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Mayor urges groups to avoid Klan rally

Friday, November 4, 2005 by

Groups plan counter-demonstrations, but police plan to separate protesters

Austin Mayor Will Wynn on Thursday urged residents to steer clear of City Hall on Saturday when a branch of the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), has reserved the public plaza on the building’s south side for a rally in support of Proposition 2.

Klan members say they are rallying in support of “traditional family values.” Proposition 2 would amend the Texas Constitution to prohibit gay marriages.

“I’m asking citizens to simply ignore the event that’s going to occur here Saturday. I think it would send a very strong signal about the tolerance of this community if we simply go about our lives,” he said. “There are some great suggestions around town that many of us use Saturday as an opportunity to go out and do something positive throughout the community…perhaps volunteer at your church or synagogue or temple, do some work in your neighborhood park…and just reach out and help somebody.”

Several groups, including the No Nonsense in November campaign, have planned counter-demonstrations downtown Saturday afternoon. The South First Street Bridge will be closed to traffic to allow a place for those counter-demonstrators to gather.

Celia Israel with the No Nonsense organization said that while the Mayor’s goals were admirable, she still expected people with strong feelings about Proposition 2 or the KKK to show their opposition to the rally. “We wouldn’t advocate a large crowd on the bridge but….we feel like we should capture that energy and say ‘Come and join us’. I feel compelled as an organizer to tell people this is how we can fight hate,” she said. “I don’t want them to fight the Klan or yell at the Klan, but the activist in me says ‘If you’re angry, I have a way to fight back’."

The group has its own rally against Proposition 2 scheduled for 1:30pm at the State Capitol on Sunday, with featured speaker State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe will introduce her.

The Austin Police Department plans to limit access to the plaza on Saturday, keeping Klan members and protestors far apart. While the Klan has predicted that the counter-protesters could become violent, P olice Chief Stan Knee said any violent action would be met with swift consequences.

“If there are those who come to Austin with the intent of violating the law, they had better bring a bedroll because they will be going to jail,” he said. “We don’t expect that to happen, because this is Austin.”

Both Wynn and City Manager Toby Futrell stressed that the Klan’s use of the plaza did not constitute an endorsement by anyone at City Hall of the group’s position. Futrell said the group had gone through the proper procedures to reserve the space, and the Mayor said it would not be appropriate to deny them the use of the facilities simply because of their political beliefs.

“On a personal level, I’ll say that if you don’t value freedom of speech for folks who disagree with, then you truly don’t value freedom of speech,” he said.

The entire City Council joined Mayor Wynn in encouraging people to ignore the KKK. “We don’t have to be here to give them what they want, which is an audience for their viewpoint,” said Council Member Jennifer Kim. “And so I encourage you to send your message by voting . . . your message of tolerance.”

While the Mayor avoided repeating his personal stance on Proposition 2 (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 18, 2005), other Council members put the focus squarely on the amendment to the Texas Constitution which would ban same-sex marriage, which is already illegal under state statute.

“Next Tuesday, Texans have the chance to decide if they’re on the side of freedom, or they’re on the side of the Ku Klux Klan. I’m on the side of freedom,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “The Ku Klux Klan supports Proposition 2, and that tells you everything you need to know about Proposition 2.”

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas took exception to some of the political remarks of his fellow Council Members at the official City news conference. “I didn’t know we were going to sit here and say what we were going to do about Proposition 2, but I think everyone knows how I feel about Proposition 2,” said Thomas, who has previously indicated his support for the measure.“ I thought this was going to be about the Klan using our plaza. I think they have a right just like anyone else, as long as they stay within the rules and regulations of the City of Austin. Everybody has the right to vote how they want to vote. Let’s vote our conscience and also let the Klan do what they have got to do.”

About two hours after the news conference at which Mayor Wynn proclaimed Saturday as a ‘Day of Tolerance’, a coalition of religious leaders held their own news conference outside City Hall to show their opposition to the KKK and support for Proposition 2.

