Naked City

Naked City


Quote of the Week

"President Bush has been wrong at every step along the descent into chaos in Iraq, and he is wrong once again. The terrible price for his repeated miscalculations is paid for by the blood of the brave, by hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, and by greater insecurity for our families. He has no new plan, just an old delusion."

– U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, here being sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (l) with his wife, Dr. Libby Doggett, and his chief of staff, Michael Mucchetti


Headlines

• Mid-January arrived in style Monday and Tuesday as an ice storm closed roads, schools, and businesses through Wednesday midday, when a slow thaw took hold. Meanwhile, people in northern states snickered at us tough Texans freaking out over temperatures barely dipping below freezing, and useful TV weatherpersons beamed earnestly through huge amounts of face time – not to be repeated until the August heat waves arrive.

• The state inauguration festivities were moved mostly indoors, as Gov. Rick Perry called for compromise and bipartisanship on issues like immigration and education, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst proposed to put "Texas Children First" with a 25-year-minimum sentence for first-time sex offenders. That should do it.

• The City Council has officially abandoned plans for a new water treatment plant on the Cortaña tract in the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, after Travis Co. commissioners remained opposed to construction there. City officials say they'll proceed at the Bull Creek headwaters site, although debate continues over the suitability of that site and the actual need for a new plant.

• The Supreme Court was scheduled this week to hear two Texas death penalty cases, casting light on the eagerness of prosecutors and even the Texas Supreme Court to impose capital punishment regardless of the facts or the law (see "UT Profs Argue Death Penalty Cases Before Supreme Court").

• Despite overwhelming public opposition and growing dispute in Congress, the Bush administration continued to move forward on escalating the war in Iraq with an addition 20,000 troops and expanded activity against Iranian nationals in Iraq. See "Point Austin."


Naked City

• The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District reports that the hardcore precipitation of late has done little to alleviate the ongoing drought conditions. Even last Saturday's downpours, which led to flooding across the region, weren't enough to quench the thirsty aquifer. The drought, first declared in October 2005, was elevated to Critical Stage by the BSEACD last September – the first such declaration in the district's 20-year existence, according to the BSEACD. Critical Stage is the most severe drought phase and requires a 30% reduction in pumping by district permittees. The heavy rains had brought up water levels by half a foot at a key South Austin monitoring point well last weekend. Water would need to rise another 2 feet to end the Critical Stage drought, however, and another 11 feet to cancel the drought entirely. After Saturday, BSEACD says recharge creeks sustained flow for the first time since summer 2005. Senior hydrogeologist Brian Smith says several months of sustained flow in creeks such as Onion and Barton will be required to fill up the aquifer enough to end the drought. Visit www.bseacd.org for more info. – Daniel Mottola

• In other schools news, the district is on track to open its new Southeast elementary school in August of this year. The school, at 8725 Nuckols Crossing Rd., will affect the boundaries of Casey, Cowan, Kocurek, Baranoff, Menchaca, Palm, Pleasant Hill, and Williams elementary schools. Parents can get more information from the AISD Web site (www.austinisd.org) or from the AISD Boundary Process Hotline, 414-BOND. – Michael May

• AISD's experiment in gender-specific education, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, will also open in August. The middle school will accept 115 students in each grade, with 75% coming from Title 1 schools. The school is accepting applications until Feb. 9, and the district will give prospective students and parents a peek inside on Jan. 27. Staff will be on hand to answer questions, help with applications, and give a tour of the school; the open house runs from 10am-noon on Saturday, Jan. 27, at Porter Middle School, 2206 Prather. Parents and students can find application forms at all AISD elementary schools or at www.austinisd.org. – M.M.

• The city's new telephone emergency-notification system, CodeRED, is up and running. The CodeRED database contains all home telephone numbers in the city and will automatically dial residents – up to 60,000 per hour – with information about any neighborhood or citywide emergency. To update a phone number, or to add a second contact number, log onto the CodeRED database via the city's Web site: www.ci.austin.tx.us/oem/emergency_contact.htm. – Jordan Smith

