The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

And Not a Drop to Drink

By Wells Dunbar, April 4, 2008, News

Banging this column out a couple of hours before the Chronicle's initial round of City Council endorsement meetings, BTP is struck by the springtime doldrums on the dais. With the May council race sucking up all the scant attention the public can muster, the current council isn't going to be pulling out all the stops. And with a fresh round of public-safety contract-bargaining in the wings, not to mention the annual budget process looming sooner than we'd care to think – and both shadowed by a sales-tax shortfall (let's politely call it an "underestimated increase") that's left the city one step away from a hiring freeze – it can be assumed council members' minds are elsewhere.

Although that's not to say they've abandoned their council duties. And what does council do, really, when we get down to it, other than convene task forces and spend money?

The sole item of note from last week's session was the creation of the Waterfront Overlay Task Force – the Warren Commission for local enviros. If you may recall, there was no small consternation when it was revealed that a supposedly nonsubstantive, "plain English" rewrite of the overlay code in 1999 (and therefore not requiring council approval) was found to have canned prescribed height limits for waterfront development. (Triggerwoman on the rewrite? Then-Assistant City Manager Toby Futrell.) Approved during her city-manager tenure, in November 2007, the task force only came before council last week, after Neighborhood Planning tweaked the membership. The 15-member force will draw from a plethora of city boards – Parks and Recreation, Planning, Design, Downtown, and Environmental – as well as lake boosters, real estate mavens, and neighborhood reps. Meeting through August, they'll issue findings by September, with council action not anticipated until January 2009.

So that squares the appointments end. What about the money?

For that we return to the waterfront and $1.4 million for engineering and oversight of the long-bandied boardwalk over Lady Bird Lake, destined to close the hike-and-bike trail system's Riverside gap. Good start, but, uh – where's the rest of the money coming from? "This was potentially a $15 million project," said Mike Martinez on the dais. Noting that the $1.4 million only covers the design phase, he reiterated, "This is a step in a wonderful direction to close the gap in our trail system," and said that planners Jacobs Carter Burgess will work with the citizens raising concerns near the project. Definitely to be continued. 

Also continuing – all the way to the bank – was the latest down payment on Water Treatment Plant No. 4, as council approved $27 million for continued engineering costs and an additional $4.6 million for the so-called WTP4 "backup site." Trying to close the door, Mayor Will Wynn said the city's had "a lot of analysis, debate, dialogue about the need for that facility. Frankly, that debate is over." Inevitably, Save Our Springs Alliance impresario Bill Bunch disagreed, inveighing, "You are here moving forward another $27 million on the biggest boondoggle in the recent history of our community." Expect this faucet to keep drip, drip, dripping through the municipal race, as Jason Meeker tries to bludgeon Lee Leffingwell with the same rap on WTP4.

Talk about water torture.

Reach BTP at

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.