Off the Desk:
A group calling itself Neighbors for Triangle Park will demonstrate just how much they don't want developers plowing up the piece of grassy property bordered by Guadalupe, Lamar, and 45th. The neighborhood group will hold a protest against a planned strip mall from 4:30-6pm this Friday, April 4, at the corner of Lamar & 51st. For more info, e-mail the group at: email@example.com. -- A.S.
No Fools Here
A former wheelman for the mob, John Johnson, has taken over the city and replaced Mayor Bruce Todd. Or at least, that was the inadvertent April Fool's joke at Tuesday's "Nobody's Fool Mayor's Forum." The gig took place in council chambers, and the six candidates in attendance sat at the dais, with Johnson in the mayoral seat. Questions were taken from the show's sponsors, the well-established Young Men's Business League, and the ascendant Young Women's Alliance.
Johnson provided most of the evening's entertainment. This is his third time running for mayor, and he's long complained about police harassment of the hot dog stands he owns on Sixth Street. In his hissing New Joisey accent, and chomping gum at the side of his mouth, Johnson described his reasons for running in his opening statement: "The mounted police have dumped mounds and mounds of horse manure next to my hot dog vendors. `Dis manure is tracked into places on Sixth Street and is becoming a healt' problem."
As for the other candidates, former IBM employee Ted Kircher answered every question with his "The-web-can-save-the-world" pitch. Ray "the Vet" Blanchette had few answers but promised to find solutions with the same success he had as an Air Force squadron commander. The rest of the candidates in attendance were relatively anesthetizing, adhering to their tried-and-tried campaign messages. Former councilmember Max Nofziger said that in nine years on the council, he helped bring the city out of the boom and into its current Golden Age. Frontrunners Ronney Reynolds and Kirk Watson sparred lightly over Capital Metro. Watson said that Reynolds doesn't care about fixing the agency until election time; Reynolds pointed out that Watson is calling for a performance review of Capital Metro, so he apparently doesn't know that one is already underway. Reynolds focused on his experience: "You don't hire a head coach who hasn't played the game." Watson held up a copy of a front-page story from the local daily about inadequate police funding and retorted: "We can talk about head coaches but we're not playing the game of fundamentals well." -- A.M.
At this juncture of the city council campaigns, it's safe to say that if you've sat through one forum you've pretty much sat through them all. Even the candidates seem to be tiring of their own rhetorical drone before special-interest groups. The pay-off, of course, comes in the form of endorsements. In the latest round, there have been few surprises. The Austin Board of Realtors gave Ronney Reynolds the nod in the mayor's race, while Becky Motal, Manuel Zuniga,and Eric Mitchell picked up the group's support in the respective Place 2, Place 5, and Place 6 council races.
Way down south, there weren't any shockers either last week when the South Austin Democrats (SAD) gave former county Democratic chair Kirk Watson its endorsement for mayor. SAD also voted to stand behind council candidates Gus Garcia in Place 2, Bill Spelman in Place 5, and Willie Lewis in Place 6. Lewis' opponent, incumbent Eric Mitchell, stole the SAD show with his heavy-on-defense response to an audience member's question about the well-publicized faggot slur he says he didn't make a few weeks ago. "What you should have said was `alleged slur,' he admonished the questioner. He went on to deny ever using the word faggot. "The question I have for the lesbian and gay community," he said, "is, why are you exploiting me?"
So of course it was understood that Mitchell wouldn't be winning the endorsement of the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus last Monday night. Instead, the group endorsed Lewis. They also threw their support to Bobbie Enriquez for the Place 5 seat, Watson for mayor, and Garcia for Place 2. -- A.S.
The 23% Solution
An 11th-hour phone call from Brigid Shea, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, broke up a verbal brawl between developer Michael Voticky and Councilmember Daryl Slusher at last week's council meeting. Before Shea's call, Slusher was fighting to delay a vote approving the expansion of St. Andrew's Episcopal School from W. 31st Street to Voticky's land over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Although the ink was not yet dry on a voluntary restrictive covenant limiting impervious cover on the site to 23% -- which Voticky signed in an attempt to speed council approval -- Slusher felt that further S.O.S. consultation was needed.
