Naked City

Off the Desk:

Oh sure, he's the odds-on favorite to be the next president of the United States, has raised an ungodly sum of money in an unprecedented amount of time, and is the son of a former president, but Gov. George W. Bush officially hit the big time this week when he starred in his very own Late Show With David Letterman Top 10 List. Titled "Top 10 Skeletons in George W. Bush's Closet," the segment poked fun at the governor's so-called wild youth, but the debut is something of an honor, however dubious. After all, you're not a serious presidential candidate until you become fodder for the late-night talk shows. The "secrets" that the Home Office in Wahoo, Nebraska, revealed were:

10. Fathered half the players at this year's Wimbledon.

9. Once killed a Lenscrafters clerk when his glasses weren't ready in about an hour.

8. The "W" stands for Winky.

7. In 1988 he told dad, "I think Quayle would make a great vice president."

6. He's also married to Barbara Bush.

5. On April 9, 1968, he actually had an opinion.

4. Calls brother Jeb "the one with the hick name."

3. Recovering "Opraholic."

2. From 1986 to 1991: Nothing but Nintendo and hookers.

1. Borrowed a skeleton from a local museum, put it in his closet, never returned it. ...

Community conversation. Ah, doesn't that sound soothing? Maybe that's the point, considering the fret-filled chatter that usually takes place when folks talk about the (gulp) "millennium bug." Our fair city has been chosen as one of the handful of communities nationwide to have a comforting little sit-down with the president's Y2K czar, John Koskinen. The event includes panel discussions involving representatives from important services such as utilities, the food industry, banking, and transportation, to assure us everything will be A-OK come midnight January 1, 2000. The meeting, ahem, conversation, will take place Saturday, July 10, from 10am-2pm at the LBJ Auditorium, 2315 Red River. For more info, contact the city Office of Emergency Management at 370-8800, or visit the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion at http://www.y2k.gov ...

It's not every day that you have author Marianne Williamson, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams on the same bill. But they're just a few of the notables participating in a national conference, New Directions in Corrections, at the Capitol Marriott Hotel, all day today, July 8, and tomorrow, July 9. The event -- part training session, part motivational seminar -- is an attempt to bring various factions of the criminal justice system together to define new strategies to deal with the United States' outdated corrections policies. Politicians, wardens, parole officers, corrections experts from as far away as Ireland, ex-convicts, social workers, and religious leaders are among the scheduled attendees and speakers. The conference is organized by Creating Conscious Community, a grassroots nonprofit institute with the goal of "making available educational, emotional, and spiritual-based programs to break the cycle of crime and suffering." For more info on the conference program, call 447-0281 or check out the schedule on http://www.ndic.net ... -- L.T.


Slusher, City, Sued

Council Member Daryl Slusher and the city of Austin are being added as defendants in a lawsuit brought by the owner of Longhorn Railway. Last Thursday, an attorney for Donald Cheatham, Longhorn's owner, filed a motion in state district court asking for permission to add Slusher and the city as defendants in a year-old lawsuit originally filed against Austinite Andrew K. Fish and several others.

The suit, which seeks $1 million in exemplary damages from each of the defendants, and $15 million in actual damages from the defendants as a whole, claims that Slusher and the city have interfered with Longhorn's rail business and worked "to injure the Plaintiff's business operations, revenues and business reputation." On Tuesday, Slusher, who was not aware of the lawsuit when contacted by the Chronicle, said that "Cheatham is reaching." He then added, "I need to read the suit before I offer any further comment." Connie Ode, chief of the litigation division in the city attorney's office, also refused comment, saying she had not seen the pleadings in the case.

Longhorn Railway operates on 160 miles of track that stretches from Llano to Giddings. The right of way is owned by Capital Metro, which recently bought the line from the city.

The city acquired the rail line in 1986. Cheatham, who won the rights to operate a freight railroad on the tracks in 1996, pays 15% of his gross revenues into an escrow account which is used to maintain the railroad right of way. Cheatham's primary business is hauling aggregate and stone products for area quarries; he also hauls beer, waste paper, and lumber.

In the amended complaint filed with the lawsuit, Cheatham includes a July 2, 1996, memo written by Slusher's former aide, Robin Cravey,to the city legal department. The memo concerns Longhorn's plans to haul aggregate needed for the new airport on the rail line and unload it at the East Seventh Street rail yard. From there, it was to be trucked to the airport. In the memo, Cravey asks the city's attorneys to "report on how to stop Cap Metro & Longhorn from doing gravel transfers" at the Seventh St. site. The memo then urges them to "be creative."

