Naked City

Off the Desk:

If today is Thursday and it's early enough in the day, there could still be some opposition discourse underway in the board room of the Lower Colorado River Authority. At issue is the LCRA's proposed $4 million acquisition of the water/wastewater system of FM Properties' developments on Barton Creek. Neither the Sierra Club's Austin Regional Group nor the Save Barton Creek Association fancy the notion of the LCRA getting intimately involved in FM Properties' wastewater system, particularly given the system's (and the corporation's) prior history as a polluter. Kind of ironic, since the LCRA champions its role as the guardian of water quality in Barton Creek and the Colorado River. In a letter to LCRA General Manager Mark Rose, Sierra Club Chair Steve Beers warns that such "wheeling and dealing could infect the LCRA Board with corrupt temptations" from land speculators and developers. Watch this one closely...

Clang, clang, goes the... RegioSprinter? The name doesn't exactly inspire song, but what the rail car lacks in charm, it makes up for in public transit technology, or so we are told. At any rate, Capital Metro is bringing the RegioSprinter to Austin next month for an eight-day trial run between downtown and Cedar Park. All aboard for a free ride Feb. 14-21. The diesel-fueled rail car has been debuting in several European and North American cities. Last month, Boise, Idaho, signed a $100,000 demo deal with the rail car's manufacturer, Siemens Transportation Systems Inc., of New Jersey. Austin, no doubt, is being courted heavily for a similar try-out. Not all demo cities turn out to be takers, however. Calgary, Alberta, Canada, took RegioSprinter for a five-month spin but, in the end, decided not to buy...

We've all heard the anti-electroshock rhetoric; now there's proposed legislation that would outlaw the treatment in Texas. Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson, along with co-sponsor Reps. Dawnna Dukes of Austin and Gilbert Serna of El Paso, filed the bill Tuesday. The measure would stop treating patients "like lab rats," says Thompson. The effort is spelled out further at http:www.banshock.org...

Some Austin locales will provide the backdrop Friday for a documentary about the CIA. Under the Flag, with executive producers Richard Linklater and Anne Walker McBay, will recall the CIA at its most frightening moments -- as told by former agents themselves. Austin-based Silence Films is producing the piece and has sold television and limited theatrical rights to Turner Original Productions ... -- A.S.

ARCC Head Quits

Surprising few who have followed current events at the Austin Rape Crisis Center (ARCC), Executive Director Ginger Eways has resigned her post to head another local non-profit, the Central East Austin Community Organization (CEACO). The resignation comes at a heady time for ARCC, which is under consideration for a possible merger with the Center for Battered Women. In the last two years, ARCC has experienced financial problems, internal political troubles, and constant restructuring. Some ARCC observers say that Eways inherited the financial crisis, while others say that she created it. In either case, her tenure has been fraught with the challenges of shoring up a sinking ship.

Evidence of the ARCC crisis became even more apparent two weeks ago when the center and CBW began discussing merging their operations. Eways' resignation was tendered a week before ARCC's problems came to light in the Chronicle (Dec. 20), prompting some to regard her resignation as an attempt to escape the spotlight. Her resignation only recently became public. In an open letter to ARCC staff and volunteers, Eways describes her departure as an effort to "follow my bliss."

Some of Eways' detractors were not sorry to see her go. "I think it's fabulous that she's gone. Unfortunately, I think it's a little late," says Laura Lyons, ARCC's 1995 volunteer of the year, who says she intends to return to the center. Paul Garlinghouse, former prevention program director at ARCC, echoes Lyons' sentiments. "I think she knew just when to jump ship," he says.

Jamie Avila, who has moved up quickly through the ARCC ranks from long-term volunteer to Eways' special assistant, will temporarily take the helm until ARCC's future is more certain. ARCC board member Laura Wolf says the board will not look for a new executive director until July, at the completion of a feasibility study on the possible merger of ARCC and CBW. One merger scenario would have only one director overseeing the two agencies, thus eliminating the need to search for a new ARCC director.

The organization Eways will now head, CEACO, provides emergency assistance to East Austin residents and houses an HIV/AIDS prevention program as well. At press time, Eways could not be reached for comment. -- K.V.

Tunnel Vision

For nearly a decade, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has planned to dig a mile-long wastewater tunnel in South Austin that will be big enough to drive through an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rig. TxDOT says the tunnel is needed to drain the planned interchange at I-35 and Ben White. But for South Austin residents, particularly those who live along Williamson and Onion Creeks, the tunnel means flooding and pollution.

