Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Feb. 28, 2003
Last week the city's Urban Transportation Commission refused to endorse the $4.2 million Lance Armstrong Bikeway, saying the city's plans for the bikeway were mediocre, illogical, or both. The UTC argued that the city wasn't making full use of existing railroad rights-of-way through East Austin, choosing instead to paint stripes and erect signs on the roadway -- while west of Shoal Creek the city would build a second hike-and-bike trail along the north side of Cesar Chavez, even though a trail already exists on that street's southern side. Supporters need to "push for a first-class bikeway instead of what the city's aiming for right now," says Commissioner Tommy Eden. Another thorny issue that awaits resolution by the City Council is whether to put the bikeway on Fourth Street, as cycling advocates and city consultants have proposed, or on Third, as a group of vocal and powerful Warehouse District business owners (with some support from mayoral candidate Will Wynn) have requested. -- Lauri Apple
Capital Metro has released a request for proposals for what is now called the Saltillo District Redevelopment Master Plan -- an effort to transform the transit authority's long-vacant rail yard property on East Fifth into a hub of Eastside revitalization. The project had been troubled last fall by charges that Cap Metro was favoring certain East Austin constituencies over others in its community outreach efforts and by fears from the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood that the agency's plans would conflict with the goals of its adopted neighborhood plan. But ECC leaders say Capital Metro has responded adequately to their concerns. The master plan, to be funded by $150,000 each from Cap Metro and the city of Austin, is expected to take about a year to complete. A quintet of Eastside heavy hitters -- Gavino Fernandez, Susana Almanza, Joseph Martinez, Ray Ramirez, and Cathy Vasquez-Revilla -- make up the community component of the proposal review team. -- M.C.M.
A few blocks north, East Austin boosters and local politicos celebrated the official dirt-turning ceremony last week of Eleven East, a long-awaited commercial development planned along a three-block section of East 11th. The project of the Austin Revitalization Authority is expected to infuse new cash and spirit into the long-deprived neighborhood. The development will include nearly 60,000 square feet of retail and office space, eight townhouses, and six live/work units. Funding for the $11.4 million project was realized through a City Council-approved federal loan of $4.4 million and a $7 million loan from JPMorgan Chase Bank. -- Amy Smith
Austin's favorite cross-dressing homeless media celebrity mayoral candidate, Leslie Cochran, was arrested Saturday night on Sixth Street on charges of public intoxication. Leslie told Naked City he was waiting for a friend outside a Sixth Street bar when the owners called the cops, and the responding officer kept hustling him down the street and calling him "Albert." "It's just harassment," Leslie said, "and they know I haven't used the name 'Albert' since 1976. I officially changed my name," he said, producing a state ID in the name of "Leslie Alicia Cochran." Leslie expects to easily get the arrest overturned in court. "The cop says I was intoxicated," he concluded, "but he can't even remember my name." -- Michael King
Austin Energy's Green Choice program ranks No. 1 in sales of "green power," according to the latest annual rankings released by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which monitors renewables programs across the country. Under Green Choice, Austin Energy customers can pay an additional fee to support electrical production from sources such as solar and wind. The city-owned utility's renewable energy sources include 61 wind turbines in West Texas, the Tessman Landfill Biogas Project in San Antonio, and a hydroelectric plant in Cuero, on the Guadalupe River. Austin is No. 8 in the nation for the number of customers (6,725) participating in Green Choice. Two other utilities on the list, Oregon's Portland General Electric and Pacific Power, both get their green power from Austin's Green Mountain Energy. See www.austinenergy.com/greenchoice for more info on the program. -- A.S.
In other business news: As had been predicted, Broadwing is selling its Austin-based broadband operations to a Maryland-based company. The former Cincinnati Bell paid $3 billion for the former IXC Communications back in 1999, but is letting go of the Austin operation, which employs 575 people, for a mere $129 million. And West Campus institution Paradigm Books, along with its sister operation in Minneapolis, has been sued by five academic publishers for copyright infringement. As generations of UT students know, Paradigm prepares "course packs" that include lecture notes and readings for UT courses -- the latter used without permission, the publishers charge. -- M.C.M.
