Beside the Point

Land Filled, Bodies Buried

They don't know what's going to go there, but they sure know what won't.

"There's not a proposal for a landfill," Mayor Will Wynn told the assembled representatives of Webberville last week. In that incorporated village (most of whose population might have been on hand) some 15 miles east of Austin, residents won't be waking to these anytime soon either: a coal gasification plant, a wastewater facility, a neighborhood park, regional park, theme park, or golf course. "There is no proposal whatsoever for this land," Wynn exclaimed in exasperation.

So why the hubbub over what we're not doing?

Well, the Webbervillians didn't turn up to get all Sartre about being and nothingness: Instead, long-simmering concerns about Austin's ownership of some 2,850 acres in their town – and whether or not the city of Austin has any designs on converting it into such an aforementioned landfill – drew them to council chambers. Not entirely without cause – lots about this item seemed odd, down to its language "declaring the Council's intent to maintain ownership" of the tract. (The item's proximity to a resolution recommending no further expansion of two existing dumps northeast of Austin didn't alleviate anyone's fears.) Wynn ultimately quipped that the real reasoning was so "people can stop making us offers for the next year," but one notable speaker didn't refrain.

Webberville Mayor Hector Gonzales noted several official Centex stakeholders – like Travis Co. commissioners and state Reps. Dawnna Dukes and Eddie Rodriguez – are still concerned the city might eventually trash the land. Moreover, with Webberville's mostly minority residents and black and brown legislators closely watching, Gonzales agitated that while allegations of environmental racism might be incorrect, "It sure appears that way." Or as another speaker eloquently iterated, the possibility feeds "the old colonial dogma that eastern Travis County is only good for digging or dumping." To which the mayor began his Seuss-style delineation of the myriad things the city isn't putting there.

But as with most matters before council – or politicians in general – what isn't said is as important as what is. Maybe the land was once planned for a dump – technically owned by Austin Energy, it's reserved for their potentially nefarious infrastructural use, and the current language calls for it to "provide public services and benefits," stoking landfill fears. But it's also close to the forthcoming $1.5 billion Villa Muse subdivision, one of the future seats of eastern growth. So while council's wide-eyed insistence of innocence felt overeager by half, for the city to dump on such a potentially lucrative site doesn't sound likely. But then, neither does Gonzales' solution: His proposal to buy the land back from the city – at the same price it paid years ago – seemed wishful and disingenuous.

No sir, the city is content to sit on its Webberville tract for now. And you thought the real estate melodramas on basic cable were cutthroat.


Shadow of a Doubt

Hell, maybe we should take to the tract with some shovels – just to see if any bodies are buried there. A slim agenda this week (morning presentation of long-awaited Green Water Treatment Plant decommission; endangered Habibi's Hutch returns from last week) got even weaker with the disappearance of its previously announced starring player. The budget policy discussion – in which council combs over Their Gal Futrell's bleak "financial forecast" for crumbs to cobble together – was unceremoniously bumped off its scheduled May 24 slot today, muscled back to council's next meeting, June 7. If things are anywhere near as dire as we've been told – the city manager's "forecast gap" predicating the highest possible (without an election) property tax rate and still coming up short – you'd think council would be quick to pounce on this whodunit. But that's just us. Here's another mystery: What other government allows its executive branch (in this case, city staff) to prepare its own budget, without any direct oversight – checks and balances – of the process? Questions like these hanging heavy over the pending discussion – and Mike Martinez forebodingly requesting an itemized accounting of the CM's spending – are pushing this "forecast" under a looming cloud of doubt.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Council, Webberville, Landfill, Travis County, Hector Gonzales, Financial forecast, City Budget, Toby Furrell

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