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Disparity study causes disagreement

Thursday, January 27, 2005 by

City study moving forward without county participation

The City of Austin is currently conducting a disparity study of city contractors, which should assist the city in bolstering its affirmative action program. Last summer the city invited Travis County, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the Austin Independent School District and Capital Metro to participate in a joint effort to study affirmative action contracting. Capital Metro agreed, as did county commissioners. But the LCRA and the school district declined.

As attorney Lino Mindeola told Travis County Commissioners, jurisdictions that do not have disparity studies to document the need for assistance to women and minority owned businesses are taking a chance should those programs be challenged in court. Mindeola pointed out that a number of such programs have been ruled unconstitutional since the city did its original disparity study 10 years ago. In 2003, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals provided some guidance on which affirmative action programs would withstand constitutional challenge, he said. In a case involving the city and county of Denver, Colorado, the court indicated that programs based on actual data could withstand such a challenge.

Jeff Travillion, director of the city’s Small & Minority Business Resources Department, told In Fact Daily that the study would include separate reports on:

• business formation by women and minorities;

• Travillion said this week that he expects the city study to be completed by June. Initially, Travillion had envisioned a larger study, costing $500,000 when he approached the other jurisdictions and sought their participation. But when only Capital Metro agreed, the city negotiated a lower price–$125,000—and cut back on the amount of work being done.

Commissioners made a commitment to put up $100,000 of the original price but Travillion said county staff could not decide exactly what data they needed and never released any funds to the city. The study has moved forward without input from the other jurisdictions, Travillion said, and they will have to do their own studies if they want similar information.

County Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes disputed Travillion’s characterization about why the county is not participating in the study. “I’m just perplexed,” she said upon hearing that the city had proceeded without the county. According to Grimes, the last information she received from the city was a letter that stated the total cost estimate for the study to be more than $600,000 and asking whether the county would be able to provide more than the $100,000 pledged by commissioners.

“I don’t want anybody to think we don’t want to do whatever we can to make our program stronger,” said Grimes. The city official had been scheduled to appear before commissioners to give them an update on the study two weeks ago, but cancelled, she said. She added that she had been trying to contact Travillion for the past two weeks with no success. Grimes said she would like to offer commissioners an alternative plan for bolstering the county program, which is voluntary.

“We’ve been very successful working with contractors. I’m not sure we need a disparity study,” which she described as data that proves discrimination in the past. Grimes said Travis County adopted a goal of 30 percent participation for minority and women contractors 10 years ago. The difference between the city and the county program, Grimes said, is that this disparity study the city did 10 years ago allows Austin to reject bids from contractors who failed to meet goals for employing historically underutilized businesses. The county is unable to do that because they lack the data to back up a claim of discrimination, making it more likely that the county would lose a lawsuit on the matter.

Colette Holt & Associates of Chicago is overseeing the study and serving as outside counsel to the city on the project. Travillion described Holt, an attorney, as “one of the foremost experts on minority affirmative action programs” in the country. He said she would be working with economists, an econometrics firm, and a research firm that would conduct focus groups with local women and minority business owners.

Part of the study will compare business formation by women and minorities in Austin with such entities in Texas and the US. In addition, he said the study would compare earnings by business owners and salaries paid within the city, the state and the country. The study will review the usefulness of MBE/WBE programs as compared with jurisdictions that lack formal affirmative action programs. Travis County, for example, does not have the same kind of formal structured program, Travillion said.

The city did its original disparity study and set up its program in 1994. “As you operate a program and it reaches maturity, you may have different issues that need to be addressed,” Travillion said. He said the issues that were initially selected as important ones might be resolved but new issues would crop up to take their place. Obviously, he said, “it’s a continuing process.”

Travillion said the city would share information that it gathers with the other jurisdictions but the focus of the study is the city of Austin. He added that the city certifies Capital Metro’s DBE program.

Commission fails to recommend historic designation

Arguments center on feasibility of repairing Old West Austin home

Plans to designate a century-old West Austin home an historic landmark ran into a speed bump Tuesday night, as the Planning Commission failed to muster the votes needed to make recommendation to the City Council. The change to historic zoning on the Brown-Ledel-Silverman House at 609 West Lynn St. is backed by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, but strongly opposed by the home’s new owner, Henry Goodwin, who says the structure cannot be repaired and is seeking a demolition order.

