Naked City

Austin Stories

The dogs of West Austin howled with happiness last week after neighbors of West Austin Park voted more than two to one to support a six-month off-leash trial period (as included in the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan). Some neighbors -- worried about germ-filled feces polluting the park, dog bites, and other ills -- had launched a vigorous campaign against the no-leash experiment. -- Lauri Apple

Downtown advocates, Austin arts groups, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett are all hopping mad at the federal General Services Administration, which announced its three preferred sites for a new Austin federal courthouse. One would displace the Austin Children's Museum; another would commandeer the proposed Austin Museum of Art site on Republic Square. (The third is a parking lot at Seventh and Trinity, near the new city homeless shelter). Neither museum's board is happy, and Doggett isn't happy with any of the three sites, but the GSA has unlimited condemnation power and no obligation to work with the city or its neighbors. The $63 million, 200,000-square-foot project should be finished in 2006. -- M.C.M.

More hard times for the local arts community: Austin Musical Theatre announced Tuesday it was suspending operations. The rest of its 2002-03 season will be cancelled unless AMT raises $500,000 by February. The company blames the usual suspects -- diminished fundraising and lousy ticket sales since Sept. 11. The recent production of My Fair Lady reportedly lost over $250,000. -- M.C.M.

The Texas Transportation Commission gave the green light to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority on Halloween. The joint venture of Travis and Williamson Counties -- the state's first RMA -- will use local funds and borrowing to finance, and thus speed up, regional road projects; first on tap is the planned U.S. 183-A bypass to and through Cedar Park. Each county will appoint three members to the RMA board, with the seventh appointed by Gov. Rick Perry; the city of Austin lobbied to claim one of the Travis seats, but County Judge Sam Biscoe refused. The state law creating RMAs says only counties can appoint members, but since that law -- which doesn't allow RMAs to issue their own bonds -- needs to be amended anyway, this may end up on Austin's Lege agenda. Travis Co. will begin accepting applications from aspiring board members on Nov. 12; contact Biscoe's office at 854-4327 for more details. -- M.C.M.

The foreplay is officially over between the city of Austin and Catellus Development, prospective developer of the old Robert Mueller Airport; the two parties last week signed an "exclusive negotiating agreement" preparing the way for real contract negotiations expected to take months. -- M.C.M.

Council Member Will Wynn is leading an effort to keep billboards away from SH 130. While Georgetown, Round Rock, Pflugerville, and Austin -- all to be traversed by the new Eastside highway -- have ordinances limiting new billboards, the state would have to intervene to keep the whole Georgetown-to-Seguin route billboard-free. The Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council voted last week to support the effort. Meanwhile, Lone Star Infrastructure, the private consortium designing and building SH 130, will be holding "aesthetics charrettes" to get input on look-and-feel issues on Nov. 13 at Del Valle High School and Nov. 19 at Hutto High School. -- M.C.M.

GOP U.S. Senate candidate John (Candy) Cornyn was supposed to do a little block-walkin' through Circle C Ranch Halloween night, but he didn't make it back from DFW in time. Disappointed trick-or-treaters included a small contingent of pro-choice activists intent on shadowing Cornyn -- including Laurie Felker of the group Voters 4 Choice, who celebrated the occasion by donning a giant foam Enron "E" and rainbow wig, and others who wore Kenneth Lay masks and white T-shirts advertising the www.enronjohn.com Web site. -- L. A.

Central Texas has announced its first human West Nile case. The unidentified man's condition was not made public by Travis Co. health officials. The disease, subject of widespread panic over the summer across the U.S., has been reported in horses, but not people, in the Austin area. Health officials say there's no cause for alarm. -- M.C.M.

Eastside neighborhood groups organized by El Concilio held a rally Saturday to express qualified support for the proposed UT charter school at East Sixth and Robert Martinez. Neighbors were mostly pleased with UT's commitment to provide educational excellence in the disadvantaged community, but many had qualms about UT as a neighbor, recalling the university's battle with the Blackland neighborhood in the 1980s, and urged that the site not become a permanent campus. The State Board of Education is set to vote on the UT charter application later this month. -- M.C.M.

Speaking of Blackland, longtime neighborhood leader Katherine Poole was honored last weekend with a "Courage in Community Award" from the McAuley Institute. Poole organized Blackland in the 1980s to fight UT expansion that decimated the Eastside neighborhood between MLK and Manor Road. In 1992, after years of controversy, the university agreed to turn its remaining area properties over to the Blackland Community Development Corporation, which Poole cofounded and which now provides transitional and senior housing in the neighborhood. The McAuley Institute recognizes the work of women advocates and activists in creating safe, decent housing; Poole's $3,000 award will start a fund to provide low-income residents with job training, adult education, and other services. -- M.C.M.

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