WTP4 Redux

Could today be the day Water Treatment Plant No. 4 finally jumps the shark? Let's do a little vote counting – sponsoring the resolution this afternoon (to be picked up after 1pm, said the mayor) exploring the long-shot possibility of a regional plant are Mike Martinez, Jennifer Kim and Brewster McCracken. There's three people unexcited by or opposed to the plant in varying degrees.

And who, you may ask, postponed the hearing on SOS's WTP4 appeal from late August into October – in the middle of the non-nesting season engineers say they need to start WTP4 construction by? None other than its (former?) biggest booster, Lee Leffingwell. If you've lost him, well, you've lost WTP4.

Stay tuned. Read More | 4 Comments »

City Hall Hustle 12:07PM Thu. Aug. 9, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Leff Peeved on Perceived Springs Paving

Suffice to say, reaction here at City Hall is a little, shall we say, excitable – does steam shooing outta aides' ears count? – over Asher Price's Statesman article regarding Lee Leffingwell's reworking of the Save Our Springs ordinance. From the lede on down ("A measure that would encourage more redevelopment over ecologically fragile land in Austin could soon appear …"), it grants Leffingwell little leeway in his attempt to tweak one of Austin's sacred cows – making a tough, thankless task a little more crappier.

Now, with Brewster McCracken making big noise over Water Treatment Plant No. 4 – awaking from a long disinterest in the subject to propose shrinking the plant size, thereby conceivably moving it to a site other than its ecologically-troublesome Bull Creek location – he's positioned himself opposite Leffingwell's long, dutiful defense of the plant. If we were more jaundiced political observers, we'd note the move emphasizes WTP4's drain on Leffingwell's otherwise hefty eco-credentials – an issue which could arise at election time when he's likely to face (you guessed it) Brewster McCracken. Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 10:26AM Thu. Aug. 9, 2007, Wells Dunbar

The Bridges of Travis (and Bexar, and Harris, and …) Counties

With the Minnesota bridge disaster fresh in everyone's mind, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seems to be joining the calls to check on the state of Texas bridges. In a letter to Ric Williamson, chair of the Texas Department of Transportation, there's the beginnings of a hardened line on the thorny issue of paying for upgrades to at least some of the Texas road system.

"Dear Ric," he begins affably enough, "I read with relief your statement that 'all the bridges on Texas public roads are safe'." But then the bite: "The Minnesota highway department, I assume, thought the same was true for their state too." Dewhurst then requests a detailed record of all structurally deficient bridges in Texas and their maintenance contracts, to be provided by August 17.

Of course, all the reports in the world won't do a lick of good unless there are funds available for the three r's: reconstruction, renovation and replacement. Since the feds have already started repeating the whole "it's a state issue" line about road and bridge construction (ignoring the fact that it's actually mostly the states spending federal money) he'll have to rustle up some Texas cash. Would Dewhurst, or any other candidate, dare to dip into that seeming holy of holies, the $14 billion property tax refund fund that he spent all last Lege session defending? Or will the option be a new era of toll bridges? Read More | Comment »

State 8:40AM Thu. Aug. 9, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Killing with Kindness

So if State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, is after US Sen. John Cornyn's seat in '08, why is he being nice to him?

Today, Noriega put out a press release complementing the Republican incumbent for supporting the Federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The bill would allow the children of illegal immigrants who gain a high school diploma or GED access to the same rights, like a degree at in-state rates and a driving license, as their class mates, and begin the path to citizenship. Noriega points out that in an El Paso Times article, Cornyn came out for the bill, and applauds him for his stance.

Now this may sound like an olive branch, but it's actually Political Campaigning 101. It's the home field advantage: the candidate that defines the terms of the debate is more likely to win the debate. A quick note in El Paso has become a state-wide press release highlighting the divisions between Cornyn and some of his more anti-immigration and anti-immigrant base. Read More | Comment »

State 5:17PM Wed. Aug. 8, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Rep Your Hood

Not that public safety's been in the news today or anything, but here's an interesting tidbit from that tireless fount of public safety parlance, Texas Monthly publisher and Public Safety Task Force member Michael Levy:

Here is a partial list of the active gangs in Austin, according to an APD presentation at the last PSTF meeting.

