Holding up one of his homemade campaign signs, Kirk Becker - mayoral candidate and homeless person - pointed out to the buttoned-down Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) forum that the sign could, in a pinch, also double handily for a bed. A former UT Chemical Engineering major, Becker is a reality check in motion. If he can bring the house down at RECA, Becker would kill at the Velveeta Room.
Architect, Little League supermom, and leader in the Guadalupe neighborhood, Letty McGarrahan has also, for the last two years, been one of the handful of neighborhood representatives on the board of the Austin Revitalization Authority. In that role, she has done more than anyone — though she has had a lot of help and moral support — to keep the ARA in line and try to make the E. 11th/12th renewal project truly beneficial to the folks who have to live with it.
He warned us. W. Scott McCollough, the lawyer hired by the city to look out for the average Electric Utility customer (i.e. the Little Guy), told us not to give our six largest corporate customers a rate break. He begged us to not let the group representing four of those companies - the Federation of Austin's Industrial Ratepayers (FAIR) - scare us with far-fetched predictions electric deregulation was on the very near horizon. But did the city powers listen? Course not. Instead they agreed to reduce the corporations' rates so they would stay with the city owned Utility for6 years. Later, just as McCollough figured, the Lege passed up deregulation this session, meaning that residential ratepayers will shell out $22 million to buy one lousy year of fidelity from the Suits. We should've listened to McCollough, who is to be commended for taking a strong stand against the political winds of city hall bureaucracy, which seem always to blow in favor of an EUD sale.
He's been a thorn in city staff's side for a while, but the ambitious aide to Councilmember Beverly Griffith can't seem to stop pushing his boss' agenda. Using lots of figures, and a load of common sense, Gilvar helped uncover the stupidity of the Davenport MUD deal and the raw deal known as the FAIR fiasco. A tireless work ethic and a suspicious mind keep Gilvar on the lookout for bad deals and wasteful expenditures, and Austin's taxpayers are the ones who benefit.
The monster being cyberporn or censorship, depending on your tastes. No one is thrilled with the limited, customized filtering on APL's public-access Internet terminals, but imagine what Library Director Brenda Branch could have done. She could have gotten herself arrested for distributing pornography to minors (a felony in our state). Or she could have blocked access to the word "breast" in any context (which the off-the-shelf \'Net filters do). Or she could have dispensed with public \'Net access entirely (like all too many Texas libraries). The current setup is a compromise, and thus offensive to some ideals, but it does just what public services are supposed to - provides the greatest good to the greatest number.
The group known as PODER - People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources - is enjoying a renewed surge of energy these days. The environmental justice group is taking a lead role in raising city hall's consciousness about unfair zoning practices in industry-clogged East Austin. PODER organized in 1991 in response to fears that Austin's high-tech wave would bring chemical spills and hazardous waste dumping that would systematically destroy East Austin neighborhoods. PODER executive director Susana Almanza began meeting with high-tech officials on a regular basis to ensure their plants' vigilance in matters of public health and safety, and a few years back the group closed the notorious gasoline tank farm situated smack dab in a residential neighborhood. As PODER's influence grows, expect to hear more from this group in coming years.
In the end, the status quo won. Gov. George W. Bush (Teflon George) will try to take credit for lowering property taxes. But the near-hero of the session was Sadler, the Democrat from Mt. Pleasant, who plowed through weeks of tedious hearings. Sadler and his cohorts on the tax committee produced a plan that would have reduced the state's dependence on property taxes to fund schools. But in the end, the deal disintegrated because the Senate had come up with a different plan and Bush refused to back Sadler.
Oak Hill was promised a library when it was annexed in 1984, but voters didn't approve the bonds until 1992, and construction didn't begin until last year. This delay didn't just frustrate Oak Hill - it became a symbol for every suburban neighborhood that fought City annexation, claiming they'd be similarly ignored when it came time to provide City services. As of last April, though, they have one less thing to complain about - the Oak Hill library is finally here, and by most reports worth the wait.
Or, more specifically, outgoing Commissioner Cathy Vasquez-Revilla, who made it her cause to not only bash BFI and Balcones Recycling, but to do something about the Eastside's industrial dumping grounds once and for all. Hence the new East Austin zoning ordinance, a useful tool for crafting a diversely developed community where people can actually live well. The grunt work of using this tool will fall to the Planning Commission, and they know it, and they like it, because that's why we have such a body in the first place.
His objective was not far, only a few chairs away on the other side of the dais, but Councilmember Gus Garcia's decision to leave Place 6, the de facto "Hispanic" council seat, and run for Place 2, sent shock waves throughout the city's political structure. Calling the existence of the old system "plantation politics" Garcia's move was the biggest blow to the so-called "gentlemen's agreement" in more than a decade. Garcia has been arguing for single member districts for a long time. By abandoning his old seat, Garcia made the strongest statement he could make. Attaboy Gus.
