Naked City

Austin Stories

It looks like Capital Metro is planning to go the commuter route in its latest rail plans, according to comments by Cap Metro reps at a recent workshop in the Crestview/ Wooten neighborhood-planning area in North Austin. The agency is contemplating peak-hour service on a 31-mile stretch of Cap Metro's existing rail right-of-way between Downtown and Leander (which runs through Crestview and Wooten) -- a cheaper, faster alternative to previous light-rail plans and one that could be under way within two years of a likely 2004 rail vote. The idea has provoked grumbling from light-rail supporters, and residents of neighborhoods like Crestview and Wooten have concerns about noise and other impacts. Cap Metro's board won't decide the issue before getting community input, says agency spokeswoman Emlea Chanslor. -- Lauri Apple

The proposed Lowe's home-improvement store over the aquifer in Sunset Valley is still in limbo, with Travis Co. commissioners Tuesday postponing for a third time (until Aug. 5) a vote on the controversial project's preliminary site plan. Meanwhile, a tentative deal between Lowe's and the city of Austin unraveled last week after the agreement failed to please some select environmentalists. The city (which was given jurisdiction over the Lowe's site by Sunset Valley) and the retailer are in a legal dispute over the size and scope of the project. City Council is scheduled to take up the matter in executive session today (Thursday). -- Amy Smith

A familiar name popped up this week in the saturation coverage of the Patrick Dennehy murder case -- Kirk Watson. The former Austin mayor, 2002 attorney general hopeful, and Baylor alumnus will join Baylor law professors on a panel investigating whether the Bears' basketball program broke any NCAA rules; coach Dave Bliss and his staff have come under heavy fire for numerous allegations of improper conduct spawned by Dennehy's disappearance. Dennehy's remains were identified by the Dallas Co. medical examiner this week; teammate Carlton Dotson remains in custody. -- M.C.M.

Once again, KOOP 91.7FM founder Jim Ellinger made the trip from Houston to the Travis Co. Courthouse seeking around $4,000 he claims KOOP management owes him, only to be told that the trial was once again being postponed. On Monday Ellinger and his attorney/brother Rory -- making his second plane trip from St. Louis for the trial -- appeared positively peeved as they grumbled about wasted time and lost frequent-flier miles. Also making an appearance: former KOOP treasurer and current Council Member Raul Alvarez, whom Ellinger had subpoenaed as an informed witness of station happenings at the time of Ellinger's dismissal in the late Nineties. -- L.A.

The big, ugly baggage-screening machines in the Bergstrom Airport lobby are destined for a new home. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced Tuesday a $12.4 million federal grant to integrate the machines into the airport's baggage-handling system, thus improving security while making life easier for passengers and airline staff. Also on the homeland beat, the city of Austin and local hospitals staged a smallpox drill Tuesday to test the health care system's ability to handle a mass influx of patients. -- M.C.M.

Vacant hotel rooms are a dime a dozen these days, but Downtown might nevertheless be in store for two new hotels totaling 440 rooms at Fourth and Trinity streets, within striking distance of the Austin Convention Center. Indiana developer White Lodging Services Corp., which has put a slew of hotels on Austin's map in the last decade, wants to build a Residence Inn and a Courtyard, both brands operated by Marriott, on property currently occupied by old warehouses. The hang-up might be the warehouses themselves -- they're well over 70 years old and may have historical significance. The city's historic posse is investigating that possibility. The proposed properties would compete with two other brand-new hotels -- the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Austin Hilton, which holds the title as the official Convention Center hotel. -- A.S.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio (and West Austin), stopped by Tuesday for a lunchtime visit with the Austin Rotary Club, introduced by former Austin Mayor Ron Mullen, who has lost none of his mirthless charm. "Did you see the story about the guy who woke up from a coma after 19 years?" Mullen opened. "I guess there's still hope for Al Gore." (To the Rotarians' credit, the joke died.) Smith emphasized the glories of the Bush imperium -- tax cuts, job creation, Medicare reform, education funding, Iraq -- and also mentioned his own work against cyber-porn, "saving tens of thousands of children" from discovering porn on the Web or "falling prey to a terrible industry." Smith co-chairs the House GOP's new "Judicial Accountability Working Group," which plans to "shine a spotlight on inappropriate judicial decisions" because "sunshine is the best disinfectant." Asked later if he thought the project would single out "liberal" judges for censure, he said its intent was to call attention to those judges who "try to make the law from the bench." -- Michael King

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    Former guv's aide says Dubya wasn't entirely ignorant of the facts when he put people to death!

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