Naked City

Off the Desk:

City Council last week gave Matt Kreisle's Heritage Society a $90,000 Christmas bonus to go toward developing a "community values-based plan" for downtown. The project will be housed in a Congress Avenue storefront that will enable we the people to drop in and share opinions on retooling downtown. One of the goals is to develop clear-cut boundary areas for the center city. The storefront location is still undecided. Kreisle, of the architectural firm Page Southerland Page, has volunteered two years of his time to rounding up ideas from public figures on downtown improvements; now he's taking the ambitious project to the streets -- with city council's endorsement and financial assistance... -- K.V.

Jim Shaw, a Republican candidate for Precinct 2 on the Travis Co. Commissioners Court, this week made official his intention to run for the seat against incumbent Democrat Karen Sonleitner. Shaw, an Austin chiropractor, announced Monday on the courthouse steps, saying he intends to tackle county budget issues and road projects if elected. Candidates have until Jan. 2 to file their candidacies for the March 10 party primaries...

A statewide search for a new fire chief ended in Austin this month with the selection of interim Chief Gary Warren to fill the vacancy created by Robin Paulsgrove's move to become fire chief in Arlington. Warren, a 24-year veteran of Austin's fire department, was one of over 45 people who applied for the position. Warren also was one of a field of three top candidates selected by members of the Austin Association of Professional Fire Fighters. Warren has his job cut out for him as he oversees the construction of four new fire stations over the next four years...

The Save Our Springs Alliance will host its annual New Year's Eve wingding and fundraiser at 8pm, Dec. 31 at the Public Domain Theater, 807 Congress Ave. Tickets are $35-60, with proceeds benefiting S.O.S. Dress is black tie or bathing suit -- your choice. Call 477-2320 for more info... -- A.S.

Crossed Wires

How far is the city council willing to go in guaranteeing that minority businesses get a fair share of contract dollars in the construction of Austin's new airport? Not so far as to risk a possible delay in construction. That's the opinion of at least one minority business owner, Daniel Gomez, owner of Netline, a local telecommunications company. Netline had been subcontracted by NEC Business Communications Systems to help fulfill a $5.9 million city contract installing fiberoptic cables at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. But when NEC made a money-saving decision to reduce the scope of the work, Netline's Gomez says that NEC gave him the run-around and eventually dropped his company from the job.

Initially, Netline's task called for running a dual line of 200 feet of cable from a telecommunications closet at the airport to jacks in the walls of the airport, and then testing those lines to ensure that they met the city's required 155-megabyte specifications. Gomez claims that after NEC changed the scope of work on the project, they tried to force a contract in which Netline would make no profit. "I wanted $75 per cable. They wanted me to do it at $37 a cable. No one in Austin would accept that price." NEC eventually subcontracted with a San Antonio-based company to do the job.

NEC officials claim that Netline missed meetings with them to negotiate the contract and discuss Netline's cost factors. "Netline was provided with very clear detail and given adequate time. We were not met with by Netline to explain the scope and timeframe of the work," said NEC's William Holman.

Austin attorney Beverly Landers, who represents Gomez, claims that NEC proposed the revisions over the Thanksgiving holiday -- at a time when she was out of town. Although city council approved the contract changes at its Dec. 10 meeting, NEC's actions did meet with some consternation from Councilmembers Willie Lewis and Jackie Goodman. Goodman initially decided to abstain but then cast a favorable vote to keep the airport construction on track. "I'm not sure it was a clean process," Goodman said.

Gomez says he has no choice but to drop the matter. "We were going to sue to stop the project, but a little company does not have the resources to fight a large company," he said. "The damned city council members have a responsibility to us and are not doing it. They said they would protect us and they didn't." -- W.C.

Curbside Service

Tenants of apartment complexes may at last be furnished a long-delayed amenity: curbside recycling. Seven years of task forcing and pilot studying have produced a program that brings the service to apartment dwellers, the vast majority of whom have been without since the recycling decade began in 1990.

