Naked City

Off the Desk:

With a new mayor and two new councilmembers, so too comes a shifting around of chairs on the Titanic. That means new responsibilities for assistant city managers Jim Smith, Marcia Conner, and Joe Lessard -- and the promotion of Toby Futrell to assistant city manager. Smith, who some councilmembers believe was too closely alligned with the development community, will no longer oversee that end of city business. His new duties: the convention center, EMS, fire, human resources, and government relations; Conner will look after the police department, along with parks and libraries, solid waste, and health; and Lessard will center his focus squarely on the new airport. Futrell, who moves up from her previous post of assistant to CM Jesus Garza, will oversee development, drainage utility, environmental and conservation, public works and transportation, and water/wastewater...

A flock of new staffers are also coming on board at city hall. In the mayor's office, Kirk Watson has hired his deputy campaign manager, Larry Warshaw, and former Legislative Budget Board number-cruncher Roger Arriaga as his two executive assistants. Jill George has moved from her paralegal post at Watson's law office to become chief of staff, and Katinya King-Lilly is Watson's executive secretary. Councilmember Bill Spelman hopes to have his aide selection firmed up by the end of the week. He says he's looking for a community-oriented person, as well as someone who can break the mold of the white-male-aide syndrome at city hall. Councilmember Willie Lewis is expected to make his top choice an offer this week... -- A.S.

Dorothy Turner, former Councilmember Eric Mitchell's alter ego, is licking her chops over the prospect of haranguing the newly elected councilmembers on a weekly basis. Recently, while cooling her heels in the council antechamber, Turner engaged in a tête-a-tête with another council reg, Della Green, who does not share Turner's glee in giving Mitchell demigod status. "And you know those white gays and lesbians, I'm going to deal with them," Turner enthused, referring to Mitchell's loss of support in the gay community due to the publicizing of his alleged "faggot" comments during the campaign season. "I don't know who's happier, me or Eric," she said regarding his Place 6 defeat. "It's gonna make it beautiful for me, how I deal with [the new council]," she intoned excitedly. "I'm happy for the city," countered Green, regarding the changing of the guard. "Councils come and councils go," Green reasoned. "Why do you want to have a heart attack?"... -- K.V.

We have all the neighborhood grocery stores we need, thank you, is the line these days from residents opposed to a Randalls store proposed for the now-vacant Triangle land bounded by 45th Street, Lamar, and Guadalupe. On that front, Neighbors of Triangle Park will hold a demonstration at 10am Saturday at an existing Randalls at 5555 N. Lamar...

The city's Development Process website, initiated by the Citizens' Planning Committee to simplify the circuitous permitting process, has won a prize. The Central Texas Section of the American Planning Association has given the site the "Professional Planning Award." The site ( provides an interactive City Code, maps, and a draft of the proposed Traditional Neighborhood District ordinance and design manual...

Picture Gomer Pyle wearing a tiara and singing, "Suhprise! Suhprise!" to a stunned Sgt. Carter. That's about how the rest of Texas might regard Austin for earning a spot on The Advocate's prestigious list of most livable U.S. cities for gays and lesbians. The June 24 issue of the national gay and lesbian magazine actually offers two "most livable" lists -- one a top 10 and the other a "10 surprises" list. Austin is ranked No. 3 on the "surprises" list. Here's the magazine's take on our naked city: "An island in a sea of rednecks -- perhaps that's too harsh an assessment of the rest of Texas, but Austin does feel as if it were dropped down from somewhere else." The top 10 list names the usual suspects -- San Francisco, New York, L.A., Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Miami Beach, Boston, D.C., and Portland. The grab bag, on the other hand, gives us Minneapolis/St. Paul, New Orleans, Austin, Tucson, Madison, Columbus, Detroit, Baltimore, Denver, and St. Louis. -- A.S.

Helmet Law Folly

The controversial bicycle helmet law spawned its first jury trial earlier this month. Bicycle rights advocate Bill Twitchell defended himself in Austin Municipal Court against the first of five counts of helmetless riding filed against him by the City of Austin.

Unlike other helmet law resisters who have simply ignored their appearance dates, resulting in warrants for their arrest (at least one helmet law scoffer, Ruta Maya coffee jerk Sun McColgin, has actually served jail time), Twitchell opted to play by the rules.

"Jury trials give you a chance to tell people how ridiculous the law is," says Twitchell. "Plus it makes the city look stupid, dragging people to jury duty just to get 50 bucks out of somebody."

