Off the Desk:
Last week, Inside Texas, the newsletter written by irascible sports junkie Robert Heard, reported that the slide of the Longhorn football team has been a boon for bettors. "Texas has failed to cover the betting line eight straight times," reported Heard. If you had bet $1,000 on last year's Penn State game and "let your bet ride through the next seven Texas games, today you'd have $128,000." Last Saturday, Texas extended its losing ways against the spread, losing to 1-6 Baylor, an eight-point underdog. So the smart bettor, by putting his money against the Horns, could now have $256,000. Heard reports that one avid subscriber who likes to gamble wrote in asking him to "stop ragging on Mack [Texas football coach John Mackovic] because the coach is the best thing that ever happened to him." So now, if Mackovic is definitely headed out, there's only one question remaining: Freeport-McMoRan boss and former UT footballer Jim Bob Moffett flew Mackovic into Austin on his private jet. Will Moffett provide a jet to fly him out?... -- R.B.
Triangle Moves Along
Developer Tom Terkel of Cencor Realty unveiled a new site plan Wednesday for the Texas Dept. of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR)-owned "Triangle" property at 45th and Lamar. Cencor's newest plan, revised since the last version approved in June by the MHMR board, was given the thumbs up Wednesday by the MHMR board at its regular meeting in Lufkin. The new plan includes 40 proposed loft apartments on Guadalupe Street (there was no residential element before), 60,000 square feet of new office space, and more structured parking than in the old plan, which had primarily surface parking. Terkel believes that these and other improvements will enhance the pedestrian and community appeal of his controversial project: "We think we've found ways to bridge the gap betweeen the realities of the retail world and the community." Cencor plans to file the plan as a zoning case with the city within 10 days. That's just before the Nov. 14-17 charrette -- a planning and consensus-building process -- being organized by Councilmember Beverly Griffith and a coalition of 10 central and north-central neighborhood and merchant groups. Charrette organizers had asked Terkel to participate in the charrette with the rest of the stakeholders in the Triangle property, but Terkel says that MHMR's timeframe forced him to plow ahead with the plan he has been working on for 14 months. Terkel and MHMR reps claim to want the charrette to go forward anyway, in the hopes that it will generate new ideas that they can consider during the city's development review process later on. The charrette will kick off Friday, Nov. 14, with a 7-9:30pm "public perceptions" workshop. The charrette design process will take place on Saturday from 9am-6:30pm, and a presentation of the results will be made available to the public on Monday, Nov. 17, from 7-9pm. Griffith is hoping that with the help of nationally known urban planning firms Genesis Group of Jacksonville, Fla. and Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham, Mich. -- the city hired to conduct the charrette -- the event will instill public trust in the process of developing infill tracts and encourage "outside the box" thinking on controversial neighborhood planning issues. Griffith's aide Jon Gilvar says that Terkel and MHMR are missing an "awfully good opportunity to grease the skids" on their site plan by bowing out of the charrette. Cencor's plan still has to go before the city council and the Planning Commission, Gilvar points out, and the charrette-givers will present their alternative plans to those bodies. To participate in the charrette, call 467-5286.
-- M.C.M & A.D.
The city's campaign finance reform measure won handily at Tuesday's polls, but some political naysayers say it's just a matter of time before the charter amendment will be put to a legal test. Elsewhere in Travis County, voters thumbed their noses at Austin enviros and approved two major road bonds while ditching a hike-and-bike trail in northeast Travis County. Across the state, Texas bankers are whooping it up over the prospect of homeowners taking out second mortgages on their homes, thanks to Prop. 8's overwhelming passage, overturning the age-old Texas homestead law that banned home equity lending.
Travis County vote tallying moved at a snail's pace, which may have been attributed to an election judge suffering an asthmatic attack that left two boxes -- and the judge -- missing in action for several hours.
In Austin on Wednesday, campaign finance was the talk of the town. "We have Bill Clinton to thank for our success," said Linda Curtis, a leader in Austinites for a Little Less Corruption's fight to cap contributions. The measure won over 72% of the vote, with unofficial final tallies showing a 31,467-to-12,052 count. "People are fed up on the federal level, so they welcomed the opportunity to vote on campaign finance reform in Austin." Political consultant Dean Rindy ho-hummed the victory. "The public always votes for campaign finance reform," he said. "That's like asking people if they're in favor of virtue or motherhood."
While political candidates will be limited to accepting no more than $100 contributions, there remains the pesky loophole that would allow mega bucks to be diverted to nonprofit organizations. The groups could wage expensive, albeit a tad less direct, media campaigns for or against a candidate -- as long as it's done in the name of "education" and doesn't encourage voters to cast their ballots in a certain direction. "A lot of consultants are going to start working for these third-party candidates," political consultant Dean Rindy predicted. Meanwhile, there's still no clear answer on how, exactly, the charter amendment will affect Political Action Committees, but expect plenty of legal nitpicking overall.
