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Wynn’s help keeps Cap Metro buses rolling

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 by

Mayor acts as go-between to help union and management negotiate contract

Austin Mayor Will Wynn’s successful intervention late Sunday into the labor-management gridlock that threatened to cripple the region’s only mass transit system should come as no surprise those who have previously sat across the bargaining table from him. It was the negotiations with the fire and police associations in Austin – as contentious and complicated as they might have been — that taught Wynn what to do when the collective bargaining contract talks broke down between StarTran, Inc., and its union bus drivers.

With only hours to go, a Monday bus driver strike appeared inevitable. The union credits Wynn with playing a key role in negotiating a final agreement between the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1091, and Capitol Metro's subsidiary StarTran late on Sunday after many had given up hope on a contract. That was somewhat ironic, given that Wynn had discouraged his fellow members on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board from intervening in the negotiations between StarTran and its contractors last fall.

The deal struck between StarTran and the union involved concessions on both sides when it came to pay raises, the pay scale of new drivers and co-pays on medical benefits. Wynn said he was prepared to be available to both sides as the final hours of negotiations arrived, intending to assist in any way he could in a final deal.

“I made sure I was in contact with both sides throughout the afternoon and early evening Sunday,” Wynn said after a chamber luncheon this afternoon. “I had conversations with both sides to just try to encourage everybody. Effective mass transit is too important an asset for us to lose here in Central Texas.”

Under the agreement announced Monday, a two-tier system of pay will be created. Starting drivers will be paid 60 percent of the top pay rate, with the ability to reach the top of the pay scale in five years. In the past, drivers started at 75 percent of the pay scale, with the ability to reach the top of the scale after four years on the job. Current employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise for each year of the two-year contract, retroactive to July 10, 2005. An increase in medical co-payments — $5 per co-pay – will occur in the first, but not the second, year of the contract. And the employees’ contributions toward dependent health care premiums will increase an additional 1 percent on the final day of the contract, for a total increase of 11 percent. The contract ends on June 30, 2007.

Wynn said the cost of health care was a key obstacle in negotiations. Drivers, operators and mechanics were feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks. The goal, Wynn said, was to keep everyone focused on the final goal.

StarTran is the largest of three contractors that provide employees to Capital Metro for bus service. Capital Metro, for its part, said it was important for StarTran to balance union needs with the cost to the customer.

“StarTran and Capital Metro recognize that the cost of this contract will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers,” said Fred Gilliam, President and CEO of Capital Metro in a prepared statement released yesterday. “That is why it was important to reach an agreement that takes into consideration both the market costs of the services we provide and the long-term implications of the wages and benefits we have agreed to provide for our employees.”

ATU Local 1091’s rank and file will vote on the contract offer Friday.

Second Street art project described

The Second Street Streetscape project, funded by $9 million of the city’s Capital Metro funds, will contain some of the most ambitious use of art to date in a city-driven project, according to the city planner in charge of the project.

Planner Pollyanne Melton’s updated the Design Commission on the project last week, calling it an ambitious plan to create a look and feel to Second Street that is unlike any other part of downtown. The project, which should get underway this spring and take a year to complete, is a continuation of the improvements along Second Street west of Congress Avenue between Colorado and San Antonio streets behind City Hall.

The streetscape project, to be completed in phases, will stretch from Congress Avenue to the Convention Center, and from Cesar Chavez Avenue to Third Street.

Melton said the project has all the concepts that might be typically associated with a streetscape improvement plan: two rows of trees along one side of the street; a clear pedestrian pathway with an attractive trellis covered with vines; large and distinctive banners that point the way to downtown locations; and removable reusable barriers between the sidewalks and parking lots that provide some edge treatments. The light fixtures, benches and chairs along the street will all have a consistent look and feel.

The most striking feature of this streetscape project, however, is the civic art, Melton said. The city has commissioned two stream projects – one still to be assigned – along Second Street and asked for north-south pieces of sidewalk art that conceptualize the identity of each river street. Melton provided a slide for each of the river street art projects, which were chosen in conjunction with the Arts Commission’s Art in Public Places program.

For instance, artist Jill Bedgood’s “San Jacinto” will focus on the river as currency, a conduit for trade into the state through the Houston Ship Channel. Her art will be cast concrete-and-bronze coins, noting both the positive and negative character of the river.

Artist Ryah Christensen’s “Brazos” is a mosaic of tile that focuses on the hordes of people and animals that have passed up and down the Brazos River. The tile mosaic, like the river, snakes down the sidewalk to reflect the course of the Brazos.

Artist Mark Schatz will be working in wet concrete to create his concept of the “Trinity” river. Schatz, who paddled down the river in a canoe, will use a series of words about the river and its creatures, etching them in cement as each block is laid.

Artist Sun McColgin is creating the concept of “Colorado.” McColgin focuses on the Colorado as a habitat for falcons and eagles and has created a multi-colored mosaic of the bird image. The colors of the bird, traveling up the animal, change in color to reflect the urban canyons, lush bottomlands and dry uplands, Melton said.

The two “streams” projects, along Second Street, are to provide functional water fountains. In one project, created by LaMa Venture, anyone bending down to take a drink from the fountain will see images aligned in a series of glass and limestone panels. Those panels are placed three feet apart along the block. The intention is to create a continuing line of images that mimic looking through the layers of the aquifer, Melton said.