Not only has Troxell succeeded in keeping the camping ban and the homeless campus in the newspapers, but his tireless efforts have brought together the far-ranging, diverse homeless community. Troxell doesn't worry about making political friends. Instead, he relies on relentless advocacy for human dignity to fight his battles. He may not win very often, but Austin can count on Troxell to continue formulating creative solutions that put people first.
For the first time in a million years, the citizens, their elected officials, and those officials' minions are all on the same page. That's the page that says top-down planning (or lack thereof), subsidized sprawl, and big-money ownership of the political process do not work and will not continue. In Austin, citizens and their neighborhoods have never been more powerful, and relieved Planning and Development staff (at least some of them) can finally do the job they were trained to do. In the \'burbs, comprehensive planning is the order of the day. Cynical and skeptical we might be, but it's hard to see how Metro Austin will not be much improved by these efforts.
Used to be, back in the Bruce Todd Stone Age, the climate surrounding the mayor's office in City Hall was chilly at best. The mayor often kept the double doors to his office frozen shut to reporters and fellow councilmembers, and actually getting a sit-down interview with Todd meant an even colder reception. Now, our new mayor, Kirk Watson, is not only ready and willing to hold court, he hosts a weekly Friday morning press kaffeklatch, and even buys the pastry! Sure, he's just trying to butter us up, but we're still glad the mayor understands how to communicate with the press: bear claws and a cup of joe. Now if we could just get him to talk on the record...
Maybe it was a bluff. But the Austin Democrat told other House members that he had 500 amendments ready and waiting to tag onto Wohlgemuth's proposed prohibition on gay marriage in the state. With lots of other items on the agenda, House members were anxious to dispose of Wohlgemuth after she insisted on bringing the item to the House floor. And with the threat of a hours-long delay to deal with Maxey's amendments, Wohlgemuth's proposal went down in flames.
Though we often disagreed politically with fifth-generation Austinite Ronney Reynolds during his tenure on the City Council, we offer our honest salute to the mature, gracious way he exited the race for mayor. When faced with the facts about the amount of cash and negative campaigning required to wage a competitive run-off battle against Kirk Wilson, accountant Reynolds made a pratical assessment of the figures and decided not to incur the financial or emotional debt. It was a thoughtful, disciplined, adult decision, an increasingly rare commodity in local, state or national politics.
The Green Council - whether you love \'em or hate \'em, at least you know who to credit (blame?) for their succesful paths to public office. Media whiz Dean Rindy, and independent political consultants Butts and Yznaga are the tight-knit team which spun all seven councilmembers into office. Sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid, but always hanging around behind the scenes, this triumphant triumvirate carries more political weight in Austin than all the deep pockets West of MoPac combined. Just ask Eric Mitchell.
Deeply satisfying in that Jetsonesque things-will-be-perfect-in-the-future way, the computer-animated tour through the new Austin-Bergstrom Inernational Airport put all our minds at ease. Soothing elevator music and a firm voice direct a late-for-my-flight speed jog through the new airport's lobbys and terminals ending with a triumphant zip! into the air of a big, sturdy jet. If we weren't in love with our "on-time-and-under-budget" airport before, we sure are now after viewing that breathy state of the art spin-flick.
Judge James Nowlin Sentenced Harry Schreiber and Mark Izydore to prison and large fines after they were convicted of bankruptcy fraud in a case involving a Smithville manufacturing company. The pair had a long history of questionable deals in South Florida and Nowlin said he received an unprecedented number of letters from angry Floridians. The letters weren't proof of wrong doings, Nowlin said of Schreiber, but "when someone has conducted himself in his life to stir up that much animosity, unless you're in politics, there's no excuse for it."
Okay, sure, there's still some big question marks. Was Sen. Barrientos' Lone Ranger act designed to kill light rail in favor of commuter rail? Will any elected official willingly serve on Cap Met's new board? Will we ever see a rollback of the sales tax? But consider the alternative: A transportation future in which public transit plays no meaningful part at all, administered by a transit authority so thoroughly despised that it couldn't get away with building a tool shed, governed by a board with a death wish and too much money to play with. In other words, what we had. Sometimes, any change is better than no change at all.
Austin's Yellow Bike Project (YBP) is a community project designed to promote human-powered transportation for the Central Austin area. On January 25, 1997, volunteers released 24 bikes painted bright yellow. To date, the project has released 150 community bikes. They're free to ride; get on and go! After you get to where you're going, leave the bike in an obvious place for the next rider – it's that simple.
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