Off the Desk
Thompson Conference Center... The Public Works and Transportation Department will hold a public hearing on toughening up the ordinance governing city street closures for entertainment purposes on Tuesday, June 25 at 7pm at Town Lake Center, 808 Barton Springs Road, Room C... Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed told the Associated Press that the burning of more than 30 predominantly black churches in the South in the past 18 months is the "greatest wave of terrorism against black churches since the civil rights movement." Yet the federal agency chosen to lead the investigation into the arsons --the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) -- has a questionable record on race relations. The Christian Coalition magazine Christian American reported that at least two ATF agents were recently removed from the case after it was discovered that they took part in the "Good Ol' Boys Roundup," an annual police-sponsored picnic in Tennessee. The "Roundup" includes activities and talk that routinely denigrates blacks... -- A.D.
Third Tier FearsAccording toTexas Monthly, the University of Texas School of Law may have more to worry about than losing its appeal of the Fifth Circuit's decision barring the school from considering race in accepting law students. The U.S. Supreme Court could refuse to hear the case at all. And if that happens, the Monthly's Paul Burka writes, some predict that "the circuit court's ruling will turn UT into a virtually all-white university; the consequences could range from difficulty in recruiting faculty and obtaining foundation grants, to budget cuts and even boycotts." No doubt UT faculty and administration are biting their nails waiting to see whether the liberal justices will pull together and vote to hear the case. But the "buzz," according to Burka, is that because the ruling only affects universities under the Fifth Circuit's jurisdiction -- Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- the liberal justices may let the case slide rather than lose affirmative action policies for the entire nation. -- A.D.
Musical City StaffThe election was just the beginning. Now, decisions, decisions, decisions. The first being just what to do with the old furniture, starting first and foremost with orphan staffers. On June 24, outgoing councilmember Brigid Shea's omnipotent secretary, Frank J. Kopic, moves to the legal department for a gig as Assistant City Attorney Chuck Griffith's legal secretary. On June 17, Shea's executive assistant, David Garza, moved to a temporary position with the City Auditor's Office. Shadow councilmember Robin Cravey, the geritol for Max Nofziger's ninth and final year and the man responsible for pushing some of Nofziger's last-minute measures -- including the notorious pedestrian coordinator -- will remain the Place 1 executive assistant. Council novice Daryl Slusher, who is against the hiring of a pedestrian coordinator, didn't hold it against Cravey: Slusher has asked him to stay on as his executive assistant. -- A.M.
Mayor Steals Little ThunderFor a council meeting, lobbyists were in short supply. Then again, it wasn't an ordinary meeting, but the inauguration of the council-elect, and big money had little to celebrate in last Saturday's swearing in of Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith, and Jackie Goodman.
With the large audience at the Parque Zaragoza rec center dominated by grassroots activists, neighborhood leaders, and the council habitues that send lobbyists scurrying to the suburbs, Jerry Harris and others like him must have felt as out of place as cats in a room full of rocking chairs. But relief was forthcoming in the commencement speech delivered by Mayor Bruce Todd, who laid out his senior-year agenda: the privatization of the water and wastewater utility, trash collection, health clinics, parks and recreation, and the convention center.
Its relation to the future of the city was obvious enough. But what it had to do with the recent council initiates was less certain. Needless to say, the address didn't sit well with the audience, who saw it as a move to upstage the trustees they'd just put in office. "Tell it to us later!" yelled the Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund's Bill Bunch. Another activist hollered, "Your three minutes are up!"
Bunch later explained, "I was there to hear from our new councilmembers and celebrate their inauguration, not to hear Bruce's grand plan to sell off anything of value the city owns."
While several in Todd's audience talked among themselves or got up and left, once Slusher took the podium, the crowd went wild. "It's a new day," was Slusher's key phrase during his speech, and with a cool demeanor he called for an end to the "boondoggle era," a "new way for East Austin," and a government process dominated by "ordinary citizens over influence-peddlers."
