City Says Stay out of the Springs

More rain-related news: Barton Springs Pool will be closed today and until further notice, due to flooding.

It's not all bad news: The Austin Parks and Recreation Department Aquatic Division has announced that Deep Eddy Pool will be open 6am-9pm (that's an extra hour in the morning and half-hour at night), and there will be free admission 6am-8am.

For those hoping to bask on its shores today, there's these photos of the springs in warmer days, and an interview with the artist behind them, Will van Overbeek, might help a bit; or you can check out these pictures and more down at Austin Museum of Art on Congress until Aug. 12. Read More | Comment »

Local 11:53AM Wed. Jul. 4, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Local Conservation Programs Get Big Bucks

Two local conservation programs will get six-figure boosts from the federal government in the near future, thanks to some old fashioned pork-barrelin’ from Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Senate Committee on Appropriations last week approved $275,000 to expand the 22,000-acre Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and awarded $300,000 to the Austin Clean Water Program for a sewage management project. “This funding will ensure that the city of Austin has essential infrastructure to serve its citizens,” Hutchison said. Read More | Comment »

Local 4:38PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Justin Ward

City Capital-Improvement Projects Under Discussion

A subcommittee of the Planning Commission met Monday night to discuss recommendations on the city’s capital-improvement projects, including those funded in the recent bond election. Recommendations going to the full Planning Commission next week will include moving more of the affordable-housing bonds to the front end of the bond program, tweaking priorities in sidewalk building, and making sure utility extensions follow Envision Central Texas' principles of avoiding sprawl. Chair Dave Sullivan also suggested looking for a way to tie parkland dedication and sidewalk fees to neighborhood-plan goals, so neighborhoods can see more results from their planning. Read More | Comment »

Local 4:25PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

Car Collision Kills Bicyclist in Northeast Austin

Bicyclist Mandi Terese Boswell, 28, was hit by a car Monday and killed in Northeast Austin. According to the Austin Police Department, the vehicle was traveling westbound on Highway 290 East and collided with Boswell, who was wearing a helmet, at the Springdale Road intersection. The driver remained at the scene. Boswell was transported to Brackenridge Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The case is still under investigation, and the exact circumstances of the accident still aren’t clear. Detectives are asking anyone who may have witnessed the collision to call 974-4724. This is the 34th traffic fatality of 2007. Read More | Comment »

Local 4:05PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Daniel Mottola

Town Lake Folk Festival

Here's local folkie Bill Oliver doing his thing for, cramming more developer jargon in to a three-minute ballad than should be humanly possible:

New Town Lake towers 200 feet high
Like adding three Hyatts … side by side by side
Crowding the river and the hiking path
If they have to build it, make ‘em set back

Lyrics continue after the jump … Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 3:11PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Wells Dunbar

First Damp Squib Announced

Fireworks and rain don't mix, so it's not too big a surprise that the city of Round Rock has just canceled tomorrow's big fireworks display at Old Settlers Park due to weather conditions. Don't worry; all those rockets and screaming mimis won't go to waste: They'll be lit at 8pm on Friday, July 13, as part of the Movies in Your Park family film series.

So far they're still expecting the Frontier Days Fourth of July parade at 10am tomorrow morning to go on, but they recommend that visitors check their website for updates. Read More | Comment »

Local 1:46PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Richard Whittaker

No Relief Upstream

After the city's earlier announcement, here comes a bleak update from the Lower Colorado River Authority:

There is no recreational boating on lakes Travis, LBJ, Marble Falls, and Inks until further notice. All public boating ramps operated by the LCRA and Travis County have been closed for safety reasons. Floodgates will continue to operate, so the LCRA is hoping to keep Lake Travis, the area's main flood control, at its current level of 701 feet above mean sea level (still a good 10 feet shy of the record).

Seriously, don't risk it on the closed lakes. Not only can these waters be deadly (not just for you, but for rescuers – the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department already sadly lost game one warden, Teyran "Ty" Patterson, during a floodwater search less than a month ago), but if you're caught, it's a class C misdemeanor with a $500 fine, and your boat can be impounded. Read More | Comment »

Local 1:22PM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Richard Whittaker

You're Never Going Boating Ever Again

And the Austin-area watercraft bans get extended even further, to the end of the week. Press release from the city:

Area waterway restrictions continue throughout this week

City of Austin officials have extended the current boating ban for all of Lake Austin, Town Lake and the Colorado River below the Longhorn Dam through noon Friday, July 6, 2007.