The length of the art piece originally was three-quarters of a block but is likely to be more limited due to the constraints of the budget, Melton said.

The second piece of art was a bigger problem for the Design Commission. Original plans for the artist’s work at Congress Avenue were scrapped because the Arts Commission considered the design, which incorporated actual water fountains used by the Parks and Recreation Department, to be almost “too functional” and not artistic enough. That didn’t set well with the Design Commission, which would consider an artful piece of functionality to be exactly the goal of a streetscape project.

Melton said her point to the Arts Commission was that it was important to incorporate any piece of art into the streetscape. The art should function as a key way of creating place, which is not typical of city art in past projects or in a roadway construction project.

“In a streetscape project, all elements have to be functional visually or physically,” Melton said. “This is not something like you would see in a museum or a private home. You need to look at art in terms of urban design, physically.”

Members of the Design Commission supported Melton’s point. The group offered to send Holly Kincannon, the subcommittee chair on open space and art, to future meetings to discuss the process for the second streams project. That work will be re-commissioned soon. The group also will consider a policy statement on the functional use of art in city projects.

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

Fundraising season . . . City Council Place 2 candidate Eliza May is holding a fundraiser tonight from 5:30 to 7:30pm at El Sol y La Luna Restaurant, 1224 South Congress Avenue. Sponsors include Juan and Marta Cotera, Richard Moya and Stacy Dukes-Rhone. Mike Martinez and Hector Uribe are also running for this spot . . . State Representative District 47 candidate Valinda Bolton hopes her supporters will drop by with their checkbooks to Louie’s 106 at 6th and Congress between 5:30 and 7:30pm tonight. Bolton is running against Jason Earle in the Democratic primary. A bevy of Republicans are running also . . . Endorsements . . . Members of the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus have voted to endorse 13 candidates for the primary elections on March 7. Their slate of recommendations includes Ted Ankrum, US Congress District 10; Bob Gammage, Governor; David Van Os, Attorney General; Valinda Bolton, State Rep District 47; Donna Howard, State Rep District 48; Elliott Naishtat, State Rep District 49; Diane Henson, 3rd Court of Appeals; Charlie Baird, 299th State District Court; Karen Sonleitner, Travis County Commissioner Pct 2; Margaret Gomez, Travis County Commissioner Pct 4; (tie) Elena Diaz and Eric Shepperd, Travis County Court at Law #2; and Susan Steeg, Travis County Justice of the Peace Pct 3. . . . GreenChoice signup . . . Austin Energy customers who are not currently subscribers to the city’s GreenChoice program can now take advantage of online registration for a drawing to join. Because renewable resources, such as wind energy now provide a lower fuel charge than natural gas, the predominant conventional fuel, there may be more takers than slots in the program. To sign up for the drawing online, you may visit www.choosecleansavegreen.org. The deadline is February 28 . . . He bleeds orange . . . Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Austinite of the year Pike Powers got everyone yesterday's annual meeting on their feet to sing " The Eyes of Texas” while he and University of Texas President Bill Powers donned No. 10 football jerseys in honor of Vince Young. Powers had some advice for the crowd, much of it derived from the wisdom of Mark Twain and Will Rogers. Powers said it was very important never to judge a book by its cover, recalling his judgment on Whole Foods' founder John Mackey–which was that the company would never go anywhere . . . Pierce, opens office. .. Place 6 candidate Darrell Pierce has opened a campaign headquarters at the corner of 12th and San Bernard (1224 E. 12th Street). He has also launched a website to support his campaign, www.VoteDarrellForAustin.com and announced plans for his official campaign kick off for February 20. Sheryl Cole and DeWayne Loftin are also running for the spot, which is currently held by Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas. . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will meet at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Council’s Audit and Finance Subcommittee meets at 10:30am in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Council’s Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee meets at 3:30pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Board meets at 9:30am and later for a work session at 1:30pm in room 300 at 301 Congress Ave . . . The Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the Pct 3 JP court room on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Downtown, down the road . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance, Preservation Texas and the Heritage Society of Texas have invited Roberta Brandes Gratz, noted lecturer and author to Austin to discuss the city’s rapid urban growth and revitalization at a luncheon today at the Four Seasons Hotel. Downtown Austin features three National Register Historic Districts— Congress Avenue, East Sixth Street and the Bremond District. In addition, there are other districts, such as the Warehouse District, the Red River District, the Market District, and the new Second Street District. Gratz, author of “The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way” and “Cities Back from the Edge,” is a proponent of what she refers to as “Urban Husbandry,” wherein the complexity and interconnectedness of the urban space is celebrated as a whole. The event begins at 11:30am at the Four Season Hotel, 99 San Jacinto. . . . Austin stays in Top 10 . . . MovieMaker Magazine has ranked Austin second, just behind New York City, as one of the Top Ten Cities for Moviemakers (outside Los Angeles) for the sixth year in a row. “Austin continues to lead the pack in understanding the economic impact the film industry can make,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “We promote Austin as an ideal location through a great partnership between the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the City.” According to the Texas Film Commission, 120 feature films have been shot in and around Austin since 1993 with budgets totaling more than $950 million. Fifty percent of a film’s budget is spent directly in the community where the film is made. By this account, the film industry has directed roughly $475 million into the Austin economy since 1993.

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