Naked City

Lawyers for Longhorn Pipeline and the city of Austin head to court this morning (Thursday) to hash out their differences in front of U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. City officials say Longhorn needs a city permit before it can legally perform construction work in southwest Austin, but Pipeline officials say they take their orders from the federal government, which has already approved the construction. No word yet on when the judge is expected to issue a ruling on the matter.

Stratus Properties' Bear Lake PUD secured a narrow victory Tuesday with a 5-4 vote from the Zoning and Platting Commission, just hours after residents along FM 1826 warned commissioners of the traffic dangers such a development would bring to an already treacherous roadway. The 536.7-acre site straddles Travis and Hays counties near the FM 1826 and SH 45 intersection. A key selling point of the project was the developer's commitment to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance and to adhere to the standards of the city's Green Builder Program. However, those promises were not enough to sway the SOS Alliance to sign on to the deal. Rural residential zoning, the Alliance believes, would have been more compatible to the area than the high-density development proposed by Stratus. The four dissenting votes were based largely on traffic safety concerns. Next stop: City Council.

Former state Attorney General Dan Morales declared his candidacy for governor, sending the Democratic Party and the Tony Sanchez campaign into a tizzy. More on this when "Capitol Chronicle" columnist Michael King returns.

The Charter Revision Committee on Monday voted to recommend that the City Council put term limits back on the ballot -- this time, to strike them down. "Naked City" supposes that council members Jackie Goodman, Beverly Griffith, and Daryl Slusher -- who are currently seeking nearly 20,000 signatures apiece to survive the limits -- will support the proposition, likely to appear on the May ballot.

The Austin Independent School District pled no contest Tuesday to charges that they had fudged 1998 TAAS test results for several Austin elementary schools -- including Blackshear, Bryker Woods, and Travis Heights -- in order to make the schools seem more successful performance-wise. County Attorney Ken Oden will drop 15 other record tampering charges in exchange for a $5,000 fine payment from AISD. Individual criminal cases against former district officials are still pending.

In other TAAS-related news, the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation has criticized the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) scholastic achievement test for being too easy. TAKS is the replacement for TAAS, which ex-Gov. George W. Bush praised but education professionals hated.

Longtime Austin minister Lawrence V. Wicks, who retired from his preaching post at East Austin's Olivet Baptist Church in 1994, was killed in a house fire Monday. He was 76.

Former Travis Co. Commissioner Todd Baxter, who championed roads and property rights during his tenure, has joined the button-down law firm of Winstead Sechrest & Minick to specialize in administrative law, land-use entitlement, and environmental law. Baxter's value in the firm could rise substantially if he wins the Dist. 48 state rep. race in November, given the firm's stake in big highway projects. Pete Winstead, a founding shareholder in the firm, chairs the Texas Turnpike Authority.

Men's Fitness magazine ranked Austin the 16th-fittest city in the country. Three hours eastward, Houston reigns as the fattest for the second year in a row. It must be all that oil.

This evening (Thursday) at 7pm, Austin Stop-the-ACA (American Correctional Association) hopes to raise awareness about horrendous conditions plaguing American prisons by hosting a discussion and screening of Ashley Hunt's Corrections, a video about the private prison industry. From Jan. 12-16, the ACA -- the nation's leading inspector of correctional facilities -- will hold its convention in San Antonio. Stop-the-ACA's meeting will be at the Inside Books Space at the Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.

On a more positive, penitentiary-related note, the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice has ended a long-standing policy allowing prison staff to listen in on phone conversations between inmates and their attorneys. Civil rights advocates had complained that this violated attorney-client privilege, prompting the change.

The TDCJ also has named a new director to oversee contract compliance of Texas' 79 privately run prisons. John Gilbert, formerly a South Texas regional director for TDCJ, replaces Susan Cranford, who retired last month.

Too much asphalt, too few shade trees, localized ozone concentrations: We're not talking about Fantasy Island, but the key ingredients contributing to an "urban heat island" -- a phenomenon that makes summertime temperatures in cities as much as 10 degrees higher than in the surrounding countryside. At the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin's next Sunday public affairs forum, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will discuss the city's attempts to address Austin's urban heat island issues -- Jan. 13 at 11:15am in Howson Hall, 4700 Grover.

Later in the week at First Unitarian Universalist, former employees and members of Ecology Action of Texas plan to discuss the future of the recycling/waste prevention nonprofit. According to former Board Chair and Associate Director Christy Corse, the current Ecology Action board has refused to meet with staff regarding a number of issues and concerns -- provoking a staff walkout and strike last summer, and putting the organization in dire financial straits. Open to the public, the meeting is on Jan. 17 at 6:30pm.

Neophyte crime writer Vanessa Leggett, 33, who spent a record five months in jail on contempt of court charges after refusing to turn over research and original interview notes on a murder case to a federal grand jury, was released on Jan. 4. Leggett could return to jail when a new jury convenes; she plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case. Journalism groups and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, support Leggett.

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  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    More controversy over the selection of the city's police monitor

    Naked City

    One county court judicial race promises to be interesting, with Community Court Judge Elisabeth Earle taking on Municipal Court Judge Evelyn McKee.
  • Naked City

    Controversy over the environmental record of Rainbow Materials Inc. costs the company a renewal of its city projects contract.

    Naked City

    Council's first menu of the year.

    Naked City

    The LCRA has been a welcoming refuge for former city officials.

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More by Lauri Apple
Will Council Take a Stand on PATRIOT Act?
Will Council Take a Stand on PATRIOT Act?
Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman's pro-civil-liberties resolution stalls on the dais

Aug. 15, 2003

With Minimal Drama, Saltillo Project Lurches Forward
With Minimal Drama, Saltillo Project Lurches Forward
Capital Metro hires a planner and appoints community advisors for the rail-yard redevelopment

Aug. 8, 2003

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