Repeat councilmember Goodman came next, and her words were characteristically short and toned down. Generalities overshadowed specifics, and she focused on the need for open and honest debate. "I hope we consider dissenting opinions as part of the process... and we ignore the politics of hate and malice as the last resort of those who can't speak about real issues."
Finally, Griffith's peppy attitude stirred the crowd anew. She offered general solutions -- like public and private partnerships -- and she named juvenile crime as a top priority. She promised to keep a lid on utility rates and property taxes, and to keep a door ajar for neighborhood activists. "Let's take Austin forward, together," was her concluding theme.
Let's see how far we move forward at the June 27 councilmeeting, when the new council gets its first look at the budget -- and its $17 million shortfall. Lobbyists should be there en masse, looking a tad more comfortable. -- A.M.
Feds Scrutinize ATS PlanFederal Highway Administration officials will decide whether or not to finish certification of Austin's 25-year transportation planning process after meeting with staff of the Austin Transportation Study (ATS) next week. Last year, the feds withheld final approval of the plan until the ATS showed that it has considered the likely effect of its transportation policies on land use, and on its compact city goals.
Members of the alternative transportation advocacy group Rethinking Our Urban Transportation Environment (ROUTE) told federal officials last year that the ATS plan is "schizophrenic" because it calls for a compact city, but continues to support large-scale freeway and arterial construction that would render transit impractical by creating more low-density suburban development and automobile dependence. ROUTE also argued that ATS plans for an extensive commuter rail system lack realistic sources of funding, and National Highway System funds should be diverted from freeways to rail if the ATS is serious about its compact city goals.
ATS staff responded to the federal mandate by preparing a new "compact city" scenario to contrast with its previous "existing trends" scenario. Both scenarios are based on population projections for the area that show half of future metropolitan growth occurring as low-density suburban development in Williamson and Hays Counties. The compact city scenario leaves the Williamson and Hays growth unchanged from the existing trends scenario, but projects an additional 275,000 people along light rail corridors in Travis County.
ROUTE Chair Roger Baker criticized the ATS compact city scenario at a meeting with federal officials on June 10. "We do not consider that superimposing an additional population assigned to transit on top of urban sprawl trends complies with any meaningful definition of a compact city," said Baker. He also told the feds that the ATS has twice formally declined to endorse the goals of the Citizens' Planning Committee, which seeks regional planning for a compact city.
ATS head planner Mike Aulick responds that the ATS compact city scenario is an aggressive and optimistic plan to encourage infill and redevelopment in the urban core. He stresses that its success depends on building the proposed light rail line, which would attract new inner-city employers along its corridor.
The June 27 certification meeting, open to the public, will be held 10am-2pm in the Second Floor Conference Room of the City Council Chambers Annex, 307 W. Second St. --N.E.
Suburbs: 3; Austin: 1Speaking of assaults on the compact city concept, the Austin Transportation Study voted at its June 10 meeting to add four new representatives to its governing Policy Advisory Committee. The fact that three of the four new reps are from area suburbs has compact city advocates in an uproar. There will be one new ATS member each for Round Rock, Hays County, and a group of surrounding small cities. However, Austin gets just one new representative, who will be chosen by the Austin City Council. The decision increases the ATS governing body from 17 to 21 members, and, according to State Representative Glen Maxey and councilmembers Gus Garcia and Jackie Goodman, will translate into further dilution of Austin's voice on policy decisions that will affect the shape of future metropolitan area growth and the type of transportation projects to receive future funding.
A chart drawn up by ATS staff showed that each Austin delegate represents 36,715 constituents, while smaller cities in the area had ratios as low as 71 constituents per delegate. "If you kill the core city, all of you are going to die along with us," Garcia argued at the meeting.
However, Williamson County Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein and State Representative Jeff Wentworth said that claims that Austin's representation would be diluted were exaggerated, since every member of the ATS had some constituents within the Austin city limits. -- N.E.