Big Grocer Is Watching You
Clean Campaigns for Austin's fight for the right to petition voters in major shopping centers -- and HEB's counter-fight to toss them out -- escalated another notch this week when HEB's lawyers began photographing and videotaping the petitioners, just days after HEB failed to get a temporary restraining order against Clean Campaigns. The group is petitioning to place a campaign-finance reform measure on the November ballot (see "Green Whoopee!," right), and has a pending lawsuit against the grocery chain's policy forbidding solicitors on its property.
ACLU attorney Jay Jacobson says, "The essence of the problem is, in addition to sort of general harassment, running around and taking pictures of people, it's a form of intimidation. You have a First Amendment and a freedom of communication right, or petition right, under both the federal and state constitutions. When you run up and start taking pictures of people who are signing a petition, it tends to reduce the likelihood that they're going to sign."
HEB spokeswoman Kate Brown defends the filming, saying the lawyers were doing it for "the same purpose that the Clean Campaign folks were videotaping our [employees] for the purposes of the lawsuit."
As for the intimidation charge, Brown says, "These folks are conducting activity on private property without permission. Every time that we have these petitioners on site, we receive numerous customer complaints about their presence there. The reason we have a no-solicitation policy at HEB is because it interrupts the egress from our stores. [The policy] is to ensure that our customers have the best, most convenient shopping experience possible, without interruption." -- Lee Nichols
The Travis County Green Party plans to do just that -- party -- with a Clean Campaigns Blowout Bash to close out its citizens initiative petition drive for local campaign finance reform. The Austin Fair Elections Act, as they call it, will be on the November referendum ballot if the Greens and other reformers gather enough signatures by Aug. 20. The Act proposes to put a cap on candidate donations and to create a voluntary system of matching funds for candidates who limit their campaign spending. The party will be at Momo's, 618 W. Sixth (above Katz's), Monday, Aug. 20, at 7pm. Music will be provided by Oliver Rajamani, Barbara K, and the J.P. Allen Band. Petitions are available at www.cleancampaigns.org. Call 472-1059 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breaking News: Castro Will Die
The front page of the Austin American-Statesman's August 11 edition bannered, "Aging Castro won't live forever, and Cubans know it." It's rumored that Fidel's days on earth are finite because everybody dies, but the Statesman has yet to confirm this.
We'll keep you posted.
On May 30, the Statesman reported AISD that officials said they had already hired nearly half of the 800 teacher spots they needed to fill for the fall. But sources close to the district subsequently told the Chronicle that the district was closer to 1,400 (or more) teachers short. Moreover, veteran teachers are upset about the district raising the pay for starting teachers nearly 6% this year -- causing starting salaries to jump to nearly $32,000 -- when other school employees will be lucky to see a 3% pay increase. (Veteran teacher salaries currently max out at $50,890.) Louis Malfaro, co-president of Education Austin, the union that represents about half of AISD's teachers, told the Statesman, "The one-two punch of rising rents, taxes and fuel costs coupled with a small pay increase has AISD teachers and staff shopping for other options."
On July 30, Pam Hall of the district's Human Resources office, said the district currently had 115 teacher vacancies, and had hired 772 teachers between May 1 and July 27, and that at least 300 teachers had resigned or retired. The same day, AISD issued a press release touting the "more than 900 new Austin teachers" they've hired for the 2001-02 school year.
Yet Education Austin said 600 teachers in their membership didn't renew their contracts in May -- not including those who retired.
So, how many teacher vacancies are there? Your guess is as good as ours or AISD's.
