Off the Desk:
Who says UT students are apathetic? Last year's protests during the Lino Graglia controversy earned the school the number three spot on Mother Jones' annual list of Top 10 Activist Schools ...
A public meeting on the feasibility of a commuter rail connecting the Austin area with the San Antonio area is slated for 6pm Sept. 1, at the Thompson Conference Center on 26th Street and Red River ... - L.T.
The much-anticipated general membership meeting of KOOP radio, specially called by the Friends of KOOP faction of the station's programmers, is set for this Sunday, Aug. 30, 2-5pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover. The Friends are hoping to initiate a recall of the station's unpopular board of trustees at the meeting. The board, though it disputes the validity of the meeting, is encouraging members to show up and reject the recall effort. - L.N.
Ice Bats Fly
To the surprise of some, and the delight of many south central city residents, Mayor Kirk Watson announced Tuesday that the Ice Bats are no longer part of his plan to revamp the Auditorium Shores area. While Watson says he is still committed to bringing the Ice Bats to a more central city locale, he and Ice Bats President Ed Novess agreed early this week that the team - which had become a lightning rod in the brewing controversy over the future of the Palmer Auditorium-City Coliseum area - should beg off its $17 million offer to build an arena/civic center where the coliseum sits.
Watson now wants the city to build a $26 million Town Lake Park Community Events Center to house the displaced users of Palmer Auditorium, so that Palmer, pending a public vote, could be retrofitted as a multi-use performing arts center. Watson says the community events center and a $13 million parking garage would be funded through a 3 -5% increase in "venue tax" on rental cars and revenue from the parking garage. The newly proposed events center is more costly than the one the Bats proposed; a city official said the higher price tag is because the city's plan calls for an increase in square footage and more amenities compared with the Bats' plan. Residents may be asked to approve the financing of the proposed events center and the leasing of Palmer for the arts center on November 3. The next public hearing on the ballot question is slated for 7:30pm this Thursday, Sept. 3, in the council chambers.
But even without the Bats, the project has its foes. Neighborhood reps, who spent the weekend and the early part of the week meeting with city officials, passing out flyers, and planting mint green lawn signs around town asking "Where's the Park?" (a reference, they say, to the lack of discussion of greenspace in this plan), were not swayed from their position that the city needs more time to contemplate the best uses for the 54 acres of parkland where Palmer and the Coliseum sit before any decisions are made. - L.T.
High and Dry
Hey, neighbor, could I trouble you for a swallow of that water? Maybe a few hundred million gallons? That's what Kyle, and potentially other small but burgeoning towns south of Austin, are asking of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BS/EACD). Water is bountiful in the northern segment of the aquifer over which the BS/EACD presides, but in the southern, San Antonio area, the demand for pumping is more than the Edwards Aquifer Authority can fill, forcing the agency to curtail municipalities' water allotments to levels consumed in the 1980s. That leaves Kyle and other booming bedroom communities in the EAA district high and dry.
"Look out there - I've had 254 homes built out there in the past 18 months," says Kyle's director of Public Works, J.F. "Boots" Montague, surveying one of the town's recent subdivisions. Kyle's population of 3,000 is expected to quadruple in the next 20 years, with at least one major new development on the near horizon. A surface water contract with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority could bring help in a couple of years, but meanwhile, Kyle wants the BS/EACD to grant the Plumb Creek Water Supply Corp. permission to pump 55 million gallons out of the BS/EACD district into Kyle. The town straddles the groundwater divide that separates the aquifer segments.
BS/EACD board members say that Kyle's request would pose no threat to their water supply, but that approving the district's first water transfer permit is portentous. "I don't really have a problem serving our neighbor," says board member Jack Goodman, "but it's the precedent that's troubling. ... Are we opening some Pandora's box?"
So last week, the BS/EACD board drew up a list of provisions that water transfer applicants will have to meet in order to prove their need for BS/EACD groundwater, and set a transport fee of 33 cents per thousand gallons. Kyle had argued that any new transfer rules shouldn't apply to its case because its city limits extend into the BS/EACD district, but board members rejected that contention on the grounds that Kyle doesn't actually serve any customers who live in the district. Water companies who are already pumping water outside the district, such as Creedmoor-Maha, have been grandfathered in.
This is a politically sensitive time for the BS/EACD to be discussing water transfers to feed new development, board members point out, following a summer drought in which aquifer users have already entered the first stage of water-use cutbacks. As gatekeepers, board members say they have felt it incumbent to ask about the new development's pollution controls over the aquifer's contributing zone, and thus far have not found the answers satisfactory. "Speculative development is last man on the totem pole as far as I'm concerned," said Goodman, commenting on the priorities the district needs to establish for transferring water. "I'm concerned if all they want to do is throw up these cracker-box developments."
But for Kyle official Montague, filling the water pipes to thousands of new homes is a real problem, and he expects the district's help. "Go back and tell them we don't want to come up there and steal all their water," Montague tells an Austin reporter. "We're not San Antonio, and we're not new kids on the block coming in; we've had extra-territorial jurisdiction over the aquifer for 12 years." The board will hold a public hearing on Kyle's request some time in September. - K.F.
Coping With Hopwood
The Texas Commission on a Representative Student Body, a group appointed by administrators from the state's biggest public schools, put the final editorial touches Monday on a report that they hope will help more minority students enroll in and graduate from state-supported universities.
Since January, the commission has been searching for legal ways around the 1996 court ruling, known as the Hopwood decision, that eliminated all race-based awards of admission and scholarships at state-supported colleges. The plaintiff in the suit, which is still being litigated, is Cheryl Hopwood, a white working mother who was denied entry to the UT Law School. The commission, headed by former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, will make several recommendations to the Legislature next year, including fostering closer connections between the state's community colleges and four-year institutions, creating college counseling programs at inner-city high schools, establishing mentoring programs, and increasing the amount of state-sponsored financial aid for economically disadvantaged students. In all, the commission expects to ask the state for at least $300 million to implement the programs. The commission's report should be completed by the end of September, and there are plans to release it with a splashy press conference at the Capitol on October 21. - R.B.
Pleasing the Pope
After years of Vatican foot-stomping and months of negotiation, a simple new agreement may bring peace to Brackenridge Hospital and Austin's Bishop John McCarthy. Though the terms have not been finalized, a draft of the agreement states that the city will employ the nurses and surgical technicians to assist in sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligations. The funding for these employees will be diverted from payments that the city currently makes to Seton for the care of the indigent, thus making no net changes in the city budget. Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Boccella estimates the terms will be finalized in a few weeks and the new city employees will be in place within a couple of months.
Almost as soon as the ink dried on the 1995 document that leased city-owned Brackenridge hospital to Catholic Seton Hospital, the Vatican began urging McCarthy to stop reproductive services at the hospital. As part of the lease, Seton guaranteed that they would continue the performance of reproductive services at Brackenridge. The Vatican, on the other hand, has described sterilization in a 1997 letter to Bishop McCarthy as "an intrinsic evil."
Until now, Seton has insulated itself from reproductive services by hiring a third party to perform and assist all contraception and sterilization procedures. Under the new agreement, the city will be responsible for those employees. Though the Vatican has no direct input into the new agreement, Diocese of Austin spokeswoman Helen Osman said the bishop "expects the new agreement will satisfy Church officials and ethicists." Planned Parenthood of Austin's Margot Clark said the changes are innocuous: "As long as the services continue to be provided, that's the bottom line as far as we're concerned." - N.K.