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Barrientos confers with likely Doggett opponent

Thursday, December 18, 2003 by

Congressman wins four mayoral endorsements

One of the Rio Grande Valley businessmen backing District Judge Leticia Hinojosa for the new Congressional District 25 says he is confident that Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos will support the Valley judge over Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Mayor Billy Leo of La Joya is one of a group of Valley leaders who met to choose a local candidate to run against Doggett in the Democratic Primary after Rep. Kino Flores of Mission dropped out of the race. Hinojosa would lose her current position if she announced her candidacy, but she has not been shy about saying that she would consider the race if the Republican-backed redistricting plan is not overturned.

The Quorum Report reported yesterday that Barrientos and Hinojosa attended the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Christmas party together. Doggett attended the same function. When contacted by In Fact Daily, Barrientos said, “I am down here because I was invited by a group of business people and leaders who wanted to talk to me about the race. I have met with Judge Hinojosa and expressed my concern about the outrageous maps and hope they get torn down. I also expressed the interest of Austin residents and that we have input into everything if that race were to come about.”

Asked whether it should be assumed that he is not going to support Doggett, Barrientos said, “You can’t assume that. First of all, the maps are not the law of the land. The fact that I’m down here is a result of my being invited and my interest in those maps and that they be thrown out . . . and if they were to stand that Austin and that section of our state have good input.”

But Mayor Leo said the senator expressed his support for Hinojosa and indicated that he would assist her candidacy. Asked why he thought Barrientos would not confirm his support for Hinojosa to the media, Leo said, “Officially, he can’t. He’s going to have to go back and talk to his constituents, so he’s not going to announce it until then.”

Doggett, still on the campaign trail, could not be reached for comment. However, the fact that four Hidalgo County mayors had endorsed his candidacy made big news in McAllen. The front page of Wednesday’s McAllen Monitor carried a story outlining Doggett’s endorsements from McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo, Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz, Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez, Jr. and Pharr Mayor Leo (Polo) Palacios.

Doggett’s campaign also announced that Montalvo had taped radio spots in Spanish that began running yesterday. In the English translation of the ad, Mayor Montalvo states: “This is Leo Montalvo, Mayor of McAllen, asking for your vote and support for Congressman Lloyd Doggett. The well-being of our communities—schools, roads and economic development—depends on acquiring funds from Washington. That’s why we need Lloyd Doggett.” Doggett, who has served in Congress for the past nine years, is a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

According to the Quorum Report, former Travis County Commissioner Richard Moya and businessman Andy Ramirez accompanied Barrientos on his trip to the Valley.

AG says city may not release King documents

Meet and Confer agreement must be amended first, says Attorney General

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has concluded that the City of Austin may not release information contained in the independent investigation of the Sophia King shooting. The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and several media outlets filed requests for the information under the Texas Open Records Act and the city asked for the Attorney General’s opinion on the matter. In a seven-page letter, the AG’s office rejected all of the arguments set forth by the TCRP’s Jim Harrington and the other requesting agencies and ordered the city to keep the report confidential under the terms of the current contract with the Austin Police Association.

Harrington filed his request after Police Chief Stan Knee and Acting Police Monitor Al Jenkins announced in late September that they could not release the report itself or even a summary of the report (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 19, 2003). The Open Records requests argued that the Austin Police Department had broken the confidentiality of the agreement by releasing selected portions. But the AG’s determination is that even if parts of the investigation had been released, that would not remove the city’s obligation to withhold confidential information in the future.

The AG’s letter on the request also cites provisions of the city’s agreement with the APA as grounds for keeping the report out of the public eye. Assistant Attorney General Denis McElroy quotes the Standard Operating Procedures for Independent Investigations, which says: “The Independent Investigation is considered a confidential Police Department file under [Section] 143.089(g) and the confidentiality provisions of the Meet and Confer Agreement”.

Representatives for the city requested permission to release a summary of the report, citing the compelling public interest of the document. But McElroy wrote that because the report was classified as confidential, that would not be possible under requirements of the Texas Local Government Code. “It contains no provision that allows a police department to release its confidential departmental file if there is a legitimate public interest in it. Thus, while this office believes that the public has a strong legitimate interest in the information at issue here, we are unable to conclude, without a change in the city’s Agreement, that this fact does anything to alter the confidential character of the information at issue or of the city’s statutory duty not to disclose any part of it,” he wrote.

