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Green groups praise Mayor's bond proposal

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 by

Austin Mayor Will Wynn's proposal to put a bond package on the ballot in 2006 to purchase open space and fund drainage system improvements is winning early favorable reviews from the environmental community. Officials with the SOS Alliance and the Hill Country Conservancy say they like the idea of a bond package formed with the Envision Central Texas regional plan in mind, and some with SOS are urging the City Council to put the matter to the public sooner rather than later.

"There is a lot of urgency with development proposed for the Barton Springs watershed," said SOS Communications Director Colin Clark. "Our main request to the city would be that they look at advancing this bond package, at least the open space component, sooner rather than waiting for 2006." The proposal for buying land for conservation purposes, Clark said, could conceivably be put on the May or November ballot.

George Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy (HCC), said, “I’m just glad is he got the ball moving. It’s a big step forward.” The HCC recently began a push to collect funds to purchase 50,000 acres of Hill Country open space. Cofer added, “I'm pleased that the Mayor has accelerated the dialogue regarding funding the implementation of the Envision Central Texas vision: build great cities and preserve the natural beauty of Central Texas and the beloved Hill Country. I love the synchronicity and convergence. Now the community will get re-energized and take meaningful steps to prepare for the 21st century. It may sound trite, but it's our job to create sustainable, livable communities for future generations. That's an exciting opportunity and the time to begin is now.”

In proposing the bond package last week, Wynn indicated he would like a committee appointed by the City Council to come up with detailed recommendations about the size of the package. He called for that report to be ready by the end of 2005. "Right now, I'm focused on setting the course for this effort, not the size of it. Clearly, the size of this bond package is part of a larger political discussion that this community has to have," he said. The kind of detailed report suggested by the Mayor, including public input, would likely take several months to compile. If the Council follows through on the Mayor’s request, a bond election in May would be highly unlikely. Given the amount of public input the proposal could generate, a November election date could also be difficult should the Council decide to wait for the results of the committee’s report.

SOS already has some estimates of the size of a bond package needed to preserve open space in some of the region's most environmentally sensitive areas. "The Mayor has seen some maps we've put together that show a figure of $100 to $200 million as an approximate figure of what's needed to go make some conservation happen in the short run," said Clark. He said SOS would definitely be interested in participating in any discussion regarding the scope of the proposal.

However, Clark said SOS would still like to see the city move quickly. "Voters in San Antonio will have a chance to vote on an aquifer protection measure this May, so from a timing perspective it would be great if Austin could do something along those same lines at the same time," he said, "We could send a regional message that the two hubs of the I-35 corridor are making conservation of the Edwards Aquifer a priority."

Wynn has said that he will encourage other cities in the region to prioritize their spending according to the Envision Central Texas document, although his focus will be on the immediate five-county area surrounding Austin. While the work done by Envision Central Texas is at the heart of the Mayor's proposal, he has been careful not to involve ECT directly. Since its inception, the non-profit group has worked to maintain positive relations with all sides in the multi-faceted debate over the issues surrounding growth, including elected officials from Austin and surrounding jurisdictions, developers, environmentalists, and business groups. "I intentionally did not bring any of the ECT leadership into the conversations that lead to this proposal," Mayor Wynn said. "They have done an incredible job of being the honest broker in this planning process, staying above and out of local politics and focusing solely on the hard work of helping the whole region plan for its future."

The city held two bond elections in 1998. In May, voters authorized $65 million for land acquisition related to water quality. That measure called for up to 15,000 acres to be purchased. All of those funds have been spent. In November of 1998, voters approved $24.5 million for destination parks and $13 million for greenways. More than $18 million has been spent on parks and more than $9 million for greenways, for a total acquisition of 1,600 acres. The city has a balance of $6.1 million for parkland acquisition and $3.7 million for greenways

Notes from the campaign trail

Police, EMS PACs endorse Knaupe

Yesterday, the political action committees (PAC) for both the Austin Police Association and the EMS employees’ association endorsed Gregg Knaupe for election to City Council Place 3. Police PAC chair Joe Muñoz told In Fact Daily that “(Knaupe) covered many of the things that are near and dear to us. He was cognizant of our computer-aided dispatch and meet and confer (process). He had all the right answers and knew police officers’ needs because of his service in the District Attorney’s office.”

Knaupe said, “I am honored to receive these endorsements and look forward to working with them to make Austin safe for everyone.”

Competing with Knaupe for Place 3 are Jennifer Kim, Mandy Dealey and Margot Clarke. Tuesday was the deadline for candidates and office holders to turn in their campaign finance reports for the period ending December 31, 2004. Some reports were available on the city’s web site, but many were not. Kim told In Fact Daily that she had raised $28,580 and given herself an additional $3,000. She said she had spent less than $2,400 by the beginning of the year.

Clarke reported raising $17,734 and Dealey reported total contributions of $13,675. She loaned her campaign another $5,000 and spent a little more than $7,000. Knaupe campaign worker Rick Cofer said the campaign had raised “just a tick over $10,000 and spent $900.” He said Knaupe personally loaned the campaign $15,000, so the total cash on hand was $24,000.

Lee Leffingwell, who is seeking place 1, has raised $25,140 and spent $10,442. He has also loaned the campaign $10,000. His only opponent so far, Andrew Bucknall, reported raising $360 and spending nothing. Jim Paine, J r., who has not indicated which seat he is seeking, has neither raised nor spent any campaign funds.

