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Council backs off plan for water plant in Guerrero Park

Friday, April 21, 2006 by

Information on other possible sites to be released

City Council members, apparently stung by the ferocity of the community’s reaction, made it clear Thursday that they are taking a plan to relocate the Green Water Treatment Plant to Roy Guerrero Park off the table.

A host of neighborhood and community groups have lodged strong protests over the proposal, which Council Member Betty Dunkerley called “a trial balloon,” one the Council didn’t do a very good job of floating. Dozens of groups and individuals showed up at a Monday night hearing before the Parks and Recreation Board, which refused to take any action on the plan (See In Fact Daily, April 18, 2006.)

The plan, revealed to the public during a special parks board meeting last week, ( In Fact Daily, April 12, 2006.) would have set aside 30 acres of Roy Guerrero Park for the water treatment plant. City officials say it needs to be online and pumping 25 million gallons per day (MGD) by 2011. City officials planned to mitigate the loss of parkland with $5 million in improvements elsewhere in the park over the next five years.

Although the Council took no action yesterday on a location for the plant, Council Members did pass a measure to release details—minus the name and location—of the alternate sites that the city is studying for the plant. The motion also instructed city staff to bring a full slate of options for the plant to next week’s Council meeting.

Council Member Raul Alvarez brought the motion up Thursday after an extended executive session, saying the city needs to “provide financial information to the total costs of developing the four sites without disclosing the location,” he said. “We need to demonstrate the site selection process clear through to the public process. We need to include information about what options are available to the city at the existing water treatment plants and the issues involving the sites.”

As the members began discussing the release of the information, Council Member Brewster McCracken offered an amendment to the motion that the Guerrero Park site not be part of next week’s presentation.

“I believe we should instruct the City Manager to remove the Guerrero Park proposal from consideration in next week’s presentation,” he said. “We need to give staff some guidelines on what we want to see.”

Other Council Members quickly agreed that they wanted the Guerrero Park plan left off next week’s presentation, but others said it was not appropriate for the Council to add that to the vote.

“Any vote that reflects a position on an item not posted is inappropriate,” said Council Member Lee Leffingwell. “We need to take action on Council Member Alvarez’s motion without the addition of unposted information.”

Other Council Members, including Dunkerley and Jennifer Kim agreed that the Guerrero Park options should be pulled off the table, but that a vote was not possible.

City Manager Toby Futrell—after consulting with City Attorney David Smith—encouraged Council members to provide her with clear instructions week “through extended discussion” on what to bring back next.

Dunkerley reminded Council Members that they had never taken any official action to put the Guerrero Park option on the table. “No vote was ever taken,” she said. The information has come back to us loud and clear, and we will be looking at the other sites.”

However, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas felt the need to clarify her statement.

“The staff did not recommend the Guerrero Park site,” he said. “It came from within the Council. We can’t put that off on the staff.” Thomas pointed out to In Fact Daily last week that he and Alvarez had voted against relocating Green from its site on Cesar Chavez last year. He said they have been concerned about the possible relocation of the plant in Guerrero Park.

Mayor Will Wynn has pushed the relocation of Green and sale of the prime city-owned real estate as part of an effort to enhance a booming downtown. Wynn faces Thomas in the mayoral race in next month’s election.

Futrell said she got the Council’s message.

“I have heard loud and clear that we should be looking forward to a presentation next week on all the remaining options for the water treatment plant,” she said, “You have also made it clear that the Guerrero Park plan is not a viable option.”

There was some concern because the item was scheduled to go before the Environmental Board next week as part of a schedule staff said needed to be kept in order for the city to utilize the parkland under Texas Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 26 rules. Futrell told the Council that since it seemed that a majority of them want the Guerrero option pulled, that it was no longer an issue.

Late last night, parks advocate Ted Siff called the apparent decision not to use parkland for the new plant a victory. He said parkland should not be taken for other purposes unless the city’s voters authorize it. He added in an email, “the new process re replacing 'Green WTP' should not be 'site based.' It should be based on the BEST WAY [most efficient; cleanest; fastest] to replace "Green WTP's" capacity.”

In the end, members voted 7-0 on Alvarez’s motion to release the information, and separately instructed staff to post an item on the agenda next week for Council to consider other options on the location of the water treatment plant.

City Public Information Officer David Matustik said he was not sure when the information released by the Council would be available to the public, but that it might be released as soon as today or Monday.

WCIT may pay big dividends for city

International conference could mean $44 million to state

Final preparations are underway for the World Congress on Information Technology, a gathering of nearly 2,000 high-tech executives, politicians, and academic leaders from around the world. The 15th WCIT takes place in Austin beginning May 1.

Austin worked hard to land the prestigious conference and is providing some financial support in both direct contributions and in-kind sponsorship. That includes covering the cost of APD officers providing security downtown and waived fees for use of the Austin Convention Center, which total nearly $1 million.

But the benefits to the city are expected to far outweigh the costs of helping to stage the meeting. The city has received nearly $1 million in federal grants to make permanent improvements at the Convention Center and other facilities for the conference, said Chief Financial Officer John Stephens.

The city is also receiving equipment from Cisco Systems valued at $700,000 to install a free wi-fi network covering parts of downtown and East Austin. While that network is designed to make sure the delegates to the conference have continuous internet access, the network will remain in place after the meeting is over.

