Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., June 7, 2002
On Friday, federal Judge James Nowlin dismissed the Hyde Park Baptist Church lawsuit against the city concerning the church's proposed construction of a parking garage. The lawsuit concerned the designed size of the garage; by rejecting its plans, the church argued, the city had violated a city ordinance as well as the church's religious freedom under federal law. The court did not rule on the merits of those claims, but said the proper initial venue for the dispute is state court. At press time, it was not known if the church will proceed with a state lawsuit. -- Michael King
In the face of opposition from the Downtown Austin Alliance, the city's Design Commission has asked city staff to halt its effort to turn the official Downtown Design Guidelines into code requirements. The Commission spent more than two years developing the Guidelines -- a rulebook for denser, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development in the central business district -- and still very much supports the concepts, but commissioners agreed with the DAA that turning them into laws would punish and scare off developers. Both want the city to continue using incentives and expand them to promote adherence to the voluntary Guidelines. The Design Commission had recommended codifying some (but not all) of the guidelines some months back, but may now reverse itself. -- Mike Clark-Madison
Also on the downtown front, the Real Estate Council of Austin has come out blazing against the city's proposed Downtown Austin Mobility Plan (D.A.M.P.), citing familiar themes -- for example, that the pedestrian-oriented plan will decimate the Central Business District and drive businesses to the suburbs. While one might think RECA would not mind seeing downtowners flee to the suburbs, the group faults the D.A.M.P. for aiming to reduce downtown's already inadequate parking and making the chore of getting in and out of downtown from the freeways even worse. D.A.M.P.'s major recommendations include making most downtown streets two-way and reducing left turns and it's already drawn fire from the other side: bicyclists and parks advocates, who object to its proposal to keep Riverside Drive open through the new Town Lake Park. RECA calls for the city to keep studying, and to conduct a comprehensive study of retail downtown. Nevertheless, city staff -- noting that this was not their mandate from the City Council -- plans to present a final D.A.M.P. draft for approval in July. -- M.C.M.
Will Austin Police Department Chief Stan Knee have to testify regarding allegedly disparate disciplinary rulings within the department? Defense attorney Steve Edwards thinks he should have to -- and he was in court June 5 trying to persuade Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek to agree. In defending former APD Officer Eric Snyder, who is being prosecuted for official oppression stemming from a 2000 complaint of excessive use of force, Edwards is arguing that the department's disciplinary standards amount to "selective prosecution." (A contention that more than one officer has complained to the Chronicle about -- though it appears Edwards is the first to tackle the issue head-on in court.) Naturally, attorneys for the city are trying to quash Edwards' subpoena -- but it ain't over yet: Judge Kocurek won't rule on the question at least until the next pretrial hearing, set for June 19. -- J.S.
A subsidiary of San Antonio developers Hixon Properties has bought the Warehouse District block at Third and Colorado, upon which it plans to one day build another upscale downtown hotel. HPI-Austin Properties Inc. bought the property from Third & Colorado LP, a partnership whose members include Schlotzsky's founders and executives Jeff and John Wooley. Currently on the site is the Bitter End Bistro & Brewery -- which faces a bitter end at its present location (its owner doesn't want to move) -- and a parking lot. Hixon has also expressed interest in another Third & Colorado property: 300 Colorado, current home of Sullivan's Steakhouse. -- Lauri Apple
The Save Our Springs Alliance is calling for public action against the proposed development deal between the City of Austin and Stratus Properties. SOS describes the deal as allowing "Stratus/Freeport" to build in the Barton Springs watershed 1 million square feet of office and retail, 1,730 residences, and more than 3,000 parking spaces, as well as additional buildings. SOS charges that the deal would violate the SOS Ordinance and the Stratus agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and would include $15 million in city subsidies -- which Stratus can't collect unless it builds. The Zoning and Platting Commission will review the proposal on June 18, with City Council scheduled to discuss it on June 27. -- M.K.
