Off the Desk:
The new-and-improved plans for the Triangle will be presented to the special state board of review for approval on Monday Oct. 12, at 8pm at the Stephen F. Austin Building, 1700 Congress, Room 118 ...
Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election and the city special bond election begins on Saturday, Oct. 17. For info on polling locations and times call the Travis County Voter Registration Office at 473-9553, or the Williamson Co. Elections Office at 943-1630. On the Web, see http://www.co.travis.tx.us/elections for early polling places and times, or http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/bonds for details on the bond election. For a list of candidates and other election info, see The Chronicle's Election Coverage here. ...
And if that's not enough for you, the Capital City Chamber of Commerce is hosting an info session on the city bonds Monday, Oct. 12, at 6pm at the Bank One building, 5407 N. I-35. Call 459-1181 for more information ...
News from this week's Texas Turnpike Authority meeting: Members of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce are forming the Capitol Area Transportation Coalition to lobby state and federal government for more money for roads -- money that public transportation and enviromental advocates would rather see dedicated to light rail, bike lanes, and other pedestrian-friendly improvements. The coalition is trying to amass a war chest of $150,000 to $300,000 and reportedly is enlisting such big guns as attorney Pike Powers and former Congressman Jake Pickle...-- L.T.
KVET-AM's brief experiment with the news/talk format is over -- last Friday morning, listeners found out that the station went to an all-sports format and will now be known as Sports Radio 1300: "The Zone." Also, in the mornings, KVET's highly popular Sam & Bob Morning Call-In Show will now be broadcast on both KVET's AM and FM stations, with the two stations going their separate ways at 10:30am, FM to country and the AM to sports. More on this, including what it means for Austin news/talk radio and KVET's former news staff, in next week's "Media Clips."-- L.N.
In contrast to the protests and petitions which preceded the May 2 bond election, residents of the Railyard Apartments, at 201 E. Fourth St., have now begun quietly packing up to clear the way for a voter-approved expansion of the Convention Center. The expansion is forcing the demolition of buildings four and five -- constituting 88 units -- of the downtown apartment complex. The move-out has renewed questions over the city's decision to destroy the relatively affordable downtown housing at a time when it is also backing the construction of up to 1,000 upscale apartment units downtown.
The pax humana down at the Railyard is likely due to the city's having spread a little green salve on Railyard residents' wounds. In fact, the city is paying relocated residents up to $5,250 per person, plus $208 for moving expenses, and reimbursement for hookup fees on all utilities, phone, and cable services at their new homes. But as one relocated tenant attests, moving out is still hard to do. "The money was great to get, but I'm really sad that I don't live there anymore. I'm sad that the city is destroying the only affordable downtown housing they have," says the former resident, who paid $290 a month for her part of a spacious three-bedroom apartment. She adds that although she does not own a car, it was easy to get around while living at the Railyard because of the proximity of services and entertainment downtown, as well as nearby public transportation.
In late July, the city began issuing 90-day move-out notices to the residents of buildings four and five. But Larry O'Neal, manager of the city's Real Estate Services division, says that approximately 20 units are still occupied. He estimates it will take until Dec. 31 for the buildings to be completely vacated. Demolition is scheduled for January 1999.
Although the Railyard move-out looks and feels like the city exercising its powers of eminent domain, in fact such a court-ordered eviction was not required since the city struck a deal to purchase the property from the Railyard for $9.5 million.
It was also rumored that the recent change-over of the Railyard's remaining units to condominiums was designed to jack up the city's buy-out price. However, O'Neal says that because the city's appraiser already took into account the "highest and best," meaning most lucrative, use of the Railyard as condominiums, the switch from apartments to condominiums was not a factor in the final selling price. -- K.V.
As the Traffic Turns
Last Thursday at Hyde Park Methodist Church,city officials unveiled final blueprints for a traffic calming project for the Hyde Park and Hancock areas. The project, which will stretch between 38th, 45th, Red River, and Duval streets, will add raised speed bumps, traffic circles, more stop signs, and a "chicane" to the neighborhood.
The city project is designed to narrow residential streets like Duval, in an effort to slow traffic in heavily traveled areas like the intersection of 41st and Duval, where city officials say nearly 7,500 cars travel every day. The project includes installing traffic circles at four intersections: two on Avenue B at 41st and 43rd streets, and two on 42nd Street, at Speedway and Avenue G. These will consist of a raised, circular median at the center of the intersection. City officials say the circles will not make left turns more difficult, just require cars to slow down when approaching the intersection. The project also calls for a chicane, a series of tight turns on opposite sides of the street which will force cars to slow in order to maneuver through the turns.
