San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 11th, 2010
Council candidates tangle about building at debate

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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
Associate Editor

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.

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14 thoughts on “Council candidates tangle about building at debate

  1. About 2 of every 3 children in SMCISD qualify for free or reduced price meals based on low family income levels. But those are the same families that would have to pay this new ACC tax every year.

    Oh, sure, there are beneficiaries of the proposed ACC taxation. Texas State students who want to get cheap credit hours from ACC to transfer back to Texas State. Businesses who want local poor families to subsidize their employee training programs. Texas State wants it so they can spend less time on Freshman level course development and instruction.

    But, this is a bad deal for the poor families that constitute the majority of SMCISD population. I am astonished we have local politicians rooting for more new taxes to be thrust upon our poor families. I am dismayed the ballot language hides the fact that this would be a new and permanent tax burden.

    Why should we take more tax money away from those people who don’t have enough to begin with?

    As Kim said, “citizens in a democracy, have the right to petition government on matters in which they have interest” … but, shame on the proponents who misled people into signing the petition in the first place.

    I was one of those people who signed the petition early on. But then I started hearing more about the complete picture, and realized what a bad deal this is for the people who would be paying the new tax every year.

    The ballot language is skewed to generate “yes” votes, ACC is and will be marketing heavily up to election time, and our city leaders seem happy to support this insidious tax on poor families who can’t afford it and don’t directly benefit from it.

    Kim said she is, “proud that ACC is on the ballot,” but I am appalled to see it on the ballot.

  2. Like Steve, I was in support of ACC’s goal of building a campus here at first. But the more I learned, the more I realized that this is not in the best interest of San Marcos taxpayers.

    ACC is a fine institution…my wife is off attending an ACC class this very moment. (She drives to the Pinnacle campus.) But the biggest beneficiary of this boondoggle will be debt-laden ACC, not San Marcos.

    Expand the existing class offerings at ACC. If demand is high for students to take daytime courses or those that can’t be accommodated without a new campus here, then encourage some enterprising capitalist to launch a shuttle service to connect San Marcos students with the ACC campuses.

    If the ballot asked, “Would you like to cut ACC a check for $200 every year so they can build a campus here?” the measure would get three votes: one from Porterfield, one from Narvaiz, and one from the developer who sold ACC the acreage. The rest of the town would want to tar and feather the people responsible for putting that measure on the ballot.

  3. I also thank God every day that we have the Outlet Mall. And He thunders back,” Thou shall shop!” And the world is a better place.

  4. One must suppose some predictable (more or less) rate of increase in ACC enrollment from the handful of somewhere near a hundred at present, to at least _______?, three years out; _______?, five years out, etc., to a sustainable and manageable number of students making “satisfactory progress,” however they choose to set those benchmarks. Do they anticipate a certain number of “certificate only” (presumably, single-year certifications of competency) over any span of time? How about students entering with “x” amount of credit already who will complete their curriculum in a year or two? And how about the number of students who opt for full-time studies leading to an Associates Degree?

    Which fields will offer each of these tracks? Will students be co-enrolled with others not seeking the same goals, or will programs be segregated by level and content? What Certificates will be offered, what degrees/diplomas? Will they be academically comparable to what one might expect either at another community college or a higher-level academic program.? Will the curriculum address core competencies, purely applied skills like truck driving or hospitality management, or a standard “academic core” beginning with communication and research skills and leading toward “some job,” or a balanced arts and sciences curriculum which can stand alone or transfer fully to the next level–an integrative, as opposed to a parallel, track.?

    Who will be the faculty? Experienced faculty eligible and accustomed to teach University courses according to the specific and general standards for their field? Or faculty spouses and TXState graduate students, themselves still in (albeit a higher) track for themselves? Will the faculty be homegrown, in other words, or commuters?

    What will class sizes be, at optimum–certainly not so high as TXState’s 29:1? Surely not 5/7:1?

    How will laboratory equipments, space, etc. be supplied adequately for more than simulated or audio-viz learning. For Math, science, and other target disciplines, if they are to produce quality students, their success relies heavily on some of the answers to these question, as any experienced educator will testify. And what about the use of library and other supplemental materials–research done in various fields and phases OUTSIDE the “hard science labs, where equipment must be available for research, building or making, and presentation.

    Note that if incoming students in a “vocational” track are to play much of a role, they will need a compliment of advisors, mentors, internships for the “practical, hands-on” skill sets being acquired.

    How high are the enrollment standards for the courses;how good the “accountability system?” These are just a few of the rational and necessary Planning Points we have not heard much about, along with others such as the means of placing proper labs, and specialized equipment, expecially for the science, IT and technology courses to be taught.

    Another question that has arisen regards the apparent intent of TXSt to shuffle into ACC a large number of “not quite qualified,” or remedial-level students actually enrolled at the University, but behind in their work.. This would free the Univ. from some of the costlier and more tedious investments in marginal performers, and if those students didn’t make it, the burden for school performance can be given away, assigned to the “newbies.” That way, the cost is made lower per student, seats are opened in the crowded schedule of most-wanted and most convenient classes.

    I would tend to suspect that if the measure passes, it will be several years before a symbiotic and well-integrated program matures–“makes a crop,” as they say on the farm. The taxes will not wait, and can only grow, any way the alliance turns.

