Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 11, 2002
Approximately 1,000 peace activists marched from Republic Square to the federal building Saturday to denounce Gulf War II. A handful of counter-protesters reminded "Naked City" that President Bush will be counting on the ignorant for support: One woman, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, told News 8 Austin that "I don't want to lose this war because I don't want to have to wear a full-length burqua." Iraq is actually among the more progressive of Middle Eastern countries on women's rights. -- Lee Nichols
After five years in limbo, a Central Texas regional commuter rail district is almost a reality. Commissioners in Travis and Bexar counties voted this week to join the district -- first authorized by the Lege in 1997, but still "proposed" until the two counties and the cities of Austin and San Antonio all agree to join it. Austin already has; San Antonio is expected to sign up by month's end. (Williamson Co. has also committed to join once the district exists.) The district can immediately claim $5 million in federal funds for further study; a 1999 feasibility study for a Georgetown-San Antonio rail system put the price tag at nearly $500 million. Commuter rail is included in Central Texas' official long-range transportation plan, but local leaders say a district's first priority might actually be to streamline and relocate freight rail services. -- M.C.M.
Clearing the air: Local county and municipal leaders met this week to initiate what's known as an Early Action Compact -- where the feds let localities take steps to reduce emissions to avoid getting slammed by the federal Clean Air Act. (Once that happens, the state takes charge of clean-air strategies, as it's doing now in Houston.) The EAC would be like the O3-Flex plan adopted by Central Texas governments last year, but O3-Flex addresses the old, less stringent "one-hour" clean air standard, whereas the EAC would seek to meet the tougher "8-hour" standard. Austin is already out of compliance with that standard, but if the region meets milestones to be spelled out in the EAC, it can avoid a formal "non-attainment" designation -- which can result in the loss of federal highway funds. -- M.C.M.
The Dallas Stars announced this week its intent to purchase the Austin Ice Bats -- if the Stars' proposed ice-rink/arena complex in Cedar Park is approved by that city's voters in November. If that happens, the Ice Bats would move up the minor-league hockey food chain and displace a Utah team as the Stars' "primary" affiliate. The $32 million arena project would require Cedar Park voters to approve $8.6 million in bonds in return for owning the facility. The Bats' contract with Travis Co. -- the team's current landlord at the Expo Center -- expires in 2004. -- M.C.M.
Nineteen-year-old UT student Jonathan Flobek suffered a fatal beating Oct. 5 after leaving a party at a southeast Austin apartment complex. Another UT student, 22-year-old Ryan Grady, was charged with the beating and is being held at the Travis Co. Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond. The beating occurred outside the Melrose Apartments, just off East Riverside, around 2:15am. Flobek was Austin's 22nd murder victim this year; a murder-suicide in South Austin Monday added one more. -- Jordan Smith
The capital murder trial of Achim Josef Marino began Oct. 7 in Travis Co. District Court. Marino faces life in prison if found guilty of the 1988 murder at a North Austin Pizza Hut of 20-year-old Nancy DePriest. Two other men, Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger, each spent nearly 12 years in jail for the murder before being released in 2001. In 1988 Ochoa provided a highly detailed -- yet completely false -- confession implicating himself and Danziger in the murders. In 1996 Marino, already serving a life sentence for robbery, began a letter-writing campaign confessing to the crime. Yet his letters, including one to then-Gov. George W. Bush, went unanswered until last year. Subsequent DNA testing exonerated Ochoa and Danziger and implicated Marino in the murder. The Travis Co. District Attorney's office is not seeking the death penalty against Marino at the request of DePriest's mother, Jeanette Popp. -- J.S.
The City Council last week agreed to curb its enthusiasm for fee waivers for community events and organizations. Council Member Will Wynn says the city granted more than $200,000 in waivers to parades, fun runs, and such in fiscal year 2002. Henceforth, each council office will get $6,000 worth of such waivers. (Smart Growth fee waivers are different.) Certain events, including Juneteenth and Diez y Seis celebrations, will not be subject to the cap. -- M.C.M.
Maybe those meek congressional Democrats should take some assertiveness training from our local donkeys. They certainly were pulling no punches at the Texas Environmental Democrats party at Threadgill's World HQ on Oct. 3. Speaking on the latest redistricting -- which sliced much of South Austin (including Threadgill's itself) out of Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' district and replaced it with more conservative precincts west of town, Barrientos said Austin had been "raped." Yow. He was followed by Travis Co. Treasurer Dolores Ortega-Carter, who fumed, "I don't think the current president should get to have a war just because his daddy had a war." -- L.N.
In Travis County there's a large gap between the numbers of women and minorities practicing law and, well, white guys practicing it. So the Travis Co. Bar Association's Diversity Committee and AISD's Humanities/Government Magnet for International Studies at Fulmore Middle School have begun a law seminar for students in grades 8-12 in the hopes of broadening gender, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic representation in the local legal profession. The program runs through May. -- Lauri Apple
U.S. District Senior Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth ruled last week that a state Capitol lawn monument displaying the Ten Commandments does not violate the First Amendment, and that no "reasonable" person could consider the statue a state endorsement of religion. Austin homeless lawyer Thomas Van Orden had claimed just that in a federal lawsuit seeking the removal of the statue. Hudspeth noted that the state had registered no complaints about the tablets in the 40 years since the monument's dedication, and that Van Orden undermined his claim that the offensive statue had "injured" him by waiting six years to file suit. -- J.S.
Two candidates were nominated Oct. 3 to run against Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield for the police union's top spot. Austin Police Sgt. Ernie Pedraza and Internal Affairs Detective Felicia Williams will challenge Sheffield for the powerful post. The APA president coordinates the union's bargaining unit for the meet-and-confer process with the city, and also navigates relationships with community members and journalists on behalf of the department's rank-and-file officers. The union, which represents nearly 1,200 APD officers, will cast their ballots Nov. 12. -- J.S.
The Villas on Guadalupe have popped up again on the City Council agenda, this time for a supposed "correction" of the controversial apartment project's density restrictions. City staff says -- based on their reading of council minutes last spring -- that the council "intended" to allow for greater density at the Villas, to be built on the Drag near 29th, than it actually approved last spring; that formula would not allow for the Villas' planned 150 units. Unfortunately, that's because developer Mike McCone tweaked the property line, making the parcel smaller, in order to invalidate the North University Neighborhood Association's petition against the project. Now McCone wants to increase the number of units allowed per square foot on the smaller parcel; "Naked City" thinks that's called having your cake and eating it too. Neighbors say they're lobbying council to oppose the change. -- Michael King