Research for the project began last January when the Austin City Council approved a $50,000 package to be used on traffic calming projects in five Austin neighborhoods. City officials say the project will go into effect at the end of this month on a 4- to 6-week trial period. The city sent out ballots to all residents asking them to vote on the project. Hyde Park Neighborhood Association officials say votes are to be tallied Oct. 8, but as of early this week, 65% of votes are in favor of the project.
"This is a great opportunity to be able to try out these new devices, some things the city has never done before," said HPNA's Suzee Brooks. "This is truly a great gift."
But some longtime neighborhood residents are skeptical of the project, and think the city should do more research before rushing ahead. Laurence A. Becker, who since 1939 has lived on Park Boulevard, where the chicane and two additional stop signs are planned, called the city's efforts "overkill." He added that the devices will actually congest the neighborhood and encourage traffic to cut through some of the less-traveled residential streets. "Unless you do something about 38th and 45th, which are arteries, you're going to have real problems because that's going to back up traffic like crazy and these smaller streets aren't going to be able to handle it."
Agnes Edwards, another longtime denizen of Hyde Park, was equally disgusted with the project. Denying a traffic problem exists in the neighborhood, Edwards said that adding more stop signs will only prompt drivers to break more traffic laws. "You see, if you put more stop signs in, it's not going to cure those who run stop signs already," she said. "The solution is to do what they once did in Hong Kong. They'd snap your picture, and if you get three tickets, you lose your license." -- B.M.
Qualms About the Quarries
Nearly 200 neighbors of the Hyde Park Baptist Church-owned Quarries Park met with church officials and city representatives last week at Will Davis Elementary to voice their opposition to a plan to develop the 58-acre site just southwest of MoPac Boulevard and Duval Road.
Last fall, the church submitted to the city plans to construct 11 buildings, including a 700-student high school, a family recreational center, storage building, day care facility, and guest quarters. Residents at last Wednesday's meeting say they don't want to see the church raise a compound on the park, which is used by several surrounding neighborhoods. They're also concerned about the impact the development will have on traffic in the neighborhood, and about possible pollution of a spring-fed lake on the property, which they say will in turn jeopardize their water supply.
"We want to keep this neighborhood intact and keep traffic down to a minimum," said Bobbi Henley, a resident of nearby Mesa Park. "This kind of thing is happening all over Austin. We want to let people know they can fight this."
While residents called the meeting a relative success, they were disappointed the church didn't answer some pertinent questions, such as when and how it plans to begin development.
"We didn't answer some questions because we just didn't have the answers," said church spokesman Dan Rogers. "But we are going to try and answer honestly and truthfully and get everything out on the table." Rogers said the problem was miscommunication, especially since the church is having to answer the concerns of five different surrounding neighborhoods. He said it wasn't in the church's interest to become an enemy of the neighborhood. "We've heard the neighborhood and we understand a lot now. Hopefully the dialogue will open back up." -- B.M.
Freeport FOIA Follow-Up
On Sept. 28, U.S. District Court Judge James Nowlin ruled that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) must turn over documents it produced during its scientific analysis of a gold mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. Nowlin's ruling is the latest development in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by TheAustin Chronicle against OPIC in 1996.
OPIC canceled a $100 million insurance policyit held on Freeport's Indonesian copper and gold mine on Oct. 21, 1995, claiming that Freeport's mine had significant environmental problems. When the Chronicle requested OPIC's scientific reports and photos from the Freeport mine, OPIC refused -- claiming that the documents were exempt from FOIA because they were part of the agency's decision-making process -- then provided heavily redacted versions of the report. In his ruling, Nowlin said the redacted portions of the report "are not deliberative in nature," and he ordered OPIC to provide the report to the Chronicle. He also instructed OPIC to provide three pages of the report to Freeport, to allow the company to determine if its release would jeopardize any confidential business information. Nowlin also ruled that the photos in OPIC's possession "are factual in nature and would not disclose any deliberative process."
While the complex 19-page ruling appears to be in the Chronicle's favor, Nowlin's order has not been finalized, and it is unclear when OPIC will release the documents in question.
On another Freeport front, the Wall Street Journal has published a lengthy expose on the company's financial ties to Indonesian dictator Suharto. The story, written by Peter Waldman and re-printed in the local daily, said that the relationship between Freeport and Suharto "stands as a study in how multi-national companies adapted to the crony capitalism that helped bring down Suharto -- and that helped push Indonesia into economic and social chaos.Between 1991 and 1997, Freeport made at least $673 million of loan guarantees to three Indonesians with close ties to Mr. Suharto or his ministers. One of those loans helped one of the Indonesians turn a one-year profit of 500% on his $40 million investment -- and helped Freeport renew a crucial mining license."
The Journal story provides a road map for regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission, who now have plenty of evidence to pursue a long-overdue investigation of Freeport under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. -- R.B.