Off the Desk

Austin's homeless may be losing sleep: The City Council voted four to one on Thursday to impose a citywide camping ban effective January 15. Councilmember Jackie Goodman voted against outlawing sleeping in public places, while Mayor Bruce Todd, Gus Garcia, Max Nofziger, and Ronney Reynolds voted for it. Eric Mitchell abstained, and Brigid Shea was at home with her new baby... With a theatrical flair sure to spark a headline, Sheriff Terry Keel finally made the decision to turn in his badge to seek a seat on the Legislature, with just 40 minutes to spare before Tuesday's filing deadline. Keel, who is both admired for his efforts on behalf of victims and criticized for allegedly overstepping his authority with those who get in his way, chose not to seek another term as the county's only elected Republican, but will instead compete for the District 47 House seat being vacated by Republican Susan Combs. Perhaps Keel was mulling over his decision while in the Crescent City -- he was spotted boarding the Flamingo riverboat gambling casino in New Orleans with a brunette on his arm during Sugar Bowl weekend... Austin American-Statesman editor Rich Oppel was also spotted over the holiday at a more politically correct event: braving the waters of Barton Springs Pool on New Year's Day as part of the Polar Bears' annual cold-water dip. Just the night before, he partied at the Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund New Year's Eve bash. Is this the same man who once lamented in one of his first editorial columns that he could not "generate appropriate angst for the Barton Springs salamander?" and suggested that when Robert Mueller Municipal airport closes, "why not open a theme park called Salamanderland?"... Perennial candidate "Crazy" Carl Hickerson, who performs street theater downtown, would like to follow in Max Nofziger's footsteps. Hickerson, who makes a living selling flowers on Sixth Street, announced his bid Wednesday for Nofziger's soon-to-be-vacated council seat. One way in which Hickerson won't emulate Nofziger is his stance on homeless issues. Hickerson says he is against the camping ban that former transient Nofziger helped pass. (Former Chronicle columnist Daryl Slusher and liquor store clerk Eric Silvernale have also announced their candidacies for the Place 1 seat.) -- A.D.

Water Quality Coup

In a shakeup among the city's bureaucracy, City Manager Jesus Garza disclosed his intentions to strip the power to regulate water quality from one city employee whom environmentalists trust, to another whom environmentalists fear. According to a memo sent by Garza to councilmembers on Wednesday, Austan Librach, who has headed the Environmental and Conservation Services Department (ECSD) since its inception six years ago, will no longer control the water quality, erosion control, and flood control aspects of the ECSD. Those water issues will be grouped under a new department called the Drainage Utility, which will be run by Mike Heitz, who will give up his current position as the director of the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) to take the job. Assistant PARD director Jesus Olivares will act as director until Heitz's permanent replacement is found.

"Austan Librach is identified with protecting water quality," complained Councilmember Jackie Goodman. "To take him out of that issue makes me uncomfortable." Under Librach, the ECSD has won national and international recognition for its programs, and was the only agency in North America to receive an award at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1993. The ECSD has been under fire from developers looking to weaken the department's oversight of development projects.

What worries the environmental community is that Heitz, a former architect who actively supported the $20 million baseball stadium voters turned down last year, has no experience with water-quality issues. In fact, the closest Heitz has ever come to being involved in city water management, is his fantastical "white-water kayaking" concept for the Colorado River Park where the baseball stadium was supposed to go. In the words of one councilmember who spoke on condition of anonymity, the "broad spectrum" of environmentalists do not see Heitz "as an environmentalist."

Councilmember Brigid Shea says, "This contradicts the commitment to me that the head of the Drainage Utility would be someone with environmental credentials. This sends a terrible message. Mike [Heitz] is not the right person for it. He's an architect. It's no malice towards Mike, but we just need someone with environmental credentials." George Cofer of the Save Barton Creek Association adds, "Librach has encouraged and nurtured the science of water-quality. We don't know where Heitz will be on a lot of these issues."

Garza says the move was necessary in order to place the Drainage Utility, which has been managed by both the ECSD and the Public Works Department, under one department. (By splitting off the ECSD's water quality programs, the Drainage Utility will have its own funding source rather than having to pull money from the general fund.) However, Librach, who supports placing the Drainage Utility "under one roof," is unhappy with the turn of events that has left him with no power over water quality management. "I don't like it," he admits.

Garza says he selected Heitz, who was not available for comment at press time, for his "management experience," and adds that Librach will continue to oversee long-range planning for water quality.

