Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., June 21, 2002
This Week's Headlines
City Hall got a tiny bit of good news last week, as sales tax receipts for April climbed a whopping 0.6% over last year's numbers. That anemic boost, however, is a lot better than the 7% drop the city's budget office had been expecting, continuing a nearly yearlong slide that's left City Hall forecasting a $70 million gap in next year's books. (Sales tax funds about 28% of the city's General Fund budget.) However, nobody is rushing to redo the city's budget projections.
Amtrak's woes have touched the hearts of the Austin City Council, which is asking President Bush to intervene to save passenger rail service in Texas. The feds (notably Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison) have stepped in before to keep the Texas Eagle running through Austin, but the city is more worried right now about how an Amtrak shutdown, or the abandoning of the Eagle route, would affect commuter-rail plans for the region.
German computer chipmaker Infineon announced Tuesday that it has formed a joint venture with Motorola and Agere Systems Inc. to start StarCore, a new chip technology company based in Austin. StarCore will specialize in developing technology for digital signal processor chips used in mobile phones and computer electronics.
The debate over Texas' legislative and congressional districts appears to be over. The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday not to hear any appeals regarding the controversial boundaries, which benefit Republicans.
The state gubernatorial campaigns brandished dueling polls last week, and whom you believe will undoubtedly be influenced by whom you support. The Scripps-Howard Texas Poll, which generally leans conservative, showed Dem candidate Tony Sanchez currently trailing incumbent Gov. Rick Perry by 20 percentage points (46%-26%), and the Sanchez campaign responded with a Texas Medical Association-sponsored poll (the TMA has endorsed Sanchez) showing a gap of only 7 points (49%-42%). The Sanchez campaign said an incumbent under 50% is clearly in trouble, and that their internal polling shows an even closer race. In the Texas poll, the downballot GOP candidates all show an edge, although not as wide a gap as in the governor's poll. A large percentage of voters remain undecided.
Has a new attitude taken over Georgetown's city hall? At a June 12 press conference, Georgetown city officials announced a $150,000 deal with Austin-based TIP Development Strategies to help recruit and retain business in G-town. TIP officials say professional services industries and biotech businesses will be the focus of the development push.
Texas legislators heard testimony last week about the severity of the current drought, the worst in decades. Nearly 60 Texas counties (mostly in South, Central, and West Texas) have already adopted water-rationing measures, and crops have failed in even more counties, with the Valley especially hard-hit. A bigger worry for state officials, though, is the risk of wildfires (like those charring Arizona and Colorado) threatening San Antonio, El Paso, or Austin. As summer progresses, climatologists say, things will only get worse.
With nose firmly held, the Austin Arts Commission finalized its recommendations Tuesday night for city cultural arts funding for the next fiscal year. The city arts fund, which comes out of hotel/motel bed tax, is down about one-third from last year's $3.6 million allocation, leaving many local arts groups facing serious cutbacks -- made worse in some cases by controversial decisions from the commission's advisory panels. The commission tried to rectify some of the whoppers by doling out $100,000 in contingency funds -- including $33,000 to the Austin Museum of Art, whose city funding was whacked more than 70% by the panel. Recommendations go to the City Council next month for review and inclusion in the 2002-03 budget. -- M.C.M.
In a damning twist for Austin Police Dept. brass, retired Detective Gary Fleming took the stand June 19 to testify regarding the department's allegedly disparate disciplinary practices. A 311/2-year APD veteran who spent the last 18 years of his career as an investigator in the Internal Affairs Division, Fleming said he believes the department engages in selective prosecution. Furthermore, he said, he could never figure out what standards APD administration applied when determining which complaints filed against officers would be investigated, which officers would be sanctioned, and which complaints would be forwarded to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution. Defense attorney Steve Edwards claims that an indictment against former officer Eric Snyder should be thrown out, because the attempt to prosecute the three-year APD officer is part of a pattern of selective prosecution by APD officials. Edwards has been trying to convince District Judge Julie Kocurek that he should be allowed to call APD Chief Stan Knee to the stand to answer the charges and, ultimately, have the indictment thrown out. Kocurek is expected to rule June 28 on both points. -- J.S.
On Monday, the city-appointed Austin Arts Commission stole some time from the pressing budget crisis and contract controversies to approve some new Art in Public Places projects. Commissioners unanimously accepted artist Benito Huerta's multicolored paver design for the Mexican American Cultural Center, which will resemble a Mexican milk snake when completed. (The milk snake is "not poisonous," joked AIPP Administrator Martha Peters.) The commission also accepted an expansion project for the Terrazas Branch Library, and Beverly Penn's highly interactive Phase II master plan for the Children's Garden at Town Lake Park. -- L.A.
