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Seattle offers spectacular vision for library

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 by

Seattle may well provide the model when it comes time for the city’s Library Commission to envision the possibilities for Austin’s new Central Library.

Opened just a year ago, the Seattle Central Library is a stunning vision of steel and glass designed by Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas. And while Austin is unlikely to spend $165 million on a new central library in the upcoming bond election, Executive Director Brenda Branch and Facilities Manager John Gillum came away from a conference on the creation of central libraries in Seattle with strong impressions about not only what a new central library could look like but also what kind of role that library could play as an economic engine of downtown development.

“We talk about landmark architecture, but this really shows you what landmark architect can be,” Gillum told the Library Commission Monday night. “Even in a city full of incredible buildings and a downtown that goes on for miles, this was a fabulous building. There was nothing else like it downtown.”

The Seattle Times put out an entire section on the Central Library when it opened last year, providing an overview of both the architecture and technology. The link for the Seattle Times section can be found at .The conference in Seattle, attended by 300 library professionals around the world, was not just about spending a large amount of money on a new central library. Instead, attendees talked about the best ways to pick architects, effective use of technology, measuring economic impact on the community and mistakes to be avoided in the process. Seattle’s new central branch even uses RFID, or radio frequency identification technology, to label and sort book returns, rather than hiring dozens of workers to sort and distribute materials that need to be returned to various branches across the city. Gillum said the display was impressive.

“I’ve built or rebuilt 18 library branches in my life, and there is a difference between your branch and your central library,” Gillum said. “You’re talking about a difference in scale between what I do, putting together a 15,000 or 16,000 square foot library branch and creating an 8-story 300,000 square foot building. It’s a completely different animal.”

Commission Member Rossana Barrios serves on the bond review subcommittee that will review the central library issue. Barrios, who was especially interested in Seattle’s analysis of the economic impact of the new central library on downtown development, said the subcommittee was only beginning the work of defining its goals for the new central library. The subcommittee is slated to meet again this afternoon.

A number of more modest library construction projects are underway in the city. Gillum reported the city likely will delay the reopening of the Terrazos Library to Dec. 1 due to contractor delays. The expansion of the Spicewood Springs branch, which will come close to doubling the size of the library, went out to bid on Monday. It should be completed by next September. And renovations of the former post office on South Fifth and West Mary Street are currently underway. The site will eventually serve as the replacement for the Twin Oaks Library branch on South Congress.

Decision pending on anti-tollers' suit

Voters will decide on constitutional question in November

District Court Judge Darlene Byrne heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by People for Efficient Transportation(PET), claiming that the Board of Directors for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was in violation of the Texas Constitution, which mandates that board members for agencies without state-wide jurisdiction be appointed to terms of only two years. House Bill 3588, which created Regional Mobility Authorities, established six-year terms for their board members.

When the political action committee formed to oppose toll roads filed its lawsuit earlier this year, it sought a temporary restraining order to prohibit the CTRMA from issuing bonds to fund the construction of US 183A (see In Fact Daily, March 3rd, 2005). That order was denied, and a Williamson County District Judge later ruled in favor of the agency in dismissing all challenges to the bonds.

But the anti-toll road group proceeded with its case against the CTRMA, arguing that the citizens of Central Texas deserved a ruling on whether the board members were complying with state law.

Attorney Philip Durst, representing PET, told the Judge that the RMA should comply with those portions of state law regulating local government bodies such as school boards or municipal utility districts. “The board is unconstitutional now. That’s the issue before the court today. They’re serving six year terms,” he said.

While Texas voters will have the opportunity to decide on a constitutional amendment this November specifically authorizing six year terms, Durst said the court should not delay. “The voters are entitled to know, one way or the other, if they have to pass this or if they don’t what happens. So we need a fall back position so where if this doesn’t pass, then at least we have two year terms in place,” he said.

The attorney for the CTRMA, William Steele, argued that the election would resolve any uncertainties regarding the board members terms. “They come here today saying they want to reform the statue. The legislature has already done that,” Steele said. “There is no need for a judicial fix, hence their claim is moot. The voters of Texas are going to decide in November whether six year terms are, in fact, appropriate.”

Steele also countered Durst’s claim that the CTRMA should be governed by the same state laws that regulate local governmental bodies, citing other portions of state law allowing for terms of more than two years for board members in certain cases. “This board, and the statute which created this board, has state-wide applications. RMAs were created not just for local issues, but for transportation problems, because this state is linked with highways,” he said. “Some of the powers enumerated to the RMA are that the RMA can build roads in accordance with the state-wide transportation plan. The legislature also recognized that the RMA’s are to benefit the entire state. This is not like a local school board. This has state-wide applications because we have state-wide transportation plans which happen to be implemented in a regional fashion.”

Judge Byrne questioned PET attorney Philip Durst about what might happen if she were to rule in PET’s favor before an election. In that case, Durst said, it would be up to the Travis and Williamson County Commissioners to take action to either appoint new board members or allow the current board members to continue to serve.

