Naked City

Off the Desk:

When Amungme tribal leader Tom Beanal first filed his $6 billion class action lawsuit against Freeport-McMoRan, few people thought he had much of a chance recovering any compensation for the toll the company's mine in Irian Jaya has taken on his people's land. While the judge overseeing Beanal's case hasn't ruled yet on Freeport's request that it be dismissed, Beanal got some good news on June 11 when the Australian mining company, BHP -- which has a mine located 300 miles east of Freeport's in Papua, New Guinea -- agreed to spend about $500 million to settle a suit very similar to the one filed by Beanal. As part of its settlement with several indigenous tribes, BHP agreed to build a 100-kilo-meter-long pipeline to deposit its tailings in an area far below its mine rather than in the river. The agreement also gives indigenous groups a 10% equity stake in the mine... -- R.B.

It went all the way to the Supreme Court of Texas, but no relief was had by the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), a national organization for gay and lesbian Republicans. Last week, the Court let the Republican Party refuse the LCR a booth at the state convention in San Antonio and an advertisement in the convention program. "The Log Cabin Republicans advocate a lifestyle that's illegal in the state of Texas," explains Lester Van Pelt III, Republican Party spokesman. The Grand Old Party platform also contains language supporting a continued ban on same-sex marriages, and the 1994 Texas GOP platform's plank on AIDS states: "We should... love (homosexuals) enough to tell them the truth: Behavior has personal and social consequences." So why would the LCR care to join a club that backs the likes of Pat "AIDS is God's retribution" Buchanan? Because, explains Log Cabin Republican spokesman J.C. Michelak, "we believe in the party's basic tenets of limited government and individual freedom..." -- G.M.

Regional Love Fest

In an attempt to actually practice "regional cooperation" -- the political buzz words currently in vogue -- this month the Travis and Williamson Counties' Alliance of Cities enacted a regional water conservation plan. The plan, announced June 4 by the group of mayors from 20 Central Texas cities, including Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, lists one voluntary outdoor watering schedule for all the communities the alliance represents.

The move was only its second formal action since the Alliance's inception two years ago. The first was a statement last year opposing the State of Texas' proposed transfer of water from the Lower Colorado River Basin to the City of San Antonio. The group of mayors has been meeting monthly since September, 1994 "to get together and start talking about this area as a region instead of as cities that happen to be next to each other," says Round Rock Mayor Charlie Culpepper, an alliance member.

For Austinites, the alliance of cities could be considered a pre-emptive strike against hostile state legislators, whose actions in the past have prompted the invention of another favorite political buzz phrase -- "Austin-bashing." The alliance "got started largely to tell the Legislature we're in charge of our own destiny," Todd says. "The state moved in because they thought there was a vacuum, a lack of a regional approach in Central Texas."

The alliance, conceived by Pflugerville Mayor Haywood Weir, is also working to coordinate transportation issues such as efforts to speed up construction on State Highway 130 and the Outer Loop, and placing a small-town mayor on the Austin Transportation Study (ATS) board -- a move that some transportation activists fear will dilute Austin's authority on the board. In addition to transportation projects, the alliance is also looking to coordinate water and wastewater issues.

Todd says a similar alliance in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a model for inter-governmental alliances. There, he points out, a regional approach was central to building the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and attracting the Texas Rangers baseball team. -- G.M.

Save Our Alleys

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) took action to save its neighborhood's beauty by temporarily halting the Department of Solid Waste's plan to put garbage in front of historic homes. Willie Rhodes, director of Solid Waste, has been promoting the new policy to discontinue garbage collection from the alleys behind homes throughout the city. For the past year, Solid Waste has switched to front curb pick-up in other neighborhoods with little protest from residents, until now.

Ben Heimsath, president of the HPNA, says he is "hopping mad" about the policy to end alley collection. He argues that street pick-up could mar the beauty and tourist appeal of Hyde Park. There is also concern that student renters in the area would be less than conscientious about keeping yards trash-free.

Rhodes explains that alley pick-up is less safe and not as convenient as street pick-up. He related one incident in which a truck ripped out a window air-conditioning unit because the alley was too narrow. Alleys are so narrow, in fact, that the Solid Waste department has to use smaller trucks, which Rhodes says makes the job take twice as long as necessary. He adds that garbage collectors have complained that the alleys are unpaved and muddy.

Ironically, while Solid Waste has been gradually phasing out alley service, the Public Works Department has been working to repave the alleys in Hyde Park with $185,000 from a 1984 bond issue, partly in response to garbage collectors' complaints. Despite the paving efforts and protests from Hyde Park residents, last week a representative from Solid Waste informed the Hancock and Heritage neighborhoods that they were next on the list to lose alley service. However, the HPNA, armed with a petition signed by 550 residents, won a reprieve for the area from Mayor Bruce Todd, who granted the association the opportunity to build a negotiating team with representatives from Public Works, Solid Waste, and the electric utility. The group hopes to preserve alley service by working with the three departments to come up with a plan to pave the alleys and widen them by moving ill-placed utility poles. The team has until October 1 to come up with a workable solution. -- K.V.

