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Bond campaigns move quietly forward

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 by

No apparent opposition has surfaced for $567 million package

With no organized opposition, the political action groups backing all or parts of the city’s $567 million bond package on the Nov. 7 ballot have put together a healthy—but not spectacular—war chest, based on campaign reports filed this week.

The city is offering up the $567 million in bonds in seven propositions: Transportation, $103.1 million; Drainage and Water Quality Protection, $145.0 million; Park Facilities and Parkland, $84.7 million; Community and Cultural Facilities, $31.5 million; Affordable Housing, $55.0 million; Central Library, $90,000; and Public Safety Facilities, $98,000.

Campaign finance reports were due to the City Clerk by Tuesday, which is 30 days before the election date. Five groups filed reports, including Housing Works Austin, I’m For 4 PAC, Libraries for Austin PAC, Unity PAC and Yes on 2 & 3 PAC.

The umbrella organization, Unity PAC, is backing the bond package as a whole and lists Mayor Will Wynn as its treasurer. Unity PAC has taken in $107,225 in contributions, mostly from corporate interests. Big spenders with Unity PAC have been the Real Estate Council of Austin Business PAC, Drenner and Golden Stuart Wolf LLP and Stratus Properties with $15,000 each; the Downtown Austin Alliance and Constructive Ventures kicked in $10,000 each; and several other donors sent $5,000. Unity PAC reports about $89,900 on hand for the last month of the campaign

Mark Nathan, a consultant for Unity PAC, said the lack of public interest and awareness of the bond program is keeping many potential voters on the sidelines.

“Very few of any of the campaigns’ donations of any substance have been from individuals,” he said. “Most of them are coming from other organizations or corporations.”

However, he noted that the following groups had endorsed the entire package: South Austin Democrats, Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Black Austin Democrats, Capital City Young Democrats, University Democrats, Mexican American Democrats, Austin Tejano Democrats, Stonewall Democrats, Latinos For Texas, Hispanic Women¹s Network Of Austin ,Austin Lesbian And Gay Political Caucus, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Austin Arts Alliance.

Nathan said some of the PACS are in a better position to make a case to the voters than are others.

For example, the I’m For 4 PAC, which is backing the Community and Cultural Facilities part of the bonds, has received large donations from four of the institutions that stand to benefit from its passage. They include the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, $20,000; Mexic-Arte Museum, $10,500; the Austin Film Society, $10,500; and the Asian American Resource Center, $500.

I’m For 4 PAC has raised a total of $44,000, with about $29,000 left for the balance of the campaign.

Another group, Libraries for Austin, has raised just over $28,000 to back Proposition 6, aimed at building a new Central Library. The group’s main donor, thus far, has been the Austin Public Library Foundation, with $12,200. Other groups and individuals with donations of $1,000 include Eric Behrens, Perry Lorenz. Lott Construction, Al Simmons, Kerry Tate and her firm, Tate Austin, Sharon Watkins, Graeber Simmons and Cowen, Jasper-Quintanilla Associates, and PBS&J.

Libraries for Austin has $22,000 for the last 30 days of the campaign.

Yes on 2 & 3 PAC is backing proposals for drainage and water quality and park facilities and parkland. The group has raised, $19,500 and has spent all but $3,000 at this point. More than half of its funds came from a single donation, $10,000 from Pamela Reese. The group Land/Water/Sky contributed another $5,000.

Housing Works Austin is backing Proposition 5 to spend $55 million on affordable housing. HWA has raised a little over $15,000 and has spent about half of that, so far. Its major contributors include Foundation Communities with $4,000, The People Funds, with $2,500, and Front Steps with $2,250. There were several individual $1,000 contributions.

Hays County considers water planning grant

Outside the Hays County courthouse Tuesday, rain fell in abundance. But inside, the discussion turned once again towards the increasingly parched county and how to plan for future water needs.

As part of a series of presentations and discussions about water infrastructure and demand in Hays County, commissioners heard a presentation by the county’s Special Water Counsel, Ed McCarthy. McCarthy recommended the county apply for a grant from the Texas Water Development Board that would lend funds towards planning efforts, and also recommended the county bring an engineer on board to help plan future infrastructure.

The grant, which has about $1 million to give recipients, is part of a program designed to help local governments prepare plans that document water supply and wastewater facility needs, identify feasible regional goals to meet those needs and determine what regional water supply facilities may cost. Recipients can receive up to 50 percent matching funds from the grant, but the Nov. 30 deadline means Hays officials will have to move fast.

Commissioner Susie Carter said municipalities have been able to find their own water sources up to now, and wondered why the county should involve taxpayer money in new infrastructure. But McCarthy said many cities in the county are having trouble getting enough water. He used a hypothetical example of a county-run pipeline as an example of a possible water planning tool, saying municipalities could buy into the line and receive water at lower costs.

“What water GBRA (Guadalupe Blanco River Authority) has available is very limited, and the entities you described as I’m aware of them, most of them are currently barely able to meet their current demands,” McCarthy told Carter. “They are looking for more water…what none of them has the financial wherewithal to do is bring water from the distances they’ll need to bring it from…what the county is looking to do is to try to bring everybody together, not to make this a burden on the county, but to develop sufficient water resources at a cost that will be bearable.”

Kyle and Buda entered into an agreement several years ago to pay into a pipeline that will bring water from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, a formation largely in Lee County. Both municipalities currently draw water from a variety of ground and surface sources, but are constantly above their pumping projections.

