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County OKs new plan for troubled West Cypress Hills

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 by

The situation in the West Cypress Hills subdivision – the site of the infamous contamination of Lick Creek — has improved so markedly in the last 18 months that Travis County Commissioners were willing to approve a revised construction plan Tuesday on the large master-planned development in Southwest Travis County.

Two years ago, runoff from the West Cypress Hills construction site so contaminated Lick Creek that it led to multiple stop-work orders and a lawsuit. Since that time, investor Alan Topfer has taken the lead on the development of the project and replaced most of the development team, including the project engineer.

Access to water to the community – and whether pumping on the West Cypress Hills site was impacting adjacent landowners – is still an issue on the project, but engineer Hank Smith said the development team was working aggressively to address the issue, making sure that water wells are replaced with surface water as soon as possible. Smith is with C Faulkner Engineering.

The conclusion, during yesterday’s discussion, was that West Cypress Hills, with only 50 houses on the ground right now, is probably not the cause of water issues in the area. Ultimately, though, water pressure is so low in the area on local wells that Topfer will have to tap into an LCRA water line to provide water to his community.

Smith said West Cypress Hills had done its best to draw water as far away from the three existing water wells in the area, but there was no escaping the fact that all the wells were drawing from the same aquifer and all were getting about the same water pressure.

"I do honesty believe that we can work with Alan and his team," Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said at the end of the discussion. "I do not want to wait six or seven months to bring this thing back to us, as long as we have an understanding that we’re going to work towards a groundwater district in the area."

Topfer and his team returned to court on Tuesday, requesting a revised preliminary plan for one phase and final plat for two other phases of West Cypress Hills. The revised plan realigned a number of streets, reduced the number of residential lots in the first phase to 397 and slightly reduced impervious cover and the linear feet of road on the project.

Topfer also has agreed to meet all the county’s interim water quality rules – required by the legal challenge but not the county – that apply to construction sites. Under the agreement, the West Cypress Hills team has agreed to conditions such as relocating soil stockpiles and enlarging waterway buffer zones during construction.

Project Manager Anna Bowlin and Executive Director Joe Gieselman, along with the new development team, gave the 1,068-acre subdivision a clean bill of health at yesterday’s meeting, noting that the developer had implemented a drip irrigation system to minimize discharge; upgraded the drainage system to meet Lower Colorado River Authority standards; and was attempting to comply with an Army Corps of Engineers’ mitigation plan to revegetate the area with native trees and the establishment of three riparian corridors on the property.

Hoping to broker a new peace with the county, the development team even took a look at a conservation district on the West Cypress Hills site. Smith said the hilly terrain, unfortunately, ruled out the possibility of dedicating land to the county.

Topfer estimated West Cypress Hills could have another 75 to 100 homes on the ground by the beginning of 2008, but that construction would depend a lot on when surface water is available in the community. Once surface water is available, marketing of the lots in the community would likely be ramped up again, Topfer said.

Smith acknowledged the lawsuit by the Guardians of Lick Creek was still pending against West Cypress Hills but said that the group was down to a small punch list of items intended to satisfy the plaintiffs in the case.

The commissioners passed the revised West Cypress Hill plans, 4-0-1, with Commissioner Ron Davis abstaining on the vote.

Four sworn in to Council; Dunkerley elected Pro Tem

Two new members joined the Austin City Council Tuesday night during swearing-in ceremonies at the Palmer Special Events Center. Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole took the oath of office, along with returning Council Member Brewster McCracken and Mayor Will Wynn. The Council’s only other action was to elect Council Member Betty Dunkerley as Mayor Pro Tem.

"I’d like to thank all the Council Members," Dunkerley said. "I think this is a very high honor and I’m very happy."

Mayor Will Wynn’s remarks were brief, focusing on his assessment of the city’s strengths. "Austin is a young, energetic, safe, clean, educated city," he said. "It’s a humbling experience to serve, I’m very excited with our two new colleagues. I think they’re really going to enjoy their work."

Sheryl Cole, who won the Place 6 seat, has spent the past few days getting acclimated at City Hall and preparing for this Thursday’s Council meeting. "City Hall is a big and daunting place," she told the crowd during her inaugural speech, "but my colleagues have shown me the budget and the bathroom…not quite in that order, so I think I’m going to make it." Cole, whose brief speech was spiked with jokes, thanked her family and her campaign team for their support during the campaign.

She also laid out her priorities for her three-year term. "Austin is a great, great city, and I think with these Council Members we’re going to be able to do some great things," Cole said. "Especially in dealing with east-west relations. We see for the first time we have huge investments planned for East Austin. It’s going to be imperative that we get ahead of that growth, plan for it, and include people that have traditionally been left out of that process."

