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Council OKs public order ordinances

Friday, December 16, 2005 by

After several public hearings and numerous consultations with its legal staff, the City Council cautiously approved a package of new public order ordinances Thursday aimed mainly at controlling the city’s homeless population.

The new ordinances will ban sitting or sleeping on downtown sidewalks and most forms of panhandling and solicitation. The Council stopped short, however, of approving a part of the ordinance that would have affected day laborers and groups seeking petitions.

Council Members were careful in expressing their reasons for approving the new ordinances. “We want to be very sensitive to the needs of the homeless in our city,” said Council Member Lee Leffingwell. “In enacting this ordinance, the Council has attempted to offset the loss of a place on the street to ensure that everyone who needs a bed can get one.”

The changes had been advocated by downtown business owners who claimed that many homeless people were sleeping and urinating on the street and aggressively panhandling, driving away customers. Homeless advocates are encouraging the city to require that police officers get extra training in dealing with the homeless under the new law.

Council Member Jennifer Kim offered two amendments to the ordinances. One would exempt people standing in line for a ticket or to get into a show from the sidewalk sitting ban, and the other exempted groups seeking petition signatures from the soliciting ban. Both were accepted

Council Member Betty Dunkerley noted that the city currently has far fewer shelter beds than the estimated number of homeless in the area. She requested that City Manager Toby Futrell implement a plan to house some of the homeless at night in churches, which the city normally does only during extreme weather.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas cast the only vote against the ordinance, saying the city needs a better plan to deal with chronic homelessness. "We need to be good neighbors and think about how we are going to house the homeless,” he said. “Once we enforce this law, what are we going to do with the people that we put in jail?"

The new ordinances were proposed in October after what city staff said was an exhaustive search of similar ordinances in other cities. Initially, advocates for the homeless protested the proposals. But other groups soon began to complain that the ordinances would affect them, too.

Environmental groups said rules limiting roadside and door-to-door solicitation would harm their ability to gather signatures for petitions. And day laborers said it would interfere with their ability to find work.

That caused Council Members to back away from those provisions. A day labor task force was created to study the matter and make further recommendations on the ordinance.

Council approves new Downtown Master Plan

City to hire "world class" consultant to plan land use, rail lines, more retail

The City Council on Thursday voted to bring in a consulting firm to craft a new land-use master plan for downtown Austin. Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken announced the goal of integrating the city’s various downtown plans during a morning news conference on the 30th floor of the Frost Bank Tower.

“One hundred sixty-six years ago, Edwin Waller, who was the first Mayor of the City of Austin, was asked by Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar to lay out this city, to come up with a plan for the City of Austin,” said Wynn, “and the grid of downtown and the street names all derive from that original plan. Although we have had a number of significant planning efforts since then and there are a number of good smaller plans going on now…many of us came to the consensus that there needs to be a larger plan.”

Hiring a world-class consultant, the Mayor said, would enable the city to craft a new plan including rail lines, more retail, and increase downtown’s residential population. Part of boosting the downtown population will be to use downtown land more efficiently. “When I look at our downtown, it’s still so underdeveloped,” Wynn. “There’s still so much of downtown that is surface parking lots or single-story under-utilized buildings.”

The city will also seek help from other government agencies to reduce the amount of government-owned land downtown. Wynn has already come out in support of relocating the city’s Green Water Treatment Plant, and State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) joined the city representatives on Thursday to show his support for making better use of some state-owned lots.

“As a board member of the Congress for New Urbanism, I support the notion of creating a downtown not just as a place to work, but as a place to live and shop with multiple entertainment districts,” he said. “There’s only one downtown, and we need to get it right. We all need to support what the Mayor is doing.”

McCracken pointed to the many state-owned surface parking lots north of 15th Street as possible sites for greater density. “You can put a parking garage and condos above that on those lots,” he said, “and get that land back on the tax roles. “Right now we have a lot of government land that is producing zero dollars in tax base,” he said.

At the Council Meeting later that morning, Council Member Betty Dunkerley highlighted the provisions of the plan that would dedicate a percentage of the revenues from any privatization of city land toward affordable housing downtown. The Council also adopted a change to the area to be covered by the plan, setting the southern boundary of downtown as Town Lake instead of Cesar Chavez.

Council honors retiring trio

City losing Coy, Glasco and Downey-Little

Mayor Will Wynn and the City Council offered a fond send-off to three senior employees who will soon be retiring after a combined 80 years of service to the city.

