Naked City

Edited by Audrey Duff, with contributions this week by Louisa C. Brinsmade, Robert Bryce, and Nelson England.

BADDA, BADDA, BADDA... SCHWING!: There are two outs and the bases are loaded as far as the baseball stadium battle is concerned. Baseball interests take their final turn at bat on October 7 when Austin residents vote on whether to cough up $10 million in bonds to build a stadium. But leaders from the Save Austin From Extravagance campaign, which forced the city council to put the bonds up for a public vote, have formed a coalition to ensure that baseball strikes out with Austin voters on election day. The coalition, which held its first press conference on Tuesday, calls itself Priorities First! to illustrate its belief that the city should fund "compelling matters" like public safety, libraries, and parks, rather than baseball stadiums for private entities.

The proposed $10 million would cover the city's portion of the $22 mil-lion stadium for the Phoenix Firebirds Triple-A minor league baseball team, planned for location along the Colorado River in East Austin near the Montopolis neighborhood. The stadium would be owned by the City of Austin, but would be leased and managed by the baseball team for 20-30 years. Baseball representatives estimate that the city's portion of the stadium profits will be between $200,000 and $400,000. The city is guaranteed a $350,000 baseline; however, the majority of those monies will be spent on stadium maintenance and operation. Meanwhile, Dennis Waley with the city treasury office says that assuming the city issues $10 million in bonds at 8% interest with level debt service for 20 years, the payment for fiscal year 1996 will be $1,020,000, which includes a $220,000 principle payment.

At Tuesday's press conference, coalition leader Jack Haden also complained that the contract between the city and the baseball team has not been completed yet, and is not expected to be finished by election day. "I don't know enough to vote `yes' and I'm urging the public to find out more before they vote `yes,' as well," Haden said. Baseball team representative Craig Pletenik acknowledged that a final lease agreement would probably not be ready before October 7.

Priorities First! is an eclectic group, made up of widely disparate neighborhood and community leaders, including: Gavino Fernandez of El Concilio, a coalition of East Austin neighborhood groups; Kirk Ingalls, former president of the local branch of the Christian Coalition; the Travis County Taxpayers Coalition; the new Austin Private Enterprise Committee, formed to scrutinize public/private projects; the Patriot Party; and former city council candidate Fred Ebner, Republican Party precinct chair.

Fernandez announced that the Montopolis and East Town Lake Neighborhood Associations have both come out against the baseball stadium in the last few days. Both neighborhoods, he says, want the city to stick to the "Town Lake Comprehensive Plan that would create a Zilker Park in East Austin." Fernandez and the rest of the coalition representatives announced their intention to conduct a door-to-door campaign to combat the television promotional campaign already begun by Supporters of the Park on the Colorado, a non-profit organization primarily funded by the Firebirds. Despite his opposition to the public funding part of the deal, Haden says he loves baseball, and would like to see a minor league team locate here - just not on the public's bill. "Baseball has been a unifying force for our community," said Haden. "Many different groups have come together today to fight wasteful spending." - L.C.B.

DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING WE READ: At the Austin Transportation Study (ATS) meeting on Monday, the city's Environmental and Conservation Services Department (ECSD) formally presented its two-year study on air pollution. In its report, ECSD made a point of rejecting roadway expansion and traffic light synchronization, two measures often put forth by transportation planners as techniques for improving air quality by reducing traffic congestion.

Ironically, shortly after receiving the city's report, ATS members approved sharply increased funding for traffic light synchronization, from $25,000 this fiscal year to $200,000 in 1996. The ATS began the move toward spending more on traffic light synchronization last February after Republican State Representative Susan Combs touted it as one of the most effective means of reducing air pollution. However, the ECSD report says that reducing congestion and improving traffic flow may decrease emissions of one of the two major ozone precursors, but it increases emissions of the other. More importantly, the report added, "Increasing traffic flow encourages more use of roadways, and can create a net increase in traffic volume and air pollution."

The report presents a dozen other strategies designed to prevent a worsening of air quality. The top three strategies are to increase transit ridership, primarily through light rail, to increase bicycle use by building more bicycle facilities, and to provide incentives to more compact urban development by changing the city's land use codes. Since most of Austin's air pollution comes from automobile emissions, these three strategies alone would account for two-thirds of ECSD's total aimed-for reduction of 63.5 tons of pollutants per day. - N.E.

DAN'S STILL OUR MAN: Texas Attorney General Dan Morales is paying for jealously guarding state secrets. On August 29, Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz signed a dismissal order of the lawsuit Texas Center for Policy Studies v. Morales. The order requires the AG's office to pay $19,002.55 in legal fees and court costs to the non-profit group, which sued Morales last spring under the Texas Open Records Act because the AG refused to release documents detailing the potential costs of SB 14, the property rights bill. According to Ward Tisdale, a spokesman for the AG, the money will come out of the agency's general legislative appropriation. "Any state agency can settle a lawsuit under $25,000 without seeking a specific appropriation," he said.

That Open Records suit is settled, but the AG continues his bitter feud with The Texas Lawyer (TL) and TL reporter Robert Elder, Jr., who has written several articles critical of Morales and his agency. For several months, the AG's press office refused to supply routine press releases to TL and TL reporters were told to submit requests under the Open Records Act for the releases. That policy has since been reversed and TL is back on the AG's press list. But four weeks ago, the AG's office cancelled all its subscriptions to TL, all 104 of them. - R.B.

OH, YOU MEAN THOSE BYLAWS: It took the threat of repealing next month's tax hike for Capital Metro to discover it had been supplying board members with the wrong bylaws for almost a decade. Cap Met board vice-chair Paul Drummond uncovered the botched bylaws on August 31 when Cap Met officials tried to block his attempt to have the impending quarter cent sales tax hike reconsidered by the board. Drummond wanted to discuss repealing the tax increase, bringing the rate back to three quarters of a cent on the dollar from one penny, in light of the recent addition of three new members to Cap Met's seven-member board.

"I think that with the addition of three new members, the community expects us to revisit this issue," says Drummond, who opposed the tax increase that the board approved in June.

But when Drummond submitted a request to put the tax reconsideration on the agenda of the September 25 board meeting, he was informed by Cap Met's legal counsel that the agency's bylaws prohibit an individual board member from placing items on the agenda without a co-sponsor. Drummond's copy of the bylaws had no such provision. That's when he realized that for nine years, the agency had been providing its board members with unamended copies of the bylaws.

"It's real strange that after all these years it's finally discovered," Drummond notes.

"It had never come up in the past," explains Capital Metro community relations head Howard Goldman.

Regardless of the newly discovered bylaws, the question of whether a single board member can place an item on the agenda is being submitted to the Texas Attorney General for his opinion. It may be a moot point now that Bobbie Barker, who was appointed to the board three weeks ago, joined Drummond with her own reconsideration request. "I'm studying the budget right now, and there may be ways to shuffle things around so that the increase would be unnecessary," Barker says.

The decision to reconsider the tax increase will likely disturb board chair Harry Jones. Not only did he support the hike, but he also faxed a memo in his absence to each board member at last Monday's meeting forbidding Drummond from pursuing the reconsideration without at least three other members in support. Jones also wrote that all four would have to submit to him a written rationale for reconsidering the item.

"It sounds to me like a violation of the Texas Open Records Act," Drummond says.

Capital Metro's Goldman confirmed that Jones' memo would be ignored, and that the tax would be reconsidered. Jones was out of town and could not be reached for comment. - A.D.

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