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Candidates address jobs, housing, benefits

Monday, March 20, 2006 by

Jobs, affordable housing and benefits for domestic partners were among the topics as the Capital City Young Democrats held a campaign forum Sunday night for Austin City Council candidates. The group, made up of Democrats age 35 and under, allowed candidates for Mayor, Place 2, 5, and 6 to give an opening and closing statement, and answer three issue-based questions.

In the Place 2 race, candidates Mike Martinez and Eliza May attended. They were asked how they would help create new jobs in Austin.

“I would look at the mix of jobs and people we have here,” said May. “Do the people we have match up with the jobs that are available? We need to recruit companies that provide jobs so our citizens can work to their fullest potential.”

Martinez said Austin needs to diversify its economy. “We are too dependent on the high-tech sector,” he said. “We need to create more jobs in film, video and music. We are not making enough jobs for our creative culture.”

They were also asked about how to provide affordable housing as the city develops the downtown area.

“We need to require developers to commit to putting affordable housing into their projects in the downtown area,” Martinez said. “We also need to increase our tax base without increasing the tax rate so the city can put more emphasis on affordable housing programs.”

May said growth and affordability must go hand in hand. “We need to define an affordability strategy,” she said.” We don’t have all the tools we need, like housing bonds, reinvestment zones or a land trust. Until we define how we are going to use those, we can’t go forward.”

Candidates Sheryl Cole and DeWayne Lofton participated from the Place 6 race. They were also asked about housing affordability.

“Developers need to be asked to designate a part of their projects to affordable housing,” Cole said. “Community land trusts are also a good idea that needs to be supported.”

Lofton pushed the notion of density to cut housing costs. ”We need to continue to sell ‘air rights,’ to encourage builders to build higher as a tradeoff for closer-in developments,” he said. “We have proposed $67.5 million in bonds for housing that we need to put towards affordably prices homes.”

Cole and Lofton were also asked how the city could best improve its relations with the African-American community.

“We need to work to repair relationships on both sides of the city,” Cole said. “We need dialogue, forums and talk sessions. Providing economic opportunities would also be an avenue towards better relations.”

Lofton agreed that dialogue is needed. “First, they (the city) need to admit that there is a problem,” he said. “We need an honest dialogue to examine what is causing the problems, and work together to find real solutions.”

Both Mayor Will Wynn and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas addressed the group, discussing job creation, neighborhood protection and the upcoming charter amendment on benefits for domestic partners.

“I do not support the city providing benefits for domestic partners,” Thomas said. “I think the citizens made it clear how they felt about it several years ago, and we really don’t know how much it will cost.”

Wynn was strongly in support of it. “It’s an equality issue,” he said. “I’m proud that we are able to place it on the ballot and eliminate a charter restriction that discriminates against people. It’s a matter of fairness.”

Incumbent Place 5 Council Member Brewster McCracken also addressed the group. None of his opponents participated.

At the end of the evening, the group voted to endorse Martinez in Place 2, McCracken in Place 5, Cole for Place 6 and Wynn for Mayor.

CAMPO backs plug-in hybrid campaign

Board also approves TIP projects

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board last week endorsed the City of Austin’s plug-in hybrid vehicle campaign, joining at least 17 cities and other governments committing to support the development of cars that can be recharged by plugging into a standard home electrical outlet.

“There is the ability to have cars that get upwards of 100 miles per gallon,” Mayor Will Wynn told his fellow CAMPO board members. “As we started talking to different communities around the country and talking to other public utilities, we saw dramatic interest in this concept.” He added that more than 100 utility companies have also signed on to support the effort, along with several local employers.

CAMPO is the first metropolitan planning organization (MPO) to pass a resolution in support of the program. Board members were generally supportive, with only Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty offering a warning about the possible impact that drastically improving the gas mileage of automobiles could have on the state’s gasoline tax revenue.

“We really should keep in mind that this makes the decisions we have to make even more difficult. Most of us are going to get in an automobile whether you have gasoline in it or electricity, and what we do not have enough money to do is to build road systems. Our road systems are built with gasoline tax.” With a decline in gas tax revenues, Daugherty said CAMPO would be forced to turn to other options to pay for roadways. “I think that the U.S. at some point in time will be come less dependent on fossil fuels…and I think that most of us would be very support of that. But that does not mean that we are not going to have to look in the mirror every day and say ‘Where are we going to get the dollars to build the lane miles that we’re going to need?’ It puts a little more pressure on us to come up with the revenue to build our road system.”

