Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., Dec. 21, 2001
Motorola is set to cut another 9,400 jobs over the next year - including a reported 4,000 jobs from the company's semiconductor business headquartered in Austin.
Dell Computer exec. Ben Bentzin has been angling to run for office for a while, and now he's made it official. On Wednesday, the wealthy civic leader announced his GOP bid for the senate seat currently held by Democrat Gonzalo Barrientos. The state's new redistricting plan changed Barrientos' old stomping grounds to include more Republicans. As the fundraising chair for the Long Center for the Performing Arts, Bentzin expects to draw on this high-end experience to help finance his campaign.
The city of Austin wants to test its limits on how much local control it has over interstate pipelines. City officials say they will issue a stop-work order suspending Longhorn Pipeline's maintenance work in Southwest Austin, unless the company adheres to city development and environmental rules. The city and Longhorn already are at legal odds over Longhorn's proposal to move gasoline through the 51-year-old pipeline, and this latest dispute could end up in court as well. But first, the two parties will sit down Thursday to try and mediate this mess.
A longstanding feud between Capital Metro and Longhorn Railway began in the late Nineties with a war of words and ended in court last week with an expensive fine. A Travis County jury ordered Cap Met to pay $3 million to the now-defunct Longhorn, which claimed the transit authority deliberately ran them out of business in its zeal to put light rail on the Giddings-to-Llano rail line through Austin. Capital Metro had contracted with Longhorn to operate the track but canceled the deal in March 2000, claiming Longhorn failed to live up to its end of the agreement. Lawsuits and countersuits followed. Longhorn had originally asked for $55 million in damages, but owner Don Cheatham apparently isn't quibbling with the $3 million he received -- $2.7 million to cover lost profits and $300,000 for legal fees.
On Monday, the FBI released its semiannual Uniform Crime Report statistics for the first half of 2001. Compiled from reports from law enforcement agencies across the country, the UCR charts trends in violent and property crimes. The first half of 2001 showed a 0.3% drop in crime from the same period in 2000. Violent crimes (including murder, forcible rape, and aggravated assault) declined by 1.3%, while property crimes (burglary, larceny, and car theft) fell by 0.2%. The single largest increases were in car thefts, up 2.6%, and arson (not traditionally included in the standard UCR), up 2.9%. Although the Austin Police Dept. feeds city statistics to the FBI for consideration in the reports, the APD has not yet publicly released Austin's 2001 crime stats.
On Dec. 13, Vincent Edward Cooks was executed by lethal injection, bringing the state's 2001 death chamber toll to just 17 -- the lowest number since 1996, when just three inmates got the needle. This may not come as that big of a surprise: Now that George W. has moved on to the big time, we just don't have as many people to impress.
Viva State Highway 45, but Austin be damned! That seemed to be the tone of last week's meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, which approved SH 45 South despite opposition from city and county officials. The proposed southern Travis County toll road could provide a link between I-35 and MoPac, but it could also turn MoPac into I-35's evil twin as drivers seek a bypass to the congested interstate. Theoretically, the proposed SH 130 in eastern Travis County is supposed to serve as the official I-35 bypass, but developer Gary Bradley -- who heads a private group that wants to build SH 45 -- doesn't want to wait for SH 130. Transportation commissioners concurred. In doing so, the three state commissioners took the opportunity to chastise local officials for trying to change the construction timeline of Texas 45. Last week's decision allows Bradley to negotiate a final contract agreement with the state and proceed with his plans -- until the next bump in the road.
After nearly a year of negotiations, the Lower Colorado River Authority is one step closer to selling our most precious resource "down the river." A proposed 80-year contract with the San Antonio Water System would oblige the LCRA to provide San Antonio with 49 billion gallons of water annually; in exchange, San Antonio would have to pay for extensive improvements to the river system, which are expected to increase water availability by 75% and extend the river's water supply at least 100 years. Although parties have tentatively agreed to the deal, the contract is up for public review until Jan. 31.
In Other Water News: Facing a doubling of the state population over the next half-century, the Texas Water Development Board plans to increase state water resources by building up to eight new reservoirs. Environmentalists oppose the plan, believing that it will devastate the area's fish and wildlife by depriving rivers of important water flows.
The Johnston High School band spent months raising $3,000 to buy a new trailer to haul instruments -- and then, within weeks, it was stolen. Olga Garza, District 7 trustee on the AISD board, calls upon fellow Austinites to help them out. "A lot of bake sales and performances went into that trailer," she says. "The Johnston Band has had a lot of hard luck lately. We need to help them out." Checks can be made out to Johnston High School (with the memo, "For the band trailer") and sent to the school's bookkeeper, Jessica Greenwood, at 1012 Arthur Stiles Rd., Austin, TX, 78721. Band director David Jennison and his hard-working student musicians send their thanks.