-- Jordan Smith
Preserve the Reserve
Shades of the Gotham? Parks advocates Mary Arnold and Roberta Crenshaw, along with environmental matriarch Shudde Fath and Seaholm re-use booster Ken Altes, scored a big win Tuesday when the Parks Board voted 5-2 to oppose a 180-foot-tall luxury condo tower on property just north of Town Lake. The site is on the old Sand Beach Reserve, an attractive piece of land between Lamar Boulevard and the Seaholm Power Plant. Lumbermen's Investment Corp., in a joint venture with LBJ Holding Co., had sought the 180-foot variance to extend beyond the 120-foot height limit along the Town Lake corridor. The Downtown Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Austin Alliance supported the variance, while the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, the Zilker NA and other neighborhood groups opposed it. (In a similar case two years ago, a Houston developer had unsuccessfully tried to secure a variance on a Town Lake project called the Gotham.)
The Lumbermen's condo tower is part of a 400,000-500,000 square-foot project that has already cleared its biggest hurdle. Last November, the city and Lumbermen's settled a longstanding dispute over boundary lines on the property. The city got an acre out of the deal, and Lumbermen's kicked in an extra $750,000 to buy nearby Union Pacific Railroad land. The city plans to use part of its land for green space and for parking when the Seaholm plant is converted for public use. The Planning Commission had asked the Parks Board to weigh in on the Lumbermen's project, so now the issue is back in the PC's lap. Stay tuned.
-- Amy Smith
Eddy's Gotta Have Friends
Work has begun to prepare the Deep Eddy Bath House for restoration to its original state. The bath house was completed in 1936 as a federal WPA project, following the flood that leveled all original structures. The first projects have included removal of rotten wood and the old A/C system, and asbestos and lead abatement. Friends of Deep Eddy are invited to a meeting to discuss this restoration with Farhad Madani, city of Austin aquatics director, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 6pm, at Deep Eddy. Agenda: the Bath House, pool water quality, tapping the second well, and potential renovations to the pool structure.
If you've ever wondered why those empty-headed 10pm broadcasts on local TV stations get promoted as "news" programs, you're not alone -- Denver's Rocky Mountain Media Watch (RMMW) wondered the same and made that question the basis of a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requesting that Denver's stations be barred from advertising them as such. In a questionable decision, the FTC recently rejected RMMW's request, so apparently the charade shall continue. (This follows a similar failed RMMW petition in 1998 to the Federal Communications Commission to strip the stations of their licenses for failing to meet their legal public service obligations.)
The FTC ruled that citizens might not expect "issue-oriented" news to appear on the news (huh?), and suggested that citizens who don't like the local news simply find another news outlet -- never mind those silly, aforementioned public-service requirements.
So, you owners of the nation's airwaves (the airwaves are legally public property), if you're annoyed at newscasts that offer tips on fixing up your house, or do exposés on small businesses while consistently ignoring the weighty actions of city hall and major corporations you'll just have to watch The Daily Show.
For more on RMMW's action, go to www.bigmedia.org. -- Lee Nichols
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 6:30pm, the Democracy Coalition and local chapter of the National Organization for Women will sponsor a town hall meeting at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center, 2802 Webberville, regarding the status of reproductive services at Brackenridge Hospital. And on Friday, Aug. 24, at 5:30pm, there will be a demonstration against the Seton Healthcare Network, the Catholic organization that manages Brack for the city, and who announced that reproductive services could no longer be offered there. The protest will begin at Brack and march from there to the Catholic Diocese at 1600 Congress.
'Chroniclers' Old and New
Staff-box watchers may have noticed a few changes in the Chronicle's personnel over the last couple of issues. For Politics fans, here's the celebrity journalist inside skinny: Veteran staff writer Mike Clark-Madison, our walking Britannica on city politics and neighborhoods, has moved up to city editor, and Lee Nichols, longtime staffer and former "Media Clips" columnist, has joined us as assistant editor and jack-of-all-trades (he broke the Auditorium Shores snafu story). And most recently, from In Pittsburgh Weekly, where she was a sharp-eyed staff writer, and by way of media activism in Washington, D.C., Lauri Apple has come aboard as our new associate editor.
That is to say, for Politics story tips: Operators are standing by to take your call!