1. Tango Blasters (this gang is the one that we are seeing the most growth out of right now)
2. Crips (there are probably about 20 different sets that we see activity from, four that are very active and the one we are seeing the most activity out of right now is the Insane Gangster Crips)
3. Bloods (there are about 10 sets we see activity out of and the most active is the 02 Bloods)
4. Texas Syndicate
5. Mexican Mafia
6. Bandidos
7. Aryan Circle/Aryan Brotherhood
8. La Familia
9. Aerosol Bombing Crews (tagging gangs)
10. ROK (ruthless original killers)
11. MS-13
12. Companeros
13. Latin Kings
14. Latin Steel
15. Puro Barrio Unido
16. Pistoleros
17. Los Cholos
18. Sureno 13

Of course, our editor notes the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance barely missed the cut. Bummer.

The public safety discussion has been at a fever pitch ever since the budget began to rear its head in the late spring. Anecdotal evidence – and the jump in murders over last year (albeit, 2006 was a record low) – suggest it's getting worse out there. But still, it's hard to say what needs to be done.

FYI, I think the PSTF should make reexamination of the 2-per-1,000 police-staffing rule a priority, and suggest some ways to better allocate resources across the city. It's a start. Read More | 5 Comments »

Local 12:48PM Wed. Aug. 8, 2007, Wells Dunbar

City Council Notebook

For Thursday, August 9:

Item 2: Approving sprinkler and irrigation limitations proposed by Lee Leffingwell's conservation task force, including a prohibition on daytime watering and a switch to a twice-weekly watering schedule.

Item 3: Resolution adopting the rollback property tax rate – $0.4034 – as the highest possible proposed. Wait, in the budget week before last, it was $0.4120. OMG WTF?

Item 7: Ponying up $200K to outside legal council to represent the city in "Responsible Growth For Northcross, Inc. v. The City of Austin, Lincoln Property Company Commercial, Inc., and Lincoln Northcross, LTD."

Items 10-15: FEMA buyout of six floodplain parcels along Onion Creek.

Item 34: Setting public hearing on new City Manger search, August 23, 2007, 6pm. Pushed up from original date Neverary 12.

Item 35: Giving the CM 30 days to examine at the possibility of a regional water plant for Austin, Leander, Cedar Park and Round Rock – instead of Water Treatment Plant 4. One council member promises a big proposal.

Item 36: Also having Toby examine "the feasibility of providing comparable [changing] facilities for both men and women at each Austin Fire Department station." Please refrain from any "hose" or "pole" jokes, thank you.

Item 37: Creating an Austin Water Utility fund to reimburse customers who experience water/sewage/whatever damages from the utility doing their work, i.e., the "Rich Oppel, Please Shut Up" initiative. Read More | Comment »

City Hall Hustle 10:09AM Wed. Aug. 8, 2007, Wells Dunbar

The Abbott Advisories, Part 5

It seems like most of the major House players have weighed in on the Speaker Tom Craddick debate. But there had been one deafening silence: Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Now there's word on where the Craddick D is going to stand on the matter, and it's nowhere. Turner's office confirmed that the rep will not be submitting a brief to Attorney General Greg Abbott on whether Craddick broke the rules or not. So what does that mean for their famously close working relationship? Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 4:40PM Tue. Aug. 7, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Dumpster Diving = the New Black

A local politico and longtime fan of the paper, with (obviously) too much time on his hands, writes in:

Erstwhile [former] Chronicle reporter Lauri Apple to appear on the Today show tomorrow morning to talk about her "found clothing []."

She was also featured on the cover of the Chicago Tribune's Lifestyle section Sunday (see photo). It's a koo-koo krazy world.

Man, if Matt Lauer and company are truly hip to the found-fashion/Freegan thing, the world is truly off its ass! Read More | 4 Comments »

National 3:44PM Tue. Aug. 7, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Conservative Idol

Right wing religious activists the Heritage Alliance have issued their 2007 Texas Conservative Report, a vote-by-vote breakdown of who's tough enough on all those important issues to keep them satisfied.