The true benefits to the city, Stephens said, would extend beyond physical improvements. He cited a study by Angelou Economics that the state-wide economic impact could be $44 million.

“Certainly, the opportunity we have is to showcase Austin as a technology center and to showcase Texas,” he said. To that end, several city officials have been invited as delegates to the Congress and the city will also have a booth set up inside the Convention Center.

“We visited 23 countries on our own promoting the WCIT last year,” said WCIT President and CEO Glyn Meek. “I think we’ve raised the visibility of this city and this state significantly around the world with some of the people that make decisions. The majority of those attending are either CEO’s of companies, international government representatives, heads of state, or heads of university organizations.”

The last time the conference was held in the U.S. was in 1998, when it was hosted by George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. That city, Meek told In Fact Daily this week, was still reaping the benefits.

“To this day, they are still getting business coming to Virginia because of relationships that were built during that conference,” he said. “It is difficult to predict what the long term economic impact on Central Texas will be…but all it takes is one big deal and this has paid for itself many times over.”

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

Activist files more complaints . . .Libertarian Arthur di Bianca has filed a complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office against two persons involved in SOS’s campaign to put Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot. Di Bianca said the District Attorney’s Office would not begin an investigation until the election is over to avoid having an impact on the election. Di Bianca has also filed a complaint with the Municipal Court against the Austin Fire Fighters PAC for spending funds to promote the candidacy of Mike Martinez “without giving the required 60 days notice.” The firefighters PAC has filed a number of documents with the City Clerk indicating expenses in support of Martinez’ candidacy, including one filed March 13 showing more than $2,200 spent on pro-Martinez yard signs and T-shirts . . . Saturday’s forums . . . If you wanted to make a day of it, you could attend the Southwest Austin Democrats beginning at 10:30am to listen to City Council and mayoral candidates and to make endorsements All events are scheduled for the Travis County West Rural Community Center Activity Room, 8656 SH 71 West, 1st floor on the west side of the building. Place 5 candidates are scheduled to speak from 10:30am – 11:30am. Lunch is on your own. Then, candidates for Mayor, Place 2 and Place 6 are set to speak from 12:30pm – 4pm . . . Members of Unidos de Austin, which includes individuals and groups which came together after the shooting of Daniel Rocha, will hold a Place 2 candidate forum on Saturday, from 9am – 10am at the Manos de Cristo offices located at 4911 Harmon (just off E. 51st Street, west of I-35). Organizers expect both Mike Martinez and Eliza May to participate in this brief gathering . . . It will be brief so that folks can then attend the Gus Garcia Middle School groundbreaking ceremony, which starts up at 11am. The event honoring Austin’s former Mayor will be at 7414 Johnny Morris Road. . . . Next week’s fundraisers . . . May will hold a fundraiser at noon Tuesday at 305 W. 13th Street. RSVP Lynda Rife at 440-7870. Sponsors of the event include Marc A. Rodriguez, Bobbie Barker, Terry Bray, Rick Burciaga, Howard Falkenberg, Larry Graham, and Paul Saldaña . . . Her opponent, Mike Martinez is having a fundraiser Monday, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 East 6th Street. Sponsors include a host of Democratic leaders, including Andy Brown, Sarah Eckhardt, Jackie Goodman, Sheriff Greg Hamilton, Janis and Joe Pinnelli and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez . . . Touvell endorsement . . . Political neophyte Kedron Touvell has won the endorsement of the People for Efficient Transportation PAC (PET PAC), the anti toll group, for Place 5 on the City Council. Touvell is running against incumbent Brewster McCracken and two other candidates . . . Appointments . . . Council Members named several people to various boards and Commissions Thursday. Jon Burress was appointed as an employee-related representative to the Day Labor Community Advisory Committee; Mark Thompson was appointed by consensus to the Human Rights Commission; Stuart Campbell was appointed by consensus to the Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Commission; Jesus Lowenberg and Elizabeth McKay were reappointed by consensus to the MBE/WBE Advisory Commission; and Dana Lockler was reappointed by Council Member Alvarez to the Urban Transportation Commission . . . Taxi sale postponed . . . The Council on Thursday postponed consideration of the proposed sale of Roy’s Taxi to Yellow Cab of Austin. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas wanted to further study the matter as did Council Member Betty Dunkerley. It will be back on next week’s agenda . . . Prop 6 opponents . . . Members of the Austin Area Pastor Council spoke out against Proposition 6 during the citizens’ communication portion of the Austin City Council meeting on Thursday, then again during a news conference at the City Hall Plaza. The Rev. Sterling Lands and others criticized the Council’s choice of ballot language for the proposition on the grounds that the phrase “domestic partners” is not specifically mentioned. Rev. Lands also questioned the city’s cost estimates of the program, saying it would add members of a “high risk” population to the city’s health insurance pool. Supporters of Prop 6 counter that in most other cities or companies where similar measures have been adopted, the overall cost of the organization’s benefits program has gone up by approximately 1 percent . . . Getting it straight . . . In a story on Thursday, In Fact Daily misidentified Donna Simmons. She is the Human Resources Director for Capital Metro, In addition, the number of corporate child care centers operated by Bright Horizons is 600, not 48, and she estimated that 144 dependents of Capital Metro employees would be eligible for the child care center.

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