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Slusher makes retirement official

Wednesday, November 10, 2004 by

Daryl Slusher, a pivotal player in bringing together Austin’s environmental and real estate communities, announced yesterday that he would not seek re-election to the City Council next spring. Slusher’s announcement was no surprise to anyone watching city politics. Although both he and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman went through the arduous process of collecting more than 20,000 signatures to place their names on the ballot for re-election to a third term in 2002, neither had any desire to do so again.

The big question on many people's minds: what will Slusher do next? He told In Fact Daily “I’m not going to rule anything out….I like serving in office; I would consider running for something again, but I don’t have any plans right now.” He said he does not have a job lined up yet either.

A journalist, Slusher began his political career on the Sammy and Bob Show on KVET in 1994. Ten years later, Slusher recalled the conversation. “I was complaining that nobody was running against Bruce Todd and that was going to make it easier for him to get through his agenda—which I disagreed with—selling Brackenridge and selling the (electric) utility. And then somebody called up and said, ‘Why don’t you run, Daryl?’ And then, somebody else did. And then Sammy and Bob started trying to talk me into it. I said, well, if I run, will you all support me?” They agreed. After that, the Slusher and his wife went to a party “and all these people had Slusher for Mayor buttons on.” A few weeks later, Slusher decided to get into the race—as a very late entrant. He took 48.7 percent of the vote, but says the loss was the best thing for him, as well as for the city. “I think it worked out better that I didn’t quite make it; I was able to derail some of the issues I was against—selling the utility. If I’d come in as Mayor at that point, I would have been seriously under fire,” he said.

When Slusher was elected to Place 1 two years later, the possible sale of what is now Austin Energy was still up in the air. “There was there was this fear atmosphere about what deregulation was going to do. The city wasn’t going to be able to compete.” In a statement released yesterday outlining some of his accomplishments, Slusher wrote, “In fact, the issue of whether Austin’s electric utility will remain public has been settled in the affirmative for the foreseeable future. Additionally, early in my first term the Council majority passed a strategic plan, which I am proud to have helped develop and co-sponsored, that has made the utility financially healthy and even won praise from New York bond houses.” that plan included cutting the transfer from the utility to the city's general fund from 11 percent to 9 percent– where it has remained. Slusher noted that he teamed up with then- Council Member Beverly Griffith to work on the plan for the utility. The Council approved the plan on a vote of 4-3, with Gus Garcia and Goodman in favor.

That was many battles ago and Slusher has learned which battles to fight and when it is better to make peace. He has also earned the respect of some conservatives, most notably Hays County Judge Jim Powers, who has worked with him on regional planning and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who serves with Slusher on CAMPO.

Some members of the environmental community were severely disappointed in their leader when he agreed to plans by Stratus Properties to develop land over the aquifer. Stratus had come up with a plan that in some ways complied with the SOS ordinance, but did not stick to the letter of the law. Attorney Steve Drenner argued successfully that Stratus' clustering proposal would be better for the environment than straight SOS compliance. Slusher agreed.

“I think there was a misconception that I had always agreed on strategy,” with leaders of the environmental community, Slusher said. “It’s different to govern than it is just to be in the opposition. On the Council, I had to have a positive program.”

Prior to joining the Council, "I'd said to Freeport, ‘If you comply with SOS, then we’ll have peace.’ And (Stratus) did, I think we won that one,” he said. But at the time, at least, a number of environmental leaders disagreed with him, particularly his old friends Bill Bunch of the SOS Alliance and Mike Clark-Madison of the Austin Chronicle. The issue was clustering—a concept that many argue is preferable to compliance with the ordinance exactly as written, which would not allow impervious cover to be shifted from one tract to another, leaving some tracts undisturbed. He pointed out that the Stratus agreement has become a model for how development should be done in the sensitive Drinking Water Protection Zone.

