Off the Desk:
While the state commission advocates financial remedies to ensure equal access to higher education, on Oct 21-22 UT students and faculty will be holding teach-ins, panels, and a rally to protest Hopwood and similar attacks on affirmative action. The events will be held in solidarity with a planned walkout at the U. of California system and a National Day of Action Against Racism at schools around the country. For more info check out http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~still/action ... -- L.T.
Tom Penders has left Austin, but the stink the former UT basketball coach created before leaving is still hanging around, and Luke Axtell's parents have gone to court in what their attorney says is an attempt to clear the air. Last month, the Axtells' attorney, Sherry Rasmus, filed a request for deposition at the Travis Co. Courthouse, a somewhat unusual legal move that allows potential litigants to take depositions before any lawsuits are actually filed. Rasmus said 11 people are on the deposition list, including several employees of radio station KVET, which broadcast Axtell's grades on the air last spring. Rasmus told the Chroniclethat the move was made "to determine the truth about what really took place with regard to the publication of Mr. Axtell's grades. The bottom line is, the truth still isn't out there." The Axtells' request must be approved by a judge, and no action is expected until the end of October, at the earliest ... -- R.B.
Avoid the Nov. 3 rush: Early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 17. For a list of candidates, polling places, times, and more, see http://www.auschron.com/issues/spec/election98/election.html -- L.T.
The fat lady sang loud and proud Monday night, as a special board of review gave its unanimous approval to a land-use plan, developed by Berkeley-based Calthorpe Associates with input and agreement from all sides, for the controversial Triangle development between 45th, Guadalupe, and Lamar.
All hands were clearly giddy at having brought Austin's most visible political donnybrook to a successful conclusion, and the proceedings quickly became a bona fide love fest, with the principals taking turns congratulating each other and themselves. The new Triangle plan, said Mayor Kirk Watson, "raises the bar for projects in Austin and ... sets up a model for future development processes."
For his part, land commissioner and gubernatorial hopeful Garry Mauro, who chaired the ad hoc panel required by state law to approve private projects on state land, noted that "so many times during this project, if the stakeholders had thought small, the project would have died ...and we would all have been losers." The only official sour note came from outgoing Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, who lauded the plan, but deplored the state's role in creating the battle in the first place.
The plan itself, a modified version of schemata presented by Calthorpe back in August, calls for high-density residential units, developed by trendy Dallas developers Post Properties, at the apex of the Triangle and along the Guadalupe frontage, with mixed-use retail and small-office units at the ground floor. What's left of the original Triangle Square shopping complex, including the vilified Randalls grocery, is now packed into one sector along Lamar.
While the newest version of the plan addresses many neighbor concerns about open space, any dense development of the Triangle will produce traffic problems that have yet to be addressed. But the search for those solutions -- along with the heavy lifting on Cencor and Post's part to actually build the damn thing -- will likely go unnoticed by many Austinites. As Mauro noted at the tame meeting, "There are a lot fewer cameras out there now that we're fixin' to bring this to a successful conclusion." -- M.C.M.
Told You So
When he's right, he's right. Mayor Kirk Watson's call for an environmental impact study of the proposed Longhorn Pipeline project was given increased urgency last week, as a routine test caused an explosion of a portion of the pipeline carrying diesel fuel through suburban Houston.
The mayor surely took no joy in the injury of a Longhorn Pipeline employee or the destruction of property that resulted, but the accident underscored the fact that Longhorn's proposal to run gasoline from the Gulf Coast to El Paso -- by way of Austin and the Hill Country -- needs a bit more examining before it is approved. JudgeSam Sparks said as much in a ruling this summer, and Watson, who has visited with federal officials to ask them not to join Longhorn in appealing the ruling, expects last week's events to bolster his case. "If it's an appropriate project, especially in light of (the explosion), why not do an environmental assessment?" asked Watson.
"This first tragedy is minor compared to what it could be," said Watson, noting that the explosion occurred in a newer section of pipeline, not the 48-year-old portion that runs through the Austin area. He also questioned whether Longhorn's transport of diesel fuel violated Sparks' ruling, which prohibited the company from transporting refined products in the pipeline until an environmental impact study is done. -- J.S.
A Mournful Ride
Friends and fellow cyclists of the late Benjamin Clough, a 25-year-old Yellow Bike Project volunteer and poster designer who was killed by a motorist on Oct. 2, gathered last Friday in a memorial procession that varied in tenor from mournful to defiant. The more than 100 cyclists rode from City Council chambers to the front steps of the Capitol, arriving at the height of rush hour at the intersection of Lavaca and MLK Boulevard, where Clough was struck and killed by a 21-year-old woman. Displaying signs with slogans like "Your Convenience Is Killing Us" and "Start Seeing Bicycles," the protesters set up a makeshift memorial to their fallen friend in a nearby parking lot as drivers passed by, often shouting invectives, in the crowded intersection.Besides serving as a memorial to Clough, march organizers said, the event was meant to draw attention to the structural inequities facing bikers in Austin -- namely, the lack of bike lanes, few laws protecting cyclists in car-caused collisions, and the lack of an ordinance protecting cyclists from harassment by motorists who just want them out of the way. "I think most bikers are persecuted as if we're lower-class people because we can't afford cars," said protester Cheryl Green.
Meanwhile, the release of a police report on the accident formed a new wrinkle in the as-yet-unresolved case. Besides confirming that the woman ran a red light on MLK before crashing into Clough (a fact which several witnesses apparently corroborated), the police report indicates evidence the driver had been drinking before the crash. Since the woman passed a field sobriety test, according to police spokesman Kevin Buchman, no drug or alcohol test was administered at the scene -- a fact which infuriates many bicycling activists, who say justice is not being done.
