Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., June 4, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Alcohol and public policy do not mix well." Minnesota state Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (a Democrat), after TV news broadcast of images of legislators, staffers, and lobbyists tipping the hooch in the Capitol in St. Paul, leading to stentorian calls for reform and temperance. I mean, really. Lawmakers drinking. Nothing like that ever happens in Texas ...
A slow Memorial Day news week: high-profile vacationers include the legislators supposedly working to fix school finance, as well as Mayor Will Wynn, touring Europe (see "Austin@Large")
Do the schools really need fixing? Last week's release of spectacular TAKS scores raise questions from both sides. See "Capitol Chronicle."
The ACC run-off election has attracted more notice than such things often do because of the presence of controversial conservative tyro Marc Levin in the race. See ACC Run-Off: Levin Defends His Record. Early voting begins June 7; Election Day is June 19.
A lawsuit-mired big-box project gained new ground in Bee Cave last week with a district court ruling allowing development to start once the necessary permits are in place. The Save Our Springs Alliance had tried to halt the Shops at the Galleria project and did so temporarily with a court injunction but lost the most recent court round May 27. The case is still scheduled for trial on June 28, although it's not certain how far along the project will be by then. Environmentalists and residents living in Bee Cave's extraterritorial jurisdiction fear the proposed shopping center will degrade both the rural and the environmental charm of the Hill Country. Nevertheless, Village of Bee Cave officials and developer Chris Milam are determined to turn dirt on the 88-acre shopping center on the banks of Little Barton Creek. Village leaders view the project as an economic growth engine. "We are extremely pleased to get this decision from the court," Mayor Caroline Murphy said. "This project is very important to the economic development of our village and our desire to fund public infrastructure and services through sales tax while keeping property taxes low." Amy Smith
It didn't take long for the suburban developers to get their sweet water, even when the official well ran dry. As we reported last week, the Lower Colorado River Authority declared a six-month moratorium on new pipeline service to parts of western Travis Co. in response to demands for more public input, better regional planning, and environmental protections on major development projects. So the owners and developers of the 2,300-acre Lazy 9 Ranch formerly the Davenport Ranch and soon to be "Sweetwater Ranch" are using a state law to allow direct access to draw "raw water" from nearby Lake Travis, under a pipeline application process that the LCRA is required to approve, and is expected to do so some time this month. Under the application, a privately financed lake pipeline and treatment plant would take the place of LCRA-provided service. Michael King
The latest version of Austin's controversial new smoking ordinance took effect Tuesday, but debate and pressure to change the rules is likely to continue. The ordinance allows bars (defined as establishments where alcohol sales account for 70% or more of revenue) to buy a permit that allows smoking as long as they restrict access to minors. Restaurants can likewise obtain a permit to allow smoking in a designated area if that area is separately ventilated. Some restaurateurs have complained that the expense of separate ventilation (which can run into six figures) means they can't compete on a level playing field with bars if they want to feature live music, and that even ventilation systems that passed muster under Austin's previous rules are now being rejected as inadequate to secure a smoking permit. Implementation of the new rules was already postponed several times to try to work out some of these problems, apparently without success. More to come, surely. M.C.M.
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will hold its 25th annual National Convention and Business Expo in Austin Sept. 15-18 at the Austin Convention Center. According to the Austin Business Journal, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are expected to attend. ABJ also reports that the conference is expected to draw 7,000 attendees and pump $10 million into Austin's economy. For details, go to www.ushcc.com. Lee Nichols
REI announced last week that it plans to move into part of the space being vacated by Whole Foods Market when the grocer moves into its new flagship store and corporate HQ across Sixth Street. The Seattle-based outdoor equipment co-op has developed a symbiotic relationship with Whole Foods they're neighbors at Gateway Shopping Center in Northwest Austin, as well as in Seattle and several other cities. However, Austin-based independent merchants at Sixth and Lamar, who helped drive a Borders Books and Music out of the shopping complex being built by Schlosser Development, are not entirely pleased by the choice of REI particularly since one of their number, Whole Earth Provision Co., also sells outdoor gear and is located just up the street on Lamar. M.C.M.
