Naked City

Austin Stories

A health care district bill may still be headed to the House floor. Senate Bill 1796 would allow Travis Co. voters to create a uniform tax-financing district to improve public health and regional trauma care services. The companion House bill stalled after anti-tax opposition from Austin GOP Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick, and Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, had tagged SB 1796 in the House Calendars Committee after county Republicans claimed it would allow abortions at city-owned Brackenridge Hospital. In fact, if a district were created, it would assume the existing Brackenridge management contract with Seton Healthcare Network, which is prohibited by the Catholic Church to perform abortions. In a letter to Wohlgemuth, Seton official Ed Berger reiterated Seton's support for the district. -- Amy Smith

District Judge Jeanne Meurer on May 21 ruled that 16-year-old Marcus McTear will be prosecuted in juvenile court in the stabbing death of his former girlfriend, 15-year-old Ortralla Mosley, in a Reagan High School hallway March 28. Prosecutors had sought to try McTear as an adult on first-degree murder charges stemming from Austin ISD's first-ever on-campus homicide. (For more on the case, see "A Shining Star Goes Dark," May 16). -- Jordan Smith

The near-ubiquitous ROMA Design Group -- the California consultants who've advised the city on Mueller Airport redevelopment, the Seaholm District, and the Second Street retail project -- is poised to do similar duty for Capital Metro on the transit authority's Saltillo District redevelopment project for its Eastside rail-yard property. Though the Cap Metro board had questions for staff about how ROMA was selected as the "most preferred" among firms responding to the agency's recent request for proposals and voiced concerns about ROMA's price tag, it authorized the agency to continue negotiations with the firm. -- M.C.M.

The City Council could move forward today (Thursday) on the embattled plan to build a Convention Center parking garage and Austin Energy district cooler plant, by approving a $56,337 contract to James Harper Construction Co. Many Downtown boosters oppose removing the block at Fourth and Sabine, adjacent to Waller Creek, from the city tax rolls, particularly in light of renewed discussion of a tax-increment financing district to pay for the Waller Creek Tunnel project. The property's owner, Harry Whittington, is appealing the court-approved city condemnation of the block, which now carries a $7.7 million price tag. Mayor-elect Will Wynn sounded a note of caution last week when he reminded the council that now may not be the best time to act on the garage project in light of the city's financial woes. -- A.S.

Baptist Watch: After voting to postpone the case last week, the City Council is set to consider today (Thursday) historic zoning for the onetime Hyde Park A&P at 3810 Speedway, against the objections of the property owner, That Little Church Around the Corner. Lawyer Richard Suttle told the council last week it ill behooved City Hall, at a time of fiscal crisis, to pick yet another legal battle with Hyde Park Baptist, which wants to demolish the building. (Suttle added that the city has yet to win a round in court against the church.) Yet Hyde Park neighbors, along with the city Planning Commission and Historic Landmark Commission, all support historic zoning. Only Council Member Danny Thomas -- who has consistently sided with the Baptists in past battles -- voted against last week's motion to postpone. -- M.C.M.

The City Council will vote today on whether to extend its superduplex moratorium past midnight on May 29, when it's set to expire. (If you don't know what a superduplex is by now, head over to the corner of 35th and Duval Street and look for a giant beige mass of aluminum siding.) Also on the agenda is a request for an exemption from the moratorium, if it still exists, from one Raymond Zaplatar for a property at 2003 Griswold in the Enfield neighborhood. City staff has recommended approval of the waiver. -- Lauri Apple

A year ago this month, Floyd Marsh flew to Austin from Scottsdale, Ariz., to interview for the general manager's position at the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. Now, less than a year after his hiring, Marsh is out the door; the BSEACD board fired him last week. Given fiscal constraints -- the district faces a $200,000 budget deficit -- and apparent dissatisfaction with Marsh's performance, the board chose to promote water-resource planner Veva McCraig to serve as interim GM for less money; they also terminated a staff environmental analyst. Marsh follows the path trod by his predecessor, Stovy Bowlin, who left against his will in November 2001 after long-running board dissatisfaction with his seemingly pro-development stances. -- A.S.

Sunset Valley's attempt to prevent the construction of a Lowe's Home Improvement store on Brodie Lane was dealt a setback Tuesday at the Legislature. A Senate committee passed revisions to HB 1204 -- a bill requiring cities and counties to merge regulations on developments in cities' extraterritorial jurisdiction -- that specifically target the Sunset Valley dispute. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, offered the revisions as a substitute to the original bill by Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, which died last week. Lowe's is suing Sunset Valley for releasing the Brodie Lane site into the city of Austin's ETJ, thus making its development prohibitive under the Save Our Springs Ordinance. Sunset Valley Mayor Terry Cowan and Austin City Council Member Daryl Slusher testified against the bill's provisions affecting the Lowe's property. -- A.S.

On May 15 the Texas Jail Standards Commission voted unanimously to remove a remedial order placed on Travis Co. in February 2002, after the county's jails had failed repeated inspections for overcrowding and other deficiencies. The jail passed its second consecutive inspection earlier this year, a prerequisite for removing the order. "The Jail Commission is telling the people of Texas that we have done a wonderful job of not only bringing the [j]ail into compliance but also making Travis County safer," said Travis Co. Sheriff Margo Frasier in a press release. "Congratulations to us all." -- J.S.

Years after filing a suit against prominent leaders at KOOP 91.7FM, station founder Jim Ellinger will finally have his day in (small claims) court on June 2, when the case will be heard by Justice of the Peace Herb Evans. Ellinger (whose community-radio work now takes him to Mozambique, Nepal, Houston, and other exotic locales) aims to reclaim just under $3,000 in expenses he incurred during his long stint at KOOP, which ended in 1999 when the station's superradical board purged him from the airwaves. Among those subpoenaed to appear: station honchos Eduardo Vera and Bob White and Council Member Raul Alvarez, who before his election produced an environmental show on KOOP for East Austin activists PODER. Alvarez got a $1,500 reimbursement check that Ellinger plans to use as evidence. "I have no problem with Raul," Ellinger says. -- L.A.

For the second year in a row, "The Gretchen Beater's Chocolate" was the prize-winning flavor at Travis Co. Constable Bruce Elfant's annual charity ice-cream social. This provokes a bit of controversy: Both the "Beater" and the other first-place flavor, pink-lemonade sorbet, were submitted by staffers of Travis Co. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, leading some to suspect a fix. ("Gretchen" is Sonleitner aide Gretchen Vaden.) Elfant's own orange sherbet tied for second with "WD40 Vanilla," submitted by Jennifer Lopez (not that J.Lo); rounding out the honorees was "Ambrosia" by Disability Assistance of Central Texas, which received the nearly $3,000 in proceeds. Never one to miss a Democratic party, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, (Killer) D-Austin, capped off the cone-munching with a short speech in which he offered anecdotal highlights of his recent trip to Oklahoma. "One of these days I'll tell you what it's like to room with [Rep.] Eddie Rodriguez," he joked. -- L.A.

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