The extended ban is necessary due to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s continuing operations at Mansfield Dam and Tom Miller Dam. Flood gates have been open all week, creating very swift, debris-filled waters and unsafe conditions.

Persons with interests along these waterways should contact the City of Austin Parks Police Headquarters at (512) 974-7707 during business hours to receive written authorization to secure or remove property in the Flood Ban Area. Proof of ownership or occupancy is required.

Watercraft illegally operated on waters in the Watercraft Ban Area is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $500 and boats may be impounded. Crossing barricades put in place on roadways or boat ramps for public safety can result in a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by jail time up to 180 days and fines up to $2000.

City officials urge residents to be safe during a flood. Most fatalities occur when people drive through flooded roads or walk near creeks or low-lying areas. Be aware that water can rise very quickly and avoid low-water crossings. At night it may be difficult to see water on the road. Never attempt to drive, swim or walk through water that is flowing in a roadway, ditch or storm drain. "Turn around, don’t drown!"

For current flood ban and roadway closure information, visit the City of Austin’s Emergency Conditions webpage at Read More | Comment »

Local 11:40AM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Lee Nichols

Breaking: Second Lawsuit Filed Against Northcross Wal-Mart

By the time you read this, the Allandale Neighborhood Association will have filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Co. alleging that the city’s site plan approval for the redevelopment of Northcross Mall is illegal. Sound familiar? While the ANA petition is independent of the lawsuit filed last week by Responsible Growth for Northcross, it’s nearly identical in spirit.

“It’s a very ripe situation for getting a judge to interpret city ordinances and to determine whether interpretations by city staff were correct,” said Bruce Bigelow, attorney for the surrounding neighborhood association. ANA alleges that city staff got it wrong. At issue is whether the project qualified for the easier administrative approval process it received – which involves only staff reviews, with no input allowed by council or the public. ANA contends that a garden center within the planned Wal-Mart should have triggered a conditional-use-permit process – which requires Planning Commission review and a public hearing and allows appeal to council for a final decision. That last point is the key. Under the administrative approval process used, council believes it has no authority to act.

“Getting clarity on this will be very helpful,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “For us to know, one way or the other – from a judge – whether we do or do not have the authority to act.” Read More | 31 Comments »

Local 10:27AM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Katherine Gregor

Clemency Then, Clemency Now

"I don't believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own, unless there are new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware, or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair." – George Bush, A Charge to Keep, 1999

So President George Bush has commuted the sentence of convicted perjurer Lewis "Scooter" Libby. This came on the same day the U.S. Court of Appeals said there was so little doubt about his guilt that he would not stay out of prison during the appeal process.

What a different story it was a decade ago, when Bush was still simply governor. In his time at the mansion, Bush oversaw 152 executions, a bloodstained record that no modern governor has come close to matching. In an article in the August 2003 Atlantic Monthly, Alan Berlow noted his reticence to commute or giving clemency to anyone on death row. In those, Berlow argues, he was ably assisted by his legal counsel.

This consigliere was charged with preparing death sentence memoranda – an idiot's guide to the details of the case, including issues that may cast doubt on the sentence. This is the prime document upon which the governor is supposed to make clemency decisions. Instead, the counsel created documents that could have served as closing statements for the prosecution.

The name of that counsel, who authored 57 memos that sped convicts to their death? Alberto Gonzales. One presumes the U.S. attorney general was not giving such advice about the fate of the underling of Vice President Dick Cheney. Read More | Comment »

National 9:25AM Tue. Jul. 3, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Van de Putte Goes to Denver

Seems that someone at a national level has been paying attention to the career of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean announced today that, along with Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, she's been nominated as permanent convention co-chair for the Democrat National Convention, to be held in Denver this November. With US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi getting the nod to become the convention's permanent chair, that's a female-heavy slate (what the "barefoot and pregnant" brigade will make of that boggles the mind.)