There's very few surprises – the House is more divided and radicalized than the Senate, Dems are less conservative than Republicans, that sort of thing. The big shocker may be the least conservative city in the state. Quick hint – it's not the 512. It's actually El Paso, with the lowest scoring senator (Eliot Shapleigh on 40%) and rep (Paul Moreno on a remarkable 3%.)

Four of the top five most conservative reps are female, with Jodie Laubenberg, R-Rockwall, heading up the list at 96% conservative. For those of you wondering where she dropped those all-important points, she had a couple of absences. But apparently she also believes that school busses should be fitted with seatbelts. The crazy pinko. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 1:47PM Tue. Aug. 7, 2007, Richard Whittaker

The Abbott Advisories, Part 4

In the flurry of responses from the GOP to Attorney General Greg Abbott's request for opinions on the whole Speaker Tom Craddick unlimited power thing, there was a strange absence.

Where were all the Dems? After all, there's a lot of them in the House, and they've probably got an opinion on this.

According to the office of Dem House caucus chief Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, he put out his public letter in late May about the speaker's power grab. After Abbott asked for opinions, Dunnam sent him a letter that basically said, "see what I wrote earlier." There was a weird moment of unexpected synergy with some Craddick boosters, but only on the issue of whether Abbott should be rendering an opinion at all. However, while the GOPers claim it's a "separation of powers" question, Dunnam's concerned that that, as an elected Republican, Abbott should not be making a decisions with far-ranging political consequences.

Meanwhile, Speaker Pro Tem and notorious "Craddick D" Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, seems to have been strangely restrained on the issue. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 12:32PM Tue. Aug. 7, 2007, Richard Whittaker

More Spanking for Perry on Community College Veto

The hornet’s nest stirred up by Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of $154 million in community college funding continues to buzz. As we’ve previously reported, the veto fight – which could be dubbed “Rick Perry vs. the World,” if that name weren’t already taken by a political blog – stems from Perry’s line-item veto of state funds that he said community colleges were improperly requesting for certain employees’ health insurance. Perry says state law mandates that those workers must be covered with local funds – and that the colleges have committed fraud by doing otherwise – which drew a flurry of furious op-eds from several legislators and community college presidents, the latter of whom say they’ll have to slash their budgets, raise tuition, and raise local taxes to balance the books in fiscal year 2009. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 4:17PM Mon. Aug. 6, 2007, Lee Nichols


On the City Council agenda this week are the new guidelines for BYOB establishments, created in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Kevin Alexander Brown – which originated in the wee-hours of the morning, in the parking lot of afterhours BYOB saloon and reputed complaint factory Chester's Club.

There is a somewhat messy subtext to this – while neighbors of Chester's have complained about the noise and late-night traffic the club's generated, the hipsters in the comments section at Austinist seem concerned what's drafted to address one troubled club may impact other establishments. (So much for that Vice-sponsored PBR and Vicodin blowout I planned in my recently gentrified neighborhood!)

We've just skimmed its 14 pages – it's rife with talk of permits, hours-of-operation limits, and the like. Check it out here (under Ordinance). Read More | Comment »

Local 12:02PM Mon. Aug. 6, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Cornyn vs. CHIP

Sen. John Cornyn – enemy of children’s health! (That’s not us speaking – It’s just a little tease for you of what the Democratic campaign against the junior US Senator for Texas will look like next year.)

On Thursday, Cornyn voted against House Resolution 976, the bill to re-authorize the federal component of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). To be fair to Cornyn, the bill was originally called the Small Business Tax Relief Act, and contained several significant non-CHIP tax components. So it’s hard to tell whether he was voting against CHIP or against some other part of the bill. But it can’t look good when Texas’ other senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, submitted an amendment that would have increased CHIP eligibility for families living in high-cost areas.

