Naked City

Off the Desk:

The Triangle Square development was dealt a New Urban setback this week when the much-heralded residential developers, Post/West Properties, pulled out of the project. Word of the Post departure spread like wildfire Tuesday, opening day of the long-awaited national Smart Growth Conference at the Austin Convention Center. The stumbling block hinged on the terms of the ground lease, said Cencor Realty's Tom Terkel, chief developer of the mixed-use project. Post wanted a 70-year lease agreement on the deal, while MHMR maintained it was strapped by its across-the-board 50-year lease requirement for the entire project. Unable to obtain the 20-year extension, Post opted out of the plan. Terkel said he's hopeful that he and the project "stakeholders" (the state, the commercial developers, and the neighbors), can agree on another alternative. "I'm engaged in a search for a replacement that will meet the criteria set out by the stakeholders," he said. At the same time, neighbors are hopeful that Post ó the top mixed-use urban residential builder in this neck of the country ó will return to the fold. Regardless, said neighborhood spokesperson Sabrina Burmeister, "I think it's important that the community vision for the project remain intact." ó A.S.

By most accounts, the U.S. House is about to impeach President Clinton today, Dec. 17, despite the fact that most Americans believe the whole thing to be a ridiculous waste of time. Cyber-activists are flooding the Capitol, hoping to impact the proceedings. The House e-mail server reportedly handles an average of 80,000 messages a day, but on Monday it recorded a whopping 500,000-plus. Joining the electronic protest is the Iowa City-based Mad as Hell Campaign, which announced this week its "Make Congress See Red" effort, urging voters to send electronic "angry red" postcards to their congressional reps, telling them to "stop the impeachment effort and to get on with the important business of this country." To send a postcard, log on to http://www.madashell.net. The impeachment debate has sparked several other Internet campaigns, including the Censure and Move On (http://www.moveon.org) drive, which has reportedly collected more than 300,000 names on an anti-impeachment petition. And closer to home, Austinite Alex Sheshunoff's E-The People (http://www.e-thepeople.com) includes visitor-sponsored petitions from folks on both sides of the issue. Though popular, it is hard to gauge whether all this e-protesting will have any real impact on elected officials, but organizers say that since nothing else has stopped the insanity thus far, it's worth a try.

ó L.T.


Courting KOOP

The gloves have come off. Opponents of KOOP radio's board of trustees have decided they've had it with playing against a stacked deck and have filed suit to take control of the cooperatively run community station.

On Dec. 9, KOOP members Michael Zakes and Jerry Chamkis filed suit in Travis County District Court against KOOP, the board, and individual trustees Teresa Taylor, Aida Franco, Carol Hayman, Mac McKaskle, and KOOP community board member (and Taylor's husband) Eduardo Vera.

The suit charges that the defendants broke state law regarding nonprofit corporations by removing records from KOOP offices and hiding them, and that they have mismanaged the station's finances and put the station in danger of going broke, breached a contract with Chamkis regarding transmitter equipment that he leased to the station (which, if removed, would take KOOP off the air and possibly cost the station its license for the 91.7FM frequency),stolen elections, and engaged in "civil conspiracy" to take control of the station by those acts.

The suit requests that the station be placed under the receivership of the eight-member oversight committee which was selected by station membership at an August meeting, that damages of $5,940 in missed lease payments plus attorneys' fees be paid to Chamkis, and that another $9,900 from the individual defendants be paid to KOOP to compensate for allegedly misappropriated funds. The pair of plaintiffs are represented by Austin lawyer Russ Ham, who also represented former station manager Jenny Wong in her dealings with the station.

Zakes, the owner of Waterloo Cycles and a major underwriter of the station, told the Chronicle, "We've had enough," and said that after the trustees recently invalidated a community board election which many members believe would have eventually resulted in the trustees' removal, "the board is obviously trying to stay as long as they can."

Zakes also said that KOOP's latest lease check to Chamkis was returned to Chamkis for insufficient funds, and that the board "said that they would do a good job of bookkeeping, but Jenny Wong never bounced a check." Wong's contract was not renewed by the board in July; the board claimed she failed to implement proper bookkeeping procedures.

The board is represented by the law firm of Hilgers & Watkins PC. Attorney Ken Owensof that firm said, "The board says that it disagrees with all of the charges. We're investigating those claims now. We're not sure what a judge will do, but we think that when all the facts come out, they will show that the claims are not true." Another Hilgers & Watkins attorney, Albert Carrion Jr., said, "This is an attempt by this group [the plaintiffs] to try to get what they couldn't get by a vote of the membership. The board offered to have community board elections overseen by a third party, but they refused, and instead filed this petition." A hearing is set for Monday, Dec. 21, at the Travis County Courthouse.ó L.N.


