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Bond supporters launch voter campaigns

Thursday, September 14, 2006 by

After quietly raising funds for the past few months, supporters of the seven propositions that make up the City of Austin bond package on the November 7 ballot launched their public campaign Wednesday night with a party at Nuevo Leon restaurant.

While several of the propositions has a PAC or special-interest group to support it, Mayor Will Wynn is leading the campaign to pass the entire bond package with his own group, the Unity PAC, promoting “Seven Steps for a Better Austin”. Their campaign web site is already up and running at

The PAC is also well-positioned financially for a major community outreach and advertising effort. Wynn told In Fact Daily they have received more than $100,000 in donations.

“In my opinion, this bond proposition is precisely what Austin is,” the Mayor said. “It’s this union of seemingly diverse interests that are ultimately very interdependent in creating this whole that is far greater than the sum of our parts.” He urged supporters of the individual propositions to work together to pass the entire $567 million package.

“Don’t by myopic about your individual interest,” Wynn said. “Look at the value, the synergy, of these investments.” If all seven proposals are passed, the average homeowner will see an increase in their property tax bill of about $48 per year. “That’s $4 per month,” said the Mayor. “For us Aggies, that’s a Shiner Bock at the Broken Spoke once a month.”

During the months before the City Council decided which projects would be part of the bond package, different interest groups found themselves competing to make the final cut as Council Members sought ways to minimize the impact of the bond package on the tax rate. Now that the ballot is set, those groups appear to be putting aside whatever differences they had in the sprit of unity as requested by Mayor Wynn.

The Mayor’s former campaign advisor, Mark Nathan, appointed Ted Siff as the treasurer of the “I’m For Four” PAC to support funds for cultural facilities. Nathan, David Butts and former Council Member Raul Alvarez are all working on the Unity PAC and Nathan is assisting with the cultural bonds package as well.

Long-time parks supporter Siff appointed Valarie Bristol as the treasurer for the “Yes on 2 and 3” PAC supporting park improvements along with the acquisition of land for water quality protection and open space. Their consultant is Mike Blizzard.

Supporters of Proposition 6, a new Central Library (, and Proposition 5, the affordable housing bond package (, have also formed political action committees.

“What we’re facing in November is really historic,” said Mark Yznaga, who is working with the group supporting Proposition 5. “We’ve never passed general obligation bonds for housing before. The need is really great. There are 54,000 families that right now can’t afford to live where they are living. There are 4,000 AISD students that don’t have permanent homes.” Yznaga also echoed Wynn’s theme that the bond proposals were inter-connected. “If you want to support the arts, you need to support the artists. They need to have a place to live. If we want to support open space, we need to provide housing in Austin so people don’t have to drive back and forth from Bastrop to work here.”

Five members of the City Council, along well-known environmental activists, business leaders, and neighborhood representatives attended the campaign launch party at Nuevo Leon. That diverse group of supporters should help the various PACs spread their message in the days leading up to the November 7 election.

Church's plans conflict with neighborhood's wishes

Many of the parishioners at Redeemer Presbyterian Church believe that divine guidance led them to an 11-acre site near the old Mueller Airport to build their new sanctuary. It appears, however, that the Lord forgot to check with the local neighborhood planning committee first.

An oft-delayed request by Redeemer for a variance from the city’s Transit Oriented Development code to build its sanctuary 60 feet high as opposed to the 40 feet allowed by the ordinance was granted by the Planning Commission Tuesday night, but not before it reached a Solomon-like compromise.

Redeemer’s congregation has been meeting for the past decade on the Concordia Lutheran College campus, but plans for the college to vacate that site forced the church to look for a location for a permanent site. About two years ago, the church purchased a strip on land near the old Mueller Airport, bounded by Manor Road on the north, MLK Boulevard on the south, Alexander Avenue on west and the Southern Pacific rail line on the east.

That property sits just north of the city’s planned commuter rail station and south of a preliminary site for a possible trolley or light rail station on Manor Road. While a church is a permitted land use in the station area plan, members of several surrounding neighborhoods said their long-term plans for the area called for mixed-use buildings with affordable housing.

“The church’s plan is to build a single-story sanctuary with a choir loft and a mechanical organ,” said Richard Suttle, the church’s attorney. “They want to build a traditional sanctuary to certain dimensions so it has the proper acoustic characteristics. They hope to provide not only a venue for their own choral activities, but a place for all choirs to be able to gather.”

Neither the size of the sanctuary, nor its planned 60-foot height was the real problem, according to Jane Rivera, a member of the Rosewood Neighborhood Association Joint Planning Team.

“We have not yet seen a site plan from the church that indicates how they plan to develop the rest of the site,” she said. “Our neighborhood plan calls for pedestrian friendly uses along the perimeter of the property, but the current plans have parking up against Manor Road. We do not want the 60-foot variance allowed unless we have an assurance that the rest of the land will be developed according to what we planned.”

Preliminary plans by Redeemer showed the sanctuary being built in the central portion of the long, narrow strip of land, surrounded by future growth in church buildings. The upper portion of the property was designed for surface parking, and the bottom third was left undeveloped.

Several other neighborhood activists spoke against the project, noting the year-long negotiations that had resulted in the case being scheduled and postponed 10 times before the Planning Commission.

Commissioners sensed that the issue was not really the 60-foot limit, but that the neighborhood wanted assurances that the balance of the property could be developed according to the rail station plan.

“We have two groups in opposition here, and unless we can find a proper solution, there will be a winner and a loser,” said Commission Member Saundra Kirk. “What level of assurance can be made for the development of the balance of the land?”

