Off the Desk:
Dissatisfied with Austin officials' stone-carved silence at annexation hearings (though councilmembers have since changed that behavorial tack), the Neighborhood Association of Southwestern Williamson County has developed a website to serve as an annexation clearinghouse for residents. "These are legitimate concerns that we have," says resident and webmaster Charlie Lowe. "I mean, annexation isn't like changing the dog-leash law." The site (http://www.lowe-enterprises.com/annex) lays out neighborhood concerns (police protection is a biggie), and offers a schedule of upcoming hearings, plus e-mail links to city councilmembers...
Everybody's doin' the cha-cha-charette. It's the hip problem-solving exercise that's going to the mat in town meetings across the country. Here in Austin, Councilmember Beverly Griffith will apply this technique to the Triangle Square development dilemma during an upcoming gathering of neighbors, developers, and state officials. Ideally, charettes encourage participants to come up with creative solutions to sticky issues. Let's see how this theory bears out at next week's meeting, 7:30pm Tuesday, Oct. 21 at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road...
Stan Knee jumps through the final hoop today, Thursday, at Austin City Council chambers -- the final leg of his journey to become the city's new chief of police. He starts his new job first thing Monday, and boy, howdy, does he have a departmental mess on his hands, what with all those whistleblower lawsuits and all. The Austin Police Association has promised to welcome him cordially, albeit not exactly with open arms. The APA, meanwhile, is going through some leadership changes of its own. APA Prez Mike Lummus is stepping down to make a run for the statewide VP post of CLEAT (Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas), and current VP Mike Sheffield is filling Lummus' shoes. Ernie Pedraza moves into APA's VP position, and Sean Mannix continues as the group's PAC chair. All three won the seats automatically, as they ran unopposed...
Writer Laylan Copelin's insightful profile of Lee Walker (American-Statesman, Sunday, Oct. 11) left out some green details that bear mentioning here: Walker was the first business rep to go up on TV in support of the Save Our Springs ordinance; he's contributed handsomely to S.O.S., participated in key S.O.S. press conferences, and also served as Brigid Shea's campaign treasurer during her successful run for city council...
Local authors Elizabeth Crook, Stephen Harrigan, Joe Nick Patoski, Turk Pipkin, and Larry Wright will be on hand Saturday to help the Texas Environmental Center debut its CD-ROM on Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer; 3pm at the Barnes & Noble Westlake, 701 S. Capital of Texas Hwy. -- A.S.
La Voz de la Raza
The Texas chapter of Coordinadora 2000, a national coalition of Latino and other grassroots minority groups, rallied at the state Capitol on Sunday, Oct. 12 (Dia de la Raza) in support of civil and human rights. The coalition held similar protests around the country. In Austin, about 1,000 people marched to the Capitol, with many young marchers explaining their participation in two words: Lino Graglia, the University of Texas professor who suggested during a recent news conference that blacks and Latinos cannot compete in higher education because their cultures are inferior. His remarks sparked angry protests at UT, and calls for his resignation.
Marcelo Tafoya, a member of Coordinadora 2000's Austin committee, said that the group's central objective is to encourage Latinos to vote in the 2000 presidential election. The coalition is non-partisan but promotes a distinctly liberal political agenda. Francis Bazan, a senior citizen who participated in the Austin rally, said she joined Sunday's march because she remembers when Hispanics were not welcome downtown, recalling one restaurant that used to post a sign that read: "No Mexicans and no dogs." "It's so emotional, but it's true," Bazan said. "We've attained some respect, but we're still waiting for justice."
Also Sunday, New York leaders of Coordinadora 2000 rallied outside the United Nations building to protest attacks on affirmative action and social welfare programs, and to show their support for immigrants rights. In Chicago, about 400 marchers chanted pro-immigrant slogans and protested the Oct. 23 deadline for some immigrants to either pay $1,000 and apply for a visa or leave the country.
About 70,000 supporters of Coordinadora 2000 rallied in Washington last year on Dia de la Raza to protest what they regard as anti-immigrant and anti-poor government initiatives. The group was formed in response to California's Prop. 187 -- a voter-approved initiative designed to ban illegal immigrants from access to state funded services, including public education. Implementation of the ballot initiative has been stalled by court challenges.
