Naked City

Off the Desk:

After more than a year of maps and meetings and hand-wringing, the AISD Board of Trustees is slated to vote on new school boundaries tonight, Thursday, Feb. 25, at 6:30pm at the Carruth Administration Building (1111 W. Sixth). If the board votes in the proposed plan, it could mean the end of 27 years of busing for school diversity in favor of putting students in neighborhood schools. But tonight may not be the end of the debate. A few board members have indicated a desire to postpone the final vote, and opponents of the plan, including the Austin NAACP, have said they may take legal action to halt what they say is resegregation of district schools...

Babich for City Council? Maybe. Our favorite letter-writing bike activist, Amy Babich, is reportedly toying with the idea of running for the Place 3 spot held by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. Babich has not yet filed a council application, but she has submitted the paperwork naming her campaign treasurer. The filing deadline for the May 1 City Council elections is March 17. Meanwhile, Councilmembers Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith have filed for re-election. But finding challengers for the incumbents has been, well, a challenge thus far. Only fire department dispatcher Vic Vreeland, who has been attacking Slusher via the Internet and sending press releases asking "Had Enough Boondoggles?" for months, filed for Place 1 last week. Griffith faces three opponents: consultant Amy Wong Mok, city planning commissioner Ray S. Vrudhula, and perennial candidate Jennifer L. Gale. --L.T.

Attempts by the Friends of KOOP group to recall the community station's board of trustees were dashed last week by a crushing defeat in the station's community board elections. The Friends had hoped to win a majority of seats on the community board, the body which elects KOOP's trustees. Friends' endorsees only took five of the board's 20 seats, with the rest going to endorsees of the pro-trustees group Communities for Community Media. More on this next week in "Media Clips."--L.N.

Keith Hampton, attorney for 14-year-old Lacresha Murray, will be the guest speaker at the Public Affairs Forum held in Howson Hall at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover, on Sunday at 11:15am. Murray, currently serving a 25-year sentence for the death of two-year-old Jayla Belton, is still awaiting word from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on whether it will overturn that conviction. Hampton will speak on pending legislation concerning protective custody of minors and other criminal justice bills pending in the Legislature. For more info, call 458-4913...

While some beat the school-voucher drum as the only way to improve education for low-income children, Austin Interfaith believes organizing the community is the real key. To that end, the group is hosting a two-day gathering of more than 1,200 parents, teachers, and school administrators to talk about rebuilding public education in Texas. The Alliance Schools Conference begins at noon on Sunday, Feb. 28 at Palmer Auditorium, and wraps up at noon Monday. The conference will be followed by a rally at the Capitol at 1pm. For more info about the conference call 916-0100. --L.T.


Building a Landmark?

The Austin Music Commission will host a public hearing on the establishment of a city-supported Texas Music Museum 5:30pm Monday, March 1, in the City Council chambers. AMC Chairman Bob Livingston says the City Council is "pretty into" the idea of the music museum, adding that the time was just right for such a venture. Though the city has had the opportunity to fund the museum before and chosen to take a pass, the commission believes the political will and wherewithal now exist to establish the museum as an important asset for the city, and to show support for music in Texas.

The Texas Music Museum, Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded on the occasion of the Texas Sesquicentennial (that's 150th birthday to you), to develop the project. Livingston said a group of UT professor-types have been quietly accumulating a formidable collection representing various Texas styles and genres, including German, Czech, polka, and anything else you could want. "From Gene Autry to ZZ Top -- A to Z," he said. The commission invites anybody with ideas or comments on the new Music Museum to attend Monday's meeting. --J.S.


Head for the Hills

As part of East Austin's long-coming shot of adrenaline, the city is in the process of selling 14 of 22 tracts in the Indian Hills subdivision to a number of home builders on the condition that they offer affordable housing and build within certain environmental guidelines.

Funded though a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the Austin Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) has set out to buy 50 lots throughout East Austin. In Indian Hills, located just south of William Cannon Blvd., home builders can purchase lots for $1 on the condition that they build and sell homes to first-time home buyers for under $65,000. As incentives, the city is offering exemptions on certain taxes and waiver of sewage and tap fees. Home builders must also work within Austin's Neighborhood Design Guidelines, a set of criteria that includes using some recycled building materials, and installing insulated windows and energy-saving appliances. As an incentive for eligible buyers, AHFC will also be offering down payment assistance of up to $7,000, plus assistance with closing fees. In addition to the Indian Hills lots, AHFC is also considering buying property near the St. John's neighborhood and looking for other possible locations throughout East Austin. The project, which began a year ago, is modeled after similar programs in San Antonio, Temple, and Lubbock.

