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Outside agents more combative than candidates

Thursday, June 2, 2005 by

The race between City Council Place 3 contenders Jennifer Kim and Margot Clarke has certainly been genteel by Austin standards. Although both candidates are running TV advertising, neither says a word about the other. On the other hand, some of Clarke’s antagonists have been slinging mud without the blessing of the Kim campaign.

An email from Dominic Chavez, Government Affairs Director for the Real Estate Council of Austin, sent an email that ended up in numerous electronic inboxes, including that of In Fact Daily . The email rehashes allegations made last week by Libertarian Marc Levin and his group, essentially saying that Clarke broke the city’s campaign finance laws but still got $91,000 in matching funds from the city. Chavez’ email directs recipients to the web site, http://www.austintaxpayers.org. Contacted yesterday, Chavez said he intended to send the message only to his personal trainer, Tisha Blackburn, who in turn sent it to her personal email list—including employees of Freescale, Motorola, Temple Inland, Bracewell Patterson and Austin Energy, among others.

Chavez acknowledged Wednesday that he sent the email through his RECA account instead of a personal one. “It was an honest mistake…but it has not gone out to our membership,” he said. “If it was really a mass conspiracy, it would’ve been sent to more people,” Chavez said.

Clarke’s campaign manager, Elliott McFadden, found Chavez’ story hard to believe. “It’s a really kind of a bizarre coincidence that we’re hearing that they're (RECA) raising money to oppose Margot,” he said. “It came with his official name and title at the bottom, so if it’s a mistake, he ought to publicly apologize to Margot because there’s untruth in that. Also, the question is: who’s paying for that? Are there corporate funds being used for that?”

McFadden also referred to a letter sent out by developer Thurman Blackburn seeking funds for Kim. His letter also refers a “loophole in Austin’s election laws” allowing Clarke to collect funds from the city. “Jennifer’s campaign must have money, the mother’s milk of politics, to succeed. Call me and I’ll come to your place and pick up your checks,” Blackburn writes. He urges check writers to reference HBA on the checks so the campaign will know the money is coming via the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin.

Two years ago, RECA PAC contributed money directly to the Austin Police Association PAC to help Brewster McCracken beat Clarke. The police PAC has endorsed Kim but APA President Mike Sheffield has said the group did not intend to participate financially in the runoff. There have been rumors for the past month that RECA would try to find a way to put money into the race, but there has been no evidence of money in large quantities going into any particular PAC or campaign.

On Wednesday, the Travis County Libertarian Party put out a press release decrying "a cryptic loophole in Austin's " Fair Campaign" ordinance," which allowed Clarke to claim $91,000. "As often happens with government programs, this ordinance is having exactly the opposite effect of what was intended," said Rock Howard, TCLP Chair. Fellow Libertarian Wes Benedict paid a $500 filing fee to become a candidate and another $500 fee when he switched races, the press release notes. Last week, Benedict, Levin, and another failed candidate, John Wickham, held a press conference to blast Clarke for taking the money. However, the party no longer seems to be blaming Clarke, but the city rules, for the outcome. McFadden commented, "If they have a problem with the law, they should try to change that and not attack Margot."

Former candidate Gregg Knaupe’s consultants, Mark Littlefield and Rick Cofer, are working for Kim, said campaign consultant Peck Young. They are working out of the same office they had during the Knaupe campaign—a fact that has raised suspicions among some of Clarke’s supporters. Young explained that the Kim campaign could save the hefty phone installation costs while employing people they knew and liked to assist in getting more voters to the polls.

Both sides have done polling that the other’s supporters believe hit below the belt, but both camps say their campaigns are doing legitimate voter surveys. The Kim campaign is still looking for the source of some mysterious repeated calls to voters that originated in the New York area code. The Clarke campaign has denied having anything to do with those calls.

Young, who practiced rough-‘n’-tumble politics when money actually flowed freely into local campaigns, sees the controversies in a positive light. “The one thing we’re doing is stirring up some enthusiasm so somebody will show up and vote,” he said, adding, “The real danger with this damned ‘little less participation’” law, he said, is that voters will not be enthusiastic enough to vote. That’s not a problem this time, he said, “There’s plenty of enthusiasm…both campaigns are full of it.”