• Council Member Lee Leffingwell continues to try to hammer out some agreement between the Hancock and Eastwoods neighborhoods and the expanding St. David's Hospital. The neighborhoods, already feeling a bit beleaguered by redevelopment plans for the former Concordia University site, are still not completely enthused about St. David's intentions for expansion, which include a neonatal unit on Red River and a 175-foot medical office tower near I-35, a height that is unseen anywhere outside the Central Business District. Last week St. David's offered a complicated list of interlocking zones in its Planned Unit Development plan that would push height away from the neighborhood and toward the freeway. That got the zoning past second reading, but Mayor Will Wynn would like to see some software 3-D model renderings before putting a final stamp of approval on the site plans at third reading. – Kimberly Reeves


Naked City
Photo By John Anderson

• Among the many official casualties of the ice storm, AISD canceled all classes and afterschool activities through Wednesday. That included a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night by district administrators with parents of students at Kealing Middle School, where many parents and teachers have called for the removal of first-year principal Ron Gonzales. Dozens of Kealing parents attended a Jan. 8 district board of trustees meeting, and several told the board that the school is experiencing a breakdown in discipline, morale, and teaching and that the necessary solution is a new chief administrator, citing an overwhelming vote of "no confidence" in a December district survey of teachers. AISD administration has instead proposed a management "mentor" for Gonzales, but the parents told the board that the principal must go. Michael King


• In other development news, Council Member Brewster McCracken refused to placate neighborhood activists when plans for redeveloping the Time Insurance property – at the southeast corner of I-35 and Riverside – came to council last week. While leaders from the East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan protested the traffic-flow issues and possible encroachment threats to local neighborhoods, McCracken stuck fast to the city's new policy. The city promised neighborhoods the McMansion issue to keep high density out of neighborhoods, McCracken said, but to do that, the city also had to give developers the right to develop, and that will be along major transit corridors like Riverside. Agent Ron Thrower admitted the owners did not have a developer yet for the Time Insurance property, but the owner, who intends to continue leasing space there, would like to see a vertical-mixed-use project of retail, commercial space, and about 65 condominiums. – K.R.

• Also, variances before the Environmental Board last week were another chance to see just how far the Domain site has to go before the massive industrial site is fully redeveloped. While the portion of the property closest to MoPac shows plenty of activity – a 50-acre urban village anchored by Neiman Marcus will open by March – another 175 acres of the former IBM manufacturing site remains virtually untouched. Attorney Steve Drenner, representing Endeavor Real Estate Group, won the support of the Environmental Board for a number of variances last week with some conditions, including a commitment to impervious cover of 80% for multifamily buildings on the property. That's higher than the 60% preferred in the city's urban watersheds, but Drenner argued that the site's location – especially its proximity to the Capital Metro commuter rail line stop at the J.J. Pickle campus – made the Domain a natural high-density node for future development in the city. – K.R.

• Among other things, weather delayed a Wednesday-night hearing on the Phase II toll plan. CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick said the meeting of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board will be rescheduled for 6pm Monday night, Jan. 22, at the Commons Building on UT's J.J Pickle Research Campus, 10100 Burnet Rd. – K.R.

Accused carjacker Dennis Wayne Harvey, wanted in connection with the Nov. 3 robbery and shooting of 44-year-old Amy Baker in Northwest Austin, was arrested last week on a shrimp boat near Savannah, Ga., by officials with the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force and the U.S. Coast Guard. Austin Police have charged Harvey with two counts of first-degree felony aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and one count of second-degree aggravated robbery by assault in connection with the afternoon carjacking on FM 620 at Boulder Lane. Harvey, 38, allegedly shot Baker in the stomach while she was trying to get out of her car at the intersection; police say he then fled to a nearby gas station, stole a pickup truck, and drove away. Harvey allegedly abandoned the truck nearby and forced his way into another woman's car, forcing her at gunpoint to take him Downtown. Police say Harvey then stole another car near Riverside Drive and fled to South Texas. A tipster alerted police to Harvey's whereabouts after seeing the case featured on the Dec. 16 episode of America's Most Wanted. Harvey is being held in the Chatham County, Ga., jail awaiting extradition to Austin. – J.S.

• Two Austin teens have been arrested in connection with the Dec. 6 slaying of 24-year-old Tennessee state trooper Calvin Jenks during a routine traffic stop just north of Memphis, Tenn. Tennessee officials say 17-year-old Alejandro Guana and 19-year-old Orlando Garcia were driving the rented car seen in the video of the shooting captured by Jenks' in-car camera. After smelling marijuana coming from the car, Jenks reportedly asked the driver, Garcia, to get out; Guana, who was riding in the passenger seat, allegedly shot Jenks in the head as the trooper leaned into the car to talk to him. Police reportedly found traces of marijuana, and possibly cocaine, along with a roll of plastic wrapping – of the sort used to package larger quantities of drugs for transport – inside the trailer where Guana was living, leading investigators to speculate that the two might be involved in drug trafficking. Guana and Garcia are in custody in Tipton County, Tenn. – J.S.