Reyes Gomez, construction coordinator for AHFC, said the existing Indian Hills homeowners tend to be medium-income families who make around $40,000 a year. He said the project hopes to target the same income bracket and lower. "We're trying to get a lot of families who are now paying $500-$600 month for an apartment and get them into a house," Gomez said.

He said that two nonprofit organizations have bid on lots -- Homes to Own, an organization that caters to low-income families, and the American Institute for Learning, who plan to build a home that will act as a school for at-risk youth. Gomez said construction will begin in late March and should be completed in time for an Affordable Homes Showcase scheduled in Indian Hills this summer. --B.M.


Bush 'n' Boots

How much attention has Gov. George W. Bush paid to the environment in Texas? Well, Bush's appointees at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission did vote to kill the low-level radioactive waste dump in Hudspeth County. And then there's ... well, what is there? While running against Ann Richards, Bush summed up his position on the environment when he said, "I believe Texans should run the Texas environment."

Since offering that quote in October of 1994, Bush has steered clear of environmental issues. Indeed, a Lexis search over the past five years found that there are almost as many stories containing the words "George W. Bush" and "boots" as there are stories containing the words "George W. Bush" and "environment" -- 15, as opposed to 28. And that figure is too high: Three of those 28 stories discussed the school environment that Bush's children have here in Austin.

What issues were most commonly mentioned along with Bush's name? "Tax breaks" were mentioned twice as often as the environment, appearing in 53 stories over the past five years. Bush and "baseball" garnered 114 hits; Bush and "lobby" had 37. Not surprisingly, the big winner in the Lexis search were stories that mentioned Bush and "president." That query brought 844 hits. --R.B.


Don't Fear the Buzzwords

A little test: When you hear the words "sustainability indicators," what happens? Do your eyes glaze over? Does your heart race with panic? Well, relax. Remember, you used to react that way when you heard the words "smart growth" and "charrette" too, and now those words are like old friends, aren't they? The folks who've been working on the Central Texas Sustainability Project for the past year are hoping you'll soon feel that way about sustainability and join them in a region-wide public campaign to develop a "yard stick" to measure progress by annual monitoring in three key areas: the economy, the environment, and social equity. Spearheaded by Seton executive vice president Patricia Hayes, Daron Butler of the engineering firm Turner, Collie, & Braden Inc., and Austin Energy's Roger Duncan, the Central Texas Sustainability Indicators Project will distribute surveys beginning next Wednesday, March 4 asking residents to identify issues they feel are most critical and should be monitored for improvement. Specific,measurable indicators -- Is our air getting cleaner or dirtier? Is traffic getting better or worse? Are teenage pregnancies increasing or decreasing? -- will be developed from the surveys and reviewed annually. Surveys can be obtained by calling the Sustainable Communities Initiative at 499-3504, or completed on the Web at http://mather.ar.utexas.edu/Planning/sustain/survey.html. --L.T.


Think Technically

The environmental catchphrase "Think globally, act locally" could become the new motto of Austin's business community. Austin's business and political officials are looking to raise the city's profile in international commerce. To this end, about 360 of these officials got together over lunch Feb. 16 to shuffle business cards and listen to Deidre Mendez, president of the Austin-based international consulting company Foreign Business Management Consultants.

Standing on a platform at the front of the banquet room, Mendez explained her 58-page "Global Technopolis" report, the first piece of an emerging roadmap to cranking up international sales for the city's small and mid-sized tech companies. "Austin is having an identity crisis," she said. "People are starting to look at international business as our next hurdle. International sales is a necessary part of their expansion. Small companies need our help in a way that big companies have never needed our help," Mendez said.

The Mendez report quizzed 53 companies with a 31-point survey on problems associated with doing global business in Austin. The report concluded that city government isn't promoting the city well enough overseas, that service companies which feed off high-tech companies are embarrassingly over-competitive, that larger high-tech companies aren't mentoring and leading enough, and that the University of Texas is just unresponsive. Mendez's company, along with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and graduate students from UT, completed the report. Together with the city's high-tech bosses, they now are looking to craft some initiatives to overcome the obstacles. --S.F.

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