On the county front, voters overwhelmingly approved $4 million for right-of-way purchases to build Texas 130 in eastern Travis County (in a vote of 36,859 to 19,484); $3.5 million for land acquisitions to build Texas 45 in western Travis County (33,745-22,769); and $36 million for road and bridge repair county wide (38,877-17,459). Overall, county voters approved all but one of the eight bond propositions. The MoKan hike-and-bike trail failed, 24,687-32,113.
Leslie Poole, who co-chaired the county bond election campaign effort, said the overall results produced few surprises. "We knew the trail would be the most likely not to pass," Poole said. "We had the most controversy over 130 and 45 and that attracted a lot of attention. While the opposition to 45 did have some effect on the outcome, we knew going in that 130 had an overwhelming number of supporters." Poole suggested that the bond voters relied heavily on the Statesman's stance on the issues. The daily endorsed all the bond measures except the hike-and-bike trail because the state had not yet agreed to lease the property needed to build the trail. (The Statesman did not apply the same cart-before-the-horse logic on the still-up-in-the-air Texas 130 project, however.) In other results, voters approved $19.1 million for park purchases and improvements to Mansfield Dam and Webberville parks (30,449-13,209); $16 million to expand Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center; $2 million to build a STARflight hangar, and $13.7 million to expand the county jail in Del Valle. -- A.S.
With an estimated $100 million, 30-year city contract hanging in the balance, two rival bidders on the deal -- Texas Disposal Systems Landfill Inc. and Waste Management Inc. -- are embroiled in a nasty legal fight. Texas Disposal President Bob Gregory is suing Waste Management, its Texas subsidiary, and its local PR consultant, Don Martin, on claims that the waste company and Martin "routinely and secretly attempted to disparage the reputation of [Texas Disposal]... in an effort to eliminate competition and undermine Plaintiff's existing and prospective business relationships."
Specifically, the suit accuses Waste Management and Martin of providing "derogatory and false information" to Austin environmentalist George Cofer's Action Alert, an environmental news sheet that is periodically faxed to community activists and government officials. The lawsuit states Cofer didn't know that the allegations were false, nor did he realize that he was faxing out the alert just one week prior to the Jan. 24 deadline for bids on the city of Austin's waste disposal and recycling contracts. The suit states that Cofer told Texas Disposal officials that Waste Management and Martin were the source of the false information. Cofer later faxed a retraction to the same recipients of the disputed Action Alert, and issued an apology to Texas Disposal. Both documents are included in the pleadings filed Oct. 24 in Travis County District Court. That was 10 days after District Judge Joseph Hart ruled in the waste company's favor in an unrelated lawsuit, denying class-action status in a lawsuit alleging that Texas Disposal's southeast Travis County landfill was a nuisance to area residents.
Texas Disposal's Gregory said he is suing Waste Management in an attempt to stop the "long-term assault on the integrity of our company." Attorney Eric Taube is representing Gregory. Martin and Waste Management's local landfill manager, Jim Nelson, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Waste Management, however, has retained Austin attorney Roy Minton to represent both Martin and the company. Texas Disposal and Waste Management are in line to split a 30-year landfill deal with the city, although it's not known which will secure the largest percentage of the city's garbage -- and contract dollars. City staff also is proposing that Waste Management process the city's curbside recycling materials, a job currently handled by a third company, BFI, which also competed for the contract.
BFI's East Austin neighbors had hoped the city would renew the BFI contract so the company would fulfill its promise of moving out of the neighborhood. Did the neighbors' desires figure into staff's recommendation? "Yes," said Assistant Solid Waste Director Joe Word. "But only to the extent the city wanted to get out of the business of sending its recycling materials to a residential community." On Wednesday, Nov. 12, the city's Solid Waste Advisory Committee will study staff's recommendations before sending the matter back to the city council for consideration on Nov. 20. -- A.S.
Spats between the editorial board of The Daily Texan and its news staff are nothing new, but such conflicts reached heights unmatched in recent history this week. In a 17-1 vote, the permanent staff (full-time staffers) of the UT student paper declared that it had no confidence in its three-member editorial board, and printed as much on the front page of the Tuesday edition. "The board is scraping the absolute bottom of what counts as suitable political debate with personal attacks on students -- particularly minority students -- in editorials and cartoons," read an item in the lower left-hand corner of page one, which went on to call the attacks "a reckless attempt to divide a campus that has already been burning with racial animosity."
In response, Editor Colby Angus Black filled most of the editorial page with the huge words, "The Eyes of Texas are upon you," accompanied by a statement: "I will not back down. I will not apologize. Doing so would betray those who elected me to express my opinion." (Texan editors are elected by the student body; Black ran unopposed last spring) Under Black's name in the editorial page staff box, his title had been changed to "Still The Editor." Associate Editors Jim Dedman and A. Hunter Stanco comprise the rest of the editorial board.
