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Compromise to end battle over music network future

Thursday, June 24, 2004 by

Austin Music Partners, Meyers promise formal proposal in two weeks

AMN General Manager Louis Meyers and Austin Music Partners representative Connie Wodlinger sat side by side at Wednesday's meeting of the Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure to deliver a surprising message. Although neither would reveal the details of a joint proposal still being developed, they were prepared to put aside their battle over the future of the Austin Music Network and work together to find a way for community-based music programming to survive while Wodlinger's group of private investors assumed control of Channel 15.

"Since our last meeting, we took heed of the advice that we were given and we have been through a lengthy series of meetings between Connie, myself and the board of ACTV," said Meyers. "We have totally agreed to agree, and now we're at least working on the same page with much less distraction and outside influence. Over the next two weeks we'll have it on paper and be able to deliver a formal proposal that represents AMP's needs, AMN's needs and ACTV's needs in one attractive package."

Meyers said it was too early to spell out details of the resolution to months of dispute, but predicted it would involve the private partnership, the network and ACTV in some form of co-operation. "We know we must work together for the future of the network and for the health and well-being of the music and film community," he said, "and we certainly believe the synergy of the three entities combined is better than three entities fighting each other."

Wodlinger agreed that both AMN and AMP would be able to pursue their mutual goals of promoting the local live music scene under the model being considered. "I think the interest we all have at heart is to do the best thing we can for Austin," she said. "Louis and I have come a long way in the last week, and have put together the basics of something whereby his involvement would be important and instrumental in what we're looking to do."

Wodlinger predicted that ACTV could serve as a training ground for producers interested in working with AMP. "Part of our overall program has always been to try to establish some of those programs with the radio, television and film divisions of schools and to find a way we could get these filmmakers and production folks involved in collaborating with musicians," she said. "ACTV offers a real opportunity to do something like that with their facilities." In addition, ACTV could serve as a conduit for community-produced music programming under the AMN banner, whether it be a single show or block of shows on one of the three community-access channels.

After the lack of progress in finding a common ground between those who support the current community-based structure of AMN and those who supported privatizing the network to eliminate city funding, Council members were stunned by the announcement.

"I'm speechless, myself," said Council Member Raul Alvarez. "It's certainly encouraging to see the goodwill . . . and see this turned around so that it's something that all the entities involved can garner something positive out of."

"It's really win-win-win," agreed Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who has been one of the staunchest supporters of continuing a community-based format for AMN. "There are issues for AMN that have always been unaddressed in terms of support; there are needs for ACTV that have been unmet for years and years . . . and of course AMP walks in having needs to address, too," she said. "This is all about Austin's very special nature and the commitment to citizenry and the great people assets we have here. For the three of you to be at the table is mind-boggling, but logical."

Last week Goodman, who chairs the committee, that the committee did not have sufficient information to make a decision. Although both Meyers and Wodlinger had sought an early resolution, Goodman said the Council could make a decision in August and she urged the competing parties to clearly define their proposals. (See In Fact Daily, June 17, 2004.)

Previous discussion on shifting AMN programming to one of the three access channels operated by ACTV have focused on the legal hurdles involved. The format of public-access television would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the city to establish the same type of program guidelines and consistency of format allowed by putting the music network on Channel 15. But ACTV representatives agreed that they would be willing to work with the city to find a solution. All three entities will likely meet with Assistant City Attorney Sonny Hood in the near future to make sure their eventual proposal will comply with federal regulations and the city's cable franchise agreements with Time Warner and Grande Communications.

After the meeting, both Wodlinger and Meyers said their cooperation was only natural given their similar goals. "We got rid of all the outside people and sat down with the core group and realized we all did have the same agenda," Meyers said. "There's no reason that this shouldn't have happened six months ago." Wodlinger agreed that miscommunication early in the process had resulted in some of the disputes over the past several months. "Neither Louis nor myself were looking for a fight. Unfortunately, we had not really had the opportunity to speak to each other," she said. "Direct communication is the best thing. After several hours spent together, things started making a lot of sense."

Assuming there is an agreement worked out in time for the City Council's budget votes in early September, some provision would likely be made for the network to continue in its current form through the end of the calendar year. That would give the Austin Music Partners time to establish their own facilities and hire staff to start-up the new, commercial network to launch early next year.