For information about Coordinadora's upcoming events, call Raul Garcia in Austin at 282-4430, or visit the group's website at http://www.coordinadora.org. -- J.G.
Duped on a Duplex
Three young homeowners on Woodland Avenue have learned the expensive way to beware the subdivided dwelling. Last year they each bought condos in what their property titles stated was a triplex, only to learn when applying for an additional electric meter, and after investing thousands of dollars in remodeling, that the building was actually an illegally divided duplex.
So far, the three have spent $20,000 in attorneys' fees and visited the Austin City Council chambers in an attempt to extricate themselves from the mess. But they've found themselves on the wrong side of the council's protective stance against neighborhood overdevelopment, and they can't obtain a zoning change that would permit their building to be used for condominiums. Having already taken out mortgages on their properties, and unable to sell until the matter is resolved, the three retained the lawyers and plan to appeal to council again next year.
One homeowner, Joey Chioco, says he has been approached by a buyer for his condo, but he's afraid to sell under the circumstances. "It would come back to bite me in the ass," says Chioco. "I know it would."
Physically, Chioco's building can be brought into compliance with current zoning by knocking a hole in a common wall and adding a doorway, but handling the mortgages is trickier. "We'd have to make three mortgages into two, and if one of us decided to move... well, you can see what a mess it would be," Chioco says.
Council and city staff say they had to rule against the homeowners to avoid placing the council in the awkward position of having to decide such cases one by one in the future, and to prevent attaching a zoning arrangement too closely to a particular party. "The council didn't feel too well after voting no," acknowledges Paul Saldaña, aide to Councilmember Gus Garcia. "But there are similar cases out there; they just haven't come forward."
Development Review and Inspection Department Director Alice Glasco said her office could not make an exception to the current zoning on behalf of the three owners because it is impossible to keep track of such arrangements. But the three homeowners are not happy about being treated as a collective pariah in their neighborhood, rather than an attribute. "I'm just a regular guy trying to make a good place to live," says Chioco, "This definitely puts a damper on that." -- K.F.
Not So Jolly Anymore
The Karst Waters Institute has named the Jollyville Plateau as one of the 10 most endangered karst ecosystems on earth. Earlier this year, the Institute, a nonprofit based in West Virginia, decided to list the most threatened cave systems based on their biological significance and the degree of threats they face. They received 40 nominations, and at the end of September the Institute announced that it had selected five locales in the U.S., as well as cave systems in Vietnam, France, Bermuda, and Australia, for the most threatened list.
Karst systems often occur in areas with large amounts of limestone. They are noted for their springs and sinkholes, and often contain rare species found nowhere else. The Jollyville Plateau, which lies about 10 miles northwest of downtown Austin, contains at least 91 caves.
However, the six protected cave bugs who live there may represent only a fraction of all the animals that should be given federal protection, according to William Elliott, research fellow at the Texas Memorial Museum and the editor of the Texas Speleological Survey. Elliott says the Jollyville Plateau "also has a number of arthropods that are just as rare and endemic as the listed species." In addition, Elliott says, the Jollyville salamander, a cousin of the Barton Springs Salamander, which was added to the Endangered Species List in April, may also be a distinct species that needs protection from the increasing amounts of development now occurring in the Jollyville region. For more info on the cave bugs and the Jollyville Plateau, go to: http://www.utexas.edu/depts/tnhc/.www/tss or visit the Biospeleology website at: http://www.utexas.edu/depts/tnhc/.www/biospeleology. -- R.B.
The Color of Money
When it comes to being Big Rich, Austin just doesn't measure up to Fort Worth. Sure, Austin has Barton Springs, Threadgill's, and loads of general grooviness, but Fort Worth has the billionaires. According to the Oct. 13 edition of Forbes magazine, nine of the 400 richest people in America call Fort Worth home, and the poorest of those nine has an estimated net worth of $490 million. Close on Fort Worth's heels is Dallas, with eight residents on the list; Houston has five, and San Antonio four.
Austin has just two residents on the list: computer magnate and property tax challenger Michael Dell, and software maker Joseph Liemandt, founder of Trilogy Development. Nearly a quarter of the Forbes 400 live in California, which has 83 residents on the list. New York comes in second with 47 residents on the list; Texas is third with 29. -- R.B.