Naked City

Off the Desk:

Is the curtain finally coming down on the Cinema West Adult Theatre saga? Well, the red-and-white Cinema West marquee is (comingdown, that is) at 9am today, June 24. The former porno house's sign -- a symbol of two decades of frustration for South Congress neighbors -- will be auctioned off by the Austin Police Dept., with proceeds going to the APD's new South Congress bicycle patrol program. When we last left Cinema West, real estate broker Henry Benedict, who bought the building last summer with the plan to open a family movie theatre, had balked after realizing he wasn't going to get special treatment from the city regarding permits and other red tape he'd have to wade through to renovate the building. He sold the building in March to CSA Realty's Juan Creixell. Now it appears that Internet company Future Protocol, Inc. (no cyber-porn jokes, please) will lease the space this fall following a major renovation to turn the 8,000-square-foot movie theatre into office space ...

The city's Watershed Protection Department will field comments and questions regarding the $25 million Waller Creek Tunnel project, at 6pm Tuesday, June 29, at Town Lake Center. Voters approved the project in May 1988 to divert floodwaters and allow commercial development along the creek. There's been some tweaking to the project since then, however. Plans had called for the tunnel to run south under Trinity Street, from 15th Street to Town Lake. But word is the city is now favoring an alternate route that would run under Red River instead...

How's this for Austin bashing: Seems our progressive li'l city could be the site of the Conservatives Hall of Fame. Founded in January, the Hall of Fame honors "individuals in history who have made significant contributions to furthering conservative philosophy." It now exists only in cyberspace, but Houston attorney Douglas Caddy, Hall of Fame president, told The Washington Post recently that his group is trying to raise $8 million to erect a permanent homage to the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Helms, and Ronald Reagan. Caddy, the original attorney for the Watergate burglars, says he'd like to open the Hall by 2001...

The Sunshine Project for Police Accountability, the group trying to amend the city charter to give Austin residents access to information regarding police complaints, internal investigations, or disciplinary action taken against APD officers, has composed a draft of its proposed charter amendment and is seeking public input on the ballot language until July 5. After the public comment period, the group will begin collecting the 20,000 signatures needed to put the amendment on the ballot in 2000. The amendment and a layman's-terms analysis of the proposal are available on the project's Web site:

Barbara Taft was named Civil Libertarian of the Year by the Central Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union last week. Taft championed the efforts to overturn the conviction of Lacresha Murray, recently released from the Texas Youth Commission after serving more than two and a half years for the death of two-year-old Jayla Belton. The Third Court of Appeals overturned Murray's conviction in April, ruling that her confession was extrapolated during an improper interrogation. --L.T.

Getting Testy

Travis County Attorney Ken Oden has offered the Austin Independent School District a deal that would drop all fines against the district for TAAS test manipulation if the district will agree to follow a plan for better accountability in the future. The AISD Board of Trustees, however, responded last week with a defiant "no thanks." Oden's deal would not have absolved the district from blame in the TAAS cheating scandal. The district's lawyer, Chris Gunter, says that's unacceptable.

"What Ken Oden wants the school district to do is plead guilty to something they're not guilty of," says Gunter. He says the only reason Oden wants a deal is because the 16 charges of record-tampering the county attorney's office is pursuing against AISD won't stick. The district could be fined $160,000 if found guilty of the charges. Former deputy superintendent Kay Psencik is being tried separately for her alleged complicity in the scheme -- in which students' social security numbers were switched to invalidate tests -- but no AISD board members are accused of wrongdoing.

Oden says he's disappointed that the district prefers to fight his office rather than work cooperatively to ensure that district employees won't be tempted to flout the school system's accountability procedures again. His proposal would have formed a team of education experts, county attorney staff, and school officials to design and implement an "enforceable plan to direct effort and resources into fixing the problem instead of exacting traditional criminal punishment." But board members apparently hope Oden's case against the district won't go forward at all. Gunter has yet to file an official response to Oden's charges, but Oden says that he now expects a nasty fight. "Factions in the board may be planning a counteroffensive using tactics to discourage us from proceeding rather than dealing with the problem," he says.

Meanwhile, Oden's office continues its investigation into possible falsification of AISD dropout records. This week, attorneys will beginquestioning registrars, dropout recovery officers, and principals to determine whether the district's inaccurate dropout reporting is the result of intentional deception -- including fictitious transfers and forgeries -- or merely bad recordkeeping. Oden believes the state education agency's accountability system is "designed to be susceptible to and encourage acquiescence in creating an inaccurate but flattering picture" of school attendance, but says his office would not have carried the investigation this far if AISD's dropout numbers are merely the result of a poorly designed reporting system. --K.F.

