Edited By Mike Clark-Madison and Michael King, Fri., Aug. 3, 2001
Clean but Sweaty
Clean Campaigns for Austin's struggle to change the way Austin conducts elections is both marching ahead and facing setbacks, according to organizer Linda Curtis. The group is wrapping up its petition drive for a campaign-financing city charter amendment, which would in fact amend the current rules that Curtis got onto the ballot in 1999. "We are hoping to file by the end of August," says Curtis. "If we can file sooner, I'd like to. I'm tired. It's hot out there."
That was especially a problem last week. "We got thrown out of the federal post office," she says. "They said, 'We have a rule,' and I said I don't care about the rules. They called the police and threatened to arrest me. So I left, but we're going to have a fight on public access. If we don't have public access, I don't see how they can require signatures. The problem is not getting people to sign, it's getting to them." The CCA petitioners were also evicted from HEB stores.
On the parallel drive for instant runoff voting (IRV) -- in which you'd get to vote for a first choice, second choice, and so on, with the additional votes used to determine a winner if no one gets a majority -- things are much bleaker. Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar confirmed to the city last week that IRV, like most other innovative ballot systems, is illegal (at least for large municipalities) under state law, which requires a majority vote. -- Lee Nichols
Department of Anti-Climax
Kudos to Jeff Nesmith and Ralph K.M. Haurwitz of the Austin American-Statesman for "The Invisible Danger," their thorough and gripping series on the pipeline industry and the lack of serious safety regulation either by Texas or the federal government. But we did have a couple of impertinent questions for Statesman editors:
° (1) Was none of this information available for public discussion during the Lege session, when it might have had some salutary effect on the pipeline debate? (For that matter, where was the daily last year when thousands of Austinites were raising these same issues in public meetings and protests?)
° (2) As a solution to this governmental abdication of responsibility, the best you can offer (Sunday, July 29) is to suggest handing authority over unregulated gathering lines to that legendary footstool to the oil and gas industry, the Railroad Commission? Why not just eliminate the middlemen, and give it directly to Longhorn Pipeline? -- Michael King
Speaking of Vacancies
Three of the city's most valuable topside players are retiring this month: Austin Public Library associate director Cynthia Kidd; Neighborhood Housing and Community Development's Stuart Hersh, the lead staffer on the SMART Housing initiative; and Charles Curry, longtime head of the city budget office. Curry will be succeeded by his deputy Rudy Garza; Hersh is expected to stay on as a consultant, and the library is in the final stages of a nationwide search to replace Kidd.
And in a move dripping with political subtext, Carol Barrett -- manager of the city's ultra-high-profile neighborhood planning program since its 1997 inception, and a former Best of Austin winner for "Best City Bureaucrat" -- is out the door on Aug. 31, heading to the People's Republic of Berkeley to become planning commissar, er, director. This announcement came amidst fresh outbreaks of trouble over neighborhood planning in Dawson, Hyde Park, Montopolis, and Rosewood, and right after the draft of the 2001-02 city budget (see "Lean and Leaner," p.24) called for the program to do more plans with fewer staff. -- Mike Clark-Madison
The Maybe Mueller Masters
Six aspiring master developers have responded to the city's request for qualifications (RFQ) for dance partners in the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport redevelopment project. Three of the firms have somewhat Mueller-like projects in their portfolios, as the RFQ specified, although things like "mixed use" and "Smart Growth" and "urban village" are subjective.
Catellus Development, the onetime land arm of Southern Pacific Railroad, is helming Mission Bay in San Francisco, home to Fog City's new baseball stadium, and was on the short list to master-develop the Stapleton Airport project in Denver. Lennar Communities is a national upscale homebuilder, but also has both urban redevelopments and new "traditional neighborhoods" in the Bay Area (the former navy yards at Hunters Point and Mare Island). And Bryan Properties of North Carolina, though primarily a golf-course homebuilder, has a popular neo-trad project in Chapel Hill called Southern Village.
The other three suitors are more interesting politically. Two -- The Staubach Company (yeah, as in Cowboys QB legend Roger) and WorkPlace USA, both headquartered in Dallas -- specialize not in mixed-use pedestrian-friendly urban-village Smart Growth, but in corporate facility deals like, say, for Advanced Micro Devices (an actual Staubach client). Hmmm. And the last, and only local, entrant is a joint venture between Milburn Homes, JPI, Cousins Stone, and Cencor Urban, with developer Dick Rathgeber at the helm. (That is, single-family, multi-family, commercial/ office, and retail specialists, respectively.)
It had seemed like the city specifically wanted to avoid such joint ventures of the usual local suspects, but that may mean very little when the City Council, which has already used Mueller as a political love toy, picks a master developer. The list of six will be winnowed to a shorter group who'll get the Request for Proposals (RFP), where they'll offer more details about their Mueller visions. Then the city will get into real negotiation mode, with staff bringing a decision before the council oh, right about election time next spring. -- Mike Clark-Madison
Talk Amongst Yourselves
The Hyde Park neighborhood range war is scheduled to come before the City Council again Aug. 23. Meanwhile, council members Danny Thomas and Jackie Goodman brought together representatives of the neighborhood and of Hyde Park Baptist Church in a renewed attempt to mediate the conflict over the church's expansion plans.
According to Goodman's assistant, Jerry Rusthoven, the subject was not the much-disputed parking garage ("that's in litigation, and we're not discussing it right now"), but other neighboring tracts (e.g., the Jacksonian apartment complex, just purchased by the church) where the church has indicated it wants to build something. The church has said it objects both to current zoning limitations and alternatives suggested in the pending neighborhood plan. "There was some rehashing of old wounds," Rusthoven said, "but the main focus was to try to determine the church's specific objections to the various development rules, like height limitations and so on."
Church representatives were asked to bring more detail to the table for a second meeting Wednesday, Aug. 1, and Rusthoven hoped that meeting would move the process along. Following the Wednesday meeting, Rusthoven said, "We continued to talk, and that in itself is a good thing." While he did not want to get into details, Rusthoven said the discussions were more specific than the first meeting, and that the group has agreed to keep the discussions going. "We're meeting again next week, and we hope to continue the progress." -- Michael King
There have been a couple of further developments in the Alcoa Rockdale story since last week's cover story, "Neighbors vs. Neighbors," went to press. On the state regulation front, the Railroad Commission has informed Alcoa that its voluminous application for a mining permit for its proposed Three Oaks mine has numerous "deficiencies" that have to be remedied -- covering a wide range of matters from specificity of mining plans to protection of cemeteries, wetlands, and endangered species, etc. -- before the company can move forward to a public comment period and eventual hearing before the RRC. Alcoa expects to reply to the commission by the end of August, with a hearing perhaps before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the Three Oaks proposal will have to undergo an environmental impact study (EIS) before Alcoa can receive COE approval for the new mine. Neighbors for Neighbors, the community organization that opposes the mine, had pressed for such a review. Alcoa says it had always expected an impact study would be made and has planned accordingly. But the review could take as long as a year. The Corps of Engineers will hold a public "scoping" meeting on the pending EIS in Giddings on Aug. 21, and Bastrop County is holding a public meeting on Alcoa's proposed road closures on Aug. 28. Consult the Neighbors Web site at www.neighborsforneighbors.com for more info, or call 512/589-3861. -- Michael King