Endorsements

"Smart Growth" Bond Proposals:

Prop. 1 (Conv. Center/Waller Creek): Yes

Prop. 2 (Barton Creek Land Purchase): Yes

Prop. 3 (Walnut Creek Flood Control): Yes


AISD Board of Trustees:

President: Kathy Rider

Vice Pres.: Doyle Valdez

District 1: Loretta Edelen

District 4: Ave Wahrmund

District 6: Jeff Jack

District 7: Olga Garza


Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conserv. District:

Prop. 1 (Abolish the District): No

Board Member, Precinct 2: Charlie Nettles

Board Member, Precinct 5: Craig Smith


City Bond Proposals

"Smart Growth." We certainly hope so. These three bond proposals encompass long-sought goals from rather diverse constituencies, a clever packaging designed to mobilize an unusual coalition of stakeholders. At their best, they could represent the kind of long-term planning this city desperately needs; at their worst they could provide Band-Aid solutions that are always what get Austin into so much trouble. Props 1 and 2 are the really big-ticket items - in each case slightly disguised by an unusual funding source - and in both cases there is some uncertainty over just what it is we're buying. Prop. 3 is more of a no-brainer.


Prop. 1 (Conv. Ctr./Waller Creek): Yes

If you've been reading "Page Two" the past few weeks, you know we've got some major reservations about this project - but they may not be the ones you might expect.

In fact, we strongly urge you to vote yes here; an expanded Convention Center, as the centerpiece of a revitalized Waller Creek corridor, would be a major asset for this city, and an increased bed tax is an appropriate funding mechanism for such a project.

At the same time, though, we even more strongly urge the City Council - once it has funding authorization in hand - to really take a hard look at what they want to do with the space in question, and to move ahead only when they have a clear vision of a Convention Center complex. Because we fear that if the expansion is pushed through as currently planned we'll be losing a golden opportunity forever.

Density and multi-use - these are the watchwords of Smart Growth, and they ought to be the guiding principles of the Convention Center expansion as well. Yet as currently planned, the expanded Convention Center would defy both goals - with a relatively small amount of usable space to justify its sprawling, low-rise, six-block footprint, and not even a nod to multi-use, this Center would be a six-block black hole in terms of public use. There's no integrated hotel or other use of the airspace over the Center, no underground parking, no public component at all, not even a food court or a gift shop - nothing whatsoever to tie the Center into its surroundings. After all, that's what we have now, and no one can figure out why that quadrant of downtown hasn't gotten the promised economic kick-start out of the existing Center.

Note that each of the amenities listed above would require some sort of public/private partnership, or franchise agreement. Now, it's not surprising that the city would be leery of floating such ideas during the election campaign; Austin citizenry (and perhaps this paper in particular) tend to be highly suspicious of such schemes. But the future of development in this area depends on just such partnerships, in some form or another. This is a huge public project we're talking about here, in the middle of what we hope will become a lively section of downtown. We wouldn't build an airport with no parking and no coffeeshops, and no one questions the need for the city to enter agreements to bring those amenities in.

The C.H. Johnson report that is the basis of this whole project concludes that: "Austin does not have a defined strategy for either its downtown, or its attendant hotel supply. However, the city has built the Convention Center. It has entered in this business and needs to consider an overall strategy for inducing complementary hotel development."

The council should take this to heart. The council is asking for a leap of faith here: Authorize funding now, and we'll plan and build a fine addition to downtown. We're asking for a similar leap of faith in return: If we authorize funding now, the council should respond by putting the current planned construction on hold, and coming up with a comprehensive plan that includes all of its considerable assets in the area, and incorporates parking, hotel, retail, and transit. At that point, we'll get past our natural mistrust of public/private ventures and make it work. Because with planning, downtown can be successfully developed. Without planning, we may well wind up with another large, awkward, orphan building right next to the already existing one. This is not the vision downtown Austin needs.


Prop. 2 (Watershed Land Acquisition): Yes

We believe the city's intentions are noble in this colossal real estate proposal in Southwest Austin. With voter approval of $65 million in revenue bonds supported by the water/wastewater utility, the city will buy about 15,000 acres in the contributing and recharge zones of Barton Springs. The land would be left in its natural state - that is, undeveloped - to create a water quality buffer zone. This proposal would raise average water bills $1.20 per month. Opposition to this measure is minimal and hails from fiscal-conservative naysayers and some landowners in the area. In simplistic terms, we are of the opinion that if the city has to acquire land to ward off massive developments in this precious corner of the earth, so be it.


Prop. 3 (Walnut Creek Flood Control): Yes

This is an easy one. If voters approve $10 million in general obligation and utility-revenue funds, they'll be saying "yes" to health and safety. Effectively, some 175 households will be removed from a troublesome floodplain area of the Walnut Creek Watershed. The money will go toward improving water quality and flood-control measures in East Austin's Crystalbrook subdivision, a neighborhood that was built before studies of Walnut Creek showed much of the area to be in the floodplain. Vote yes to eliminate this long-standing headache.