Of course, this will come up again next year when he defends his senate seat. In fact, Chronic only found out about the vote because the Texas Democratic Party sent out a press release. Although some pol watchers are boosting Corpus Christi lawyer Mikal Watts's run for the Democratic nomination, he seems to bring little to the table beyond a big war chest. Dems might be concerned that Watts could quickly turn into another Tony Sanchez (who spent a fortune on a losing run against Gov Rick Perry in 2002.) As the only other declared Dem in the race, seasoned campaigner Rick Noriega (who as a big city, law-and-order, five-term Hispanic state rep seems like he may have been grown in a idealized Texas Democratic candidate laboratory somewhere) may be rubbing his hands today. Read More | Comment »

State 10:48AM Mon. Aug. 6, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Animal Shelter Move Howls Again Wednesday

The folks at FixAustin (who else envisions them holding the city by the, ahem, business, with scissors at the ready? Effective name, I guess…) sent out a press release reminding everyone that this Wednesday, City Council's Health and Human Services subcommittee will meet in city hall to receive a breifing on the controversial relocation of the city's animal shelter from Town Lake to the Eastside. (Controversial to FixAustin, at least. Personally, I can see the pros and cons of moving the shelter, but whatever your opinion, it's obvious the city needs a new shelter, at Town Lake or elsewhere.) More background on the controversy from moî here.)

FixAustin's press release after the jump. Info on the meeting here. It should be quite the – please anesthetize this pun – animal house! Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 10:00AM Mon. Aug. 6, 2007, Wells Dunbar

The Abbott Advisories, Part 3

After the big guns had their say about Speaker Tom Craddick and his push for power, out come all the individual member letters to Attorney General Greg Abbott, some for Craddick, some against.

Jodie Laubenberg, R-Rockwall, comes out for Tom so enthusiastically that the speaker forwarded her letter to the media like a press release. In it, she argues that Keffer and Cook were trying to subvert rules when their motion to vacate the chair was rightly ignored by the speaker (just like she ignores the fact that it was Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, that tried to make the motion to vacate that Craddick ignored.) She seemed maddest that Keffer and Cook would "have undoubtedly forced the House into a special session … costing our taxpayers thousands of wasted dollars." (Is she going to send a strongly-worded letter to Gov. Rick Perry that he better not call his threatened special session over Iran divestment?) Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 1:43PM Sat. Aug. 4, 2007, Richard Whittaker

The Abbott Advisories, Part 2

First the Craddick-boosters got their say: now comes a 29 page, footnoted legal tome from his foes. Six senior Republicans have answered Attorney General Greg Abbott's call for advisories on whether the Speaker exceeded his powers last session, and they say he did.

Let's CliffsNotes their argument for you: since the speaker is not classified in the Texas constitution as an officer of the state, they cannot be impeached. This means removal is a House issue, and the House rules do not say, as some people have held, that there can only be one speaker vote per session, nor that the winner automatically holds the post and wields the gavel for two years. Instead, the Constitution says, implicitly, that any quorate House can hold a speaker vote any time they feel.

With us so far? Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 10:34AM Sat. Aug. 4, 2007, Richard Whittaker

The Abbott Advisories, Part 1

Tick, tick, tick. Friday was the last day that Attorney General Greg Abbott could take advisories from state reps on whether they have the power to get rid of Speaker Tom Craddick.

Pity poor Greg: the last thing he probably wanted was for Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, to drag him into this fight by asking for a legal opinion, but he did. Now every Republican seems to be weighing in.

First off, there's what we'll just quickly call the Berman letter (you'll understand when you read the list of signatories), very obviously a "Get Out of Jail" card for Abbott on this no-win situation. It's basically 15 Republicans riding to his rescue by saying that this really is a House matter and there's no good grounds in the constitution for dragging him into it. Although, at the same time, they also ask that he give an opinion on whether there's a mechanism to get rid of the speaker. So no confusion there.

If you're keeping track, this one was signed by: Leo Berman, R-Tyler; Betty Brown, R-Athens; Fred Brown, R-Bryan; Bill Callegari, R-Houston; Frank J. Corte Jr, R-San Antonio; John Davis, R-Clear Lake; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Dan Flynn, R-Canton; Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving; Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land; Carl Issett, R-Lubbock; Jim Jackson, R-Carrolton; Jim Murphy, R-Houston; Beverley Woolley, R-Houston; and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 1:00AM Sat. Aug. 4, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Bye-Bye to Bearse

Another ranking staffer is saying goodbye to staff parking at the governor's mansion: Eric Bearse, director of communications for Gov. Rick Perry, will be leaving to go into private practice. Equally at home writing inaugural speeches and attack ads, he's been a decade-long fixture by the governor's side. No word yet on a replacement.

