The Austin Chronicle

Off the Desk:

October 25, 1996, News

The Republic of Texas, the self-proclaimed rightful government of Texas, just can't get any rest from Attorney General Dan Morales. Last week, the AG subpoenaed the organization's secretary of state, Robert Kesterson, for all faxes and e-mail messages sent to the group. Kesterson says his attorney is studying the matter and has until Oct. 31 to respond. Did Morales likewise subpoena the group's Internet server, Flashnet Communications, for the names of people logging on to the Republic's Web site? AG spokesman Ron Dusek says tracing Web hits is possible, but he wouldn't provide further details: "We're not going to discuss, nor confirm, nor deny any investigative procedures we might use regarding the Republic of Texas."...

Mike Blizzard, a leader in Austinites for a Little Less Corruption, is hoping the Austin City Council will see his side of things at this week's council meeting, and allow for a referendum on campaign finance reform. The city clerk nullified the group's petition effort on grounds that they hadn't collected enough valid signatures to force a Jan. 18 charter election. Blizzard says it's hard to believe that out of the more than 29,000 signatures collected, more than half were invalid. "We're going to keep pushing this thing until we get it on the ballot," he says...

Where would we be without ACTV? Tune in to Channel 16 at 6pm Monday, Oct. 28, for an Austin Community Television forum. Or, hoof it down to the studios at 1143 Northwest Ave., to be a part of the in-studio audience. This promises to be interactive media in every sense of the word...

Only six more ballot-casting days until Nov. 1, the last day to vote early before the Nov. 5 general elections. That said, here's a history-making factoid to chew on: A record 10.5 million-plus residents are now registered to vote in Texas. That's 821,873 more than voted in the March primaries. Travis County voters are setting records of their own. The County Clerk's office reports that the early voting turnout is higher this year than it was four years ago. Don't forget to eyeball The Austin Chronicle Election Board (/election/) before heading to the polls. The Chronicle offers its endorsements in "Page Two" of this issue. -- A.S.

ACC's Shadow

The Austin Community College (ACC) Board of Trustees voted Monday to pull out of the Shadowridge real estate deal, amid whoops and hollers from approving environmentalists. Now, all is quiet as ACC's bean counters tally up the cost of almost buying the 79-acre tract in Oak Hill. The loss is somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, which went toward feasibility studies, penalties, and fees. The expense doesn't cover the legal costs which ACC incurred to defend itself in a lawsuit brought by the Save Our Springs Alliance (S.O.S.) over the Shadowridge tumult.

"I don't think we'll be looking for property in southwest Austin any time soon," says Carol Nasworthy, who chairs the ACC board. That's good news for residents of East Austin, where Nasworthy says ACC will begin shifting its focus. Dropping Shadowridge like a hot potato was the right decision, the board chair reasons. "The judge told us we were going to lose the lawsuit anyway, so there was no sense in going ahead with it." S.O.S. had sued on grounds that ACC had violated state open meetings laws when it voted to buy the Shadowridge property.

At Monday's meeting, the board decided 5-1 to pull out of the deal, with Lillian Davis dissenting. Nasworthy didn't vote, and says she would have voted nay to Shadowridge had there been a tie.

ACC trustees also broke a previous 4-4 deadlock on appointing a successor to Pete Foster, who resigned from the board. Trustees this time unanimously picked Sharon Knotts Green, a Motorola executive, over Bill Spelman, a University of Texas associate professor. Spelman made an unsuccessful bid for a trustee position last spring, running in part on his opposition to building an ACC campus on the environmentally vulnerable Shadowridge tract. -- A.S.

Heart On for Dan

"The problem with Dan Morales," says child support advocate Lynda Benson, "is that Dan Morales just doesn't get it." That's Benson's explanation for the Texas Attorney General getting this year's Heartless Award from the Texas chapter of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support (ACES). Morales has come under criticism recently for the AG's backlog of cases in the child support collection division. That criticism heated up this spring when he ousted the division's director, Charles (Charlie) Childress, and replaced him with David Vela, a former national parks service site director.

