Edited By Lauri Apple, Fri., June 28, 2002
Off the Desk
The "It's Official" Section: TxDOT has inked a $1.4 billion deal with Lone Star Infrastructure (a consortium led by Fluor Daniel) to design and build State Highway 130. Former UT provost Mark Yudof has inked his deal to come back to Austin to be UT System chancellor. (Among the first items on his to-do list: Kosherizing the kitchen at Bauer House, the chancellor's official residence.) And the ink is still dry on investor Jeff Sandefer's deal to buy Woodlawn, the historic Pease mansion, from the state -- though he asked for, and got, a 60-day extension to his opt-out clause, should inspections reveal the 150-year-old manse is in worse shape than previously thought. -- M.C.M.
The AISD Board of Trustees has discussed cutting its successful dropout-prevention program as a way to balance the budget for the upcoming school year, prompting state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, to write AISD Supt. Pat Forgione a letter of dissent June 25. "Every dollar spent to prevent dropouts -- keeping children in school and out of trouble -- will be paid back into the community many times over in terms of individual productivity and savings in our social services and criminal justice systems," wrote Barrientos, who called reducing the dropout rate "one of my top legislative priorities." -- L.A.
Big News! Austinites are worried about transportation, affordable housing, and the quality of the schools! That's the message from LiveableCity, the new kid on the Austin activist block, which held its first public event this week to announce the results of its community survey of Austin's "quality of life priorities, problems, and expectations for the next five years." Though it's a new name, LiveableCity comprises a bunch of old hands of Austin's progressive scene (under the directorship of veteran Mark Yznaga), and the idea of a next-generation community activist coalition has been gestating for months. -- M.C.M.
Southwest Airlines enraged some of its biggest customers last week by telling employees to enforce an old company policy that requires overweight people to buy a second seat if they can't fit into their allotted 183/4 inches. Meanwhile, President Bush encouraged U.S. citizenry to slim down and exercise. Perhaps Southwest can patch over its new PR problem by hiring Bush as a fitness program specialist and getting him out of the White House ... -- L.A.
This Week's Haiku:
Upscale Bee Cave Mall?
Stratus sprawling, subsidized?
Austin, what the hell?
A Technical Advisory Committee appointed last year by elected officials from the five-county region has released a hefty report detailing health care needs, and recommended actions. Prepared by the local firm Morningside Research and Consulting, the report analyzes current availability and spending on services in Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Hays, and Caldwell counties. Among its findings: An estimated 27% of Caldwell's population is uninsured, the region's highest percentage; at 21%, Williamson ranks lowest in this category. ER visits have increased by 31% over the last four years, outpacing population growth (16%) during the same period. And the region doesn't have enough primary care physicians to serve pretty much anyone -- including the insured. To view the report, visit seton.net/AboutUs/NewsCenter2/ReporttotheTechnica11BD/index.asp. (Seton Interim President/CEO Pat Hayes is a member of the Committee.) -- L.A.
In other things Seton, its parent company, Ascension Health -- the largest Catholic health-care nonprofit in the U.S. -- announced plans to unite with another Catholic system, Carondelet; both are based in St. Louis. Calling the merger "a sign of hope for Catholic healthcare," Ascension's Sister Catherine Madigan said, "Together we can advocate more strongly and in wider areas for greater access to healthcare for all." (Of course, that doesn't include emergency contraception, tubals, and other reproductive services.) Carondelet's assets total $985 million, paling in comparison to Seton's $8.9 billion. -- L.A.
The Universal Living Wage recently became a bit more universal when the Communications Workers of America endorsed the concept at its annual convention. Developed by Austin homeless advocate and campaign Chairman Richard Troxell, the Universal Living Wage is based on the premise that anyone working a 40-hour week should be able to afford basic rental housing, and is indexed according to HUD data. CWA vowed to work diligently for bill passage, Troxell said. -- L.A.
More work for Council Member Danny Thomas, who accepted his appointment as a member of the Capitol Metro board Tuesday. Thomas also serves on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Police Retirement Board, and several other subcommittees. -- L.A.
