Off the Desk:
The Save Our Springs Alliance is taking Bruce Babbitt to court over the interior secretary backing out of a proposal to place Austin's beloved salamander on the list of endangered species. Babbitt ultimately said that the listing wasn't necessary, claiming that a cooperative pledge between state agencies including TxDOT and the TNRCC to not hurt the species was protection enough. "The decision was illegal and based on politics," says S.O.S.' Bill Bunch... -- A.S.
Local A-list architect and New Urbanism proponent Ben Heimsath has been asked to work on the controversial SCIP II housing project in the Robertson Hill section of East Austin. This should be good news for SCIP (Scattered Cooperative Infill Housing Program) critics, who deride the federally backed project that has been on the drawing board for five years as wasteful, anachronistic, and detrimental to neighborhoods. Heimsath has helmed the Citizens Planning Committee effort to make Austin's land-use policies more friendly to residents and neighborhoods... -- M.C.M.
Councilmember Eric Mitchell may not look like he's having fun, but he loves his job so much he's coming back for more. Mitchell is seeking another term and, by most accounts, will likely secure an easy victory...
Glenn West isn't heading east. He's keeping his president's post at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. West was one of two contenders for a top slot in the Atlanta chamber. The other guy got it. "Atlanta is the creme de le creme of chamber jobs -- if that's your thing," says Chamber chair Kerry Tate. "But we're all pretty relieved that Glenn's staying with us..."
Gloria Feldt, national president of Planned Parenthood, returns to her native Texas, Friday, Nov. 1, for the Austin chapter's Public Affairs luncheon, 12:30pm at the Four Seasons Hotel. The event is the local group's first to promote tolerance. Morris Dees, civil rights attorney and chair of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will also offer up some counsel on tolerance... -- A.S.
Coming Full CircleWait a minute. Didn't the mayor lay blame on environmentalists last year when all those out-of-town legislators were in an Austin-bashing frenzy? Now that the courts are moving toward reversing those bills, Bruce Todd has jumped on the green bandwagon to vocally support the type of lawsuit he once warned would get us into trouble with the legislature.
The City of Austin -- its confidence restored after a recent Texas Supreme Court victory -- filed suit late Monday in an effort to regain the very regulatory and annexation authority that the state lege took away. The suit, filed in Travis County District Court, seeks to overturn HB 3193 -- the law that created the Southwest Travis County District and gave it governing powers over Gary Bradley's Circle C development in southwest Austin. The legislation ripped away Austin's annexation control over the community and cleared Circle C from having to adhere to the city's environmental laws.
"We want the law declared unconstitutional, in part because we think it attempts to regulate the affairs of Austin through a local bill," says Karl Bayer, the city's outside counsel in the suit. That's pretty much what the Supreme Court thought as well when it overturned a law that forced the city to take on the assets and debts of Maple Run Utility District.
Councilmember Daryl Slusher, a longtime critic of Bradley, Circle C, and the mayor's past cavings to developers, says he and Todd are in agreement on this one. "The mayor and I have had disagreements in the past," he says, "but this unity shows the critical nature of this case and how important it is to the citizens of Austin." (Translation: I was right and he was wrong).
The defendant -- Southwest Travis Co. Water District -- has about three weeks to respond. -- A.S.
Boycott or BustsSmut monitor Wyatt Roberts, executive director of the American Family Association of Texas, kicked off his latest boycott Monday -- this time against petroleum giant Diamond Shamrock Corp. Wyatt wants Diamond Shamrock Corner Stores and the corporation's Stop 'N Go shops to sweep its shelves clean of sex magazines. The Austin-based moral mogul launched his boycott campaign this week to coincide with Gov. George Bush's proclamation of Pornography Awareness Week, or PAW, which runs through Nov. 3.
For the record, Wyatt is quick to mention that neither Bush nor PAW are endorsing the boycott against the San Antonio-based refiner. Bush did note in his proclamation, however, that he is urging Texans to support obscenity laws "by speaking out against pornography wherever it appears." That would be Diamond Shamrock and Stop 'N Go convenience stores, according to Wyatt. "The corporation is the largest distributor of pornography in Texas," he says.