Council to consider Mueller zoning, incentives for Home Depot

Several 6pm hearings could mean a long night

The Council has a lengthy agenda today, with members hoping to deal with a wide variety of difficult issues—not the least of which is PUD zoning for the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport redevelopment area. Some groups, in particular Keep the Land, have urged the Council to prohibit big box retail—including Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other similar companies, from locating on the major retail site at 51st and I-35. Zoning, of course, relates to the type and size of use, not to the user. Council Member Daryl Slusher said Wednesday that he would propose that “any end user over 75,000 square feet would be ineligible unless the company is complying with current water quality regulations on current projects.”

The new organization Full Circle has requested that the Council adopt four policy measures that demonstrate corporate responsibility and provide the greatest net economic benefit to the city and its residents and has asked for those measures to be added to the master plan as conditional overlays. It is not clear whether the Council supports those measures, but it seems more likely that they would be incorporated into the master development agreement than imposed on the PUD zoning.

The Council has sixteen other zoning cases to consider this week and is scheduled to vote on whether to uphold or overturn the Planning Commission decision to deny a compatibility waiver for a condo owner on West 6th Street who added two floors to his home without permits, in violation of city regulations. Last week, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman made a motion to postpone the decision until today to allow the property owner and his neighbors to reach a compromise. According to Goodman’s assistant, Jerry Rusthoven, the neighbors are ready to move forward but the condo owner is not. The Council is also scheduled to hear an appeal from Up to Me, a halfway house for up to 52 women convicts designed to assist their re-entry into society. Neighbors successfully argued that their neighborhood is already the site of an Up to Me facility for men and should not be overloaded with former convicts.

Although the matter is unlikely to generate much controversy, the Council will hold a public hearing and consider economic incentives for a proposed Home Depot data center, which could generate 500 permanent jobs within the city. City staff and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce are coordinating with the Governor’s Office to designate the project as an enterprise project, making it eligible for a refund of sales and use taxes. The Council will also look at incentives for Samsung, which plans expansion of their current facilities.

After lengthy process, TCEQ fines WMI

Unlike Travis County Commissioners discussed a fine for landfill operator Waste Management Inc. as early as last summer. But the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) just approved the fine yesterday, evidence that the wheels of state government move very slowly.

TCEQ approved an agreed order that fined WMI $244,420 for violations at its Northeast Travis County landfill. Last summer, activist Trek English questioned why county officials suggested that a portion of the fine that went to the county would provide water and wastewater services for Northridge Acres. She insisted that the money be spent on Northeast Travis County problems.

Of that total, Waste Management will provide $122,210 for a Supplemental Environmental Project, or SEP. According to a press release from TCEQ, Waste Management will contribute $25,000 to Travis County to clean up illegal dumpsites around the landfill. The balance of the SEP will go to an erosion control project on Walnut Creek. The erosion control project will clear out debris such as trees and solid waste from the creek.

The remainder– another $122,210 – will go directly to TCEQ. SEPs are intended to provide benefits in areas where environmental violations occur.

The TCEQ performed five investigations at the landfill site over two years. Violations included leachate in the landfill liner; failure to properly operate the landfill gas collection system; failure to properly operate and maintain pollution emission capture equipment and abatement equipment; an odor violation; allowing an unauthorized discharge of waste; and reporting and record-keeping violations at the landfill.

During last summer's discussions, the fine was one of the largest in TCEQ history and was based on WMI's own record of readings on the site.

In Fact Daily to take a break

. . . In Fact Daily will take it’s annual summer vacation next week . . . Bailey elected to Democratic slot . . . Looks like the old Howard Dean Campaign will now have a couple of strong voices in the State Democratic Executive Committee. The caucus for Senate District 14 elected two new representatives at the party’s convention in Houston. Incumbent Anne McAfee lost her seat to former Dean activist Fran Vincent, while Rich Bailey, an aide to Council Member Brewster McCracken won the other slot. Both enjoyed the strong support of former State Rep. Glenn Maxey, a leader of the Dean campaign in Texas. Bailey, who has worked in a number of campaigns, said he spent only $300 on his election. The post is a volunteer one . . . Lobbyist says no client involved . . . Public relations consultant and lobbyist Mike Blizzard, who works for Sunset Valley on the Lowe’s case, says he is not representing any client in connection with Mueller. “I sent and email to the Planning Commission and then an email went out from” to alert those who oppose the home improvement warehouse about the commission hearing, Blizzard said. He said his opposition to Lowe’s is based on personal belief . . . Hearing set . . . The Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department invites the public to meet in the cafeteria of Hendrickson High School to discuss future plans for Gattis School Road and the surrounding area. The meeting will be held next Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Hendrickson High School is located at 2905 FM 685, at Kelly Lane, north of Pflugerville’s town center.

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