Naked City

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett says he joined the 215-214 minority that voted against fast-track legislation partly because "every major environmental group [was] against this bill." Doggett elaborated, "I am not against taking a fast track to more trade, but I am against denying Congress a steering wheel and a brake when the Administration takes the wrong track for the environment." The bill restricts Congress to an advisory role during trade negotiations, while increasing the power of the president.

On a cheerier note, Austin cyclists received an early Christmas present from the feds last week. Doggett announced more than $5 million in new federal funding for Austin transportation projects -- including $375,000 for a city-sponsored Bicycle Commuting Project -- that will help employers create "bicycle stations" with showers, changing facilities, and secure bike parking. Another federal grant is already paying for more than 1,500 bike racks to be installed around the city.

The Rivery Partners development group, who bought a tract of land from the city of Georgetown more than three years ago, filed suit against the city on Dec. 7 in Williamson County District Court. The Partners -- which include Georgetown developer Greg Hall and San Antonio's Pat Maloney Jr. -- own about 80 acres of land adjacent to the infamous 120-acre Rivery tract, an ongoing development headache in the Williamson County seat. At issue is a city letter sent to the Partners nearly a month ago stating that developers who wanted to build on their property would have to comply with all of the city's new development ordinances -- including a set of controversial ordinances passed July 30 during an "emergency" council meeting. The Partners believe the city's move is illegal and that, by state law, the property is grandfathered.

"Republican populist" Mike Hanson -- whom access-TV junkies may know from his work with conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones -- has declared his candidacy for Travis County Commissioner Place 4, currently held by Margaret Gómez.

Quote You Thought You'd Never See: "It's exciting to be back here in Waco." -- Christian missionary Heather Mercer, who recently returned to Texas after being held prisoner in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Former Seton Health Network CEO Charles Barnett has replaced Steve Papermaster, founder of the now-famously-bankrupt Agillion, as co-chairman (with Peter Zandan) of the 360 Summit (for more on Seton, see p.18). Barnett, also the incoming chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, is now an executive with Seton's parent organization, Ascension Health.

Before moving to Wichita Falls, the Dallas Cowboys held their summer training camp in Austin. Now the team is thinking about returning -- at a cost to Austin taxpayers of at least $500,000. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the Austin American-Statesman that he'll move the team to Austin or elsewhere as long as the lucky city can provide two football fields and training facilities, and cover team expenses. Perhaps because of the economic downturn, the city of Austin is actually considering the Cowboys' request.

Council Member Beverly Griffith held her official campaign-kickoff fundraiser on Dec. 12 at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will do the same on Dec. 20 at the south-side home of Claudette and Hugh Lowe. Graduates of the ACC chef-training program -- including Jackie's husband, Jack Goodman -- will concoct the comestibles.

Neighbors and environmentalists were pleased that the Zoning and Platting Commission postponed action Tuesday on Stratus Properties' proposed Bear Lake PUD, but their satisfaction may be only fleeting. Stratus and other project stakeholders have until Jan. 8 (the rescheduled date for ZAP consideration) to reach agreement. Opponents of the project object to its multi-family portion and additional traffic wrought by apartment dwellers, which would be directed onto FM 1826 -- already a crowded and dangerous roadway, thanks to northwestern Hays County's growing popularity. The prodigious PUD spreads across the Barton Springs Zone in southwestern Travis and northwestern Hays counties. What Stratus does have in its favor is its voluntary compliance with SOS rather than the less-stringent environmental rules that apply to properties "grandfathered" under HB 1704.

In other ZAP news: The board issued a recommendation for the Villas on Guadalupe that was lighter than the super-dense MF-6 designation sought by the project developers. Planned for a two-acre plot where Blockbuster now sits on the Drag, the Villas will provide upscale housing for students. ZAP's recommended MF-4 zoning, preferred by the nearby North University Neighborhood Assoc., allows about 80 apartments in the complex; MF-6 would have nearly doubled that amount. The 5-4 vote now sends the proposed zoning change to the City Council today (Thursday) for final approval. A historic house on the two-acre site already has been removed.

