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Levin, Rivera offer different agendas for ACC

Monday, May 24, 2004 by

Runoff set for June 19

Marc Levin and Veronica Rivera are both attorneys and graduates of the University of Texas Law School. The two outpolled Rodney Ahart and Guadalupe Sosa in the May 15 election to fill Austin Community College Place 6 and will face each other in the June 19 runoff.

This marks the first run for public office for Rivera, 36 and Levin, 28. He is a staunch conservative with numerous publications to his name. When asked whether he considers himself a Republican or a Libertarian, Levin pointed out that he always votes in the Republican primary, adding that this is a non-partisan race. Rivera is a Democrat and former schoolteacher who specializes in land-use law. She works for the Round Rock law firm of Sheets & Crossfield, which represents the City of Round Rock. Prior to taking her current job, Rivera was an associate with Minter & Joseph and represented developers.

As a former teacher, Rivera says she has always had an interest in education and associated issues. After graduating from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, she returned to her hometown, Brownsville, where she taught Texas, US and world history, as well as Spanish. Rivera then went to work in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention in the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office, under both Governor Ann Richards and then- Governor George Bush. At that time, she also attended Texas State University and was awarded a Masters degree in business administration in 1995. Finally, Rivera decided to add a law degree to her resume, graduating from the UT Law School in 98. At the same time, she notes, she was a mentor at Baty Elementary in Del Valle Independent School District.

Rivera said she helped set up the Travis County Bar Association’s Partners in Education Committee and served on the education committee of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, which awards scholarships to high school students to attend ACC. In addition, she helped coordinate a mentor program at Johnston High School that is geared toward helping students fill out college and scholarship applications. Rivera, the immediate past president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin, is also on the boards of the Travis County Bar Association and the Hispanic Austin Leadership Steering Committee. She has served on a number of other education-related boards. On affirmative action, Rivera said, “I think its still needed; I don’t think it’s the cure for all, but we need to continue moving in a direction of making sure an education is accessible for all.” Accessibility to education, she said, is the most important issue for ACC board candidates.

“We’re going to have an uneducated work force if we don’t encourage students to go on and get a higher education,” Rivera said. “We need 500,000 students across the state”, within the next five to ten years, she said “in order to have an educated workforce.” She said that ACC needs to approximately double its 30,000 students within that same time frame.

“That brings me to accessibility—making sure we are reaching out to all—including the non-traditional students.” That includes encouraging high school dropouts who need to come back and get a GED.

“The other important issue is making sure that we manage the growth,” because ACC is only going to continue to grow in enrollment. “We need to make sure that we have the facilities in place in the areas,” where they are needed. She said she believes the school is “moving in the right direction” with the hiring of Robert Aguero as president. She believes he will have a positive impact on the whole institution, which she noted has suffered because of “some lack of communication and mistrust between faculty staff and administration and even the board. So having a qualified, active and engaged president is important to bring all the players together.”

Levin said he wishes Aguero “the best of luck,” noting that the new president will have a hard job. He said he was concerned about the manner in which the decision to hire Aguero was handled by the board, which had discussions about the candidates in executive session. As an attorney, he said, he is aware that there is an exception to the Open Meetings Act that allows personnel discussions to be held outside of a public forum, but he is still convinced that the board could have let the public in on their reasoning before voting.

Levin is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UT and works as a staff attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. After graduating from law school, he clerked for US 5th Circuit Judge Will Garwood. According to www.politicalusa.com, Levin is president of the American Freedom Center ( www.americanfreedom.org), “a conservative policy institute, and Associate Editor of The Austin Review, a public affairs journal. Levin’s op-ed pieces have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Law Journal, USA Today, Jerusalem Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times, Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle . His interests range from civil liberties and government to eco-terrorism. He is Director of Governmental Affairs for Young Conservatives of Texas and founder of a group opposing affirmative action called Campaign for a Colorblind America. Levin says his stance against affirmative action has no bearing on ACC student admission because “anybody can attend ACC,” adding, “but it is relevant in faculty and staff hiring.” He believes that the college does not hire based on race and gender, noting that a performance review by the Texas Comptroller’s Office recommend that the college adopt quotas to try to diversify the faculty. He said he would oppose any such plan.. He is a supporter of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Texas.

Levin also opposed tuition deregulation, penning an op-ed piece that ran in both the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He argues “that tuition deregulation undermines affordable education and is not a proper substitute for fulfilling the state's historical commitment to higher education.”

ACC’s problems, especially “the accreditation issue” is a big concern for Levin, who said some members of the previous board had conflicts of interest and engaged in “micro-management of personnel.” He added, “I felt I could use my legal expertise to help confine the board to its appropriate role.” He agrees with Rivera that ACC plays different roles for different kinds of students, including those who need a GED and workers who need to go back to school to acquire another area of expertise. He also says, “I feel it is very important to have an educated work force,” in appropriate locations at affordable prices.

