Off the Desk:
Speaking of elections, the Capital City Chamber of Commerce is having an info session on the city bond election at 6pm Monday, Oct. 12, at the Bank One Bldg., 5407 N. I-35. -- L.T.
Too little too late for the governor's race, maybe, but the backlash against George W. Bush has officially begun. On page 106 of the latest issue of Esquire magazine is "Dubya!", a sampling of Texans' assessments of our beloved guv. Some of them, including the Chronicle's Robert Bryce ("Self made man, my ass"), even dare to point out that the emperor may have fewer clothes than the mainstream media's been letting on...-- J.S.
Gay rights activists and the family of a gay man stabbed to death two years ago expressed outrage last week after a Travis County jury returned a not guilty verdict in the murder case. Charles Edward Lowery, 23, admitted he killed Pablo Zuniga on the Town Lake hike and bike trail -- in an area well known for being a gay pick-up spot -- but he said he did so in self-defense when Zuniga accosted him. That defense, gay activists charge, is a claim used all too often when the victim is a homosexual. Lowery initially told police that Zuniga also threatened him verbally, but Zuniga was deaf and could not speak clearly, according to the victim's brother, Manuel Zuniga. While Lowery was acquitted of murder, jurors found him guilty of tampering with evidence; he had thrown the murder weapon, a letter opener, into a dumpster. In a Sept. 25 press release issued after the verdict, Dianne Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, wrote that, "Tragically, today's verdict adds to Texas' history of devaluing the lives of lesbians and gays by giving murderers of gays lighter sentences, or in this case, no sentence at all."...-- A.S.
After almost a year of riding through bureaucratic red tape, the Yellow Bike Project has finally moved into a city-owned facility at 1182 Hargrave. The East Austin site will serve as a resource center as well as a "birthing place" where volunteers transform old, run-down two-wheelers into free, colorful community bikes. In exchange for the use of the building, YBP is making bikes for city employee use; those will be painted white and equipped with a lock, helmet, and odometer. They are also planning a bike library program at several public schools. YBP is looking for volunteers interested in helping fix up the new digs, and of course, revamp cycles. "Work parties" take place Saturdays and Sundays. Call 457-9880 for more info ...
Could it be that after more than two years, the Triangle saga could actually be winding to an end? What seemed most unlikely a few months ago occurred last week: CencorRealty and neighbors of that state-owned parcel between 45th, Guadalupe, and Lamar reached an agreement on the revised plans for the tract. The neighborhood-friendly new plans -- devised through workshops and stakeholder meetings with planner Peter Calthorpe -- include six acres of green space, a street-grid network, a significant reduction in the number of parking fields, and 500 apartment units and townhomes. It's a far cry from the strip mall-like development with the multiplex theatre and 40 loft apartments originally planned. The new-and-improved plans will be presented to the state board of review on Oct. 12, for approval...
The fair-wages campaign, fair staff retirement plans, staff representation on UT committees, and the need to restructure the UT classification system are among the items on the University Staff Association's (USA) platform, to be announcedduring this year's first organizing meeting Thursday, Oct. 1, at 5:30pm in the W.C. Hogg Building, Rm 1.120, on the UT campus. The meeting will include a "state of the Staff Association" address by USA President Peg Kramer, a vote on the dues structure for the association, and a report from the newly formed grievance committee. USA kicked off the fair-wages campaign last year after a study showed that UT staffers were drastically underpaid in the Austin job market. For more info, see the USA Web page at http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~usa... -- L.T.
With growth on its mind, software company Computer Sciences Corp. has decided it's time to expand. The company, which develops software for the life, health, and financial industries, currently calls four buildings in the Arboretum area home, but CSC officials are looking to join the ranks of many other high-tech companies by building a campus, where all employees could work at one well-landscaped sight. CSC brought in an outside broker to help select a new location which would take into account several key factors important to the company, said Debi Stafford, CSC's vice president for human resources. Among the company's priorities: Access to downtown, hotels, and the airport, and within a 15-mile radius of CSC's present location.