The commission did not hear the item until after midnight, due to an extended debate on the Transit Oriented Development ordinance. It will now be up to the Council to sort out the issue.

The house, built in 1893, is associated with several Austin historic figures, including Timothy Brown, the principal of Pease School for 41 years; his wife Mary, who founded Kirby Hall on the UT campus; Theodore Ledel, a Congress Avenue merchant; and Sol Silverman, a tailor also with a shop on Congress. According to Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, the home was built in the Queen Anne style, which was popular during the late Victorian period, and contains many architectural features reminiscent of the era.

However, Goodwin, who closed on the purchase of the property just this week, says there is virtually no part of the structure which can be salvaged. “The house is literally rotting away as we speak,” he said. “It is a danger to anyone who goes in there. Most of the support beams have all but disintegrated, and all of the outer planking and the roof must be replaced.”

He said making the property an historic landmark doesn’t make sense “because I would have to almost completely rebuild the structure. There would be no historic content in it. It would basically be a brand new home.”

OWANA claims the home is a focal point of the neighborhood, and should be preserved. The Historic Landmark Commission supported the neighborhood’s position in November, recommending the designation. This is the second time OWANA has fought to preserve the home, having gathered 400 signatures on a petition in October 2003 when the previous owner had applied for a demolition permit.

An engineering study of the structure commissioned by the owner found numerous structural problems with the house, including foundation problems, an unstable staircase, the failure of several brick piers under the house, and rotted decking resulting in a loss of structural integrity. The inspector, Jerry Garcia, concluded that the house was unfit for occupancy, and “the cost of repairs would be unreasonable” to bring it up to city standards.

A similar study, commissioned by OWANA, found essentially the same problems, but concluded that with a significant amount of reconstruction, the house could be made habitable again. The OWANA study put the cost of basic structural renovation at around $33 a foot, but Goodwin says his estimate of the cost is several multiples of that, totaling nearly $2 million.

Commissioner John Michael Cortez made a motion to recommend historic zoning for the house, winning the support of Riley, Sullivan and Commissioner Jay Reddy. Commissioners Cid Galindo, Matt Hollon and Matthew Moore opposed the designation and Commissioner Cynthia Medlin was away from the dais. Failure to gain five votes means that the City Council, which is scheduled to hear the case today, will have no recommendation from the commission.

Sonleitner explains MoPac changes

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner was on hand at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s meeting yesterday and clarified some of the specifics on Loop 1 (MoPac) that were discussed at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s meeting on Monday.

The CAMPO board voted Monday night to remove the MoPac bridge over William Cannon Blvd. from the toll road project. After that vote, Mayor Will Wynn made a motion to amend the designations on MoPac under the CAMPO 2025 plan. Under the current CAMPO long-range plan, MoPac is a six-lane freeway with two high-occupancy vehicle ( HOV) lanes. Under Wynn’s amendment, the two HOV lanes north of the Colorado River would instead be designated “managed lanes.” Those managed lanes would fall within the existing outer footprint and would not be elevated, according to the motion that was passed by CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board.

Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein asked Sonleitner to clarify some of the discussion at Monday night’s meeting. Sonleitner said the managed lane designation was important because it freed District Engineer Bob Daigh to start the process of talking to the MoPac neighborhoods about putting sound walls up along MoPac.

The managed lanes and the sound walls are tied together, Sonleitner told the board. The type of funding the Texas Department of Transportation will provide for the sound walls will come from a funding source that is only triggered by projects that seek to add new capacity to an existing road. Sonleitner added that not all managed lanes were tolled but that it was the group’s expectation that the two new MoPac lanes would be tolled.

Construction and management of the project could fall to either TxDOT or CTRMA. Either agency could take the lead on the managed lanes. Heiligenstein said nothing had been decided yet on the project.

“We still have quite a bit to discuss with TxDOT, including which part the CTRMA will play,” Heiligenstein said. “Those discussions will take place this week. We will be sitting down with the District Engineer and clarifying those issues.”

The two additional lanes south of the Colorado River will remain HOV lanes. Wynn suggested the board might suggest removing the HOV designation in the CAMPO 2030 plan, given the improbability the lanes would be built. CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board will begin discussion of the CAMPO 2030 plan this spring.

Downtown awaits retail, says Mayor

There's enough pent-up demand for retail services downtown to support the same number of shops that fill the Arboretum, according to a new market study commissioned by the City of Austin and performed by Charles Heimsath of Capitol Market Research.

