Naked City

Off the Desk:

Turns out no one was more surprised by the news that the Save Our Springs Alliance Board of Directors were pursuing "preventative litigation" against the tate over HB 1704 than the SOS board itself. "We did not vote to sue the state of Texas," says SOS Board Chair Robin Rather. "We are not suing anyone." SOS leaders make no bones about their anxieties over HB 1704, a bill the House passed last month allowing developers to build under the less restrictive water quality regulations in place when they first filed building permits. Preliminary analyses show the bill could "grandfather" three downtowns' worth of development over the Barton Springs Aquifer, Rather says. But slapping the state with a hasty lawsuit is not exactly in keeping with the grownup reputation the group has been trying to build. Coincidentally, Rather learned of the "lawsuit" when she saw the headline "SOS will sue Texas over 1704" in the Austin Business Journal as she was walking into a meeting with representatives from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to discuss plans to preserve 50,000 additional acres in the Barton Springs watershed. Not exactly the best timing, since there are members of both groups who would love an excuse to end the cease fire with the environmentalists. Rather says SOS is taking a much more prudent approach to HB 1704, asking the city and SOS staff to conduct "a full, independent analysis of the bill's impact." SOS sent a letter to ABJ Tuesday asking for a retraction. ...

ARTS Center Stage, the group raising $50 million in private funds to transform Palmer Auditorium into a multi-venue performing arts center, unveils the future arts complex's new name at 10:30am today, May 20. Hint: It's the same as the one attached to the project's lead multimillion-dollar donation. But the particulars were being guarded so dearly, you'd think they were part of a new Star Wars movie. ...

The Austin Yellow Bike Project is on the hunt for new digs after receiving word Tuesday it must clear out of its South Austin workshop by May 25. YBP's John Thoms says the owner of the W. Johanna property the group has leased for more than a year now says the bike workshop violates the lease. Why the sudden crack down? The owner is trying to sell. So the group is holding a "work party" 10am Sunday to move bikes and stuff to the project's already-crowded East Austin shop at 1182 Hargrave. To help with the move, call 457-9880. --L.T.

The City Council adopted the E. Cesar Chavez plan last week with little ceremony or dissent, save that of El Concilio-associated residents who claimed the neighborhood planning group does not speak for them nor truly care for the problems of the neighborhood.The council seemed to disagree, praising the E. Cesar Chavez team for its inclusiveness, and its perseverance in seeking input from people who don't normally participate in initiatives such as neighborhood planning. --J.Staff

Council members and other local bigwigs plan to join Austin bikers for a spin downtown Friday, May 21, to show support for two-wheeled transportation. The Texas Bicycle Coalition's third annual "political pedal" ride begins at 4:45pm at Eighth and Congress, then proceeds to the Capitol before scooting south to Ninfa's, 612 W. Sixth, for margaritas and other happy hour treats.Call Scott Johnson, 447-4595, for more info. ...

A proliferation of "Help Wanted" signs in the windows of local businesses may be good for job seekers, but local business screaming about labor shortages doesn't do much for the city's rep as the #1 place to do business. Mayor Kirk Watson, who is obviously quite fond of the Forbes magazine-bestowed title, is said to be the driving force behind the June 16 all-day conferenceat the Austin Convention Center. The workforce summit, called GreaterAustin@Work, is a first-of-its kind attempt to bring all types of local employers -- from hospitality to film and music to high-tech -- together with government officials, educators, and community leaders to develop a cohesive workforce development plan. If successful, organizers say, the Austin summit could be a model for other cities' programs. For more info about the summit call 454-3104 or e-mail ...

The board of directors for Computer Sciences Corp. last week gave its stamp of approval to an agreement with the city to develop its downtown campus. Pete Boykin, president of CSC's global financial services group, says the board's unanimous vote was expected; it officially changed a plan the CSC board OK'd two years ago that would have developed a campus at the Terrace PUD. ...

Game over: Looks like Celebration Station Family Fun Center is the latest victim of progress. The amusement center on I-35 near Ben White shut its doors on Sunday to make way for two hotels. The move ends seven years of good, clean, total sensory-overloading fun. While business was booming, Celebration Station's parent company, Whiteco Industries (which also owns the neighboring Fairfield Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, and Residence Inn by Marriott), decided to take advantage of the potential influx of business travelers the opening of nearby Austin-Bergstrom International Airport promises. "We've done extremely well," says Whiteco's Terry Weerts. "But the market has changed." What? Don't business travelers like to play miniature golf? --L.T.