“We are here to clarify that extremist groups such as the KKK do not represent the Anglo community, the church, the pro-marriage community, and is neither needed nor welcome in this city,” said Pastor Michael Lewis of the Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin. He was joined by dozens of other preachers from Austin and surrounding communities at the event organized by the Austin Area Pastors Council. “The greater Austin area is for marriage, we believe, as the union of one man and one woman,” he said.

He pointed to lawsuits in other states, which he said had overturned state laws defining marriage as a reason to put the definition into the Texas Constitution. Taking the issue to the courtroom, Pastor Lewis said, was a deliberate attempt to make an end-run around popular sentiment concerning the definition of marriage. “Over a decade ago, they realized that they could not win a vote of the people on same-sex marriage in any state, and they have started a specific plan to redefine marriage in America,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Thomas, who is an ordained minister, did not attend the group’s news conference, which was held outside during the portion of the Council meeting reserved for Citizens Communications. He did speak with several of the ministers following the conclusion of the event.

ZAP approves more trips for Champion tracts

Council must act by Dec. 1 to avoid further litigation

The Zoning and Platting Commission this week voted unanimously to recommend an increase in the number of trips associated with the Champion sisters’ tract at the corner of FM 2222 and Loop 360. The Council had previously set a limit of 6,500 trips per day for all three of the tracts, but the Champion sisters sued the city on the grounds that the limit violated an agreement signed in the mid 1990's. Josie Champion and her two sisters have been fighting the city over use of the property for the past decade. (See In Fact Daily, March 14, 2000)

Earlier this summer, the sisters reached an agreement with the city to set aside their most recent lawsuit over the case while three new zoning cases were initiated for their property. As part of that agreement, if the Council agrees to raise the trip limit and goes along with several other conditions by December 1, the sisters will drop the suit. If no agreement is reached, they may take the matter back to court.

The terms of the proposed deal call for a limit of 11,000 trips per day for all three of the tracts. It would also allow for a major retail use of 50,000 square feet on the site and a grocery store of up to 100,000 square feet.

“We're asking for a total of only 4,500 more trips as a compromise of what I think is a very strong legal position," said the Champions’ attorney Michael Whellan. "If we are successful in court, there would be no trip limit on any of the tracts." Although Whellan, with Graves Dougherty, said he was confident of the sisters' legal position, he also said they were anxious to see the dispute resolved. "They are not getting any younger. They recognize that, and they would like this to be done," he said. "I know you would as well."

Attempting to address the concerns raised by surrounding neighborhood groups regarding traffic, Whellan said other sites in the area had been granted much higher trip limits. The mixed-use project proposed for the Champion tracts, he said, could actually help alleviate traffic congestion by reducing separate trips by residents. "This is an opportunity to capture more trips at a key intersection within the city limits with a mixed-use development as they're driving by…and capture the money to help us pay for the roads that they're using," he said. "We also have the opportunity to limit sprawl by putting development here, so it doesn't continue to sprawl out to Leander and Cedar Park."

But several people in the surrounding neighborhoods came to urge the ZAP to stand by the Council's previous decision to limit the site to 6,500 trips per day. "This is an extraordinary case. It'll have a huge traffic impact on thousands of people," said Lisette Schmidli. Her concerns were echoed by Annette Dawson, who told commissioners that "adding more traffic to an already extremely congested intersection is horrendous. The last traffic study was done in 1999. Traffic has increased by multitudes since then. At least ask for a traffic study and environmental study."

Several of the speakers expressed their opposition to what they believed was a secret agreement between the city and the Champions regarding the zoning and trip limits for the tracts. ZAP Chair Betty Baker reminded the audience that the commission members were free to vote as they saw fit. "I have not entered into a secret agreement with anyone," she said. "There is no secret agreement. There's a mediation settlement. The agreement of that settlement was to hold off the lawsuit until the zoning is approved. If it's not approved by December 1st to mutual satisfaction, then the lawsuit goes back in effect."

