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Alvarez says two terms is enough

Thursday, October 27, 2005 by

Council Member Raul Alvarez, one of Austin’s youngest Council Members when elected in 2000, will turn 39 next month. On Wednesday, Alvarez announced his intention to move on when his term expires in June, 2006. In making his decision, Alvarez noted how hard it had been when he ran for re-election three years ago to keep moving forward on the City Council issues that interested him while campaigning. If he had chosen to seek a third term, the drive to collect signatures from perhaps 25,000 registered City of Austin voters would have been his first task.

“If you not only have to campaign but petition as well, then that really distracts from the service that you’re supposed to be providing to the community,” Alvarez said. “There are many significant issues before the City Council to which I prefer to devote my complete attention.” Those include working on a juvenile justice program in cooperation with AISD and Travis County plus supporting the campaign to get funds for affordable housing included in the city’s 2006 bond package.

“We’ve been focused to a great degree on identifying additional resources and strategies to increase the amount of affordable housing in our community,” said Alvarez, citing that as one of the biggest accomplishments of his two terms in office. “We’ve done that by investing a lot of General Fund dollars, upwards of $12 million in the last five years from the general fund. We’ve also instituted a density bonus program to encourage more affordable housing. That’s one of the issues I set out to devote a lot of time and attention to and we’ve seen a lot of positive results.”

Alvarez is announcing his intentions now, in part, to allow other potential candidates the opportunity to begin laying the groundwork for their campaigns. “I’m hopeful that the process can go forward without the uncertainty regarding the current Place 2 Council Member,” he said. While all Council seats are elected at-large, Alvarez has devoted special attention to issues particularly affecting the East Austin Hispanic population. He hopes the next occupant of the Place 2 seat will continue that tradition. “I've seen a lot of growth in the Hispanic community in a lot of different ways. I think there’s a lot more folks involved in city issues and a lot of new organizations,” he said. “There are several more media outlets now that are keeping the Hispanic community better informed. There has definitely been an increase in the calls for request for assistance from the community to my office. I think it has something to do with technology. Since 2000, a much larger proportion of the Hispanic community has become Internet literate…it’s a way to facilitate more public involvement.”

So far, Eliza May with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and former State Senator Hector Uribe have emerged as possible candidates. Alvarez expects the open seat to attract plenty of interest. “When I ran for the first time there were six candidates, but only three Hispanics,” he said.

Although Alvarez plans to make affordable housing and juvenile justice issues priorities during his remaining time in office, he will also have to deal with other issues such as the dissatisfaction in some segments of the community with the Austin Police Department.

“Certainly we've taken some proactive steps to improve the situation,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of safeguards in place to try to avoid the difficult types of situations that have arisen, like improving training, installing video, and the introduction of Tasers and the implementation of the police oversight process.” Criticism of APD from some community groups has escalated in recent months since the shooting death of Daniel Rocha, and Alvarez said he would continue to work to improve relations. “Our commitment is how to improve APD. We need to continue to focus attention on seeing if there are other steps we can take.”

The Citizen Review Panel that works with the Office of the Police Monitor has scheduled a meeting to hear public comment on the Rocha case for Monday, October 31 at City Hall. PODER leader Susanna Almanza has criticized that date, noting that many parents would be unable to attend the meeting because of Halloween. “I did notice it when I saw the notice of the meeting,” Alvarez said. “Why November 1st wasn’t selected is probably a good question to ask. I know there’s a timeframe investigators are trying to stay within.” The Citizen Review Panel will take the public comments into account in making a recommendation to Police Chief Stan Knee regarding any discipline against the officers involved in the case or changes to APD policies and procedures. The panel’s recommendation is non-binding.

CTRMA: US 290 toll project to start in 18 months

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s tentative timetable for the US 290 East toll project would put the start of construction at least 18 months in the future.

Everett Owen, engineering consultant on the project, outlined the initial work on the project at yesterday’s CTRMA meeting. The US 290 East toll project would expand the roadway through the “Y” in Oak Hill. Owen said the comprehensive development agreement and the environmental study and project schematics would move forward in tandem, with the intention of completing both in the next 18 months.

The CTRMA chose the US 183A toll project in Williamson County as its first toll project because at least half of the schematics and a good portion of the right-of-way had already been purchased for the project. In the case of US 290 East, more of the initial work needs to be completed before construction can begin on the project, despite the fact that the footprint of the roadway already is on the ground.

RMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein noted the significant difference between the US 183A and US 290 East projects. In the case of US 290 East, the Texas Department of Transportation has agreed to complete the initial right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, schematic development and environmental study.

When that work is completed, the CTRMA has agreed to complete the work for the toll project. The US 290 East project, while managed and operated by the CTRMA, will remain part of the roadway system that belongs to the Texas Department of Transportation; the US 183A toll project belongs solely to the CTRMA, Heiligenstein said.

