Off the Desk:
TheWorking Stiff Journal, the local monthly newspaper devoted exclusively to labor issues, is holding a benefit for itself this Friday, Nov. 6, 5-9pm at the AFL-CIO building at 1106 Lavaca. A $5 (or more) donation is requested, but benefit organizers say all are welcome regardless of ability to pay. Food, drinks,and live music are promised. For more info about how to contribute to or receive the Working Stiff Journal, contact members of the editorial collective at 374-4436; fax, 990-7730; or e-mail to email@example.com. The paper also has a Web site at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/wsj.htm. The free paper published its first issue on Labor Day; the second issue is now available at distribution points around Austin, and the third issue will be available at the benefit. -- L.N.
The Long Kiss Goodbye
That breeze blowing down South Congress last Sunday was a relieved exhalation from the neighbors of Cinema West Adult Theatre. After all, last Saturday marked the last day the so-called festering sore on the face of South Congress was open for business. With their neighborhood porn house gone, the people of South Congress are ready to celebrate. The place has been gutted and scrubbed; the old red-and-white sign will soon come down; and on Saturday there will be a block party to celebrate Cinema West's long-awaited demise.
"We're getting rid of all traces of Cinema West by the weekend," said real estate broker Henry Benedict, who waded through mounds of City Council red tape to purchase Cinema West in August. But after all that, Benedict says he plans to sell the building to the highest bidder as soon as possible. So far, he says, he has talked to a number of people who want to either buy or lease the building and follow through with his vision of converting it into a family-oriented theatre that shows movies throughout the week and hosts live entertainment on the weekends. There is even talk of building a rooftop cafe.
Benedict, who deals mostly in residential properties, says he's selling the theatre because he doesn't want the headache: "It's just not something I do," he said. "I don't have that kind of temperament for it. I'm a small-businessman. I don't have the expertise to deal with 10 city departments that [are] going to be involved. I'm going to give it to someone else. But anyone I sell to will make me a profit off the deal."
Benedict says he's opening the theatre at 10am Saturday for a public viewing and will be selling the theatre's seats for $25 apiece. He says some people want to buy them for porch ornaments while others -- like the longtime customers who've been frequenting the Cinema West since the late Seventies -- have already put bids on the seats they sat in for years. The block party, sponsored by South Congress businesses, will begin at 11am.
While South Congress rejoices in the Cinema West's departure, residents and business owners in southeast Austin, where the theatre's owners recently opened a new video and book store, say they've just begun to wage their battle.
Last Saturday was the opening of the Adult Video Megaplex, a 20,000-square-foot adult-oriented book and video store near I-35 and William Cannon. Before construction even began in August, the Megaplex was vehemently opposed by the neighborhood association and the Lone Star RV Park, formerly a KOA campground, which is adjacent to the property. To try and appease their neighbors, the store erected a six-foot security fence around their property to block its view from the RV park. But neighbors have complained the fence isn't high enough.
"The park complains we're going to ruin their business," said Bobby Pittman, manager of the Megaplex and former manager of Cinema West. "There's this perception that people coming out of our store are going to see his customers and attack them.
"We're definitely trying to be good neighbors. We want to answer any questions anyone might have," added Pittman. "But the thing is, they don't have many questions, just their own personal comments about how much they hate us," he said.
Jim Rowley, owner of the Lone Star RV Park, said he's concerned that the porn store may detract from his business or pose a threat to children and families who stay there. "We're definitely not happy with having them next to us, especially with our playground directly adjacent to their business," said Rowley. "It's already hurt our business. We have a lot of older folks and families with morals who stay here."
Diane Sanders, president of the Southeast Corner Area Neighborhood Association (SCAN), said neighbors have already met with the Austin Police Department about getting more officers to patrol the theatre. She said members of the neighborhood association have even planned to stake out the theatre and monitor it themselves. "We feel the same as the folks on South Congress did," said Sanders. "We've been trying for a long time to change the image of southeast Austin. We want to see good solid businesses opening. That's not a very good business partnership -- a porn place and a playground." -- B.M.