Adding Zip to ZAP: "Conditional overlays don't last forever; however, zoning does last longer than most marriages." -- Commission Chair Betty Baker, in the waning moments of what had been a long evening of ZAP action.

Joining forces to "build a better I-35," five neighborhood associations based along the highway corridor have formed the North Central Interstate 35 Neighborhoods & Citizens Alliance -- NCINC ("in sync") for short. The group advocates a highway redesign that will improve safety and reduce noise levels, among other things. Aspiring road scholars will enjoy their Web site,

homepage.mac.com/jayvelgos/NCINC

.

The Austin Police Association and the 100 Club of Central Texas (a volunteer peace officer support group) are collecting donations for the family of 22-year-old APD officer Clinton Hunter, killed Nov. 29 during a car chase involving parolee Herchel Ray Hinkle, 28. Hunter was the 17th APD officer to die in the line of duty, and leaves behind a 20-year-old wife and 2-year-old daughter. Call APA at 474-6993 or the 100 Club at 454-8666 to donate.

The two teams competing to become master developer of the 711-acre Robert Mueller Municipal Airport redevelopment project have until Jan. 4 to turn in their "business plans" -- responses to the city's request for proposals. California-based Catellus Development and the local Mueller Redevelopment Team (the latter including representatives from Milburn Homes, Cencor, Cousins Stone, and other Austin players) will present their plans to the city-appointed Mueller Commission and the City Council later that month. Citing the economic slowdown, a third team led by Florida-based Lennar Development dropped out of the running earlier this fall.

To make room for Municipal Court expansion, the Austin Downtown Community Court has moved to 719 E. Sixth. Don't get lost.

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Senate approved long-stalled nominee John Walters as the nation's new "drug czar" in an unrecorded voice vote. The NAACP, the ACLU, and the National Education Association joined a handful of Democratic senators in opposing Walters' nomination for his "neanderthal" views of drug use and abuse, said the D.C. nonprofit Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet). They report that the newly appointed czar (officially titled "director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy") has derided government-funded drug treatment as "liberal do-goodism" and has called the notion that the drug war is filling prisons with nonviolent drug offenders a "myth."

At the request of President George W. Bush, at 8:46am on Dec. 11 -- three months to the minute after the World Trade Center attack began -- Americans were supposed to play the national anthem to "send a clear signal to the terrorists." (Foreign nationals -- assuming they had not been detained -- could play their own national hymns.) Local events of remembrance, including a State Capitol ceremony to honor fallen rescuers, were appropriate for the occasion. But a quick 8:46am survey of Austin radio revealed that, out of 18 stations, only one -- KMFK-FM 105.9, "Jammin' Oldies" -- was playing "The Star-Spangled Banner." (The rest may have been more focused on the Olympic torch, which remained lit even after being carried all over Austin in the pouring rain.)

From the old to the new airport: Massachusetts state police recently ordered Argenbright Security, the Atlanta-based firm that handles screening at Bergstrom Airport, out of the same gig at Boston's Logan International after a guard left a concourse entrance unattended for five minutes, letting hundreds of passengers slip by. Argenbright -- which has already paid millions in fines for hiring workers in Philadelphia with outstanding criminal warrants -- agreed to bail on its Logan contracts with Delta and other airlines in order to avoid losing its right to provide security services (for which they need a permit from the state police) in the Bay State.

Did you know that ABIA is now home to the "largest publicly displayed hologram in the world"? (We assume that someone out there -- a former Enron tycoon, perhaps -- has a larger hologram hanging in their living room.) The 30-foot-long, 4-foot-tall work, "Austin Dimensions," contains three sections -- "Music," "Nature," and "Technology." The hologram was created and sponsored by Zebra Imaging, frog design, and Samsung Austin Semiconductor.

The city is applying for a $230,000 grant from the state Attorney General's office to support "community-critical response and recovery services to victims, survivors, and emergency responders (in the event) of a large incident or terrorism event." The city is focusing particularly on mental health services.

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