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South Austin Democrats endorse Leffingwell, Clarke, Dunkerley

Wednesday, March 9, 2005 by

City Council candidates paraded their positions on a variety of subjects last night before members of the South Austin Democrats. During a two-hour candidate forum at Little Mexico Restaurant, the newly finalized slate of hopefuls answered question on topics ranging from toll roads and campaign contributions to the future of Capital Metro and tax abatements.

After listening to the majority of candidates in the three races, the group voted to endorse Lee Leffingwell in Place 1, Margot Clarke in Place 3, and incumbent Betty Dunkerley in Place 4.

The questions were not the same for each of the candidates. But all of the Place 3 candidates were asked a question about who was soliciting money for them.

Margot Clarke said she had refused to accept money from toll road lobbyists. Like the other Place 3 candidates, Clarke opposes the CAMPO toll road plan, which she said is “a perfect example of public opinion being ignored.” When the plan was first put out, she said, they said it was going to relieve congestion. But now we know that is not the case.

But “we need a variety of options for congestion relief. You have to give people choices and options.” Asked whether Capital Metro should be considered broken, Clarke answered, “No,” adding that the agency had had problems in the past. Right now, though, what the agency needs is better communication. If elected, she said, she would like to serve on the Cap Metro board to work on improving the transit agency’s performance.

Mandy Dealey, recovering from the flu, told the crowd she thought Austinites would be better represented by single-member districts. She noted that she had served on a Charter revision commission that made such a recommendation, which voters rejected. She has not given up on the idea, however. Dealey said under the current city rules for employer incentives “there shouldn’t be any net costs.” She criticized the current Council majority for a Jan. 13 vote rejecting amendments that would require companies receiving rebates to comply with local environmental regulations forever. She also said she believes that if a company receives incentives all the company’s buildings should comply with city environmental rules. The Council majority rejected that proposal too.

Jennifer Kim was asked to comment on a $30 million lure to keep Freescale in Austin. “We just waited too long to reach out . . . their leadership is not committed to staying here,” she said. Austin should not try to be “the lowest bidder” for big companies, she said, but should concentrate on medium-sized and small businesses. She said the city should try to lure clean and alternative energy companies to the area. “As a city we need to think bigger than subsidies,” she said.

Candidate Greg Knaupe said the city needs to do more to deal with growth issues. “Austin is going to experience a level of growth that is going to affect the entire city,” he said. “Texas is a fast-growth state; it’s also a border state. Central Texas is also a fast-growth region that is out-pacing the rest of the state. That’s going to have an impact on health care, environmental protection, transportation, and public safety.” He also backs affordable housing and said the city needs to work to keep Austin a “livable city.”

Place 4 candidates handled many of the same questions. Candidate Wes Benedict, a Libertarian, said he is squarely against tax abatements for large corporations. “When I ran two years ago, I came out against these corporate subsidies,” he said. “These are just tax breaks for corporations paid for on the backs of local property owners. I’m for letting the free market work.” He said he specifically opposed $30 million to keep Freescale in Austin, saying the corporate subsidies just encourage more people to move here, adding to the stress on transportation and other types of infrastructure.

Incumbent candidate Betty Dunkerle y said the city’s current tax abatement program is predicated on the company getting the benefits only after it has delivered on its promises. “Unless you do the things you say you are going to do, unless you create the jobs you say you are going to, you don’t get the benefits,” she said. “In addition to that, when we do an analysis of whether to even consider abatement, we do a community analysis. And we don’t do the deal unless the benefit to the community is far greater than the benefit to the company.” She said the she was for the Freescale project, because letting such a large and prestigious company get away would send the message that Austin is not a good place to do business.

Candidate Jennifer Gale, fresh off a plea for everyone to ride their bicycles as a way to avoid more toll roads, was asked how to build better relations with Capitol Metro. “Not with what I just said,” she replied, getting a laugh from the audience. “I think we should all go down there at 4 o’clock on Monday afternoon and give them a hug. Let them know that we really care and that we are there for them.”

Candidate Philip Byron Miller, who filed at the last minute on Monday, said he is concerned that East Austin not be left behind as the rest of the city grows. “One of the concerns I have had over the years is that we’ve had a tremendous amount of growth in some parts of the city, while other parts – particularly the east and southeast areas – have been left behind,” he said. “I think that contributes to other divisions in the city.”

Earlier in the day, Miller, a city employee on leave of absence, said his major issue related to “the completion of these overpasses in North and South Austin.” When informed that the Texas Department of Transportation, not the city, was responsible for the overpasses, he said, “Oh.”

