Headlines and happenings from around Austin and beyond.
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Sept. 19, 2003
Quote of the Week: "Treaties make no sense. There is only one way -- get them before they get us." -- Yes, our American president, George W. Bush, speaking at a fundraiser for Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour (after sending his people, hat in hand, to make nice with the United Nations). Funny, isn't that what Brazil, India, China, et al. decided in Cancún about the World Trade Organization? Strangely, they have not been given due praise by the White House.
Members of both parties and both houses of the Legislature convened -- with much whoopin' and hollerin' for the returning Senate Democrats -- for the fourth time this year to talk about congressional re-re-re-redistricting. The House repassed its map early Wednesday morning, and the Senate should follow in a few days. But this time, divisions within the GOP may derail Perrymandering -- specifically, a West Texas war between Lubbock and Midland. See p.14 and p.20.
APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman remains on restricted duty as the "mythical cloud" of the Mala Sangre case continues to thicken and choke up City Hall. See "Austin@Large," right, and p.18.
Meanwhile, the city's firefighters announced an overwhelming vote of no-confidence in Fire Chief Gary Warren; see p.19.
The city Zoning and Platting Commission may get to reconsider Wal-Mart's I-35/Slaughter Lane project this week, sooner than expected. Opposition to Wal-Mart on every front continues; see p.16.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has jumped into the economic revival fray, unveiling the "road map to recovery" produced as part of its Opportunity Austin effort; see p.19.
We had let the issue drop during the budget battles, but we have not forgotten that Austin's obnoxious new smoking ordinance takes effect in exactly 106 days.
With the Women's World Cup just days away, the Women's United Soccer Association announced on Monday that it was folding after three years of operation; see "Soccer Watch," p.63.
A coalition of environmental groups and elected officials charged Wednesday that Lowe's big-box developments are "toxic hotspots" that contain and distribute the very chemicals suspected of threatening Barton Springs. Sunset Valley Mayor Terry Cowan and Village of Bee Cave Alderwoman Marcy Holloway joined enviro reps at a press conference at Barton Springs Pool to claim that two controversial proposed Lowe's superstores -- one over the aquifer recharge zone off Brodie Lane, another just 200 feet from Little Barton Creek -- would pose a serious threat to the local water supply. Like many hardware and home improvement stores, Lowe's sells such products as arsenic-treated wood and coal-tar-based asphalt sealants -- the latter being the city of Austin's prime suspect in the contamination of a hillside near the Springs. The sale and on-site storage of these and other chemicals would make Lowe's an unacceptable addition to environmentally sensitive areas, coalition leaders said. The existing Lowe's superstore at I-35 and Stassney was one of the six parking-lot locations where city scientists found elevated levels of benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen, in nearby sediments. -- Amy Smith
Barton Springs Road, Koenig Lane, Enfield Road, South First -- now it's East Cesar Chavez's turn to join the Roadwork Rodeo. City crews will begin on Monday a 20-month project to replace aging water and wastewater lines under the street, and then rebuild the roadway; the project will move in phases east from I-35 to Pleasant Valley. Traffic will be reduced to one lane, with flaggers, in the work zones. -- M.C.M.
Among the expenses included in the recently adopted Travis Co. budget is a line item to help fund the nascent Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority; despite already being awarded $12 million in state transportation funds to begin the proposed U.S. 183-A toll road, the RMA asked Travis and Williamson county commissioners for $300,000 each to cover operating expenses. Environmental lawyer and RMA watchdog Amy Johnson, writing on behalf of the MoPac Boulevard Alliance, took sharp issue with the RMA's proposed budget, which she describes as "frivolous and extravagant." The RMA -- with a staff of four, overseeing one road project that's still years away from construction -- told the counties it would need $1.4 million in operating funds simply to finish the calendar year and a total of $3.6 million for the fiscal year. This includes such anticipated consultant-driven expenses as $30,000 for Web site development, $120,000 for marketing, $420,000 for accounting, and $600,000 for legal services, along with more than $2 million for engineering services. Despite Johnson's reminder that the counties are not required to give any money to the RMA -- particularly in a time of budget scarcity -- both Travis and Williamson found funds for the authority. -- M.C.M.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Austin Sept. 11-12 to attend the convention of the Texas Association of African-American Chambers of Commerce. While here, he gave a speech on affirmative action and electoral activism at Huston-Tillotson and spoke to voting rallies of high school students in Austin and Georgetown. Jackson also toured the Austin Police Department, met with Chief Stan Knee and other APD administrators, and afterward called for a commission to review relations between Central Texas police departments and minority citizens. -- Michael King
A Travis Co. jury on Sept. 12 returned a verdict of not guilty for UT police officer Sellers Bailey III on a charge that he forced a former UT student to perform oral sex on him while he was on duty. According to the student -- who has declined to reveal her name -- Bailey drove her to the fifth floor of a UT parking garage and forced her to perform oral sex after he responded to the scene of a minor car accident she was in on campus. In court, Bailey said that the sexual activity was consensual, although he admitted that he knew it was still wrong. After 13 hours of deliberations over two days, the jury decided to acquit the former officer on the sexual-assault charge and also on a charge of improper sexual activity with a person in custody. Meanwhile, the former student has filed two separate civil actions in state and federal court against Bailey, the university, and various UT officials, arguing that the university knew Bailey was a threat because of a previous allegation of sexual assault filed in 1999 by a former UT security guard. -- Jordan Smith
On Sept. 16, the UT-Austin Student Government crafted a resolution denouncing the USA PATRIOT Act, calling upon UT library director Fred Heath to post "in a prominent place" within all UT libraries a warning that the act allows the feds access to student reading records. The resolution also demands that the UT Police Department (which recently joined the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force) discontinue surveillance and investigation of student activists and commits the Student Government to organizing a panel of university administrators and community members to address student privacy concerns. The resolution is set for a vote on Sept. 23. Meanwhile, the Austin City Council will again take up the city's own PATRIOT resolution on Sept. 25. -- J.S.
