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Reporter’s Notebook: We do declare

Monday, November 9, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Preservation fight perseveres… Delivering complications once again, the ongoing struggle to create a local historic district in the Bluebonnet Hills section of Travis Heights has experienced another unique twist. This past week, opponents delivered to the city a second valid petition against the district and demanded that it be included in the case, despite a lack of precedent for the move. Typically, valid petitions are signed by either the property owner (a valid petition of one) or those who live within 200 feet of the property in question. In the case of local historic districts, the city looks at those within the proposed district, and a valid petition is one signed by 20 percent of those homeowners. Though the group says its new petition is also valid, signed by 20 percent of the homeowners within 200 feet of the district, the city is still weighing whether it will validate the second petition. The reasons for hesitation are twofold. Most significantly, the second petition would not change anything. There is already a valid petition against the district, which means that City Council must approve the change with nine votes – a supermajority. A second valid petition would mean the same thing – the district would have to be approved by a supermajority. (There is no such thing as a super-duper majority, apparently.) Additionally, valid petitions are in place so that those homeowners likely to be impacted by development have a means to address the situation. In this case, it’s unclear how people living near a historic district would be impacted, according to a city source. Right now, the case has been taken off Thursday’s agenda, and it’s unknown when the third reading of the historic district will be before Council again. Though Council has indicated that it would like to get the case over with – and district opponents point out that it has been on Council and commission agendas for almost 400 days – in cases like this, the applicants have the right to postpone. Michele White, who is the president of the Friends of Blue Bonnet Hills (a group that does not want the local historic district to be created), told the Austin Monitor that the group hopes to see the case back on the city agenda in December.

I do declare… In one of the Austin Independent School District board of trustees’ most racially charged conversations of late, District 3 Trustee Ann Teich whipped out a Scarlett O’Hara impression, making the meeting a memorable one. Last Monday, Teich was the only trustee publicly opposed to changing the Confederate-associated names identified with five AISD schools: Robert E. Lee Elementary School, Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus, Sidney Lanier High School, John H. Reagan High School and William B. Travis High School (whose mascot, the Rebels, is the offending name in question). During the lengthy discussion, District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon and District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias said they both viewed the name changes as a moral issue that should not be swept under the rug. However, Teich said that she did not see the majority of AISD families calling for a name change. Instead, she pushed for AISD to address racial tensions through outreach efforts. Taking on a Southern accent and fanning herself with her hand during one of the more tense portions of the conversation, she added, “By the way, if I was Scarlett O’Hara, I would be fanning myself and saying, ‘Trustee Mathias, are you accusing me of being a racist when you make those remarks about Sidney Lanier?’ Well, Are you? Are you? Don’t smile at me, tell me. Are you accusing me of being a racist? Dr. Gordon, are you accusing me of being a racist?” Receiving no response, she went on to illustrate her own preference for school namesakes. “This beige girl, this Welsh-Irish-Scotch-German girl wants every school named for the most repressed group on earth, which I believe is women. OK?” she said. “I’m just going to leave it right there.”

In case you missed it… Earlier this week, former City Council candidate Jimmy Flannigan made national news thanks to some poor planning from presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Apparently, Bush debuted his new campaign slogan – “Jeb Can Fix It” – before checking to see if the domain name was available. It wasn’t, and according to National Public Radio, when Flannigan heard the slogan – rather similar to his own campaign slogan, “Flannigan Can Fix It” – “he felt his idea had been stolen, in a way. So he got even. He bought JebCanFixIt.com.” The website now showcases Flannigan’s clever campaign ad as well as a challenge to Bush to “at least do a ‘fix it’ video better than I did for my city council race!” Flannigan ran against District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman in the most recent Council election.

Good news for the nosy… From now on, Planning commissioners who recuse themselves from cases will announce the reasons for their recusal. At the last meeting of the Planning Commission, the “solid reason for recusal” award went to Commissioner Michael Wilson, who explained, “I’m now the owner of that property.”

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