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Mayor jousts with Daugherty over rail plan

Friday, August 20, 2004 by

McCracken says expand plan to serve downtown, Mueller

Mayor Will Wynn had a sharp response to County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty yesterday following the rail opponent’s press conference outlining “conditions” under which he would support Capital Metro’s commuter rail referendum.

"Don't forget that these conditions are coming from a guy whose license plate reads: NO RAIL,” said the Mayor. "Commissioner Daugherty knows that Capitol Metro cannot and should not accept his conditions. This is just another episode in his long-running Captain Ahab approach to actually dealing with the need for mass transit in a 21st century growing urban area."

Daugherty and his friend Jim Skaggs ran the anti-rail political action committee known as ROAD ( Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars) to help defeat light rail four years ago. They have threatened to revive the PAC to oppose commuter rail if Capital Metro’s board does not bow to their demands. Daugherty has been a foe of the transit agency for years and has worked to strip Capital Metro of its taxing authority. He demanded that the agency allocate one fourth of its sales tax revenue, estimated at $25 million a year or more, to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority for at least three years, according to yesterday’s American-Statesman.

Wynn and Daugherty were on opposite sides of last month’s controversial CAMPO vote to designate as toll road more than 100 miles of roads in Austin—including some that opponents say have already been paid for with tax dollars. Wynn worked hard to insure that amendments were attached to the toll vote to give drivers in most parts of town a non-tolled alternative, but he and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas now face a recall effort by some toll road opponents.

"We have a traffic crisis in this town and I am going to honor my pledge to do something about it, even with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of new residents will call Central Texas home over the coming years,” the Mayor concluded. "There is no one product to solve our city's traffic crisis. A commuter rail system, along with new road capacity and changes in land use patterns, is the combination of products that's required. To do one without the other two won't work. A "roads only" future for Austin and Central Texas would be disastrous."

"Commuter rail is an indispensable part of solving Austin's traffic crisis over the long term, and I am 100 percent for it, and I will work to see that it does more, not less,“ Wynn said. Many downtown business professionals wish that the line, which is proposed to end at the Convention Center, included additional stops so that rail could serve the entire south end of the Central Business District. Wynn has a downtown background and would, no doubt, like to see the rail line extended to Seaholm.

However, many of those who support commuter rail, including some, if not the majority of members of the Capitol Metro board, believe that it is better to ask for less this time and hope to expand later.

The board will vote on the referendum language for the November ballot on August 30. Downtown boosters will continue to lobby for the expanded line, but the threat from Daugherty and Skaggs makes their job more difficult.

Last night, Council Member McCracken blasted the current plan and expressed hope that Capital Metro could be convinced to expand the line. McCracken said, “Stopping at the convention center only makes sense if it runs from the airport to the convention center. Otherwise it’s a seriously flawed plan.” He said the planned line from Leander to the Convention Center does not take people “where they need to be taken,” to the heart of downtown. The busiest areas include the Capitol, City Hall, County offices and the University of Texas, he noted.

He also expressed concern about the future of the Robert Mueller redevelopment area. “The taxpayers of Austin are investing enormous sums of money in a transit-oriented development at Mueller . . . and now we learn that we may not have the transit there—which puts Mueller at risk.” Asked whether that meant he would not support the $60 million Leander to downtown proposal if that is all that appears on the ballot, McCracken replied, “I’m going to vote for it because I think we need commuter rail.” However, he said he would also be working with those of like mind to convince Capital Metro to expand its proposal.

Cap Metro seeking cost reductions

Officials at Capital Metro are asking their staff to look for ways to cut costs in next year's budget. Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Hernandez presented an overview of the agency's budget forecast this week to the board's Audit and Finance Committee. Board members will receive a full budget presentation August 30, with a public hearing scheduled for September 20 and a final budget vote slated for September 29.

"Sales tax revenues have been going up," said Hernandez, "but we're asking department heads to stay as flat as possible on expenses. We're looking for efficiencies." While Capital Metro's projections call for a 1.4-percent increase in the number of passengers and a 5-percent increase in sales tax revenues, Hernandez noted that the forecast for the preliminary expense budget for next year called for a 9-percent increase. As a result, managers will be asked to search for ways to reduce overtime and limit other expenses such as travel.

Capital Metro also receives income from advertising revenue. That generated approximately $560,000 this year and projections call for an increase next year. The agency manages its ad program using in-house staff instead of an outside agency, which reduces expenses.

The budget for FY 2004-05 could also include funding for an election in November, should board members decide to put a rail proposition on the ballot. The total cost for the election could reach $1.3 million, $700,000 of which is slated for the agency's public education campaign leading up to the actual vote.

ZAP approves zoning change for Amy's

Amy's Ice Cream is moving its factory to a new location. For the past ten years, the ice cream, which supplies all of the Amy’s stores in Austin and San Antonio, has been made at the company’s location at 3500 Guadalupe. Now, the company is planning a new manufacturing facility at 2109 Northland Drive. That new project will require a zoning change at the location from LR to CS-CO, which won the Zoning and Platting Commission’s unanimous endorsement Tuesday night.

"They have been operating out of 1500 square feet for their total manufacturing operations," said Sarah Crocker, who represented ice cream maker Amy Simmons. "They're literally bursting at the seams. The machine they manufacture the ice cream in is basically a very large version . . . of what you would use to make (ice cream) at your own home." While the use is qualified under the city code as manufacturing, a recent revision to the code specifically for food products allows their preparation under the CS category. "This type of manufacturing is not industrial in nature," Crocker said. "This is primarily needed for the expansion of the paper products more than it is for more machinery."

Amy's plans to use the one-story cinder block building on the site for its factory, with the possible addition of some office space. The company has also acquired an adjacent lot, already zoned CS, which contains an abandoned gas station. That building will be converted into a retail outlet for Amy's.

Some neighbors of the new site expressed reservations about the possible impact of having a manufacturing facility so close to homes. "I am concerned about the noise level," said John Cohaney. "We are getting some noise from the HEB and the shopping center. My concern is noise level at night."

Crocker assured Cohaney that the ice cream manufacturing primarily takes place between 7am and 2pm, although it sometimes runs until later in the day. She described the compressors on the roof as having a noise level similar to that of a standard air-conditioning unit. "The same piece of equipment is on the roof of the building on Guadalupe," she said. "It's adjacent to a single-family home there and they've never had a problem with a noise issue. It's not Amy's intent to come into any neighborhood and cause a disturbance." The company uses smaller trucks with refrigerated storage to deliver its product, so there will not be the frequent loading and unloading of 18-wheelers that might be associated with other manufacturing uses.

The zoning change sailed through on a vote of 8-0, with Commissioner Clarke Hammond absent due to illness. "Samples really would have helped," quipped Commission Chair Betty Baker just before the vote.

Hardworking commissioners . . . A subcommittee of the Environmental Board will meet from 11:30am-1:30pm today in the 2nd Floor conference room (Room 240) of One Texas Center to discuss the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department budget for the upcoming year . . . Mabel Davis Park announcement . . . Mayor Will Wynn and officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency will announce issuance of the first Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan for remediation of Mabel Davis Park, 3427 Parker Lane at 11am today . . . Democrats take note . . . On Sunday, Governor Howard Dean will be at Huston-Tillotson College at 2pm to address what is being billed as “one of the largest grassroots workshops ever.” For more information, call 468-4127.

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