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Precincts show differing levels of support for district,firefighters

Monday, May 17, 2004 by

Only 10 percent of county's eligible voters cast ballots

At mid-evening Saturday night, campaign consultant David Butts was confident that both issues he worked for were winning approval by margins wide enough to ensure victory. The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters’ bid to be allowed to engage in collective bargaining with the City of Austin won by nearly 63 percent of the early vote and 57 percent on Election Day. Voters who cast ballots early said yes to the hospital district by a margin of 55 percent and Election Day voters by nearly the same percentage.

While the majority of voters throughout the city cast ballots in favor of both propositions, a few precincts rejected one or the other. For example, Butts pointed out that Precinct 111, a neighborhood of working-class families, favored the firefighters’ referendum by 67 percent, but gave the hospital district only 51 percent. On the other side of town, in Precinct 262, voting at Anderson High School West of MoPac, a different brand of conservatism was at work. Those voters favored the hospital district by 55 percent, but rejected the collective bargaining request, giving it only 45 percent of the vote. Bellwether conservative Precinct 304, which votes at Kiker Elementary School in Circle C, opposed the hospital district by a vote of 57 to 43 percent, even though their property taxes would theoretically go down, at least initially. Those same voters supported the firefighters proposal by 54 to 46 percent.

At two traditionally liberal bellwether precincts in the city, Clarksville (Precinct 250) and Hyde Park (Precinct 275), the hospital district won with 87 and 84 percent respectively. The collective bargaining proposition also won enthusiastic support, with 75 and 79 percent of the vote respectively.

Precincts 230 and 253 vote together at First Presbyterian Church at 8001 Mesa, although their votes are counted separately. Precinct 230 soundly rejected both proposals—giving the firefighters only 45 percent and the hospital district 42 percent positive response. Precinct 253, on the other hand, strongly rejected collective bargaining. Nearly 60 percent of the precinct’s 683 participating voters voted against City Proposition 1. But most of the same voters, about 58 percent, said yes to the hospital district.

Whatever can be said of those who voted, they were in the minority. Only 10.28 percent of the county’s registered voters expressed an opinion on these important issues.

Council sticks with neighborhood plan

Multi-family zoning not what planning group envisioned for E. 8th Street

The owner of two lots on East 8th Street will not be allowed to build new apartments on the property. The City Council last week rejected the request for a zoning change from SF-3-NP to MF-3-CO for 2017 and 2101 East 8th. There are currently two single-family homes on one lot and one single-family home on the other. One of those houses is in violation of the city’s building code and will either have to be demolished or repaired.

Bernice Butler, the daughter of property owner Louree Atkins, told the Council that the switch to MF-3 would enable her mother to improve the property and the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s an opportunity for us and for the community to return this neighborhood to the attractive, healthy community that it once was. Approving our request will help to jump start the revitalization of this neighborhood; it will aid in the elimination of slum and blight; it will help to hold back the commercial intrusion from 7th Street; and improve the quality of life for existing residents,” she said. “What we’re really talking about here is increased density.”

But surrounding neighbors said that increased density and multi-family development for that street were not in the Central East Austin Neighborhood Plan, which the Council approved in 2001. Changing the zoning for the two tracts would have also required a change to the future land-use map approved as part of that neighborhood plan. “We understood our Smart Growth obligations, and we wanted to bring more density and we did that in many ways. We did preserve some multi-family zoning in the planning area,” said Mike Clark-Madison, president of the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods (OCEAN). But for 7th Street, he said, neighbors had specifically called for single-family uses. “They want to see the plan help pursue a vision of more single-family home ownership, more stability, more opportunities for families to put down roots and keep this neighborhood alive.”

Neighbor Julia Mitchell argued that if Butler and Atkins were genuinely concerned about improving the neighborhood, they would have already made improvements to the property. “It needs cleaning up. It hasn’t been cleaned up to show us what could be done. There’s old cars and trucks. Their houses are falling down,” she said. “If they wanted to improve it, this is where they would start.”

In Butler’s rebuttal, she attempted to persuade the Council that denying the zoning change would be tantamount to depriving her mother of her private property rights. “These properties serve to generate revenue for her retirement,” Butler said. “Our rights to earn a living and our right to work with our property that we have are being overlooked.” But in response to questions from Mayor Will Wynn, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Director Alice Glasgo pointed out several redevelopment options for the property that did not require multi-family zoning. It was Butler’s contention that rental rates in the neighborhood would not financially support the cost of repairing the existing single-family homes or building new ones.

