Travis Gains Little Ground on Land Use

Deece Eckstein, intergovernmental relations coordinator for Travis County, has been working in and around the state Capitol for almost two decades, but the 81st Legislature may stand as a watershed for him. Rarely has he been so disappointed in a session. "There was so much stuff that I felt there was a real consensus about, but eventually we did nothing," he said.

Eckstein admits that the county and its delegation walked into the session with "a very ambitious agenda of land-use legislation" for unincorporated areas. That's a particularly pressing issue for Travis County, which he called "unique because so much of our land mass is unincorporated. So land use and water use becomes more of an issue than other urban areas." There were high hopes for industry-backed proposals like Rep. Valinda Bolton's House Bill 4175, which called for creating construction buffer zones, as well as Rep. Eddie Rodriguez's bill to enhance extraterritorial jurisdiction land-use controls and impact fees, to cover the transportation costs created by new developments. Ultimately those bills "didn't move very far," he said.

It wasn't a completely lost session on the planning front. Increased storm water management regulations in Sen. Kirk Watson's Senate Bill 1299 will allow the county "to protect water quality from landowner screw-ups," Eckstein said.

There were also real gains for the administration of county courts, including the longevity pay adjustment shepherded by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and the establishment of a permanent presiding criminal courts judge for Travis County under HB 3468 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. At the other end of the penal system, Eckstein had particular praise for the work done by Houston Democrats Rep. Sylvester Turner and Sen. John Whitmire on HB 1711, which assists what he called "the re-entry population – people leaving the prison system and re-entering society." At the moment, Eckstein said, "We want them to become productive, but we're not really supporting that."

Even though the session was a bust, Eck­stein is optimistic about legislation after the 2010 census and the resulting House redistricting. "This may have been the last waltz for that old rural-dominated Legislature," he said. "The big story of the 2000 census was the growth of the suburbs, but I think you're going to see the urban districts grow."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

81st Legislature, Travis County, Deece Eckstein

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