"We're probably the largest distributor of Snickers and Coca-Cola, too," retorts Shamrock spokeswoman Kathy Hughes. "That's because we own 1,500 convenience stores in Texas." Since Shamrock bought the Stop 'N Go stores in December, says Hughes, the company has weeded out the more undesirable periodicals. "Some of them had some pretty raunchy titles," she says. Still among the stores' inventory are Penthouse and Playboy, which are only sold to persons over the age of 18, Hughes says.
"We look at these magazines as we would any product," she adds. But Roberts looks at the magazines -- er, considers the magazines -- a scourge on society and vows to "do whatever it takes" to rid Shamrock of its porn. Among those measures will be a statewide petition drive and a Nov. 20 rally at the company's front door in San Antonio. Also, Roberts says his association mailed letters to 28,500 Texans urging them to boycott the stores. The group says it will buy radio time, billboard space, bus and bus-bench advertising as well. -- A.S.
Freeport FaltersLow copper prices and civil unrest continue to hurt Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold's profitability. In a press release made public last week, the company reported that its revenues in the last three quarters have fallen slightly, despite higher production at its Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
Of note in the company's report are two charges against net income. Freeport charged shareholders $12.7 million for the cost of stock options held by company insiders. In addition, the company has booked a $3 million charge against income due to "costs related to a civil disturbance." Last March, disgruntled villagers who live near the mine rioted, shutting down operations for two and a half days.
Interestingly, the company's release makes no mention of its insurance cancellation. Last month, the company cancelled $150 million in political risk insurance held by two agencies, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (which cancelled Freeport's policy a year ago due to alleged environmental problems at the mine), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which was preparing to send its own team of environmental inspectors to the mine. Sources close to the company say that at the same time Freeport cancelled its coverage with OPIC and MIGA, it also cancelled all political risk insurance it had with private insurers.
On the legal front, attorneys for Tom Beanal and Yosepha Alomang, two Amungme tribal members who have filed separate class action lawsuits against the company, are claiming success in court. According to sources close to the case, a U.S. District Court in New Orleans rejected Freeport's request that the two cases be joined in federal court, and ordered the Alomang case back to state district court. The Oct. 17 move is seen as a victory for Martin Regan, the attorney representing the two tribal members, because rules of evidence in state court are not as strict as those in federal court.
Freeport lawyers are now fighting Regan's efforts to depose Jim Bob Moffett, CEO of Freeport Copper. Regan wants to put Moffett under oath and ask him about Freeport's environmental policies. In addition, Regan has subpoenaed OPIC for the agency's records from its 1994 environmental audit of the Freeport mine.
Calls to Freeport's spokesmen in Austin and New Orleans were not returned. -- R.B.
Green's a MustThe business community and environmental activists squared off last week over a proposed ordinance that would make recycling mandatory for businesses and multi-family apartments.
About 20 people aired their opinions at an Oct. 20 hearing before the Commercial/Multi-Family Recycling Task Force. The meeting was the latest in a long line of attempts to draft a commercial recycling ordinance in Austin. The push began six years ago, but the latest proposal, drafted by Willie Rhodes, the director of the city's Solid Waste Services Department, is expected to finally get off the ground this time around.
The ordinance would exempt apartment complexes with less than 100 units, which environmentalists believe is too lenient. James Savage, president of Students for Earth Awareness, pointed out that most student complexes are well below 100 units, and the exemption would do little more than teach students "that recycling is not a priority to the City of Austin." If nothing else, offered Katie Hartsog of the same group, students should be provided with bottle recycling services, because of all the beer they consume.
Still, property managers and owners of small apartment houses noted that space limitations and resources would make it difficult to implement and monitor on-site recycling programs. Beth Holt, of the Austin Apartment Association, said that with a premium on parking spaces in smaller units, there would be no place to locate a recycling site. "Perhaps we need more recycling centers where these older properties are," she suggested.
Several business owners showed up to support the proposed ordinance. Frank Winkley, manager of the Ivory Cat Tavern, 300 E. Sixth, said that the tavern throws away 60 tons of bottles each month because city recycling services don't extend to many establishments in the entertainment district. Stephanie Phillips, co-owner of Recycle It All, which provides recycling services to local businesses, noted that because disposal costs will increase when the city-owned landfill closes in 1999, the cost of mandatory recycling isn't expected to set businesses back in expenses. "None of our clients have been put out of business by using our service," she said. -- K.V.