As part of his "re-engineering" process, Garza also announced on Wednesday that the Planning and Development Department will be reorganized as the Department of Development Review and Inspection. Its duties will be split among three city officials: Tracy Watson, current head of Planning and Development (PD), will become Development Process Manager, in charge of streamlining the development process; Alice Glascoe, currently head of Planning Services in PD, will assume the operational functions of PD; and the planning aspect of PD will go to Librach. -- A.M.

Save Camp Mabry

Even with its bold displays of heavy artillery, Camp Mabry offers up a picture that is serene and green and open to the outside world. So it stands to reason that the people who live near the 375-acre property bounded by West 35th Street and MoPac would rather have the Texas National Guard in their backyard, given a choice between that and a retail center.

This retail scare came about when the Texas General Land Office recommended conducting a land-use study on roughly half of the camp's underutilized site, to determine the property's potential for commercial and residential development. Governor George W. Bush has until the end of January to either approve or nix the feasibility study. Meanwhile, the Friends of Camp Mabry, a group of West Austin residents and political leaders, has organized to try to keep the camp just the way it is, which is just the way it was envisioned in the 1890s when some Texas folks donated the land through a covenant with the state. According to the Camp Mabry group, the donors gave up the land with the condition that it be used for military purposes. As the group sees it, a Texan's promise is as good as gold. As the State of Texas sees it, covenants as old as this one were meant to be broken. According to a spokesman for the Texas General Land Office, a number of similar covenants have been construed by the courts as revocable.

The move to develop land at Camp Mabry is part of a recent trend by the state whereby unused or "underutilized" property is sold or leased for private development. A local example of this is the successful Central Market/Central Park project at 38th and Lamar, and a still undecided development to go up on the "Triangle Tract" at 45th and Guadalupe. The Camp Mabry site would leave intact much of the land that fronts 35th Street, where the guard's administrative offices and some historical structures are located. The property that fronts MoPac, on back to its southwestern edges, would be sold or leased to developers. Milo Burdette, a partner in local retail developer Pat Oles' firm, confirms that they're interested.

But David Gaines, who chairs the Friends of Camp Mabry committee, says there's much more to the fight than trying to preserve the camp's jogging track alongside MoPac. He says that if the military unit gets crowded out, the national guard estimates a $78 million relocation cost to taxpayers, and adds that the city would have to provide several million dollars in road improvements, and that any residential development would likely require a new elementary school -- which these days cost about $6 million to build.

Gaines, a Balcones Drive resident and chairman of the English Department at Southwestern University in Georgetown, says he fears that MoPac will become another Ben White Boulevard, the South Austin thoroughfare that's heavy on fast food, fast cars, and a fast buck.

"They're supposed to be looking at unused or underutilized property," Gaines says of the state's mission. "Well, here we have the Texas National Guard on this particular property. Isn't that enough?" -- A.S.

On Your Marks...

The filing deadline for the March 12 primaries was Tuesday, Jan. 2. Here's a list of candidates for some of the local races (all are from Austin, unless otherwise noted). Incumbents are identified by an asterisk (*).

U.S. Representative, District 10. DEM: *Lloyd Doggett. REP: Teresa Doggett, business consultant; Mark Wetzel, Texas Union retail manager.

State Representative: District 47.DEM: John Lindell, Dept. of Human Services (ret.), Rol-lingwood. REP: Jo Baylor, business; Kirk Ingels, insurance agent; Terry Keel, sheriff; Randall Riley, insurance executive; Bill Welch, business. District 48. DEM: Daniel Gustafson, municipal judge; *Sherri Greenberg, business. District 49. DEM: *Elliott Naishtat, lawyer. REP: Emil Bloomquist, retired.

District 50. DEM: *Dawna Dukes, consultant.

District 51. DEM: *Glen Maxey, political consultant; Eloy De La Garza, student; Abel Ruiz, public relations consultant. REP: David Blakely, U.S. Air Force (retired).

Travis County Sheriff. DEM: Raymond Frank, former sheriff, retired; Margo Frasier, lawyer; Charles Littleton, Bastrop County jail administrator; Mike Simpson, Travis County constable; Stacy Suits, real estate agent and former constable; Greg Zaney, lawyer. REP: Alvin Shaw, chief deputy sheriff; David Drew McAngus, private investigator.

County Commissioner, Pct. 1. DEM: *Sam Biscoe; Ron Davis, small business owner. LIBERTARIAN: Vincent J. May, carpenter.

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