There were repeated rumors in the Lege early last session that the San Antonio Dem and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures was contemplating standing down, but those faded fast as the clocked ticked down to sine die. Now it looks like she could become the national face of Texas Dems. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 5:11PM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Cleanliness Is Close to Confession

In the trial of Laura Hall for her role in the death of Jennifer Cave, don't look for prosecutors to be holding a smoking gun. They're looking for a squirting fabric freshener instead.

The case is built in part on the theory that Miss "That's just how I roll" Hall gave self-confessed killer Colton Pitonyak a shopping list of what was needed to clean up the grisly crime scene before they fled to Mexico.

Pitonyak's lawyers have always tried to put the blame for the brutal dismemberment on Hall, saying she was responsible for planning the mutilation of Cave's body, while their client did the murder. Part of their argument for putting Hall in the frame depends on the idea that men are just too plain slobby and slothful to really clean up a crime scene. The shopping list included a saw, garbage bags, cleaning agents, and, most damning of all, some Febreze odor eliminator.

Yes, reports the Statesman, Pitonyak's defense thinks they've found an answer: "What guy is going to think of Febreze?" said Pitonyak's lawyer Sam Bassett. Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 12:08PM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Bombings and Business

While the rest of the world tries to work out whether the latest terror attacks in the UK were the work of an organized cell or just some goobers with bad intent and no clue, the elves at Fox News have been looking for the upside.

Amazingly, they think they've found it. On Saturday's financial lovefest Forbes on Fox, host David Asman ran a discussion segment entitled "London Bombings: Good for GOP and Stocks?"

The bastions (we said bastions) of classy analysis then talked up the rarely discussed pros of investing in dictatorships. It seems business ethics are about as much their strong point as comedy. Remember, this is the channel whose parent company, News Corp., is trying to buy out the Wall Street Journal. Read More | Comment »

National 9:51AM Mon. Jul. 2, 2007, Richard Whittaker

There's a Not-So-New Parliamentarian

It's Friday afternoon, so it's the perfect time to sneak out bombshell press releases. Guess what? Speaker Tom Craddick has just launched a doozy.

At 3:17pm, Craddick finally announced his new parliamentarian. His selection? Former Austin Rep. Terry Keel. The same Terry Keel that became the temporary parliamentarian when the last one quit over Craddick's management style. The same Terry Keel who provided Craddick with the questionable constitutional advice that he was basically immune to removal by a rebellious House. The same Terry Keel whose advice is now being examined by the attorney general. The same Terry Keel that rapidly became one of the most hated figures in Texas politics.

However, there are probably sighs of relief among the reps that the man that served as his deputy, Ron Wilson, won't be back. The former Houston Craddick Dem, who didn't look like he was having much fun by the end of the session, is being replaced by Craddick's policy analyst, Kate Huddleston. That will give him time to work on his burgeoning rap career. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 4:04PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Austin Energy Ain't Gonna Get Enroned

Back in January, most Texas electricity consumers woke up to a bright shiny future of energy deregulation, where competition meant prices magically dropping and big electric firms like TXU producing power by stroking kittens. Low-emission kittens, at that.

Austin Energy, like every other municipal utility in the state, decided not to get involved in what many market-watchers feared would be a race to price increases. Even so, the new deregulated retail policy has affected all the municipalities through changes to the wholesale electric market. So it looks like AE is bringing in some outside help.

According to a press release issued today, they're teaming up with the Alliance for Cooperative Energy Services Power Marketing (or ACES Power Marketing, or APM for acronym buffs), who are experts in reducing risk on the energy markets. Anyone who tried to keep track of the labyrinthine complexities of the Enron scandal will know how mind-bogglingly complex and perilous longterm contracts and on-the-margin power buying can be.

And before there's concerns about city cash going on predatory consultants, it's worth noting that APM is actually owned by other power co-ops and municipalities around the nation. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:21PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

More Dam Facts

With the continuing rains and the already saturated soil meaning water levels continue to rise, the Lower Colorado River Authority is saying local river and lake levels could stay high for weeks. This means they'll have to keep opening floodgates across the Colorado dam system well into July.

The river is still below flood levels, although it has reached "bank full" status at several points, and the LCRA is balancing river and lake levels around the clock to keep it that way (even their press officers are working 'round the clock to keep people up to speed). To manage this, they're using Lake Travis as storage and managing the levels upstream by controlled floodgate usage at the Buchanan, Mansfield, Tom Miller, Wirtz and Starcke dams. The water dumping over the Inks Dam spillway, just for context, is now four to five feet high.

