Off the Desk:
Feeding meters downtown is about to become a thing of the past, but thanks to council action, visitors will be guaranteed at least two hours to shop and dine when they park in a metered space. As a condition to a strengthening of the ordinance that prohibits drivers from renewing their meters, the council insisted that Public Works and Transportation immediately replace 15-minute, 30-minute, and one-hour meters with two-hour meters; the department had originally wanted to wait until next year to make the changes. Council also scrapped a provision that would have allowed two-hour meters to be renewed once... -- K.F.
For Bill Masters and several dozen other striking UPS workers, Tuesday morning was a good time to be a Teamster. Less than 12 hours after the announcement that a settlement to the two-week long strike had been reached, Masters was back in front of the UPS main terminal in northeast Austin. "We are proud to be Teamsters," he said. "This is what the fight was all about." Masters also thanked the people who encouraged the strikers. "The public sentiment being on the workers' side, I think that helped break UPS's back," he said. "The union people, and the regular folks that dropped stuff off, and asked us if there was anything they could do -- that's really been inspiring." -- R.B.
At a time when voter turnout is hobbled by apathy, here's something worthy of a strong showing: A celebration of the August 26, 1920 amendment giving women the right to vote. The anniversary event takes place at 5pm Saturday, Aug. 23, at Barnes & Noble Westlake. The book shop and the League of Women Voters of Texas will co-host a panel discussion on said topic, with Austin Rep. Sherri Greenberg and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir among the participants... -- A.S.
Two weeks after disabled Austinites turned out in force to protest the city's sloth-like pace in signing a voluntary compliance agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city council last week approved the document that requires federally funded city housing developments to follow the spirit and letter of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
"This is a positive step the city has taken to come into compliance," said Jennifer McPhail of the grassroots advocacy group ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today). Council signed off on the compliance agreement with a caveat -- that the city and ADAPT members will try to reach additional agreements on the matter within the next 30 days.
Since April 1996, when ADAPT filed a complaint charging Austin with discrimination in housing to the disabled, the advocacy group has pressed the city to live up to its enlightened image. At council's August 6 work session, McPhail criticized the city for its "very dismal" record in the area of accessible/affordable housing available to disabled persons.
Although the city does not admit to being in violation with any part of the ADA, HUD has found the city negligent in enforcing portions of the act. Under the terms of the agreement signed last week, the city must provide "reasonable" living accommodations to people with disabilities; must amend the city's five-year consolidated plan to make the housing needs of the disabled a priority; and must increase funding for the city's architectural barriers removal program so that 100 existing housing units can be retrofitted each year for the next five years. -- W.C.
Following some intense meteorological research over the past several weeks, Gus Garcia has announced a change in the prevailing winds in Austin regarding the encampment ban. Turns out homelessness is a law and order issue, after all, not a human rights or social justice issue, as it briefly appeared to have been during the city council election campaign. Garcia's announcement during last Thursday's city council meeting that the ban probably would not be repealed followed a truly Orwellian press conference earlier that day by District Attorney Ronnie Earle, in which misguided press people were told that the camping ban never had anything to do with homelessness at all. The ordinance was instead meant merely to serve as a public safety measure, which the police desperately needed to combat the "atmosphere of disorder and chaos" that Earle apparently encounters whenever he enters a public park or goes downtown.
Listening to Earle, whose views were dutifully reprinted in the Statesman's op-ed page this week, you'd think downtown had turned into some kind of refugee camp in a demilitarized zone. You also wouldn't suspect, after hearing Earle's comments, that Austin's efforts to find a more creative solution to the problem, namely the homeless campus project, were essentially dead in the water.