"There is demand for downtown retail to the tune of about 600,000 to 750,000 square feet," said Mayor Will Wynn. "That's a big shopping center…so there's existing demand downtown for that kind of space." The challenge for the city, Wynn said, was making it easier for private developers to secure space downtown. "Downtown is a very different product, compared to a suburban piece of land where you can develop a shopping center or mall."

To help smooth the way for developers, the Downtown Austin Alliance has spent the last year collecting information about available properties. "It's not easy to book downtown yet. It's easy to go to a mall and book it…you've got a single point of contact, one person knows all the available space, all the demographics have been researched," said DAA Chair Jeff Trigger. "So, the DAA felt the need and the responsibility to go and do the research to essentially become that coordinator." The Alliance diverted one of its staffers to the task of collecting data, which is expected to be made available on the DAA website.

While the growing number of downtown residents plays a major role in the demand for retail, the city's new 2nd Street Retail District could also have a major impact when it comes to creating a vibrant downtown shopping scene. "We are 20 percent leased in our AMLI Downtown Block 20 project, and we are also 25 percent leased in the two CSC buildings," said Taylor Bowen with AMLI Properties, which handling the retail space in the two CSC parking garages opposite the new City Hall.

Businesses that have signed letters of intent include Joe's Coffee of South Congress, a shoe store called Lucky Soles operated by the owners of Leggs Diamond on Guadalupe, and a women's apparel shop called Estill. "What we're looking for is to be the home to a lot of smaller, unique, boutique retail shops," Bowen said. Some of those shops could begin opening as early as this summer.

Not all new retail downtown is moving into the 2nd Street Retail District. Developer Tom Stacy announced on Wednesday that he has secured a tenant for the 41-story residential and retail development planned for the current location of the Bank of America building at 6th and Congress. Keepers Exceptional Men's Apparel, currently located on W. 38th Street, will be returning to downtown. "There was a time not so very long ago when Congress Avenue was nothing but retail," said Mike Reynolds with Keepers, who predicted that downtown was ripe for a resurgence in retail development. "The Keepers partners are really, really excited at the chance to come back down here."

The Council will hear more about downtown retail today when it receives a briefing on the city’s retail development strategy.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved Kim hires veterans. . . Place 3 candidate Jennifer Kim has hired three campaign consultants, all old hands at the election game. They are Peck Young and partner Bill Emory, along with David Butts. All have been involved in winning City Council races in the past, although Emory and Young have concentrated on Democratic primary and general election work for the last several years. The trio collaborated on passage of the AISD bonds last year . . . No run today . . . Mayor Will Wynn will not do his community run this morning. The Mayor plans to attend Angelos Angelou’s annual economic forecast at the Convention Center at 7:30am. Wynn normally holds a community run for those who wish to join him on Council meeting Thursdays at 8:30am to run along the north side of Town Lake to City Hall . . . Zoning matters . . . The hot case on today’s agenda involves a decision on whether to zone a house in the Old West Austin neighborhood historic or not. (See above.) Another potentially interesting neighborhood v. property owner battle involving a lot on Kinney Avenue will likely be postponed. Council Member Betty Dunkerley is still suffering from pneumonia and is unlikely to be well enough to attend today’s meeting . . . Also likely to be postponed . . . The Council is scheduled to evaluate City Manager Toby Futrell but Dunkerley’s absence means that will be put off also . . . Other meetings . . . the Board of Directors of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will meet at 6pm today at their office at 1124 Regal Row. The agenda promises nothing of great interest . . . The T ravis County Hospital District board of managers is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm at the Granger Building. . . . CTRMA heads downtown . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s board of directors has authorized Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein to secure 3,500-square-feet of office space in Downtown Austin. Heiligenstein said downtown made sense, given the proximity to local government. Board Member Lowell Lebermann heartily agreed, saying that he was getting a bit tired of the CTRMA’s current office space in “East El Paso.” (Actually, it’s RM 620 at Parmer Lane.) CTRMA has also delayed approval of a marketing services agreement with TateAustin. Attorney Brian Cassidy said the problem was not the negotiations but the status of paperwork going back and forth between the two sides. The contract will be back on the agenda for next month. . . Search extended . . . The CTRMA has extended its search for a Chief Operating Officer. Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said he continues to interview candidates for both the COO and the Public Involvement Officer positions. Heiligenstein’s goal is to have new hires on board for both positions by Feb. 15.

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