Naked City

Austin Stories

The Travis Co. Democratic Party says GOP county judge candidate Bob Honts poses a threat to the county, not to mention incumbent Sam Biscoe. So the Dems have taken a crack at Honts in a campaign mailer attacking the candidate's record, both on and off the Commissioners Court, where he served until 1986. The mailer recounts Honts' $140,000 in tax liens, his bankruptcy, and the criminal charge brought against him for charging personal calls to his county-issued phone. They also dug up a 1986 Statesman article in which Alan Sager, current chair of the county GOP, called Honts an "embarrassment," and said county government during his tenure was plagued by "scandal, waste, and mismanagement." On Wednesday, the county Democrats filed a formal ethics complaint against Honts, claiming he failed to fully report or explain campaign expenditures -- including over $26,000 paid by the campaign to Honts himself. -- Amy Smith

Signs your campaign is hurting: The Honts campaign is running a commercial featuring a long list of media quotes disparaging County Judge Sam Biscoe, whom Honts is trying to unseat. The quotes might seem damaging, until one notices that they all come from the Austin Review, the far-right free weekly that reads as if it were published directly from GOP headquarters. -- Lee Nichols

"The prospect of a Republican legislature scares me to death," retiring Austin state Rep. Glen Maxey told voters in a recorded phone blast to hundreds of households over the weekend. Doing his part for Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, Maxey warned of dire consequences in the event of a GOP takeover. "For gay and lesbian families, for people living with HIV disease, this election will be critical," he affirmed. "Vote as if your life depended on it, as if your family depended on it." -- A.S.

The city Arts Commission has recommended that Austin use its current, much-maligned arts funding process for one more year, while a consulting team prepares its recommendations for a new approach to supporting local arts. The interim proposal would basically freeze this year's city cultural contracts and prevent new applications from being accepted until the fiscal year 2005, though currently funded artists would still need to reapply by a March deadline. This year's allocation of the Cultural Arts Fund -- a 30% across-the-board cut from last year -- was imposed by the City Council after it threw out the entire Arts Commission recommendation in September. -- M.C.M.

Several hundred Austinites endured a steady rain Saturday to join a national protest against a U.S. war on Iraq, locally amplifying major demonstrations in D.C. (100,000 people) and San Francisco (40,000). The protest was coordinated by a coalition of antiwar groups under the umbrella International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). "During the Vietnam War, no demonstration of comparable size took place until 1967, three years after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution," said Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action Center, a coalition member. Large demos also took place in Rome, Berlin, Copenhagen, Denmark, Tokyo, and Mexico City. -- Michael King

Austin Community College, the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the city opened Austin's Mexico Trade Center this week at 2800 S. I-35. The center will offer classes and training for those seeking to do business across the border. -- M.C.M.

The city of Austin is free to condemn a Downtown block for a new Convention Center parking garage, a Travis Co. judge ruled this week. But the judgment doesn't necessarily close the book on the three-year battle to wrest control of the block from Harry M. Whittington, who had other development plans, and has long argued that the city failed to prove a public-use necessity. "Certainly we understand and respect the court's decision," Whittington said, "but we disagree with it." A jury still needs to decide the property's value. The city has already paid $7.5 million; Whittington wants at least $11 million and also wants the city to pay for an alley through the block (visible only on plat records) that wasn't technically included in the city's filings. (The city disputes Whittington's claim.) While either side can appeal the jury's decision, Assistant City Attorney Reynolds Shelton says the city is legally in possession of the land and is ready to get cracking on that garage. -- A.S.

Historic zoning continues to command attention at City Hall. Beyond its perceived role in Eastside gentrification and its effect on I-35 expansion plans (see .20), H-zoning has now raised qualms in, of all people, Zoning and Platting Commission Chair Betty Baker, a doyenne of Austin preservation endeavors. Baker -- along with the woman who appointed her, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman -- is worried that a too liberal hand with H-zoning, and its attendant tax exemptions, will start to hurt the city's bottom line. The case at hand involved Tarrytown's Gatewood House, built in 1938 -- more recently than most "historic" properties with city protection (though still eligible under city code). Meanwhile, the never-ending story of Hyde Park Baptist Church has acquired an H-zoning angle; the Historic Landmark Commission is acting to save 3810 Speedway from the church's inexorable wrecking ball. Interestingly, the staffer in the middle of all this, city Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin, is reportedly leaving City Hall later this month. -- M.C.M.

Stupid Developer Tricks: Neighbors in Rollingwood are already calling Naked City over a proposed 432-unit apartment complex on Bee Caves Road near MoPac. Right now, you can't build apartments in Rollingwood at all, and leaders of the west-side enclave are little inclined to change city code for a project that would increase Rollingwood's population overnight by about 50%. But Trammell Crow (which has retained Stratus Properties' lawyer, Steve Drenner) remains optimistic that it can change residents' minds. "If it was my money, I wouldn't waste it on proceeding," Rollingwood Mayor Thom Farrell told the Statesman. -- M.C.M.

Just Guns, that most un-boho fixture of SoCo, is (still) up for sale, the daily reports. Owner Rob Key is asking $425,000 for the storefront near the Continental Club. Despite Just Guns' utility in conveying the funky oh-so-04 image to out-of-towners, Key says prospective buyers are more interested in the location -- which has been a gun shop since before WWII -- for a restaurant or boutique. We suggest that SoCo neighbors (or perhaps John Kelso) should pitch in to purchase Just Guns -- lock, stock, and barrel, as they say -- as an anti-gentrification initiative. -- M.C.M.

While city and police officials negotiate how to proceed with the Sophia King investigation (see p.22), the civil suit filed against the city by King's mother, Brenda Elendu, is likewise caught in procedural wrangling. The suit, filed in Travis Co. district court this summer by Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington, was transferred to federal court at the behest of the city; Harrington is preparing filings to move it back to state court. Meanwhile, says Harrington, Elendu got a call several months ago from none other than Johnnie Cochran, offering his services in the case -- to which she apparently agreed. About a month later, Harrington got a "cease and desist" fax from Cochran's office. But Texas courts prohibit any lapse in representation in such a case, and Texas law does not permit a wrongful-death suit against the cops, which is what Cochran proposed. After Harrington explained these points, Cochran informed TCRP that the King case didn't meet his "intake" requirements -- which Harrington "intakes" to mean money; without a wrongful-death claim, there's no prospect for monetary damages. The reason for taking and making cases like King's, Harrington said, is to change "procedures and policies." Harrington says he considered filing a complaint against Cochran with the state bar -- except Cochran isn't even licensed to practice law in Texas. -- Jordan Smith

Family Eldercare announced this week it's picked up $500,000 in additional grant funding for its proposed low-income senior housing project in East Austin. The $6.1 million, 61-unit project, to be built across from the Rosewood-Zaragoza health center, has already received $4.2 million in funding from public and private sources; groundbreaking is anticipated for next spring. -- M.C.M.

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