Cole predicted that her fellow Council Members would back this effort and said she was looking forward to the next three years. "I’m happy to say that these are good times and I’m pleased to serve, and I want to make my office open to everybody. But if you can’t get me, always remember…Mike Martinez answers his cell phone!" To confirm Cole’s statement, Martinez produced his cell phone from his jacket pocket as the crowd applauded.

Martinez used his speech to focus on his family, pointing out several relatives in the audience. "We were raised with strong family values, to set your goals really high, to do everything you can to achieve them," he said. "This is the first day in the next dream in my life. This is something that I thought that I may someday have the opportunity to do, I didn’t think it would be this soon, but I accept it gratefully and I look forward to it."

He also pledged to work closely with the other Council Members and City Manager Toby Futrell. Martinez– who clashed with city management during negotiations over the firefighters’ contract– said, "To the City Manager…I report for duty today. This is a council-manager form of government, and I know that my role now is to work with you to make this city the best it can be," he said.

Council Member Brewster McCracken, entering his second term in office, praised the work being done in Austin’s film, video, and videogame industry. The city is poised, he said, to become a world leader in independent video production and videogame development. To ensure continued growth in the high-tech sector, McCracken said, the city should take several key steps. "We do need to keep investing in emerging technologies. The second thing is to invest in after-school programs, in job training, and in quality of life," he said. "It’s what makes us different from everywhere else in Texas." He also encouraged the Council to continue to promote increased density downtown through in-fill projects and protect single-family homeowners from rising property tax appraisals.

TPJ: Legislators flunk campaign finance reporting

A large number of Texas lawmakers are not in compliance with their own campaign reform law, which requires state candidates to use their "best efforts" to report the employers and occupations of individual donors of $500 or more, a study by the nonprofit group Texans for Public Justice found.

The study, titled "Ain’t Nobody’s Business," was presented in the form of a report card by TPJ, a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy organization that monitors money in Texas politics and promotes campaign finance and judicial-selection reforms. According to its findings, just more than half of large donations were reported properly by the state’s lawmakers. And some Central Texas legislators were among those receiving a failing grade.

"Both houses—both the Senate and the House—overall flunked disclosure, reporting only 58 percent of their large donors fully," said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. "So, even though the Legislature passed what looked like a good reform law, $7 million out of the $17 million in large donations since the law was passed went undisclosed. That’s about 40 cents on every big dollar donated."

McDonald said the law, which was passed by the 78th Legislature in 2003 and went into effect in January 2004, was designed to disclose where the big donations are coming from.

"I think it’s important that citizens know where their legislators are getting their money," he said. "You know, we’ve had all kinds of political scandals in recent years, and most of it has been driven by campaign contributions. It’s critically important in a representative democracy that we know who is paying for the campaigns of our elected officials."

Lawmakers were given a letter grade based on the percentage of large donors that were properly identified in their campaign filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. In the Senate, only 3 of the 31 members received an "A" for 100 percent compliance, while 13 members –42 percent—got an "F" for under-reporting large donors. The numbers were considerably worse in the House, where only 5 percent – 8 members—rated an "A" while 59 percent – 89 members—received an "F."

Among Central Texas legislators, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) received an "F," reporting only 10.1 percent of his large donors properly, according to TPJ. Local House members Dawna Dukes (D-Austin) with 31 percent; Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown), 19.9 percent; and Terry Keel (R-Austin) 57 percent, also received a failing grade. Former Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin) with 51.9 percent and Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos) 65 percent, received a "D."

Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) with 71.2 percent received a "C," and Mark Strama (D-Austin) 81.5 percent and Make Krusee (R-Round Rock) 84 percent, received a "B."

No one in the Central Texas delegation made the "A" list.

The report noted that 31 lawmakers left the occupation and employer fields blank every time they reported a large donation. Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was tops, reporting $226,400 in large contributions with no occupation or employer listed. Rep. Kino Flores (D-Palmview) led the House, reporting $110,100 in all-blank large contributions.

Even those lawmakers who did not always leave fields blank sometimes reporting misleading or vague employers or occupations. Five lawmakers failed to report the employer and occupation of Texas’ No. 1 contributor: Houston homebuilder Bob Perry.

Several others identified billionaire Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton—who ranks as the world’s 20th richest person—as a businesswoman, an investor or a rancher.

Texas law required candidates to use their "best efforts" to report large donors’ occupations and employers. Candidates meeting the "best efforts" standard must document at least one request for the mystery donor’s information. McDonald said his group plans to file complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission against those lawmakers with the worst disclosure record.

