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Board approves redrawn boundaries for Barton Springs district

Friday, November 18, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Barton Springs/ Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board approved a redistricting plan Thursday night, putting an end to an increasingly contentious process.


With three maps on the table, advocates for the two more radical plans were vocal, but ultimately thwarted. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the “compromise” map—with Craig Smith, Mary Stone and Jack Goodman in the majority and Bob Larsen and Gary Franklin dissenting.


While changes to most of the precincts were slight, Precinct 4, now shared by Board Members Goodman and Larsen, had several wildly different options.


Smith advocated for the compromise map, Plan 3, which was a blend of the other two more radical options. In Plan 3, District 4 is drawn as a backwards “L” shape, includes Onion Creek and Circle C, and has a northern border of Oltorf Street.


Advocates from Onion Creek came out to vocalize their support for Plan 2, which represented the most radical shift to the districts. That would change the alignment of Precincts 4 and 5, so that Precinct 4, including Onion Creek, would hold only the southernmost neighborhoods within the city limits. Then Precinct 4 would include the more liberal neighborhoods closer to Lady Bird Lake.   


Onion Creek—ostensibly Larsen’s neighbors—argued that their interests would be better served by having a precinct of like-minded constituents.


Larsen himself lives in Onion Creek, and the annexation of the area means he now will be representing one of the two precincts that are required to be within city limits.


Larsen strongly advocated for Plan 2, which drew his district as a southern Austin District, representing the city south of William Cannon, including Circle C and Onion Creek.


“Those two separate communities of interest are important to be maintained. A balance should be shared between those two… Not two from downtown,” said Larsen.


Larsen dominated the discussion. He called for postponements twice, once because a Save Barton Creek Association email supporting Plan 1 was not included in the online backup. Larsen did not drop the matter, even after General Manager Kirk Holland read the email out loud into the record, and the district’s attorney, Bill Dugat, explained that no laws were violated.


Larsen made a second motion to postpone, based on the distribution of the email, which reached some board members on October 26, and others on November 10.


That motion also failed.


Though Smith asserted that Plan 3 was a compromise, Larsen railed against the plan, calling it the worst option of all. Larsen said that Plan 3 was an example of gerrymandering, and  constituted “cracking” due to how it divided the population of southernmost Austin.


Advocates for Plan 1, which maintained a combination of northern and southern populations, cited the need for two districts with a close proximity to Barton Springs. They argued that it was beneficial for the district to retain the diversity that currently exists in Precincts 4 and 5.


Steve Beers, secretary of Save Barton Creek Association, spoke in favor of Plan 1, which was the plan closest to the current map, dividing Precincts 4 and 5 into strictly east and west, separating Circle C and Onion Creek.


“I feel the community of interest is really well summed up in the name of the district. Barton Springs first. Why? Because I dare say there wouldn’t be a groundwater conservation district were it not for the impetus to save the springs. It’s not just a natural description, it’s a historic description,” said Beers.


Beers further argued that the creation of a southern Precinct 4 weakened both community interests by being neither a groundwater district nor in proximity to Barton Springs.


“I’m not going to make any arguments in regards to history. I’m going to commend Bob for his support of the aquifer, I think he’s been a very good board member,” said Smith. “And, basically, the voters will get to decide.”


Smith explained his preference for Plan 3. “In the spirit of compromise, and in the interest of preserving the cooperative spirit that has prevailed on this board for the last eight years…. Working together is a better model than promoting polarization.”

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