San Marcos City Council challenger David Newman, left, and incumbent Kim Porterfield, right, at last week’s League of Women Voters debate. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
Incumbent San Marcos City Councilmember Kim Porterfield and her challenger, former mayoral candidate David Newman, tangled over a controversial mixed-use development and the proposed annexation of San Marcos CISD into the Austin Community College (ACC) district when they met at last week’s League of Women (LWV) voters debate.
Out of the four city council races on the Nov. 2 ballot, Porterfield is the only incumbent running to keep her seat. Another councilmember, John Thomaides, is running for mayor against former Councilmember Daniel Guerrero.
Porterfield is a co-chairperson of San Marcos ACCess, the group that worked to place ACC annexation on the November ballot. Newman attacked the ballot language for the proposal as vague and incomplete.
“This says nothing about the taxes,” Newman said after reading the ballot language. “It’s misleading language. It’s being misrepresented. And once we’re in it, we’re in it. You wouldn’t enter a contract with no recourse and no representation. I think it’s a bad deal for the taxpayers and I’m sorry it’s on the ballot.”
Porterfield disagreed with Newman and said that citizens in a democracy, have the right to petition government on matters in which they have interest.
“I’m proud that ACC is on the ballot,” Porterfield said. “The ballot language is a legal issue that has to do with the legislature, so it’s forums like this that allows us to educate the voters on issues that are going to be on the ballot … I, personally, support annexation, but I respect the right of anyone to oppose it. These are tough times that we’re in and it’s hard to ask people to raise their taxes. But in order to attract good paying jobs that we so desperately need in our town, we need an educated work force. I thank God that we have the outlet malls, but that is not enough to sustain a family on. Our folks need certificates, they need two-year degrees, they need nine-month programs so that we can attract companies that have good paying jobs that pay benefits.”
Newman argued that the property tax rate of 9.51 cents per $100 of taxable valuation for maintenance and operations, which is capped and can only be increased by voter approval, and 0.51 cents for debt service — is not necessary to levy on San Marcos, because the city already is in the ACC service district. ACC presently holds classes in San Marcos, but does not have a full-service campus, and charges out-of-district tuition rates.
“We are under threat, I would say, to be annexed by the ACC taxing district,” Newman said. “Once we’re in this taxing district, ladies and gentlemen, we have no recourse, no say, our tax dollars will be spent from far, from Austin. We can’t withdraw from ACC. We have to build them a new campus and staff that. And once we’re in (the ACC taxing district), it’s pretty much forever. We’re in the middle of a recession right now. I think that … to put that extra tax burden upon us would be a disservice to tax payers and to the people that will be ultimately be funding this, which is you all. So I’m definitely against ACC and I’m all for education, but this is not the way to go about it, (kindergarten) through 12(th grade) is what we need to be concentrating in on.”
Porterfield said she’s in support of education reform for students in pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, but added that much more is needed.
“We have some of the lowest educational attainment levels in the (Interstate-35) corridor, and I’m not talking under 18-year-olds,” Porterfield said. “Our literacy rates among adults are some of the lowest in Hays County. So, we need workforce development. As far as Austin Community College, it is on the ballot. I worked hard to get it on the ballot for the community to decide. I have one vote. You have one vote. But affordable, accessible higher-education has been a stated published goal of this council for several years and part of our Partners for Progress plan. It will reduce tuition (to) one-third. We’ll have a campus here in San Marcos. We will be eligible to run for the board in ACC so that we will have a say in the curriculum and the policies of Austin Community College. And there is a tax cap, so taxes cannot be raised by the district without voter approval.”
Porterfield and outgoing San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz are defendants in an injunction suit filed by CARE-SMCISD (Citizens Advocating Responsible Education). CARE alleges that the defendants used city resources to promote the ACC annexation.
Councilmembers have unanimously approved an expenditure of up to $15,000 to hire attorney Charles Soechting, the former state Democratic Party chair, to represent Porterfield and Narvaiz. City attorney Michael Cosentino may be called as a witness in the suit.
Another matter of contention between Porterfield and Newman was the Buie tract development in the western stretches of city. Council has generally approved Buie tract measures by 5-2 votes, with Thomaides and Councilmember Gaylord Bose in opposition and Porterfield joining the consenting majority.
Thomaides has called the developers “unscrupulous” for maneuvering its zoning requests to get around super-majority vote requirements for the city council.
The Buie tract developers sought a zoning change from SF-6 to MU for 12.88 acres of their property along Franklin Drive. Angered nearby homeowners circulated a petition. By gathering signatures from 20 percent of the property ownership adjacent to the development, the citizens would force the council to cast six of its seven votes to enact the zoning changes.
