Off the Desk

Austin's homeless got a 10-day reprieve from enforcement of the new camping ban. Maybe city officials figured that Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday would be better marked by a parade than a raid of a homeless camp. Look for demonstrations and enforcement to begin on January 25... The rumor mill is churning on whether UT will stick by its promise to name a new molecular biology building after Jim Bob Moffett. Sources close to the Regents say the board is looking for a graceful way to back out of the deal. -- R.B.

The question is no longer whether Republican, but which, for District 47 -- the conservative portion of western Travis County. Retiring State Rep. Susan Combs has tapped perennial candidate and Republican sweetheart Jo Baylor as her heir apparent. Baylor pledged on Tuesday to continue representing Travis County Republicans with the same conservative commitment to the issues. She won Combs' endorsement over fellow Republican candidates Sheriff Terry Keel, former Christian Coalition president Kirk Ingels, and former Williamson County legislator Randall Riley. The primaries are March 12. -- L.C.B.

"Austinites for Our Schools," the school bond campaign committee co-chaired by Elizabeth Christian (mayoral spouse and daughter of LBJ press secretary George Christian) and adorable octogenarian Willie Kocurek, launched its full-court press last week. The bond issue, tentatively tagged for some $370 million in renovations, new construction, and technology, is likely to go to the polls April 13. AISD trustees will set the election date on January 24, hold a public hearing on January 29, and set details of the package on February 3. Responding to some critics who say the Eastside won't get equal treatment, Christian promised: "There's not a kid in AISD that won't be going to a sparkly, fresh school." Call 472-8270 to get involved. -- R.A.

Samsung Storms Austin

One false start and six months of anticipation later, Samsung Electronics, Inc., is finally coming to Austin. At a star-studded press conference on Tuesday, January 16, attended by Governor George W. Bush, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, and Austin Chamber of Commerce leaders, Samsung officials announced that construction on their $1.3 billion semiconductor facility will begin in March. The plant, which Governor Bush said solidifies the Central Texas region as a major high-tech industry center, will be located on 300 acres northeast of Austin off Parmer Lane in the Jourdan Crossing development. It is expected to employ 1,000 workers.

The facility will be about half a million square feet, and will be constructed in two phases. It will go on-line at the end of 1997, and will produce advanced semiconductor products. Samsung Electronics is an affiliate of the Samsung Group, a $60 billion South Korean conglomerate, and is the world's leading manufacturer of such products. Although the company has only committed to one plant, project manager S.W. Lee said that two more facilities and one administrative building may be built on the site. Those plants are proposed for construction beginning in the year 2000, and would employ an additional 1,000 workers.

As part of a package offered by the City of Austin and Travis County, Samsung will receive a 40% property tax abatement, with the opportunity to earn an additional 15% in abatements if 40% of their workforce includes lower-income workers. Mayor Todd told the press that a portion of the property taxes actually paid to the city will go toward a job training program to be set up by the city and Travis County. The remaining tax monies will go into the city's general fund. The job training program is to be designed cooperatively by Samsung, the University of Texas, and Austin Community College, and will likely be administered by UT and ACC. Workers are to be specifically trained for positions at Samsung, according to company president Y.W. Lee.

No figures on the actual dollar amount of the tax abatement were available as of Tuesday; Samsung representatives and Todd aide Trey Salinas explained that all parties will sit down in a few weeks to look over property appraisals and negotiate a figure. Salinas indicated that the company's total yearly tax bill, before the abatements, could be $80 million, although he cautioned that that was only an estimate.

Travis County is offering Samsung a similar tax abatement package, plus the purchase of right-of-way along Jourdan Crossing for road extensions to be built by the Texas Department of Transportation.

President Lee said that Samsung chose Austin over a competing city, Portland, Oregon, for two reasons: Austin is centrally located in America, and four large companies are breaking ground in Oregon, making it difficult to compete for construction workers.

Last September, Samsung canceled a press conference at which they were to make the announcement, citing internal planning processes that were taking longer than expected. Project manager Lee said Tuesday that "those were internal matters. Now it's all cleared up." Samsung representatives were vague on one internal process that may affect the entire Samsung Group: company chairman Lee Kun Hee was indicted last month on bribery charges related to a "slush fund" set up by former South Korean president Roh Tae Woo. Company spokespersons said that the case is still pending, and that at press time, Chairman Hee had not yet made his plea. -- L.C.B.