Brigid Shea, who served on the City Council from 1993-1996, began her political career as a leader of the Save Our Springs Alliance, which fought for passage of the SOS Ordinance. Yesterday, she praised Slusher. “I think he has been a truly independent voice on the Bradley and Stratus deal in particular. I think it was a sound decision to try to settle one of the longest running feuds in the city’s history, especially when we lost in the Legislature and lost in the courts. ”

Shea added, “I think that Daryl has done an outstanding job on the Council. I think he has been a great steward for the environment. He’s been a voice of great reason and clarity on the Council. I hope he stays active and runs for office in another capacity.”

Asked what his hopes are for the next City Council in dealing with growth over the aquifer, Slusher said, "If the City Council would just stick with the Austin Tomorrow Plan, which is now the Desired Development Zone and Drinking Water Protection Zone and the SOS ordinance—that’s the framework for how the next economic boom ought to be handled.”

Slusher has also served on the board of Capital Metro, supporting both light rail and commuter rail. He said one of the great disappointments of his years in office was the failure in of the light rail plan to gain the approval four years ago.

“I think we just put too large a plan—too costly—before the voters. I still think we need to put trolleys, or other rail, to the State Capitol, the University of Texas,” and beyond. “We are really behind on having additional choices beyond the automobile, " he said.

To read Slusher‘s entire statement:

Adjustments allow mixed use for West campus

Guadalupe changes fit neighborhood plan

The Board of Adjustment Monday night granted four variances for a project in the 3000 block of Guadalupe that would replace existing shops, restaurants, and an automotive repair shop with a block-long three-story mixed use complex. The variances all deal with setback requirements and will allow the new construction to have the same urban style setback as some of the buildings that will be replaced.

The 1.37 acres on the west side of Guadalupe covers an area north of the Ballet Austin building and south of the Half Price Books Rare Books shop. "The area has just recently been re-zoned as part of the West University Neighborhood Plan," said attorney Steve Metcalfe, who represented the owners. "We've worked for a while with city staff to get this project zoned CS-MU-CO-NP…and what we intend to build is three-story, true mixed-use building designed by Dick Clark Architecture." Plans call for 18,000 square feet of retail on the first floor of the building, with 36 apartment units on the upper two floors. "We feel that this building will meet the goal of the neighborhood plan. They want to see dense, urban, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development."

The board approved a variance for the front setback, which would normally be ten feet. Instead, for part of the building's length there will be no setback on the front, and other parts there will be a three-foot setback. "We're trying to keep the pedestrian-oriented front on Guadalupe intact," said Metcalfe. "We want to continue that building front along Guadalupe." Additional setback variances were granted for the side and rear of the building, with the approval of neighboring property owners and the Heritage Neighborhood Association.

The board voted unanimously to allow all of the requested variances after some discussion by Board Member Frank Fuentes and Board Chair Herman Thun regarding the findings of fact in support of the request. "This zoning category is really established for suburban use," said Thun in an effort to convince Fuentes. "What they're trying to do is keep an urban character here, and therefore the zoning does not lend itself to the very thing that people in that neighborhood want to do. That community wants a much more urban setting."

Board Member Betty Edgemond, who attended her first meeting since suffering a leg injury several weeks ago, applauded the proposed design for the project. "It warms the cockles of my heart when someone says they're going to put in retail and put living space on the top," she said. "Now there's masses of acres being developed in South Austin that we could put living space on top, but nobody's thought of that yet."

EMS suffers from Williamson's growth pains

Williamson County has growing pains. During a discussion Tuesday of progress made on the expansion of the jail and courthouse annex, commissioners noted that the county’s emergency medical services office is in dire need of space.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Boatright said the current location for the EMS, a small building in the corner of the new courthouse annex parking lot, is inadequate.

“That building is just too small for the operation,” he said. “They have too many vehicles and people for the area, They have people over there who are using broom closets for offices.”

Boatright also said that the EMS operations don’t really fit in with the other services in the Justice Center complex. “We need to find a way to group emergency operations, EMS, and 911 dispatch in the same building,” he said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman joked that perhaps they should pair the EMS with a new animal shelter. “Howling dogs and sirens go together,” she quipped. Finding money to replace the current dilapidated animal shelter has become an expensive problem for the county,

Without a formal vote, Commissioners agreed that staff should begin looking at various county-owned properties that might be appropriate to relocate emergency service agencies in the future.

