My memory of the events leading up to the historic vote of the City Council Meeting of June 7, 1990 have grown a bit fuzzy through the years. However, I do remember the vote was actually in the early morning hours of June 8. I think it was about 5:30 AM. Meeting was adjourned at 5:55 AM shortly after 13.5 hours of public testimony. (Full transcript of meeting at http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=11913 )
A great deal of controversy about the development project was raised principally by the Austin Chronicle and two environmental organizations, The Save Barton Creek Association and the Austin Sierra Club. (The Save Our Springs Coalition did not form until 1992, however, some of its founders did speak and participate in meetings.) At the time, I was the Chair of the Austin Sierra Club Conservation Committee and its Political Action Committee, as well as, a member of the City of Austin Environmental Board. As such, I was present at nearly all meetings with Barton Creek PUD developers in discussions on what it would take from them to allow their development to proceed and still protect the aquifers recharge and contributing zones, along with Barton Creek.
Mayor Lee Cooke, Charles Urdy, Robert Barnstone, Sally Shipman, George Humphrey, Smoot Carl-Mitchell, Max Nofziger were members of the Austin City Council on that historic day. Many meetings were held, mostly arranged by Mayor Cooke. I was a member of a joint, ad hoc committee made up of 3 environmental group representatives and 3 PUD developers to discuss the project and how it could be made to work. I sat on the Environmental Board when the project was initially presented and all subsequent modifications presented, and led in drafting the recommendations sent to the Planning Commission and City Council. (The recommendations of Environmental Board were intended to be adopted should the project be approved by the City Council, however, we did not recommend the project.) I was invited and attended the Austin Breakfast Club where I rose and spoke in opposition to Jim Bob Moffett, the CEO of FM Properties who was leading the PUD development. I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Austin Chamber of Commerce Luncheon where I presented the deficiencies of the project to a packed room and debated Darrell Royal about the project. (After the meeting, Austin School Board President and future City Council member Gus Garcia introduced himself to me, acknowledged that I was right, and later joined the Sierra Club.)
On the 7th and 8th of June, I attended the entire meeting, either watching in person from the Council Chambers or on closed circuit television in the basement under the chambers. I was the last person to speak as a public speaker. I gave a brief history of my credentials and involvement, and ended by saying that based upon all I had heard before and during the meeting, I opposed the project in its current draft.
Behind the scenes, from having lobbied each of the council members separately, I had clear knowledge where the votes would go on the motion to approve or deny the project. Mayor Cooke had confided in me how each was decided or was leaning. As it stood, those voting for the motion to approve where Urdy, Shipman, and Carl-Mitchell. Those in opposition were Barnstone, Humphrey, and Nofziger. Mayor Cooke was leaning toward approval up to the meeting but had raised a number of non-environmental issues at meetings expecting satisfactory answers prior to the June 7 meeting.
It may have been a combination of those concerns, the environmental issues raised, and the public outcry that brought Mayor Cooke to the point of switch his vote to denial in the early morning hours of June 8. It’s clear from watching the recording of the meeting, the surprise on Shipman’s face when the Mayor goes to her and tells her of his decision. (The City of Austin Manager sat between them during the meeting.) Following this, Shipman made the motion to deny the PUD but adopt the recommendations of the Environmental Board and Planning Commission. (I know, I can’t make sense out of that either.). That did not pass. Robert Barnstone then made the motion for full denial and it passed 7-0, when the actual vote should have been 4-3.
As an interesting incident that occurred along the way, a representative for Jim Bob Moffett made an offer of $1M to the Save Barton Creek Association if they would drop their opposition and get behind it. He would also deny such an offer was made if it was ever publicized.