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Democrats Valinda Bolton, Mark Strama win

Wednesday, November 8, 2006 by

Libertarian Yvonne Schick proved to be the spoiler in the race for House Dist. 47, taking 2,243 votes that might have gone to Republican Bill Welch. Democrat Valinda Bolton won the race with 50.24 percent of the vote—just 2,495 votes ahead of Welch, who bombarded TV viewers with ads during the final days of the race. Bolton also had TV ads, but had a substantially smaller campaign war-chest going into the final days before the election. However, she did get help in her block-walking efforts from members of Education Austin.

Bolton lead the race in early voting and throughout the evening with just over 49 percent of the vote, but edged over 50 percent when the final ballot boxes were counted just after 11:00pm. “This is so, so special,” Bolton said to a crowd of supporters gathered at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel after final results were announced. “It has been a remarkable ride. Of all the things I’ve ever done…marriage, motherhood…I would definitely rank this in the top three.”

Although just a few thousand votes separated Welch and Bolton, they have dramatic differences when it comes to priorities for the state’s education system. “He keeps saying I’m opposed to merit pay raises for teachers,” said Bolton. “I am opposed to merit pay for teachers, because our teachers deserve better. Our teachers’ pay increases should not be tied to high-stakes testing. It’s just going to reward those teachers who teach in the less-challenging education environments with the greatest pay increase.”

Bolton’s win means there are no Republicans in the Travis County legislative delegation. Donna Howard won the District 48 seat formerly held by Republican Todd Baxter in a special election earlier this year. Republican Terry Keel had held the District 47 seat won by Bolton last night. Keel decided not to seek re-election in order to run for a statewide judicial office, but that bid was unsuccessful.

Democrats Dawnna Dukes, Eddie Rodriguez, and Elliott Naishtat will all be returning to the Texas House, along with Democrat Mark Strama. Strama faced a challenge from Republican Jeff Fleece, but handily won re-election with 62 percent of the vote. Austin’s newest State Senator will officially be former Mayor Kirk Watson, who received 80 percent of the vote in a race against Libertarian “Rock” Howard. And Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir survived a challenge from Republican James Crabtree to win yet another term in office with 64 percent of the vote.

Overall, turnout in Travis County was strong. Countywide, 39.48 percent of registered voters took part in the election.

All three incumbent Austin Congressmen—Democrat Lloyd Doggett and Republicans Lamar Smith and Michael McCaul—handily won re-election also.

Voters strongly endorse city bond propositions

Austin voters gave their approval to the city’s $567.4 million bond package Tuesday, putting all seven bond proposals—from street repairs to cultural centers and affordable housing to open space—on track to becoming reality.

Proposition 1, which was for $103.1 million in street reconstruction, traffic signals, sidewalks and bikeways, got the greatest number of votes at 72 percent. Proposition 7, which sets aside $58.1 million for public safety and a new animal shelter, came in second with 71 percent of the vote. Proposition 3, for parkland, recreational facilities and park renovations won the hearts of 73 percent of voters. Open space and flood prevention funds won approval from 69 percent of voters.

Proposition 4, which stirred the most controversy, will help jump-start a number of cultural facilities for $31.5 million. That includes assistance to city-owned film studios, the Zachary Scott Theater, the Asian-American Cultural Center and the Mexic-Arte Museum. This proposal got a 57 percent approval rating, the lowest among the seven propositions.

Proposition 5 offers $55 million for affordable apartments and homes. More than 63 percent of the voters gave thumbs up to this item. Proposition 6, a big ticket item on the ballot, will provide $90 million to fund a new central library. It got more than 60 percent of the vote.

Mayor Will Wynn said he had no immediate plans for any of the bond proposals, but added that buying open space would be the easiest thing to do first. The owner of one large tract over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer has been visiting Council offices in recent days to sound out their opinions.

Council Member Jennifer Kim said the Council had chosen a frugal approach to the bond package, whittling down an initial proposal to a $567 million package on Tuesday night. She called it a “bare bones proposal,” given the specifics of the Austin economy, one that tackled basics such as synchronizing lights, alleviating flooding and creating cultural centers that would help Austin retain its vibrancy.