“The projects have some very basic different characteristics,” Heiligenstein told the board. “Some things will be easier and other things won’t.”

The CTRMA staff has been meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation every two weeks to work on the scheduling documents for the project. Owen said both sides had agreed that it was important to accelerate the environmental review process. A traffic and revenue forecast by URS, which will apply to a number of toll projects, also will be underway while the other tasks are being completed.

Chair Bob Tesch acknowledged that because the two processes—the CDA process and environmental review—were being completed at the same time means the CTRMA bears some financial risk if the project is eventually determined to be environmentally infeasible. Owen said he considered the traffic and revenue study to be a bigger challenge than the environmental study – whether US 290 East would work as a viable toll road. Heiligenstein noted that US 290 East could always be built as a free road, but it was unlikely that TxDOT could complete the road construction for another two decades under its current budget.

Heiligenstein said the RMA’s Mario Espinoza continues to meet with community leaders along the route, especially in Elgin and Manor. In Elgin, local leaders are particularly interested in the economic development aspects of the project. Heiligenstein said it was important to get those meetings underway, even as the schedule for the project was being developed.

The CTRMA will be sending out a request for qualifications for a contractor on the US 290 East project in December, so that the board can pick a firm from a short list of qualified bidders at the February meeting. That firm will sign a comprehensive development agreement with the CTRMA on the US 290 East project.

In other business, Tesch named members Bob Bennett and Johanna Zmud to the steering committee on the regional toll study. Travis County has named Commissioner Gerald Daugherty as its representative, with CAMPO members Commissioner Karen Sonleitner and County Judge Sam Biscoe serving as proxies. The 11-member regional mobility study steering committee is scheduled to meet on November 9.

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

Bui off to planning . . . Public Information Manager Tina Bui will be moving over to the N eighborhood Planning and Zoning Department next week, where she will be serve as a planner. Bui, who was an aide to Council Member Daryl Slusher, will be working for one of her City Council buddies, Jerry Rusthoven. Rusthoven was an aide to Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman . . . Today’s City Council meeting . . . Depending on how the length of the 6pm hearing on proposed changes to “public order” ordinances, the meeting could be a short one. Certainly there is little else of controversy on the agenda and there are only a few zoning cases. The current ordinance related to sitting or lying on a downtown sidewalk says a person is prohibited from doing so only if it interferes with another person’s use of the sidewalk. There is a proposal to eliminate the obstruction requirement, meaning it would be illegal to ever sit on a downtown sidewalk. This change has not met with universal approval, with several Council Members reportedly opposed. Council Member Jennifer Kim said yesterday she wants to ensure that everyone can enjoy downtown. “I understand the intent is we want to make people feel safe downtown, and to encourage commercial activity…but I feel that person shouldn’t have to be of a certain economic status to enjoy downtown.” She added, that she wants to “to ensure that people have places to sit where they don’t have to spend $4 for a latte.“ There will be a second public hearing on November 17 and Council action is expected on December 15 . . . The Council will consider initiation of a process to preserve the grounds of the Maverick-Miller House in the West University area and extend the University Neighborhood Overlay to a site a near the house. Extension of UNO would mean a chance to build a taller building, probably for condos, than currently allowed . . . Early ballots . . . Early voting in Travis County continues as at steady pace for the November 8 Constitutional Amendment Elections. Thus far, 11192 people have voted early. That’s 2.1 percent of registered voters. UT continues to have the largest number of voters, with 491 cast yesterday. Mobile voters were second with 400 cast, and 339 at the Randall on South MoPac. Early voting continues through November 4. To read up on the constitutional amendments, visit : http://www.leaguewv.austin.tx.us/votersguide/vgnov2005.pdf And to find out about Travis County’s bond proposals, click here: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/citizens_bond_committee/050923/2005Bond_Brochure_webversion_09.pdf . . . Further north . . . The Round Rock City Council meets at 6:30pm in City Hall at 221 E. Main St . . . Karst celebration this weekend . . . Nestled among the neighborhoods of southwest Austin is the little known Villages of Western Oaks Karst Preserve, a nine-acre site set aside to protect this recharge area of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. The Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) and the Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA) are holding their annual Austin Cave Festival to educate citizens about the importance and sensitivity of the Edwards Aquifer and its recharge features. A new festival partner, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is hosting events on Friday night and Sunday morning. At 7pm Friday, the Wildflower Center will host a free lecture on “Austin's ABC's: Aquifers, Bats, and Caves.” On Saturday, visitors are invited to the karst preserve for entertainment and education. For more information and directions, visit the web site at http://www.bseacd.org/graphics/ACF_2005.pdf. Children between 10 and 13 years old are invited to an underground workshop from 9am to noon on Sunday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. There is a fee for this event, which requires pre-registration. For details, see www.wildflower.org or call 292-4100.

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