Based on these priorities, two front-runners for a new location have emerged: One near FM620 and US183 in Northwest Austin, and the other at The Terrace, a planned unit development that spans nearly 110 acres over the Barton Creek Watershed, at Loop 360 and MoPac. And therein lies the rub. When employees saw a memo stating CSC was favoring The Terrace site, many were concerned. "Employees are concerned not only because the extra commute will cut into family time," said one CSC employee. "But also the pollution it will create by adding an extra 800 cars on MoPac for at least an hour each day." Other employees expressed concerns about the environmental impact on Barton Creek.
With these concerns floating around CSC's offices, company officials held a meeting to address the employees' apprehensions. But according to employees who asked to remain nameless, company officials implied it wouldn't matter whether CSC moved to the Terrace, because many employees would be living in southwest Austin by the time the new campus was built. CSC's Stafford says the locations were selected partially because they are both approved development sights. But Brigid Shea, executive director of the S.O.S Alliance, said that many of S.O.S.'s concerns about The Terrace are tied up in whether it is actually an approved site. "No one can tell us whether or not they're [The Terrace] in compliance with the original PUD plan," she said. "And from what we can find, it appears they aren't." The Terrace's original development plan was drawn up in 1987, prior to the voter approval of the Save Our Springs water quality ordinance.
Still, CSC employees' concerns may be unwarranted. As Stafford notes, "No final decisions have been made." -- J.S.
When to Walk Away
With a plate full of controversy already before the Austin Independent School District, it's not surprising that the Board of Trustees opted out of the avoidable battle brewing over a plan to realign the sixth grade. To the relief of parents and students, AISD trustees recently voted to not move sixth grade from Austin elementary schools into middle schools.
More than 600 Austin sixth graders attend school at 11 elementary schools: Barton Hills, Blackshear, Bryker Woods, Campbell, Lee, Maplewood, Mathews, Metz, Pease, Sanchez, and Zilker. All other AISD sixth graders -- about 4,800 in all -- attend middle schools. The board initially considered realigning all sixth graders into middle schools for district-wide consistency and congruity, but retreated after realizing that a very vocal contingent of parents opposed reassigning the elementary school sixth graders to middle schools, threatening to tie upthe already difficult process of drawing boundaries in a protracted debate over sixth grade. "They tried to do it in March and we shut down the functional boundary issue completely," said David Boostrum, whose child attends Zilker Elementary. "Many parents move to these neighborhoods, or transfer in, because they choose to keep their children in elementary schools through sixth grade. Moving sixth graders to middle school is a bad idea."
AISD is redrawing district boundaries to accommodate new construction, and the downsizing of older schools. New school construction in AISD, particularly plans to build a new high school in South Austin, promises to provoke considerable controversy among parents, developers, and environmentalists.-- W.O.
Piqued Over Pipeline
More than 300 southside neighbors gathered at Williams Elementary for a Sunday evening lesson on the Longhorn Partners Pipeline. Led by Mayor Kirk Watson, the meeting was an attempt to galvanize forces to demand an environmental impact study before allowing gasoline to be transported through Central Texas in the 48-year-old pipeline."This pipeline is almost 50 years old," Watson said during Sunday's meeting. "It cuts through schools, parks, and neighborhoods, literally crossing through people's backyards. It cuts across the Edwards Aquifer, the Colorado River, and other sources that contribute water supplies for Texans. All of Central Texas and Austin could be threatened by potential leaks, spills, or explosions."
Houston-based Longhorn Partners Pipeline is seeking to transport petroleum products through a 430-mile pipeline from the Gulf Coast across Central Texas to El Paso. Watson, neighbors, Lower Colorado River Authority officials, and others fear the dire environmental consequences of a leak in the line, which was built to transport crude oil from West Texas to coastal refineries, and runs past thousands of homes, 10 schools, and across the Colorado River and its tributaries. Longhorn Partners is a partnership of several major oil industry players like Exxon Pipeline Co., Beacon Group Investment Fund, Chisholm Holdings, and Williams Pipeline Co., said Watson. "What we're asking them to do is an environmental impact study," said Watson. "If this pipeline is such a great idea, then why not?" Longhorn officials say that federal agencies, including the EPA and the state Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT) Office of Pipeline Safety, have concluded that no study is needed for the project. Last month, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks disagreed, ordering TxDOT to conduct an impact study. Longhorn is appealing the ruling.-- L.B.P.