The Tony Sanchez campaign has begun running TV ads that go to great pains to show how tight Tony is with ... George W. Bush(!). In case you've forgotten, the gubernatorial candidate and president of the free(?) world belong to different political parties. The GOP has formally asked the Sanchez campaign to discontinue the ads, and Sanchez's people have refused. Now if we could just get the Democratic Party to make the same request ... -- Lee Nichols
Environmental groups continue to react angrily to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed revisions of the New Source Review regulations under the federal Clean Air Act, in order to allow greater freedom to companies rebuilding and increasing production (and pollution) from long-grandfathered emissions sources. A coalition of national environmental organizations released new TV ads attacking the proposals and asking leading Republicans in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas to urge President Bush not to weaken the Clean Air Act. Doing so "will diminish important public health protections against acid rain, choking smog, deadly fine particles, and toxic pollutants," said a statement issued by 10 organizations, including the Clean Air Trust, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club. "The Bush Administration's proposal to weaken the Clean Air Act will mean more asthma attacks, lung disease, and premature deaths," said NRDC Senior Attorney John Walke. According to the sponsoring groups, in Texas the federal smog standard was exceeded 310 times on 72 days in 2001, and during the eight-month smog season, roughly one out of three days was an unhealthy day somewhere in Texas. -- Michael King
Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales has accepted an appointment to Gov. Rick Perry's Anti-Crime Commission, leading heads to spin. Morales, of course, ran in March for a chance to unseat Perry, and so far he has pointedly refused to endorse Tony Sanchez in the gubernatorial race. Morales has been the subject of a criminal grand-jury probe for three years for his handling of the state tobacco settlement, making his anti-crime credentials less than impeccable. While the Perry camp says Morales is an expert on money laundering -- a topic on which he bashed Sanchez and his family bank during the primary -- Democratic stalwarts have other labels for their former star, like "sellout." (Or, to be precise, "vendido," to quote retiring state Sen. Carlos Truan.) -- M.C.M.
During its annual meeting held Saturday at the Capitol Marriott, the American Lung Association of Texas awarded its 2002 Public Policy Advocacy Award to Central Texas community organization Neighbors for Neighbors. The ALA said the award recognizes the group's "exemplary effort to organize a grassroots advocacy campaign focusing on the air quality, water, and land use impacts of the largest grandfathered facility in Central Texas, the Alcoa smelter and power plants in Rockdale." ALA applauded Neighbors for Neighbors' "courage" in filing a citizens' lawsuit against Alcoa under the provisions of the federal Clean Air Act for violating state and federal clean air laws and regulations. This week the Neighbors will need all the courage they can muster: the TNRCC and RRC are each holding local hearings of Alcoa's plans to expand its mining operations in Lee, Bastrop and Milam counties. -- M.K.
Requests for student transfers in AISD for fall 2002-03 are due to the Office of Student Services, 1111 W. Sixth, by 4:45pm on Monday, July 1. Due to space shortages, the following schools are closed to transfers: Austin and Bowie high schools, Bailey and Murchison middle schools, and Baranoff, Barrington, Jordan, Kiker, Langford, Norman, and Pickle elementaries. For more info, call 414-1726.
The Austin Tavern Guild's annual July 4 picnic takes place on that date from noon-6pm at Pease Park. Volleyball, a canine contest (clothing optional), and food and drink booths will be available, with proceeds going to nonprofit groups benefiting the gay and lesbian community. Admission is free. Last year's event helped raise more than $4,000 for local HIV/AIDS service organizations. The ATG is made up of 14 local clubs and organizations. For more info, see www.austintavernguild.com, call 320-8823, or e-mail email@example.com.
New Austin Police Monitor Iris Jones has scheduled a series of community meetings designed to answer questions about her office's responsibilities. All meetings are 7-9 pm. The first was June 25, and the next takes place July 9 at Covenant United Methodist Church (4410 Duval). For additional info, call 974-9090.
On Tuesday, Austin's anti-death penalty activists staged the second of their ongoing protests designed to highlight problems in the infamous yogurt shop murder case. Organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, protestors plan to meet again on July 24, just days before the trial of yogurt shop defendant No. 2, Michael Scott, is slated to begin. For info, call 494-0667.www.mapscience.org