Off the Desk:
The anti-death penalty movement puts on its party hat this weekend for a rare "rockin' death penalty abolition festival," sponsored by the Texas Alliance for Human Needs. The party gets underway at 7pm Saturday, the 28th, at the Victory Grill, 1104 E. 11th, with two films, Texas and the Death Penalty and Double Justice. Performers include Austin poet Tammy Gomez, Buddhist Lama Yeshe Wangmo, and local bands Roots-N-Wisdom, East Babylon Symphony, and The Blimpe. $8 cover, free beer with valid ID; call 474-5019 for details...
Austin's itty-bitty Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia Inc. beat out two national ad agencies - including the giant J. Walter Thompson - and two other local agencies to win the Texas Dept. of Transportation's "Don't Mess With Texas" anti-litter campaign. Austin's GSD&M had managed the account until deciding to pass the torch on to another creative group. One-year-old EnviroMedia is headed by long-time pals Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis... - A.S.
Stumping for School Board
Despite the long hours and lack of pay, there seems to be no dearth of candidates running for the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees. Six seats on the nine-member board are up for grabs on May 2, and four incumbents - Vice President Jerry Carlson, and members Tom Agnor, Geoff Rips, and Melissa Knippa - are calling it quits. Clearly, this election season could be one for the books. The board is going through a heavy transitional period that ultimately will change the school boundary landscape and add new schools to serve a burgeoning student population. On top of that, the board this week made official what had been rumored for months: Board members are negotiating a go-away deal with controversial AISD Superintendent Jim Fox; and his departure, of course, leads to another monumental task of finding a suitable replacement. With all this flux, there should be quite a bit of politicking leading up to the May 2 election. With the filing deadline passed, here's how the races shape up:
* President: In what should be one of the most interesting races (and the only one where an incumbent faces a challenger), outspoken former board member Diana Castañeda, 46, is challenging incumbent Kathy Rider, 52, for the chance to lead the board. Castañeda formerly represented District 2, but lost a close race in 1996 to Rudy Montoya. "I believe in the democratic process that people should have a choice," Castañeda said of her desire to seek a return to the board.
As for the four seats being vacated:
* Vice President: The race to replace Carlson has drawn only two candidates - unsuccessful and reclusive former mayoral candidate Jennifer L. Gale, 37, and 41-year-old consultant Doyle Valdez.
* District 4: Vying for Agnor's post representing northwest Austin are property manager Tom Arbuckle, 50, attorney William Stallings Newberry, Jr., 38, and community volunteer Ave Warhumnd, 42.
* District 6: South Central Austin has Jeff Jack, a 50-year-old architect and Austin Neighborhoods Council president, running against 47-year-old CPA Patricia Whiteside for the seat now held by Geoff Rips.
* District 7: There are three candidates seeking Knippa's southwest Austin seat, including Olga Garza, 41, director of special programs at the Texas Education Agency, Scott L. Branson, 43, a financial consultant, and attorney Pascual Piedfort, 51.
* The only other incumbent seeking another term, District 1 Trustee Loretta Edelen, 41, is running unopposed. - L.T.
Regency Village Approved
The year-long dispute over a double-wide villa in Southeast Austin reached a closure of sorts March 12, with the city council voting 6-0 to approve zoning for the 350-lot Regency Village development. Before the vote, however, Councilmembers Beverly Griffith and Jackie Goodman tried to appease the neighborhoods opposed to the mobile home park, with Griffith unsuccessfully offering a substitute motion to zone for single-family housing, and Goodman suggesting - even as she sponsored the motion to approve the development - that the city buy the land. "If there is a way to acquire that tract with the same kind of negotiation that we're trying to do on the Brodie Tract, that would be perfect for future growth," Goodman said, adding that the council nevertheless was obliged to approve the requested zoning to avoid a devaluation of the property.
