Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., May 24, 2002
Please conserve water.
You're using too much, Austin.
Repeat: It's just grass.
Don't forget to vote in the ACC run-off June 1! (Early voting dates remaining are May 23, 24, and 28.)
AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione's Blueprint plan to reform low-performing schools hit a snag this week when Blackshear Elementary, the oldest school on the Eastside, announced amazingly good results on its recent TAAS tests. This forced Forgione to ask Blackshear principal Armando Cisneros -- who had been all but fired, and already replaced, under Blueprint -- to stay on, but Cisneros declined. His tenure at Blackshear has been marked by controversy and hints of conflict between the school's African-American and Latino staff; one of his more vocal faculty foes has openly questioned whether the school's TAAS scores are legitimate. Though Blackshear was for decades an institution of the Eastside black community, today it's a predominantly Hispanic campus. Blackshear remains in Forgione's Blueprint, even though it will likely not be an officially "low-performing" school. -- Mike Clark-Madison
Also on the school front, Democratic governor candidate Tony Sanchez released his education plan, "Texas Education Beyond Tomorrow." Highlights include pre-K programs for every Texas tot, a "Texas Scholars" incubator program for companies replacing textbooks with multimedia products, flexible schedules for statewide testing, "empowering teachers" by reducing class sizes, and partnering school districts with Texas universities in "laboratory school" efforts. Sanchez's breathless flow of Big Ideas isn't interrupted by mundane details like how to fund this stuff, and despite the plan's admirable attempt to massage Democratic bases (teachers, high tech companies, college towns), GOP leaders have jumped on Sanchez for lifting ideas from their various education proposals. Also, the sponsors of the Texas Scholars curriculum-enrichment program are unhappy with Sanchez for pinching their brand name. -- M.C.M.
At its May 28 meeting, the Travis County Commissioners Court is expected to act on a proposed solid waste siting ordinance intended to address landfill expansion and to avoid problems like the ongoing conflict between two Northeast Austin landfills and surrounding neighborhood groups, among other things. Commissioners will consider two versions: Draft A, supported by northeast landfill owners Waste Management Inc. and Browning-Ferris Industries, that would permit expansion based on a contract between landfill operators and the county; and Draft B, preferred by the neighborhood groups, that would require existing facilities to abide by stricter criteria for new landfills. Northeast landfill neighbor Applied Materials recently sent a letter to the Commissioners that, while avoiding an official endorsement of either version of the ordinance, emphasizes Draft B and makes recommendations such as increasing community involvement when key landfill decisions arise. -- L.A.
According to the latest Texas Workforce Commission stats, the Austin metro area officially lost 7,000 net jobs in the past year. Huge layoffs in high tech, manufacturing, and business services were somewhat offset by job growth in other service industries and, surprisingly, state and local government employment, which is up more than 5% since April 2001. Austin lost more jobs than Houston, but fewer than Dallas. San Antonio is the only major Texas city to have gained jobs in the past 12 months. The five-county Austin metro area's official unemployment rate is 5.3%, a mite below the statewide rate of 5.6%. As usual, of the state's 27 official urban areas, communities along the Rio Grande have the highest jobless rates; Bryan-College Station has the lowest. -- M.C.M.
The city of Austin has received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand and promote its S.M.A.R.T. Housing program, both here and across the nation. S.M.A.R.T. (Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably Priced, and Transit-Oriented) aims to stimulate construction of reasonably priced housing by offering incentives to developers through an expedited review and inspection process. -- Lee Nichols
After a six-month search for a new general manager to replace Stovy Bowlin, who resigned in November, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District has hired Floyd Marsh, who will start on June 17. Marsh previously spent 14 years working on water issues for the city of Scottsdale, Ariz., and six years as general manager of a natural resources district in Nebraska. -- L.A.
