Lewis Leff

As Austin City Council prepares to make decisions regarding structural changes to Barton Springs, it has a pool of conflicting voices concerned about the proposed changes.

The Barton Springs Pool Master Plan, adopted by the council in 2009, lists various improvements as a way to “return the site to its former glory,” according to the City of Austin. These improvements include working on the infrastructure of the pool, planting and replacing trees in the area, replacing the fence and improving the water quality.

Lewis Leff, chief of staff for Council Member Chris Riley, said several of the changes would require bypassing certain city ordinances to make structural changes. Several of these structural changes, including increasing parking and handicap accessibility, would require using more impervious surfaces. These are impenetrable surfaces including concrete and asphalt that can have negative environmental effects on a natural area.

“Some of the ideas being recommended by staff would require some variances to some ordinances that are in place,” Leff said. “The issues that are coming up are based on some of the suggestions to do an [Americans with Disabilities Act] pass and suggestions to reach the parking, so you’re talking about pervious versus impervious coverings which is always a big deal.”

Leff said the council item, which passed unanimously at the March 7 meeting, originally called for a public hearing to be held March 28. The item was amended to postpone the hearing until April 11 and instead hold a staff briefing on March 28 to allow city staff to outline possible variances and options for the council.

“[The hearing was held] so that folks would come talk about those improvements and if they agree we should be doing variances on certain city codes to let the improvements be made,” Leff said. “The briefing will be useful to help council better understand the issues involved and to make a better decision about what to do.”

Robin Cravey, former president of the Friends of Barton Springs Pool, said there has been too much caution around going forward with the plan.

“I’m baffled by the idea that some people who have cried out over and over for public process now don’t want to go forward with public process,” Cravey said at the meeting. “This project is the culmination of three or four years of public process, and we went through a year of planned process in 2010. This was subsequent to 2007 when the council allotted funding for this project as a short-term project.”

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Barton pool renovations delayed again". 

Vincent and Sibylle Hohendorf stroll on Shoal Creek Trail Sunday at dusk. The City Council recently proposed a bill to extend the hours of the trail to be accessible 24/7. 

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

Students who use walking and biking trails such as the Shoal Creek trail adjacent to West Campus may have access to the trails 24/7 because of a resolution passed by City Council waiving current curfews beginning in June.

The three trails included in the resolution are the Shoal Creek, Johnson Creek and Butler Hike & Bike trails, which are currently closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Council Member Chris Riley, who sponsored the bill, said trails need to be considered as a regular and safe form of transportation for pedestrians and bikers.

“More and more Austinites are finding that walking and biking are great ways to get around at all hours,” Riley said. “The trails we’re discussing were funded in part as transportation projects and should be available around the clock just like the other parts of our transportation network.”

Lewis Leff, Riley’s chief of staff, said the resolution passed 6-1 at the council’s meeting Thursday, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell opposing. 

Certain details of the resolution — such as which trails will be included, which hours of the curfew will be waived and how much funding will go into the resolution — are up to the discretion of the council because of amendments added to the resolution on Thursday, Leff said. He said these details will be determined at the council’s Feb. 12 work session. 

Raul Munguia, assistant police chief for the Austin Police Department, said funding is a big piece of the puzzle for council’s determination of which trails to implement in the plan. Munguia estimated that hiring an appropriate number of full-time, year-round patrol officers would cost the city $2.7 million for all three trails to run 24 hours.

“We don’t have those officers. We’d have to recruit, hire and train those officers, which could take anywhere from six months to a year,” Munguia said. “But to have [current] trained officers out on the trails for those time periods, the overtime for a year would be just a little over $3.1 million.”

Leff said the council has been presented with various options regarding which trails to leave open and what kind of police presence is appropriate.

“There’s no telling at this point,” Leff said. “There’s a lot of different ways that this discussion could go. We’re just trying to find a way that works for the people who have been asking for this and that also makes the staff feel comfortable.”

Published on February 4, 2013 as "Curfew times change for certain bike trails".