May 3 Election News
Wynn Promises Layoffs
City Council member and mayoral candidate Will Wynn says he "wasn't pleased" to read, "Wynn proposes an end to development inspections," in a headline of the online newsletter In Fact Daily. During a forum sponsored last week by the Construction Industry Alliance and the Building Owners and Managers Association, Wynn told the audience, "I promise you there are going to be significant layoffs in the city this year. I won't enjoy that, but it's a fact of life. ... I promise you, also, that I will be strongly suggesting to my colleagues and the city manager that disproportionately those cuts should be in our Development Review and Inspection [sic] Department."
Watershed Protection and Development Review Dept. Director Mike Heitz wouldn't comment on Wynn's statements until meeting personally with the council member. "I wasn't there," Heitz said. "He hasn't contacted me to discuss it, so I'm not sure specifically what he's looking for."
Wynn cites the city's projected $70 million budget shortfall as justifying inevitable layoffs but says In Fact's headline wasn't quite on the mark. "[I] didn't mean we should end the city's role in development review and inspection," he said, "but that the department -- and many other administrative functions of the city -- are going to have to be completely reinvented." That's not necessarily a bad cutting-corners kind of thing, Wynn says. Over the past few months, several current and prospective business owners, including an aspiring Warehouse District restaurateur, have called Wynn complaining about the city's "Kafkalike" review and inspection process. In some cases, the proprietors are trying to open businesses in existing structures that not long ago served the same use. "These guys just get killed when they try to do something simple," Wynn said.
Race Suddenly Crowded
At noon last Wednesday, the Place 2 City Council race seemed all tied up for first-term incumbent Raul Alvarez -- the only candidate on the ballot. But by the end of the day two opponents had emerged: longtime East Austin activist Gavino Fernandez and Libertarian Steven Adams. Alvarez and Fernandez will be vying for the Hispanic seat designated by that unofficial and controversial "gentlemen's agreement" regarding council seats. Fernandez is a leader of the El Concilio coalition of East Austin neighborhoods. Alvarez is from East Austin and has also been active in the environmental movement that has occasionally clashed with El Concilio on neighborhood matters.
Fernandez was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment. But during last week's citizen communication period at council, Fernandez supporter José Quintero of the Greater East Austin Neighborhood Association provided a few clues as to why the former Holly Neighborhood Planning chair chose to run. "East Austin needs a council member that answers to the Hispanic community and not the environmental political machine," Quintero told council. "The biggest instigator that comes to our community is the Sierra Club. They appoint the Hispanic they want to run. They are going to vote [Alvarez] into office. Therefore, that's where we are ... still facing the Holly Power Plant closure." (Quintero couldn't be reached to clarify why a Sierra Club-sponsored council member would want to keep open a power plant noted for producing toxic emissions.)
The soft-spoken Alvarez pleased the Sierra Club with his vote against last summer's Stratus agreement, but has also worked with neighborhood leaders on land use and East Austin's industrial zoning issues and supports closing Holly, building more affordable housing, and halting gentrification. His support base ranges from Hispanic business leaders to cycling advocates.
Libertarian but not least, Adams says he chose to run in Place 2 because party brethren had already filed for the other two contested races, Places 5 and 6. A candidate for justice of the peace in 2002, Adams is a self-employed West Austin resident opposed to subsidies for corporations; a major target is the more than $2 million in incentives currently under review for the Whole Foods/Borders Books development project at Sixth and Lamar. He also opposes the city's noise ordinance and Mayor Gus Garcia's proposed ban on smoking in public places.
Filings for the May 3 City Council election are now complete, as follows:
Christopher N. Keating
Michael "Max" Nofziger
Gavino Fernandez Jr.