Welcome to Will's World

So many items, so little time

The new City Council -- Mayor Will Wynn presiding, Brewster McCracken in the house -- held its first meeting July 17.
The new City Council -- Mayor Will Wynn presiding, Brewster McCracken in the house -- held its first meeting July 17. (Photo By John Anderson)

After last week's packed agenda for its first meeting since June 8, Will's World takes another week off this week; at its next meeting, July 31, the City Council will tie up a few more loose ends before focusing its undivided attention on the city budget, to be presented by City Manager Toby Futrell July 30. Here are some highlights of last week's 149-item marathon:

At its July 17 meeting, council voted to approve a $9 million settlement offer for Richard Danziger, who along with Christopher Ochoa was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly a decade for the grisly 1988 murder of Nancy DePriest. While incarcerated, Danziger was attacked by another inmate and left with permanent brain damage. City staff also recommended a $5.5 million settlement of Ochoa's case, which the council rejected as too expensive, sending lawyers for both sides back to the bargaining table. A highly detailed confession that Ochoa gave to Austin police formed the basis for the two men's conviction, but that confession was ultimately proved false, the fruit of a coercive interrogation by controversial former APD Detective Hector Polanco. Danziger and Ochoa were finally released from prison in 2001 after crime scene DNA was matched to Achim Josef Marino -- who had confessed to the crime years earlier. Marino was sentenced to life in prison. -- Jordan Smith

Wanted: Neighborhood-friendly business looking to set up shop at South Lamar and Bluebonnet Lane, on the spot that very nearly went to Walgreens, until the City Council nixed that plan last Thursday. Siding with South Austin residents, council members voted 5-2 against a zoning change that would have cleared the way for a 24-hour drugstore. Only council members Betty Dunkerley and Danny Thomas supported the zoning change for the site, currently a mobile-home park. The two were in the majority, however, on a third and final vote in favor of a zoning change on a second tract that Walgreens had also intended to occupy. That 5-2 vote shook out with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez voting no. South Lamar Neighborhood Association leaders were less happy with the second vote but hope that the change to commercial will attract an outfit that would provide a better fit for the area of mostly small, locally owned businesses. -- Amy Smith

Though East Austin activist Gavino Fernandez Jr. is still serving a 180-day sentence at the Travis Co. Jail and won't be free until Aug. 19 at the earliest, rumors floated around City Hall last week that maybe, just somehow, he would find a way to appear at the City Council's Thursday meeting, where "Gavino Fernandez" had signed up for citizen communication. As it happened, Gavino Fernandez Sr. showed up, wearing suspenders and a sad-looking expression, as fellow El Concilio leader Marcos de Leon read a statement written by the younger Fernandez calling for the prompt closure of the Holly Power Plant. The statement also discussed the hunger strike Gavino Jr. has conducted in jail, consuming only a tiny bit of cereal and milk. Fernandez was arrested May 22 on charges of aggravated assault and drug possession. -- Lauri Apple

Taxi drivers gave their two cents on an ordinance that would grant a franchise to the Lone Star Cab Company, which seeks to operate 100 cabs under a cooperative business structure that would give drivers a chance to own shares of the company. Several drivers asked council to flat-out deny Lone Star the franchise, complaining that an additional company seeking competition in a stagnating market would lower their earnings, already in decline. In the past two years, industry statistics show, taxi rides have fallen by 24%. However, two of the city's three taxi-franchise holders have not reduced the operating fees charged to their drivers (Roy's Taxi being the exception), leading to the effort to create the Lone Star co-op. City staff and the Urban Transportation Commission have both recommended against Lone Star's franchise permit, citing the council's recently passed moratorium limiting the number of taxi permits citywide to about 560 cars, down from 598. The council voted to delay the matter for 90 days. -- L.A.

The council approved a new map that reduces the number of neighborhood associations officially banning parking on the lawn from 64 to 37 and made a few amendments to the year-old ordinance enacting the ban. One change relieves neighborhoods from having to reapply every three years for inclusion under the parking-ban ordinance; another exempts residents of curbless, narrow streets. Since the council approved the ban in September 2002, APD officers have issued only four citations to errant parkers. According to APD Assistant Chief Rudy Landeros, citations are difficult to score because violators who get warnings usually move their cars within 24 hours, thus avoiding a second warning and a $40 fine upon APD's return visit. APD must wait seven days to return to the scene of the parking "crime" before officers can once again issue a warning. -- L.A.

Mayor Will Wynn attracted some heat from pro-democracy forces concerned that his item regarding changes to the council's meeting rules had been listed on the consent agenda, reserved for important and "emergency" business. After Council Member Daryl Slusher pulled the item for discussion, the council unanimously approved the new rules on first reading but also accepted public input. Environmentalist and recent council candidate Robert Singleton complained that starting meetings at 10am, rather than at noon, would hinder people seeking to comment on an agenda item. (As if public hearings lasting well into the wee hours are any more convenient for the engaged populace?) Fellow enviro Karen Hadden spoke out against language in Wynn's proposal limiting citizens to comment on no more than three agenda items in a given week, a provision that's now been removed. Both citizens asked the council not to cancel Wednesday work-sessions remaining on the 2003 calendar before considering the new rule changes, but that appears to be a lost cause. Wynn has said his motivation is not to reduce opportunities for citizen input but to create a set of standard council procedures that were actually written down in one place. The draft rules are, in fact, posted on the city Web site, www.ci.austin.tx.us, for public comment. -- L.A.

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