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Firefighters bring in petitions for collective bargaining

Tuesday, March 9, 2004 by

Martinez says union wants negotiations open to public

The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters submitted more than 12,000 signatures to the City Clerk’ s office on Monday in an effort to get a referendum on the May 15 city ballot on collective bargaining for the union. The association needed 8,453 signatures to put the matter before city voters.

“In just under 25 days, we were able to gain enough signatures from City of Austin voters who said they would like to see this on the ballot so that the entire population of Austin would have the opportunity to vote on this,” said AAPF President Mike Martinez. Last week, the union met with Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman to discuss a proposal that would grant the union certain aspects of collective bargaining through a Council vote. But Martinez said the union was not in favor of that proposal. “We’re not going for certain provisions under collective bargaining, we want collective bargaining,” he said.

The primary benefit to the union will be to accelerate the negotiation process. Under Meet and Confer, said Martinez, the union had gone without a new contract for too long. “It requires the city to meet with us,” he said. “Collective bargaining says we no longer have to sit around and wait for two years to negotiate and try to get a contract.” Under the provisions of collective bargaining, arbitration and mediation are both options should negotiations reach a standstill. But Martinez predicted that the public spotlight on those negotiations would improve the level of dialogue.

“In my view, the negotiations have been very tense. I think that they’ve caused some strained relations with our management. We obviously have some concern about the managerial decisions the Chief has made over the past couple of years,” he said. “I believe the Meet and Confer process of having closed negotiations has only added fuel to that fire, because it can become a very political atmosphere in closed negotiations. Collective bargaining would require that those negotiations be open to the public. We want the citizens to hear what we are talking about in those negotiations. We want the citizens to know what’s important to fire fighters.”

The City Clerk’s office will work this week to verify the signatures on the firefighters’ petition. The City Council is posted to vote on placing the item on the May 15 ballot this Thursday. The union is still willing to hold discussions under the Meet and Confer system until that date—and afterwards, if voters reject the proposal. Union officials have agreed to have a negotiating team ready by April 2 for talks with city management. However, Martinez said any discussions under the Meet and Confer system would not stop the union’s quest for collective bargaining.

Gattis School Road decision delayed

CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board agreed last night to give a proposed realignment of Gattis School Road across State Highway 130 another month of study before adding the road change to the CAMPO 2025 Transportation Plan.

The Transportation Policy Board took testimony on proposed amendments to the CAMPO 2025 Plan in February, amendments that local jurisdictions considered to be too critical to wait for the CAMPO 2030 Transportation Plan. Four of the proposed amendments were put on the fast track, including the extension of Gattis School Road.

Travis County’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department had proposed shifting the alignment of the Gattis School Road extension from Travis to Williamson County and create an intersection with the future SH 130.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said the situation was difficult to understand without taking a drive through the area, which straddles the Travis-Williamson county border. The Travis County portion of the road is located in Sonleitner’s district.

The current Gattis School Road narrows to a two-lane road that dead ends into FM 685, Sonleitner said. On the Travis County side, the initial construction of Gattis School Road included 80 feet of right-of-way, enough for a 4-lane major arterial that would continue through Williamson County. On the Williamson County side, however, subdivisions were platted so that a four-lane major arterial was impossible to construct, Sonleitner said.

With nowhere to go, Travis County started to look for other alignment options. The one brought to CAMPO – much to the ire of one neighborhood – shifting the alignment to the north, shows Gattis School Road crossing SH 130 and hooking up with County Road 138 on the other side of SH 130 to create an east-west arterial. The size of the proposed extension would be downgraded from major arterial to a minor four-lane undivided road.

Traffic is already considered a headache along Gattis School Road, where some homeowners are forced to sit for minutes in their driveways, waiting for a chance to back out into traffic on the congested thoroughfare. On top of that, the exit would likely be the last free exit off State Highway 130, increasing the congestion on the Williamson County road.

Dale Harrington, who lives in the Forest Creek Estates section of Huntington Trails, said his neighborhood has been fighting the alignment threat for a year. Harrington said his neighborhood was being “hung out to dry” to accommodate a developer. He said the addition of sound walls only 10 feet from some front doors was ridiculous.

Harrington said he, as an engineer, would like to see a study that showed the current extension for Gattis School Road was impossible. He added that Travis County, with this alignment, was taking the cheap way out of the roadway problem.

Charles Patino, a former Texas Department of Transportation employee who lives in the neighborhood, said his neighborhood had come to accept the possibility of a SH 130 bypass. That was progress. But the proposed realignment of Gattis School Road was difficult to understand. Already, one woman had died at Gattis School and FM 685.

Patino said choosing and alignment along the more winding Priem Road would provide more reasons for drivers to slow down, rather than speeding through Huntington Trails.