AISD Board of Trustees


President: Kathy Rider

For the last four years, Rider has demonstrated her ability to lead the Board of Trustees through one of the district's most productive periods of growth and student achievement. We endorse her bid for a second term as president. Perhaps now more than ever, the board needs an experienced leader to continue steering it through a mélange of pressing matters, with the search for a new superintendent topping the list. Rider's opponent is former Dist. 2 trustee Diana Castañeda, who presents some interesting ideas about improving the district's education services to minority and low-income students. But overall, with the board facing a full plate of weighty issues to tackle, Rider is the best choice to lead the force.

Vice President: Doyle Valdez

Business owner Valdez has both the credentials and the ambition to be an effective leader on the Board of Trustees. He has also paid his dues through countless volunteer hours in the name of education, including three years on the Austin City Council of PTAs, an umbrella organization of local parent-teacher groups. And his two years of service on the district budget advisory council is of particular importance, since the board - with at least four newly elected members - will be diving into the budget process shortly after the new trustees are seated. Opponent Jennifer Gale has run unsuccessfully for a number of offices. We don't doubt her sincerity, but we're convinced that Valdez's blend of expertise in matters both educational and financial will serve in the district's best interests.

District 4: Ave Wahrmund

Not since Bernice Hart left the Board of Trustees several years ago have AISD teachers felt they had someone representing their interests on the dais. Our choice for District 4, former teacher-turned-small business owner Ave Wahrmund, would provide teachers with a voice and offer the board insight into teachers' concerns ranging from discipline, salaries, a shortage of substitute teachers, and curriculum. Wahrmund also earned praise from parents and teachers at Lamar Middle School, where she was PTA president. And as a co-owner of a small semiconductor business, Wahrmund would bring a knowledge of technology to the table. Attorney William Newberry has some teaching connections of his own; his wife and mother both work for AISD and he is a member of the Davis Elementary Campus Advisory Council. But Wahrmund's double-edged experience gives her the edge.

District 6: Jeff Jack

Jeff Jack's leadership of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, and his involvement with other civic and school organizations, provide him with a unique perspective - not only on district issues but on how those issues affect the rest of the community. We applaud Jack's platform that calls for long-term strategic planning within the district, which would, as he says, put an end to the days of crisis-bond initiatives and under-the-gun planning. Jack faces a tough competitor in Patricia Whiteside, a CPA who, like Jack, enjoys support from progressive-environmental corners of South Central Austin. Whiteside is well-versed on student-teacher issues, and her financial acumen would be a valuable asset to the board. All the same, we endorse Jack, whose global views of the district could work in tandem with the city's ambitious planning and growth initiatives.

District 7: Olga Garza

Hard choice here, in this high-growth sector of Southwest Austin. Garza has proven her commitment to education on both volunteer and professional levels, as president of the Kiker Elementary PTA, and directing special projects for the Texas Education Agency's Office of Finance and Accountability. She notes that while test scores have improved among students with limited English skills, poor students still lag far behind; and her concern in this area is commendable, particularly in light of the large number of affluent households in her district. Like Garza, Pascual Piedfort also has a long history of volunteer work with AISD. He served two years as president of the Austin City Council of PTAs, and was Kiker's first PTA president, preceding Garza. Financial consultant Scott Branson seems sincere, but he doesn't have the same depth of experience as the other two. Overall, Garza's credentials, combined with her enthusiasm and strong people skills, have earned her the highest marks in our book.


Barton Springs / Edwards Aquifer Conservation Dist.

South Austin and southern Travis County voters will decide on the district's future, and elect two members of the BS/EACD Board.

Shall the BS/EACD be dissolved: No

Private water companies would have you believe the BS/EACD over-regulates the local water supply by bringing "outside agendas" (read environmental concerns) to the district and charging high pumping fees. These complaints are self-serving and clearly do not justify dismantling the district lock, stock, and barrel. The BS/EACD should continue its regulatory oversight of the sole-source drinking water supply for 45,000 people. At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to have a little more oversight of the district itself, just to ensure accountability.


BS/EACD Board, Pct. 2: Charlie Nettles

The board director in this seat represents a jagged slice of southern Travis County - roughly south of Slaughter Lane and between I-35 to MoPac. Our choice for this post, attorney Nettles, has neighborhood activism in his blood. We take that as a good sign that his advocacy spirit would carry over to the BS/EACD boardroom where he would work in the best interest of the district. His opponent in this race is incumbent Don Turner. Most of what we know about Turner is what we read on p.30 ("The Laws of the Land") of this issue. His record shows a history of working against the district - and against the wishes of the board - in a non-constructive manner. We believe Nettles has more to offer where good-faith productivity is concerned.


BS/EACD Board, Pct. 5: Craig Smith

Smith, an attorney, is one of Austin's old-school environmentalists, which means he's been at it for a while. His record speaks volumes about his commitment to water quality and preservation issues. Smith would represent an immense area of the district - westward from Manchaca Road to well past MoPac on one end, and from the Colorado River to large chunks of land south of Slaughter Lane. His opponent, John Stratford, is a former chair of Citizens for Responsible Planning, the group that campaigned mightily against the Save Our Springs Ordinance in 1992. Today, Stratford says he has no problems with S.O.S. His turnaround is commendable, but not enough to convince us he is the best candidate for the job. Smith is clearly the most environmentally sound contender to fill the seat left by outgoing board member Sue Johnson.

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