The commission has the authority to fine violators $5,000 or three times the amount involved, whichever is greater. Alternatively, the commission can treat incomplete disclosure reports as late reports, which face a civil fine of up to $10,000.

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

Experienced in city politics?. . . Minister David Procter of the Hyde Park Baptist Church may have revealed a little more than usual in his benediction for the Austin City Council inauguration last night. After asking God’s care for each of the Council members individually, he observed that Austinites are "a people not easy to govern," who are "quick to criticize." Dr. Procter is Associate Pastor of Education of the church neighbors love to fight, although the battle has cooled off in the past couple of years . . . Council Members to roast their friend . . . Council Members Jennifer Kim and Mike Martinez will help raise funds for the Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce next Monday night by roasting their friend, Channy Soeur. Soeur, a frequent visitor to City Hall’s Second Floor, is an engineer. He is CEO of CAS Consulting and Services, Inc. Former Mayor Gus Garcia, Austin Energy General Manager Juan Garza and Planning Commissioner Gary Stegeman, also of CAS Consulting, have also promised to poke fund at the event, which will be held at Reed’s Jazz & Supper Club, 9901 Capital of Texas Highway, Suite 150. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 407-8240 or visit aaacc@austinaacc.org . . . The other guy . . . Libertarian Rock Howard will kick off his State Senate Campaign at 7:30pm Thursday with a press conference upstairs at the Ventana del Soul coffee shop, 1834 East Oltorf. He will face Democrat Kirk Watson in November . . . Meetings . . . The Environmental Board meeting scheduled for tonight has been canceled . . . The Downtown Commission meets at 5:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Urban Forestry Board meets at 6:30pm at PARD Headquarters at 200 South Lamar . . . Bouldin Meadows delayed again . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission delayed the Bouldin Meadows case one more time, but not with Commissioner Keith Jackson’s blessing. Despite the fact it was a staff request – one that went all the way up to City Manager Toby Futrell – Jackson groused a bit about the delay and even voted against it. Jackson said he had seen one delay too many on the case and was ready to hear it on Tuesday night. The meeting was inconveniently scheduled at the same time as the Council inauguration . . . ZAP officers re-elected . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission re-elected its current slate of officers on Tuesday night. Betty Baker is chair. Joseph Martinez is vice chair. Clarke Hammond is secretary. Melissa Hawthorne is assistant secretary. And Keith Jackson is parliamentarian. Five members – Baker, Hammond, Jay Gohil, Hawthorne and Teresa Rabago – are up for re-appointment – or not – at the end of the month. If members change and officers are replaced, the commission will take another vote, Baker said. . . . Alvarez honored . . . Travis County Commissioners honored Raul Alvarez at yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting for his commitment to the county’s Juneteenth celebration. Alvarez joked he had a few hours left in his term, and he would still be around – just not on Channel 6 at 3am. Alvarez said he would certainly be active on the affordable housing and gentrification issues . . . Healthcare Board . . . County commissioners are still struggling to find a replacement for Tom Young on the Travis County Healthcare District board. Young, a former Brackenridge administrator, is at the end of his term and will not seek another term on the board. So far, the county has received only three applications from people who want to serve on the board. The deadline has been extended to July 7 . . . Williamson names EOC director . . . Williamson County Commissioners approved the hiring of Gary Oldham as program director for the county’s combined communications and emergency operations center. The center will house the county’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) offices, the Office of Emergency Management, a training facility, an emergency operations center (EOC), and the county’s 9-1-1 Communications dispatchers. Oldham has more than 25 years of experience in public safety that includes work as a police officer, dispatcher, communications center director, project manager, and private sector executive supporting public safety agencies nationwide. . . . Going up, and up, and up . . . Ground was broken Tuesday for what will be the tallest building in Downtown Austin when it is completed—at least for a while. Novare Group and Andrews Urban officially broke ground on 360 Condominiums in what was once an abandoned parking lot at the intersection of Nueces and Third streets. The 44-story, 580-foot-tall condominium tower will feature 432 residential units and some 13,500 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space. Novare Group anticipates one-bedroom unit will start under $200,000 and two-bedrooms under $300,000. Be ready to move in sometime around mid-2008 . . . Barton Springs document available . . . The city’s most recent document on protection of Barton Springs is now available through In Fact Daily as a PDF document. To see it, click here: http://infactnews.com/subscribers/BSZ_Protection_Strategy_PDF.pdf. To read the story in which it was discussed, click here.

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