A proposed city-county health care financing district has won the endorsement of the Travis Co. Medical Society, whose board cast a unanimous vote on Feb. 11. Backers of the district seek to establish a publicly funded health care system to improve trauma services and medical care for the indigent. Supporters hope to have the proposal before voters by November. The boards of the Austin Psychiatric Society, Austin Psychological Assoc., and Austin Diagnostic Clinic have also endorsed the creation of a district. -- A.S.
Post Properties Inc. had big plans for Austin when the new-urban apartment developers hit town three years ago. But the Atlanta-based firm made its final exit from Austin this week with the sale of the only project it managed to get off the ground before the market went south. Post sold its 239-unit West Avenue Lofts property (aka the Poleyard) to one of its biggest rivals, Gables Residential Trust, and sold adjacent Downtown property to Cypress Realty. Both properties sold for about $34 million. Gables owns seven other apartment complexes in Austin, while Cypress, a relative newcomer from Houston, owns undeveloped property in areas west and southwest of Austin. -- A.S.
More wrangling over the way the city's Office of the Police Monitor is conducting its affairs has made strange bedfellows of ACLU attorney Ann del Llano and Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield. The two agree that Police Monitor Iris Jones is violating the civilian-oversight provisions of the APA's contract by not making public the scheduled meetings of the office's citizen review panel. According to del Llano, the panel has met several times without posting notice and has conducted private meetings closed to the public -- if confirmed, clear violations of both the contract and state open meetings laws. As of press time Jones had not returned phone calls requesting comment. -- Jordan Smith
"Help save Ridgelea!" is on the tongues of many residents of the tiny neighborhood between 38th and 43rd streets, Shoal Creek, and Bull Creek Road. Neighbors recently learned that a developer plans to construct eight three-bedroom units -- "superduplexes" -- on four lots, tearing down several small single-family houses. Superduplexes are zoned as single-family units but can accommodate 12 or more residents. Ridgelean Nancy Mims says she got word last week the developer is trying to buy two additional lots, including one adjacent to her home. If superduplexes go up on that land, she says, her house would be the only single-family home left on the block. Today (Thursday) she's hosting a Ridgelea neighborhood meeting to discuss the project and hopes the developer will attend. The city is exploring a possible moratorium on superduplex construction; Mims and her neighbors are looking at other ways to prevent future projects. Meanwhile, if a giant structure goes up next door, Mims says her family will move elsewhere. "We live here because we don't want to live in sprawl," Mims says. -- L.A.
Hopeful that this year's Mardi Gras doesn't go from "Girls Gone Wild" to "Girls Getting Hassled, Fondled, or Worse," Austin SafePlace is kicking off "Guard le Bons Temps: Keep Mardi Gras in Austin," a community-awareness campaign to create a safer environment for Fat Tuesday revelers -- particularly women. SafePlace staff and volunteers will distribute posters and over 50,000 coasters to participating bars, clubs, and restaurants, mostly on Sixth Street and in the Warehouse District. Mardi Gras partiers are being asked to use their cell phones or find a police officer if they see someone being hurt or harassed. Last September, 60 clubs participated in SafePlace's Watch That Drink campaign (their fall sexual-assault-prevention event), and organizers expect similar numbers for this one. For more info, call 267-SAFE, or visit www.austin-safeplace.org. -- L.A.
"American for Peace" signs are popping up all over South Austin lawns lately, thanks to the new, neighborhood-centric South Austin Neighbors 4 Peace. Last weekend, about 20 members block-walked in South Austin to distribute signs and leaflets and recruit their neighbors. In addition to opposing a pre-emptive U.S. strike in Iraq, SAN4P is concerned that federal budget deficits could lead to withered funding for local schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods; that war sends the wrong message to children; and that active military recruitment in schools often targets poor and minority students. The group has already printed up "78704 Peace" T-shirts, and stickers are on the way. -- L.A.