Recreational boating bans remain in effect on Inks Lake; lakes Travis, Marble Falls, LBJ, and Austin; Town Lake; and the Colorado River downstream of Longhorn Dam. However, check the LCRA site, since they'll be updating the bans daily. (And just before this was posted, the city of Austin further extended its watercraft ban. See press release under "continue reading.") Read More | Comment »

Local 12:14PM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Futrell Administrator of the Year: 'Get the Hell Out' Accolades up Next

To be followed by the prestigious "Don't Let the Door Hit Your Ass" honors. But in all seriousness, this certainly reads like a golden handshake, doesn't it?

State association honors Futrell as Administrator of the Year

The Texas City Management Association (TCMA) has recognized Austin City Manager Toby Hammett Futrell as “Administrator of the Year.” The state award honors one city management professional who has made significant contributions to the field of local government management in the previous 18 months.

Futrell received the award for her long and distinguished career in public service that has made a positive impact on the greater Austin area.

“I love Austin, and I’m proud of the vital role City Government plays in fostering and preserving Austin’s quality of life, carefully tending economic growth and urban change, while nurturing Austin’s unique culture and green environment,” Futrell said.

As in the past, last year was filled with national honors for Austin and its municipal workforce.

“Her achievements have been the result of strong leadership and an unwavering vision to help make Austin the most livable community in the country,” said Mark McDaniel, Deputy City Manager of Tyler, Texas, and TCMA President. “As the largest local government association of public managers in the United States, TCMA is very proud of her efforts.”

As Austin City Manager, Futrell oversees a 12,000-person workforce larger than some Texas towns, more than 30 directors and a budget of more than $2 billion. Austin is a fast growing city in Texas with a population of more than 700,000.

TCMA announced and presented the honor at its annual conference June 22 in San Antonio. TCMA is an organization of local government professionals dedicated to promoting the highest standards of governance, service, leadership, ethics, and education while embracing individual and regional diversity for the benefit of our membership and the cities of Texas.

Congratulations. Next up: the Platinum 2X4 award to commemorate the construction boom Downtown she presided over – and to pry her outta her office. Read More | 1 Comment »

Local 10:50AM Fri. Jun. 29, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Alamo's Last Stand

Farewell to the Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado. Wednesday night was the big bye-bye to the site that launched QT Fest, Butt-Numb-a-Thon, Weird Wednesday, Terror Thursday, etc., etc., etc.

Already the last signs of the Downtown icon are going – literally. By this morning, the big light-up Alamo sign (featured very briefly, if eagle-eyed cineastes recall, in the opening credits to Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof) had already been stripped from the outside wall.

Tickets for last night's final blow-out at the Colorado location included a free wrench so the lucky attendees could take their seat home with them. But we at Chronic doubt that someone staggered home with 20 foot of neon after the goodbye screenings. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:45PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Richard Whittaker

AG: State's Pension Books Don't Balance

Attorney General Greg Abbott released a report this week that showed that 82 of the 96 government-related defined pension plans in Texas were carrying liability on the books. Basically, these funds carried $23 billion more in anticipated debt than current funding. Abbott estimated 1.8 million Texans have counted on retirement funds with liabilities that exceed their assets. Of those 82 funds, 17 were considered to be seriously “at risk” because current liabilities would take more than 40 years to repay. Abbott suggested independent actuarial calculations, better financial expertise from board members, and greater transparency of conflicts of interest. Read More | Comment »

State 3:28PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

CWS Capital Properties Project Update

Attorney Richard Suttle continues to make concessions on the CWS Capital Properties project at 222 and 300 E. Riverside to gain the support of boards and commissions, and he continues to get a skeptical reception. The two, 200-foot tower project, the subject of Save Town Lake’s ire, would be the first variance to the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay, if granted. On Tuesday night, Suttle tried to sweeten the pot with additional land and amenities for the Town Lake Trail. Development plans have been configured to avoid breaking the 150-foot, overlay-required “primary setback,” in which development is not allowed. The project will go through a subcommittee hearing process before it makes it back to the full commission next month. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:00PM Thu. Jun. 28, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

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