At a post-election vote bond party, Wynn expressed elation with the vote but said many facilities were four to six years away in terms of design and construction. He pointed out that the Lamar Boulevard reconstruction, which only took six months to build, had taken two years of engineering work

Council Member Sheryl Cole was enthusiastic also. “I think we have now set a positive direction for improvements and infrastructure—throughout our city. And I'm proud of that,” she said.

Ted Siff, who led the I'm for 4 PAC, was equally elated. “I really do think this is a great night for Austin and Austinites. The whole ballot passing means a great vote of confidence for the way the city’s going economically and how the city is going to handle this.” This is a commitment to continuing a strong infrastructure, Siff said.

Mike Clark-Madison, a spokesman for the Libraries for Austin campaign, said he was pleasantly surprised at the victory margin.

“I think we weren’t expecting to do this well, but we’re gratified that the citizens of Austin have decided they endorse the process and the vision behind the whole ‘Seven Steps’ bond package, and part of that includes making a big investment in the library system,” he said. “I think part of it is that the message that we got out was that it wasn’t just about a single library location downtown, but about helping the whole system be stronger. I think that definitely helped,”

“We were kind of the ‘whipping boy’ of the bond package, but we sort of expected that we would be, because it’s a large dollar amount and it is something that people have to think about, more than just being able to say ‘I’m for roads’ or ‘I’m for parks’. But when it came down to it, we wanted to make sure people understood that you didn’t support this because you wanted a building, you supported this because you were for libraries, and we knew the library was a really popular beloved Austin service,” he said.

Clark-Madison said he expects the new library to open for business in about 2012.

Hays County voters reject Republican commissioners

Like voters in other parts of the country, Hays County voters made a big change on Election Day, tossing out three incumbent Republicans on the Commissioners Court and replacing them with Democrats. The switch will turn the court from a 4-1 Republican majority to 4-1 for Democrats.

On Tuesday, Judge Jim Powers lost to Democrat Elizabeth "Liz" Sumter, Democrat Karen Ford defeated incumbent Precinct 4 Commissioner Russ Molenaar, and incumbent Precinct 2 Commissioner Susie Carter lost to Democrat Jeff Barton.

First-term Democrat Debbie Ingalsbe serves in Precinct 1, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley will now be only Republican on the court.

Both Powers and Carter had served two terms, while Molenaar was in his third term. Powers was the first Republican to serve as County Judge when he was elected in 1998.

Sumter’s major campaign promises were to reexamine the pass-through road financing recently approved, develop a comprehensive growth and economic development plan, and restructure the county’s management.

Hays County also re-elected Democrat Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs to the House.

Who would benefit from downtown rail?

A proposed Downtown Rail Circulator project would provide a major economic benefit, according to an analysis presented to City Council last week, but would it benefit the people its backers had in mind? The rail project would run from Downtown Austin, through the University of Texas area and to the Mueller redevelopment.

Consultant Charles Heimsath presented Council with a Development Impact Analysis of how the rail circulator would affect a 105-block area of Downtown. That takes in all areas within three blocks of the proposed rail route, considered the optimum walking distance.

“The purpose of this analysis is to determine what the potential economic benefit will be if a street car is extended through a street car circulator system that is developed and extended through Downtown Austin,” Heimsath said. “But this is just a portion of that line that we are analyzing, the portion that runs through downtown.”

Heimsath’s analysis looked at the current and future value of property in the 105 block area for office and residential, then contrasting its future value in 2015 with and without a rail line.

For instance, land values for the office market in 2005 were listed at about $1.1 billion; in 2015 without rail, $1.4 billion, and in 2015 with rail, $1.6 billion. That showed a $142 million potential increase in value due to the presence of the rail system. He did similar studies for the apartment and condominium markets.

Overall, he said, the 2005 base taxable value of $1.4 billion compares to a projected 2015 value without rail of $5.3 billion, and a 2015 value with rail of $6.0 billion. The 2015 difference in taxable property values with the addition of the rail line was estimated to be $697 million.

