Page 12


The State Dives In Briefly The SOS fight transcends Austin. Developers intent on building in the sensitive areas west of Austin knew better than to trust the citizens of that area to let them have their way, no matter how complaisant the city council seemed. In 1989, development interests helped write a bill which the Legislature passed \(with the help of Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and thenficult for cities to control development in statute allowed such developments to incorporate as separate cities if they could not reach agreement with the regulating city on what standards to apply. The threat of incorporation and the weak or nonexistent controls likely to ensue was used by pro-developer city council members to weaken Austin’s own requirements. Around the same time, the Legislature passed other so-called “Austin-bashing” laws that reportedly would have benefited some lawmakers who owned land in the Austin area and didn’t want their investments harmed by environmental regulation. Last session, developer interests \(including, according to the Austin Chronicle, way that purported to prevent pollution by requiring the density and runoff standards in a city ETJ to be the same as those in the central city. Such “equality” ignored the differing geological and ecological conditions existing in different areas, and also would have ensured that standards in the ETJ would have been reduced to the lowest common denominator; otherwise, cities would have had to tear up their sidewalks The bill failed, thanks to opposition from Barrientos, whose political antennae had quivered after the fight over Barton Springs last year. Barrientos, who has received contributions from developer interests, tried to put together a bill that would protect Barton Creek, but couldn’t find a formula that satisfied both environmentalists and developers. He was criticized for equating the interests of a few developers with those of a great number of Austin citizens who want a clean springs.. In 1990, developers also tried to get the Texas Water Commission, then dominated by pro-development appointees of former Republican Gov. Bill Clements, to intervene in their behalf. The TWC eventually backed off, but environmentalists still fret about its role, even though the agency is now run by appointees of Gov. Ann Richards. A former Travis County Commissioner whose environmental record was less than stellar, Richards is a close friend of developer Gary Bradley, who has contributed over $100,000 to her various campaigns and with whom she owned land over the sensitive Edwards Aquifer. \(She sold it when it became a camyear, Richards appointed her old ally and successor on the commission, Pam Reed, to the TWC, over protests from a half dozen environmental groups. For now, the state appears likely to let the citizens of Austin determine their own environmental policy. But developers’ willingness to resort to the businessinfluenced state government to frustrate the pro-environment desires of local . citizens sends an ominous signal to other Texas communities. B.C. and Louise Epstein. According the Central Texas Environmental Alliance, on 24 council votes on environmental issues since last year, the RULE bloc voted “green” less than a third of the time, while the other three council members cast pro-environment votes over 80 percent of the time. The RULE members claim that the development proposed in the watershed won’t harm water quality, or that the economic benefits of development must be weighed against the benefits of environmental piotection. Critics contend that tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers, which made up approximately half of RULE totals, have something to do with the way the bloc votes. In an effort to devise a consensus on a permanent CWO, Mayor Todd appointed a task force composed of developers and environmentalists. \(All on this panel had supported him agree on a plan, but Todd tried to incorporate the group’s draft into an already-weakened CWO earlier proposed by the developer-packed city Planning Commission. By February 1991 he had prepared what he called a “composite” plan \(denounced by environmentalists as the “comthan he would have liked, but the strongest he could get four votes for. It replaced the strong interim law last October, with Todd joining the RULE bloc to pass it 5-2. \(Some see the mayor as an astute politician, who has managed to position himself a Barton Springs defender and distance himself from the RULE bloc, calling on them to vote to put the SOS ordinance Sending Out an SOS When the city council failed to make the strong interim CWO permanent, several environmental organizations formed the Save Our Springs coalition to pressure the council to adopt a stricter ordinance or to write such an ordinance themselves and submit it as a referendum. The proposal they put together would restore many provisions of the interim ordinance, imposing the same density requirements and restricting developers’ ability to obtain waivers. The SOS coalition represented a departure from the politics of the past: instead of agreeing to an inadequate compromise, as environmental groups had done for decades, SOS took the issue directly to the people. What caused the break with tradition? “One difference is that the problems caused by development are more obvious now,” said Riddell. “Another is that the threat of future development is closer to fruition,” he added, noting that much of the infrastructure for development in the environmentally delicate area highways, interchanges and utilities -is already in place. “I think the fight has gotten more intense because people have realized that the previous ordinances and attempts to mitigate pollution from development are inadequate,” Riddell continued. “The rules that are on the books allow so much urbanization and so little control of runoff that unless the rules are changed, the aquifer, creeks and springs will be polluted for a long time,” he said. In Austin, environmentalists and Democratic party strategists who had squabbled over the years suddenly came together as some veteran liberal Democrats, tired of progressive ideas dying in the council, joined a new, more politically astute generation of environmentalists, such as Bunch and Brigid Shea \(who had experience in lobbying state government with Clean tive environmental political movement. An important distinction between this and earlier skirmishes over development is that this one involves Barton Springs a historical site, symbol and recreational resource appreciated by many who otherwise wouldn’t care what was going on in an aquifer. Aware that there might never be another issue that mobilizes such a large segment of Austin’s population, the SOS organizers are attempting to use the threat to the springs to pass a law that will protect the entire Barton Creek area. Developer forces pulled out all the stops to squelch SOS. Developer Bradley, for example, hired a private detective to try to find dirt on Shea and other prominent environmentalists, and Freeport McMoRan is running a “green” TV ad, touting environmental-protection measures at their Barton Creek Country Club. And it seems to be effective. The RULE refused to vote to schedule anelection, arguing that the city charter allows the council 60 days to decide whether to let an initiative become law without a citizen vote. Since the RULErs had weeks earlier voted against the interim CWO which was similar to the SOS ordinance, it seemed unlikely that they intended to let the SOS initiative become law, and SOS leaders accused the them of using the 60-day period to delay the election. The coalition sued to compel the city coun cil to set the election for May 2 and the state court agreed. But the four-member council bloc appealed, hiring lawyers who had represented developers Moffett and Bradley. After a con fusing first opinion, which seemed to uphold Continued on pg. 19