Naked City

Off the Desk:

Hemp, hemp, hooray! That could be the victory cry of the Texas Hemp Campaign (THC) if the group succeeds in getting its Compassionate Cannibis Initiative Petition on the local ballot next year. Sound far-fetched? Not really. Voters in California and Arizona overwhelmingly passed similar measures in November. The initiative, spelled out at a THC press conference Dec. 18, would permit local residents to use marijuana as part of their medical treatment of cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other health-related matters. More on this story as it buds...

Local programs to combat domestic violence scored some Christmas cash last week -- $715,000 in federal funding, made possible through the Violence Against Women Act. The funds go toward beefing up arrest and sentencing procedures and creating an Austin/Travis County Family Violence Protection Team to work toward preventing and reducing domestic violence, according to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who announced the award last week. All told, Austin's programs have reaped a heap of federal dollars in just over a year's time, collecting over $4 million in funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, as well as for the construction of transitional housing for the Austin Center for Battered Women. Additional federal dollars have also been secured for a crisis intervention program designed to prevent repeat offenders...

The pros and cons of electroshock therapy could become an emotionally charged issue in the upcoming Texas Legislature. Houston Rep. Sinfronia Thompson is sponsoring legislation to ban electroshock treatment in Texas. And Round Rock computer technician Terri Adamchick promises to be behind Thompson all the way. Adamchick filed suit last week against St. David's Pavilion psychiatric hospital, three doctors, and the Oregon-based equipment manufacturer. Adamchick claims that six shock treatments in December, 1994 affected her memory to the point that her job skills suffered. She also says she has an ongoing seizure disorder. The plaintiff is supported in her effort by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Church of Scientology organization which is no fan of psychiatry...

Just what we've waited all year for -- Texas Monthly's Bum Steer Awards. Here are a couple of stand-outs: The City of Austin took the Law Review prize for paying a Houston lawyer $970 an hour to handle the Houston Lighting & Power lawsuit. Hourly wage-earner H. Lee Godfrey got a cool $12 million on the case, paid for out of the city's modest $20 million settlement with HL&P. Also on city side, Place 2 Austin City Council candidate and barbecue entrepreneur John Goode got a mention for his refusal to apply for minority status on city contracts. With that, the city's concessions manager, Fine Host Corp., yanked the black businessman's contract to provide barbecue at city-owned facilities...

"Chesapeake we hardly knew ye," is the lament these days from customers who frequented Chesapeake Bagels' now shuttered (with no explanation) West Sixth St. location near Katz's Deli. An employee at Chesapeake's other location, on William Cannon at Brodie, said the downtown crew had packed it in and was preparing to open a new site in Round Rock. Chesapeake had been on West Sixth for just over a year, having come in on that wave of bagel chain activity we reported here in the Chronicle back in August. At the time, Chesapeake was setting its sights on opening five or six other locations around town... -- A.S.

Get Shorty

Once again, the historic Shorty's Bar is on the restoration drawing board. This time the on-again, off-again project is under the aegis of the Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA), the nonprofit board sired by Councilmember Eric Mitchell to oversee redevelopment efforts on East 11th and 12th Streets. On Dec. 12, the Austin City Council approved a $300,000 loan to ARA to restore the city-owned Shorty's on East 11th.

But on this deal, it doesn't take a magnifying glass to see Cal Varner's handwriting on the old barroom wall. Varner, a real estate developer and lobbyist, is an ARA board member who tried once before to acquire and refurbish Shorty's after the city purchased the vacant structure in 1991 through foreclosure. Now it appears Varner is getting a second stab at the structure, this time in the name of ARA.

This isn't the first time Varner's ARA connection has raised eyebrows. Just six weeks after the board was incorporated, Varner purchased two lots in the district that ARA had targeted to receive federal funding for redevelopment. While the action was deemed legal, there was, of course, concern that a conflict-of-interest pattern was afoot. Varner assured city officials he had been eyeing the property before ARA was ever formed. -- A.S.

