News Top 10s
Fri., Jan. 4, 2002
Top 10 News Stories, Local1. The Economy Lurches, the City's Belt Tightens: Even before Sept. 11, Austin's dot-com-heavy economy was (to quote Merle Haggard) rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell. City services, already cut to the bone, now face ugly budget predicaments.
2. Mayoral Race: The Kirk Watson Era came to a close as Hizzoner decided to shoot for state attorney general. Thus began the Garcia Era, as Gus was effectively declared Austin's First Elected Hispanic Mayor from the moment Watson stepped down. The actual "elected" part became a formality, as the most serious threat to Garcia's candidacy was former Council Member Eric Mitchell's non-campaign. Look for No. 1 to cast a cloud over No. 2.
3. The Intel Building: Actually, there is no Intel building -- just an Intel frame. The chip company stopped construction on its project at Fifth and San Antonio streets in the spring -- well before completion -- and apparently has no plans to finish. The eyesore is an ugly bruise on the City Council's attempt to Smart-Growth downtown.
4. Yogurt Shop Murders Conviction: After 10 years, a seemingly unsolvable murder finally saw a verdict: Robert Springsteen IV was convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged role in the grisly murders of four teenagers in a North Austin yogurt shop. Two more accused await trial. Still, there is no closure -- crucial questions linger over the evidence, and Springsteen is appealing.
5. Lacresha Acquitted, Ochoa Freed: On the other end of the justice spectrum, Lacresha Murray and Chris Ochoa finally cleared their respective names. Murray, now 17, was convicted of the capital murder of 2-year-old Jayla Belton when she was 11 years old. All charges were dropped in August after Murray won an appeal; rather than apologize, the DA gave her one more scolding as a parting shot. Ochoa, meanwhile, spent 11 years in jail for the murder of Nancy DePreist until DNA evidence, research by some Wisconsin college students, and a confession by the real killer sprung him.
6. Fish & Wildlife Blames EPA for Barton Springs Pollution: Mercury, arsenic, and grease, oh my! These are just a few of the things the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service dredged up in studies of Barton Springs and its endangered salamander (saying nothing of the 45,000 residents who draw drinking water from the Springs). In its widely publicized report, F&W blamed a sister agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, for slack regulation of storm-water construction permits issued to Austin-area developers. The F&W study was supposed to have been the first step of a far-reaching settlement agreement of a lawsuit filed by the Save Our Springs Alliance, claiming that neither agency was doing its job to protect the Springs. What's been done since then? Nothing, which is why SOS has filed a second lawsuit against the two behemoth agencies.
7. Longhorn Pipeline Gets Green Light: The dangers of pumping millions of gallons of gasoline through a 50-year-old pipeline seem obvious to the pipeline's South Austin neighbors, but not to the feds. Despite massive local opposition and various city maneuvers, it appears gasoline and other inflammables will soon be running right by schools and parks near you.
8. Brackenridge's Reproductive Services Get Nixed by Bishops: In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued orders from on high that Catholic health-care providers (such as the Seton employees running city-owned Brackenridge Hospital) were prohibited from offering several major reproductive services. This city proposed a "hospital within a hospital" plan, which would create a separate reproductive services ward on Brack's fifth floor. While the city maintains their plan provides a workable solution to maintain "seamless" care, critics slam the plan for requiring taxpayers to foot the bill and possibly creating "separate but equal" services for patients.
9. East Side Action Coalition Takes On AISD: The mandate to reform and improve AISD's East Austin schools, delivered by the East Side Social Action Coalition, actually came at the end of 2000, but the ESAC, led by the fiery Rev. Sterling Lands II, have kept the issue alive throughout 2001. Reform now, or pay the consequences, they've repeatedly said. And the consequences could be harsh -- not to mention expensive: Eastside families are threatening to pull their children out of AISD and educate them on their own. And with new Mayor Gus Garcia saying many of the same things, who knows where this one will go in 2002?
10. Police Monitoring Gets Approved: After over a year of focus group discussions, and a sometimes-dicey meet-and-confer process, Austin has finally gotten a long-awaited police monitoring system. Of course, it's not up and running yet, so whether it will work or not remains to be seen. Still, City Manager Jesus Garza has two finalists for the police monitor position in place and a review panel of seven citizens has been chosen. Still, this has not necessarily quelled the concerns of police accountability advocates like Ann Del Llano, who is less than happy with the two monitor finalists -- both city attorney types who Del Llano and crew don't think will necessarily have the best interests of the average citizen in mind.
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