Naked City

Off the Desk:

After weeks of low-level conflict over the future of the city's 12,000-acre wildlife preserve system, City Manager Jesus Garza has decided to consolidate the management of the preserves in the Parks and Recreation Department. Rumors surfaced several weeks ago that staff from PARD and the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department would be moved to the Drainage Utility Dept., which collects about $400,000 per year to manage the preserve lands. Instead, effective October 1, two biologists from Planning will be moved to PARD, while Drainage Utilities will continue to collect the money. More on the controversy that sparked these moves later...

The lame duck lieutenant governor is spreading his money around. According to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock's campaign committee, which has about $3 million in the bank, recently gave $10,000 to Comptroller John Sharp, the leading Democratic candidate for Bullock's seat. Sharp is already the odds-on favorite to succeed Bullock. After all, he's already succeeded Bullock in the Comptroller's job. But now that's he's getting Bullock's cash, Sharp will be even harder to beat...

Indonesian president/dictator Suharto -- a shareholder in Freeport McMoRan's Grasberg mine -- is the world's richest non-royal leader. According to Forbes magazine's July 28 issue, Suharto is worth $16 billion, making him the third richest ruler on earth behind the Sultan of Brunei and the King of Saudi Arabia. -- R.B.

Don't delay another minute on getting your loan applications in to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). That's the word to area flood victims from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). SBA packets have been sent to residents beset by high waters. One common misunderstanding about SBA loans is that they're for businesses only, say FEMA officials. More info on the loan process is available on the Helpline, 1-800-525-0321. -- A.S.

Sibley's Oops

He may be a lawyer and a doctor but he ain't no rocket scientist. We're talking here about Sen. David Sibley, the Waco Republican who is considered one of the smartest, and most conservative, members of the Texas Senate. During the last legislative session, Sibley wrote SB 932 to abolish the Texas Dept. of Commerce and create the Texas Dept. of Economic Development. In so doing, Sibley, a member of the Texas Bar and a non-practicing medical doctor, unwittingly deleted several sections of Chapter 481 of the Texas Government Code, including two controversial pieces of legislation: HB 4 and SB 1704.

The two bills govern the rules that cities can impose on development. Briefly stated, the legislation mandates that the rules in effect when a developer files his first permit for a project remain in effect for the duration of the project. In the wake of the Save Our Springs ordinance, the interpretation of HB 4, which became law in 1987, and SB 1704, which took effect in 1995, has become a critical legal issue for the city of Austin as it tries to protect the Barton Springs watershed. The language in HB 4 has been a point of contention in several court fights over S.O.S., including the 1994 Hays County courtroom battle between the city of Austin and the Circle C development. The city lost the suit in state court but the ruling was overturned by a state appeals court.

The repeal of the HB 4 and SB 1704, which is effective Sept. 1, appears to be an opportunity for the city to apply the S.O.S. ordinance to all of the projects which filed permit applications immediately before the 1992 citywide election on the ordinance. But that appears unlikely to happen. Austin city attorney Andy Martin says his staff is still reviewing the effects of the new law on the city. "Generally it is positive because it is at least an opportunity for the city to minimize the development taking place under obsolete regulations." But Martin cautioned that "the Legislature comes back in two years." And he said, "It was the city's constant enactment of new regulations in the mid-1980s that led the Legislature to pass this legislation in the first place."

Richard Suttle, the managing partner for Armbrust Brown and Davis, an Austin law firm that represents FM Properties and other development companies, said the legislative move could, in theory, affect every development project in the city. "The city could choose to take any number of positions. They could say there's no 1704 any more so everybody gets to comply with existing ordinances no matter where they are in the process. And that would be a bad day for a lot of people." Suttle could not predict how the measure would affect the commercial land at Circle C Ranch, which is owned by FM Properties. Legislation written specially for Circle C during the 1995 legislative session has been challenged by the city and litigation is ongoing. The trial ended in May, but a judgment is not expected for several more weeks.

Sibley spokesperson Kirsten Deitz said a number of people reviewed a final version of the senator's bill "and nobody caught the mistake. Sen. Sibley," she noted, "accepts full responsibility for messing up." She added: "If the cities start going back and doing some of the things they did before, we will definitely go back and put it into law. To read SB 932 or SB 1704, go to http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. -- R.B.

