Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., June 14, 2002
The City Council won't meet again until June 27, but will convene this Saturday, June 15 at 5pm to administer the oath to newly elected Council Member Betty Dunkerley, and re-elected members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman. The council will also select the mayor pro tem, currently Goodman. Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez, Ballroom D.
Smart Growth ain't dead yet. City staffers told the Design Commission last week that Smart Growth incentives -- specifically, those to the Landmark Organization for the Convention Center Hilton Hotel project -- had been suspended due to the city budget crisis. They were wrong, says City Manager Toby Futrell. She and the Council had talked about a moratorium, but so far it hasn't happened -- and that's good news for Landmark, which is counting on nearly $500,000 in fee waivers and such. City planning director Austan Librach said he misunderstood the council's intentions. -- Mike Clark-Madison
Perhaps inspired by the Bush Administration's acknowledgement that global warming exists and is caused by human action (a conclusion that the president himself later discounted), the city's Environmental Board wants the Council to resolve to reduce greenhouse gases. The city became part of the Cities for Climate Protection campaign in 1995 and produced its own CO2 reduction strategy in 1997; the board asked City Hall to use that work as the basis for further cuts. -- M.C.M.
The 30-year-long Texas prison reform lawsuit known as Ruiz v. Estelle appears ready to conclude this month. Lawyers for the plaintiffs (Texas inmates, including named plaintiff David Ruiz) and the state agreed June 7 that federal judge William Wayne Justice no longer needs to preside formally over continuing prison reform, as he has done since shortly after the civil rights lawsuit was filed in 1972. Justice had previously ended some oversight of the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, and both sides have agreed that sufficient reform has occurred to close the formal legal action. The prison system will continue to be monitored for improvements, primarily in the areas of the excessive use of force, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and the treatment of mentally ill inmates. -- Michael King
The Texas Civil Rights Project filed suit June 4 against American Airlines on behalf of Mohammed Ali Ahmed, alleging the Texas-based air carrier violated his civil rights late last September by removing him and three of his young children from a plane headed from Austin to Chicago. The suit alleges the incident occurred solely because the airplane captain believed Ahmed was of Middle Eastern descent and a follower of Islam. "American Airlines' actions exhibited malice or reckless indifference to Plaintiff's federally protected rights," the complaint reads. This is one of six similar suits filed across the country June 4 against four major airlines. The complaint charges that Ahmed's experience indicates a pattern of illegal behavior on behalf of the airline, which last fall ejected a member of Bush's Secret Service detail who was of Middle Eastern descent. Ahmed's suit seeks unspecified damages as well as an injunction "preventing American Airlines from engaging in further racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination against its passengers." -- Jordan Smith
Leaders of the state's two largest teachers organizations said last week that thousands of Texas teachers are still in the dark about the terms of last year's school health insurance bill. Under the legislation, school employees get a $1,000 stipend that they can either apply to insurance premiums or have added to their paychecks. But they need to decide and fill out the necessary paperwork by August 1. The Texas State Teachers Assoc. and Texas Federation of Teachers say districts have done a bad job getting the word out, even though the Lege gave them a year to do so. -- M.C.M.
The Sierra Club is calling on the state of Texas, the Dept. of the Interior, and the White House to examine the cost and feasibility of buying the rights to oil and gas deposits under and close to Padre Island National Seashore. Late last month the Bush administration announced a $235 million buyout of privately held oil and gas rights below Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve, and federally owned mineral rights off the coast of the Florida panhandle. "If Florida's beaches and national parks deserve that kind of protection, why don't the beaches and national parks in Texas?" asked the Sierra Club's Fred Richardson. In February the National Park Service approved an operation for gas exploration and production on Padre Island National Seashore -- home to numerous threatened or endangered species -- where work on the sensitive beach and offshore area is ongoing. "We agree that it's good policy not to drill in a national park like Big Cypress," said Richardson. "And we think it's only fair that President Bush should extend that good policy to one of the best-loved recreation areas in his home state." -- M.K.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the "T") approved last week the $165 million first phase of Cowtown's proposed light rail system: a 7.6-mile route serving the museums in the Cultural District, the medical district, and Texas Wesleyan Univ. Future plans include streetcars from downtown north to Meacham Field and south to Texas Christian Univ., plus commuter rail from the southern suburbs. (The Trinity Railway Express already runs between Fort Worth and Dallas.) Unlike in Austin, the T doesn't need voter approval to move forward, but it does need the assent of the Fort Worth City Council. -- M.C.M.