Texan Managing Editor Sholnn Freeman, (who also freelances for the Chronicle), says he initiated the vote after anti-affirmative action editorials that had grown increasingly vitriolic. Freeman said the problem came to a head with an editorial attack last Thursday on UT student activist Oscar de la Torre which, among other things, criticized de la Torre's previous school, California State University-Chico, as "an institution best known for being named `Best Party School' by Playboy in 1987," and described one of de la Torre's associates as a member of a "homosexual pressure group." Members of de la Torre's group, Students for Access and Opportunity, were described as "race merchants." Included among the staff's ire was a cartoon that depicted de la Torre as a sombrero-wearing bandido.
"We're not upset that the editorial board is conservative," Freeman says. "We're upset by the tone of the attacks. We [the Texan] should have apologized for the bandido cartoon."
Freeman also expressed concerns that the paper will not be able to attract many minorities when the Texan holds staff tryouts next semester. But Black defends his decisions. "The cartoons were not meant to perpetuate stereotypes. To get our readers focused on that hurts the message. Like it or not," he adds, "these people are public figures." Meanwhile, Black promised "something will be done" to repair relations with his staff. "A house divided won't stand. I don't know how, but I will unify this staff if it's the last thing I do." A special meeting of the board of Texas Student Publications, which oversees the Texan, will be held 3pm Friday in the Texas Union, Room 4.118. -- L.N.
S.O.S. & the Supremes
If there was any question about who is trying to kill the Save Our Springs Ordinance (S.O.S.), there were answers available on Monday morning in the chamber of the Texas Supreme Court during oral arguments on the case known as Quick et al vs. City of Austin. The principal plaintiffs in the S.O.S. case, Kaira and Jerry Quick, weren't there. Neither were Ruth and John Bryant, the couple whose name appears second in the list of plaintiffs. There were, however, a flotilla of people from New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan. Beau Armstrong, the head of FM Properties Inc., the company that owns Barton Creek Properties and Circle C Land Corp., a named plaintiff in the case, was there. So was John Amato, the cigar-chomping attorney and right-hand man to Freeport-McMoRan chairman Jim Bob Moffett. And there was a tie-rack-full of other attorneys from Austin attorney Roy Minton's law firm, and from Baker & Botts, which also is working the case for Freeport.
In the past, observers could say that Minton's anti-S.O.S. legal maneuvering was for the sake of homeowners like the Quicks, the Bryants, and the late Florence Turck, a woman who owned property in Hays County and claimed to be hurt by the S.O.S. Ordinance. But from the crowd present on Monday, it was obvious the Quicks and Bryants are plaintiffs of convenience. Kaira Quick and John Bryant were no-shows at their own hearing, and neither would discuss how much they have -- or haven't spent -- on legal bills. Freeport appears to be the only plaintiff that can afford firms like Minton's and Baker & Botts, the Houston-based firm founded by the grandfather of former Secretary of State James Baker.
Despite the apparent fact that Freeport is paying the bills, Minton didn't mention the company once during his arguments. He did, however, tell the court he was a devotee of Barton Springs. "I swim in that place every morning," he said. "S.O.S. has nothing to do with the environment," he charged. Instead, he said, it was "designed by Mr. [Bill] Bunch, [the lead counsel for the Save Our Springs Alliance, who was also in court, appealing the trial court's ruling that prevented S.O.S. from intervening in the Quick case] to prevent development in the Barton Springs watershed." The city of Austin's attorney, Tom Watkins of the Austin law firm Hilgers & Watkins, urged the high court to uphold the 1996 ruling by the Austin Court of Appeals, which overturned a 1994 Hays County jury verdict that deemed S.O.S. an unreasonable and ineffective law.
Much of the debate in the court on Monday morning focused on the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches, and on whether or not the courts should be allowed to second-guess policy decisions made by voters.
Last week, Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, representing the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, filed an amicus curiae brief to the court, in which the TNRCC sided with the city of Austin. The brief urged the court not to reverse the appeals court ruling. A high court decision is not expected for several months. -- R.B.
Memorial Tree Planted
Last month, community leaders gathered in front of a newly planted tree in Waterloo Park in a memorial tribute to Austin's Day Without Racism or Hate Violence, sponsored by the YWCA and Out Youth. Police Chief Stan Knee, making one of his first public appearances just two weeks into his new job, quoted from his favorite bumper sticker -- Violence is the Tool of Cowards -- and declared: "We as a community, and we as a police department, will not tolerate violence."
Alex Ryan, a recent high school graduate and young lesbian from Out Youth, described the social intolerance young gays can experience. Teens like their social scenes tidy, she told the gathering, with everyone put away in a proper stereotyped category. The young tree -- the product of the Oct. 24 tree-planting ceremony -- stands near the corner of 12th and Red River. It will serve as a living reminder of Austin's commitment to the safety and acceptance of all people, organizers said. -- N.K.