APD officials would not say whether charges would be filed in the case. In the meantime, Buchman said, cyclists hungry for action should sit tight and let the wheels of justice turn. "There are a lot of bicyclists who want justice, and I can't blame them," he said, "but that process takes time." For many bicyclists, however, change can't come soon enough. "The crowd that's out here is showing how serious folks think this is," said John Thoms, YBP volunteer and procession coordinator. "We need to make the laws more equitable for bicyclists. Something has got to change." -- E.C.B.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has approved the final permit that will allow city workers to continue cleaning Barton Springs Pool. The federal approval, which came on Oct. 8, is the latest chapter in the rancorous debate over the best way to manage the 1,100-foot-long aquifer-fed swimming pool.
The latest plans call for a dam to be installed a few dozen yards upstream of the diving board. The dam is supposed to allow workers to do more frequent and thorough cleanings of the pool's shallow end, an area that has become treacherously slick due to lack of cleaning. The plans also call for: removal of "the beach," a three- to four-foot deep section of the pool that lies immediately downhill of the Zilker Zephyr train station; covering the fissures area just upstream of the diving board with slabs of limestone; starting a city-sponsored captive breeding program for the salamanders; and requiring several biologists to be present at pool cleanings to rescue any stranded salamanders. In all, the plans are expected to cost the city $2.4 million over the next 15 years. Construction should begin over the next few months.
The changes in the city's management of Barton Springs were mandated after the city was threatened with a lawsuit under the EndangeredSpecies Act earlier this year. The salamander was added to the Endangered Species List in April of 1997 after years of litigation by local environmental groups. But the new plans for the pool are not sitting well with a lot of people, particularly the Barton Springs regulars. Beverly Sheffield, former director of the parks department and a longtime swimmer at Barton Springs, disagrees with the new federal regimen. "We've cleaned the pool for 69 years. For 63 of those years we did it with chemicals and the salamander survived," said the octogenarian, who has logged about 3,000 miles in the pool since he began swimming laps regularly in 1963. "This is absolutely not needed. How can they prove that we have made them an endangered species by what we've done? I don't see how they can. We would have killed them off 25 or 30 years ago."
The new federal plan also calls for permanent fences to be put around the Sunken Gardens and Eliza Springs. By any measure, this is a tragedy. Prohibiting access to springs that have been used for thousands of years cannot be viewed as a win for the salamander or the citizenry. But it appears the feds will pursue this plan regardless of its actual benefit for the salamander. Meanwhile, many wonder how more fences and less access to springs like the Sunken Gardens can be considered a win for the environment or for environmentalists. -- R.B.
Snubbed by Shrub Again
Mexican officials returned to Austin last Wednesday in another effort to convince Texas lawmakers to stop the nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca. Mirroring a visit in August by a separate party of officials, the 13 delegates had hoped to speak with Gov. George W. Bush, but were again denied a meeting.
The Mexican officials instead spent the day at the Capitol with House Speaker Pete Laney and spoke with members of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC) about possible counter legislation to stop the dump.
The Texas/Maine/Vermont Nuclear Waste Compact, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Sept. 20, will give the states $55 million to fund construction of the dump. But opponents say they still have some hope because the compact doesn't specify where and how the dump will be implemented. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission is slated to vote whether to approve the facility Oct. 22, but Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund's Erin Rogers said opponents were hopeful that the TNRCC would postpone the decision and send the item back for further research. She said that in the meantime, state representatives will be attempting to draft legislation that would actually cut funding to the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, the commission licensed to build the facility.
Last April, the Mexican Congress voted unanimously to oppose the Sierra Blanca project -- a rare occurrence in a country of five political parties. Mexican officials maintain that the project is a direct violation of the La Paz Agreement of 1983, wherein both countries agreed not to pollute within 100km of the border. Mexican officials say they will return to Austin Oct. 21 for a rally outside the TNRCC's offices. -- B.M.
Back to School
Austin residents are among the estimated 1,000 gearing up to attend the Nov. 20-22 protest against the continued operation of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. For eight years, protesters from across the nation have assembled at Ft. Benning to call for the end of the tax-funded military unit known for training hundreds of Latin American soldiers believed responsible for inhumane crimes including torture and murder. Last November, 601 civilians -- including eight Austinites -- were arrested for trespassing onto the base. Austinite Thad Crouch, who served in the 29th Infantry Battalion at Ft. Benning for two years and was arrested during last year's demonstration, will be at the gate again this year. "I regret that my tax money goes to oppressing my brothers and sisters in Latin America, and to imprisoning other U.S. activists," said Crouch. "Not only must I continue to disrupt my life to seek more opportunities to speak on this, now I must solemnly prepare for another arrest at Ft. Benning, my old alma mater."
The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted 212-201 to continue funding the School of the Americas. One of those who voted against the measure was Rep. Lloyd Doggett; he has been a vocal opponent of the SOA, which operates on a budget estimated at $18-20 million annually. Doggett says he is hopeful that the dedication of protesters like Crouch will pay off: "I applaud the efforts of Central Texans to educate our neighbors, as well as our elected officials, about this 'School of Wrongs.' Eventually, I believe we will shut its doors, saving taxpayer dollars and many people their lives." Info on the November protest is available at http://www.soaw.org. -- J.F.