Daugherty joined the other CAMPO board members in unanimously approving the resolution in support of the plug-in hybrid program.

Also last week, the CAMPO board voted to send a letter to TxDOT stating that CAMPO would include projects in its Transportation Improvement Plan if those projects are approved for funding through the Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program. But the board also reserved the right to rank those projects or remove them at a later date. “I’m concerned about the letter in terms of its broadness,” said State Rep. Dawnna Dukes. “If a project was recommended in an appropriations rider that would be financed through enhancement funds…but it was not recommended by this board, would it be eligible?”

CAMPO staffers assured Dukes that the board was not abdicating its authority to approve or disapprove projects. “TxDOT gets to select these projects for funding, CAMPO can essentially veto these projects at the beginning,” said Executive Director Michael Aulick. The next CAMPO board meeting is scheduled for April 10, which still gives the organization time to prioritize a long list of local transportation projects before TxDOT’s April 27 deadline.

“TxDOT is waiting for us to say that these projects are eligible for them to choose from. There are other MPO’s around the state,” warned State Rep. Mike Krusee. “I would think that what TxDOT would do if we do not act…would be to not give much consideration to the Austin projects, and our money would go to other MPO’s. Just including all these projects for eligibility for TxDOT is a prudent thing to do. If we still want to come back next month and take some out, we still have that option.”

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

Ethics complaint filed against SOS . . . Arthur DiBianca has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging that the Save Our Springs Alliance broke state law by failing to report making direct campaign expenditures in support of two charter amendments the group supports. The commission has notified DiBianca that it has accepted his complaint, which means the agency will investigate the matter. The commission earlier rejected similar complaints filed against members of the SOS board. SOS has contended that it did not need to report such expenditures. After the petitions were filed to put the SOS Amendment and the Open Government Amendment on the May ballot, backers of the measures filed documents creating a political action committee to support voters passage . . . Politics . . . South Austin Democrats endorsed: Mayor Will Wynn for re-election; Mike Martinez for Place 2; Council Member Brewster McCracken for a second term; and Sheryl Cole for Place 6. The Texas Environmental Democrats and the Capital Area Progressive Democrats endorsed the same folks . . . Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas who is running against Wynn for Mayor, is inviting everyone to a party at 5:30pm tonight at Nuevo Leon on East Sixth Street . . . In case you missed it . . . Onetime Place 2 candidate Hector Uribe decided not to run against May and Martinez for the Place 2 seat. Uribe and fundraiser Alfred Stanley announced in an opinion piece in last week’s American-Statesman that he would not be seeking the seat. They cited the power of PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money, compared to individual candidates who can only collect $100 per donor as the major reason for the decision. However, there will be a third candidate seeking the spot along with Martinez and May. Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict filed just before the deadline to seek the Place 2 seat . . . Council Member McCracken drew four opponents challenging his re-election in Place 5. Two UT students, Kedro J. Touvell and Colin Kalmbacher are running for the spot. Attorney Mark Hopkins and public relations professional Laine Jastram are also running. Jastram does not yet have a full campaign web site, but the site for her PR firm does list “no tolls on existing roads” as a priority. . . More endorsements: The Austin Central Labor Council has endorsed Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez, and Will Wynn in their respective races for Austin City Council. The union group had special praise for Wynn for his role in resolving the long-running contract dispute between StarTran and members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091. The CLC did not issue an endorsement in the Place 5 race, in which Council Member McCracken is seeking re-election. The group’s rules require a two-thirds vote for any endorsement. Members of AFSCME did endorse McCracken in a separate vote. AFSCME Local 1624 Union Representative Jack Kirfman told In Fact Daily that while McCracken took a hard line in negotiating a new contract with the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, he had consistently supported measures to benefit the rank-and-file non-public safety city employees. . . . Meetings . . . The Council Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 3pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6pm in room 325 at One Texas Center . . . The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors meets at 4pm at 2910 East Fifth St.

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