Naked City

Off the Desk:

The ever-expanding list of items up for vote on Nov. 3 may include a ballot question asking if the city should allow the Palmer Auditorium-City Coliseum site to be developed into an ARTS Center Stage-funded performing arts center and hockey arena/civic center, funded largely by the Ice Bats hockey team. Last week, Mayor Kirk Watson, Mayor Pro-Tem Gus Garcia, and Councilmember Jackie Goodman sent a memo to council recommending that it call an election to determine whether residents favor the idea of allowing private interests to develop the area, which sits on 54 acres of designated parkland. Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the ballot question during a community input session Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 6pm at Palmer Auditorium, and during two public hearings, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 5:30pm at Town Lake Center, and Thursday, Sept. 3, at 7:30pm in council chambers. The proposed development already has its share of opponents, including some Bouldin Creek-area residents who are concerned that plans are moving forward too quickly and without enough consideration to how thousands of event-goers visiting the new facilities will exacerbate traffic and parking problems in their neighborhood. In an attempt to address these concerns, the city has hired experts from the non-profit planning and design firm Project for Public Spaces, Inc. to shepherd a public design process, and established a Web page (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/smartgrowth/townlake_park.htm) to keep residents updated as the project moves along. ...

Should girls be required to get a parent's permission before having an abortion? In the debate over reproductive rights, the question is particularly emotional and controversial. Planned Parenthood of Austin is hosting a forum on parental notification laws Thursday, Aug. 27, at 11:45am at the University of Texas' Thompson Conference Center on Red River. Panelists include Rep. Dawnna Dukes and Texas Family Planning Association's Peggy Romberg. For more info, call 472-0868. - L.T.


Pool Party

Seems like common sense would dictate that when it's 102 degrees in the shade, folks will want to swim. Leave it to the city of Austin, though, to require a City Council vote to make the obvious into a reality. The council voted last Thursday to spend over $123,000 to keep nine pools, slated to close on August 10, open until Oct. 4. But while the extra dough will go to paying for maintenance and lifeguards at the pools, there may be a shortage of warm bodies waiting around to collect the checks.

It is human resources, not financial ones, which dictated the Aug. 10, closing date, says Farhad Madani, director of the city's Aquatics department. He says that, of the 400 lifeguards employed during the summer season, 350 quit to return to either high school or college during the second week of August. Earlier this year, the Aquatics department placed newspaper advertisements to attempt to rally interest in lifeguarding among senior citizens, but the ads had little response. Madani points out that the 40-hour training course required to become a lifeguard - with its requirements of swimming 500 yards in three different strokes and submerging oneself under nine feet of water - might be a deterrent for some. The booming economy, he says, is another problem when recruiting for the relatively low-paying lifeguard positions. "Look at unemployment in Austin right now. There's really not that many people you can hire," he says.

A decade ago, the pool schedule ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with all pools opening at 7am and closing at 9am, seven days a week. In order to restore that kind of schedule to just 10 pools, Madani says, Aquatics would need a permanent staff of at least 50 lifeguards. "This aquatics program is the biggest in the state of Texas; it's probably the biggest in the nation. In order for us to solve this problem, we need to look at it a little differently," said Madani.

Aquatics Dept. staffers are certainly looking at things a little differently this week. Without lifeguards, employees who usually work behind a desk are taking off their coats and ties to man the pools until Oct. 4. Program supervisor Kerri Thompson laughed when asked whether or not employees are enjoying the change of venue. "How about a `no comment' on that one?" she joked.

The changed pool schedule is as follows: Barton Springs and Big Stacy pools continue to be open year-round. As planned, Deep Eddy will close Nov. 1. Balcones, Bartholomew, Dove Springs, Dick Nichols, Northwest, Westenfield, Martin, and Shipe will be open through Oct. 4, 4-7pm weekdays and 12-7pm weekends. Reed, Little Stacy, and Dittmar will be open 12-7pm on the weekends until Labor Day. - K.V.


Cleaning Bill

Bennett Properties will pay more than $3,500 for a recent clean-up of the company's eight-acre site in East Austin. The site, which lies between Ninth and 11th Streets along I-35, is the largest and most promising undeveloped piece of real estate in near East Austin. But after the company's plans for a mall fell apart, the company has let the land sit vacant and it became a magnet for homeless people and drug dealers.