While the alignment may have had the support of Sonleitner and Travis County’s TNR Department, it didn’t necessarily have the support of Sonleitner’s colleagues. County Judge Sam Biscoe made a motion to delay a vote on Gattis School Road for another month while CAMPO staff looked at the pros and cons of each proposed extension.

“This body ought to see the advantages and disadvantages of each of the alignments under consideration,” Biscoe said. “That seems to be reasonable, to take at least another month to look at this.”

Biscoe said he was not aware of the TNR recommendation until homeowners starting sending e-mails to his office, protesting the change. He even asked Executive Director Michael Aulick when CAMPO received the Travis County proposal, which was sent to CAMPO by letter in early January. Biscoe told his colleagues he would not feel comfortable reaching a decision until he saw more analysis.

“If the impact on the neighbors is anything close to what I’m hearing, it ought to give us pause,” Biscoe told the board. Sonleitner said she could accept his concern, but she wanted TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh to lay out the situation on SH 130 so that everyone understood the limitations for Gattis School Road.

Chair Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos cut off that request, limiting the discussion and opening up the floor for comments from the neighborhood. In subsequent discussion, the board unanimously agreed to delay the discussion for a month. Barrientos also asked a report on the impact of improvements on cut-through traffic on east-west arterials in Austin, such as 45th Street, 38th Street and Enfield off Loop 1.

Design Commission unhappy about plans for Brush Square

Hilton Corporation launching effort to raise more money for Dickinson House restoration

The Design Commission’ s alarm over the proposal for Brush Square but it is likely to be too late to make an impact on the long-range plans for one of the downtown’s three remaining historic squares.

Austin Parks Foundation Executive Director Ted Siff and Parks and Recreation Department Planner Julie Lipton presented the interim plans for Brush Square at this week’s Design Commission meeting. In the presentation, Siff and Lipton reviewed the results of a community meeting on the subject, which emphasized a desire for space for special functions, additional lighting and the removal of the adjoining fire station parking lot.

Lipton presented a conceptual drawing of the squares that included scattered trees, increased vegetation and seating space to encourage the use of Brush Square, which is located between the Hilton Convention Center Hotel and an Austin fire station. Lipton stressed that plans were considered to be interim until further uses were developed.

The Design Commission supported the idea of upgrading Brush Square, but commissioners kept returning to the one thing Siff and Lipton could not control: the permanent placement of the Susanna Dickinson and O. Henry houses on the square.

Last summer, the City Council approved relocating the Dickinson House. The developer of the Hilton Hotel has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to move and stabilize the Dickinson House, which is now no more than a couple of walls and a piece of roof from a house that was once home to a heroine of the Alamo.

The Design Commission—a panel of architects and developers—is often more clinical than emotional in its analysis of structures. The group, which wrote the downtown design guidelines, usually sticks fairly closely to those guidelines in its assessments. But members were clearly distressed with the thought that the restoration of Brush Square might be lost, with restoration meaning a return to the original intent and use of the square.

Commissioner Juan Cotera said the pictures presented by Lipton showed a landscaped square with plenty of vegetation and open space. That ideal, however, was not what would eventually be present on Brush Square, Cotera said. As it is now, the square is a small cramped space with a number of structures on it.

The Design Commission should have weighed in on a measure as drastic as the relocation of the Susanna Dickinson House to Brush Square, Commissioner Girard Kinney told other members. One of the four historic squares of the city has already been lost to development with the construction of First Baptist Church. The city had a duty to preserve the remaining three, which were a significant part of the city’s history, Kinney said.

Under the current plans, the Friends of the O. Henry Museum have agreed to be responsible for the restoration of the house to its original design, with the intention of using the structure as a museum commemorating Dickinson and others. Over the last four months, the Friends have raised $72,000 toward the restoration effort, Siff said. That includes a $42,000 grant from the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. The O. Henry Museum is acting as the fiscal agent for a $500,000 fundraising effort to restore the home.

Cotera said he thought that the preservation of the house might simply mean maintaining the house in its current condition, rather than recreating it. Preservation, in this case, meant moving forward with recreating something that hadn’t been part of the structure for many years. Kinney agreed with Cotera’s viewpoint.

The commissioners agreed that ideally, the Dickinson House, O. Henry House and Austin Fire Station next door would all be relocated to other locations.

Siff said even he hadn’t been aware of the relocation negotiations until the plans were substantially complete. The original idea, proposed by Mayor Will Wynn, was to relocate the house to state-owned land next to the Old Bakery on Congress at Tenth Street. The auxiliary group supporting the bakery opposed that plan, forcing the city to look for other avenues. The Brush Square location was not one the Austin Parks Foundation advocated, Siff said.

The Design Commission agreed to draft a letter to the City Council, expressing support for Siff and Lipton’s efforts to “green up” the square, but stressing strong opposition to the plans to divert Brush Square away from its original purpose.