In 2002 Kyle over-pumped its permitted amount from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer and paid more than $100,000 in fees.

Commissioners didn’t take any action during the meeting, but County Judge Jim Powers said he thinks the grant will help the county with planning tools for a regional water plan.

Group scouts South Austin for day labor site

A city panel has begun a search for a location for a second day labor site somewhere in South Central Austin. The Day Labor Community Advisory Committee will begin its assessment next week, scoping out areas where day laborers are currently gathering in order to make a suggestion.

Staff has presented the City Council with the need for a second day labor site location and suggested a potential site for the Day Labor Community Advisory Committee’s approval in September. Member Lori Renteria said the committee passed on that site, with the goal of doing a more thorough evaluation of the current day labor situation and providing the Council with a recommendation by the end of January.

Those recommendations are intended to target both location and operations of the day labor sites. Kim Bernson, who represents the Ridgetop neighborhood on the advisory committee, has frequently noted that crime and loitering has increased in Ridgetop since the First Workers’ day labor site was put in place at 4916 North I35. Whether that is simply perception – or directly caused by the day labor center – is uncertain, Renteria said, but it has given the advisory committee more to consider than simply where a second site should be located.

For one thing, the advisory committee is rethinking just what type of model of a site would work. While some might favor permanent construction, the advisory committee also wants to review more temporary facilities that could move as day labor traffic moves. In other cities, that’s meant putting up sites in Home Depot or Lowe’s parking lots, where a lot of the day labor contingent already gathers each day.

“This committee is really more committed to coming up with a good model for the operations of the day labor site, and not just the physical location,” Renteria said. “We know that different parts of town may require different types of operational services.”

City Council has allocated about $265,000 for the site and operations for a year on the second day labor site. The advisory committee has scheduled a “tour” of South Central Austin early next week, guided by a representative from the day labor community. Surveys, which will be distributed to both day laborers and contractors who use day labor, were approved last night. And a series of community meetings will be held, probably in the first weeks of January, to get feedback on specific South Austin sites.

The advisory committee also has a number of priorities, which were outlined in a resolution passed last night: attempting to limit the impact on surrounding neighborhoods; making sure the site allows contractors to maneuver through traffic; finding a site close to bus lines; and proximity to other activities.

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

Returning the serve . . . Striking a blow for all of us, attorney John Stratton has sued Hilton Grand Vacations Co. for leaving a three-minute message advertising their travel plans on his cell phone, wasting his minutes. The suit, filed in Travis County District Court, seeks a judgment and exemplary damages for the unsolicited advertising . . . A healthcare announcement . . . St. David's HealthCare and Seton Healthcare Networks will make an announcement today on a "Groundbreaking Public Health Initiative." Mayor Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley and Former Mayor Bruce Todd will join Dr. Patrick J. Crocker, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Brackenridge; Dr. Steve Berkowitz, Chief Medical Officer, St. David's HealthCare; Marshall Cothran, Executive Vice President/CEO of the Travis County Medical Society and Dr. Jim Misko, Psy.D, Vice President, Brown-Karhan Healthcare. The announcement will be at 10:30am in the Stone's Crossing Room at the Four Season's Hotel . . . The latest in plumbing…. A line-up of new information and new water -efficient plumbing fixtures will be unveiled today in the first floor atrium area of Austin City Hall. This program is the latest development in the Austin Water Utility's ongoing effort to help reduce the amount of water used by area residents. City officials will discuss the effectiveness of various conservation programs and efforts, and the effects of those programs on historical and future water use trends . . . Meetings . . . The Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission meets at 7:30pm in the Boards ands Commission Room at City Hall . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission will hold a Special Called Meeting at 6pm in Room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza. . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission meets at 6:30pm in Room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . Worth noting . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court has moved its weekly meeting to 3pm on Thursday. They will meet in Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . City Arts Awards . . . In celebration of National Arts and Humanities month, the City of Austin is presenting deserving supporters with the Partners in the Arts and Humanities Awards. For the 14th consecutive year, the Parks and Recreation Department is presenting the awards to local businesses, individuals and organizations that have given significant support to City Arts Programs during the past year. The awards will be presented at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting 5:30pm The honorees were selected by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department's Cultural Affairs Division staff. The Julia C. Butridge Gallery is honoring Edith Whitsitt. The O. Henry Museum is recognizing the Friends of the O. Henry & Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museums, Joe Ramirez, Co-Chair, Roger Williams and Deborah Rosenquist. The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is honoring Jewel Boswell Hudson, Faye Bomar, Terry A. Wilson, Associate Vice President, University of Texas, Austin and Betty Baker and the Heritage Marketing Team, Austin Visitor's and Convention Bureau. The Elisabet Ney Museum is honoring Girl Scout Cadette Troupe 567, and the Dougherty Arts School Staff is honoring Gullett Elementary School, Janie Ruiz, Principal. The Zilker Hillside Theater is honoring Peter J. Beilharz. Each honoree will receive a plaque of slabbed marble or glass created by Austin artist Reji Thomas. For more information, call Russell Wiseman, Dougherty Arts Center, 397-1471 . . . Error . . . In Fact Daily reported Monday that Envision Central Texas forecast that the North Burnet/Gateway area would grow by 100,000 people in the next 30 years, according to a city consultant. ECT Executive Director Sally Campbell called to say that was not quite right. "We have never forecast putting that number of people into the Gateway area," she said. The area in question might take five to 10 percent of the growth forecast, Campbell added.

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