In response to a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, the city of Austin has coughed up nearly $250,000 in overtime wages owed to 202 Emergency Medical Services employees, the DOL announced last week. According to the feds, the city violated overtime wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, denying compensation for medics, ambulance drivers, and other rescue workers who worked more than 40 hours per week over a two-year period, ending Jan. 10. Jordan Smith
Applications for the fifth annual Neighborhood Park Grants Program are now being accepted. The Austin Parks Foundation will award matching-fund grants of up to $2,500 to neighborhood and community groups that have organized to improve their local park. Written applications are due to the Austin Parks Foundation by July 16. Go to www.austinparks.org/partnersforparks.html to learn more about the grants or to download an application. L.N.
The Austin Business Journal reports that the owners of Northcross Mall are planning a major renovation to return the North Austin landmark to its retail roots, after pulling the plug on an experiment to transform the 30-year-old mall into a high tech office center. Among the changes: Bringing back the long-treasured ice rink. The new-old Northcross should be fully transformed/restored by 2007. M.C.M.
Bob Larsen, a director of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, was elected president of the BSEACD board last week. Not to be confused with former Austin City Council Member Bob Larson (with an O) Larsen is a geography professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. The board also elected Jack Goodman vice-president and Craig Smith secretary. The meeting marked the last for outgoing director and past President Jim Camp, and the first for newcomer Chuck Murphy, a former Buda City Council member. A.S.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has named Susan Rieff as its new director. The Austin resident is currently the National Wildlife Federation's policy director for land stewardship, and before that served as deputy chief of staff under then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and directed environmental policy for former Gov. Ann Richards. She succeeds director Robert Breunig, who played an active role in preserving open space and was a stakeholder in a major city development agreement with Stratus Properties in Southwest Austin. A.S.
Beyond City Limits
The Texas Moratorium Network is asking for volunteers to help collect enough petition signatures to place a resolution calling for a state moratorium on executions on the Democrats' party platform during their state convention, June 18 in Houston. In an e-mail to supporters, TMN explains that the goal is to collect at least 3,000 signatures out of the approximately 8,000 delegates attending the convention, in order to ensure the automatic adoption of the resolution. Interested activists and death penalty reformers can volunteer by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 302-6715. J.S.
Who's in bed with Hugh Hefner? A couple of lefty Austin journalists: Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins and former Texas Observer Editor Nate Blakeslee were among the honorees in New York last week at the 25th anniversary Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards. Ivins received a lifetime achievement honor, and Blakeslee was recognized for his coverage of the Tulia drug bust scandal. Among the judges who selected the winners: former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. L.N.
The Texas Public Interest Research Group has issued its latest report card on how the Texas congressional delegation voted on major "public interest issues" (environmental, consumer protection, and the like), and reports that our reps "voted for the public interest 10% or less of the time." Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison scored 0% and 5%, respectively. In the House, Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett scored 100%, while San Antonio's Lamar Smith (whose CD 21 now includes much of Austin) got a zero. Round Rock's John Carter (District 31) also got a zero, and Surfside's Ron Paul who represents Bastrop and Caldwell counties scored 19%. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, whose new district includes Bastrop, scored a 57%, and maybe-outgoing Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio, whose district now includes much of Hays Co., earned a 71% score. Doggett was the only Texan to get a perfect score; Dallas' Eddie Bernice Johnson and Houston's Sheila Jackson Lee both earned 90%. L.N.
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller finally got her wish the head of City Manager Ted Benavides, who announced his intention to retire last week. Miller, the former Dallas Observer reporter and wife of outgoing state Rep. Steve Wolens, has called for the firing of Benavides and ex-police Chief Terrell Bolton (who was eventually fired, under pressure, by Benavides) since first being elected to the Dallas City Council and then becoming mayor in 2002. This has not endeared her to the city's minority communities, who have now failed in two efforts to force a recall election, but Her Honor is still viewed as a rising star in Texas Dem politics. (As happened here with Daryl Slusher, the former alt-journalist is now beloved by the mainstream daily Morning News.) Benavides won't actually clean out his desk until November; Dallas expects to launch a national search for his replacement. M.C.M.