In a press release, the governor's office announces that, as of September 1, Bearse will be setting out his shingle as a pen-for-hire "specializing in speechwriting, public affairs and political consulting." He's done this before, having worked for a slew of clients seeking election before joining the Perry camp during his '98 campaign for lieutenant governor. Since then he's bounced between Perry's office and Perry's campaigns, so does anybody want to guess who his first client will be?

Of course, Perry has always liked keeping consultancy contracts in the family. According to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission by Perry's PAC, Texans for Rick Perry, a firm called Delisi Communications was paid $538,771.59 for services during his 2006 campaign. If the name Delisi rings any bells, because it's the last name of his former chief of staff Deirdre Delisi, wife of GOP consultant Ted Delisi, who happens to be the son of Rep. Dianne Delisi, R-Temple, and the man behind Delisi Communications. It's already recieved $36,632.21 in the first half of this year, and there's not even a campaign on.

So, here's some questions: why the maneuvering on the staff front? Why the recent announcement of the size of the TRP war chest? And why the recent foreign-policy-points-winning trip to Israel? Is the rumored Perry for Veep '08 campaign trying to pick up some steam? Read More | Comment »

State 1:32PM Fri. Aug. 3, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Video: Chronic Explains Iraq, Austin, in Three Minutes or Less

It was a far simpler time – Harry Potter was on everyone's lips, we didn't cower in fear of falling bridges, there was still doubt as to whether the Attorney General had perjured himself – instead of just how badly. Yeah, last week sure was something, wasn't it?

It was then your humble Chronicle columnist and Chronic overlord appeared on MSNBC to explain the mother-of-all-punchlines: how Austin's city government was serving as model for Iraq – specifically Baghdad. Apparently, Toby Futrell and the gang have been exporting that "terminal democracy" thing of ours overseas by way of teleconferencing with the troops trying to create said local governments, and providing advice on how to set up city services. Here's (somewhat glitchy) video of my two appearances getting more into it (the second segment begins immediately after the first):

Pretty hilarious Freudian slip on my part, saying Austin's got a "city manager-city staff" form of government, eh?

What I tried to make more clear in my second appearance (I was initially scheduled for four, but a bomb scare or somesuch bumped the last two), was the "government-by-bake-sale" aspect of the whole debacle. Bush and his bloodsucking-sycophants have been fighting this war on the cheap ever since it kicked off four years back. Granted, the city's been lending a hand for three years, and our hat is off to them, but the fact Washington didn't have any sort of contingency for this in the first place – the fact it's fallen to our city staff and incredibly overworked, overdriven city manager – really speaks to the facile, incompetent lack of planning behind this entire clusterfuck.

Plus, the city manager's popularity has dropped, but I don't think she has any first-hand experience with sniper-attacks or car bombs. Read More | 2 Comments »

City Hall Hustle 10:50AM Fri. Aug. 3, 2007, Wells Dunbar

More Signs of the End Times

First Chronic thought it had lost our own Mr. Dunbar to the dark side when he was caught agreeing with a Statesman op-ed. Now there seems to be some signs of agreement between House Democrat caucus chief Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, and his nemesis, Speaker Tom Craddick.

In one of his most controversial line item vetoes of SB1, the state budget for 2008-9, Gov. Rick Perry unilaterally dropped $154 million out of funding for community and junior colleges. This sum was intended to cover group insurance contributions for 2009: Perry argued that this wasn't the state's business but a local issue. This annoyed the community colleges, a bunch of state reps and Dunnam, who wrote to Craddick to get him to weigh in on the issue. As co-chair with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of the Legislative Budget Board, he has the power to restore the cash.

Now Craddick has written back, and sent the letter to the media. While it's not a "hell yeah!" signing on to go two-on-one against the governor, he says that he backed the original appropriation and he's already trying to work on a solution with Perry, Dewhurst and the House to get it sorted. But don't get too giddy: he can only transfer funds, not create new cash or even put back the money the Lege approved in the first place. Oh, and he wants to get this sorted quickly, so that colleges know how to budget. Just to show he's still a Texas GOPer, he also notes that any solution doesn't involve a property tax rise. Read More | Comment »

State 10:46AM Fri. Aug. 3, 2007, Richard Whittaker

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