Since Sept. 11, Camp Mabry has become more militaristic, and less park-like. Some area residents worry that having a National Guard base in their neighborhood -- their former jogging grounds, alas! -- make them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Now a movement -- or at the very least, a Web site, www.campmabry.com -- has sprung up to move the military out of Mabry and transform it into a combination military history museum and wooded park with trails, a fishing lake, and a jogging track. Organizers say they'll get the ball rolling after the holidays.
Two nonprofits that advocate judicial independence recently bestowed a $50,000 grant to the Austin-based election reform group Campaigns for People. In January, CFP will use the money -- awarded by the Open Society Institute and Justice at Stake -- to kick off its Judicial Independence Project, intended to convince Texans that our system of electing judges needs to be publicly financed, changed to an appointment system, or some combination thereof.
Egomaniacal Quote of the Week: "No one checked with me." -- U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, as reported by CongressDaily, upon learning that Southwestern Bell hired Clinton-era Commerce Secretary William Daley as president. Pretty soon, he'll be telling you which condiments to put on your sandwich.
Over the weekend, eight-term U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, announced his re-election bid. Smith represents the historically Republican 21st District. As of yet, Smith has no noteworthy Democratic opponents.
The Texas Dept. of Public Safety has announced that its officers, in conjunction with the Texas Air National Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and local authorities, have together eradicated 760,000 marijuana plants across the state -- making Texas a "safer place." While most of those plants were found in the wild, a DPS press release said 48,700 were homegrown, so to speak. Along with the eradicated greenery (feeling safer yet?), agents arrested 160 people and seized 77 guns, an increase from last year's 415,700 seized plants, 71 arrested people, and 53 weapons. As of press time, no word as to how much the eradication efforts cost Texas taxpayers.
In other marijuana news, a new poll commissioned by the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) found that 61% of likely voters oppose arresting and jailing nonviolent marijuana smokers. The poll also found that 67% of respondents oppose using federal law enforcement agents to raid and close medical marijuana dispensaries. On Capitol Hill, U.S. Reps. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., have joined forces to support House Bill 2592, which would allow physicians to legally prescribe marijuana to ailing patients and would permit state legislatures to set up local dispensaries. For full text of the bill, go to www.thomas.loc.gov.
The Travis County Sheriff's Office is currently accepting applications for its 19th annual Citizen Sheriff's Academy. The class, which meets for 13 three-hour sessions, dissects the inner functions of the office for curious local citizens. For more info or to apply call Deputy Galloway at 854-9728 x33853.
"Naked City" doubts terrorists would attack the birthplace of Austin City Limits -- after all, even terrorists have limits. Just in case, the Texas Medical Association has released a bioterrorism toolkit that discusses all manners of bio-agents -- from infamous anthrax to banal botulism -- and lists signs of exposure, possible treatments, and hotlines for help, among other things. The 16-page reference guide is available at www.texmed.org and through TMA member physicians.
The newly formed Parents Get United, an advocacy group for parents seeking major reforms within the state's Child Protective Services division, are planning a weekend of activism. On Friday, Dec. 21, 3-6pm, protesters will meet for an "Unknown Parents March" in front of the CPS building at 7800 Cameron. Participants will don paper bags to cover their faces (parents say CPS has a nasty habit of retaliating against parents who complain about inappropriate agency treatment) and push empty baby strollers to symbolize the children removed -- often unjustly, they say -- from their homes. On Sunday, Dec. 23, the group will hold a "Candlelight Vigil for Paper Orphans" from 6-7pm in front of the state Capitol. Organizers say they'll hang paper angels on the Capitol Christmas tree in order to represent the over 12,000 children in Texas who have been taken out of their homes, creating (at least on paper) thousands of orphans. For more info, or to get involved, call Robin Cash at Parents Get United, 833-5597.
Once upon a time, Lake Austin Hydrilla was cultured and sold as an aquarium plant. But those days are gone, and now cultured lakeside homeowners hope to bid adieu to the invasive aquatic weed. Accordingly, the Lower Colorado River Authority recently approved a request to lower Lake Austin's water level by 12 feet during January and February, exposing the plants to air and freezing temperatures that will retard their growth. Several lakeside business owners are unhappy about the decision, however, fearing customers will be turned off by the exposed, decaying plants.