Last week, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and the city's Telecommunications Commission announced recipients of the 2002 Grant for Technology Opportunities (GTOPs). Among the eight local organizations sharing this year's $100,000 kitty are Girlstart, Cine las Americas, and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. The grant was founded last year to help citizens' groups bridge the great digital divide. "We can easily see how a little amount of city funding can go such a long way," said commission member Matthew Curtis. -- L.A.
An all-female delegation of Austin-based human rights advocates traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories this week for an eight-day trip, visiting hospitals, clinics, and refugee camps. The delegates, including community organizer Patrice Mallard, UT professor and artist Joni Jones, social worker Carole Metellus, singer-songwriter Lourdes Perez, and producer Annette D'Armata, also will buy artwork and textiles from Palestinian women living in refugee camps as part of Tatreez (The Needlework Project) -- "a small but tangible means of supporting women living under siege." As of Tuesday afternoon, the group was lodging in a hotel often used by foreign diplomats but dangerously close to Yasser Arafat's compound. The American Friends Service Committee is sponsoring the delegates as part of its post-September 11 "No More Victims" Campaign. -- L.A.
City Council action expected next week on a Town Lake condo project might be postponed until some time in August -- or so the South River City Citizens group hopes. The proposed Vintage on Town Lake would occupy two lots east of I-35, next to the Wellesley Inn and Suites on Riverside. The sticking point is the proposed height of the project. The developer, from Waco, had initially sought a height of 90 feet with 200 units, but residents favored a 60-foot limit. Council also favored the lesser height on first reading a year ago. Now there's a revised proposal on the table that would allow a certain percentage of the project to extend to 90 feet. "Most people who are concerned about this really want to stand firm on 60 feet," said Jean Mather, an SRCC member who also sits on the city Zoning and Platting Commission. The neighborhood group has asked developer consultant Sarah Crocker to agree to a postponement, because residents won't be able to regroup on the issue until Aug. 1, Mather said. -- A.S.
Tony Sanchez spent a reported $20 million in his primary campaign, but ranks only fourth among gubernatorial candidates nationwide in terms of TV spending. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, the $8 million Sanchez poured into TV time places him behind California Gov. Gray Davis ($12 million), former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell ($8.9 million), and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan ($8.2 million, and he still lost). Sanchez may also be topped by contestants in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts, which have yet to hold their primaries. In many states nationwide, more TV money has already been spent in this year's primary campaigns than was spent in the entire 2000 presidential race -- and it's still nearly five months to Election Day. -- M.C.M.
The Libertarian Party of Texas has seen the future, and it is Dallas resident Scott Jameson, who won the party's nomination for U.S. Senate by four votes. The Libertarians also picked their nominees for statewide office, with top office hopefuls including Jeff Daiell of Sugarland for governor; Austin resident Mark Gessner, lieutenant governor; Jon Roland of Cottonwood, attorney general; Steve Martin, Houston, comptroller; and Austin residents Vincent J. May and Marjory Staehle Glowka for agriculture commissioner and land commissioner, respectively. -- A.S.
Naked City apologizes for not informing readers much sooner that the "pro-family" Traditional Values Coalition has declared June "Homosexual Agenda Month." In case you haven't noticed, over the past three weeks wild hordes of sex-crazed gays and radical leftists have taken over the country in order to spread communism and orgiastic depravity. Apparently, however, they'll lose their domination of the nation in July, when the country abruptly reverts to control by the far right and corporations. -- L.A.
While Austin arts organizations have reaped philanthropic rewards from the tech boom, all is not well in Silicon Valley, where the San Jose Symphony -- the oldest in California -- has declared bankruptcy. And it's the dot-commers' fault. According to Governing magazine, the shutdown highlights "the problems of high culture in a high-tech town." The greatest problem, the mag said, "was the orchestra's inability to interest the pizza-and-Jolt-cola crowd." Problems? How many millions have Dell execs given to build the Long Center? -- M.C.M.
Dust off your dancing shoes, because it's time for the annual salsa fundraiser to help keep the Political Asylum Project of Austin doing what it does best: providing free and low-cost legal counsel to thousands of indigent immigrants and refugees in Central Texas. The fundraiser (there's a contest, too) is 5:30-9pm Friday, June 21, at La Bodega, 415 Colorado. Tickets are $10. La Tribu tops the bill.
AISD is hosting an Alternative Education Fair on Thursday, June 27, 1:30-4:30pm, at Reagan High School Cafeteria. It's aimed at student dropouts or those considering dropping out, and introduces them and their parents to various AISD services and community agencies offering help getting high school diplomas or equivalent degrees. For more info, contact Linelle Clark, AISD's dropout prevention and reduction coordinator, at 414-9882.