“If these board members only have two year terms and their terms are up, we are optimistic that Travis and Williamson Counties will appoint new people or re-appoint these people, or at least let the will of the voters be heard,” he said, “but no one can make them.”

Judge Byrne took the matter under advisement, predicting a ruling no later than July 8. After the hearing, PET founder and Austin Toll Party leader Sal Costello said the group had filed the lawsuit to bring about greater accountability at the CTRMA. “They’re not only unelected, but they’re unaccountable,” he said of the CTRMA Board. “They basically will set the toll rate. We think, obviously, they should be elected, but at least they should follow the law and be constitutional with two-year terms.” He also predicted the Austin Toll Party membership would turn out at the polls when the constitutional amendment is on the ballot this November. “People will get to vote on the six-year terms, and I hope everybody votes ‘no’. Why would you want un-elected people to be on this board for six years? We have to change the laws and make these folks electable, we have to elect them ourselves,” he said.

CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein told In Fact Daily he also hoped the issue could be resolved at the polls. “Recent legislation ( HJR 79) has stipulated in writing that there will be six-year terms if voters pass the constitutional amendment concerning six-year terms, if not they go back to two years. It matters not to us,” he said. “Apparently the only people this matters to are the attorneys who are fighting this on their side and tend to want to run up the legal bills. Really, it does not matter to us whether it’s two years or six years. I think our board is happy with either one.”

That board, said Heiligenstein, is accountable to the public although members are not directly elected by the voters. The County Commissioners who appoint them are elected; he pointed out, and can ask any CTRMA Board Member they believe is acting inappropriately to resign. “I don’t think any of our members will ever stand in the way of a Commissioners Court saying it’s time to make a change. They are fully accountable to the people through the Commissioners Courts,” he said. As for the claims by Costello and People for Efficient Transportation, Heiligenstein said they were without merit. “I think that frankly this is again an effort to keep things stirred up on the headlines as opposed to just people doing their jobs,” he said.

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

Putting the old gang back together . . . Political consultant Mark Nathan notes that Amy Everhart will soon be joining the staff of new Council Member Jennifer Kim. Everhart and Kim, along with Council Member Brewster McCracken’s aide Karen Gross and Mayoral assistant Matt Curtis, all worked for Nathan in the Tony Sanchez for Governor Campaign in 2002. Andy Mormon, aide to Council Member Lee Leffingwell, worked for Congressman Lloyd Doggett in both the primary and general election of 2004 . . . SMART housing wins award . . . Mayor Will Wynn and Paul Hilgers, the City's Housing Director, will accept a national award from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) in Washington, DC today. Austin is one of 13 cities nationwide to receive the 2005 Robert L. Woodson, Jr. Award for demonstrating extraordinary achievement for reducing regulatory barriers to affordable housing. The award was designed to recognize governments that work to reduce cumbersome, excessive or exclusionary regulatory requirements and/or processes that discourage the construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing. The City of Austin submitted its S.M.A.R.T. HousingPolicy for consideration of the award. S.M.A.R.T. Housing is an incentive program designed to stimulate the production of affordable housing that meets certain standards. Wynn said, "Housing affordability is a critical national, state and local issue. S.M.A.R.T. Housing provides a good foundation for us in Austin and we will continue to seek additional tools to invest in housing affordability so we may remain a diverse and high-quality community". . . No Perry fan here . . . Austin Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jeff Francell didn’t show a lot of love to Governor Rick Perry at last night’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting. Francell called Perry’s behavior—using the Town Lake Park trails on a regular basis but supporting $11 million in cuts to the state’s park grants—“the height of hypocrisy.” And, no, he told his colleagues, he won’t be voting for Perry’s in the next gubernatorial election . . . Party for Slusher . . . There’s no City Council meeting this week, so friends of Daryl Slusher figured it would be a perfect time to have a thank you party for the former Council member’s nine years of service. His former aide, Tina Bui, wants to add this dress code note: the party is outside, so dress accordingly. The festivities start at 6:30pm tomorrow at Threadgills World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside Drive. No. 10 in Bui’s Top 10 reasons we will miss Daryl Slusher on the City Council: Fewer Che Guevara quotes . . . Meeting today . . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee will meet at 4pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Neighborhood Planning Committee of the Planning Commission will meet at 5:30pm in Room 500 of One Texas Center. The group will discuss the South Congress Combined Neighborhood Plan. . . Burn ban in effect . . .The LCRA has joined most of the counties in Central Texas in imposing a burn ban just before the Independence Day holiday weekend. There is increased concern that carelessness could lead to damaging wildfires. The burn ban applies to LCRA parks in Burnet, Llano, Travis, Bastrop, and Fayette counties. . . . Lance on display at ABIA . . . Eye-catching photos of six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong are on exhibit at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Austin American-Statesman photographer Deborah Cannon captures Armstrong’s ride to victory in the 2004 Tour de France in the exhibit titled An Austin Eye on Le Tour. Six images are mounted on pillars by the railing overlooking the baggage claim are.The images will be on display during the 2005 Tour de France, July 2-24. . . . Reminder . . . In Fact Daily will be on vacation next week. We will return Monday, July 11.

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