Readers may remember that the HEB grocery chain, formerly a major cog in Travis County's early voting program, threatened to pull out of the program -- partly due to space problems and partly because of a lawsuit seeking to impose other "civic duties" upon HEB (see "Litigious Linda," April 19). Early voters will find that three HEBs and the HEB-owned Central Market North are still in the loop (see early voting locations, p.26) -- but voting is not actually done in the stores. County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says she is only using HEBs in areas of town where a suitable alternative absolutely could not be found, and polling places must be in temporary buildings out in the parking lots. -- Lee Nichols
Naked City tried to vote early at Central Market on Sunday morning but found that -- much like buying alcohol on the Sabbath -- it couldn't be done until after noon. That's just as well. If we're going to vote for either Tony Sanchez or Rick Perry, we'll need a good stiff drink afterwards. -- L.N.
Just for the record, Naked City was one of 19,043 early voters so far this season (as of Tuesday). As usual, Northcross and Barton Creek Malls are the busiest locations, seeing 2,015 and 1,975 voters respectively. Despite local and state Democrats' purported efforts to mobilize minorities for early voting, Eastside locations (like the HEBs on Seventh and Springdale) have seen their customary lower-than-anywhere numbers. -- M.C.M.
Just in time for election day, the League of Conservation Voters has released its 2002 Congressional Environmental Scorecard. The Scorecard identifies the major environmental votes of the just-finished 107th Congress and notes how often members voted pro-environment. Among Austin-area incumbents, Lloyd Doggett is by far the best: 95%. Republicans Lamar Smith and Ron Paul are considerably worse: 0% and 41%, respectively. For the full scorecard, go to www.lcv.org. -- L.N.
Austin Energy's Holly Power Plant is one of too many Texas industrial and municipal facilities to violate the Clean Water Act, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The U.S. PIRG study -- timed for the 30th anniversary of the act and compiled from data obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act -- says more than one in five Texas permit holders discharged excessive amounts of toxic chemicals into local waterways in the last three years. (That's actually less than the national average, but Texas plants dumped more chemicals with each violation.) Holly exceeded its CWA permit level for mercury by 300% in January 1999, says U.S. PIRG; while startling, that's nothing compared to the Georgetown sewage treatment plant, which dumped 90 times more heptachlor into the San Gabriel River than its permit allows. Naturally, U.S. PIRG is calling for tougher enforcement of the Clean Water Act at both the state and federal levels. By the way, President Bush proclaimed Oct. 18 to be the first day of the Year of Clean Water; U.S. PIRG and other advocates are not impressed. -- M.C.M.
Above the waterline, though, Austin Energy earns praise from enviros. The city-owned utility was among several local winners in this year's Green Power Leadership Awards, presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Center for Resource Solutions. Along with AE's Green Choice program, Austin-based Green Mountain Energy Company and the local Advanced Micro Devices facility were singled out for honors. AMD is one of several AE commercial customers, and the largest, who are now meeting all their power needs with renewable energy, the utility says. -- M.C.M.
Downtown's Republic Square will become home to a new Austin Farmers' Market next summer, Mayor Gus Garcia announced this week. The growers-only market, a project of the Sustainable Food Center, also enjoys official support from City Hall, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Austin Museum of Art whose new home will face Republic Square. The SFC, which recently completed a feasibility study for the market, has to raise $150,000 to make it a reality by June 2003. Learn more at www.austinfarmersmarket.org. -- M.C.M.
Austin's sign spat won't be settled until after the election; U.S. District Judge James Nowlin has set hearings for Nov. 12 on the Travis Co. GOP's challenge to Austin's "bandit sign" ordinance and its enforcement. Citing free-speech issues, the local R's convinced Nowlin two weeks ago to halt a planned "sign off" event, in which volunteers would have combed Austin eradicating signs (including, though not limited to, campaign signs) illegally placed in -- or within 10 feet of -- the city's rights-of-way. The GOP says both the city's 10-foot no-sign zone on private property and the volunteer (and potentially ill-trained) "sign rangers" raise constitutional concerns. -- M.C.M.
Last week state District Judge Pete Lowry heard oral arguments from both Hyde Park Baptist Church and the city of Austin regarding the church's controversial parking garage, and now both sides await his decision. The city objects to HPBC's claims that the City Council's denial of its desired five-story garage violates both state law and the city's own development process. The city isn't prohibiting the church from building its garage, but says the garage can't be as big as the church wants. According to one observer, about 10 Hyde Park residents showed up to support the city, while the church "appeared to have brought a busload -- several dozen members who all arrived at exactly the same time and filled the benches." -- Laurie Apple
House Dist. 48 candidate Todd Baxter likes to wave around hard copies of evidence he says proves Democratic incumbent Ann Kitchen is a free-spending liberal with misplaced priorities -- the "fiscal notes" (anticipated costs) on Kitchen's introduced legislation last session. Baxter charges the notes show Kitchen had proposed an exorbitant $250 million in spending; at a recent AISD candidate forum focusing on education, he argued that only 8% of Kitchen's proposed spending would go to schools. But what gets introduced at the beginning of a Lege session bears little resemblance to what actually gets passed. "He knows better. He's worked at the Capitol before," Kitchen says. Of the 20 bills Kitchen passed in 2001, she says, only one cost money -- $500,000 over the biennium to train master-technology teachers. "He has taken the first, initial fiscal notes on all the bills I filed and added them up. That is ... a gross misrepresentation." As of press time, Baxter had not returned a call asking for comment. -- L.N.
Federal lawyers in Gary Bradley's bankruptcy case have until mid-December to delve into the developer's finances and determine whether they will object to a dismissal of his $73.5 million debt to taxpayers. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank Monroe last week granted a 60-day extension sought by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the trustee assigned to represent creditors in the case. Trustee Ronald Ingalls has already filed objections to the discharge, alleging that Bradley is concealing his assets in a trust, created by his sister, of which he is the sole beneficiary. Ingalls and bankruptcy attorney Pat Hargadon will pursue their investigation into whether Bradley defrauded creditors. "Everything we look at [in this case] just raises more questions," Ingalls said last week. -- Amy Smith
After a long absence, Jim Hightower has returned to Austin airwaves. Although his Chat & Chew Cafe was put to sleep two years ago, his two-minute "Common-Sense Commentaries" are still aired around the nation and can now be heard on KWNX 1260-AM weekdays at 7:47am, 12:47pm, and 5:47pm. (Hightower's syndicated column, of course, runs weekly in the Chronicle.) While we're glad that the Austin homeboy and former Texas ag commissioner can be heard in his hometown, we were a bit befuddled by KWNX Program Director Dustin Drew's press release: "Hightower has been a staple of Austin radio for years now, and we're very fortunate to have him on News Talk 1260, KWNX." Actually, he hasn't been a "staple" -- despite being produced in Austin, his shows have only had brief stints here, on KVET-AM and the now-defunct KNEZ, and were otherwise ignored by Austin's conservative commercial stations. -- L.N.
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