On a lighter note, the group invites clean water lovers to Barton Springs Friday, June 7 to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Citizens' Uprising of June 7, 1990, when over 900 folks signed up to speak at an all-night City Council hearing against massive development in the watershed. 3-10pm. Call 477-2320 or visit www.sosalliance.org for more info. -- M.K.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appeals court ruling on Monday calling for a new trial for Texas Death Row inmate Calvin Burdine. The state had wanted to execute Burdine, even though his lawyer repeatedly had fallen asleep during his murder trial in 1984. "Being defended by a court-appointed sleeping lawyer is like being defended by a cardboard cut-out of Perry Mason or Ally McBeal. It might look like a lawyer, but it doesn't act like one," said Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network. -- Lee Nichols
The Texas Transportation Commission has raised the white flag over its year-old policy to stop building frontage roads along new highways. While state planners fault existing frontage roads for causing congestion and bottlenecks on freeway main-lanes, local governments (including Austin and Travis County) and chambers of commerce have almost unanimously scorned and ridiculed the policy. The state now intends to focus on "access management" strategies, such as limiting driveways on new frontage roads. -- M.C.M.
On Wednesday, June 13, the Texas Dept. of Transportation will hold a public hearing regarding U.S. 183 from I-35 to SH 71. The purpose of the meeting is to give the public an opportunity to review and comment on proposed refinements to the original schematic design announced March 1. The meeting is to be held at 6:30pm, in the cafeteria of LBJ High School. Maps and other displays will be available for viewing 6-6:30pm.
Did an unsigned campaign letter supposedly written and distributed by a group calling itself San Marcos Citizens for Traditional Values contribute to San Marcos mayor David Chiu's defeat in Saturday's run-off? Perhaps we'll never know -- just a few days before the run-off, Chiu was embroiled in controversy after critics accused him of violating numerous state and city ethics laws; the city's ethics review commission eventually cleared him of all charges. Nonetheless, new San Marcos mayor Bob Habingreither -- who won by 23 votes -- says he supports a U.S. Justice Dept. investigation of the mailing. Taking up the banner waved earlier this year by GOP wing nut contributors FreePAC, the Citizens criticized Chiu for supporting Republican state Rep. Jeff Wentworth, described in their letter as "one of the leading proponents of abortionists and the radical homosexual agenda in Texas." Its member(s) also berated Chiu's Chinese heritage, and attacked his "sidekicks in this election ... a Hispanic male and a Hispanic female. We already have (a) Hispanic male, a black female, and (an) unmarried white male on the city council. Isn't it time for a council that reflects traditional Texas family values?" "Naked City" believes a more appropriate question might be, "Isn't it time for racist, sexist homophobes to stop spreading their values?" -- L.A.
Join the City Council, see the world: Mayor Gus Garcia, leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, and other locals will travel to Koblenz, Germany, to celebrate its 10th anniversary as one of Austin's 10 international sister cities. And next month, Austin leaders will take their annual pilgrimage to Saltillo, Mexico, Austin's oldest sister (since 1968) and the historical capital of the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas. Danny Thomas recently returned from Old Orlu, Nigeria, another sister city (in the southeastern Niger Delta region). Finally, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will head to Albuquerque, N.M., to share her wisdom about economic development with that city's Chamber of Commerce. -- M.C.M.
Council Member Will Wynn has reduced his staff to one person "because of the impending budget deficit." That's a 50% cut; one wishes the city could deflate the entire deficit so simply. New Wynn executive assistant Josh Allen, who replaces Mark Nathan, will begin work on June 17. In other city employee news, Mario Jesus Flores is leaving the city's Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Dept. for Dallas to become North Texas Program Manager of the Trust for Public Land -- and to join his wife, who has already moved north to study physical therapy. His last day is June 13. "Basically I'll be opening the office," Flores says of his new job. -- L.A.
Greg Abbott's bumpy campaign for attorney general drew even more negative press this week. The GOP nominee attacked his opponent -- our former mayor, Kirk Watson -- for an Austin City Council meeting with developers that Abbott claimed had violated state open-meeting laws. Not that Watson's local detractors never accused him of such things, but the particular confab Abbott cited happened in May 1997, before Watson took office. Oops. The former Texas Supreme Court justice's campaign said it had mistakenly "failed to update" the press release containing the charge. -- M.C.M.