Bye-Bye BFI?

Last Thursday, the City Council voted unanimously to begin condemnation proceedings on the BFI recycling facility in East Austin. The move should end the long fight over the controversial six-acre facility. Eventually.

The city says it needs the site for an administration building for its solid waste services department. But in truth, the move was made to satisfy neighbors of the facility, who have long complained about windblown trash, noise, and excessive traffic. Their complaints began increasing in 1996, when the facility was hit by a five-alarm fire. In 1997, the City Council changed the zoning on the site, which lies about three miles east of the Texas Capitol building, to prevent future owners from using the land for anything other than offices. But the zoning affects future owners, and had no effect on BFI's operation, which employs 45 workers.

Neighborhood activists cheered the council's decision. "This is what we have been hoping for for a long time, so we can get our neighborhood back," said Johnny Limon, president of the Gardens Neighborhood Association. City officials agree with Limon's assessment. "That type of land use would be done better somewhere else," said Council Member Daryl Slusher.

The city began threatening BFI with condemnation in January when talks between the two sides stalled. BFI has outgrown the site and wants to move, said company spokesperson Linda Rife, but the city and company can't agree on a price. The most recent appraisal by the local tax appraisal office put the value of the site at $1.3 million. The city has offered $2 million, but BFI insists it needs $5 million to find a comparable facility with good highway and rail access. "We don't want to go out of business and we need money to move. But we are $3 million apart. That's a lot," said Rife.

The condemnation procedure now shifts to a panel of court-appointed commissioners who will determine a value for the property, but a hearing on the condemnation will not occur for the next two or three months. If either side disagrees with the price reached by the commissioners, the case will go to trial. City officials had hoped to take possession of the property sometime this summer, but a final resolution on the matter could take at least a year. --R.B.

What About Sunscreen?

Count the Southern Methodist University Board of Regents in on the George W. Bush-for-President bandwagon. That the buttoned-down Dallas university's leadership should be supporting the governor isn't surprising. But that they would go ahead and invite him back, to their 2001 graduation ceremony "to this very spot, two years from today, to give us the view and perspective from Pennsylvania Avenue" did seem a little premature.

Like many of the governor's communications with the public, his commencement address was heavy on the charm and tailor-made for the audience he was addressing. One of his staffers apparently studied up on SMU student lore: The speech was peppered with inside jokes about favorite party hangouts and not-so-favorite course requirements (example: "The class of '99 leaves here with such fond memories as watching the Wellness Class slide show on STDs").

Then Bush got serious, repeating his now-famous critique on modern American culture. As usual, it started with an invection against the "if it feels good, do it" culture of the Sixties. ("Our society has paid a dear price for that way of thinking.") "Look forward to a culture based on responsibility and shared values; not the values of one religion over another, but the tried and true standards of behavior which have stood the test of time ... love your neighbor; an honest day's work for an honest day's pay... and baseball should always be played outdoors, on grass with wooden bats." --J. Staff

Looking to do a little Gov. George W. Bush criticizing? Not on the Web, you're not. At least not on the 50 or so "anti-Bush"-themed Uniform Resource Listings (URLs) the guv bought first. The savvy political staff at Bush's presidential "exploratory" team recently bought up a host of catchy Web addresses such as and When those addresses are typed in, you go directly to the governor's official Web site. The reason, says exploratory committee information officer Mindy Tucker, is to guarantee that people don't get confused or muddled when surfing the Web for information on Bush and his presidential intentions. "Our goal is to make sure that as much traffic goes to our site as possible," she said, "because that has the message we have for the people." Tucker said she wasn't sure how much money was spent on buying the listings because they were acquired in different ways. "Some we just acquired, like the way you normally would [register a site], and some we bought from others."

And though the URL roundup may smell like prior restraint, it's perfectly legal. "I can't say I see anything illegal about it," said Austin media attorney Jennifer Riggs. "It's just savvy politics." But a question still exists: Was it ethical for the the owners of the URLs to sell out? "They are using the Web to reach an audience, but they generally don't see themselves as journalists," Riggs said. "So as a question of ethics, it's interesting. Do those people who create the sites have an ethical obligation to keep these critical forums available to the public?"

A good question indeed, but unfortunately the Chronicle was not able to find any of the prior URL owners to ask them. However, the Chronicle was able to uncover several -- as of press time -- unpurchased URLs that even the Bush team overlooked. Renegade addresses such as and are still available. --J.Smith

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