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Hinojosa to announce candidacy

Thursday, January 8, 2004 by

Barrientos likely to endorse Valley judge against Doggett

As Congressman Lloyd Doggett continues to campaign in the Valley, Judge Leticia Hinojosa prepares to formally enter the race for Congressional Disrict 25 today. The battle could be the kind normally reserved for November elections—rough and expensive. Doggett’s forces say he has a $2 million war chest. He has considerable experience in raising money and he has his own money if he needs it. What he does not have is a local Hispanic elected officeholder—like Senator Gonzalo Barrientos—to urge other Hispanics to ignore cultural differences and vote for the experienced Anglo politician. In fact, there is every reason to believe that when Barrientos holds a 10am press conference today it will be to announce his support for Hinojosa.

Last month, Mayor Billy Leo of La Joya told In Fact Daily that Barrientos had already confirmed his support for Hinojosa. Leo said Barrientos would be assisting Hinojosa after conferring with his constituents. Barrientos will make his announcement in the Speaker’s Committee Room this morning. The Senator indicated at the time that he had not made a decision and said Tuesday that he would make his announcement today.

Yesterday, Hinojosa withdrew her name as a candidate for re-election to the 139th District Court in Edinburg and announced she would hold press conferences in both McAllen and Austin today. Her press conference is at noon in McAllen. After that, she will fly to Austin for a 3pm press conference at Nuevo Leon Restaurant.

Republican State Reps. Jack Stick, Terry Keel and Todd Baxter yesterday attended Michael McCaul’ s announcement for the Republican nomination for Congress in District 10. All three endorsed McCaul’s candidacy. Congressional District 10 includes the northeast portion of Travis County, a mostly Democratic area, but is dominated by Republicans in Houston suburbs. McCaul, who formerly worked in the Texas Attorney General's Office, will face three opponents in the Republican primary: Dave Phillips, John Kelley and Ben Streusand. Doggett filed for re-election and has not yet withdrawn his name. However, the time period for filing for Congress was extended to Jan. 16 by the federal court.

Redistricting means county must realign precincts

160,000 Austinites will change congressional districts

Now that federal judges have blessed the congressional redistricting map, election officials in 28 Texas counties, including Travis and Williamson, are busy trying to implement changes to precincts in order to be ready for the March 9 primary. Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Wells Spears said yesterday that 14 Travis County precincts must be redrawn. Spears said the job is made more difficult by the requirement that each precinct be contained within the boundaries of one state representative district, one senatorial district and one congressional district.

With Travis County split into four districts, congressional districts will change for an estimated 160,000 Austinites. Of those, 8,000 will live in newly drawn or revised precincts.

Spears described the congressional maps as “kind of weird,” which is one of the kinder statements made by Democrats reviewing the Republican-drawn maps. The precincts are not compact, and “go off in different directions. There may be a little cut out in one voter precinct that makes no sense—but we have to change the precinct numbers,” to comply with precinct rules, she said.

“I still can’t believe that anyone thinks that’s OK—the way they’ve gerrymandered those districts. It’s insane, but we will live with it,” Spears concluded.

Melinda Avey, who works in Spears’ office as voter registration supervisor, also described the new congressional boundary lines as “weird” and observed that the county is required to split some precincts. In one sense, however, the job is a familiar one because precincts are realigned every other year to insure that no precinct has more than 3,000 voters, Avey said.

“We worked with the Elections Division of the County Clerk’s office because they have to locate polling places,” Avey remarked. There will be eight new precincts scattered around the county, but with the majority of new precincts in Central and East Central Austin. The changes are mainly in District 10, which stretches from Northeast Austin to Houston and is considered a Republican-dominated district and District 25, a Democratic district dominated by Hispanic voters.

Travis County currently has 526,400 total registered voters, but only about 452,000 are considered “active.” Every person on the active voter list will receive a new voter registration card in the mail within the next few weeks, Avey said. “We don’t mail certificates to voters who are considered suspended, meaning we have reason to believe they don’t live at that address anymore.”

Voter registration officials started working on the new precinct boundaries two months ago, according to Avey. “We did as much preparation as early as possible.” Now, she said, the county will start mailing out new certificates, with voters who live in precincts not affected by redistricting receiving their cards first.