• Austin's Yellow Bike Project – the organization that rehabs and redistributes broken-down bikes and operates two free, open-to-the-public bike shops – has some moving to do, and the group could use your help. No, it doesn't need to borrow anyone's pickup. In keeping with its mission of promoting human-powered transportation, YBP's volunteers plan to move the entire contents of the group's 300-square-foot satellite repair shop (located behind Wheatsville Co-op at 3101 Guadalupe) to its new location, adjacent to Treasure City Thrift at 1720 E. 12th – entirely by bike! Organizers say the move will utilize bicycles and adult-sized tricycles to pull customized trailers. Anyone interested in lending a pedal should show up at Wheatsville at noon on Saturday, Jan. 27 (Note: The move has been rescheduled from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27, due to rain). Extra bikes, trailers, and cargo-hauling gear are all welcomed. Anticipating an even larger move, YBP still faces the grim reality that its 4,500-square-foot main shop, on East 51st near Austin Studios, is scheduled to be razed by the end of the year in favor of a new road serving the Mueller redevelopment. The current space has been donated by the city for the past 10 years, but no such offer has been extended elsewhere by City Hall. YBP requests any help it can get, including donations of property or funds, as well as tips or offers on for-sale properties. For more moving and donation info, or for a map of the move's route, see www.austinyellowbike.org. – D.M.

• Beginning Saturday, the Austin Public Library is playing local host to Looking at Jazz: America's Art Form, a National Video Resources and National Endowment for the Humanities film and discussion series. According to the national project's Web site, the series focuses on these topics: "New Orleans and the early pioneers of jazz," "the Jazz Age and Harlem as a center of art," "the Swing Era and jazz as America's popular music," "the art of jazz singers, musicians, and composers," "modern jazz and the fragmentation of jazz styles," and "jazz as an international music." For more on the Looking at Jazz project, see www.lookingatjazz.org, and for local details about the free, six-part series, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/library/news/lookingatjazz.htm. – Cheryl Smith


Beyond City Limits

• New federal legislation addressing global warming and America's energy absurdity could be receiving its first votes in Washington by the time you read this. The first measure, House Resolution 6 or the Clean Energy Act of 2007, among Dems' priorities in their first 100 hours at the congressional helm, would cut up to $20 billion in oil-industry subsidies and tax breaks, recover royalties owed to taxpayers for drilling on public lands, and create a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve to invest in renewable energy, new technologies, and improved energy efficiency and conservation. The measure also creates incentives for consumers who buy efficient vehicles, winterize their homes, or install solar panels. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that HR 6 would cut federal spending by $5.5 billion and boost revenues by $14 billion over 10 years. The other bill, the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, is a beefed-up and reportedly more popular reintroduction of failed global warming legislation filed in 2005 by Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain. Using a cap-and-trade program, the bill will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions toÊ2004 levels by 2012, 1990 levels by 2020, andÊto 60% belowÊ1990 by 2050. Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn voted against the bill in '05; perhaps they've seen the light since then. – D.M.

• In other global warming news, government reports recently confirmed that 2006 was the warmest year on U.S. record in the past 112 years. In fact, every year since 1993 has ranked in the top 20 warmest years recorded. The historically climate-change-ignorant Bush administration proposed that polar bears be designated a "threatened" animal under the Endangered Species Act last month, acknowledging that the drowning and cannibalism they're suffering is due to rising temperatures melting their habitats – and possibly signaling some willingness to cooperate with efforts to curb U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions. Those seeking more knowledge on the subject of climate change may want to check out the presentation being given from 7 tp 9pm Monday at the Hideout Theatre (617 Congress). Colin Rowan, communication director for Environmental Defense's Texas office, will be delivering Al Gore's global warming slideshow presentation, which laid the groundwork for the hit film An Inconvenient Truth. Rowan was one of 20 Texans trained by Gore himself in Nashville and is assisting with the former VP's pledge to train 1,000 more volunteer presenters. The event is free, but space is limited. – D.M.

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