“I think ACC is doing a good job—the faculty and staff are doing a good job. The board has been a liability . . . I think I was the one who first brought up the issue of ethics on the board,” he said, but declines to point a finger at any particular board member.” Levin believes that ACC elections should be by single-member district. For more biographical data on the candidates, visit the ACC web site: http://www.austincc.edu/gvtcr/Elections%20ACC/electionbio.rivera.htm and http://www.austincc.edu/gvtcr/Elections%20ACC/electionbio.levin.htm.

Economic concerns influence Plaza Saltillo

Sam Archer with Capital Metro told the Downtown Commission that no matter what comes out of the Saltillo District Master Plan, it must be able to stand on its own feet economically.

Archer, who serves as Capital Metro’s liaison to community groups, provided an update on the Saltillo District in East Austin to the Downtown Commission last week. This week, a community advisory group appointed by the transit agency will review low- medium- and high-density development options for the Saltillo District, one of many steps before the master plan reaches the Capital Metro board of directors and City Council for final approval in December.

Capital Metro purchased the land now called the Saltillo District in 1987. Boundaries for the 11 acres are Fourth and Fifth streets, I-35 on the west and Comal Street on the east. It includes the Plaza Saltillo bus stop. Rail tracks run alongside Plaza Saltillo, making it an ideal stop for commuter or light rail.

The City of Austin and Capital Metro agreed last year to lead a community-based planning effort to develop a master plan for Plaza Saltillo. Last July, Capital Metro approved a $300,000 contract with Roma Design Group to guide the efforts. Through the process, the community has provided considerable feedback, Archer said. He said the community wanted to make sure the plan would not push lower-income residents out of East Austin. Residents also wanted to make sure the development provided local workforce options and targeted local businesses. Affordable housing—at an income level that meets the needs of the area—was also a priority for local residents.

There are still areas in East Austin where residents can’t get a pizza delivered, Archer told the Downtown Commission. These are the realities of East Austin, he said. Local residents are keenly interested in what commercial ventures will be introduced to the area.

Roma Design Group hired Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. to provide an assessment of the property’s potential. According to the report from EPS, the economic downturn has not discouraged development in the neighborhoods around downtown. The site provides potential for mixed-use development, but it also presents challenges because the adjacent scrap yard is less than appealing visually. The realignment of the railroad tracks could cut through a significant portion of the site.

The current rental market in East Austin is considered weak, as it is in the greater Austin area, according to the report. Office space demands would encourage “specialized, easily divisible” space for local professionals. The assessment discouraged local and regional retail. Local retail would be better suited along more traveled corridors and regional retail would not be a good fit because of the rail tracks, nearby industrial uses and lower-than-average market area incomes, the report stated.

On the transportation side, Plaza Saltillo will be a likely stop if Austin voters approve commuter rail in November. Planner George Adams told the group that the district’s plans provide strong linkages to bike and pedestrian facilities, including the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Sidewalks and trails are still being discussed.

Roma and its consultants have identified three options for rail through the area, Adams said. The first option was to run transit along Fourth Street down to Fifth Street in order to run along the south side of the Capital Metro property. The second option would use the median along Fourth Street. A third option would use the median along Fifth Street, then drop down and go under at Fourth Street.

Each option has its pros and cons, Archer said. Some would yield more developable land. Others have better characteristics for rail. The community advisory group likes the Fifth Street option. The next step will be to “cost out” the three options, Archer said.

On the development side, the community advisory group will be presented with low, medium and high-density development options. Actually, the low-density plan is called the “village density” option.

Local residents want development to be compatible in scale and character with the community, be expressive of community values and personality, follow green building practices and respect historic resources, Adams said. Overarching design criteria include safety for all modes of transit, ability to reinforce redevelopment of the area and compatibility with local private property.

The Downtown Commission has always favored higher density development. Neighborhood views, however, have not always meshed with those citywide Smart Growth goals, Commissioner Robert Knight pointed out. Adams said local residents were more open to high density after seeing the Fruitvale Project in Oakland, a joint project between the City of Oakland and the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. The website for the project, considered a model for Smart Growth, is http://www.fruitvalevillage.net.

Commissioner Tim Finley asked what the future of the scrapyard across from the Saltillo District might be. Adams said the city had met with the owners of the industrial site but there was yet no plan for the property. There is an acknowledgement of the importance of the property but no plans for Capital Metro or the city to purchase it, Adams said.

Adams agreed with Archer that financial feasibility would be critical in the Plaza Saltillo project. Any choice on density has to be weighed against what percentage of the property is revenue producing, Adams said, echoing Archer.