Council Member Sheryl Cole expressed concern about the assumption the study was making about future growth. “I am particularly sensitive to us being careful about not using the current good times that we have now to project into the future as if they would always be that way,” she said.

Heimsath said he assumed a 2.5 percent growth rate over the 10-year period, based on a long term analysis encompassing both peaks and valleys in the local economy over the past few decades.

Council Member Brewster McCracken brought up the issue of affordability among the apartments and condominiums along the proposed route, noting that $1.80 a square foot for apartment rentals and $700,000 for condominiums were not likely to be available to the general workforce.

“I think this raises a kind of a related fundamental point, which is if we are talking about spending tax dollars for a transportation system that will serve folks from out of town and folks who are spending an average of $700,000, I mean the issue that crops up out of that is. Are we having a taxpayer subsidized rich person's transportation system?”

Council members took no action on the study but will use in planning the overall rail circulator system before it goes to a vote at some future date.

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

Retreat could be shortened. . . City officials were working on a possible shortened schedule for a City Council retreat, set long ago for Thursday and Friday at the Crossings, a resort 22 miles from downtown. Council Member Mike Martinez, who shares custody of his 8-year-old son, said he would leave Thursday night to pick up his child and not return on Friday, a city and school holiday. Council Member Sheryl Cole said would have to leave by 10am Friday to spend the day with her sons, ages 10 and 13. She said, "I support the idea that it would be good to have a common vision about the bonds' passage. I would prefer an in-town one-day seminar." Council Member Lee Leffingwell, who has objected to the "touchy-feely" parts of the retreat, including a personality test, said he would not stay overnight Thursday. He said he was not comfortable with the idea of taking the test, known as the Strength Development Inventory. The test is not a test of military might but Leffingwell said he understood that anything revealed about him would be subject to the Open Records Act, so he will not be filling out the form. Martinez said he never received the test . . . New Police Monitor named . . . Austin City Manager Toby Futrell Tuesday announced the hiring of attorney Cliff Brown as the City's Police Monitor. Brown, who has more than 17 years experience as a lawyer, will formally begin his new job on Jan. 2, 2007. Brown has been an Assistant District Attorney for Travis County, working in the Trial, Community Prosecution, and Juvenile Justice divisions. Most recently, he served as Community Prosecutor in the North Central area of Austin. As Community Prosecutor, Brown has worked as a liaison in partnership with various community residents and organizations, as well as the Austin Police Department, seeking to facilitate solutions to local concerns and strengthen neighborhoods. Futrell said, "Cliff Brown possesses a variety of strengths that are critical to carrying out the responsibilities of Police Monitor" . . . Smith nominated for legal award . . . City Attorney David Smith has been nominated for the Magna Stella award, a statewide recognition for in-house counsel from the Texas General Counsel Forum. Smith has served as city attorney for Austin since 2003 and has been with the city since 1997. Twenty finalists will be honored at the forum's awards dinner Thursday night in San Antonio . . . Meetings . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission meets at 6:30pm in Room 104 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . The RMMA Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in Room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza . . .The Austin Commission for Women meets at 6pm in Room 1029 at City Call . . . Renaming pavilion . . . Austin residents would like to rename the Boggy Creek Greenbelt Pavilion, 1114 Nile St., after a local community leader. Beginning this week, the City of Austin will seek public comment on proposed name changes for the facility. Today's announcement begins a 90-day period for public discussion about possible names for the project. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 5. An online nomination form is at Forms also are available at the Parks and Recreation Department, 200 S. Lamar Blvd; or by calling (512) 974-6745. . . . Austin GIS Day. . . "Keep Austin Spatial!" That's the message being promoted by the City of Austin's Geographic Information System Services at GIS Day, a free event that highlights exciting technology that manages, analyzes and organizes geographic knowledge. On today's schedule: 9:30am, GIS and Weather-GIS applications for weather reporting and predictions; 11am, AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locators) -ESRI Tracking Server: A Message Center for GPS Devices; 1pm, CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch)/GIS and Emergency Response…It's More than a Map; 2pm, City employee map contest awards.

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