In May, representatives from the Austin Police Department, the Travis County Health and Human Services Department, and Guadalupe Parish met at the site to look at the problem. After several warnings to Bennett went unheeded, city officials announced they would clean up the land and bill Bennett for the work. Shortly after that, under the direction of the county Health Dept., a crew of workers cut the grass, dismantled a transient camp, and collected all the trash on the site. In all, the city hauled away over 129 cubic yards of trash, and 280 cubic yards of foliage. "It was an incredible amount" of trash and debris, says Lolita Slagle, community liaison for the Austin Police Department. After the clean-up was completed, the county billed Bennett more than $3,500 for the work.

Mary Helen Lopez, whose house at 809 E. Ninth is surrounded by the Bennett property, said that before the cleanup, "a tremendous number of people" were living on the company's land. One observer said that up to 20 transient camps were removed by the work crews. "It really got to a bad point," says Lopez.

Gary Wardian, the regional manager for Bennett, said the cleanup was "a real thorough mowing of the weeds and grass." He said that Bennett has been paying a maintenance man to tend the property and that the man "was doing what he could on a part-time basis." Wardian said Bennett will pay their tab for the cleanup. And although members of the neighborhood want to see housing put on the site, Wardian seems to have other plans: "It's a terrific hotel site. That would be one of the best uses for the property." - R.B.


Trash War Continues

Last Thursday, the City Council decided to do a study of the Waste Management Inc. landfill on Giles Road before it awards a 30-year contract to WMI to dispose of the bulk of the city's garbage. The decision was a win for Texas Disposal Systems, the locally owned trash company which has been in the midst of a running skirmish with WMI for years.

The WMI landfill has been under increased scrutiny in recent months due to the presence of a large toxic waste site located near the center of the landfill. WMI had planned to clean up the site but ran into stiff opposition from neighborhood and environmental groups. The Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association has been particularly vocal in its criticism of WMI and the city's plan to award the contract to the company. TDS has also been vociferous in its criticism of the WMI landfill and the company has issued several reports alleging that the toxic waste on the WMI site is leaking. WMI is the world's largest trash company. TDS owns one landfill near Creedmoor.

Two weeks ago, city staff recommended that WMI be given nearly 90% of the city's waste, with the balance going to TDS. The city's garbage contract could be worth $100 million over the 30-year term. City Manager Jesus Garza is preparing the terms of the study to be done on the WMI landfill. It is not yet known when the contract for the study will be awarded. - R.B.


Mall for Sale

This fall, students strolling to class across UT's West Mall area will find themselves face to face with a walking, talking Slurpee. On Tuesday, Aug. 25, the University's Office of Campus and Community Involvement will host the first West Mall Marketplace, an event allowing up to 80 businesses to advertise their wares to UT students, faculty, and staff. While the businesses will not be allowed to actually sell products while on campus, the plan for the twice-a-year marketplace has stirred up some who believe that the West Mall should remain commercial-free.

The UT System Board of Regents approved the marketplace last August with the stipulation that businesses can only display and hand out printed material. Cheryl Wood, student affairs administrator for CCI, and organizer of the marketplace, stressed that businesses are not allowed to make sales or take orders.

The university's Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities state that only businesses that provide services that are commonly used by students, faculty, and staff of the university (such as financial institutions, long-distance telephone carriers, housing locators, tutors, and employment agencies) will be included in the marketplace. But Wood said CCI will not be restricting participation in next week's marketplace; some of the businesses included are 7-Eleven Food Stores, House of Tutors, Bevo's Book Store, and Sprint PCS.

In addition to providing students with information about services around Austin, CCI hopes giving the businesses a legitimate time to come on campus and advertise their products will alleviate the problem the university has with off-campus businesses soliciting in classrooms and on university kiosks. In the future, businesses that illegally solicit on campus in the 12-month period prior to each fair will not be able to participate. This rule will not go into effect until the marketplace has established itself on campus, says Wood. But the most obvious reason for the mall marketplace is money. Each business must pay $125 to set up a table on the West Mall - a relatively inexpensive price tag for such a prime, highly trafficked locale. While Wood says that CCI will use the proceeds to better serve the student population and perhaps to forestall additional student fees and tuition hikes, reaction among UT students appears mixed.

UT student government president Annie Holand said the marketplace is a good way to keep costs lower for students. But other students, like Plan II economics senior Rob Addy, see it as another example of the University selling out to corporate interests. "I'm concerned West Mall is going to turn into a shopping mall," said Addy. "I think there is a better way to raise money for the CCI rather than selling out one of the few spots on campus that has been traditionally non-commercialized." - T.T.

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