In Fact Daily he is concerned about the possible smoking ban. “Frankly, as a nonsmoker I don’t really have a problem with the ban,” he said. “I think some kind of ban should be enacted but it still should be up to the discretion of the owner,” of the bar or restaurant, he said. “I guess I’d be more opposed to it.”

The Austin Hotel and Lodging association will host a candidate forum for the tourism industry from 3-5pm today at the Omni Downtown. The Austin Women’s Political Caucus will hold its candidate forum and endorsement meeting tonight at the Travis County Commissioners’ Court.

Block 21, Seaholm recommendations generic

Commissions seem unlikely to choose any one plan

The city’s commissions charged with making recommendations on development plans and cultural proposals have decided to tread lightly when it comes to bid proposals for Block 21 and the Seaholm Power Plant. For example, the Downtown Commission sent the City Council a carefully crafted statement expressing their desire to see “a maximum number of residential units provided.” Their statement, approved on a vote of 14-0-1, states, “The Downtown Commission is glad to see proposals that address the needs for retail, residential and cultural uses” on the prime piece of real estate across from City Hall.

The Design Commission has also decided not to rank or comment on specific proposals for development of Block 21. Instead, the group intends to talk about what Block 21 should do.

For example, since it is important piece of the 2nd Street retail district, it should strengthen the district, according to Commission Chair Richard Weiss. The winner should also provide a residential component, including affordable housing, said Weiss. All three of the development consortiums vying for Block 21— AMLI Residential Properties/ Endeavor Real Estate, Stratus Properties /Trammell Crow and Gables Residential, and Zydeco—have proposed a hefty residential component.

Design Commission members also intend to look at the proposals in light of the downtown design standards the group helped develop several years ago. That means considering the how the proposals fit in with the Great Streets program, offering plenty for pedestrians to see and do. Two members of the Design Commission, architects Juan Cotera and Phillip Reed, recused themselves from the discussion and drafting of a statement because they are involved in one of the proposals.

The Austin Music Commission passed a resolution this week urging the Council to give special consideration to developers that propose space for music-related institutions, especially non-profit groups, in their plans for either Block 21 or Seaholm. The commission is also working on suggestions on how new developments in those locations can avoid harming existing music venues downtown. One concern, said Music Commission Chair Teresa Ferguson, is that a developer could build a large-capacity amphitheater on the Block 21 site, competing with privately-owned clubs and performance halls for larger shows.

There is no buzz around Council offices about these properties even though they may be the subject of backroom discussions. It seems unlikely there will be a decision at this week’s meeting on either one and there is no meeting next week. That means the earliest date for a possible decision is March 24.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

What’s for lunch? . . . There were three bidders to begin operations at the City Hall Café but yesterday we learned only one of the three remains in the running— Austin Java Company. The folks who recently opened the spiffy little eatery on Barton Springs Road will be catering lunch for the Council and making their pitch at 2pm Thursday . . . Audit report anticipated . . . Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn will hold a news conference on her agency’s review of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. She will discuss her findings at 2pm today at the LBJ State Office Building . . . Development meeting tonight . . . Cencor will be co-hosting a community meeting today at 6:30pm at Brooke Elementary School in East Austin to discuss a potential mixed-use development project on the Richards Oil tract (corner of East Cesar Chavez and Pleasant Valley Road). The site is approximately 10 acres and was rezoned during the neighborhood planning process to allow for a mixed-use development. Cencor has already discussed plans with the Neighborhood Plan Review Team as well as PODER, so chances are better than usual that they will have the neighborhood’s blessing . . . Meetings . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission will meet at 6pm at Waller Creek Center . . . The Environmental Board committee on commercial design standards will meet at 10am in Room 240 of One Texas Center . . . The Telecommunications Commission will meet at 7:30pm in Room 1101 of City Hall. . . Running in Round Rock . . .Monday was also the deadline for candidates to file to run for the Round Rock City Council and School Board. In the city, incumbent Mayor Nyle Maxwell will face two challengers, retiree Sueann Campbell, and student and statistician Patrick Bose. In Place 1, retired IBM employee Rufus Honeycutt will opposed manager Ted Williamson and psychotherapist Sharon Izzo. Insurance Manager Carlos Salinas is running unopposed in Place 4. Nine candidates have filed for Round Rock ISD school board election. Three of the seven board seats are up for election. In Place 1, candidates include Yvette Sanchez, Karla Sartin, and Vivian Sullivan (Incumbent Jackie Burkey did not seek reelection); in Place 3, it will be Phillip Denney, Diane Cox, and Debbie Bruce-Juhlke. (Incumbent John Romano did not seek reelection); and in Place 6, candidates are incumbent Raymond Hartfield, Daniel McFaull, and Mark Maund.

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