Austin Stories

Light rail won't reappear on the ballot for at least two years, and in the meantime Capital Metro is rebating to its member jurisdictions their share of the one-quarter-cent of sales tax (out of the full cent Cap Metro collects) it was banking for the A-Train. Over 90% of that money will go to the city of Austin. The City Council agreed last week to spend its $29 million for the current fiscal year on a healthy list of transportation projects, including street repair, sidewalks, corridor planning and the Great Streets program (including making Second Street two-way), school safety projects, traffic signals, and the Pfluger Bridge extension. Council also decided to kick in another $500,000 for Envision Central Texas (see below). City Hall is already working on its wish list for next year's Cap Metro money. -- M.C.M.

Among the high points on this week's City Council agenda: Historic zoning may be controversial in East Austin, but the City Council is being asked to H-zone its own home -- the current Municipal Building on Eighth Street. Also on the zoning docket: The long-delayed rezonings to implement the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan, adopted more than two years ago. The council may finally approve the no-parking-on-the-lawn ordinance, which is up for third reading. Finally, members want to appoint Council Member Daryl Slusher as its representative to "begin discussions with neighboring jurisdictions on regional planning to protect the Edwards Aquifer." -- M.C.M.

The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board will meet at 6pm tonight (Thursday) to consider appointments to a technical advisory group to monitor water quality controls at the recently approved Stratus development at Circle C. Other hot agenda items include consideration of a water-pumping permit for the city of Kyle, a thirsty boomtown that is already sucking more than its share of water from the aquifer. -- A.S.

UT faculty and President Larry Faulkner are up in arms about the UT System's new policy of running criminal background checks on all job finalists. This has become standard practice for many employers, but new UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof is considering changing the policy. Yudof, who's now the highest-paid public-university leader in America (thanks to the personal generosity of the Board of Regents), underwent a criminal check when he was hired. -- M.C.M.

Scholz Garden built its reputation as a favorite watering hole for populist thinkers, but last Sunday both Scholz and Saengerrunde Hall next door served as a political paradise for the Travis Co. Republican Party, which kicked off its campaign season with a lovefest of about 700 faithful. Many of the statewide GOP candidates were on hand to work the crowd, along with most local hopefuls. State Rep. Geanie Morrison came all the way from Victoria to show her support for Sheri Perry Gallo in her bid to unseat Karen Sonleitner on the Commissioners Court. One crowd mingler reported a lot of enthusiastic chatter about two candidates in particular -- Greg Abbott, who's in a tight race for attorney general against former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, and Ben Bentzin, a well-financed challenger to Austin's veteran senator, Gonzalo Barrientos. There was "a little bit of anxiety about the Jack Stick/Jim Sylvester race," the attendee said of the District 50 contest (Stick is the GOP favorite), "but none whatsoever about Todd Baxter/Ann Kitchen." Baxter -- a former county commissioner with an eye on the House District 48 seat -- has the luxury of facing an otherwise formidable incumbent in newly redistricted territory that's teeming with Republican voters. -- A.S.

While the GOP went German, the Democratic Party headed to the Dell Jewish Community Campus, where Tony Sanchez, Ron Kirk, et al. made a tzimmes over their support for Israel and religious freedom. Sanchez did not, however, note his support of a "moment of silence" in the school day, a school-prayer dodge long opposed by Jewish groups. The Statesman's Ken Herman noted that "Texas Jews, with some high-profile exceptions, have remained staunchly Democratic." Two that are notable: Venue-namesake/Bush-backer Michael Dell and Travis Co. GOP chair Alan Sager. -- M.C.M.

A study by two Scottish universities documented that as people get drunker, other people start to look more attractive to them -- prompting last Friday's Daily Texan front-page headline, "Alcohol may improve others' looks." They needed a study to know this? Hell, Mickey Gilley documented this fact way back in the Seventies when he sang "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time?" -- Lee Nichols

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