In canning Childress, Morales' right-hand man, First Assistant AG Jorge Vega, offered him a horizontal transfer to the AG's environmental division, but Childress declined, explaining, "I've been a family law attorney for 20 years. I don't have environmental expertise and I didn't think it would be appropriate for me to go there." Childress instead opted to quit. Last month, ACES honored Childress with the Golden Heart Award at the group's annual gathering in Dallas. "Charlie and I would fight all the time, but at least Charlie would listen and we were able to reach compromises," says Benson.

AG spokesman Ron Dusek is quick to defend his boss. "They cannot afford to be honest about the success of the [child support] program," he says. "If they were honest they'd be out of business."

Bestowing the Heartless Award on Morales this year will be St. Edwards University student Gretchen Cohenour. She'll deliver the award to Morales' office at 2pm Monday at the Price Daniel Building, 209 W. 14th, although she isn't counting on Morales being on hand to accept the honor. Cohenour grew up without benefit of child support from her father -- first under former Attorney General Jim Mattox's watch, and then under Morales' administration.

Meanwhile, ACES, a 10-year-old non-profit organization, is endorsing a Texas House panel's recent recommendation to move the AG's child support division to a new independent agency. "We've never wanted that in the past," Benson says, "but we're supporting it this time around." -- A.S.

Street Synchronicity

The Austin Transportation Study has come up with a list of priority road projects to fund in 1999 and 2000. Topping the list is a recommendation to kick in $4.5 million toward a computerized traffic light system to even out the flow of vehicles and reduce air pollution. But the Public Works and Transportation Department estimates it will take $10.5 million more than that to do the job.

Critics say the project would increase automobile dominance and that money could be better spent on providing a balance for other modes of travel. Still other traffic-calming advocates aren't so quick to criticize the synchronicity route. They say that if timed for homogenized flow rather than maximum speed, computerized signals can actually make roads safer by discouraging rapid starts and racing to beat red lights.

Among other road projects, ATS staff recommended spending $4.1 million to add left-turn lanes to Bee Caves Road, $2.7 million to widen RM 2244 in Pflugerville, $2.5 million to improve access ramps on I-35, and $2.68 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The Bee Caves Road project is about a fourth of the amount needed to provide left-turn lanes on that arterial between Loop 360 and MoPac. West Lake Hills officials say the lanes are needed for safe left turns because of increasing traffic from fast-growing subdivisions to the west -- including Barton Creek Properties. Critics point out that left turn lanes can also increase the barrier effect of roads for pedestrians by freeing up main lanes for faster speeds.

Though the ATS staff's recommendations carry a reasonable amount of weight, the final decision is in the hands of the ATS Policy Advisory Committee, a 21-member group consisting primarily of elected officials from Travis, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The ATS has direct control over about $7.4 million a year in federal transportation money, and that amount is expected to jump to $9.6 million in 1999.

The ATS share is minuscule compared to the nearly $1 billion in local freeway projects that the Texas Department of Transportation has underway, but transportation activists consider the ATS one of the few sources of funding for alternatives to big road projects. In the past few years, the ATS has allocated about 15% of its money for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Citizens can speak their minds on the proposed projects at the next ATS meeting, Monday, Nov. 18, 6:30pm, at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center, next to the LBJ Library at 24th & Red River. For a list of all projects being considered, call the ATS at 499-2275. -- N.E.

Roads Scholar

Communities should focus on the most efficient ways to transport people, not the fastest way to move cars. That's the word from Todd Litman, who was miles from his own Canadian home last week when he stopped in Austin to talk about the business of automobiles and roads. Litman, who is the director of the Victoria, British Columbia Transportation Policy Institute, suggested having transportation decision-makers -- largely the planners and politicians -- spend two weeks each year without a car, just to experience how the other side lives.

Litman says that officials tend to look at traffic congestion as the only transportation problem -- one that's resolved by building bigger roads, which leads to more sprawl and automobile dependency and more congestion. And, ultimately more road building. While city boosters often tout more road construction as the key to economic development, such over-extension of infrastructure damages the economy in the long run, Litman maintains. He points to Japan as a good transportation model for North America. There, people walk, cycle or use transit. When compared to Japan, North America spends twice the percentage of its gross national product on transportation. -- N.E.

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