The S.O.S. maximum on impervious cover in the recharge zone is 15%, but Voticky's land is grandfathered out of compliance with the S.O.S. ordinance. Nevertheless, St. Andrew's representatives have already met twice with S.O.S. to discuss the school's agreement to the 23% clause. But Voticky, angered by Slusher's maneuvers to stall the deal, threatened to sell the property to commercial interests and build without regard to the watershed. It was then that Shea, who had been listening to a simulcast version of the meeting, decided to intervene. She phoned in to express her belief that St. Andrew's would work with S.O.S. in good faith.
The call prompted Slusher to withdraw his request for further study, and the council sealed the deal in a 6-1 vote. Councilmember Gus Garcia opposed the plan because of his dissatisfaction with minority representation at St. Andrew's. -- K.V.
S.O.S. Slaps Babbitt
The Save Our Springs Alliance won big in its most recent legal battle with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. In the judgment signed March 25 by Senior U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton, S.O.S. prevailed on almost all counts. In his 21-page opinion, Bunton found that Babbitt has repeatedly violated the Endangered Species Act. Bunton also sided with S.O.S. regarding the use of a state-sponsored Conservation Agreement to protect the salamander. Last year, Babbitt decided to allow several state agencies, rather than the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to devise a protection scheme for the rare neotenic salamander.
Bunton also ruled that Babbitt "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" when he let politics rather than science determine his decision on whether or not to add the salamander to the Endangered Species List. Bunton gave Babbitt 30 days to make a decision on whether or not to list the salamander. Amy Johnson, one of the attorneys working on the case for S.O.S., said that Bunton's ruling requires the Interior Department to make a decision "based on science. If they do that, they have to list it. We don't see any way around it." -- R.B.
This may come as a surprise to smog-sensitive Austinites, but Travis County's ozone levels in 1996 were the lowest they've been in 25 years. That's according to David Allen, a UT professor of the Center for Energy Studies, who announced the findings Monday at a news conference of the Clean AIR Force, a nonprofit group of reps from UT, the Austin Transportation Study, and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission.
Still, there is plenty of room for concern, given the Environmental Protection Agency's impending legislation that would seriously affect emissions standards in Austin. The EPA has suggested taking measurements over an eight-hour period, which would automatically lower the air-quality standards that Austin can barely stay below today. "We think (the legislation) would be more protective of public health," said EPA press officer Dave Ryan. "We chose the eight-hour measurement because we found that ozone can produce adverse affects at lower levels."
In his study, Allen measured ground-level ozone around Travis County last summer for the Clean AIR Force. He said he intends to take more measurements this year, but he does not expect to find the same low ozone levels he found in 1996. -- L.S.
U.S. Drug Policy, apparently suffering from more lows than highs, was the source of spirited discussion last Tuesday at the LBJ Library. The event, hosted by Susan Howard, director of the UT Honors Center, was organized to solicit comments on a draft booklet being prepared by the Kettering Foundation on the subject of illegal drugs. The booklets are to be used in National Issues forums throughout the United States.
Guest speaker Steven Duke, author of America's Longest War, spoke eloquently in favor of the legalization and regulation of marijuana, and scoffed at negative anti-drug campaigns, such as DARE, which measure their success in terms of abstinence. Duke said he favors drug education based on truths. Another speaker, Jose Carranza, professor of psychiatry at UT Health Sciences in Houston, did not draw the same overwhelming support of the predominately pro-legalization crowd. Carranza said he had seen no documentation on the medical benefits of marijuana and, in fact, went on to say that AIDS patients in California who are taking marijuana were addicted to the weed before they contracted AIDS, and they just want to keep on smoking marijuana.
Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, spoke emphatically against the current U.S. drug policy, favoring treatment and education over incarceration. Zeese criticized the draft booklet because it omits any mention of regulation of drugs. He said prohibition creates a false sense of control, while actually placing control in the hands of criminals. "Let's move to a regulated market where we trust each other to handle these substances better," Zeese said. -- K.H.