Alice Glasco, director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, retired from city government after 21 years of service and intends to start a private consulting practice. City Manager Toby Futrell called Glasco’s retirement “the passing of an era.” She quoted the Austin Chronicle, which called Glasco “elegant” and said Glasco was elegant – elegant under fire and elegant in explaining the intricacies of zoning in a way that could bring problems to a resolution. Wynn, reading from Glasco’s distinguished service proclamation, noted her professional guidance and personal grace, as well as her calm demeanor. Futrell called Glasco irreplaceable and “deadly” as a private consultant.

Glasco thanked her department and especially her second-in-command, Greg Guernsey, who has been named as her replacement. Glasco told the crowd she had come to the University of Texas to be a lawyer, initially, and then switched to a major in architectural planning. She intended to take her skills back to her native Kenya, following in her father’s footsteps. Her father was a long-time city manager. Instead, Glasco joined the city and spent 21 years in planning, heading two different, but similar, departments: Neighborhood Planning and Zoning and Development Review and Inspection.

Glasco thanked Guernsey and his wife for their personal and professional support, as well as her daughter Imani for her patience and frequent attendance at neighborhood planning workshops. Glasco joked that she was pregnant with her daughter when the planning or the Hyde Park Neighborhood Combining District was started, and that she had to threaten the neighborhood leaders to get the plan done before Imani went to college. Guernsey led the standing ovation for Glasco at the conclusion of her remarks.

Vanessa Downey-Little, director of human resources and civil service, has served 28 years with the city. She began her city career as an intern in 1977. Wynn, reading her distinguished service proclamation, praised Downey-Little’s hard and steady work, as well as her ability to model exemplary performance in the fields of public administration and human resources. The A frican-American Heritage Network also recognized Downey-Little for her devoted service to the association.

Downey-Little said she had spent 28 years in five different departments, noting that her career city was a testament to the ability to move up the ladder in the city. She thanked her staff, who helped her through the challenges.

City Manager Toby Futrell said Downey-Little was someone who rarely took the microphone at Council meetings but often applied a calm reasoned approach to difficult human resource issues, including the recent city layoffs. Losing Downey-Little, Futrell said, was like losing an anchor in the storm.

Assistant Police Chief Rick Coy retired from the city after 30 years of service both on the streets and in police administration. Chief Stan Knee praised Coy, his No. 2 person, as a “go to” person who had done an exemplary job in his position as assistant chief after Michael McDonald left to take a job as assistant city manager.

“He’s the person you go to when you have issues and you want those problems solved,” Knee said of Coy. “You can’t pay a bigger compliment to anybody in law enforcement, and we’re going to miss him greatly.”

In turn, Coy praised Knee as the best chief he ever worked for and said he enjoyed every moment of his job. Futrell, who worked with Coy on the city’s first meet-and-confer with Austin police officers, praised Coy’s abilities and joked that she rarely made friends with Republicans but was proud to call Coy one of her few Republican friends.

Former Mayor Kirk Watson and Former Council Member Daryl Slusher were in the audience for the proclamations..

