Off the Desk:
The fringe candidates, lest we forget, are slowly crawling out of the woodwork to run for those coveted seats on the city council. Kirk Becker, a council regular, has announced his intention to run for mayor on a platform promoting low-cost housing and enhanced computer capabilities in the public libraries. He reports in his press release that he has "no wives or children." Giving Place 2 candidates Gus Garcia and Becky Motal a run for their money is Velton McDaniel, whose campaign brochure bears a photo of the long-haired, bearded native Texan bedecked in a helmet-law-sucks T-shirt, just so there's no mistaking where he stands. He also favors housing the homeless, unions and jobs, and abhors "bloodthirsty crooked police, the war on drugs [and] mandatory drug tests." Next?... -- A.S.
Airports and CarsMaking room for more cars at the new airport was the order of the day at the March 5 city council work session. The council voted to spend $25 million to double the size of the parking garage at Bergstrom, increasing covered short term public parking from 1,400 to 2,300 spaces, and rental car spaces from 480 to 1,000. (In addition, there will be 7,150 long-term surface parking spaces and 1,000 employee parking slots, for a total of 11,450, more than double the 5,280 spaces currently available at Mueller).
Professional airport consultant Dan Akins, who was the only member of the seven-member Airport Advisory Board (AAB) to vote against recommending the garage expansion to the council, says parking needs at the airport are overstated. He points out that the parking capacity requested is two to three times the projected increase in passenger traffic on which it is based. Putting a cap on parking spaces in major traffic generators like airports and downtowns is essential for the success of transit, transit experts say.
However, AAB chair Binder explains that the board voted in favor of the deal because it provided a "financial mechanism" to pay for most of the expansion through the rental car agencies -- the companies will have to pay $16 million of the $25 million pricetag. "We will probably need additional space in 2005 or 2010, and it's better to pay for it now through the rental car companies than through a bond issue," Binder says.
However, the council approved the expansion and rental car occupancy deal (on first reading), without the AAB's original stipulation that rental car companies be allowed only a 10-year lease after the airport opened, after which time they could be kicked out into more remote parking if the garage was filling up. "That condition was very important to us on the board," says AAB Chair Bob Binder. "Some of us wouldn't have recommended the expansion without it."
Another element that the AAB did not know when it made its recommendation was that the rental car companies would raise their share of the garage expansion by squeezing a $2 a day per car service charge from customers. "We didn't anticipate the car companies charging a pass-through fee on renters," Binder says. "I think rental car companies should be the ones to pay to lease space."
All the councilmembers running for reelection -- Eric Mitchell, Gus Garcia, and Ronney Reynolds -- joined Mayor Bruce Todd in voting for the expansion on first reading, while Beverly Griffith and Jackie Goodman voted against, and Daryl Slusher abstained. There will be two more votes on the matter.
There's another airport issue up for consideration at the upcoming March 19 work session: whether the private cars of Austin citizens will get access to the bottom floor of the garage, where baggage claim is, or whether it will be reserved for rental car drivers only.
Anyone interested in making suggestions for construction of the new airport is encouraged to call AAB chair Bob Binder at 474-1515, or write to him at PO Box 1046, Austin, 78767. -- A.D.
Show Bob the MoneyIn 1994, the University of Texas System sent seven of its campus presidents to the Waco home of insurance executive Bernard Rapoport for a fundraiser for Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. The seven presidents, who were in Austin for a meeting at the Barton Creek Country Club, adjourned their meeting and were driven to Waco in a van. The details of the meeting, which appeared in Monday's San Antonio Express-News, are the latest bits of information to come out about UT's political fundraising activities. The stories continue to raise questions about political fundraising being done on university property and on university time.
Since 1992, the UT political action committee, Friends of the University PAC, along with university supporters like Rapoport, have donated $208,900 to Bullock. The most recent Express-News story points out that state law prohibits involving "the System or a component institution in partisan politics. It also says that state regulations prohibit the use of "official authority or influence" to affect an election or "achieve any other political purpose."
