Naked City

Off the Desk

Print journalists know that the most dangerous spot in the city is the space between a TV news crew and any public official poised to answer a question about the Yogurt Shop Murders. At the Metropolitan Breakfast Club's Wednesday debate between DA Ronnie Earle and Republican challenger Shane Phelps, TV crews scrambled when they realized a question about APD interrogation techniques referred to the killing of the four high school girls nearly a decade ago. "You're talking about the Yogurt Shop case," Earle said, refusing to discuss the ongoing prosecution. The 1991 tragedy has been covered and re-covered by local TV news teams.

The debate was a campaign preview. Phelps started at the top of his résumé, citing his work for Harris County DA Johnny Holmes, who has earned a national reputation for the number of men his assistant DAs have sent to death row. Phelps also cited his experience trying criminal cases as an assistant AG, and argued that Earle has never tried a case in court. Earle, who has held the office since 1977, said he has a staff of 63 lawyers whose job it is to try cases. He cited his work on community-wide crime prevention, his high conviction rates, and the national recognition won by the Travis Co. DA's office.

The oddest question of the day seemed to confuse Clifford Antone with Manuel Noriega, as a Breakfast Clubber took Earle to task for the light sentence the "major money launderer and big-time drug dealer" who owns Antone's got earlier this year. "Clifford Antone was prosecuted in federal court," Earle pointed out. Look for Earle to run as a competent administrator of a large urban government agency, while Phelps runs as an aggressive prosecutor...

The former Religious Freedom Restoration Act has a long new name, but it has an even longer shadow. Now charmingly known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUPA), the federal legislation allows religious groups to ignore development (and other) laws that apply to everyone else. That's good news for churches like Hyde Park Baptist, which on Tuesday won a long-sought agreement from neighbors of its Quarries property in Northwest Austin, thanks in large part to the legislation. The agreement will allow the church to build several, if not all, of the five structures it had proposed for the site. According to Mesa Park Neighborhood Association representative Bobbi Henley, the 11th-hour agreement will allow the church to build out the area until traffic rises above a level that will be set by the city; the plan also provides buffer zones between the church's buildings and single-family houses in the area. Henley says the agreement was the only way neighbors could restrict the size of Hyde Park's development, which could include a recreation center, day care, and the church's high school (currently located in Hyde Park proper). "We can't tell them the high school will not be built out here, but we don't think it will be," Henley says. The 10-year agreement is set to go before the Planning Commission next Tuesday...

Don't touch that dial if you are looking for the right-wing rant of G. Gordon Liddy or the shock jock schlock of Howard Stern. On Monday, Shamrock Communications of Scranton, Pa., switched formats in the middle of Stern's program. What was all-talk is now "rock without the hard edge." The switch was driven by market research that found adult contemporary rock without edge a better sell than talk with edge. The frequency remains 98.9, but the KJFK call letters become KHHL...

There will be no bond money used to build light rail in Austin, Capital Metro spokesperson Ted Burton points out in response to an error in this space last week. Light rail will be funded by Capital Metro's existing one-cent sales tax, if the project is supported by voters in November.

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