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District 47 GOP candidates tout credentials

Friday, January 20, 2006 by

Four hopefuls outline views on immigration, abortion and prayer

Republicans seeking to replace Terry Keel in the District 47 seat in the Texas House of Representatives demonstrated their conservative credentials Thursday night during a debate sponsored by the Founders’ Vision Republican Women’s Club.

Candidates Alex Castano, Terry Dill, Rich Phillips and Dick Reynolds outlined their positions on immigration, abortion, and prayer in school. Candidate Bill Welch was unable to attend due to a scheduled meeting with a law enforcement group, but did send a representative to outline his qualifications during the opening and closing statements.

On issues other than school finance, all four candidates had similar positions. All declared themselves to be staunchly pro-life, in favor of prayer in school, and opposed to illegal immigration.

“We absolutely have to seal the border between us and Mexico, and if the federal government won’t enforce the rules then I think the State of Texas has to,” said Dill. “I want to do whatever is necessary to seal the borders.” Phillips, who interned in the Office of Policy Planning at the White House during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, said securing the border would require additional manpower. “The border is a national security issue. I would support the creation of a Texas Border Defense Corps, which would be made up in part by National Guard units from other states and our own,” he said. “I would support a guest worker program if, and only if, you can pick up that guest worker pass in your country of origin.”

The candidates also pledged to support prayer in school and oppose abortion, each citing their strong religious convictions as playing a guiding role in their positions on those issues. “I have always been pro-life,” said Phillips. “I believe that we have a very unique opportunity, because science has also shown us that precious life begins at conception. With science, and with my faith, I will defend at all costs our right to life.”

Castano said if he were elected, he would support any legislation designed to limit abortions. “My views are based on scripture. I look to Genesis, I look to Psalms, I see that man is created in the image of God. That is the foundation of my beliefs,” he said. “Once I am elected I will not waiver from those beliefs. I think the pro-life issue is even larger than that, because we’re starting to deal with things like euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and those are going to be tough decisions to make. But I promise you…once elected, my foundation is my Christian faith and it’s the Bible, and I will fight to defend the pro-life movement and every law that would be introduced in support of that.”

On the key issue of school finance, the candidates offered varying levels of detail about their proposals. All agreed that the Robin Hood system was bad, and that local school districts classified as property-rich should not be forced to send money to other districts.

“I will work to end Robin Hood,” said Castano. “I think if we’re able to keep those funds we could have a great improvements in the local schools. But on top of that, I think school choice must be introduced. Competition must be brought in.”

Reynolds, a former State Representative from the Dallas area, said any solution would require the state to contribute more money toward education. “Teachers need more pay. If we can do it for our state judges, we can do it for our teachers,” he said. “We do this through a broad-based business tax, and I qualify that…you need to understand, business taxes are paid by consumers. All taxes are paid by consumers. I think we should come up with six or seven billion additional dollars for education.”

Phillips told the crowd he would oppose any new taxes. The answer, he said, would lie in lowering that tax rate on businesses. “I know that if we lower the franchise tax from four and a half percent to one percent, we actually bring in $6 to $8 million more in revenue,” he said. “Again…more in revenue, because we create jobs and opportunity and expand economic activity for families.”

Candidates were also given the chance to address any topic of their choice. While most chose education, Dill put the focus on transportation. “There is…based on bad science…environmentalist action that has put a wedge through the heart of our district,” he said, “and has created a horrible set of roads. The first thing I would do, if elected, would be to request to be appointed to the Transportation Committee so I could have the bully pulpit. Then I would go to work with Gerald Daugherty to get money to our roads in that area, and I would work night and day to cut down the time that my constituents would have to spend on those roads.” Those opposing new roads in the area based on environmental concerns, he said, were misguided. “What they call impervious cover has nothing to do with anything, and none of the water in Barton Creek goes into Barton Springs,” he said. “Nobody knows that.”

The winner of the GOP’s party primary in March will face off in November against the Democratic candidate. Jason Earle and Valinda Bolton are both seeking that party’s nomination in District 47.

Clarification sought on watershed rules

Commissions recommend changes to show where restrictions apply

The Austin City Council next week will consider changes to the city’s watershed protection ordinances to clarify where those ordinances apply. Both the Environmental Board and the Planning Commission have approved those clarifications. The ordinances are intended to apply both within the city limits and in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, but some neighborhood groups have complained the city was not adequately enforcing the impervious cover restrictions contained within those ordinances in some of the city’s older neighborhoods.

“We wrote a letter last fall asking the city to enforce the rules,” Blake Tollett of the West Austin Neighborhood Group told the Planning Commission. For most urban watersheds, the ordinances set impervious cover limits at 30 percent. But that amount is applied to the entire subdivision as a whole, including parks and open space, not to individual single family lots. Those lots are instead subject to the impervious cover limits associated with their zoning category, which are generally higher than 30 percent, since many older neighborhoods were subdivided and zoned before the watershed ordinances were adopted.

Tollett told the commission his group would like to see the lower limit enforced for individual lots, especially in critical urban watersheds where impervious cover is a growing threat to water quality. “I guess I’m looking to you for some sort of help. It makes no sense on these re-subdivisions to ignore the impervious cover limits that are placed on the watershed protections,” he said. The 30 percent limit could potentially limit the size of new homes built in the city’s older neighborhoods. That would help neighborhoods, such as West Austin, prevent builders from erecting houses that are much larger than those on surrounding streets.

But applying new standards to those older lots would be unreasonable, said city Environmental Officer Pat Murphy. “The problem is that looking at lots that were platted in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s…and trying to determine if they’re meeting our assumptions isn’t really a fair analysis,” he said. “If they were subject to those in the first place then we would certainly take a look at those.”