The Save Our Springs Alliance filed a petition May 17 in U.S. District Court challenging a recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finding that Barton Springs salamanders are not jeopardized by the EPA's construction permit process. The May 6 opinion effectively reverses a previous "jeopardy" opinion that blamed a lax EPA regulatory process for high levels of pollutants in Barton Springs. The EPA oversees the Construction General Permits issued for development projects in the watershed. SOS's petition alleges that new Bush-appointed FWS officials eschewed scientific data and retracted the jeopardy opinion for political reasons. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has set a hearing on the case for May 30 at 9am. -- Amy Smith
From the Dept. of Institutional Senility: That weird noise you heard Sunday morning was the sound of thousands of Austin activists snorting their coffee upon reading Statesman editor Rich Oppel's column. Under the headline "Major-league franchises should pay their own way," Oppel recounts how his old hometown of Charlotte got rooked by the NBA's Hornets -- now on their way to New Orleans -- after squeezing millions out of Carolina taxpayers. "We should reply, 'Glad to have you.' But pro sports is a business," Oppel writes. He failed to mention that Austin replied exactly thus in 1995, when voters skewered a taxpayer-funded baseball stadium deal for the Austin Swing, née the Phoenix Firebirds, despite lavish support for the proposal by the Swing's local corporate sponsor, the Statesman. Ah, but that was a minor-league franchise. -- M.C.M.
"Naked City" hears that City Manager Toby Futrell would like to appoint an Asian-American to the seven-member Citizen Review Panel, which now faces a vacancy. Departing member Flynn Lee will join the Office of the Police Monitor June 3 as a compliance specialist, says Police Monitor Iris Jones, who said she'd support Futrell's position. Even though the panel's membership is pretty diverse, she said, "It would be nice to have more balance." -- L.A.
Statistics released last week by the Dept. of Public Safety's Traffic Law Enforcement Division show that troopers "intercepted" $164.4 million worth of drugs during normal patrol duty, making 2001 the second most prolific year for drug seizures and arrests on Texas' highways. (In 1994, officers seized $196 million worth of contraband.) Seizures increased by 39% over 2000, DPS reported, with the greatest gains coming from cocaine seizures. In 2001 troopers seized just over a ton of coke, and 33 tons of marijuana. Incidentally, DWI arrests also rose, with troopers making nearly 33,000 arrests. In other DPS drug news, the department reported that May marks the kickoff of its infamous "marijuana eradication program," now in its 15th year. In conjunction with various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, DPS will comb the countryside in search of marijuana cultivators and errant plants. Interestingly, in 2001 the department eradicated a total of 760,000 marijuana plants statewide, only 48,700 of which were actually being cultivated intentionally. -- Jordan Smith
Last week federal drug czar John Walters, head of the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, told both The Wall Street Journal and ABC News that his agency's anti-drug advertising campaigns have been a flop. The taxpayer-supported effort, which has cost $929 million over the past five years, "isn't reducing drug use," he told the Journal, and may even have "inspired" some teens to experiment with marijuana. Nevertheless, Walters reportedly wants to spend an additional $180 million on new, tougher media campaigns -- despite his own office's analysis that previous ads have failed. Drug war foes were quick to point out that the government has finally confirmed their original assertion that the campaigns are just a boondoggle. "If they would use that money for afterschool programs, that would be a huge increase in their funding and could make a huge difference," Kevin Zeese, head of Common Sense for Drug Policy, told the Drug Reform Coordination Network (www.drcnet.org). "If you look at anti-drug advertising, drug prevention education, and afterschool programs, only the latter have been effective." -- J.S.
The Texas Dept. of Health is considering changes to the state's requirement that pets be vaccinated for rabies every year, even though the jab is supposed to be good for three years. Pet owners and veterinarians testifying at hearings around the state cite evidence suggesting that over-vaccinating dogs and cats leads to increased incidence of cancer and anemia. Texas is one of only five states that require annual shots. The last of nine hearings will be June 4 in Houston; that's also the deadline for submitting written comments to TDH here in Austin. A decision is expected by year's end. -- M.C.M.