A Lufkin teenager has been indicted in what appears to be the first use of Texas' Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the controversial legislation passed last session that gives legal personhood to the fetus. Eighteen-year-old Gerardo Flores, a high school senior, is alleged to have beaten his five-months-pregnant girlfriend so severely as to cause their twins to be delivered stillborn last month. An Angelina Co. grand jury handed down two murder indictments against Flores last week. M.C.M.
Three weeks after banning electronic voting in California, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley is reportedly "confident" that the ban will at least be rescinded for Orange Co., which uses the eSlate voting machines manufactured by Austin's Hart InterCivic and used in Travis Co. elections. Shelley decertified all electronic voting systems for the November election out of security concerns but said certain counties could get their e-voting systems recertified with the notable exception of counties using machines produced by Diebold if they met a set of security conditions. Shelley "wanted to assure me the system in Orange County was one he felt could be taken care of and was in shape and ready to be used in November at absolutely no cost to the county," said Orange Co. Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Wilson, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. L.N.
Earlier this year, President Bush's top economic adviser said that offshore outsourcing was "a plus for the economy." The administration acted quickly to minimize the PR damage from that bit of stupidity, but that didn't mean they didn't think he was right on May 16, India's Hindustan Times reported that, during a 14-month period in 2002-2003, the Republican National Committee used call centers in India to make fundraising and vote-seeking telephone solicitations. The report says that the RNC awarded the contract to the Washington-based Capital Communications Group, which outsourced it to HCL Technologies, which in turn farmed the work out to India. L.N.
Today (Thursday), from 5:30 to 7pm, a fundraiser for Gisela Triana, Democratic nominee for 200th district judge, will be held at the Headliners Club, 221 W. Sixth. Triana faces no opponent in November but is trying to retire campaign debts. Hosted by City Council Member Brewster McCracken, former Mayor Kirk Watson, and former Travis Co. Attorney Ken Oden. More info at www.traviscountydemocrats.org.
The fourth annual Austin Multifaith Pride Service, a religious service coinciding with Austin's Gay Pride events, will be held Thursday, June 3, 7pm, at Central Presbyterian Church, Eighth and Brazos. Dr. Davidson Loehr of First Unitarian Universalist Church will speak, and donations benefit Out Youth. For more info, see www.ausinterfaithprideserv.20m.com or e-mail email@example.com.
If it's June it must be time for Pride as Big as Texas, this year's theme for the annual GLBT festivities. The ninth annual Project Transitions benefit, Texas Swing, will be held Friday, June 4, at 7pm at Saengerrunde Hall. The following day will see the Pride Parade down Congress Avenue and a women's dance at Fiesta Gardens (both at 8pm), and Sunday's schedule includes a "sunrise" breakfast (at 11am) at the Granite Cafe, 2905 San Gabriel and the Pride Festival at Fiesta Gardens noon-8pm. See the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas Web site (www.lgrl.org) for more details and event sponsors. More Gay Pride events info can be found on p.69 of this issue.
The Austin Independent Business Alliance will present its first Indie Biz Fair and Silent Auction Sunday, June 6, 5-9pm at Ruta Maya International Headquarters, 3601 S. Congress. Items on offer will include books, CDs, art, jewelry, gift certificates, pet and lawn care, and professional services from over 50 of Austin's favorite locally owned independent businesses. Live music by Blackbird Trio, and kids entertainment by Laura Freeman. Suggested donation: $10. Learn more at www.austin-iba.org.
Will Wynn, TAKS, Austin Community College, Marc Levin, smoking ordinance, Bee Cave, Chris Milam, Shops at the Galleria, Save Our Springs Alliance, Caroline Murphy, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, REI, Whole Foods, Sixth and Lamar, Whole Earth Provision Co., Emergency Medical Services, Fair Labor Standards Act, overtime, Neighborhood Parks Grants, Austin Parks Foundation