Today (Thursday) at noon, the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access will stage a protest outside the local offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration to ask the agency to "cease and desist" the ongoing raids of medical marijuana dispensaries. The protest, at 9009 Mountain Ridge Dr., Suite A-300, will coincide with similar events at DEA field offices in 50 cities across the country. -- Jordan Smith
Though they got invitations, national Democratic leaders Tom Daschle, Richard Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, and Terry McAuliffe will not visit beautiful El Paso next week for the Texas Democratic Party's state convention. All but Lieberman had, in fact, agreed to come, until the Tony Sanchez and John Sharp campaigns started making noises that visitors from D.C. might alienate independent Bush voters who they hope will cross back over to the Dem side. Texas party officials insist the invitations were never withdrawn, but supporters of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, who worked to get national party leaders to come, are vexed. -- M.C.M.
If Smokey pulls 'em over, the terrorists have won: The American Trucking Association and other industry groups want to turn 3 million drivers into "America's Trucking Army," trained to spot potential threats to homeland security along America's highways. This would cost about $40 million, which the federal government hasn't yet ponied up, although both federal and state leaders like the idea. Let's roll, indeed. -- M.C.M.
One of our favorite lines from King of the Hill was Dale the conspiracy junkie's scoff at global warming: "Let it get warm -- we'll just grow oranges in Alaska!" This weekend, the Bush administration finally admitted that global warming does exist, and that it will have terrible consequences. But rather than prevent catastrophe, the Bushies say these climatic changes are "inevitable" and that humans should simply adapt the best we can. Who would have thought a Mike Judge joke would become official government policy? -- L.N.
Veteran journalist Millie Benson, who gave life to fictional super sleuth Nancy Drew and 58 years to her craft, died from illness May 27 at age 96. Under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, Benson wrote 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew books, including the first, The Secret of the Old Clock (1930). She continued writing her weekly column, "On the Go With Millie Benson," for the Toledo Blade until her death. -- J.S.
The National Coalition for the Homeless' latest publication, HATE: A Report of Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless People in the United States, documents 79 acts committed against homeless people in 29 cities -- 18 of which resulted in death. From 1999-2001, 110 homeless people across the country were murdered -- and the perps weren't homeless. While none of the incidents occurred in Austin, the Coalition has collected evidence showing violent crime against homeless people is on the rise nationwide; shelters report increasing incidents of harassment, abuse, beatings, and murder. Last year's victims included a 22-year-old woman who was stabbed multiple times and thrown into the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., and a homeless Army veteran who was beaten to death in his sleeping bag in Ventura, Calif.. The Coalition seeks a federal General Accounting Office investigation into the trend, including an examination of perpetrators' behavior and beliefs. "We can not stand idly by while these unjust crimes are committed to people in economic crisis," said Coalition Executive Director Donald Whitehead. For more info, see www.nationalhomeless.org or call 202/737-6444. -- L.A.
Austin state Rep. Elliott Naishtat has once again called for a moratorium on capital punishment in Texas. In an op-ed published in Sunday's Statesman, Naishtat recounted the proposals in last year's Lege to limit the death penalty, including his own and others' resolutions to allow a vote on a constitutional amendment giving the governor the authority to impose a temporary moratorium. Similar legislation was proposed by Houston Rep. Harold Dutton and El Paso Sen. Elliott Shapleigh, although none made it to the floor for a vote. Recounting myriad problems with the application of capital punishment that have recently prompted moratoriums in Illinois and Maryland, Naishtat concluded, "The Legislature should adopt a joint resolution that authorizes a constitutional amendment giving the governor the authority to declare a temporary moratorium on executions in Texas." -- M.K.
The Austin Gray Panthers are hosting a public forum on health care June 15, titled "Who Lives, Who Pays, Who Dies." Among the speakers is Dr. Rudolph Mueller, a New York physician and author of As Sick As It Gets: the Shocking Reality of America's Healthcare (Olin Frederick, 2001). Mueller will discuss his analysis of the health care system and suggest practical ideas for national reform. Texas State Health Commissioner Dr. Eduardo Sanchez will discuss the statewide situation as well as new joint ventures between the TDH and local health departments, County Probate Judge Guy Herman will present a case for a hospital district in Travis County, and Harris County Hospital District Director John Guest will describe his experiences with the Hospital District in Houston. 1-5pm at the Texas Medical Association Auditorium, 401 W. 15th. -- M.K.