The program, crafted and approved by the Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC), is contained in the Commercial/Multi-family Recycling Ordinance, now on its way to council for approval. The ordinance requires that clearly labeled collection sites be placed on or near all apartment complexes with 20 or more units. Like the current residential program for single-family homes, customers will be charged a fee on their monthly utility bills, although the yet-to-be-determined charge won't take effect until 1999. The fees will then be remitted to landlords for reimbursement of maintenance and hauling charges.

SWAC chair J.D. Porter and Austin Tenants Council rep Bruce Rodenborn say that tenants have indicated they're willing to pay for the convenience. But landlords, many of whom initiated the push to establish on-site recycling in 1990, apparently hadn't counted on getting a program they are legally compelled to comply with. They say the decision whether to place collection sites on apartment premises should be left to the owners and tenants' discretion, not mandated by a city ordinance. As it stands now, large numbers of tenants already are served through landlords' voluntary recycling efforts, says Bill Roland, legislative liasion for the Austin Apartment Association (AAA).

"Every apartment renter can choose an apartment community that offers onsite recycling if they wish," an AAA statement reads. "The natural process of people wanting and demanding recycling is running its course and will continue to grow should it be left alone..."

But SWAC says the "free-market" solution will not expand recycling services because haulers need a guaranteed, consistent flow of material from permanent sites to make recycling pick-up a viable business. Porter says a SWAC survey conducted of private haulers showed that only about 30,000 of the city's 120,000 apartments have recycling pick-up. "This is the fullest and fairest program that we could come up with," says Porter. "There has not been a stone left unturned."

Rodenborn, the Tenants Council representative who participated on the task force, says the plan is more than fair to property owners. He says the program's fee, which will be at least as high as that paid by single-family homes, is more than adequate to cover landlords' expenses. "There's no way anyone can tell me it's more expensive to service centralized units than individual houses," says Rodenborn. If anything, Rodenborn says, it's tenants, some of whom may get billed for drop-off service that isn't very convenient, who could lose on the deal.

SWAC member Gail Vittori says property owners haven't yet fully appreciated the reductions in trash hauling costs that recycling will bring them. "There's a big benefit for them," says Vittori. "What can be seen as an onerous task could actually provide attractive economic incentives." Furthermore, says Vittori, it's "part of good citizenship" to make sure everyone can recycle conveniently, especially considering the impending closure of the city's landfill. -- K.F.

Vigil for Iraq

When most Americans hear the word Iraq, chances are Sadaam Hussein is who first pops into mind. Few think of the Iraqi men, women, and children who have been suffering and dying due to food and medical supply shortages since the Gulf War seven years ago.

But a group of Austin residents is hoping to change that with a series of vigils. With neon-colored signs reading "Iraqi Children Are Suffering" and "Millions Murdered by Sanctions," about a dozen members of the American Friends Service Committee gathered Wednesday afternoon in front of the Federal Building at 9th & San Jacinto.

AFSC members said the Iraqi people have been unable to rebuild their country and their lives following the Gulf War due in large part to the UN economic sanctions imposed to coerce the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Seven years later the sanctions are still in place, aimed at ousting Sadaam Hussein. But the destruction of infrastructure, a contaminated water supply, and a lack of food and medical provisions are killing average citizens, especially Iraqi children, group members said.

"No one here really understands the extent that the Iraqi people have been suffering," said AFSC member Jennifer Long. "This strategy of the U.S. and other countries to get at Sadaam Hussein is really hurting the people of Iraq, but no one seems to care. Over a million people have died, but all people see on the news is pictures of angry Iraqis. No one knows the reason they're angry."

Edward Qubain of the Palestine Solidarity Committee said his organization and the AFSC are trying to convince Congress to hold hearings on the economic sanctions, but politicians and the military oppose efforts to lift the ban on importing food and supplies because such an action might make it appear that U.S. officials are softening.

"The things the U.S. has done against the people of Iraq [with] these sanctions are probably worse that anything Sadaam Hussein has ever done," said Qubain. "We talk about Sadaam's biological weapons, but what worse weapon is there than not allowing people the chance for clean water and food?" The next vigil is at 4:30pm Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 9th & San Jacinto. Call 474-2399 for details. -- L.T.

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