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Riverside plan on hold until March

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 by

Commission wants neighborhood, staff to negotiate

The Planning Commission, after more than five hours of discussion of the pros and cons of dueling neighborhood plans, decided last week to postpone consideration of the East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan, with the exception of a handful of consensus zoning changes.

Zoning has dominated the goals of most of the city’s neighborhood plans, and the East Riverside/Oltorf planning area – the combined Parker Lane, Pleasant Valley and Riverside neighborhoods – is no exception. This is one of the densest areas of the city, with the heaviest concentration of multi-family housing .

After hearing two versions of the plan– one from city staff and a counter-proposal from neighbors concerned with mixed-use issues – the commission decided to postpone the plan for another five months until zoning categories are clarified further. In general, residents wanted to know just what the mixed-use designation proposed by city staff would mean, and wanted to keep the option open to “de-densify” some apartments when they reached the end of their useful lives.

Included in the city’s broader proposed goals, presented by Jackie Chuter and Melissa Schardt of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, were:

Add to this mix the concern of Austin Community College, which wanted to be taken out of the neighborhood plan altogether. ACC owns a golf course along Riverside that it eventually would like to sell to developers.

ACC Attorney Myra McDaniel said the college district had entered the neighborhood planning process in good faith but soon realized that the needs of the college district were broader than those of the local neighborhood. The neighborhood planning process simply leads to conflicts between neighborhood concerns and the broader needs of the ACC taxpayer base, McDaniel said.

McDaniel and ACC were not willing to hand the future zoning designation of the property to the neighborhood planning process. McDaniel was followed by a series of students who supported the college position. Chair Chris Riley suggested taking the ACC zoning question off the table early in the discussion and the commission never returned to it specifically.

After a lengthy discussion of the demographics and zoning of the neighborhoods – plus a presentation by the neighborhood on its counter-proposal – Commissioner Dave Sullivan proposed a postponement on the case until the mixed-use zoning category was given more clarification. Riley agreed, noting that Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department is discussing a change to the mixed-use category. The change may include vertical mixed uses with requisite requirements for percentages in various zoning categories.

Sullivan said he would prefer to see the negotiations resulting in just one plan before staff and neighbors return to planning commission.

“We really look forward to a neighborhood supporting a neighborhood plan, and I think we have clearly not seen that tonight,” Sullivan said. “We have seen two plans presented, and my hope would be if we have a five-month postponement, we would see one plan return that would represent some compromise and tolerance and some give-and-take. Maybe not everybody will be happy with it, but almost everybody should get something of what they wanted out of the plan.”

The commission voted to postpone considering the neighborhood plan until the second meeting in March. Commission Jay Reddy, who considered the two years of work to be substantial, voted against the motion. Sullivan said he would like to see the zoning cases return as they are negotiated, rather than wait until March to take them up.

Rocha hearing reveals frustrations on several levels

Members of the Citizens Review Panel expected to hear criticism of the Austin Police Department at last night’s hearing into the death of Daniel Rocha. But many of the speakers were equally critical of the panel itself, saying it has no real authority to influence the outcome of the investigation.

The panel will issue its recommendations to Police Chief Stan Knee this week regarding the administrative investigation into the shooting death of Rocha in June. The panel heard testimony from the public last night at City Hall in a meeting which lasted more than three hours. .

The panel has the authority to recommend to the Chief that APD policies or procedures be changed. The panel can also recommend an independent investigation into an officer-involved shooting case, and recommend disciplinary action against and officer. But the Police Chief is not bound by those recommendations, which was a source of frustration to many testifying before the panel Monday night.

"I don't know why we're here, because the best you can do is make a recommendation," said attorney B obby Taylor, who is representing Daniella Rocha, the mother of Daniel Rocha. The 18-year-old was shot and killed by an APD officer this summer .

Taylor said Rocha's relatives had no confidence in the process for investigating the incident or for disciplining any officers. Gerardo Rocha and Daniella Rocha don't believe anything's going to come out of the death of Daniel," he said. "We came because we want to make sure everyone knows that this family is doing everything they can so that everything goes the way it should, and that we comply with what we should do."

The lack of authority of the Citizen Review Panel was the subject of criticism from several speakers. "I'm here to ask you to have an independent investigation of this case and to recommend every policy change that you can think of to completely remedy this," said ACLU member Ann Del Llano. "The best one I heard tonight…recommend that you get some power to make a change. You are sitting here powerless, completely powerless. Get some teeth.”

The authority of the Citizen Review Panel was set in a contract under the meet-and-confer agreement between the Austin Police Association and the City of Austin. NAACP President Nelson Linder urged citizens to take their complaints about the case directly to the City Council, bypassing the panel. "As citizens, we have a City Council, we have a Mayor, we have a City Manager. If those folks share our views and we elect them, they tell the Police Chief what to do," said Linder. “So I would suggest that you make sure you call your City Council and tell them you think Officer Schroeder should be fired based on improper behavior. Julie Schroeder should be terminated. That's before you've done an independent investigation."