Cheatham insists the memo is proof that Slusher and the city "tried to put me out of business." While that has not been proven, Cheatham's business has clearly been struggling. Union Pacific Railroad, which has a near-monopoly on Texas rail traffic, has taken a big chunk out of the business formerly handled by Longhorn. Light rail could also cause problems for Longhorn. Capital Metro wants to use the section of rail that extends from Howard Lane to Airport Boulevard for light rail.

Longhorn currently uses that same stretch of rail for freight. If the city votes for light rail, another lawsuit could be on the way. More on this later. --R.B.


Ready to Roll

What was that very big, very quiet thing that just zoomed by? Why, it was Phase I of AIM, Austin Area in Motion, Capital Metro's grand public-participation effort to (in the now oft-repeated words of Capital Metro General Manager Karen Rae) "turn your ideas into our transportation future."

After getting input through market surveys, meetings with community groups, and other means, Rae and Capital Metro on July 6 rolled the AIM bus into Phase II of the effort, in which we pick our faves from the following list of options:

  • Improved bus and vanpool service (both new routes and higher frequency);
  • Bus ways -- special bus-only lanes on major arterials;
  • Commuter rail between Austin and wherever -- San Antonio, Georgetown, Leander -- running either along MoPac and I-35 (the "Blue Line"), or Airport Boulevard and US 183 (the "Red Line"), or a combination of the two;
  • Light rail on either the Blue or Red lines, or on the "Orange Line" from downtown to the new airport, or the "Green Line" straight through North Central and South Central Austin;
  • New high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the freeways -- i.e., "diamond lanes" reserved for buses and carpoolers;
  • Pedestrian and bikeway improvements throughout town;
  • New roads and improvements to current roads.

You've heard all that before, of course; what comes next is the fun part: narrowing this list down into real projects. Cap Metro's goal is to develop a set of "up to four specific solutions" to study in greater depth. These solutions -- particularly the rail options -- may be much smaller in scale than previous proposals, and the plan is guaranteed to be multi-modal. As Rae puts it, "It's time to shatter a myth -- that roads alone, or rail alone, or any solution alone can move us into the next century."

The resulting plan is still set to go to the voters before November 2000. If you'd like to voice your choice before then, visit the AIM Web site at http://www.aim99.org, call the AIM hotline at 637-4AIM, or attend AIM's Community Transportation Workshop, Saturday, July 17, 8:30am-noon, at the University of Texas' Thompson Conference Center. --M.C.M.


Rough Draft

After last year's big statements and raft of new "initiatives," City Manager Jesus Garza's just-released draft policy budget for 1999-2000 is a quiet little number. Of course, this is only the beginning -- by the time we have a real budget proposal at the end of the month, expect it to include new ideas, if not new funds for them, that will make the city proud and progressive.

The draft policy budget is a curious artifact: a tip sheet to the council, city departments, and the community, outlining in pretty broad strokes what the city manager intends to fund, not fund, or cut outright. Upon its release, lobbying guns are loaded and lunch dates are made, and by the time we actually have a budget proposal on which the council can vote, the controversial measures have usually disappeared.

Since the draft policy budget has no official function, Garza in past years has tried to do away with it, only to run into frustration and outrage from both citizens and their public servants. This year's draft, however, is unlikely to produce much reaction at all, since it proposes no major cuts or increases.

Garza assumes the property tax rate we all assumed he'd assume: the effective rate -- which would be 50.28 cents per $100 -- plus one cent for debt service on the 1999-2000 chunk of the billion-dollar-bonds approved last November. Utility rates stay the same, though the drainage and transportation fees would both go up.

Garza has carried over all of last year's initiatives on housing, homelessness, Smart Growth, neighborhood planning and policing, "commitment to annexed areas," and Y2K compliance.

The draft policy budget also includes money for city employee pay raises. What it doesn't include is funding for other hot issues du jour like Land Development Code enforcement, mental-health services for the downtown street community, and City Council priorities like child care and workforce development. "Funding details for these initiatives," Garza says, "still need to be worked out." By the time the real budget proposal comes out, "a plan will be developed for the council to consider."--M.C.M.

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