Place 4 Council Member Betty Dunkerley reported total contributions of $34,560 and expenditures of about $10,000. She still has a $60,000 loan outstanding from her previous campaign. Although Dunkerley’s only opponent so far is Jennifer Gayle, Dunkerley will work hard to raise money so that she can retire at some point. She borrowed retirement money for her first campaign.

Both Dealey and Kim are having campaign events tonight. Doña Emilia’s, 101 San Jacinto, is hosting Dealey’s announcement party–which is not a fundraiser (our error) from 5:30 to 7:30pm. Kim is holding her fundraiser at the Work Shop, 1211 W. 6th Street, Suite 400 from 5:30-7:30pm.

County ready for new 'non-leash' law

Travis County leaders Tuesday unveiled the outline of a “non-leash” leash law in an effort to toughen up the county’s ordinance on dangerous animals.

The proposal is in response to an outcry by residents over the mauling an 8-year-old girl by a pack of wild dogs in the county in December. Two weeks ago, Travis County Commissioners took testimony and appointed a special subcommittee. Yesterday, the Commissioners discussed a possible plan to address the behavior of the dogs.

In the past, the county contracted with city animal control services to handle wild animals, which officials admitted often delayed response time until an employee could be located who had familiarity with the county’s guidelines on dangerous animals.

Dorinda Pulliam, manager of the Town Lake Animal Shelter, made the presentation to Commissioners’ Court yesterday. As Pulliam explained, in the past the county ordinance did not allow animal control officers to quarantine a dangerous animal until an attack had taken place. Even then, it would take a judge’s order to declare the animal “dangerous.”

The new recommendations, which will be drafted into an ordinance over the next three weeks, would give animal control officers the latitude to pick up animals that exhibited dangerous behavior. Those animals would be quarantined until an administrative hearing would determine whether the dog was a danger to others. Then the owner would be required to carry liability insurance on the animal. Currently, a dozen dogs in Travis County are categorized as “dangerous.”

There would be no “leash law,” per se. Instead, animals that leave the property without their owners would be considered “out of compliance” with the ordinance. In such a way, animals that pose no threat – such as a dog that sleeps on an owner’s porch during the day without a leash – would not be punished under the ordinance.

Pulliam also is recommending that pet owners register animals with the city on an annual basis. Under such a system, animals can be easily tracked when they are lost and returned to their rightful owner. She also recommended neutering clinics, using the proceeds from pet registration in order to cut down on the pet population.

Some county residents who commented to the Commissioners did not think the proposed ordinance went far enough. The speakers wanted the county to force all owners of pit bulls and similarly aggressive breeds to carry liability insurance.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved No word from ZAP on TOD. . . The City Council will have to wait until February to get the ZAP's official recommendation on the proposed Transit Oriented Development zoning category. The Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the TOD ordinance during its final meeting in January, and could decide to vote on the ordinance at that time. The ZAP has formed a subcommittee to review the ordinance, and subcommittee member Joseph Martinez was not at last night's ZAP meeting. Commission Chair Betty Baker agreed to hold off discussion on the item until their next meeting in February. In the meantime, she will draft a memo to the Council explaining some of the concerns of the subcommittee, which include the notification provided to neighborhoods about the potential change . . . “W” made official, but optional. . . Williamson County Commissioner approved a new county logo Tuesday that raised more than a few eyebrows when it was previewed a few weeks ago. The symbol, which includes a stylized “W” along with “Williamson County” and “1848,” is now the official logo following adoption by commissioners. Some observers made a connection between the letter and the current GOP President George W. Bush (AKA “Dubya”), noting that all 27 of Williamson County’s elected officials are Republicans. However, possibly to mitigate the criticism, commissioners noted that the new logo will be available for use by all county departments and elected officials, but will be optional, not mandatory. The county spent $12,000 to have the logo designed . . . Clean energy . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce is launching a new Clean Energy Development Council. Chamber Chair Kirk Watson said the group will bring together companies within the energy sector and other high-tech firms to encourage research, promote new technologies, and help the city create new jobs in the clean energy field. One of the first things they will do is begin the process of figuring out what is the “appropriate niche for Austin to play in the area of clean energy," Watson said. "That's one of the key things we will need to do to make sure we can create sustainable jobs." . . . Today’s meetings. . . Town Lake Park stakeholders will meet at the Parks and Recreation Department Board Room at 11:30 am. They will discuss a wastewater facility planned for the park. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 13, 2005). The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6pm in City Hall, Room 1002 and the Historic Landmark Commission will hold a special called meeting at 7pm in One Texas Center, Room 500, to hear a briefing on changes to the ordinance governing the commission and landmark designations. The Downtown Commission meeting has been cancelled . . . Design standards review . . . The Codes and Ordinances subcommittee of the Planning Commission tentatively has scheduled three meetings to review the proposed design standards ordinance before the full commission considers the document on Feb. 8. Last night, the subcommittee agreed the commission should meet next Tuesday at City Hall at 5 pm, following by meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8, if necessary. The subcommittee, which met with Planner Katie Larsen last night for a briefing, intends to give the proposed ordinance a thorough review . . . Good faith may be required on old projects . . . The Codes and Ordinances subcommittee of the Planning Commission signed off, 5-0, on a proposed code amendment for dormant projects. The language, which would be added to Local Government Code Chapter 245, reflects a recent change to state law and would allow permits on projects expire if no “good faith” effort has been made to complete the project. The assessment of progress would be made on a case-by-case basis. Copies of the new ordinance are available at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/codeamend.htm

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