The UT PAC was set up in 1992, two months after William "Dollar Bill" Cunningham became chancellor of UT. The ethically challenged chancellor has denied that UT officials have done anything improper. However, you may recall that last year, Cunningham made $650,422 in one day by exercising stock options given to him by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan, which even paid Cunningham's income taxes on the deal. It was Cunningham's idea to name the new microbiology building on the Forty Acres after Freeport boss Jim Bob Moffett. Cunningham, whose compensation package at UT includes a free house and a salary of $328,594, has repeatedly refused to answer questions from the media about the propriety of the stock deal.
More details about UT's fundraising activities will be revealed in coming months. A lawsuit filed last fall by Jude Valdez, a vice president of UT-San Antonio, claims that he was coerced into making donations to Bullock by his UTSA superiors. Cunningham and other UT officials are defendants in the case, which is pending in federal court in San Antonio, and expected to go to trial in September. -- R.B.
Todd Snubs GuestIn a move that Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) leaders say speaks volumes on his commitment to environmental concerns, Mayor Bruce Todd, without explanation, effectively canceled the presentation of an expert on water quality at last Thursday's council meeting.
S.O.S. staffers Bill Bunch and Kirk Mitchell had accompanied Tom Schueller, executive director of the Center for Watershed Protection in Silver Spring, Maryland, to the council to speak prior to a vote on whether to hold a public hearing on water quality in Barton Springs. The vote initially came up at about 3pm, but when Bunch approached the podium to introduce Schueller, Todd suddenly pulled the item from the agenda and postponed action until after the council went into executive session.
"This [agenda item] is nothing more than setting a public hearing. We need some discussion on it," was all Todd said.
Councilmember Daryl Slusher argued that special consideration should be made for the out-of-town guest, since the courtesy is usually extended to others in town for a limited time. "That would be absolutely normal. I've seen the mayor take people out of turn because they have children there," said Slusher's aide, Ramona Perrault. The hearing was eventually voted on and approved, but not until 11pm -- after Schueller had already departed.
The S.O.S.ers were scandalized. "We all know how much the mayor cares about water quality now," grumbled Bunch, as the council left the dais to go behind closed doors. Slusher merely made note of Todd's questionable etiquette. "It's more bad manners than a shrewd political move," he said.
Brigid Shea, S.O.S. executive director, goes even further. "It's just typical of Bruce Todd's pouty, petty leadership style to do that sort of thing. From the very get-go he has been pretending to be an environmentalist, but carrying water for the other side."
Todd refused comment, saying that he had to hurry into the executive session, but his assistant, Eric Stockton, defended the mayor's actions. "He may have felt that there were other issues that had to be gotten to that evening," he said. In any event, the water quality hearing is set for 6pm on April 24. -- K.V.
Protecting the AquiferDespite protests from some Texas House Natural Resources Committee members, and only reluctant support from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), a bill that would increase fees for development over the Edwards Aquifer passed unanimously out of committee last month.
Rep. Robert Puente (D-San Antonio) authored House Bill 1016, which would raise the maximum building fee from $2,000 to $5,000 for large subdivisions or retail centers built in the environmentally delicate recharge zone of the aquifer, which extends from Bell County to Kinney County, with parts of Austin and San Antonio included.
TNRCC, which oversees pollution abatement efforts in the recharge zone, is experiencing a $300,000 annual budget shortfall for the management of this region and uses fees assessed from other parts of the state to fill the gap.
Puente argued that the proposed legislation would allow those who develop over the aquifer to cover the costs of abatement efforts and decrease the turn-around time for the approval of building permits, although Rep. Tracy King (D-Uvalde) objected in committee that "this deal is a wash, a financial wash," and pointed out that the additional funds raised would not be used to hire new staff or fund new programs.
Commented Puente after winning committee approval: "What we basically have is a philosophy that the users of state services pay for them. A citizen in Lubbock shouldn't have to pay for our water quality." -- K.V.