    Further, I look to Gary Job Corps, which has well over 30 career programs, along with necessary ESL, GED, College Prep, even Driver Licensure, plus sports and activities and student government, as compliments to the thirty-odd career tracks specially aimed at our labor market. They have a normal “campuse-based community life, and receive tuition, room, board, books and supplies along with work uniforms, as a monthly stipend from the Federal Government, since ’65. Students between 18 and 24 without criminal records may attend either in residence or on campus, a major requirement being financial need or academic unpreparedness. Very much like the target group for ACC, except more of the latter are likely to be older and married or already working as they attend.

  5. The “pitches” I heard during the petition drive heavily emphasized glowing goodness and hardly mentioned (if at all, in most cases) anything about new permanent taxes. I fear some SMCISD taxpayers will go to the poll, read the ballot language, and vote “yes” thinking they are simply approving ACC to expand their courses here in San Marcos, not realizing their “yes” vote is also accepting a permanent new tax burden. The ballot language should have included some kind of statement that joining the ACC district means forever sending new tax money to ACC every year. I am amazed our city leaders think this is a good time to foist a new permanent tax burden on the citizens.

  6. Show your support on the street and on the web. Get people to the stopacc(dot)org website or facebook group. Get the word out about this new and forever property tax. Tell your neighbors, your parents, your kids. Get a yard sign. Make sure you are heard far beyond this website. Let’s not roll over and play dead like ACC and their cronies hoped we would! We can still stop ACC. Thanks!

  7. Also, isn’t it true that what we will be voting on is JUST whether or not to be annexed into the ACC taxing district? I believe I read that there IS NO provision in any of this that requires ACC to build a campus here. Basically, they way I understand it, they could just take our tax money and continue to make students drive to Austin but they will get cheaper tuition. Can anyone verify that?

  8. ACC set the ballot language by getting the Texas State Legislature to rule that every ballot initiative has to use the (vague/incomplete) language we see today. Unfortunately the ballot language says nothing about the fact that a vote “yes” means the taxpayer is agreeing to new taxes every year forever.

    On what the initiative mandates, it dictates SMCISD taxpayers pay a new annual tax, and that ACC in turn will provide “in district” lower tuition rates. Anything else from ACC is subject to what ACC decides we should have (they will dialog with “community leaders” but the final decision is up to ACC).

  9. I’m all for people being able to see complete information. The ACC website is actually austincc.edu/annexation and the FAQ’s tab has some interesting material. For example, I just read the following Q&A in the FAQ’s:

    Q: Will San Marcos CISD get an ACC campus should annexation pass?
    A: Yes

    They could change their mind, but I doubt that would happen. I do believe that if we join the ACC taxation district, they will build some kind of campus here at some point in time (the final decisions are up to ACC, though).

    But, why should the mostly poor people in SMCISD be the ones to pay for this new campus (via the proposed annual permanent new tax they would have to pay on top of everything else)?

    And, if we’re really interested in helping the poor youth break out of their economic cycle, we get a lot more “bang for the buck” by improving what we do for the pre-K through 4th grade.

  10. Remember, Texas State wants this pushed through because they get great benefits without having to ever pay a dime (think, Robin Hood in reverse).

    The SMCISD taxpayers will pay every year, forever, so the Texas State students get reduced tuition for “quick and cheap” classes they can take at ACC and transfer the credits back to Texas State. And, Texas State further benefits by not having to invest as much in Freshman course development and instruction.

    The local “power elite” decided this new and permanent tax should be placed onto the backs of the poor people of San Marcos. It feels like they are “imposing” this new tax because of how it was pitched during the petition drive, and especially because the ballot language says NOTHING about it being a new permanent tax.

    ACC = Unfair Taxation

  11. Having sifted through every single page of the ACC petition some years ago and finding forged signatures of several of my friends, I am not favorably disposed toward ACC. One signature was that of a former Scout in the military and stationed in Florida. The ACC ballot issue is like Austin’s for moving tha airport from Mueller to the former Bergstrom Air Force Base site. The powers tthat be will resubmit the ballot measure time after time until all are worn down and the issue final passes. The good news might be that after each ballot issue is rejected, ACC might sweeten the deal with each new approach. I did not have the bandwidth to download ACC’s 50+ mb file of course offerings tonight, but I did notice Biotechnology and Welding Technology, both in the best of offerings would require extensive and expensively equipped labs. Were ACC to be committed to building within my rapidly diminishing lifetime a full-blown and equipped campus here for such courses and others, I might vote for bringing a campus here and vote to pay for it. I would enroll in both, not that I need another career but for the curiosity and knowledge. Apparently, we have no assurance that ACC would bring into our community anything other than lecture courses in subjects that our high school should be preparing students for anyway. Many years ago my wife then took a course in interior design at at an ACC campus near House Park in Austin. I drove her there and spent some time snooping around and wanted to take welding–I chose instead to take it at our own high school in their adult continuing education program. I have no clue that such a course is available now in our own already-paid-for facilities–if not, that might be a less expensive alternative to 10.02 cents per hundred (for now) in ACC taxation for any number of education opportunities. I say vote ACC down again until the deal is sweetened.

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