Clouded by Doubt

It's been over three years since scores of Austin police officers stormed a Valentine's Day party on the Eastside's Cedar Avenue. After the clouds of mace settled, apologies were given, lawsuits filed, and efforts made to avoid any future mishap. But many residents of the Eastside still say they can't trust the police.

About 30 Eastside residents gathered at Huston-Tillotson College last Thursday for the seventh city-sponsored "police forum" held as part of the settlement reached earlier this year with some parties in the Cedar Avenue case. A second meeting was held simultaneously at the A.B. Cantu/ Pan-American Rec Center in South Austin to focus on similar problems in the Hispanic community. The forums, conducted by Philadelphia-based law-enforcement consultants Al Dean and Associates, are designed to allow residents a chance to voice their frustrations with the Austin Police Department, and focus on possible solutions. Early next year, Dean will present a report to the city managerand APD recommending ways to forge a better line of trust between citizens and police. By the comments at Thursday's forum, it appears that Dean's document may be a little thin. Residents say nothing has changed since Cedar Avenue. They say complaints filed with APD's Internal Affairs Division go unanswered. When a consultant of Dean's asked how many people this had happened to, nearly every hand in the room was raised. Residents say they're tired of young black men being pulled over by police for no apparent reason other than the kind of car they drive. And when asked why they're being pulled over, police threaten to haul them to jail.

Many in attendance told personal stories, brimming with outrage: One woman said it took an hour for police to respond to a burglary at her Eastside home; a man told a story about walking out of a bar on the Eastside two years ago and watching officers beat another man while he was handcuffed. Residents recommended that APD's Internal Affairs be revamped to better facilitate responses, and suggested that the city form a citizen's review board for officers and provide better community education on police policy and citizens' rights. But even as residents flooded the consultants with recommendations, many doubted the forums would change things. "These meetings aren't going to have any effect. They don't mean a thing," said Eastside resident Jenniffer Muhammad. "The effectiveness is going to come if one or two of these people here really feel strongly enough about these issues and will follow up and keep being vocal. Otherwise it's just a piece of paper for someone to read."ó B.M.


Shopping for Fair Wages

Kathie Lee Gifford, be warned. You're not off the hook just yet. That was the word from about 60 protesters who picketed a Wal-Mart in southwest Austin last Sunday to draw attention to the sweatshop conditions they say still exist in thousands of overseas factories which produce clothing for the mega-store, which has faced its share of human rights-related criticism in the past. The demonstration, held in belated observation of International Human Rights Day on Thursday, Dec. 10, coincided with similar weekend demonstrations across the country.

Representatives of several unions and pro-labor groups, including the Alliance for Democracy, House the Homeless, and the Central Labor Council, called on Wal-Mart to make public the locations of its factories overseas, a move which they said would expedite independent human-rights monitoring of the facilities. "The fact that sweatshop conditions continue to be found shows that there is a need for independent monitoring," said Mary Murphy, an Austin Living Wage Coalition board member and co-organizer of Sunday's demonstration. "They have 14-year-olds working 60- to 70-hour weeks for less than half the cost of survival" in places like Honduras and China, Murphy said.

Wal-Mart, which has long claimed support for American manufacturing, relies on overseas labor for more than 80% of the clothing it sells, according to Gary Dugger of the Alliance for Democracy, who ó dressed in full Santa regalia ó startled more than a few shoppers into accepting anti-Wal-Mart literature. "Wal-Mart has had this big public campaign that tells people to 'buy American ó buy Wal-Mart,'" said Dugger. "People have it in their minds that this is all made in America, when it's not." In fact, many of Wal-Mart's factories are located in countries like China, Honduras, and Guatemala, where poor working conditions and human rights violations are endemic.

As the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart is a primary target of the People's Right to Know Campaign, a project of the New York-based National Labor Committee, whose efforts prompted the series of nationwide demonstrations. Noting that the Wal-Mart picket drew a substantially larger crowd than is typical for pro-labor events in Austin, Dugger said that he was "very heartened" by the turnout. "I think it can only get bigger from here."

Living wage advocates also made their presence known at Monday night's AISD Board of trustees meeting, where House the Homeless' Richard Troxell and Austin Federation of Teachers president Louis Malfaro called on trustees to adopt a minimum wage of $8.93 an hour ó enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Austin on one-third of a monthly salary ó in the upcoming budget cycle. "The difficult and sometimes seemingly intractable issue of racial inequality and injustice has an economic dimension to it that a living wage would begin to mend in Austin ISD," Malfaro told trustees. "One need only look at the demographics of our school district staff to see that the disproportionately large number of our classified employees are Latino, African-American, new immigrants, and women." ó E.C.B.

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