The Other Election
As the election for positions on KOOP radio's community board nears, the controversy at the cooperatively run community station has taken another Orwellian twist.
Michael Bluejay, the webmaster of the station's Web site, is also the webmaster for the Friends of KOOP group which is seeking to sweep the community board's elections. (Winning a majority of that board's seats would then give the group the power to unseat the current -- and very unpopular -- KOOP board of trustees.) Since the current turmoil at the station began, Bluejay has maintained a link between both Web sites. This apparently did not please the board of trustees, which on Oct. 26 ordered Bluejay to either remove the link from the KOOP site or face having his station membership revoked. Bluejay also was ordered to remove the KOOP logo from the Friends' site. Bluejay complied with removing the link, but denied that the KOOP logo had ever appeared on the Friends' site.
Board of trustees president Teresa Taylor did not return calls from the Chronicle, but in an e-mail exchange with Bluejay, she said, "The problem with the link and the use of the name and logo is that it appears that the 'Friend's' web site has the official sanction of the station. There are people who believe they are being lied about and slandered on the 'Friend's' web site, and we need to avoid the impression that this is an official station web page."
In response, Bluejay charged that forcing the removal of the link was an attempt to stifle debate on the KOOP controversy, and said, "As for people mistakenly believing that the board approves of a Web site which calls for their removal, I have a hard time believing our members are that clueless." To the slander charges, Bluejay replied that all of the Friends' claims on the Web site are thoroughly documented.
The official KOOP Web site is at http://www.koop.org. The Friends of KOOP site is at http://pobox.com/bluejay/savekoop. The deadline for station members to turn in ballots in the community board election is Friday, Nov. 6.
In other KOOP news, trustee Donna Hoffman resigned from the board this week. She said she resigned to pursue other projects at KOOP, and the action was unrelated to the current controversies.-- L.N.
How to Spell D-N-A
The prosecution in the Scaggs murder trial seems to have stalled in its sixth day of testimony. On trial is Roger Scaggs, 58, for the murder of his wife, Penny Scaggs, 54, on March 6, 1996. The state's best evidence is Roger Scaggs' fingerprint on the interior of a latex glove with Penny Scaggs' blood on the outside, but Scaggs' defense says he was framed and the evidence was planted. Without the benefit of eyewitnesses, the state may have a difficult time overcoming the jury's reasonable doubt of such a conspiracy scenario.
The state is relying on ploddingly detailed testimony regarding DNA evidence collected from blood and fibers at the scene. However, Monday's eight-hour testimony by Department of Public Safety criminalist Donna Stanley regarding her genetic analysis was so dull that jurors were observed snoozing through it. Another weakness in the state's case is its contention that material found beneath one of Penny Scaggs' fingernails is not genetic material and cannot be properly analyzed because of laboratory contamination. This is odd because the state is asking the jury to accept Stanley's other evidence while insisting that part of her work was contaminated. Stanley, on cross examination, insisted that no contamination took place during her analysis and that her conclusion that the genetic material came from someone other than Roger Scaggs was accurate. Scaggs' defense team, headed up by Roy Minton, made much of this genetic evidence, which opened up the possibility of someone other than Roger Scaggs killing his wife.
In addition, two of the state's own experts, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, Travis County chief medical examiner, and Bexar County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Vincent Dimaio, who was brought in as a consultant, gave completely contradictory accounts of the likely manner of Penny Scaggs' murder. Both experts did, however, agree that Penny died between 5pm and 6pm -- which refutes Roger Scaggs' claim he was eating dinner with his wife during that time and found her dead later when he returned home at 9pm.
Perhaps the most gripping testimony of the week, however, came from Mary Lowery, who reported that in January 1996, during one of her regular lunch meetings with Penny Scaggs, Penny "expressed disappointment in an aspect of her marriage" when Lowery asked whether Penny thought her husband was involved with another woman. In fact, there was another woman, Vanessa Ann Ferguson, with whom Roger was having an affair until the time of Penny's death. Ferguson has been subpoenaed as a material witness in the trial, but her whereabouts are currently unknown. -- K.V.