The staff's recommendation to grant zoning and new trip limitations in accordance with that settlement was approved by the commission with minimal debate as the meeting ran past midnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. "This is the second or third time the case has come before us since I've been here. Somehow each time it gets painted as the Champions are asking for something more, and I have to say they have been consistent in this request," said Commissioner Keith Jackson, who made the motion to approve the change. "They've been very, very persistent in this request but they have been also very consistent in this request. They did not ever agree to the 6,500-trip limitation. I think they've been consistent, and I have consistently supported them and will support them tonight."

Commissioner Clark Hammond also spoke in favor of the change, expressing some support for the Champion sisters. "Before all those folks built their houses out there, the Champion family was out there and were the stewards and the shepherds of that land for over 100 years…so it's a very difficult case," he said. "I realize that we're having to balance the concerns of the neighbors with the development rights of these sisters." Hammond sided with the rest of the commission to send the cases on to the City Council with a unanimous recommendation to raise the trip limit to 11,000 per day.

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

Rumors . . . The city had for several months been conducting an internal audit of the $200 million Austin Clean Water Program in response to allegations of improprieties in sub-contracting. Word around City Hall is that the audit of the sewer reconstruction project is nearly complete and that a big change is in the works at the company that manages the project . . . Postponing the inevitable. . .The City Council had a light agenda to begin with yesterday, made even lighter by the postponement of several major items until the next meeting on November 17. (The November 10 and 24 meetings are cancelled.) On the next agenda will be items such as the Spring Condominium zoning request, several elements of the West Congress Neighborhood Plan, the B ouldin Meadows rezoning, a resolution authorizing realignment of Sandra Muraida Way and other items postponed from this week's agenda. All that is planned in addition to dealing with a full regular agenda in-between open Council meeting dates. Come early and plan to stay late on November 17. . . Appointments . . . The City Council reappointed Ernestine Kubicek by consensus to the Downtown Commission. Council Member Lee Leffingwell reappointed Sandra Serna to the Human Rights Commission. There was no action on the Historic Landmark Commission, where some members have been reappointed and others are waiting to see whether the Council wants them to continue their service . . . Meetings . . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee meets at 6pm Monday in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Federally Qualified Health Center Board will meet at 8:30am on Saturday in room 1400 at 111 Congress Avenue. . . . River of Trade . . . Council members heard a presentation Thursday from a group called the River of Trade Corridor Coalition, which bills itself as a group looking after the interests of cities, counties and other entities along Interstate 35 and other major trade routes that could be affected by projects such as the Trans Texas Corridor. Dallas City Council Member Bill Blades told the Austin Council Members that the organization's goal is to "speak with one voice about the NAFTA highway" between Mexico and points north. The coalition has already made presentations locally to the CAMPO Board and Travis County Commissioners. The Council took no action on the group's request that the city join. . . . SOS party . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance is holding a fundraiser with Gulfcoast Playboys providing dance music on Sunday from 4-8pm at the " Pedernales Palace" at 25001 SH 71 West, 12.5 miles west of RR 620 and 1.8 miles west of Pace Bend Rd (RM 2322). Sponsors promise a great view of the Hill Country with gumbo. Call 477-2320 for more information . . . Early voting ends today. . . The controversy over Proposition 2 on the November 8 ballot appears to be driving early vote totals in Central Texas to near record levels. Early voting results from the state's 15 largest counties shows Travis and Williamson counties in first and second place, respectively, according to the Texas Secretary of State. In Travis County, 44,683 voters had cast ballots as of Thursday, 8.38 percent of registered voters. More than 6,000 voters cast ballots in Travis County Thursday. Williamson County officials are also reporting high levels of early voting, with 8,980 votes cast, 6.3 percent of the registered voters there. Early voting ends at 7pm today. Election Day is Tuesday. Travis County citizens are also voting on three bond propositions to fund open space, roads and more jail space.

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