Watson voices skepticism of Zilker Plan

Says no to parking garages & new amphitheater.

Watson voices skepticism of Zilker Plan
ACL festival goers walk towards Zilker Park along Barton Springs Rd last October. 

I'm going on a family trip to Oregon tomorrow, where the temperatures are forecasted to mercifully top out at around 90. I'll be recycling some past content over the next few days and maybe doing a couple quick updates if something comes up. Happy 4th!

DPS is back! You may recall the partnership between the Austin Police Dept and the state Dept of Public Safety was put on hiatus last month because Gov. Greg Abbott said the state troopers were needed to handle the "border crisis." Apparently that has been solved, freeing the state police to focus on speeding tickets in Austin.

Actually, I happen to think combatting unsafe driving in Austin should be a higher priority than incarcerating migrants.

In the first iteration of the program, APD said DPS was deployed to areas with the highest call volume. Predictably, the result was that the vast majority of those arrested or ticketed by DPS were Black and Latino. So now, to avoid the perception of racial bias, they're supposedly going to do things differently. From the Texas Tribune:

For the second iteration of the partnership, state troopers will be deployed to parts of Austin based on APD’s direction and staffing needs, instead of areas of the city with the highest call volume and traffic, Thursday’s announcement said. This change was made in response to the mayor and City Council’s recommendations.

It's not clear what this means, but what I'm hearing from City Hall is just that they're going to send more of them to the west side.

Watson objects to parking garages, new amphitheater at Zilker:  In a new "Watson Wire" email, the mayor comes out against two of the most controversial parts of the proposed Zilker Vision Plan.

I don’t support a big amphitheater on the Great Lawn. We’ve proven you don’t need such a thing to have amazing shows there. And we just opened a pretty cool amphitheater in downtown at Waterloo Park. Plus, we can, and should, upgrade and make improvements at the current Hillside Theatre.
I also don't support putting garages in the park. There are options for parking that wouldn’t impact the park so negatively as garages. For example, we could partner with Austin ISD to utilize the area around Austin High in a way that serves the school district and the city. We could put parking there for park visitors and, done right, we could work with AISD to get housing for teachers and school district staff. We can get additional benefits without damaging Zilker.

Perhaps. An important thing to remember: the Vision Plan doesn't propose a net increase in parking. It calls for converting the existing parking into parkland; the three parking garages would occupy a smaller footprint than the existing parking spaces. As the graph below shows, the plan would significantly reduce the amount of impervious cover in the park, both from parking and roads:

Claire Hempel, the lead consultant on the plan, told me that the proposed amphitheater is not going to be as big as people seem to think it will be. There will only be a "couple of rows" of hard seating; the rest will be lawn seating.

"I think that’s a misperception that’s gotten out of control," she said.

The space gained on the Great Lawn by removing parking lots will be greater than the space taken up by the new amphitheater, she said.

Watson points out there is no current funding for the improvements envisioned in the plan. That is not unusual –– vision plans are often adopted to guide spending as new funding becomes available, most likely through a bond program. However, Watson said,"Serious consideration needs to be given to the equity of paying for this proposal before making changes and improvements elsewhere."

It appears Watson and others on Council have agreed to delay action on the plan, which was originally going to be voted on July 20, until the end of August.

Watson also gives a nod at the fears of privatization stirred up by opponents of the plan.

I will never support turning the park over to an independent, private corporate entity to govern or control it, as some have worried this plan may do. I ran for mayor saying that City Hall should do better at taking care of the basics. One part of that is making sure our governance or oversight of things like Zilker is done well. If there is some need to have a person (or two or three) coordinating communication and activity with the various and many groups that enjoy Zilker, then the city can hire such people. Make that their job and make sure it’s done well. That’s pretty basic.

Well that's one way to legitimize baseless allegations. The mayor could have expressed his opposition to privatization and pointed out that the plan proposes no such thing. Is he lending credence to these claims because he believes them or because he perceives a political advantage in doing so?

I find it hard to believe that Watson, himself a former Chamber of Commerce president, actually buys into the anti-privatization messaging. It's much easier to believe that he's a politician who recognizes a controversy that needs to be nipped in the bud. Coming out against parts of the Zilker Vision Plan is a low-cost way to throw a bone to some of the anti-growth types who supported his campaign. They have probably been unhappy about some of the pro-housing votes he's taken during his first six months in office, and this is an easy way to show them that he's still listening.

Anyway, I am pleasantly surprised to see no objection (yet) from Watson to the proposed changes to Barton Springs Rd. The plan proposes reducing the segment of the road that goes through the park to one car lane in each direction. That is not to be confused with a pilot program proposed by the Transportation Dept to similarly narrow the road between S. Lamar and Azie Morton.

Hempel says she is "happy that the plan is on his radar and the planning team looks forward to working with Council in August toward a plan that the Council will hopefully approve."

Meanwhile, a recent post from Resave Zilker Park Again warns of plans to replace the Philosophers Rock Statue with a much larger statue of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Explains RSZA:

"This is nothing but the continued Californication of Austin and we say 🙅🏻enough is enough🙅🏻. Should our children and dogs be forced to play beneath gigantic shrines to a band that openly condones drugs, sex, and dense urban west coast lifestyles?"