Off the Desk:
It's every starving reporters' favorite time of year: campaign season. The barrage of food, drink, and noshing leading up to the May 1 City Council elections began in earnest as Councilmembers Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher kicked off their re-election campaigns with the de riguer announcement fetes -- Griffith got the ball rolling at Threadgill's World Headquarters last week; Slusher chose the construction-site chic of the historic Brown Building for his announcement Tuesday. Meanwhile, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman opted for the Police Academy on Shaw Lane for her re-election rally yesterday afternoon. Goodman chose the site to highlight her endorsement from the Austin Police Association and to talk community policing. With two weeks left until the March 17 deadline, only a handful of challengers have filed to run against the incumbents. Vic Vreeland will contest Slusher's Place 1 seat; Griffith has drawnthree challengers for Place 4: Amy Wong Mok,Ray S. Vrudhula, and Jennifer L. Gale. ...
Speaking of campaigning, the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition will host a candidates forum March 22 at 6pm at Ridgetop Elementary. For more info, call 499-0526, ext. 2. ...
"It's a sad, sad day for Austin," said Austin NAACP president Parisrice Robinson following theAISD Board of Trustees' 8-1 approval of new school boundaries last week. Robinson says a lawsuit alleging that the new plan resegregates the district schools and seeking an injunction to delay its implementation is likely, though he wishes it weren't necessary. "We were hoping that the board would display some wisdom on this, I guess that wasn't to be," said Robinson. AISD officials say students bused to secondary schools for desegregation retain that option, or they can attend their neighborhood school. For more on the changes, see http://www.austin.isd.tenet.edu...
A.W. Dean and Associates, the Philadelphia-based law enforcement consultants hired to aid the city police department repair strained community relations, will unveil its findings Monday, March 8. The consultant's report is based on information culled during community forums held late last year, as part of the city's settlement of police brutality allegations surrounding a 1995 Valentine's Day party on Cedar Avenue. The presentations begin at 7pm in three separate locales: Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center, 2100 E. Third, Covenant Methodist Church, 4410 Duval Rd. (between MoPac & Research), and Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile. --L.T.
Best sign of the week: "My salamander got run over by a garbage truck" -- a sign displayed in council chambers last week by northeast Austin residents who oppose the city's plan to award a garbage disposal contract to BFI. --R.B
Police are seeking witnesses to the hit-and-run accident on I-35 last Tuesday morning that left 33-year-old Ray Jaceldo in a coma. Jaceldo and his brother Eugene, 37, members of the local band East Babylon Symphony, were traveling to work around 11:15am on the southbound side of I-35, between the Sixth and Cesar Chavez exits, when the accident occurred. Anyone with information should call APD at 480-5297. --L.T.
To no one's surprise, the journey of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan toward City Council approval has not been perfectly smooth, and the city's second pilot neighborhood-planning effort hit another potential speed bump at its hearing before the Planning Commission on Feb. 23. While the PC approved the 18-months-in-the-making Eastside community effort, it also directed city staff to come back on March 16 with strategies for preventing "gentrification" in the area.
That call echoed concerns raised by El Concilio, the long-standing alliance of Mexican-American Eastside neighbors who -- after failing in an attempt to take control of the East Cesar Chavez project themselves -- have opposed it every step of the way. One of the anti-gentrification strategies proposed was rent control, a fairly far-fetched idea for a Texas city, especially if it's only to be applied to a single neighborhood. Property-tax abatements are a more likely idea, but so far, neither Travis County nor AISD has been willing to consider abatements on residential properties. While the G-word never appears in the current drafts of the plan, many of the East Cesar Chavez recommendations are aimed at neighborhood preservation. Corridors currently zoned commercial would be changed to mixed-use to allow for more housing, and the neighborhood planning team is calling for modifications of city code to "make it easier for residents to make repairs in order to preserve affordable housing in the neighborhood." Other big items in the plan include redesigning the intersection of Cesar Chavez and I-35, improving pedestrian access across I-35, and creating a "green corridor" along the Fifth Street railyards. The plan goes before City Council for approval on April 15.--M.C.M.
Mining for Justice
John Ondawame, a spokesperson for the Free Papua Movement, a group fighting for the independence of West Papua New Guinea, saysthe choice for his homeland is clear: If Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold doesn't meet with local people and allow them to share in the riches created by the mine, then, he says, "We will shut down the mine."
