AMD Not Budging Under Pressure to Reconsider Move
Enviro groups, public officials still pitching an eastern option
As Advanced Micro Devices moves ahead with plans to relocate about 2,000 employees to a new campus on land owned by Stratus Properties in Southwest Austin at the corner of Southwest Parkway and William Cannon, pressure to convince the company to reconsider its decision continues.
Various green groups are asking for more discussion of the matter. Because the Lantana tract, where AMD intends to move, was already fully entitled and required none of the zoning or other public hearings where battles over Austin's development future typically take place, AMD was able to make its decision with virtually no public discussion. Since announcing in April its intention to move southwest, company representatives have been making the rounds among a slew of community groups, explaining the reasons behind their decision. Still, environmentalists say that if AMD is going to break with the long-standing tradition that major employers not locate in the Barton Creek watershed, it should offer more than mere explanation. The groups, which include the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Clean Water Action, Liveable City, Austin Sierra Club, Save Barton Creek Association, and Save Our Springs Alliance, continue to urge AMD to include them in a task force that publicly studies the move's potential impact, and reconsiders Lantana as the best possible choice.
Even if AMD won't put together a task force, the groups are also asking to see the data AMD used to make its claim that the move is the most environmentally friendly for Austin's air. AMD which does have a history of promoting alternative transportation among employees claims that by moving to Lantana, the company can reduce employee commutes by 10,000 vehicle-miles daily. In some public presentations, AMD representatives have shown a scatter map indicating concentrations of AMD employee residences in the city as evidence to back that claim. SOS Alliance has asked for the map and traffic study numerous times since April, but has yet to see anything. That, according to SOS's Colin Clark, is starting to look funny. "It raises questions as to what exactly is in the traffic study," he said.
AMD spokesman Travis Bullard said the company is reluctant to release the info out of concern for the privacy of employees whose addresses are in the study. "We absolutely have nothing to hide, and we definitely want to get out as much information as we can," Bullard said. "We just want to be sensitive that there's no personal info in there."
The study, which AMD released to the Chronicle (in a format that removed employees' street addresses and showed only ZIP codes), does show a strong concentration of AMD employees in South Austin, particularly in the Circle C area. The data used to make the map, which compared employees' potential commutes to Lantana with their current commutes to the company's primary existing facility on East Oltorf, is what was used to come up with the 10,000 commute-miles figure. The map also shows that only 31% of employees live within 10 miles of the existing facility (most of Circle C is just over the 10-mile mark), while 58% live within 10 miles of Lantana. The data, however, does not compare the Lantana site to various other potential sites, which is the sort of comparison those in favor of exploring alternatives would no doubt like to see.
In any case, the debate over major employers locating in the city's southwest has always been about more than the direct environmental impact of a business campus and its commuters. Major employers can shape development patterns by encouraging growth near their sites and discouraging it farther away. This has been the logic behind companies, including Freescale, Motorola, Sematech, and (so far) AMD, locating in what some call the "high-tech crescent" on the eastern edge of town.
The role of employers is poised to become even more important as construction begins on SH-130 South, a 49-mile tollway even farther east. The highway lies primarily on unincorporated land, and because counties have limited direct power to shape land use they have no zoning authority, for example it is developers' and employers' willingness to plan development in cooperation with government representatives that will make the difference between the 130 corridor becoming a model for transit-friendly towns, or just another poorly planned exurban nightmare. As such, Travis Co. Commissioner Ron Davis, who represents the Eastside's Precinct 1, is hoping to convince AMD to reconsider a move east as a way to provide jobs, shift the center of employment gravity, and stimulate the kind of high-density growth that can make the most of the $1.5 billion investment in the highway. "The infrastructure is there. We have the roads, we have a lot of the things we need in place, and we're trying to make sure we have employers over there," Davis said. He added that AMD is only one of the companies he is courting.
Bullard said AMD intends to meet with Davis, but only as part of its "rounds" to brief government officials on the company's plans. "We're 100% committed to going to Lantana," he said, "and are not interested in being pitched on any new site."