Naked City

Austin Stories

Council hounds take note: The City Council's Thursday meetings now convene two hours earlier, at 10am. Citizens communication opens at noon, not 1:30pm. The live music component remains at 5:30pm, still affording TV watchers the opportunity to make a quick dinner run before the public hearings. The gross or so of items on today's (Thursday) agenda includes: delaying enactment of the smoking ordinance until Jan. 2, 2004; creating an interlocal water-quality planning agreement between the cities of Austin and Dripping Springs, Travis and Hays counties, and the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer and Hays/Trinity conservation districts; a utility bill check-off for a Library and Parks Enhancement Fund; $100,000 in child-friendly improvements in the Holly Street neighborhood; whether to join other Texas city managers in opposing proposed TXU Gas Company rate hikes; a proposal to kill the council's Wednesday work sessions; an ordinance transferring 11 parcels of land to the Urban Renewal Agency for East 11th Street and 12th Street redevelopment; appointing newbie Council Member Brewster McCracken and reappointing Mayor Will Wynn and council members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation's board of directors. -- Lauri Apple

Also on today's agenda (in executive session) is the "possible settlement" of the federal lawsuits filed by Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa, wrongfully convicted of the 1988 murder of Nancy DePriest. Danziger and Ochoa each spent a decade in jail -- Danziger was beaten and left permanently brain-damaged -- before finally being exonerated by DNA evidence in 2001. The men filed suit separately last fall; in total they are seeking nearly $200 million in damages. Shortly after DePriest's murder inside a North Austin Pizza Hut, Austin Police Dept. detectives extracted a highly detailed yet false confession from Ochoa that ultimately sent both men to jail. They allege they were convicted on false court testimony and manufactured evidence and that exculpatory evidence was either destroyed or never disclosed. City spokesman David Matustik says the executive session will address a confidential settlement proposal. Naked City is informed by other sources that there's a total of $14 million currently on the table. -- Jordan Smith

A group of longtime Eastside activists are signed up to speak during the council's citizens communication period in support of closing the Holly Power Plant -- including Paul Hernandez, Marcos de Leon ... and, mysteriously, El Concilio coordinator Gavino Fernandez Jr. That Fernandez, a cit-com regular, would be scheduled to appear at council to advocate shutting down East Austin's least-favorite power source would be unremarkable -- except that he's still locked up in the Travis Co. Jail. According to Travis County Sheriff's Office spokesman Roger Wade, Fernandez was arrested May 22 for a DWI incident unrelated to new charges of aggravated assault and cocaine and marijuana possession, and he was given a 180-day sentence on the spot. During the arrest, Austin police found several undocumented immigrants mysteriously confined at Fernandez's home, as well as $22,000 in cash and wire transfers on his person. If he remains well behaved, Fernandez could be released from jail as early as Aug. 19 -- a bit late for his scheduled appearance at today's council meeting. Two staffers in the city clerk's office said they didn't know how Fernandez's name appeared on the agenda. Two possibilities: It was either the work of the ghost of labor leader Cesar Chavez, featured on Fernandez's campaign posters during his recent, unsuccessful bid to unseat Council Member Raul Alvarez, or the work of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who had visibly joined Chavez in endorsing the candidate. -- L.A.

Spotted over the weekend at the National Council of La Raza's annual convention was Council Member Raul Alvarez, who spent part of his time at the Austin Convention Center collecting information on health issues of concern to Hispanics. Alvarez said he intends to apply what he learned about the shortage of bone-marrow donations available to Hispanics needing transplants, as well as the utter scarcity of funding for HIV/AIDS-prevention programs, by pursuing new policies and programs geared toward increasing local supplies of both vital resources. Latinos, and minorities in general, remain underrepresented in marrow-donation collection banks, Alvarez noted. And on the HIV/AIDS front, state funding for many prevention programs was gutted last year, with one local clinic in particular -- the Austin Latino/Latina Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization (ALLGO) -- seeing its public funding wiped out altogether. -- L.A.

The Villas on Sixth, a $17 million, 160-unit affordable-housing project proposed on East Sixth, recently received a boost when the Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs initiated the underwriting review process on the housing project's application for $1.2 million in low-income tax credits. In plain English, that means TDHCA staff will use any available dollars left from this year's funding process, as well as monies from the 2004 allocation, to help fulfill the Villas' request. However, the TDHCA's board of directors must first approve this funding arrangement, which Villas developers Campbell-Hogue LLC are optimistic will occur at the board's July 30 meeting. Campbell-Hogue seeks the credits in order to offer sub-market rents to prospective tenants, who will qualify if they earn up to 50% of the area median income. -- L.A.

On July 8, the South Austin Democrats unanimously (32-0) passed a resolution opposing the Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed at the intersection of MoPac and Slaughter Lane, in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. Like other environmental groups and neighborhoods aligned against the Supercenter, S.A.D. cited traffic concerns, the store's 51% impervious-cover level, and its potential to drive growth over the sensitive Edwards Aquifer as reasons for the nation's largest retail chain to abandon or alter its plans. Either conform to the Save Our Springs Ordinance and address traffic, the resolution urges Wal-Mart and developers Endeavor Real Estate Group, or build elsewhere. A similar resolution has been passed by the Sendera Homeowners Association, whose community will be most directly impacted by the new store. Monday night, members of the Save Barton Creek Association listened to a presentation by Endeavor principals but remained unconvinced that the developer would aggressively hold Wal-Mart to reduced SOS impervious-cover levels, setbacks, and other limitations. On Tuesday, a small crowd that included several SBCA members and representatives from the newly formed No Aquifer Big Box Coalition staged an early-morning protest outside Endeavor's offices on West Fifth; repeat protests could follow. -- L.A.

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