Tug of War
Changing Chamber Funds
The model for the program will be the Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce, which was hired as a consultant by ACVB to assist with marketing efforts. According to Assistant City Manager Jim Smith, the arrangement lets ACVB staff do the administrative stuff they do best, and "let[s] the chambers do what they do best, which is minority outreach. ... The only thing we're changing is who puts out the RFP and coordinates the minority marketing effort."
The Capital City chamber's Linda Dailey said she fears that her group would not be hired by ACVB for consulting projects, or paid adequately if they were. And since 79% of their budget comes from the city, getting cut out of the ACVB money could be devastating.
But the chambers may have to face the fact that there's a philosophical change underway at the city on what their role should be. Council Members Lewis and Gus Garcia agreed that they would like to see the chambers move in the direction of economic development, instead of tourism. Garcia, making the motion to approve the item, indicated that it was designed to change the function of the minority chambers: "This is consistent with what we said we wanted to do -- move the minority chambers away from tourism into economic development."
The council also unanimously approved the creation of a Community Court, with opposition from a couple of opponents -- including homeless activist Kirk Becker and Richard Troxell of House the Homeless, who said the assistance would be misplaced.
The court is designed to handle those who repeatedly commit misdemeanor offenses related to substance abuse, to hook them up with the social services -- especially those agencies providing treatment for addiction -- that might break their cycle of trouble with the law (of course, some believe the same goal could be achieved by repealing laws that penalize homeless people, but that's another story).
Troxell said the program equaled an unfunded mandate on municipal courts. He chided the city for not supporting last session's HB 3611, which would have allowed municipalities to set aside a percentage of alcohol sales for substance abuse treatment: "We got support from the Texas Municipal League, but not from the city of Austin." Instead of creating the court, Troxell asked, "Why don't we set up the services, see who comes, and see if the problem isn't resolved before we go and set up another bureaucracy?"
Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner agreed that, while the court received $368,000 in fiscal 1998-1999 for start-up expenses, it will need "a couple of million dollars" in fiscal 1999-2000. "We will have to try to find some money for that in the budget," Conner said.
Citing serious overcrowding and a dearth of parking all along the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Wilderness Park, the city Parks and Recreation Department is seeking to close the greenbelt entrance at Camp Craft Road west of Loop 360 and north of MoPac, and replace it with an access point near the intersection of Mopac and 360, which would include a 66-space, paved parking lot. Parks and Recreation Director Jesus Olivares said the plan was necessary for safety reasons; to get parked cars off Hwy360 and into a safer parking lot. Furthermore, residents of the Woods of Westlake, the neighborhood in which the Camp Craft exit is located, want it gone.
The proposal has drawn heated opposition from individual greenbelt users, as well as Austin Metro Trails and Greenways, and the SOS Alliance. Camp Craft is a unique access point, they argue, which provides commuter as well as recreational access, and cannot be replicated at another site. Furthermore, they argue, paving a parking lot is a senseless increase in impervious cover in the Barton Springs Zone, when the Camp Craft parking is on an already-paved, double-wide suburban lane. They further argued that the parking would provide too-direct access to Sculpture Falls, a still-pristine area of the greenbelt that could suffer the fate of Twin Falls and other scenic areas that have been trashed by over-use.
Neighbors of the Camp Craft entrance say they're paying for others' abuse of the greenbelt, complaining of problems both real and imagined -- from trash and abandoned liquor bottles littering the neighborhood, to folks unable to get mail on Saturdays because of all the cars parked in front of their houses, to the chance that pedophiles will roam the trails, seeking to prey on neighborhood children. Since the Woods of Westlake is a far-flung area annexed in 1984, the neighborhood representatives say they have to deal with 30-minute response times from Austin police. Though they're willing to accept this because of their location, neighbors say, they need to be protected from public nuisances by closing the Camp Craft access.
Which brings us to the matter of lawsuits. Woods of Westlake's David Lindstrom told the council they could have a de-annexation on their hands if Austin fails to provide necessary city services -- that is, police protection. They also claim that the city never got the zoning necessary to open the Camp Craft greenbelt entrance in the first place. Lindstrom said that since the Woods of Westlake's annexation, the city -- including city staff and a handful of mayors -- have promised them theaccess point would be closed. In 1992, when resident Don Watkins was considering buying his nearby house, the Parks Department told him that the city had just bought the land necessary to open the Loop 360 entrance, making the Camp Craft closing imminent. This year, the Parks Department initiated the process of finally closing the access, not knowing that such action would require a council vote.
Lindstrom said that the council had a chance to make the change at no cost in 1988, when developer Pete Dwyer offered to build the Loop 360 entrance as part of an adjacent residential development he was doing, and then donate it to the city. But the city demanded that he count the lot as part of the overall impervious cover of his project, which would have limited the number of houses he could build. Dwyer balked, and ended up selling the land to the city for $1 million.
The council will surely see this mess again, since its only action Thursday was to approve 7-0 the zoning that would allow the construction of the new parking lot. That does not mean the lot will be built, or that the Camp Craft entrance will be closed, as any further action will have to meet with council approval.
This Week in Council: The council will consider what projects to award TEA-21 federal transportation funding (no, really, they mean it this time). A 6pm public hearing takes place on adjusting the expiration dates for preliminary subdivision plans. Currently, a site preliminary plan expires two years after its approval unless a final plat is filed. The change would have plans in the watershed protection zone expire after three years if a final plat is not approved; those in the Desired Development Zone would expire after five years. For other council fun this week, keep an eye out on the roads for Council Member Beverly Griffith, who can be seen cruising around town in her brand-new silver VW Beetle, flowers in the bud vase, Joan Baez in the tape deck. Is that a vivid image or what?