Naked City's prediction for the next big neighborhood battle: mobile food vendors. In Fact Daily reported that East Riverside residents protested en masse at the June 4 Zoning and Platting Commission meeting about late-night taco stands in their area. After a sweep of the area by the Zoning Code Compliance Team last month, a couple of vendors were removed and others must now come into code compliance. -- Lee Nichols
The RGK Foundation has awarded the Austin Free-Net a $50,000 challenge grant to expand its services to more locations and offer more programming. The Free-Net, probably Austin's most active effort to bridge the digital divide, already provides public Internet access at every Austin Public Library location as well as at churches, housing projects, senior centers, and other community sites, but needs to raise $80,000 to meet its requirements under the challenge grant. -- M.C.M.
The consumer group Texas Watch charged last week that Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has filed far fewer consumer fraud cases -- traditionally a mainstay of state attorneys general -- than did either of his two (Democratic) predecessors, Dan Morales and Jim Mattox. Cornyn, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, ignored the attack, though his office asserted Texas Watch bungled its statistics. Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, the Dem nominee to succeed Cornyn, says the report "shows Texans need an attorney general that's on their side." While Watson's GOP opponent, Greg Abbott, called Texas Watch "partisan," his campaign said their guy would likewise be more aggressive than Cornyn, particularly on homeowners' insurance cases. -- M.C.M.
Speaking of Greg Abbott, the former state Supreme Court justice got caught stretching the truth again this week. The Austin American-Statesman pointed out that the Republican AG candidate did not, in fact, get more votes in 1998 than any Republican other than then-Governor Bush, as he has often claimed. The real No. 2 was state Court of Criminal Appeals judge Lawrence Meyers; Abbott was third. Abbott's campaign says Meyers doesn't count because he faced no Democrats, but only Green and Libertarian opponents. Then again, two Railroad Commission races in 1998 also featured no Democrats, and in them the Greens and Libs managed to pull over 40% of the vote. -- M.C.M.
Today (Thursday) the Texas Dept. of Transportation will hold a public hearing in the LBJ High School cafeteria to discuss U.S. 183 from I-35 to SH 71. TxDOT hopes to give folks a chance to review and comment on proposed refinements to a schematic design first unveiled way back in 1984 -- including removal or addition of entrance and exit ramps and turnarounds, and building a bridge over Buttermilk Creek. Maps and other displays will be on display 6-6:30pm, and then the real fun begins. 7309 Lazy Creek.
Now here's something worth avoiding for the next year and a half -- South First St., from Barton Springs to Ben White -- which goes under the jackhammer June 24 for reconstruction. The commuter favorite will be reduced to two lanes, one in each direction. City work crews will replace water and wastewater lines and rebuild the road, making it smooth as glass. We'll be dancing in the streets by the time the work is done -- in November 2003. Meanwhile, plan on taking South Congress or Lamar to your destination points. -- Amy Smith
For many of us, downtown is where we work. For an increasing number of us, it's where we live. And for a very select few, it's where we drink too much, rough up a stranger or two, and get arrested and sent to the pokey. In other words, it's a place for everyone. Today (Thursday), 5-10pm at Republic Square, the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association will hold a block party -- with music and food -- to celebrate downtown's highlights, from the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks to the hike and bike trails. (But not the jails, exactly.) Fifth and Guadalupe. For more info, call 479-8727 or 478-7337.
Whole Foods will do its part to save Barton Springs by dedicating 5% of its sales next Thursday (June 20) to the Save Our Springs Alliance. The benefit takes place at both Gateway and Sixth & Lamar locations. -- A.S.
www.fantasydeathrow.com is a Web site and game tailor-made to Texas. It's sort of like fantasy football: You "draft" inmates who are scheduled to die on Texas' Death Row, and collect points based on the success of their appeals. If your draft choice receives a pardon, you earn 50 points; clemency, 25; a stay of execution, 5. (Beseeching God's mercy only merits one point.) You lose 10 points if he/she is executed, and 50 if the poor bastard is executed and later proven innocent. The site offers links to death penalty resources to help you determine who has the best odds of successfully avoiding the grave, and the game ends at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31. (Note: We're not endorsing this game or in any way vouching for it being in good taste. We just wanted you to know it's out there. Way out there.) -- L.N.