Ondawame, who was in Austin last week to lecture about the issue of West Papuan independence and the problems at the Freeport mine, said the problems in the region extend beyond the mine. He said more than 74 logging companies are devastating the forests in West Papua, an area that he says is also known as "New Bonanza" due to its wealth of oil, gas, minerals, and timber. Ondawame, who speaks four languages and is now a doctoral student at Australian National University, was a leader of the Free Papua Movement, or OPM, for several years before he was captured and imprisoned. In 1979, with the assistance of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, he was deported to Sweden, where he obtained citizenship. Now a vocal advocate for independence for West Papua, Ondawame says the local people and Freeport must reach some understanding, and they must do it soon. "We are in trouble with Freeport," he said. "But they plan to stay for 100 years. So our problems are just beginning."
In other Freeport news, a lawsuit against the company brought by Yosepha Alomang, an Amungme tribal member who was tortured by Indonesia soldiers, will continue. On Feb. 25, New Orleans Civil District Court Judge Michael Begnaris ruled against Freeport's motion to dismiss the case. It is not clear yet when the case, which has been pending for more than two years, will go to trial. --R.B.
From Saturday's Y2K briefing at Laughing at the Sun gallery, sponsored by Y2K: Human Factor, the four dozen or so attendees should have gleaned the following:
- It's okay to fear -- yes, fear -- the Y2K computer glitch. Accept and love your fear.
- Get a gun to fend off the numerous packs of wild dogs. Why take chances?
- They make solar battery chargers. Cool.
- No entity or organization will commit to being Y2K compliant for fear of legal repercussions. Nor will they admit they are not ready, for obvious reasons.
The information presented in the disappointingly alarmist and simplistic Y2K seminar (where you're an expert if you claim to be one) could havebeen gathered from a reading of the "Y2K Citizen'sAction Guide" supplement to the Utne Reader and the January issue of Scientific American. With the exception of Jim Walker from Stanley Architects, the Y2K preparedness experts seemed bent on stirring up a stinky tincture of fear and paranoia. We're not sure whatMad Max scenario they have rattling around in their collective noggins but, judging from Sunday's seminar, it clearly involves a hungry mob of have-nots and ravenous cannibal dogs. (And a handgun!)
Kristi Willis from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's office was cheerful, sunny, and reassuring. Did she give us information? Was it accurate? We'd rather not say. The reps from HEB and Austin Energy were all smiles and left us reasonably confident that most people in Austin would have groceries and electricity (those hungry mobs have to come from somewhere).
What was the single, most important nugget we walked away with? The biggest threat posed to our families, our neighborhoods, and our city, will be from those who succumb to the millennial hysteria and Y2K survivalist-flavored hype. We were here long before silicon and binaries entered our lives. So were our goods and services. But just in case -- plan to spend New Year's Eve safe at home, keeping a close eye on the family dog. --D.W.
Before and After
Denis Halliday, former United Nations assistant secretary general and humanitarian aid coordinator in Iraq, painted a picture of a devastated nation last Wednesday night, contrasting living conditions in Iraq since the Gulf War with the quality of life in the country before 1991. Halliday said Iraqi citizens once enjoyed a high quality of life, with a free public health care system and a low crime rate. But the war and subsequent economic sanctions have devastated the nation. The economy is crippled. The education system is flailing. Street crime has increased. "We are destroying an entire culture," Halliday told the more than 400 people gathered in the LBJ Auditorium. Halliday and Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. are on a 21-city tour to raise awareness about the impact of sanctions on Iraq. Last October, Halliday resigned from the U.N. in protest of the ongoing sanctions. In response to growing pressure -- due in part to Halliday's high-profile departure -- the U.N. policy is under review. But Halliday says merely lifting the embargo is not enough to end death and disease rampant in Iraq. The country's infrastructure must be rebuilt. Sewage systems were destroyed, and raw sewage floods the streets of Iraq. We "must find another way to deal with Iraq," said Halliday. "We are pushing them further and further away, only creating problems for ourselves."
The "Lines in the Sand and Lives in the Balance: Human Consequences of War and Sanctions in Iraq" lecture series continues March 23 with Kathy Kelly, founder of the Chicago-based humanitarian group Voices in the Wilderness. --E.G.