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Environmental Commission supports Red Bluff plans for consolidation

Thursday, April 13, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

The Environmental Commission unanimously passed a resolution to consolidate three tracts in the Red Bluff area and to work with its surrounding communities to turn the property into a nature wildland preserve at last Wednesday’s meeting.

According to Commission Chair Marisa Perales, this is the second phase related to the Red Bluff area cleanup the city initiated just over a year ago. Red Bluff is located on 90 acres in East Austin along Cesar Chavez Street. The initiative was in response to the illegal dumping taking place in the Austin Water Utility-owned tract. Perales said the committee is now considering what can be done with the soon-to-be cleaned tract and how it can be turned into a community amenity.

The Watershed Protection Department, Austin Water and the Public Works Department own the three tracts under consideration. The resolution suggests the Parks and Recreation Department manage and own the newly consolidated area.

Pete Rivera, president of the Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association, said the lack of natural preserves in East Austin is an issue he and other residents have discussed before. That fact alone, he said, was reason enough to push the resolution forward. “Most the natural preserves are on the west side of Austin, (and) we have an issue of equity we are concerned about.”

The equity Rivera referred to references East Austin’s lack of greenery and open space, but also to its lack of connectivity, especially for those living in the Red Bluff community. To address those disparities, a speaker at the meeting detailed the Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association’s proposal to include a pedestrian trail for both commuters and school-aged children to use. A part of that project includes developing Little Walnut-Creek District Park. But while the speaker said a trail would create both equity and connectivity, the association’s ability to see that plan through depends solely on the consolidation and preservation of the Red Bluff area.

John Rooney, a member of the Austin Regional Group of the Sierra Club, said the proposal to consolidate the aforementioned lands addresses two other issues facing East Austin. “This tract is just one example of historic injustice and marginalization in East Austin that dates back to the 1928 Master Plan the city adopted,” Rooney said. “Tonight you have an opportunity to address one manifestation of that injustice.” Rooney continued to mention a number of obstacles this East Austin area faces daily, including the community’s need for connectivity and movement.

The recommendation, Rooney said, also speaks to what the city calls a park deficiency. He said consolidating the three tracts would be another step towards solving that issue.

To properly tackle the issues the Red Bluff area is facing, the committee included a number of amendments to the original resolution passed by the Urban Growth Policy Committee. The additional language proposed by commission members included the need and desire for connectivity to other communities and neighborhoods via trails. It also emphasized the area’s historical significance to the East Austin community.

Update: At their last meeting,City Council unanimously approved a resolution directing the city manager to move forward with a proposal for the preservation of Red Bluff for public use and identify funding options for La Loma Trail. A representative from Council Member Pio Renteria’s office told the Monitor that they were working to ensure that, moving forward, it would continue to be a community-driven process.

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