The ruling in favor of confidentiality comes as no surprise to top city officials. “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I expected,” said City Manager Toby Futrell. “We asked them…could we release the whole thing? Or a condensed summary? We may release no part of it…we can only do that through the Meet and Confer contract.” The city and the police union are working on a new contract, and both sides have publicly said they would like that to contain a provision allowing the release of the King report and any similar reports if such an occasion should arise in the future. Futrell said she thought negotiations were going well. “We have tentative agreement on some big issues like this. We are in our final days, but it may be weeks.”

Task force undecided on contested designations

Last night, members of the city’s Historic Preservation Task Force had plenty of discussion, but ultimately couldn’t decide how to handle owner-opposed historic designation cases.

For the most part, the task force has signed off on the ordinance proposed by a Historic Landmark Commission subcommittee with only minor tweaking. At last night’s meeting, however, the group of five hit an impasse on the historic designation process.

With the concerns of the City Council in mind, the ordinance was written to require two hearings when a demolition permit is filed. Under the current process, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer has five days to review and post the demolition permit. Then the Historic Landmark Commission, at its next meeting, can decide to either grant the demolition permit or initiate a historic landmark case. In most cases, a historic landmark case is put in motion.

That leads to a second meeting, in which the Historic Preservation Officer presents the case for historic preservation. The proposed ordinance added a second hearing, a disposition hearing, for those cases opposed by the building’s owner.

Task force members generally agreed that it should be one rather than two meetings to consider a historic designation, opposed or unopposed. Beyond that, though, they had different viewpoints on other aspects of the ordinance.

For example, the proposed ordinance outlined criteria the Historic Landmark Commission might consider in an owner opposition case. Chair Betty Baker opposed codifying the opposition criteria outlined in the proposed ordinance because she was uncertain how the criteria should be weighed against the historic designation. Baker said she preferred to see the opposition criteria outlined in the commission’s rules and regulations.

Laurie Limbacher, who sits on the Historic Landmark Commission, was on hand for the discussion. Limbacher said the criteria were placed in the ordinance because they directly addressed the concerns presented to the commission by the City Council. The ordinance clearly outlined what evidence an owner might present to counter a historic case—such as the structural integrity of the building or the economic viability of restoration.

Limbacher pointed out that the HLC typically excludes such owner concerns because those factors are not a consideration under the ordinance.

Former Historic Landmark Commissioner Teresa O’Connell suggested that the HLC could pass on considering such owner opposition factors and simply consider the historic criteria. That would make the commission’s votes much clearer, rather than taking questions from the City Council about why various factors weren’t considered. Commissioners discussed deferring the opposition criteria to a subcommittee.

Jim Christianson, another former HLC member, said he considered the function of the HLC to be the recommendation and protection of historically zoned structures, regardless of the buildings’ conditions.

The task force was split on the voting majorities proposed under the ordinance. The proposed ordinance suggested that a supermajority of the Historic Landmark Commission pass a historic designation when an owner opposes that designation. While Commissioners John Philip Donisi and Christianson were ready to consider the supermajority vote, Baker was opposed to the idea.

Baker said such a requirement would make the Historic Landmark Commission the final arbiter on historic designation, rather than serving in an advisory capacity. Historic cases would stop at the HLC, rather than moving on to land use commissions.

The Historic Preservation Task Force will vote on the hearing process at a January meeting. Other items on the table will include the task force’s professional services fund and demolition delays. Baker also suggested such topics as narrowing the age for historic designation and charging application fees for the historic designation application. She also suggested special consideration for property in the Central Business District.

ZAP recommends mixed-use zoning for UT area

Neighbors endorse change at 24th and Pearl

Plans for high-density student housing at a site at the intersection of 24th and Pearl Street cleared the Planning Commission last week. The owner of the House of Tutors, a tutoring service for UT and visiting foreign students, is seeking vertically split zoning to allow the construction of a mixed-use project with CS-MU on the lower levels and MF-6 on the upper levels.

“We plan to keep our business there,” said House of Tutors owner Hussain Malik. “We are very keen on maintaining good quality development there. This is not something that we are going to sell. We are going to be a part of the community.” The existing structure would have to be demolished to make way for the new building, which would be 90 feet tall. The first two floors of the project would be used for retail and office space, including the House of Tutors, with apartments above. Plans call for the portion of the building above 35 feet tall to be set back from the street by at least 25 feet. Parking for 120 cars would be on the interior of the building on the lower floors to serve both the retail space and residential portion. With a mixture of two and three bedroom apartments, the complex would have a total of 32 units.