Also on campus, according to a UT press release, enrollment for the 2003 fall semester has dropped 1.6%, to 51,438 students compared to 52,261 this time last year. At the same time, the "proportional representation" of minority students has increased. African-American students account for 3.4% of the total UT population, Hispanic students 12.7%, and Asian students 14.1%. All of those percentages are up slightly from fall 2002. -- J.S.
After a slew of rejections from potential department store anchors, developer Chris Milam has finally declared defeat on his proposed Hill Country Galleria in the Village of Bee Cave. He's instead hunkering down with a reality-based plan that is 750,000 square feet smaller than his original proposal, which had carried the promise of a Neiman Marcus or a Saks Fifth Avenue. (Unconfirmed rumors have Neiman's going to the Domain project in North Austin.) Bee Cave officials had agreed to the Galleria proposal on the condition that Milam lock in upscale anchors. Milam would have gotten up to $30 million in incentives had he succeeded on his gamble. The Save Our Springs Alliance had waged war against the proposed regional mall because of its proximity to Little Barton Creek, a tributary of Barton Creek. The group, joined by neighborhood opponents, lobbied each major retailer that Milam tried to woo. SOS spokesman Colin Clark says he's thrilled the Galleria is out of the picture but that the same environmental concerns apply to Milam's revamped proposal, as well as another Milam project across the road, on the south side of Highway 71. -- A.S.
Beyond City Limits
Molly Beth Malcolm on Tuesday announced she is resigning as chairwoman of the Texas Democratic Party, effective Oct. 25. The oft-cited "family responsibilities" were her official reason for stepping down, but the furious criticism of her after the Democrats' disastrous performance in the 2002 elections will no doubt be presumed by some observers as an alternative explanation. (The timing of the announcement -- following the narrow victory of GOP-backed Proposition 12 -- is also of interest.) Malcolm successfully fought off an attempt to unseat her earlier this year at the state party convention. In her letter of resignation to the state Dems' executive committee, the former Republican boasted that under her leadership, "We vastly improved our communications and delivered a message that sharply contrasted with the Republicans' hard-hearted, extreme conservatism." -- Lee Nichols
Hays Co. will be joining Travis Co. in going down the electronic voting path, in order to comply with the Help America Vote Act (HR 3295) by January 2006. Hays officials have scheduled electronic-voting vendors from three companies to show off their wares at the county courthouse in San Marcos on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 8am-3pm: the Austin-based Hart InterCivic's eSlate system (currently used by Travis Co.), Election Systems & Software's iVotronic touch-screen system, and Diebold Election Systems' AccuVote touch-screen system. While we've not seen any media coverage of troubles with the eSlate, both iVotronic and AccuVote have come under scrutiny from a growing number of e-voting opponents. The Diebold system is especially controversial, being the central focus of both the activist Web site www.blackboxvoting.com and a study of Johns Hopkins and Rice University researchers (found at www.avirubin.com/vote.pdf) that claims to have found numerous security flaws. Diebold has responded (see www.diebold.com) that the study was flawed and charged that one of the researchers holds a financial interest in a rival company. -- L.N.
On Sept. 15, the Texas Department of Public Safety released its new and improved Texas 10 Most Wanted List, which features a Del Valle fugitive wanted for aggravated sexual assault of a child. The full list, with mug shots, is on the DPS Web site at www.txdps.state.tx.us/wanted -- but remember, if you see one of these folks, don't try to pull a Hawaii Five-O. "You should never attempt to apprehend these fugitives yourself," DPS Director Col. Thomas Davis said in a press release. -- J.S.
The once-postponed Barton Springs drought study is back on again, set for this weekend. The city and U.S. Geological Survey plan to drain the pool to simulate drought conditions and measure the impact on water quality and endangered species. The pool will be closed from 9am Sept. 19 through 5am Sept. 22 (which is mostly during the ACL Fest); Deep Eddy Pool will be open for extended hours (6am-8pm) Saturday and Sunday. The last attempt to do this study, several years in the planning, was rained out.
By the time you read this, the eighth annual Cinematexas International Short Film Festival will already be passing in a hyperspeed blur, having begun Sept. 16 and running hundreds of films, exhibits, lectures, etc., etc. through Sept. 21. Of particular interest to Chronicle Naked Citizens will be "Parallax View": "a cross-disciplinary forum offering a mutant mirror to the political economy of images offered by today's corporate media." Parallax View runs primarily from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 19-21, including a Friday night program called "Can the Media Tell the Truth About Anything, Ever?" featuring a film by Geoff Bowie (5pm) and a talk by radical journalist Alexander Cockburn (6:30-8pm), in UT's Burdine 106. Artists Robbie Conal and Eric Drooker will show slides of their work on Saturday (FAC 21, 1-3pm), and their posters are on display throughout the week at Creative Research Lab (within Flatbed Press), 2832 E. MLK, with a reception Saturday, 6-8pm. Sunday's program (FAC 21, noon-4pm) will include, among many other things, film of resistance action around the world and footage shot last week at the World Trade Organization protests in Cancún. For much more detail of events and schedule, see www.cinematexas.org.
The Saltillo District Redevelopment Project kicks off in earnest next week, with a community open house Wednesday, Sept. 24, from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, next to Plaza Saltillo. Representatives from Capital Metro (which owns the 11 acres being redeveloped) and the city, and appointed citizen members of the Saltillo Community Advisory Group, will be on hand to answer questions about the ambitious project.