Naked City

Austin Stories

Mandatory auto smog testing is just one of several "potential emission reduction measures" being considered by local leaders in Central Texas' attempt to forestall "nonattainment" of federal air-quality standards. The Clean Air Coalition of local elected officials, chaired by Williamson Co. Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein, submitted the list to state and federal regulators this week, marking the first milestone under the Austin/Round Rock Early Action Compact to reduce emissions through local initiatives before being slapped with penalties under the Clean Air Act. Other possibilities: low-sulfur and other modified fuels, limiting the number of curb cuts and driveways, mandated trip-reduction programs for major employers, and discouraging use of drive-through facilities on ozone action days. The list is by no means final; view it yourself at -- M.C.M.

Sunset Valley's efforts to keep a Lowe's home-improvement store off the Edwards Aquifer may be futile if Austin officials negotiate a development agreement for the proposed Brodie Lane site. Sunset Valley released the land to Austin's jurisdiction so the city could enforce the Save Our Springs Ordinance and effectively kill the Lowe's. But the recently passed HB 1204 may have sabotaged that plan; as Lowe's reads it, the law would grandfather the property because plans were filed with Sunset Valley before the swap. Environmentalists worry Austin might buckle under the threat of a lawsuit. "We believe the law is clear that the city doesn't need to make concessions on impervious cover," said Brad Rockwell of the SOS Alliance. Meanwhile, Travis Co. commissioners -- who may also be able to demand SOS compliance -- are set to consider the project next week. -- Amy Smith

Travis Co. is set to pay $125,000 to Merlin "Spanky" Handley, the former aviation operations director for STAR Flight, to settle a whistleblower lawsuit Handley filed in August 2002. After filing the suit, Handley had been moved to another county job but then returned to the air-ambulance team in January. That didn't go over well with the 24-member STAR Flight crew, who staged a safety stand-down, suspending STAR Flight operations for several hours. One week later, commissioners voted 4-1 to fire Handley. Handley's case, which had been stripped down to include just one claim -- retaliation -- and just one defendant -- Travis Co. -- was set to be heard in federal district court next week. -- Jordan Smith

The trustee in Gary Bradley's bankruptcy case has asked the court to freeze the assets of the Lazarus Trust -- the hub of a financial web created by one of Austin's shrewdest developers. The trust was established in 2000 by Bradley's sister, has Bradley as its sole beneficiary, and is managed by Bradley's cousin, Brad Beutel. In addition to freezing the assets, trustee Ronald Ingalls and U.S. Attorney Herbert W. Linder want the court to order Beutel to file a monthly operating and accounting report on Lazarus' deposits, transactions, and other business activities. A hearing on a related bankruptcy matter took place Wednesday, as the Chronicle went to press. -- A.S.

They don't call it the Austin American-Real Estatesman for nothing. Consider the front-page story from June 11, "The Top Floor Lifestyle: Buyers sought for high-end homes." Despite the rapturous detail about the exquisite interiors at the Nokonah at Ninth and Lamar, the daily concludes woefully that downtown penthouses aren't exactly in high demand. Who knew? But Austin's top-floor properties will soon get hot press in Variety, The Wall Street Journal, and other pubs that "cater to the well-heeled." (And the Statesman doesn't?) Or, if you simply drive past the Nokonah, you can read the signs that tell you what a "luxury urban lifestyle" feels like -- "Concierge, housekeeper, trainer. Who says it's lonely at the top?" or "People say spoiled rotten like it's such a bad thing." And don't forget -- there's that lovely eastern view of the Travis Co. Jail inmate exercise yard ... -- J.S.

Over the weekend, almost 100 Downtownies and West Austinites met at the historic (and AC-free) 1910 Tips Iron and Steel Building to discuss the future of the Third Street corridor. Sponsored by the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association and the West End Austin Alliance, the workshop aimed to spur ideas about access, pedestrian friendliness, and design along the stretch of Third between MoPac and Lamar. In addition to presentations by West End stakeholders and city staff, attendees toured the 51/2-acre Tips site, slated for redevelopment over the next few years, and ate lots of treats from west side cafes and restaurants. -- Lauri Apple

A story update that is long overdue: Back in 1999, the Chronicle reported that KOOP Radio founder Jim Ellinger had been arrested for making "obscene and harassing" phone calls to the station not long after he was ousted from KOOP's staff (see Harrasment Morass, Nov. 5, 1999). In March 2001, the charges against Ellinger were dismissed; court records showed that KOOP's primary witness, Donelle McKaskle, had repeatedly failed to appear in court "due to illness" and that charges were dropped after McKaskle was provided a "letter of no contact" from Ellinger. No such letter appears in the court files, however, and Ellinger says that he refused to sign anything that might imply he was the least bit guilty. "There is no letter," Ellinger told the Chronicle recently, saying he never even saw the dismissal order until after he left court. -- Lee Nichols

If you haven't yet checked out the Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail District's new Web site at, maybe you should: The site promises the latest information on the progress of rail-corridor planning, one of the region's major transportation projects. Last week the CRD released a request for proposals for a program management consultant to be chosen in August. -- L.A.

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