Architect Jimmy Holland told commissioners that access to the parking area would be prohibited from 24th Street in order to preserve access for pedestrians to the tutoring service and retail. Most of the parking would be surrounded by retail uses on Pearl Street as well, but not all of the ground floor on that side of the project would be used as retail. Although that means some exposure for the parking facility at street level on Pearl, Holland stressed it would be well screened. “Part of the success of a residential community is it can’t have that hard edge,” Holland said. “That’s a real important part of the design.”

The project had the endorsement of the University Area Partners and the surrounding neighbors, including a fraternity house, a sorority house and a bicycle repair shop. The UAP, said representative Mike McHone, supported both the increased density and increased height as a way to bring more students into the area. “This is the first true MF-6 project you’ve seen,” he said. “A few years ago, we started the MF-6 trying to get redevelopment in the neighborhood, recognizing that the MF-4 that was blanketed in the area in the early 80’s was not allowing for sufficient density to get redevelopment. We’re trying to get into a situation where we capture the student body back to the university. To bring those numbers back, we will have to see a lot of vertical building.”

The possibility of increasing the maximum height allowed in the area is being discussed as part of the neighborhood plan, which could go to the City Council for approval next spring. “Although the Central Austin Neighborhood Plan is not yet complete, it does appear that the density being requested is something that will be recommended with the plan,” said Glenn Rhoades of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. “Whenever we were talking to the neighborhood planning team and the city staff, we came to the consensus that density in this particular portion of the city would be desirable . . . rather than further north or further west.”

Commissioners unanimously endorsed the requested zoning change from GO-MU to CS-MU and MF-6. “If we didn’t have the information about what’s going on with the neighborhood plan, this change would be inconsistent with what’s going on around there,” said Commissioner Michael Casias. I do caution that by supporting this change . . . most of these property owners can come back and start asking for 90 feet.”

But Commissioner David Sullivan was more optimistic about the project, noting that most of the students who would live at the apartment complex should be able to walk to campus. “I think it meets a lot of the goals that we’re trying to do in terms of providing housing close to where people work or go to school,” he said. The vote for the new zoning was 7-0, with Commissioner Lydia Ortiz absent from the meeting.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Legal tangle . . . On Wednesday, we reported that owners of historic homes who seek such a designation could petition Alice Glasco, director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, to place their cases on a City Council agenda if they experience a delay before one of the land use commissions. The information was passed along at a meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission. However, the city’s Law Department now says homeowners who want to move a case forward could appeal to Glasco only if the case had not been filed initially with the Historic Landmark Commission . . . Vacation time . . . In Fact Daily will begin its annual vacation tomorrow. We will return on Jan. 5, 2004. Have a happy holiday . . . Trends for 2004 . . . The City of Austin has lost a large number of experienced managers during the past year. Some left because it was time for another challenge, but many of them became eligible to retire and took that option. More seasoned managers will likely choose to retire in 2004 and 2005. Deputy City Manager Joe Canales, for example, is only 18 months from being eligible to take his pension. Acting Assistant City Manager John Stephens, who is the city’s chief financial officer, and his second-in-command, Vicky Schubert, are experienced money managers who could retire in the coming year or so . . . Boat race idea raises environmental questions . . . The Environmental Board heard from Zilker neighborhood resident Lorraine Atherton Wednesday night. She asked the board to prepare an assessment of the possible environmental damage that could be caused by holding boat races on Town Lake. Although the promoter of the controversial races withdrew his permit request, Atherton said neighborhood groups have met with the promoter regarding plans for the River City Fiesta next summer ( The board agreed to ask staff for information about possible noise, air or water pollution, the mechanical disturbance of sediment, and the impact of increased wave action on birds nesting along the shoreline. In other action, the Environmental Board updated its work plan for next year to include language on involvement in regional planning efforts . . . ZAP coordinator warns of early deadlines . . . For those planners anticipating an item on the Zoning and Platting Commission January 6 agenda, there are some early deadlines. ZAP coordinator Dora Anguiano says she will be sending out preliminary agendas starting on December 26 and finalize the agenda on December 29. These early deadlines are due to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

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