In May, on the Friday before council’s Tuesday vote, the developers scaled back their request to only 10.65 acres of the original 12.88 acre request, because the developers said they wanted to meet with home owners on Grant Court, as they too would be affected by the zoning change.
After the scaling back, the petition only produced signatures from owners of 18.04 percent of the land area affected within a 200-foot radius, rather than the 20 percent who signed in opposition to the original request for the 12.88 acres. Thus, the council needed only a simple majority to approve the request.
The remaining 2.23 acres of the Buie Tract along Franklin Drive were recently approved by the P&Z in a 4-2 vote from single-family to mixed use. Those 2.23 acres were the remaining portion of the 12.88 acre zoning change request that had been reduced in May.
Porterfield said at the June council meeting where councilmembers approved the zoning change request for 10.65 acres that it did “look a little suspicious,” but voted in its favor.
“I think that we all need to play by the rules and the rules need to be clear,” Porterfield said at the LWV debate. “And San Marcos has some of the most stringent rules in the area, regarding impervious cover and protection of our aquifer. The reason that I supported the Buie tract (development) was because more than half of that land will be preserved forever through a conservation easement. The apartment homes that will be located on a major roadway, and then the housing is clustered in one end, and more than 50 percent of the tract is preserved forever in a conservation agreement. This is a best practice. This is called for in the Envision Central Texas blueprint plan and is common through the United States, where communities allow density along major thoroughfares to create a more walkable community while forever preserving our pristine hill country land.”
Newman said he has served on several environmental groups, including the San Marcos River Foundation and the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, and added that he’s in support of conservation.
“The Buie tract (development) went in violation of the directives of the Horizon’s Master Plan, in that we attempted to limit high density development out to the west,” Newman said. “And to have voted for that high density measure was an incorrect decision, I believe, by the city council and Planning and Zoning (P&Z) to allow that. We need to really limit our development out to the west, not stop it all together, but make sure that when we do develop to the west, it’s low density, zero to three, or three to six, dwellings per acre, and I think that will preserve our environment and our water quality and follow the Horizon’s Master Plan which citizens so painstakingly formulated years ago.”
The Buie tract also played in the LWV debate between P&Z Commissioner Jude Prather, who is running against contract negotiator Toby Hooper, for the Place 2 seat being vacated by Bose. Prather has consistently voted for Buie tract zoning requests.
“We have a lot of good codes, we have a lot of good ordinances, but are they being effectively enforced?” Hooper said about neighborhood protection. “I’d like for the neighborhoods, and we have some really good neighborhood organizations, I’d like for the neighborhoods a measure of autonomy, so that they can ask for more of their neighborhoods. Basically, what they’re doing is preserving their property rights. And they’re ensuring the stop of a phenomenon that I’ve seen … and that is, good people running away from San Marcos, because they don’t want to live next to their neighbors anymore. There are a lot of solutions to things like that. And I think the neighborhood association should be listened to a little more in that regard.”
Said Prather, “Right now, we have some really good ordinances on books, right now, that take care of nuisances that arrive from neighborhoods. For example, if a particular home gets two noise violations within a 60-day period, within the third violation they would be up for grounds of condemnation of their home. Ordinances like that, I believe, can really (improve) homes that are trouble homes in neighborhoods. Keeping our neighborhoods safe for our communities and families is something that’s really important to me and should be with every city councilmember. But it’s making sure those ordinances are used effectively. Making sure our marshal’s office is on those cases, so that we don’t have problems like that arise in our neighborhoods.”
Retired police officer Rodney Van Oudekerke and business owner Shane Scott, who are running for the final two years of Thomaides’ unexpired term, also spoke on neighborhoods and development codes.
Van Oudekerke said he opposes implementation of the SmartCode and form based codes in the city’s neighborhoods.
“I think you run into problems when you have a one-size fits all, because there’s different needs in different parts of the city,” Van Oudekerke said. “The form based code is something that I’m warming up to, something we can take a look at. I will not support that in established neighborhoods.”
Scott said there’s been a lot of confusion in the community regarding form based coding, the SmartCode, the Land Development Code (LDC), and the downtown master plan, but he said the programs were put together by the community in the effort to make San Marcos look a certain way. Scott said he favors the SmartCode’s implementation downtown.
“It’s great for small business, because you can go downtown by one of those old buildings, and put a business in it, fix it, restore it, in that same footprint,” Scott said. “The Horizons Master Plan tells you how it will look, which we’ve all agreed on already, to give that really unique San Marcos character to it. So it’s important actually, and if we’re trying to get to where we’re going to go with building, that’s the way we’re going to have to go.”
The Nov. 2 election will decide the three council races, the mayor, ACC annexation in the San Marcos and Hays CISDs, numerous Hays County offices and state races. Early voting begins on Oct. 18.Email | Print