PODER representatives also called for the termination of the officer who fired the shot that killed Rocha. "PODER is asking for the firing of Julie Schroeder, the prosecution of Julie Schroeder for murder, an independent prosecutor and investigator, and dismissal of Chief Knee from APD," said Erika Gonzalez. Officer Schroeder was cleared by a grand jury this summer of any criminal wrongdoing in the case.

Some members of the Citizen Review Panel were sympathetic to the complaints about the group's lack of authority. "It's very frustrating for us," said former Mayor Roy Butler, "so I agree…in that I wish this committee, this group, this commission had more authority…so that when people came to us we could maybe get closer to satisfying their needs. I know that's a matter of negotiation between the APA and the city, but that's just a general statement that I wish this group were stronger."

Several representatives of the Austin Police Association attended the public hearing to listen to the citizens' complaints. "I think what you see here is just the frustration out there, and it is a long process but it is a thorough process that our department takes seriously," said union Vice President Wuthipong "Tank" Tantaksinanukij. "All we can ask for is to hold judgment until the entire process sees itself through. And at that point in time you'll be able to make a more informed decision based on the facts of the case."

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

Martinez a candidate . . . Although he has put off those asking the question for months, Austin Association of Professional Firefighters President Mike Martinez is finally confirming that he will seek a seat on the City Council next year, according to those in the know. For his part, Martinez says he is focused on firefighters’ approval of a proposed contract between the union and the city. However, the veteran firefighter says he is “talking to folks” about his candidacy and has received a positive response. “I feel like I'm fairly close to that decision,” he said Monday. Firefighters are scheduled to vote on the contract proposal between November 14 and 18, with the votes being counted on the final day. Look for a positive statement from Martinez after Thanksgiving about the seat currently held by Raul Alvarez. Alvarez surprised no one last week when he announced that he would not go through the arduous process of gathering thousands of signatures so he could run for a third term. So far, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eliza May and former State Sen. Hector Uribe have indicated they would run for the position. Expect to see veteran campaign consultants Mark Nathan and David Butts on the Martinez team as soon as he makes an announcement . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The MBE/WBE Advisory Board meets at 5:30pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am at the Pct. 3 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown. … Capital Metro public meeting . . . The Downtown community is invited to attend a public focus group meeting to discuss progress on the Future Connections Study, Capital Metro's look at connecting the downtown core and other key areas to the commuter rail service. The are two meeting today: 8am at 211 E. 7th St. room 111, and 6:30pm at Asbury United Methodist Church, 1605 E. 38½ St. These meetings are a follow-up to the Future Connections Study meetings held in August. For more information, visit the project Web site at http://www.allsystemsgoconnections.com . . . . Education Austin news conference . . . Education Austin President Louis Malfaro will be joined by teachers and school employees at 11am at Murchison Middle School, 3700 North Hills Dr. to announce a city-wide action agenda to Change Education One Elected Official at a Time. Malfaro said hundreds of teachers from Austin have signed up to be part of a year-long campaign to make sure the next time the Texas Legislature convenes, “Travis County will be represented across the board by a strong, pro-public education senator and state representatives,” according to the union . . . Travis County Bond rally . . . Travis County leaders, citizens, and advocates will gather for a community-wide public outreach and Get-Out-the-Vote Rally at noon today in Wooldridge Square Park to encourage support for the 2005 Travis County Bond Program. The $150 million package includes roads, parks and open space, and jail improvements. The rally is sponsored by the Citizens Building Travis County Together PAC and Travis County Park PAC. . . . A chamber endorsement . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Board is endorsing Constitutional Amendments listed as Propositions 1, 3, 5 and 9 on the November 8 ballot. The chamber did not take a position on any of the other propositions because they do not have a direct effect on businesses . . . Early Voting . . . With four days left in early voting for the November 8 Constitutional Amendment ballot, 28,339 Travis County voters have cast ballots. That’s 5.33 percent of all registered voters in Travis County. The busiest box has been on UT campus, with the Randalls on Research, the Randalls on South MoPac and Northcross Mall drawing large numbers as well. Early voting ends Friday . . . Firefighters blood drive . . . The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters is sponsoring a blood drive for fellow Austin firefighter Kelby Palmer, who recently needed 12 pints of blood during emergency surgery. After spending several days in ICU, Palmer is now home and hoping to return to duty in the near future. Anyone interested in donating should call 441-7572 or go online at http://www.aapff.org. The blood drive will be at the Firefighters Association Office, 7537 Cameron Rd. from 9am – 4pm.

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