Naked City

Austin Stories

Next week's City Council budget discussions will include a 6pm hearing Aug. 14 on Austin Energy and other utility rates -- the only real public hearing of the budget season to focus on the power company. The Solar Austin Campaign will take the opportunity to lobby for an increased AE investment in renewable energy -- specifically, using part of AE's famous $181 million debt-management fund for new solar generation. Others in the community have proposed raiding this "slush fund" to cover shortfalls elsewhere in the budget, so interesting dialogue may ensue. We'll have more details on the Solar Austin proposal next week. -- M.C.M.

Adding to a lengthening list of City Hall veterans taking their retirements: longtime planning and development maven Tracy Watson, most recently head of the city's Office of Dispute Resolution. Watson, who's been with the city for 25 years, says he'll seek private mediation clients. The new city budget eliminates the ODR, created three years ago as the city's in-house mediation shop. Watson's assistant Frank Kopic -- former aide to council members Brigid Shea, then Bill Spelman, then Will Wynn -- has reportedly found another job within Public Works, whose own Director Peter Rieck announced his retirement last week. -- M.C.M.

It's not as "official" as last week's media splash suggested, but the U.S. General Services Association and Intel Corp. are closer to a deal to make the chipmaker's half-built Downtown campus the site of Austin's new federal courthouse. A sticking point had been price, with the GSA not wanting to pay extra for an Intel shell -- local landmark though it may be -- that it would immediately demolish. The deal has an upside for both sides -- by selling to a major employer, Intel can avoid repaying Smart Growth incentives, and the GSA can avoid the bad PR it got with its initial plans to displace the Austin Children's Museum or planned Austin Museum of Art. Design funds have already been appropriated and an architect selected (Atlanta's Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam) for the $80 million project, with construction funds to be sought in future federal budgets. Intel is seeking buyers for its surrounding parcels. -- M.C.M.

City officials are weighing the legal pros and cons of allowing certified-nurse midwives to deliver babies at the new Austin Women's Hospital -- the so-called "hospital within a hospital" at Brackenridge, scheduled to open in October -- without a sponsoring physician in attendance. At the same time, Seton has formed a committee to study the feasibility of reinstating its midwife programs at Brackenridge and Seton, but with sponsoring physicians. Both suspended their midwife programs a year ago after Capital Obstetrics and Gynecologist Associates decided to drop its sponsorship of the midwives. A group of certified-nurse midwives have lobbied both the city and Seton to allow them to provide services without an attending physician. Midwife representatives say that few hospitals require the sponsorship of a doctor; but Trish Young, CEO of Austin/Travis Co. Community Health Centers, says her own research of both public and private hospitals in Texas shows otherwise. -- Amy Smith

Once again, Austin appears on the National Coalition for the Homeless Top 10 list of "Meanest Cities" for poor and homeless people, holding steady for a second year at No. 8 (worst was Las Vegas). NCH based its ranking on the number of anti-homeless laws in a particular city, police enforcement of those laws, and the general political climate toward the homeless. In its new report, Illegal to Be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the U.S., the NCH cites the case of David Colbert, who says he was unfairly arrested in Austin for violating a law that prohibits panhandling within 25 feet of crosswalks and ATM machines; Colbert claims he did not violate the law and was "picked" on because he's homeless. The report also asserts that Austin law-enforcement officers are ticketing sleeping homeless people under the city's "no camping" ordinance, even though the City Council eliminated the sleeping reference in 2000. Nationally, ordinances penalizing homeless people -- whose ranks have grown during the economic bust of the past three years -- have become more hostile and prevalent, says NCH. -- Lauri Apple

UT's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on Wednesday got the first of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate papers. Back in April, UT spent $5 million to buy the papers of the Washington Post reporters who brought down President Nixon. The complete archive contains more than 250 pocket-sized notebooks, memos, story drafts, clippings, manuscripts for their books All the President's Men and The Final Days, and photos and memorabilia. -- Lee Nichols

Gavino Watch: A false -- repeat, false -- rumor is circulating about town that Austin developer Perry Lorenz has bailed El Concilio activist Gavino Fernandez Jr. out of the Travis Co. Jail. Lorenz says he first learned of the chisme after a top city official asked him about assisting Fernandez, who will be locked up until Aug. 19 at the earliest for a DWI incident unrelated to his current charges of drug possession and aggravated assault. Recently a small contingent of Friends of Fernandez began staging weekly prayer vigils outside the jail -- though when Naked City punctually stopped by last week, the crowd numbered only three, and after 30 minutes still hadn't uttered any words of faith for Fernandez, who has undertaken a hunger strike during his incarceration. -- L.A.

The Sustainable Food Center, which runs the Austin Farmers' Market every Saturday in Downtown's Republic Square, recently moved its offices to Sanchez Elementary at Waller and Spence streets in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood. The move enables SFC to teach Sanchez students the art of gardening and to provide cooking and nutritional education to the students' parents. SFC's other Eastside activities include a program at Martin Middle School and El Jardin Alegre community garden at 1801 E. Second. -- L.A.

Heeding the pleas of UT architecture professors, preservationists, and concerned residents, the city Historic Landmark Commission voted Monday night not to grant a demolition permit on a cluster of four cottages built in the Thirties by UT's first athletic director, L. Theo Bellmont. The cottages are located on Washington Square, in the Heritage neighborhood west of UT. Developer Larry Paul Manley, former director of the Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs, wants to replace them with upscale condos. The commission's vote advocates historic zoning for the property; the Planning Commission is expected to consider the matter before the end of September; final approval rests with the City Council. -- L.A.

Just when you thought it was safe to open "Insight" again ... he's baaaack. Statesman Editor Rich Oppel returned to his editorial armchair Sunday after a long absence and thumb-sucked over the august question of editorial bias. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs of federal coverage by four regional newspapers, including the Statesman, specifically focused on transitional years in which the White House changed party hands (since the Carter-Reagan turnover), and gave the Statesman relatively high marks on most measures of Democratic vs. Republican "bias" -- the neutral-meter scientifically developed in journalism schools to "balance" the political spectrum from "A" to "B." The only cloud? According to the study, our local Coxcomb "featured the least balanced congressional coverage, with Democrats receiving over twice as many favorable judgments as Republicans." Oppel promised to take the "sound and respected" researchers' findings under advisement, but noted, "Regional newspapers base much of their congressional coverage on the hometown congressman, who in our case is Lloyd Doggett of Austin, a liberal Democrat not shy about criticizing Republicans and their programs." (Translation: "We didn't say it, he did.") When asked by Naked City, Doggett smilingly noted, "I have never perceived a bias toward Democrats in the Statesman." -- Michael King

Local women's rights advocates met Wednesday at Book Woman to begin organizing a delegation to the Save Women's Lives march for freedom of choice in Washington, D.C., April 25, 2004. National organizers, including the Fund for a Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood, hope the march will become the largest of its kind in U.S. history. For more info, visit www.marchforchoice.org. -- L.A.

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