Council puts off vote on Montopolis tract

Neighbors object to more apartment zoning on old Jockey Club tract

The Austin City Council has postponed consideration of a zoning change for land that was once a part of the " Jockey Tract" in southeast Austin. Although the Council did not reject the request for a change from single-family-2 to multi-family-3, several Council Members did send a strong signal that they would be opposed to multi-family zoning when they do vote on the case later this month.

The original request for the 10-acre tract at 1805 Frontier Valley Drive was for MF-4, but city staff and the Planning Commission endorsed MF-3. That zoning would still allow for apartments, which consultant Annick Beaudet said would be appropriate for the area. The future land use map for the tract approved with the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan listed the area as "residential," with a note outlining the range of possible zoning classifications from single-family up to MF-4.

The 10-acre site had originally been part of a larger tract, which had been zoned MF-3 during negotiations over possibly building a horse racing track on the site by the Austin Jockey Club. Beaudet said that her clients, Mitchell and Jan Davis, had bought the 10-acre portion, and while the bulk of the original site had since been re-zoned SF 4-A, there was still a need for multi-family housing in the area. "It provides a textbook buffer between the straight commercial and mixed-use on Riverside and the single-family north on Frontier Valley," she said. "Our client sees a need for multi-family there."

But Susana Almanza said the Vargas Neighborhood Association would be opposed to any more apartment units in the area. "When we had the neighborhood plan, the community said what they wanted was to retain the inner core of Montopolis, the single-family residential," she said. She described the note on the future land-use map allowing for a range of residential uses as one that was "snuck in," and said the neighborhood's consent at the time for MF-3 zoning was made under duress. "If you've got your back against the wall, you want single family housing but you don't own the property, do you? You have to then say, OK, we've got to make an exception." She pointed to the large number of apartment complexes already in the area, saying there were more than 1,000 units in the immediate vicinity. "We've got our share," she said. "Down the street there's more of a share. There's Apartment City. I think all of you know that."

The change to multi-family was also opposed by frequent City Council critic Pat Johnson, who also spoke out against the change at a meeting of the Planning Commission. He reiterated his complaints about the city's notification procedures, and added some directly relating to the possibility of more apartments. "We don't want an apartment complex on Frontier Valley, period," he said. "We don't want the extra traffic, we don't want the extra crime."

After the public presentations, Council Member Raul Alvarez outlined his objections to the proposed zoning change, leading the Council through a history of the tract and the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan. "The intent was to try to maximize single-family development," he concluded, "and then have multi-family, if there was going to be any, on the periphery. I think that's still the intent or should be the goal we try to achieve. I really think that we should try to preserve the single-family properties in this neighborhood planning area. You can't travel down Riverside Drive without noticing that there is an abundance of multi-family development."

Council Member Danny Thomas moved to postpone the vote on the case until the Council's June 23 meeting, with a request for the applicant and the city to solicit more involvement from the surrounding neighborhood. The vote to postpone was 7-0.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Voting . . . When early voting locations closed last night, 1.74 percent or 7,127 voters had cast ballots in the Place 3 City Council runoff. More voters cast ballots at Northcross Mall than any other, with the Randall’s stores on Research, south MoPac and West 35th Street, winning spots two, three and four. Early voting continues through next Tuesday for the June 11 election . . . See Austin’s wildlands . . . To get a closer look a some of the protected wildlands and wildlife in Central Texas, sign up for the 90-minute morning hike being offered by the Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division on the first Saturday of each month along Slaughter Creek south of Austin. The first hike is this Saturday. Participants must pre-register by calling 263-6433 or sending an e-mail to nancy.didonato@ci.austin.tx.us with their name, daytime and evening phone numbers, an e-mail address, and the number of participants if a group hike is being requested . . . No meetings today . . . The City Council is taking this week off, but next week’s meeting, the final one for Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Daryl Slusher, could be full of more than nostalgia. Goodman is hoping to get a number of items on the agenda, a la Bill Clinton, as a final effort before leaving office.

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