The Council voted 7-0 to deny the change to MF-3. Increasing the density on the land would have been a reversal of the downzoning made in late 2001 as part of the Council’s approval of the Central East Austin Neighborhood Plan, which called for eliminating industrial, commercial or multi-family zonings on properties which did not currently have those uses. “I’m familiar with the neighborhood, and I know the folks have worked very hard to preserve the neighborhood,” said Council Member Daryl Slusher. “I think there are some good points about apartments and needing apartments in the area, but not in the middle of this single-family neighborhood. I think the neighborhood plan took that sort of issue into account. It’s a good plan. It was put together by the neighbors themselves and I think we ought to stick with it.”

'Mean Girls' comes to City Hall

Curtis victim of vicious email from anonymous writer

Workaholic Matt Curtis, who serves as an assistant to Mayor Will Wynn, is the victim of an attempt to smear his reputation. Like the teenage girls in the movie, “Mean Girls,” the person trying to hurt Curtis acted anonymously and tried to spread vicious gossip throughout City Hall. Someone calling herself (or himself), Janice Winfrey, claims to be an “undercover reporter” for an unnamed newspaper investigating abuses by City of Austin employees. She warns readers that she will tell her newspaper about Curtis unless they take action, presumably firing Curtis. The emailer has added an obviously fake message from Curtis badmouthing the Mayor’s entire staff and his political consultants as well as Curtis’ former boss, Council Member Brewster McCracken, and his staff. In the message there is a misspelling, a misplaced comma and language that does not follow Curtis’ speech patterns.

Wynn’s Chief of Staff Richard Arellano said late Friday that he considers the email a “just unbelievably vicious” political dirty trick. No one in the office believes that Curtis wrote the offending email, he said, but they are taking the matter quite seriously. It has been referred to both the City Auditor and the Police Department for investigation, Arellano said.

Curtis said, “Obviously the email was a work of fiction from start to finish. I’m really disappointed to see these kinds of dirty tricks played in Austin.” He pointed out that he was at the City Council meeting until it broke up around 11:30pm Thursday—when he was supposedly meeting the reporter. As different people left the LCRA building, he said, he handed out umbrellas he had collected so they would not get wet.

Mark Nathan, another of the email’s victims, sent the following email message to In Fact Daily, “I would like to think that this was just a bad joke, but it’s obviously more malicious than that. It’s hard to see it as anything other than a calculated attempt by an anonymous party to cause a split among the great team that Mayor Wynn has built, and I can tell you that, if anything, it has had exactly the opposite effect.” Political consultant Nathan and his partner in the consulting firm, Christian Archer, helped Wynn in his election to the Mayor’s Office. When Wynn was a Council Member, Nathan was his executive assistant.

Changes near the top . . . City Manager Toby Futrell has done a little reorganization within the city’s upper management. Assistant City Managers Laura Huffman and Lisa Gordon have officially given up their previous assigned departments and taken on the tasks of the other. Gordon has taken over the Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments, along with Community Court and the Office of Emergency Management, Futrell said Sunday. Huffman, who had previously overseen the public safety areas, has moved to supervision of Economic Development, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, Transportation, Planning and Environment and the Watershed Protection and Development Review Departments. John Stephens, who has been an Acting Assistant City Manager still has the same duties, Futrell said, but his title has reverted to Chief Financial Officer. Stephens retired recently, but has agreed to continue as supervisor of various departments. Futrell said, “He is working with me in a transition. City employees are allowed to work full-time for six months after they retire, and he’s doing that while we’re doing a search,” to find a new CFO . . . Travis Commissioners to meet with Council . . . Travis County Commissioners had a brief meeting on Friday to attend to routine matters. They will not meet Tuesday morning as they usually do. County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty will meet with Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher as a joint city-county subcommittee and try to work out disagreements between the jurisdictions over rules for subdivision platting in the city’s ETJ. That meeting will be from 9:30am-noon at City Hall, Room 304. Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Margaret Gomez will be out of the office attending a required continuing education seminar . . . Monday night meetings . . . The Electric Utility Commission will meet at 6pm at Town Lake Center in the Assembly Room. The Urban Transportation Commission will also meet at 6pm in the Conference Room, 8th Floor, of One Texas Center. The Arts Commission plans to meet in Room 105 of Waller Creek Center at 6:30pm . . . Mayor on the go … Mayor Will Wynn is taking off for Athens, Greece to represent the city at the World Congress on Information Technology this week. The three-day conference will focus on economic development and creating a link between information technology, industry growth and governments. Austin has been chosen as the site for the conference in 2006. Wynn said he is confident that the trip will help Austin as it strives for a bigger slice of tech-sector employers. On June 1-2, the Mayor will be in Bonn, Germany to represent the city at the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

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