The Amarillo-based Tulia Legal Defense Project is getting some help from some high-powered law firms in its defense of the 46 people arrested in the infamous 1999 drug sting. Hogan & Hartson, an international firm based in Washington, D.C., and the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund have joined the lawyer group in its mission. The Tulia cases were based on testimonies offered by narc agent Tom Coleman, whose spotty background and spurious evidence have led to two civil lawsuits and a U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation. -- L.A.
Coming to a hot corner near you: Lofts! The La Frontera shopping zone at I-35 and FM 1325 in Round Rock will soon add loft apartments, developed by Fort Worth's Trademark Companies. The 330-acre master-planned development, about one-third of which is already built out with every sort of big-box retail, was envisioned to include office and residential space as well. While nobody's jumping to build the office, La Frontera's developers are eager to enhance a "town center" atmosphere with "urban-style" loft units, targeted to the yups working across the highway at Dell and at other nearby tech campuses. Trademark's project also includes restaurants, more retailers, and perhaps a movie theatre. -- M.C.M.
Austin recently became the first U.S. municipality to pass a resolution endorsing adjustment of the federal minimum wage to conform to a universal living wage, which uses U.S. HUD data to determine how much workers must earn to afford basic housing without spending more than 30% of their income. Council Member Danny Thomas and Mayor Gus Garcia co-sponsored the resolution, which doesn't tie the financially strapped city to any specific obligations, but is mainly intended to send a message to the federal government to fix the minimum wage (currently an abysmal $5.15 an hour). House the Homeless President Richard Troxell, who developed the ULW formula, recently traveled to Denver to promote his concept, which already has received support from almost 400 organizations and businesses nationwide. To learn more, visit www.universallivingwage.org. -- L.A.
As if being pastor of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church, head of the Eastside Social Action Coalition, and a member of the city's planning commission -- among other civic commitments -- weren't enough, the Rev. Sterling Lands II also finds time to play in Warrior, his own gospel band. Lands and crew, which includes his two sons, are taking their show on the road -- to Ghana, West Africa, where they'll play gigs from May 20 to June 4. Check out Warrior's musical stylings at www.greatercalvary.org/warrior. -- J.S.
With plastic spoons in hand, dozens of local luminaries showed up at the AFL-CIO headquarters Sunday afternoon to dig into blueberry-peach, cookies and mint, and other homemade ice creams, frozen yogurts, and sorbets. And in true democratic-with-both-a-small-and-big-d fashion, the eaters got to vote for their favorites. The sweet occasion? Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant's 10th annual ice cream social, which raised about $3,500 for the Capital Area Safe Kids Fund. Among the 15-20 flavors available, the winner was the oddly named "Gretchen beater." Elfant's Kahlua & fudge came in second. -- L.A.
Bicycling activist Michael Bluejay has made his BicycleAustin.com Web site considerably more readable and organized. The site promotes cycling as alternative transportation, and offers news, opinion, and safety and advocacy tips. It is also a sponsor of the Courteous Mass Bike Parade, a nonconfrontational alternative to Critical Mass held every second Friday of the month, starting at 5:30pm at the Pfluger Bridge (just east of the Lamar and Riverside intersection). -- L.N.
U2 lead singer Bono and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill are touring Africa this week, an attempt by the rocker to persuade the Republican and former Alcoa CEO that African countries use Western aid dollars effectively. Maybe when they're finished, Bono can bring O'Neill to Rockdale and show him how much air pollution Alcoa's Sandow plant continues to emit. -- L.A.
If you catch yourself suffering from Memorial Day blahs, check out the Austin Parks Foundation's first-ever Austin ParksFest (www.austinparksfest.org) at Auditorium Shores this weekend. The party includes live music, barbecue, sports -- even a Sunday evening concert with the Derailers, Asleep at the Wheel, and Travis Tritt -- with money going to the Foundation.
At the South Austin Culture Club's May 29 meeting at the Miller Crocket Bed and Breakfast, featured speaker and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will share her vision of what South Austin should become. And Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association President Sean Kelly and South River City Citizens honcho Clarke Hammond will "face off" in a humorous discussion about aspects of South Austin culture. 11:30am. For reservations, call 619-7350 or e-mail SoAcc@hotmail.com.