Though no one disputed Twitchell's guilt, things did not go exactly as planned for the prosecution. During jury selection, five of the 16 prospective jurors declared an unwillingness to convict and were immediately dismissed. Twitchell then exercised his prerogative to eliminate three more jurors. Before the judge reprimanded Twitchell for inappropriately introducing facts into the jury selection process, the defendant managed to inform the remaining jurors that: a) Austin had the most punitive helmet law in the nation, b) city council passed the law without the required number of readings, and c) that Texans would soon be able to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

The city attorney then eliminated two more jurors, leaving the six required to try the case. At the last moment, however, the prosecution elected to question one of the six a little further, asking the juror again to confirm his willingness to convict. The juror responded affirmatively, but then as an afterthought added, "although I don't know if I could fine him." Pressed by the exasperated prosecutor, the juror conceded, "Well, maybe a dollar, but that's my cap."

Suddenly beset by what seemed to be a rash of closet civil libertarians, the prosecutor reluctantly sent this juror home as well, leaving the city without enough jurors to try the case. "They wasted a whole morning on me," Twitchell marveled, "and that was just the first count. I'm hoping the new council will listen to common sense," he added. -- N.B.

Don't Go East

At his final council meeting June 12, Councilmember Eric Mitchell made a last-ditch effort to thwart the creation of a proposed Homeless Campus in East Austin. The area is one of three proposed sites, including two in south Austin, that are being considered for the homeless facility. Mitchell proposed a resolution banning the campus from east of I-35.

East Austin leaders turned out to support the resolution. "This is not only a slap in the face, but a kick in the butt," said Robert Donnelly of El Concilio, a coalition of neighborhood groups east of I-35 and south of Seventh Street. Mitchell and the East Austin opponents argued that the city has already sited every undesirable facility in the city east of the interstate, and that adding another would be inexcusable. "We need to make a statement for East Austin, or you could just keep dumping everything East of the freeway," said Mitchell, adding that Reimer Ranch in northwest Austin, which has been set aside for the "birds, bees, and bugs" might be an ideal site for the facility.

David Gomez of the Homeless Task Force that presented the proposed sites argued that there were many misconceptions about what the campus would be like and who its population would be. According to Gomez, most homeless people are neither alcoholic, unemployed, or mentally ill. "I assure the City of Austin that nothing will be shoved down your throat," said Gomez, promising that when funding is made available for a site, proposed neighborhoods will be consulted.

"The drunken male nutcase thing is a smoke-screen for rising housing costs," concurred former mayoral candidate Kirk Becker, who is himself homeless.

In the end, council, with Mitchell voting no, decided to postpone acting on the matter until after a June 17 meeting of the Task Force. -- K.V.

Karmic Balance Upset

Austin's Ruta Maya Coffee House is being put through the grinder. The haute coffee haven of Fourth Street has been sued for alleged nonpayment of a debt, and the 1996 lawsuit is moving to trial soon in Municipal Court.

But what might otherwise be just another ho-hum matter wending its way through small claims has turned into something of a karmic shouting match. Plaintiff Jesus Mendoza operates one of Austin's best-known good-vibe vegetarian restaurants, Mr. Natural. The trouble began when Ruta Maya invited Mr. Natural to sell its veggie fare at one of the coffeehouse's Friday night "Celebrate the Sunset" festivals, held on April 18, 1996.

"We invited them to be a vendor because we both seemed to have the same business philosophy," explains Ruta Maya owner Tim Sheehan. Mr. Natural "seemed like a real down-to-earth place." Sheehan maintains that one of Ruta Maya's managers, Steve Calhoun, offered Mr. Natural the same deal given to every other festival vendor. "They were welcome to come and sell what they could and keep the profits they made," says Sheehan. "No guarantees were part of the deal."

Mendoza sings a very different song in his petition, filed on October 8, 1996. The claim states that Mendoza furnished food to Ruta Maya with a guarantee that Mr. Natural would sell at least $1,500 worth of food. Mendoza alleges that only $150 worth of food was actually sold and that Ruta Maya "refuses to pay the guaranteed price." Mendoza is seeking $1,350 in compensation, plus attorney fees of at least $1,000. He was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, Philip Juarez, noted that the facts in the case should speak for themselves. The case is expected to go to trail within the next few weeks. Sheehan, who is representing himself in court, has requested a jury trial.

Apparently, wholesome living just isn't what it used to be, according to the Ruta Maya patron who alerted the Chronicle to the percolating brew-haha. Customer W.L. Wylie, musing on the decay of laid-back business dealings in Austin, says: "I cannot understand how the owners of a vegetarian restaurant, who also teach yoga, could forget the concept of karma." Bummer, dude. -- L.H.

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