The Hilton Hotels Corp. has no qualms about the project, however, Yesterday, the company launched a project to tie its local business networking activities with the efforts to restore the Dickinson house. Sales and marketing representatives of various Hilton properties in Austin are meeting this week with vendors and potential customers. In addition to promoting the Hilton properties, the staff will use the opportunity to raise awareness of the restoration of the Dickinson house. The highlight of the promotional campaign will be an event at Stubbs Bar-B-Q Wednesday evening for vendors and potential customers.. “The Susanna Dickinson house is a wonderful addition to the cultural and aesthetic diversity of downtown Austin,” said Andy Slater, area vice president and general manager of the Hilton Austin. “We have a pleasing mix of business, entertainment and culture in our downtown. We must promote and support such diversity. Hilton Hotels has adopted this project as part of its community service program and we are asking other Austin businesses to join this effort.” .

Election Day! . . . Today is the day of reckoning for candidates and campaign consultants. Travis County’ s votes will be tallied at the County Clerk’s new offices at 5501 Airport Blvd. Lloyd Doggett and Leticia Hinojosa will be beating the drums in the Valley throughout the day, trying to get their supporters to the polls. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reported that more than 7,000 votes were cast on Friday, the final day of early voting, pushing the total number of early votes to 32,361—a record for Travis County. Here are the breakdowns by party: Travis Democrats: 22,389, 4.20 percent of registered voters; Republicans: 9,972, 1.87 percent of registered voters. In Hidalgo County, where Hinojosa must grab a high percentage of the vote, the turnout among Democrats was 30,327, or 11.79 percent of registered voters. There were only a handful of Hidalgo County Republicans—1,292 or 0.5 percent of the registerd voters. These are raw numbers and do not reflect the districts the candidates are trying to win, with Hidalgo divided between District 25 and District 15 and Travis divided four ways . . . Here are where the various candidates and their parties will be tonight: the Doggett campaign party will be at Ruta Maya International Headquarters at Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress Avenue, Suite D200. The party will be from 7:30pm to midnight . . . Hinojosa’s party will be in McAllen at 1000 S. Cynthia, at the corner of Jackson and Cynthia, according to her campaign manager, Paul Vazaldua . . . Commissioner Precinct 1 candidates will be watching returns to see whether they can stop campaigning or enter a runoff, a distinct possibility with four candidates in the race. Ron Davis will be at his campaign headquarters, 1220 E. 12th Street(phone 220-1096); Celia Israel’ s party will be at JC’s Steak House, 5804 N. I-35 (formerly the Bombay Bicycle Club). Both parties will start by 7:30pm . . . Judge races . . . Contestants in the mud bath district court race— Gisela Triana, Jan Soifer and John Hathaway—will each host parties for their supporters around town. Triana’s party is at Cuba Libre, 409 Colorado, beginning at 7:30pm. Soifer’s party is at 1306 Nueces, the offices of Betty Blackwell, starting 7:15pm. Hathaway’s folks will gather at Nuevo Leon, 1501 E. 6th St. at 7:30pm . . . There is also a contest—though not nearly as heated—to take the County Court at Law No. 5 bench Triana is vacating. Nancy Hohengarten has garnered the majority of endorsements. Her party, sponsored by the Austin Women’s Political Caucus, will be at a private home at 4002 Avenue H, beginning around 7:30pm. Candidate Efrain de la Fuente and his friends will gather at Juan in a Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez, at 7:30pm. Leonard Saenz’ party will be at 2400 South 4th St., starting at 8pm . . . After the voting . . . Democratic activist and political consultant Alfred Stanley, who serves as a precinct chair, has a message for Democrats: “The impact of them going to their precinct conventions is seven times greater than voting in the presidential primary.” Those conventions start at 7:15pm at polling places . . . Tonight’s city meetings . . . The Planning Commission, which is scheduled to meet in Room 325 of One Texas Center at 6pm tonight, will be considering whether to recommend that three houses in the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan area be designated as historic. Neighborhood members spoke in favor of the designation before the Historic Landmark Commission, and the HLC recommended the zoning change against the wishes of the owner and city staff. Commissioners are also scheduled to take up the thorny issue of amending the sign ordinance to allow the relocation of billboards. The commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 2pm to consider whether to create a Class C misdemeanor “relating to placing objects on public property.” The ordinance is aimed at so-called bandit signs. The committee will meet in the 5th Floor conference room of One Texas Center . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Committee is scheduled to meet at 6pm tonight at Waller Creek Center. The agenda includes an update on events and zoning plans for the site . . . The Airport Advisory Committee, which will meet at 5pm, is scheduled to consider a recommendation on an amendment to a lease with Temple Inland. The company has already signed a contract to lease land at ABIA, but would like to increase the amount of land under contract.

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