The Bullock Vacuum

The death of Bob Bullock marks the end of an era. Gone are the days of the colorful, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing politicos. While today's politicians seek to be as bland and inoffensive as possible, Bullock took pleasure in tweaking noses and flouting conventions. He drove too fast, drank too much, loved too hard, and married too often, all while managing to cheat the Grim Reaper on a regular basis. His best line came in the early 1970s shortly after doctors removed half of his right lung, "I'd like just one cigarette," Bullock told reporters, "sixty miles long and thick as a garden hose."

Bullock was a singular person, one of the last true characters in Texas politics. But he backed up that character by getting things done. So with Bullock gone, who will be the next lion of Texas politics? Well, it can be argued that Bullock gained much of his stature because he was able to hang around longer than anyone else; his career in politics spanned more than 40 years. If power comes from seniority, then the one to fill Bullock's shoes would be Rep. Tom Uher, the Bay City Democrat who has been in office for 31 years. On the Senate side, the seniority prize goes to Sen. Carlos Truan, the Corpus Christi Democrat who has been in office since 1977. Of the statewide elected officials, the most senior is Tom Phillips, the Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who was elected in 1988. But years in office don't equal power. And none of those three -- Uher, Truan, and Phillips -- have the kind of ass-chewing temperament that made Bullock so formidable.

Bullock's passing, combined with Gov. George W. Bush's run for the presidency, leaves the state's political hierarchy with a gaping power vacuum. Lt. Gov. Rick Perry is figuring out what he'll do if Bush wins the White House; meanwhile, Texas Senators are jockeying for position to determine who will take Perry's spot. Speaker of the House Pete Laney continues to be a formidable force, but he could be deposed after the next election if the GOP gains control of the House.

It can be argued that Bullock lost his power the day he handed his gavel to Perry. But the truth is, his shadow still lingered over the Texas Capitol throughout the last legislative session. It will continue to linger; there's no one capable of filling the void he left behind. --R.B.

Trails and Tribulations

After complaining for years that visitors to theBarton Creek greenbelt's Camp Craft access have been trashing their community, bringing vandalism, crime, and traffic to the area, residents of the secluded Woods of Westlake neighborhood have seized on an opportunity to close down the entryway once and for all, by linking its closure to the opening of the nearby Stoneridge access, which the Parks and Recreation Dept. is scheduled to consider next week.

Members of the public had their say on the matter at a parks board hearing Tuesday night. But some environmental advocates fear that the trail's closure is practically a foregone conclusion, given ongoing negotiations between neighborhood residents and parks department head Jesus Olivares, who allegedly agreed to close the entrance if and when the new access, at Loop 360 and Stoneridge Road, is opened. "Many of us feel that it's unfair that a trail should be closed to the public without having public input," says the Sierra Club's Karin Ascot. "A lot of people buy their homes on the creek because that greenbelt is there. ... You can't enjoy that public space without keeping it public."

Neighborhood residents blame greenbelt users for burglaries, acts of public indecency, and vandalism in their community. But Jeb Boyt, a member of the nonprofit Austin Metropolitan Trails and Greenways, says closing the Camp Craft access may bring more crime to the area. "One of our concerns," he says, "is that if they do close this access point, by taking people off the trail, they'll actually make it more attractive to vagrants and people who are camping out there." Parks department spokesman Jim Halbrook says the trail closure has more to do withthe redundancy of two closely situated trails than with alleged criminal activity. "The proposed trailhead that we're wanting is in close proximity to the one that exists right now," he says, "and the neighborhood's idea is basically, if you've got that one there, why do you need this one?"

But the proposed new access point, environmental advocates say, is different from Camp Craft in several ways. For example, the new trail would lead directly down to the previously remote area surrounding Sculpture Falls. "There is some fear that if a trail is opened right there, it will make it easy for people ... to just zip down the trail, sit down at Sculpture Falls for their picnic, and leave all their trash there," Ascot says. Moreover, adds Boyt, the proposed Stoneridge entrance will be narrower and more rugged than the Camp Craft access, making it difficult for EMS vehicles to navigate to the trail bottom -- a capability which Boyt says is crucial to ensuring hiker safety.

The Parks Board will meet again to make a recommendation to the Planning Commission, at 6pm Tuesday, June 25, at 200 South Lamar. Later that evening, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation regarding the trail to the City Council, which is expected to take up the items later this summer. --E.C.B.

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