Holding the S.O.S. Line

Anyone who thinks that the new council is going to compromise on the Save Our Springs ordinance can't see the forest for the trees. Williamson Creek Farm, LTD (WCF) found that out the hard way at the July 17 council meeting when it tried to rezone its rural, residential-zoned property in order to build a 550-unit multi-family complex. The property, at Monterey Oaks Blvd. and Brush Country Rd., is located in the S.O.S.-governed zone, but after legal fights, WCF had won the right to develop under the less restrictive Composite II ordinance, allowing up to 60% impervious cover.

WCF representative Jack Condon pitched the idea as a trees-for-impervious cover swap. According to Condon's two plans, the council could choose between lower impervious cover with the compact design, or higher impervious cover with a spread-out design which would allow the developer to salvage as many as 40 trees on the property. "By allowing more impervious cover you end up with a better project, a better people space," said Carl Conley, who engineered WCF's designs. But the council was not swallowing the bait.

"I don't mean this to be insulting, but this will translate into higher rents for you. So you're making more money, but the aquifer is suffering," pointed out Councilmember Bill Spelman. Added Beverly Griffith: "Certainly trees are important but we also need to think about the aquifer. Trees can grow back, aquifers don't."

Ultimately, the council postponed making a decision pending further review. However, with the sudden news about the inadvertent deletion of SB 1704 (see above), council may not need to stall any longer. "We have to be very smart about how we proceed with this," said Councilmember Daryl Slusher, who said he was not sure if the council would immediately use the opportunity to apply the S.O.S. ordinance to WCF and similar projects. -- K.V.

The Walking Beat

Dan Mays, owner of Sam's Bar-B-Cue on East 12th Street, wasn't altogether impressed by residents' complaints about crime in his neighborhood at a recent meeting with Austin Police Dept. officials. "It's the same old thing," he said later. "It's about the youth. It's just three or four people that make these complaints."

But other community residents say that the rowdy crowds of teenagers, sometimes numbering more than 300, have got to go, along with drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. The council finally agreed, and last month the APD assigned eight nighttime walking beats to the East 11th and 12th Street area as part of a community policing program to clamp down on these "nuisance violations."

"Eleventh and 12th Streets are getting to be a gathering spot for kids, and it gets out of hand after a while," says sector Lt. Manuel Peña.

The new beats are currently filled by officers working overtime, costing APD about $300,000 in overtime pay. The positions are expected to become permanently funded this fall. Councilmember Daryl Slusher says the patrols, which were ordered by the previous council, are a first step toward revitalizing the 11th and 12th Street business corridor.

Police, however, suggest that the mixed residential and retail zoning in the area creates noise problems that may never be eradicated until the city "knocks some buildings down," to drive certain bars from the area. But J.W. and Johnny Bird, of the Fishnet Restaurant on 12th St., say it's not businesses, but the hordes of kids hanging out, that are the problem. They say they wish police were around more frequently to stop the unnerving "boom-a-boom" pounding from car stereos late at night.

Still, Mays doesn't think "things are as bad as they say" in the area, and Eva Lindsey, proprietor of the Victory Grill on 11th, concurs. "I don't like this crime thing in the media, because... there's not big crime over here," she said, "It's not the crime as much as it is the deterioration."

Lt. Peña, who has worked the neighborhood for years, says, "I wouldn't describe them [the residents] as frightened. I think they just want a certain level of peace in their lives and don't feel like they're getting it." -- K.F.

Homeless Campus Rush

With the camping ban ordinance up for repeal or "surgery" this August, the city is having to speed up its timeline on the construction of the proposed homeless campus.

The Capital Area Homeless Alliance, headed by former Mayor Frank Cooksey, is expected to release a list of feasible sites for the project by early September, and will begin negotiation with property owners in an "expeditious manner." The site selection process promises to be politically dangerous, with no residential area willing to welcome the facility and business owners balking at the assumption that the facility should be sited downtown. "We told [the Downtown Austin Alliance] that they should stay in the process and not try to make their case behind the scenes," says Cooksey.

The city has already dedicated $500,000 federal housing dollars to the construction of the campus and Cooksey says his group is seeking additional funding. The initial projections are that the first phase of campus construction will cost $3.5 million. -- K.V.

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