County staff also reported making progress in opening the new Justice Center. The center’s parking lot was striped this past week, with half of the spaces reserved for EMS vehicles and the other half for public parking. Staff suggested that the public spaces be marked as limited to two hours—but admitted that there would be no way to enforce it.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for new Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom McDaniel. McDaniel, a CPA, said it was good to be on the dais after 15 months of sitting in the audience at Commissioner’s Court. “All I know is I can hear things a whole lot better up here,” he said.

McDaniel’s precinct includes Georgetown and areas in the northern part of Williamson County.

Stick praises Barrientos . . . At Monday’s meeting, Rep. Jack Stick, a toll road opponent, praised CAMPO Chair Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' work to secure the Texas Transportation Commission's financial support on MoPac, calling it a "yeoman's effort." In a deadpan voice, the recently defeated representative added that his constituents appreciated the effort, "at least those who are still writing to me.” Republican Stick and the Democratic senator were on opposite sides of the original vote . . . Tonight’s fun . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is holding a public meeting tonight to get public input on its proposed tolling policies. The agency needs to have policies in place concerning toll rates, discounts, incentives, and enforcement measures for the first stretch of US-183A when it opens next year. "We're getting input on all those items from the community at large, and we've adjusted our some of our policies based on that," said CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. Wednesday night's meeting will be at the Norris Conference Center at Northcross Mall beginning at 5:30pm. The agency is also accepting feedback through its website at www.ctrma.org . . . Sal Costello and the Austin Toll Party will be at the same location, where they have a press conference scheduled for 6:30pm. Costello claims his anti-toll road recall group has collected more than 21,000 signatures to place a question about recalling Mayor Will Wynn on the ballot next spring. The group will need more than 40,000 signatures from voters who live within the city limits to get such a proposition on the ballot. Council Members Danny Thomas and Brewster McCracken are also targets of the recall group, but Costello has emphasized his anger at the Mayor . . . The Downtown Commission is meeting at 5:30pm in Room 104 of Waller Creek Plaza. The Solid Waste Advisory Commission will be meeting at 6:30pm in the room across the hall at Waller Creek Plaza, Room 105 . . . Roadrunners need not apply . . . Travis County Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with Texas Wildlife Services, a department of T exas Cooperative Extension, to share the cost of a wildlife specialist to help trap coyotes in the City of Austin and Travis County. Coyotes have become a nuisance, and some residents say an imminent threat, in subdivisions such as Northwest Hills. Resident Donna Morstad, who spoke to commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting, asked commissioners to make sure the trappers had a specified protocol and used humane traps. She presented a coyote containment policy that was adopted by the City of Los Angeles in 2002. Commissioners are expected to approve a second interlocal, to share the cost of the wildlife specialist with the City of Austin. Other cities in the county could also opt-in to the arrangement if they agree to share in the cost of trapping the critters . . . Social service contracts . . . Travis County Commissioners approved $3.9 million in social service contracts at yesterday's court session. Recipients included Austin Tenants Council, Meals on Wheels, SafePlace, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Capital IDEA, Goodwill Industries and LifeWorks, among others. The biggest contract, for $250,000, went to Caritas of Austin… In related news, the Austin Recovery Center made a plea to Travis County for additional funding. Austin Recovery Center, which deals with detoxification and out-patient treatment programs, saw the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse cut its program by $740,000…. Shocking developments . . . The Electric Reliability Council of Texas expects a rough ride when two management audits are presented to the Public Utility Commission next week. New CEO Tom Schrader announced yesterday that ERCOT anticipated some serious criticism from outside auditors. He said he had worked to address many of the concerns he anticipated in the reports with a 43-point action plan. Schrader has held the top job at ERCOT since July, when he replaced outgoing ERCOT CEO Tom Noel, who chose to retire . . . Jolly Saint Nick . . . Travis County's Brown Santa program will be visiting both young and old this year. The Travis County Sheriff's Department is inviting those who can donate new and toys, non-perishable food, wrapping paper and good old-fashioned money to come by the North Pole at 901 Reinli. An Open House is scheduled on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the North Pole. For more information, call 24-SANTA.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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