Murphy said the city had not been imposing the caps outlined in the watershed protection ordinance on single-family lots. “Limiting the impervious cover on individual lots is difficult, given that most of these lots are already developed at higher than what the watershed limits would be,” he said. “The difficulty is that someone wanting to do even a small addition would not be able to do that if we impose a 30 percent limit. I do believe that there are better land use tools available than the watershed regulations to address this issue.”

Commissioners unanimously endorsed the technical changes to the watershed protection ordinances recommended by staff, clarifying that the regulations apply to subdivision and site plan applications but not to individual single family or duplex building permit applications. “If everybody else in a subdivision is built out to 45 percent (impervious cover), assuming somebody’s built out to just 40 percent…and then suddenly the restrictions were changed to just 30 percent…that person would not be able to enjoy the same entitlements as everybody else,” said Commissioner Dave Sullivan. “It is important to have some uniformity as to what the entitlements are in a neighborhood.”

County moves ahead on SH 130 subcommittee

Travis County Commissioners narrowed the proposed scope of work on a State Highway 130 subcommittee at this week’s commissioners’ court session.

In his written recommendation to the court, Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Manager Joe Gieselman recommended a coalition of local jurisdictions – cities, water providers, school districts and regional authorities – to come together to address the common development issues facing the corridor. Those entities would sign an interlocal cooperation act to do joint planning and programming within existing statutory authority, with possible requests to the Legislature for additional powers.

The policy board, patterned somewhat on the Clean Air Coalition, would be supported by a technical advisory committee of agency staff members and paid consultants. Gieselman also recommended a citizens’ advisory committee composed of key stakeholder groups, including landowners, developers, business interests, neighborhoods and environmentalists. Both the technical advisory committee and the citizens’ advisory committee would report to the proposed policy committee.

County Commissioners gave Gieselman carte blanche to come up with a committee structure that might work to develop at least a 10-year plan for development. The Court, upon reflection, appeared to narrow its scope to how Travis County and the City of Austin might work out development issues, then expand it to other jurisdictions in the area, as well as the water supply districts.

Gieselman pointed out the city was doing its own parallel effort, beginning to look at the corridor in terms of a possible annexation plan along the 35-mile stretch through Travis County.

County Judge Sam Biscoe also questioned whether, and how, the county’s efforts would overlap with the plans of Envision Central Texas and the Lower Colorado River Authority. Both have created broad regional stakeholder groups, with Envision Central Texas promising a template for development-related ordinances.

Biscoe asked Gieselman to coordinate with the city and come back with a scope of work – more specifics on what issues the subcommittee might address – which could be approved by the court. Commissioners Ron Davis and Margaret Gomez have volunteered to serve as the county’s representatives on any such subcommittee.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New fire chief named. . . City Manager Toby Futrell has selected J.J. Adame, who has served as fire chief in Corpus Christi for more than 16 years, to be Austin's new fire chief. Futrell plans to introduce Adame to the Council, stakeholders, and members of the media next Friday. If the Council likes him, they are scheduled to confirm his appointment as fire chief on February 2. Jim Evans has been acting fire chief says the retirement of Gary Warren last January . . . Futrell also announced the appointment of Otis Latin to take the position currently held by Steve Collier, the city's Emergency Management Officer, when Collier retires. According to a memo from Futrell, Collier intends to retire by the end of the current fiscal year. The city manager explained that she was hiring Collier's successor early since he was one of the finalists interviewed for the fire chief position and "we had a great and very timely opportunity in locating Otis to succeed Steve." Latin, an African-American, currently serves as fire chief for Fort Lauderdale, Fla. His job title will be director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which reflects reorganization in the Office of Emergency Management, according to a memo Futrell sent the Council Thursday . . . Austin Java saga continues . . . Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman has notified the Council that the new café at City Hall is now likely to open at the end of July. Austin Java, which the City selected to operate the café last March, was initially scheduled to open last September. Various problems cropped up and that date became February 27, 2006. Now it seems there are other problems including design of an exhaust system, which requires construction of " an extensive scrubber device . . . to remove the grease and odor" from the exhaust, according to a memo from Huffman to the Council and City Manager. When the drawings are completed, the city must go through a subcontractor process and construction is expected to begin at the end of March. The temporary food and coffee service now operating part-time on the first floor of City Hall will cease operations "soon," Huffman's memo says. But the good news is that Jo's Coffee is expected to open in the Second Street district on February 15 . . . New Chamber VP . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has named Amanda Sablatura Vice President of Communications. For the past year, Sablatura has worked as the Chamber's Director of Public Relations. Saralee Tiede, who has served as the Chamber's Vice President of Communications for nearly six years, will be leaving to work for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as Director of Communications . . . End of a holdout . . . Travis County Commissioners Court, minus Gerald Daugherty, finally voted in favor of a $25,000 check to support Envision Central Texas. This year's contribution reflects the same amount the Court sent to ECT last year . . . ACVB to operate retail store . . . The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau will be operating the new Austin City Store in the City Hall retail space on Second Street. According to Huffman, design of the store has begun. The project manager will be Jan Stephens of the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office . . . Restoration groundbreaking . . . A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10:15am today to commemorate the start of construction on the Williamson County courthouse restoration project. The courthouse restoration project is a partnership between Williamson County and the Texas Historical Commission. The architect for the project is 1113 Architects and the construction manager-at-risk is Browning Construction Company Ltd. The ceremonies will be held on the north side of the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 Main Street, in Georgetown . . . Happy New Year . . . Council Member Jennifer Kim is celebrating the Asian Lunar New Year with an open house from 3 to 6pm in her office next Friday. Please contatct her office if you plan to attend.

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