The Doctor Is In

Take two non-profits and call us in the morning. That's the prescription that worked to form the Downtown Center for Health, a joint project of the People's Community Clinic and the American Institute for Learning (AIL). The new three-room clinic set up shop behind AIL at Fourth & Congress, and will initially serve only AIL participants -- teen-agers and young adults who are earning high school equivalency diplomas and developing job skills. Eventually, the center's organizers plan to expand its range of services.

AIL has been without medical services for a year, since the City of Austin reallocated funds that had brought nurse practitioners to the school once a week. When Gloria Rohlich, one of those itinerant nurses, moved to the People's Community Clinic this summer, she suggested that the program be reinstituted with People's Community Clinic resources. The new clinic expands the services previously available, offering vision and hearing screening, testing and counseling for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning services, physical examinations, immunizations, and preventative health education.

The cost of services is adjusted on a sliding scale, depending on each student's income level. Rohlich points out that reproductive health services can be especially critical for AIL participants, many of whom were forced to drop out of high school because of unplanned pregnancies. Since most AIL participants come from low-income backgrounds and are uninsured, they also lack familiarity with regular preventative health care, Rohlich adds.

"There was a need for comprehensive services because the students didn't have another place to go and didn't know how to use health care services," she says.

The clinic will also offer internships to AIL students who are looking for careers in the medical field. Student health assistants will learn skills such as measuring blood pressure and stocking examination rooms.

The space that was made available for the clinic was remodeled in a mere six weeks to meet its Dec.12 grand opening goal, with the Austin Association of Remodeling Contractors kicking in $8,000 worth of volunteer labor. Accessibility to young people will be the ultimate measure of the clinic's success, says Jeff Wagers, AIL coordinator of health services. "The real focus in adolescent medicine is bringing services to youth. Teens don't go to the services," he says.

Having already seen 85 students in its first month of operation, clinic organizers are optimistic about plans to expand services. Serving AIL students' immediate family members, es-pecially children, is the next step for the clinic. Eventually organizers hope to reach out to teens in the PHASE project, a program that serves homeless youth in the UT campus area. -- K.V.

Bubbaville Anew

South Congress, the section of the big avenue that stretches south of Town Lake to Ben White Blvd., is a symbiotic study in entrepreneurial successes and hard-luck tales. It is the grittier version of this study -- the prostitutes, the tumbledown buildings -- that business owners and residents want to put on the road to wellsville. Earlier this month, about 30 South Austin boosters huddled over chips and margaritas at Güero's Mexican restaurant to officially kick off the South Congress Avenue Improvement Project.

During the next couple of months, the group of enthusiasts intends to get a steering committee and an advisory board up and running to oversee the project. Capital Metro already has chipped in $25,000 toward funding the development of a master plan.

"This project will increase accessibility, improve safety in the area and help to increase the viability of businesses along this street," said Susan Handy of the Capital Metro board.

The idea of sprucing up South Congress first began taking shape in 1995 when neighborhood groups like South River City Citizens and the Dawson and Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Associations began meeting together. "We started talking about how great it would be to get a master plan for Congress Avenue," said Laura Toups Berland, who chairs the Land Use Subcommittee for the South River City group.

Gradually, other South Austin groups started getting involved, along with the Texas State School for the Deaf and St. Edward's University. Recently, the South Congress Coalition launched a campaign against prostitution in the area, and former councilmember Max Nofziger is lending his voice to the fight. The coalition also wants Cinema West theatre to be something other than an adult movie house.

"Our efforts will coincide with the South Congress Improvement Project by creating a sense of place. It already exists in certain areas, but it doesn't exist comprehensively along the whole corridor," said coalition member Rene Barrera. "South Congress was touted as the longest mainstreet in the world in 1932," he added. "What we're doing is bringing that recognition back." -- T.S.

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