Real Texas Pride

While Samsung officials were inside the Capitol Building on Tuesday offering their company up as "another shining example of `Texas Pride'," a group of expatriates from across the state gathered on the south steps to advocate Texas independence.

"We are not a group," declared J.C. Van Kirk to reporters. "We are the provisional government of the perfected Republic of Texas."

Van Kirk, president of the provisional government, came to the Capitol to serve walking papers to the governor. After a three-year legal quest for Texas independence, Van Kirk and the provisional government now plan to form a constitutional convention to elect a new national government for the Republic of Texas. Members claim that through a lack of a quorum in 1845, the United States had failed to ratify the treaty that bound the Republic of Texas to the Union. When asked about the matter, the U.S. State Department declared it an internal affair, while the Texas Supreme Court ruled that they had no jurisdiction. The provisional government then filed suit for independence with the International Court in the Netherlands, which also declined to rule on the matter. Finally, the group filed papers in the Texas State Archives, making everything seem strangely legal. The governor's office has never replied to any communications from the provisional government, nor did any Capitol representative appear at the Tuesday press conference.

A U.N. observer on the scene said that the activities of the day reminded him of a Thomas Jefferson quote about a revolution every 20 years or so being a good thing. The Secretary of Trade and Commerce for the provisional government, William Johnston, shied away from recommending that everyone immediately expatriate to the Republic, saying, "We have no idea what's going to happen next. We might get shot." -- C.B.

Cunningham Controversy Continues

Last month, after Freeport-McMoRan threatened to sue him, University of Texas computer science professor Alan Cline sent a letter to UT Chancellor William Cunningham asking him to disassociate himself from the threats and to speak "clearly to the principle of academic freedom."

In his letter, Cline quoted Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett, who told the local daily that if Freeport was going to sue the professors, "we shouldn't be held back by the fact that he's [Cunningham] a director." Cline told Cunningham: "I believe it is important for faculty members on our campus, on the campuses of our system, and elsewhere, to realize that open debate at universities will not be stifled by groundless threats of lawsuits."

But in his carefully worded response to Cline on January 9, Cunningham sounds as though he is still carrying water for Freeport. "My dedication to the principle of academic freedom is intertwined with an intense belief that membership in an academic community does not confer immunity from the same laws and standards that apply to others in a free society."

Cline was nonplused by Cunningham's response. "He didn't address my concerns," Cline told the Chronicle. "The continuing story seems to be that Cunningham is ducking. He wouldn't talk to [the Austin American-Statesman]. He isn't answering anything."

"I'm troubled," said Cline, who believes that Cunningham may have resigned from Freeport's board simply to clear the path for the company to sue UT faculty. "It's too bad Cunningham didn't respond directly," he said. "But maybe his non-response sends a message." -- R.B.

Dallas Does Light Rail

It looks like Dallas is going to be the first Texas city to have light rail. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) will begin passenger service in the central business district in June. By next year, passengers will be able to ride on 20 miles of light rail, from Oak Hill in the south, through downtown, to Park Lane in north central Dallas. Features include 21 stations (including 1,109 commuter parking spaces) a downtown transit mall, space for bicycles on some trains, and a tunnel under the North Central Expressway. Once the $850 million, 20-mile starter line is complete, DART plans 35 miles of extensions to take light rail to Richardson in the north and Garland in the northeast. The trains will carry an estimated 38,000 passengers per day by the year 2000. Speeds will average 30 mph, with a 60-mph maximum.

The Metroplex also has a system of regional commuter rail under construction along a portion of the former Rock Island Line between Dallas and Fort Worth. The initial 10-mile segment from downtown Dallas to Irving is scheduled to open in December, with service to Fort Worth by 1998. A leg north to DFW Airport will open in 2004. By 2010, another commuter rail corridor is planned to connect downtown Dallas with Love Field and suburban areas in the northwest.

Mike Aulick, head planner on the Austin Transportation Study (ATS), notes that Austin "has a lot to learn from Dallas' experience."

Local transit activist David Dobbs agrees. "What we have to learn from Dallas is not to delay." Dobbs says. "Every day we wait it will cost more and have less impact on the city's growth as a compact city." -- N.E.

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