"Do you have idiots too?": According to the German newspaper Der Spiegel, during his recent European summit trip President George W. Bush asked Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, "Do you have blacks too?" Noticing the stunned look on Cordoso's face, the paper reported, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice stepped in to inform the Prez that, in fact, Brazil has more black citizens than the U.S. -- and perhaps more than anywhere outside Africa. Whether or not Der Spiegel's account is true has provided plenty of fodder for a handful of U.S. journalists in recent weeks. The Washington Post reported that White House flaks flatly dismissed the story as "total crap." But the Post traced the account back to a Brazilian columnist who is reportedly good friends with Cardoso, and also reported that Cardoso allegedly discussed Bush's gaffe with some buds in Rio. -- J.S.
A traveling documentary photo exhibit of the aftermath of the Jasper lynching of James Byrd Jr., focusing on the role of the Jasper Ministerial Alliance, opened last week in Jasper and runs through June 21. The exhibit, "Jasper, Texas -- The Healing of a Community in Crisis," stems in part from the honors classes of Dr. Ricardo Ainslie, UT professor of educational psychology. "This exhibit tells the story of James Byrd Jr. ... murdered four years ago after being dragged by a chain from a pickup truck," said Ainslie. "It also depicts the unknown story of the town's ministers, both black and white, who responded to a community-wide crisis by not only keeping the peace but by creating model lessons for all of us, and forging a history of mutual collaboration and respect." The exhibit, currently in Jasper, will come to Austin's George Washington Carver Museum, Sept. 19 - Nov. 30. For info, call 472-4809. -- M.K.
Two Ramones down: Dee Dee Ramone, a founding member of the cult-status punk group, died June 5 at his home in Los Angeles of a possible drug overdose. The bassist's death comes just 11 weeks after the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was 49. -- J.S.
Beginning with the 2002-2003 school year, students enrolled in AISD elementary schools will receive more "physical activity" taught by classroom teachers, the Board of Trustees decided Monday. The details haven't been worked out yet, but the Board approved the administration's recommendations to ensure compliance with SB 19. Schools will keep the current three-day PE/art/music rotation but add 45 minutes of structured "physical activity" -- based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills -- during weeks when gym occurs twice, and 90 minutes when it's held only once. -- L.A.
Two weeks after the Lesbian Gay/Rights Lobby of Texas announced that Francisco Sanchez would be the group's new executive director, they announced Wednesday that the Houston activist will not be assuming the post after all. Further details were not immediately available. The search continues. -- A.S.
Thad Crouch, a member of the groups Veterans for Peace and Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation, recently has had his wages levied by the feds for not paying income taxes for the past four years. "I want to pay my taxes, as long as it doesn't go to the military," he explains. "I believe in loving my enemies, so I can't pay to kill them. I donate the money to charity." Crouch currently owes the IRS $5,800. So far, the IRS has cut him a deal, removing only $98 a month from his salary; Crouch says that's much less than what the agency legally could withhold, but believes the levy still violates his religious freedom. "Basically it's against the law to follow Jesus to the point of loving your enemies and hold a job in the U.S," he says. On Sunday, June 16 at 7pm, friends and supporters will hold a "breaking unlevied bread" fundraiser for him -- a Cajun-style dinner -- at Kleberg Hall (St. George's Episcopal Church), 4301 N. I-35. The suggested donation is the cost of a meal. For more info, call 467-2946. -- L.A.
Every year, nearly 500,000 men get vasectomies. If you'd like to join this year's half-million, Planned Parenthood is now offering vasectomy services at its Northwest Austin clinic beginning Friday, June 14. Between now and Labor Day, clients will get a special discount; call 331-1288 for an appointment, or see www.plannedparenthood.org/bc/allaboutvas.htm. -- L.A.
The Austin Gray Panthers host a public forum on health care Saturday, 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), who will discuss his analysis of the health care system and suggest practical ideas for national reform. Texas 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. At the Texas Medical Assoc. Auditorium, 401 W. 15th, 1-5pm. -- M.K.
What do the U.S., Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and the Sudan have in common? None of them ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women, also known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Since the U.N. adopted the Convention in 1979, 169 countries have accepted it. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- where the treaty has stalled since 1995 -- is holding a hearing today (Thursday), and a vote could occur this summer. President Bush has voiced support for the treaty in the past, but predictably, several far-right groups are trying to defeat it. Supporters of women's rights can send Bush a fax urging him to continue supporting the treaty and to push for full ratification in the Senate by visiting www.truemajority.com/index.asp?action=1608&ms=cedaw&ref=6585; for more info, see www.womenstreaty.org. -- L.A.