In her motion to zone for single-family homes, Griffith said the southeast neighborhood organizations deserved "special consideration" from council in light of their hard-fought efforts to rebuild a stable community in an area that has been rife with transient crime and deterioration. Those neighborhood organizations, collectively assembled as the Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods (SCAN), say the council's acceptance of free land from the developer for a school and park is nothing but an empty promise to the neighborhood, and a poor excuse for approving unwanted development. AISD administrator Dan Robertson testified that the school board had ranked the property second best out of five possible sites for a new elementary school, but the neighbors were not convinced. "You're giving us mud, you're not guaranteeing us a school," said SCAN member Joann Rodriguez, who after the council vote approached Councilmember Gus Garcia on the dais and said, "We'll see to it that you're never voted back in again!"
Whether double-wides will ever park on the tract, however, is uncertain as long as Goodman's proposal to purchase the land is circulating in city offices. Goodman's office expects the city's Drainage Utility staff to determine if the land could be useful for watershed management. If no other councilmembers lend their support to Goodman's proposal, however, the item will likely die; at present, no one is able to say how far the idea has gotten. - K.F.
A Directory of Green
Dedicated environmentalist Paul Robbins has turned out his third annual exhaustive piece of work - The Austin Environmental Directory - and it's plump with new features and updated info on environmental products and services. New to the directory are two important topics: one on computers and the environment, and another on global limits to resource consumption in the U.S., which Robbins addresses with some interesting calculations - there is enough concrete and pavement in the U.S., for example, to cover the entire state of Indiana. While acknowledging high-tech's contribution to the local job market, Robbins also notes the industry's enormous drain on environmental resources. Still, says Robbins, the section is hardly an attack on the industry, as half of the chapter addresses alternative computer products and services. Robbins also gives a nod to Dell Computer for its leadership role in producing the first American computer hard drive to comply with new environmental standards.
Apart from the new chapters, Robbins gives us the low-down on food, energy, green building services, water conservation, and hazardous chemicals. For the second year, the book offers a comprehensive survey of which grocery stores stock environmental products; it notes some improvements in the Randall's chain and commends Albertson's for stocking at least one of its stores (Westlake) with organic foods. The directory also raps Cutrer's Market for its lack of environmental products, and laments that the Fresh Plus store on West Lynn has considerably scaled down its organic products. Most HEB grocery stores, on the other hand, offer a sizable selection of organic goods - with the exception of the location on East Seventh St.
The free directory can be obtained through Clean Water Action, 815 Brazos, Suite 704, 474-0605, or from Texas Citizen Action, 611 S. Congress, Suite 120, 444-8588. - A.S.
Vaughan Moves On
After 10 years of writing checks both big and small in the name of social change, Austin philanthropist and oil-heiress Genevieve Vaughan is running out of money. And running out of money means her brain child, the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, will close in early April. Vaughan's fortune, an estimated $20 million, has funded a plethora of projects both here and abroad, ranging from a women's hospital in Nicaragua to a major campaign to stop nuclear dumping in Sierra Blanca. Do all of her projects share a common philosophy? "Well, it's hard to explain without sounding sappy," said the 57-year-old Vaughan, who was born in Corpus Christi. After living 20 years in Italy, Vaughan returned to the U.S. in 1983 and began working for change. "I was an outsider at that point and I could see what was going on with our culture," she said. "I could see we operate under a patriarchal economic system based on exchange."
An exchange economy, Vaughan explained, focuses on giving to receive. It is ego-centered and fosters dominance and greed. After realizing this, she formulated her own economic theory she calls "gift-giving." The theory, she said, is based on traditional women's values. "Gift-giving looks at need, it has values of caring and compassion," she said. But now that her fortune - which has bankrolled most of the projects spawned by the Foundation - is running out, Vaughan is narrowing the scope of her operations. After the Foundation closes, she plans to spend time and money promoting her dense book (For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, published last year by Austin-based Plain View Press), compose a simpler version of the same work, write children's stories, and produce a series of audio and videotapes describing her gift-giving theory of social change. While she will continue to directly fund several of her smaller projects, she has also made sure she has enough money left over to live on. "Women have been depleted for centuries by giving away everything they have. We should not martyr ourselves that way. It doesn't help the cause," she said. - J.S.