DOGGING DAN: Texas Attorney General Dan Morales didn't like the cartoon that ran with the story on him in our August 25 issue. And he apparently doesn't like to see citizens expressing their opinions. Last week, during a speech at a property rights conference held here in Austin, Morales told the property rights advocates that he had been informed that protesters might be picketing at the event. "There's really no place for that sort of stuff," Morales said to the group. He continued, "Some of you may have seen a recent Austin publication where they drew a picture of me on the front page as a dog. That sort of stuff ought not be occurring."
When asked what Morales meant by his comment, Ward Tisdale, the AG's press spokesman, said, "There's no need to explain what he said. He said what he said."
At the conference, Morales went on to brag about the quality of his staff, saying he has assembled a group of lawyers and others "who I think are the very best anywhere." But his lieutenants are also getting him into some trouble. One of his chief deputies, Jorge Vega, is facing five charges of professional misconduct, including two charges of lying under oath. Vega faces possible public reprimand, suspension, or disbarment.
Another of Morales' chief deputies, Drew Durham, is also on the hot seat. As reported two weeks ago in these pages, Durham may have committed perjury when he told a Senate panel that Senate Bill 14, the property rights "takings" bill, would not cause any increased costs within the AG's office. Durham also may have used his position within the AG's office to get a lucrative summer job for his son. On August 25, the Dallas Morning News reported that Durham had been angling to get a $1,400 consulting contract for his 14-year-old son, Benjamin. The boy was supposed to work as a trainer, helping other teens resolve conflicts without violence. The program was part of the Texas Mediation Initiative, a program administered by the AG's criminal justice division. Durham heads that division. - R.B.
A KNIFE IN THE HEART OF THE AQUIFER? Members of the Sierra Club and the ROUTE (Rethinking Our Urban Transportation Environment) coalition are leading a last-ditch effort to require a new environmental impact study on the US290 freeway. "You will doom Barton Springs with this freeway," Earth First! member Neal Tuttrup told the 17-member Austin Transportation Study (ATS) committee at its monthly meeting on August 14. The ATS is responsible for regional transportation planning, dispensing federal, state, and local funds for area road and transit projects.
An environmental impact study on the freeway, which is designed to cut a wide swath across the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone on Ben White Boulevard between I-35 and Oak Hill, was performed in 1988. Sierra Club member Steve Beers pointed out, however, that since then, several developments indicate the need for a new one, including: Austin's near non-attainment for federal air quality standards; the listing of the Golden-cheeked Warbler as an endangered species; a potential endangered species designation for the Barton Springs Salamander; and a report issued by the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, showing highway construction and runoff contamination such as silt, arsenic, and oil in the aquifer.
Local environmental activist Shudde Fath warned the ATS committee at last month's meeting that a soon-to-be-released report, commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), reveals that detention ponds built to protect the aquifer from highway runoff are not working because the filters rapidly clog with silt. Despite these concerns, a contingent of Oak Hill residents spoke against delaying construction of the US290 freeway. One of those residents, Will Hampton, told the ATS that Oak Hill at first opposed the freeway because it would cut through the heart of their community, but eventually determined that resistance to TxDOT was futile and began working with the highway department "because it was impossible to plan our future with this sword hanging over our heads."
Last week, ROUTE and Sierra Club representatives met with Oak Hill business and neighborhood leaders to try to persuade them to ask the ATS to delay continued funding for the freeway, and to demand that the ATS draw up plans for a downsized six-lane commercial parkway instead. Sierra Club Chair Dick Kallerman argued that a commercial parkway would be designed to encourage people to shop in Oak Hill, rather than to race through the town on the proposed 12-lane freeway. Austin architect Sinclair Black told the Oak Hill leaders, "Any freeway is designed to extend development farther down the road, not to create development where you are," But Richard Hamner, legislative aide to State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (who is also ATS Chair) warned that Oak Hill could lose all funding for US290 expansion if citizens attempt to delay the planned freeway. Hamner said that massive development will occur west of Oak Hill whether or not the freeway is built, and that any reduction in freeway size would create intolerable traffic congestion as commuters struggle to get through the small community. Transit activist Dave Dobbs responded that there is no way to eliminate rush-hour congestion because development will only continue to move farther out, eventually exceeding the freeway's capacity. "There's no way you can build a freeway big enough," said Dobbs, "the only question is: Where do you stop?"
This debate could continue at the ATS meeting this Monday, September 11, when the ATS is expected to vote on continued funding for US290. In a surprise move, Senator Barrientos' office notified ATS staff last week to mail out last-minute notices announcing that the September 11 meeting will take place in Oak Hill rather than at the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus where it is usually held.
This is especially surprising since it is the year's most important meeting, where ATS members vote on the Transportation Improvement Program, a three-year funding plan. About $122 million for big projects like US290 construction, conversion of Capital Metro buses to natural gas, and expansion of Congress Avenue and Koenig Lane are at stake. The meeting will be at 6pm at Covington Jr. High School Theatre, 3700 Convict Hill Road, a block south of Brodie Lane and William Cannon. - N.E.
THE CORPORATE ALTERNATIVE: The Austin American-Statesman is once again dabbling in the youth market, this time hoping to pull in students and "alternative Austin" with Zinc. (That's "Z" for zine and "inc.," in acknowledgment that Cox Enterprises is bankrolling the whole deal.) In last week's debut of the new Statesman supplement, editor Gavin Lance Garcia alludes to that now-infamous national trend of young adults with lots of disposal income to ignore daily newspapers. "The people who work at the facility on the south bank of Town Lake, it has been theorized, have been immune to the needs of that segment of the Austin population," Garcia writes in his introduction. "But now the alternative has a main line to the Statesman's circulation, and we're hoping the whale is hooked."
After reading Zinc., one might come away with the impression that the bait that "hooks" such readers is entertainment coverage (theater, music, and films), soft and vaguely historical accounts of how Austin came to be such a swell place, and tips on campus living, such as how to avoid having your car stolen.
Garcia, who at 32 has written for The Austin Chronicle, XL ent., and edited a number of fanzines, insists that Zinc. is different from XL ent., which about a year ago also purported to be the Stateman's vehicle for pulling in young readers. He also has a vision that's not necessarily evident from the first issue.
Garcia says that XL ent. "does all it can as a weekly guide," while Zinc.'s mission is broader. "The focus will be lifestyles, and that encompasses music, fashion, social-political, multiculturalism," Garcia says. "There's no publication that covers the dance club scene, no one who covers African-American contemporary culture or Hispanic culture."
Though he's not ready to talk about specific articles, Garcia says he hopes to provide a forum for freelance photographers and artists, and to give students an easier opening into the publishing world. Thus far, Garcia says, publisher Roger Kintzel has given him free reign as far as Zinc.'s content. "Graphically, artists can get away with a lot more," he says. "Editorially, we haven't tested the waters yet." - A.B.