Since those who sued the state over redistricting plan to ask the US Supreme Court to enjoin use of the new maps until they make a decision on the matter, it is still possible that Texans will vote in March under the previous maps. However, that possibility seems unlikely. However, Avey said the voters who live in the precincts affected by redistricting would be the last to receive new cards.

Linda Martin, elections data specialist for Williamson County, said her county is not experiencing any of the problems seen in Travis. She said they have already made the necessary changes. “They were all clear cut;” she said. The county has 177,657 registered voters at the moment, she said. Congressmen John Carter (Republican) and Chet Edwards(Democrat) currently represent the county in Washington.

The deadline for registering to vote in the primary election is February 9. Travis County intends to run newspaper ads and have billboard advertising to inform the public of the deadline.

Previous action by ZAP prevents reconsideration

The request for a zoning change covering 7300 square feet of the first floor of the Nokonah will go on to the City Council without a recommendation from the Zoning and Platting Commission. The Commission heard the case at its December meeting, but split 4-4 over whether to endorse the change from retail to office use for the space. Commissioners wanted to vote again at Tuesday night’s meeting with all 9 members present, but ran into a technicality that prevented them from considering the item.

At its Dec. 16th meeting, the ZAP Commission heard from representatives of the condo development and the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) before reaching their split vote. After a brief recess at that meeting, Commissioners returned and decided to repost the item on the Jan. 6th agenda for action only, leaving the public hearing closed.

But Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry told commissioners that action had the end result of preventing another vote. “The code provides that the land use commission shall make a recommendation to the Council on a rezoning application not later than the 14th day after the land use commission closes the public hearing on the application,” she said, quoting Section 25-2-282-B of the Land Development Code (available on-line at http://www.amlegal.com/austin_tx/). “You did not vote to reopen the public hearing. You voted to reconsider your vote and postpone it . . . since you did not take action within 14 days, this goes up to the Council without a recommendation. It’s inappropriate for you to take any action on the item.” It was subsequently pulled from the agenda.

While the ZAP will not have an official recommendation, the Council will have plenty of input from neighborhood groups to consider. Members of OWANA have been vocal about their opposition to the change. However, OWANA, the West End Austin Alliance, Downtown Commission and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association have all voted to support the modification to the Nokonah’s DMU-CURE zoning. The change would allow a real estate company to take some of the first floor space in the building. The project’s owners have thus far been unable to entice retailers to lease the space. (See In Fact Daily, January 5, 2004.)

For news from last year:

Good news on the tax front . . . Budget Officer Rudy Garza reported yesterday that November’s sales tax revenues were 7.7 percent higher than the previous November. Austin led the way, with San Antonio’ s tax growth at 7.5 percent. Houston reported 4.6 percent growth and Dallas came in at 4.4 percent. For the first two months of FY 2004 Austin’s sales tax grew at 3.5 percent, placing it third behind San Antonio and Dallas. Garza noted that the current budget assumes a 2 percent increase over the prior fiscal year. Because the previous fiscal year ended with a decline of 4.5 percent, as opposed to a decline of 5.5 percent as anticipated, the city should have no trouble meeting its budgeted sales tax revenues of $111.25 million. Garza said in a memo, “From February 2003 through July 2003, all six months sales tax payments were negative growth; in the most recent period from August 2003 through January 2004 three of the months experienced positive growth. In fact, this is really good news considering that over the last 24 months, there has only been 4 months of positive activity; in other words 20 of the last 24 months were negative (one positive month was basically flat at .6 percent growth)” . . . Personnel changes at the city . . . As hinted yesterday, Kristen Vassallo, former chief of staff for Mayor Kirk Watson, is returning to the City of Austin as Director of Communications and Public Information effective Feb. 2. Vassallo has been the Director of Public Affairs with TateAustin for the past year . . . City Manager Toby Futrell also announced this week that Diana Granger would succeed Sue Brubaker as city Purchasing Officer. Brubaker is retiring, along with Controller Barbara Nickle. Jeff Knodel, who has worked for the city since 1987 and served as Deputy Controller, will be the new Controller. Diana Thomas has been appointed Deputy Controller. Pete Collins, who has been Acting Chief Information Officer, now has the job on a permanent basis. His duties involve information systems and computer technology . . . Birds at Barton Springs . . . There will be a free lecture at the Sheffield Education Center at Barton Springs Bathhouse in Zilker Park at 7pm tonight on “Migrants at the Springs.” Call 481-1466 or 478-3170 for more information.

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