Envisioning Austin's Future

A team of designers are having trouble deciding how to improve access to Palm Park, which lies between First and Second Streets on the west side of I-35, for people who live east of the interstate. How about tunnels under the interstate? No, they might be unsafe. An elevated walkway? That could be tricky because it would have to go over the access road but under the interstate itself.

Dilemmas like these confronted the 80 or so architects, city officials, developers and residents who volunteered to brainstorm at last Saturday's Community Vision Project workshop -- a joint venture between the UT School of Architecture and the Community and Regional Planning Program. Organizers of the all-day workshop at the City Coliseum hope that the ideas the volunteers came up with will be used by future developers as guidelines for what Austinites want to see built -- neighborhoods that alleviate traffic, a reduction in urban sprawl, and support for urban businesses, shops, and recreational facilities.

The workshop's volunteers were divided into eight teams, which were then assigned to dream up designs for one of four sites in the area: Mueller Airport, Southwood Mall on Ben White, a long corridor between Third and Fifth streets, and an area near San Marcos. The team that wrestled with the Palm Park access as part of the Third and Fifth Street project had a hefty task in reworking a corridor that straddles the socially and architecturally divisive I-35. The team wanted an Eastside mercado, more retail and civic spaces, narrow streets, statues, underground parking, public restrooms, and other features to help make the area a tourist destination. The team also instituted compact-city principles, focusing on safety, landscaping, and making the population dense -- except nearest the interstate. To cover all the bases, they made a list of city code revisions that would be necessary for their plans.

Three design associates tried to put the teams' visions into architectural language and images. Project Director Kent Butler, an assistant dean at the UT School of Architecture, said that with articulated visions for the sites, "anybody who wants to develop in Austin will have a sense of what the community wants. That's never been done before." He added that the teams were designed and facilitated so that the loudest lobbyists or the richest developers would not determine the look of Austin's aesthetic and social future. "It's exciting if we could work as a team to rebuild and revitalize an area that desperately needs to be revitalized," said team member Cathy Vasquez-Revilla, who lives and owns a business in the neighborhood her group recreated.

Not all was perfect at the workshop, however. On provided comment sheets, a few observers from the public noted the lack of ethnic diversity in some groups. Project manager Janet Allen-Shapiro agreed that diversity was important in organizing the event. "A lot of people couldn't make it," she said.

Although no developers are set to make the vounteers' specific plans a reality, organizers hope the design principles will be used as guidelines for future development throughout the city. A panel of design experts will evaluate the plans July 1. -- G.M.

Keep the Oak in Oak Hill

Two architects hoping to preserve 100-year-old trees and a sense of community in Oak Hill submitted a design for Hwy290 that they hope will replace the one the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is pushing.

Oak Hill landscape architect Gary Basham and Austin architect Sinclair Black collaborated on the design, which they submitted on June 11 to the US 290 Task Force of the Austin Transportation Study (ATS). Offered as a "community-oriented alternative" to TxDOT's plan for six elevated freeway lanes with six additional lanes of frontage roads, the alternative design calls for a four-lane, grade-level road to carry traffic around the Oak Hill commercial center about 250 feet north of the existing Hwy290 corridor. Local Oak Hill traffic would use a separate four-lane boulevard on the existing Hwy290, which would include a median strip, left-turn lanes, and 35 mph speed limits.

Basham said that the alternative design would preserve the Oak Hill commercial center, eliminate the barrier effect of the elevated freeway, and maintain a sense of community. The plan would also preserve several 100-year-old oak trees along Williamson Creek, which would be destroyed under the TxDOT plan. The tree-lined creek would serve as a buffer between the freeway and Oak Hill's commercial district, and a hike and bike trail along the creek would provide access between neighborhoods and Motorola. The alternative plan would also eliminate a 50- to 60-foot-high flyover ramp at the Y intersection of Hwy290 and Hwy71. In the TxDOT design, this flyover would rise adjacent to Convict Hill just to the south, and residents on the hill fear disruption from noise and headlights.

The task force is supposed to make recommendations to the ATS in August on alternative designs for Hwy290, and on ways to protect streams and the Edwards Aquifer from highway runoff pollution. A table-top model of TxDOT's Hwy290 design was shown for the first time at the task force's June 11 meeting. Task Force Co-Chair, Rep. Sherri Greenberg said that a similar model would be constructed for the alternative design. -- N.E.

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