Kirk moved that the 60-foot waiver be granted, but that a restrictive covenant be executed that the balance of the tract be dedicated to mixed use with affordable housing. Commissioner Jay Reddy then also proposed an amendment to the motion to ban any church uses within 200 feet of Manor Road, primarily the area where the church had planned a parking area. That would all but force the church to use structured parking, which is more expensive.

That amendment was approved 5-2 with Commissioner Matthew Moore and Chair David Sullivan opposed. Commission members Mandy Dealy and Perla Cavasos were absent. The overall motion also passed on a 5-2 vote, with Commissioner Chris Riley and Moore opposed.

The matter is set to go to the City Council on or after Sept. 28.

Mueller site hiring high rate of minorities

The Mueller redevelopment area is employing minority and women contractors at about twice the rate of most city projects, according to a report presented to the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Committee.

Project Manager Matt Whelan and consultant Dawnna Dukes made the presentation, outlining the strategy to employ and attract minority and small businesses. Rep. Dukes admitted that this phase in the project – the site and infrastructure preparation, as well as the construction of buildings – would probably be the easiest for attracting minority contractors. Language in the bid documents is strongly worded to encourage a “good faith effort” for MBE/WBE compliance, and Dukes scouts out potential subcontractors.

As it stands, a little less than a quarter of the contracts for infrastructure preparation at Mueller were handed out to minority firms, for a total of $7.12 million. Beyond that, another $4.4 million in contracts has been awarded to minority firms for vertical construction, or about 36 percent of total spending, and Catellus has spent another $1.15 million with minority firms on professional contracts, or about 17 percent of its work. Overall, that’s about twice the city’s typical MBE/WBE rate, Dukes said.

Lengthier commitments to Mueller – those made by permanent tenants – will require a specific outreach effort. Dukes said her task is to find a list of minority- and women-owned business candidates that are the type of businesses desired at Mueller and viable in the eyes of Catellus. Dukes’ work is focusing on smaller tenant space, with an emphasis on personal services, professional services, retail and some limited restaurants.

“We really focused on the components within the regional retail that would be more conducive to a small woman- or minority-owned business and then structured our efforts to support that,” Dukes said. “We spent a lot of time in which we analyzed and brainstormed what types of business would best serve the community.”

These are tenants that will both enhance Mueller and come from the community, Dukes said. The goal is to cultivate those businesses that are potential tenants, make sure they are registered as MBE/WBE businesses and then place them in the right spot. Bringing minority- and women-owned businesses into Mueller requires one-on-one efforts, and is not something that will happen without an identified effort.

Marketing materials for the outreach program show two buildings, broken into smaller space, that would be a potential setting for smaller business owners. Of that 25,000-square-feet of space, Dukes would like to see 9,100-square-feet go to women- and minority-owned businesses. Most of the space will be 1,000 to 3000-square-feet, at $25 to $32 per square foot, with an initial lease term of five years.

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

City mourns passing of Ann Richards . . . Flags at all city building will be at half-mast today following the death of former Texas Governor Ann Richards Wednesday night. Mayor Will Wynn issued the following statement: "Ann Richards was my friend, an advisor and an inspiration. In fact, my very first $100 contribution to my first city council campaign in 2000 was from Ann. Her passing is devastating for so many of us and serves as a reminder to cherish the people we love. I will think of what she unknowingly did for me by setting a very high bar of public service to the community. After all that she had accomplished in life, she still found time last year to lead a Mayor's Book Club discussion of "Writing Austin's Lives" as well as volunteering down at the Austin Convention Center sorting donated clothes during the Hurricane Katrina exercise. We will keep her family in our thoughts and prayers." . . . Sponsors needed . . . The Mexican American Advisory Committee is seeking sponsors for banners that will have the images and names of historic Austin Mexican Americans. The banners, honoring 25 individuals, will be on display starting Sunday at the Scarborough Building Downtown at 6th and Congress, with a reception to be held at Mexic-arte Museum. Sponsors of $100 or more will be recognized at the reception. The banners will also later go on a tour of public schools in Austin and will be archived in the Austin History Center. For more information, call 476-9669 . . . . East End Community Meetings . . . Businesses, property owners and other East 12th Street neighborhood stakeholders will meet at 6pm tonight at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Center. Discussion will center on retail and shielding requirements for parking structures on East 12th Street. A review of items where consensus has been reached will be reviewed as will the next steps in the process. The East 11th Street Stakeholders' meeting is planned for 10:30am on Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe to discuss neighborhood parking issues, drive thru ATMS and the next steps in the process . . . BOA meeting . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . Border Energy Forum planned . . . Government and private sector leaders from the 10 U.S. and Mexican border states will gather in Tampico, Tamaulipas for the 13th annual Border Energy Forum October 19-20, focusing on energy needs for the Southwest United States and Northern Mexico. Among the key issues on this year's agenda are the future of energy policy; natural gas and electric needs; water and energy efficiency; border energy infrastructure; financing energy projects; energy production and the environment; and sustainable energy. The forum will begin with an opening reception on the evening of October 18 hosted by the Houston-Tampico Sister City Association, which is bringing its photographic exhibition about the history of the Mexican petroleum industry to Mexico for the first time in conjunction with the forum . . . Kinky hits the airwaves . . . Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman has launched a statewide advertising campaign featuring two new television commercials, "Good Shepherd" and "Clean Energy, Clean Government," produced and edited by Austin-based media companies. The ads, which started running this week, will appear in 14 major television markets across the state. Nearly 5,000 spots are currently scheduled to run on both cable and broadcast television stations. The ads, featuring Friedman and many of his own animals, were filmed at his family ranch and the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch he founded in Medina, Texas. The ads, written by Friedman himself, were produced by Minneapolis-based North Woods Advertising in conjunction with Action Figure Productions in Austin. Editing, sound design and all post-production work was done by Austin-based 501 Post.

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