Archer outlined the timeline for the Saltillo District. The May meeting on May 26 is dedicated to outlining density options, followed by two months of considering the financial feasibility of the preferred option. In August, the group will indicate a preferred option for the project. September will be spent on the financial feasibility, such as whether a tax-increment-financing district will be necessary to underwrite the development. The group will also consider the approaches for disposition of the property, if necessary.

In October and November, Capital Metro and city planners will sponsor open houses and meetings to encourage stakeholder involvement. The vote for the Saltillo District is slated for December. For more information, go to http://saltillo.capmetro.org.

Addition to City Hall family . . . Richard and Amanda Arellano welcomed a new daughter to their family Friday afternoon. Carden Christian Arellano weighed in at 7lbs. 13 oz, according to her father, who is chief of staff for Mayor Will Wynn. All are healthy, he reported . . . Mitigation policy back at the drawing board . . . The City Council directed staff to come up with some guidelines for considering agreements from the owners of grandfathered tracts in the Barton Springs zone of the aquifer. But each of the city boards and commissions that considered the matter, as well as individual members of both the environmental community and the development community, rejected the city staff attempt at setting up a policy for mitigation in the Barton Springs zone. Against that background, the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department pulled down a City Council item on the matter. Chief of the Environmental Resources Management Division Nancy McClintock told In Fact Daily, “We’re going to spend some more time and let the community work amongst themselves as well and see if we can come back with something that everybody likes.” She predicted the matter would be back for Council reconsideration in October. A subcommittee of the Environmental Board will meet at 9am Wednesday in Room 325 of One Texas Center to begin discussions of the policy . . . Eastside loft success . . . Richard deVarga, architect and partner in the Pedernales Live-Work Lofts at 2401 E. 6th Street, concedes that construction and landscaping at the condo project has not moved as quickly as anticipated. But he emphasizes the bright side: that 99 of the development’s 105 units have already been sold. Some buyers were supposed to be able to move into their new homes in January. DeVarga and builder Chris McComb were checking tickets and talking about their “Smart Growth, Smart Housing, Great Streets, Green Building” project at Sunday’s Cool House tour. The project was one of 11 open to the public yesterday in the tour produced by Austin Energy’s Green Building Program and the Texas Solar Energy Society. . . Cool House tour resounding success . . . Kathryn Houser of the Texas Solar Energy Society coordinated sales and volunteer efforts to host the tour, which featured energy-and water conservation technology, including, naturally, solar heating. Houser was elated last night at the success of the program, which drew in an estimated 1,700 people to the 11 homes. The exteriors of another five homes, featuring landscaping and rainwater harvesting, were also part of the tour. Houser gave credit to both the American-Statesman and KXAN Channel 36 for boosting interest. She said the tour’s success is a sign that they should do another one in 2005 . . . Meetings . . . the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors will meet tonight. It will be the first meeting for new director Charles Murphy and the final one for Board President Jim Camp. The board will vote on new officers and handle some routine matters at the meeting, which begins at 7pm at the district office . . . Special meeting for City Council . . . The Council will convene at 10:30am today in Room 120 of City Hall to officially canvass votes from the May 15 election . . . The Finance and Planning Committees of Capital Metro are scheduled to meet at 2pm today at the Capital Metro offices on E. 5th Street . . . Zoning and Platting Commission subcommittee meeting . . . Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Keith Jackson and John Philip Donisi have scheduled a meeting at 5:30pm today in Room 500 of One Texas Center. They will discuss the annexation and zoning plans for the Robinson Ranch. (See In Fact Daily, May 21, 2004.) . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who was the chief sponsor of the committee to study historic preservation, said she expects to bring some recommended changes for the landmark program to the Council on June 10. The Council will meet this Thursday, but without Mayor Will Wynn, who is in Greece attending an information technology conference. There is no meeting on June 3 . . . At 8:30am a joint committee of the RMMA commission and the Planning Commission will meet in the Real Estate Conference Room on the 13th Floor of One Texas Center to talk about zoning for the former airport. The Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the Mueller zoning question at Tuesday night's meeting . . . Third party to be on Texas ballot . . . Representatives of the Libertarian Party of Texas intend to turn in an estimated 75,000 signatures to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office at 2:30pm today to qualify nearly 80 Libertarian county, state, and federal candidates for the November 2004 ballot. This is well in excess of the 45,540 signatures required by current state rules, according to a press release from the party. Bill Redpath, chair of the party’s national ballot access committee said, “It is very important that the third largest political party be on the ballot in the second largest state. Texas has been a focus for us, and has been the most challenging state in the country due to its restrictive ballot access laws.”

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