In a January 15 letter to TxDOT commissioners, the Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods (SCAN) asked for a delay in the tunnel's construction. SCAN President Diane Sanders asked that the project be delayed pending a public hearing to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed action. But so far, Sanders says, TxDOT has not responded. She says TxDOT officials told her and other residents that the agency doesn't have to worry about environmental impact on the community "because the tunnel is not over the Edwards Aquifer."

The tunnel will have an effect, however, on McKinney Falls State Park, which is located downstream of the proposed tunnel. The park reopened for swimming in 1993 after a sewage treatment plant located upstream of the park was closed. "We finally got McKinney Falls suitable where people can swim in there," says Sanders. If the tunnel project goes forward, she fears, the park may soon be closed again to swimmers.

Although it is unclear what role, if any, the city could have in the tunnel controversy, Mike Heitz, the director of the city's drainage utility, says he has "concerns on the pollution impact." Members of Heitz's staff have looked into the proposal to see how it might affect flooding in the region. But Heitz says it may be too late for the city to do anything about the tunnel. "The time to negotiate this issue was some time before now," he said. "The state already has a contract on the project and is ready to move forward."

TxDOT has said that it conducted a public hearing on the Ben White expansion in 1987 and has no plans to hold additional hearings. Calls to Robert Stuard, the agency's director of planning, were not returned. Sanders says that if SCAN doesn't get a satisfactory response from TxDOT, they will take the fight to court. -- R.B.

Ain't Misbehavin'

City taxpayers have paid nearly $39,000 to lawyers who handled the lawsuit stemming from Mayor Bruce Todd's attempts to shush up outspoken activists Karen Hadden and Neal Tuttrup at council meetings. Todd, who has been angered by the pair's outspoken behavior, barred them from speaking at council meetings last spring. Drawing on the maxim that actions speak louder than words, the activists responded with a federal lawsuit against Todd.

The case settled out of court last October and the city agreed to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees, which amounted to $3,663 for James Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Defending Todd and the city required a bigger chunk of change, however. Attorney Wade Porter with the law firm of Dallas-based Haynes & Boone, and Bruce Bennett, a partner with Baskin Bennett & Komkov, billed the city $35,000 -- $20,387.44 for legal fees; the rest for "expenses and services."

The end result of the lawsuit? Tuttrup and Hadden can speak to council once again (Hadden has since decided to run for a council seat). But the city feels it scored a victory, too. Attorney Porter said the pair promised to "behave themselves" at council meetings. -- R.B.

S.O.S. for S.O.S.?

After weeks of salivation by the environmental community, the numbers are finally coming in on the Save Our Springs Ordinance, and they're less than encouraging for S.O.S. supporters. Following an October request by Councilmember Daryl Slusher, city staff has finished a 23-page report on pending development applications in the Barton Springs Zone.

The report had to be compiled by hand -- requiring more than 300 staff hours -- because of the city's outdated computer system. Perhaps for that reason, the study is disjointed and difficult to interpret. A preliminary computer analysis by environmentalist Frank Belanger reports that applications in the S.O.S. area -- the 90-mile portion of the Barton Springs Zone located in the city -- comprise 6,015 acres. But of that number, only 30%, or 1,740 acres, must comply with S.O.S.

That's because in 1995, the Lege passed a bill allowing development applications to be reviewed under the ordinance in which they were filed -- effectively moving the development applications out of S.O.S.'s purview. As many as seven ordinances determine development rules in the area, some as old as the 1980 Barton Springs Zone Ordinance. Belanger also reports that 1.4 square miles of yet-to-be-constructed commercial development has been approved over the sensitive aquifer. "We have to question whether S.O.S. is reality, or just a piece of paper," says Belanger.

As to the council's decision in December 1994 to repeal the S.O.S. ordinance after a Hays County jury ruled it invalid, staff reports that only 210 acres of proposed development were re-filed under the weaker replacement ordinance. Environmentalists had suspected the number to be much larger, and had wanted the refiled development applications to fall under the stricter S.O.S. after a state appeals court upheld the measure and the council reimplemented the ordinance last summer. If the amount of acreage is indeed that small, there will likely be no attempt by Slusher, who was already skeptical about the legality of such a move, to reimplement the S.O.S. during its year-and-a-half hiatus. -- A.M.

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