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

The perils of free speech. . .Thursday’s Council meeting took a surreal twist when Mayor Will Wynn recognized James Dillon, who had signed up to speak about the Council’s approval of the minutes of the last Council meeting. It turned out Dillon actually wanted to speak about the Minutemen, an all-volunteer border patrol group which the Council was posted to discuss during a separate agenda item. Dillon, who had interrupted the meeting twice before being allowed to speak, unleashed an anti-rail and anti-immigrant tirade accusing the Council of facilitating illegal immigration. He described Mexico as “a vast wasteland of corruption, graft, poverty, and Catholicism,” at which point Mayor Wynn tried to cut him off. But Dillon continued on, telling the Council “I’m in opposition to everything you do.” Both the Mayor and Council Member Lee Leffingwell tried to get Dillon to save his comments for the appropriate time, but Dillon responded that “it doesn’t matter what you think. And if Mr. Alvarez doesn’t like the Minutemen defending our country, he can go back to Mexico where he came from!” The Mayor angrily chastised Dillon for his outburst. Council Member Alvarez, who chose not to get involved in the exchange, is actually from Roma, on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. . . Canoe concession . . . Dorothy and Howard Barnett will get to keep the canoe rental concession at Zilker Park that they have held for the past 36 years. The city had put the concession out for bids, and a competitor's proposal scored higher on the city's evaluation matrix than the Barnett's. But supporters of the couple filled the Council chambers to recount their years of service while questioning the bidding process and the feasibility of the proposals submitted by the other applicants. In the end, the Council voted 6-1 to re-award the concession to the Barnetts, with Council Member Jennifer Kim the lone dissenting vote . . . Historic Landmark appointments . . . The Council finally bit the bullet yesterday and reappointed Dan Leary and Laurie Limbacher to the Historic Landmark Commission, while declining to reappoint controversial Commission Chair Lisa Laky. Commercial development consultant John Rosato will also join the commission. Other appointments include: Dorothy Patton to the Community Development Commission; Mary Jo Rodriguez and Julien Ross to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs and Maria Hernandez to the Commission for Women. Patton's appointment was a new one and the rest were reappointments . . . Alvarez questions engineering rotation list . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez Thursday expressed concern about the number of firms chosen for city’s water transmission main engineering design contracts on the rotation list for 2005-07. Alvarez noted that in the past four engineering firms had been designated. Why, he wanted to know, did the Department decide to go with six and why was the cutoff at 83 or 84, rather than 80? Sondra Creighton, director of the Public Works Department, said six firms had been chosen because there would be at least six large projects in the coming year. The following firms were designated for the $5.5 million engineering rotation list: T urner Collie & Braden, Camp Dresser & McKee, Alan Plummer Associates, Black & Veatch, Weston Solutions and CH2MHill. These companies were rated best qualified among 37 filing applications. Minority business participation was 16.5 percent and women owned business participation was recorded at 14.2 percent . . . Wait ‘til next year . . . A number of items were postponed on this week’s Council agenda. Zoning changes for the Gables property on Cesar Chavez tract was postponed, as well as items related to the Seaholm project and municipal court judges. Those projects should be delayed until the agenda of January 12 . . . Continuing cases . . . The Council took a quick run at the rezoning of the Champion tracts last night after a lengthy executive session, approving the staff zoning recommendations on second reading. Council Member Brewster McCracken and Mayor Will Wynn spoke of a willingness of both sides to enter further mediation on the outstanding issues in the zoning cases. That mediation is likely to occur the first week of January. The Environmental Board passed a resolution on Wednesday night that encouraged the Council to pass a plan that would minimize the traffic off the property, claiming that development could have a negative impact on the environmentally sensitive Bull Creek watershed. McCracken and Council Member Jennifer Kim and Council Member Raul Alvarez voted against the proposed zoning change. The Champion tracts zoning cases could be brought back, in the best case, on Jan. 12 for third and final reading . . . C hamber to issue AISD report . . . The Greater Austin Chamber will issue its first Austin Independent School District Community Progress Report on Monday. Chamber officials say the progress report aims to evaluate the district’s success with high school completion rates and college/workplace readiness. The progress report also monitors additional student performance indicators, such as performance on the TAKS tests, which predict early success in elementary and middle school. Information will be released at 10am at Chamber headquarters, 210 Barton Springs Rd. . . . Groundbreaking . . . A groundbreaking ceremony is planned at 10am today to celebrate the new construction of single-family homes in the Montopolis neighborhood. According to staff, the homes will serve families at or below 80 percent of the Median Family Income and will be available for purchase in 2006. The ceremony will be held at the site at the end of Frontier Valley off of Riverside Drive. . . Round Rock runoff … The run-off date for Round Rock City Council, Place 6, has been set for Saturday. Ted Williamson and Sharon Izzo are running to fill the unexpired term of Gary Coe, who resigned earlier this year to run for county commissioner in Williamson County . . . Dude! It’s, like, the Mayor! . . Mayor Will Wynn appears to be achieving rock-star status these days. When the band Coldplay recently recorded a session for Austin City Limits, the performance, featuring guest Michael Stipe from REM, was halted when lead singer Chris Martin identified Mayor Will Wynn in the crowd. “You’re the only Mayor who really likes us, and we like you,” Martin said. “Austin is one of the best cities in the world. You certainly have the best music scene in the world.” Later in the show, Martin – husband of Gwyneth Paltrow – jumped off the stage shouting, “Let’s go see the Mayor!” taking KLRU cameras and band members to give Wynn a high-five. Look for Martin and the Mayor on KLRU’s Austin City Limits at 7pm this Saturday as they present last week’s recording of Coldplay.

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