Mayor Kirk Watson, one of the proponents of a four- to six-month delay in the campus project, says we need to sit down with all of the "stakeholders," a category he says includes homeless advocates, neighborhood groups, law enforcement officials, and business representatives, with the agenda of revisiting the entire issue of homelessness and seeking some substantive solutions (which may or may not involve a homeless campus after all). Probably a good idea, but will Austin continue to ticket people for being homeless until we think of something better to do? Watson says that, following some additional facilitated meetings (the facilitated meeting may become Watson's signature contribution to Austin politics) on the topic in the next few weeks, a decision on the camping ban, whether to keep, repeal, or (as Garcia has suggested) revise it, will likely be made some time after the budget process is complete, say around the end of next month.
Only Councilmember Jackie Goodman has expressed her unequivocal opposition to the ordinance. -- N.B.
Yellow Bikes Multiply
Getting around South Austin is no joy ride, but now there is a human-powered, eco-friendly alternative to navigating the roads. The Yellow Bike Project recently threw a benefit party at South Austin's Ecowise to celebrate the release of 21 additional free community bikes, with Yellow Bike advocate Danny Dolinger singing this ditty: "The mode of transportation that I really like is a fist full of granola and a yellow bike."
Since its founding in August of last year, the Yellow Bike Project has recycled, repaired, painted, and released over 140 bikes into neighborhoods East and West of I-35. The retail district just south of the Congress Street bridge was chosen for the latest bike release because, like other neighborhood release sites, it is centrally located and has pedestrian appeal.
Strong participation in the Yellow Bike Project over the past year dictated another reason for the recent benefit -- to raise funds for a larger work space. The Yellow Bike Project grew out of the Bikes Not Bombs organization, and continues to share the group's donated garage in Hyde Park. But as bike donations and attendance at the bike project's nightly workshops grow, so does the group's need for space. Future ambitions such as a bike-lending library, earn-a-bike programs for Austin youth, and production of a yellow bike zine will also require a larger working space. -- N.K.
El Cariño Arrives
After a long absence from the planning table, East Austin neighborhood organizations are talking once again with city officials about doing infill housing projects. Staff from the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office (NHCD) met recently with representatives of a new community-based development corporation, El Cariño, to begin studying the developer's proposal to construct 50 homes for low-income families in East Austin.
El Cariño was founded by the umbrella group of Mexican-American neighborhood associations known as El Concilio, whose members comprise the majority of the developer's board. Its first proposal, which it pitched to the council back in April, was passed over, but Councilmember Gus Garcia invited the group to resubmit the proposal, and council subsequently passed the proposal along to NHCD.
Since 1991, the city has not funded any development projects through East Austin neighborhood organizations, perhaps owing to strained relations created by a lawsuit the city filed against the East Austin Chicano Economic Development Corporation (EACEDC) over city funds loaned for the completion of the Nueva Vida project. However, El Concilio coordinator Gavino Fernandez says that El Cariño board members are not connected with EACEDC, and that controversial EACEDC executive director and long-time Eastside point man Paul Hernandez is not involved.
Fernandez says he has high hopes for the Cariño application, which will be a first step toward filling the 768 vacant "cavities" in East Austin with affordable homes. "We will be able, once we get rolling, to recycle and reinvest any and all money that comes in for additional houses in East Austin," says Fernandez. And El Cariño board member Robert Donley adds: "We are dedicated to the community totally... that's our entire purpose."
El Cariño's plan has the advantage of being partly shaped by residents' input, as evidenced by its focus on building homes for ownership -- which add stability to urban neighborhoods -- rather than rental properties. The group has gained the support of several councilmembers, including Garcia, Jackie Goodman, and Bill Spelman. Even potential rival developer Gene Watkins, currently building on an infill project, supports El Cariño's proposal. "Austin is in desperate need of affordable housing. It's gotta figure out a way to produce a lot more housing, more than it's doing," says Watkins. Garcia says he will be watching, however, to assure El Cariño does not produce housing primarily for its friends.
El Cariño has submitted the proposal in conjunction with Mark Dawson Homes, Ltd. The NHCD says it is too early to say where funding for the project will come from, but will report back to the council on the project within 60 days. -- K.F.