ordinance.

Wal-Mart wins approval for zoning at Slaughter and I-35

Giant retailer promses more trees, screening for loading areas

Activists seeking disapproval of zoning for a new Wal-Mart at I-35 and Slaughter fell short of their goal yesterday as the City Council approved changes on first reading by a 6-0 vote.

Council Member Brewster McCracken made the motion to approve GR-CO zoning for the 32-acre swath of land that is currently occupied by warehouses, an auto sales and vehicle storage business, a cocktail lounge, a consumer repair service and 24 mobile homes. Council Member Danny Thomas seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously with Council Member Betty Dunkerley absent. A second Wal-Mart request, on land at the intersection of Ben White and I-35, was postponed for two weeks.

Richard Suttle, attorney for Wal-Mart, promised the Council that his client would provide screened lighting to shield nearby neighborhoods and go beyond the screening and tree planting required under the city’s landscape ordinance. In addition, he said Wal-Mart would not use the parking lot for sales.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman asked Suttle if Wal-Mart would commit to taking further steps to mitigate for the heat island effect found in urban areas. Concrete and asphalt produce more heat than land covered with vegetation so cities generate a great deal of extra heat. Suttle told Goodman he would try hard to mitigate further, but added that he could not promise to as much as Goodman wanted. “The landscape architect on this went to great lengths to protect existing trees…once we got the big trees located, we committed to increase the existing trees by 70 percent but I can’t commit to 50 percent coverage,” he said. Suttle noted that there would be other tenants on the property and Wal-Mart would have security concerns if some parts of the lot would be dark at night.

Goodman has been trying to get builders to pay attention to the heat island effect for some time with little success. Suttle told her, “It doesn’t seem fair, just because of who this is” he said, to force Wal-Mart to do things other retailers have not been required to do.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Board and Commission appointments . . . Council Member Danny Thomas Thursday appointed Karin Ascot to the Environmental Board. Ascot, who has only been away from board for about two months, was previously appointed by Mayor Will Wynn when he was in Place 5. Thomas also reappointed Pamela Cunningham to the Arts Commission. Leane Heldenfels and Laurie Virkstis, an alternate, were reappointed by consensus to the Board of Adjustment. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman reappointed Michael Murphy to the Construction Advisory Committee and Caroline LeGette to the Electric Utility Commission. Martha Martinez was reappointed by consensus to the MHMR Board of Trustees.

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