Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Sept. 26, 2003
Quote of the Week: "The three R's -- recount, recall, and re-redistricting -- are the new playbook for a narrow Republican majority attempting to use government to expand partisan power." -- State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who on Saturday delivered the Democratic response to President Bush's weekly radio address.
As punishment for staying out (of state) past the party's bedtime, Van de Putte and the rest of the Texas 11 Minus One got grounded by the GOP Senate majority last week -- even as the Republicans hotly denied charges of racism and paternalism. See Capitol Chronicle.
Meanwhile, re-redistricting itself lumbers along; on Monday, House mapmaker Phil King announced a compromise (blessed by Gov. Rick Perry) designed to satisfy both House Speaker Tom Craddick and state Sen. Robert Duncan while preserving congressional seats for both Lubbock and Midland. But King's half-map -- which would likely eliminate a Central Texas seat to make Craddick happy -- appears dead on arrival on the Senate floor. The full Senate took up Duncan's original plan Tuesday morning. See On the Lege.
Move along, folks, there's nothing to see here: It appears that the independent investigation initiated by the Office of the Police Monitor has agreed that last year's shooting of Sophia King was justified. But we don't really know. See below.
Busy, busy City Council meeting this week, with 88 items on the agenda; be prepared for rumbles over Wal-Mart (see No Deals (Yet> at Wal-Mart), the PATRIOT Act (see below), green power, minority contracting, Town Lake Park, historic zoning, the reborn sign ordinance, and maybe more. On a more laudatory note, two retiring city staff veterans -- planner and mediator Tracy Watson and Public Works Director Peter Rieck -- will get their farewell proclamations. (By the way: The Roadwork Rodeo is heading to Lake Austin Boulevard starting Thursday, meaning even less parking for the daytime portion of council meetings at LCRA.)
According to city officials, the results of an independent investigation into the 2002 shooting death of Sophia King have been received and reviewed by the city -- but will remain confidential and unavailable for public scrutiny. "After a review of the independent investigation report," Police Chief Stan Knee said during a Sept. 18 press conference, "I have no basis upon which to make any changes in my previous decision that Officer John Coffey, and the other officers who responded to the scene of this unfortunate death, acted within the law and department policy and used deadly force only as a last resort." Indeed, it is because Knee has apparently cleared the officers involved in King's death of any wrongdoing or departmental policy violations that the report will remain secret. The independent investigation was conducted as an extension of an APD internal affairs investigation, and state law prohibits release of any investigative documents when an officer is cleared of wrongdoing. Not surprisingly, the decision to keep the report confidential has sparked anger among many who sought outside review of the shooting, the first major test for the city's Office of the Police Monitor. "What purpose does the monitor's office serve if the police chief can usurp its power and suppress its reports?" Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington, representing King's mother in a lawsuit against the city, asked in a press release. -- Jordan Smith
Community leaders and Eastside entrepreneurs gathered Saturday morning at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center for the Austin Community Development Corp.'s first East Austin Economic Summit. The event featured local economist Jon Hockenyos, various academics from the LBJ School and the McCombs School of Business, city staffers, and others highlighting the changes and challenges facing the Eastside -- which, though struggling with the same recession as everyone else, has continued to close its economic gap with the rest of town. The string of major redevelopment efforts under way in East Austin -- from the Saltillo District to the East 11th/12th corridor to the Featherlite tract to the former Mueller Airport -- drew attention as an opportunity for small businesses wanting to be part of the Eastside revival. -- M.C.M.
Speaking of the Featherlite tract -- the long-vacant parcel near MLK and Airport Boulevard now owned by former Dell finance exec Tom Meredith -- Envision Central Texas will present the results of its Featherlite planning workshop, held earlier this year, on Monday, Sept. 29, at 6:30pm, at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, MLK and Chestnut. The ECT plan -- synthesized from community input by the group's A-list planning consultants, Fregonese Calthorpe Associates -- will presumably resemble the Featherlite vision in the Chestnut Neighborhood Plan, crafted by many of the same citizens, which Meredith and his team of consultants say they'll respect as they embark on their not-really-for-profit venture. The 25-acre Featherlite tract, which lies next to a potential light-rail line, is the largest undeveloped parcel in East Austin and for years attracted interest, but no offers, from a number of private and nonprofit developers; community visions for the site have tended to be variations on the mixed-use urban-village concept. -- M.C.M.
The City Council may have its long-awaited hot-oil wrestling match with John Ashcroft this week, as a proposed resolution condemning the USA PATRIOT Act -- delayed for six weeks by city budget wrangling -- heads back to the dais. The council is neatly divided. On the left: Jackie Goodman, Raul Alvarez, and Danny Thomas, sponsors of the resolution. On the right, Will Wynn, Betty Dunkerley, and Brewster McCracken, who think resolving against U.S. federal policy is not the council's job. In the middle sits Daryl Slusher, who on Monday issued a closely argued statement agreeing with both sides. He supports a PATRIOT resolution in concept, but has problems with the draft Goodman has laid on the table, which he suggests is not "of the most absolute clarity possible" and which implies that PATRIOT is actually unconstitutional, a claim Slusher says is beyond the council's role to make. -- M.C.M.
Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region broke ground Tuesday on a new flagship facility at 201 E. Ben White. The groundbreaking capped two years of planning and fundraising to cover land acquisition and construction costs. The new complex will consolidate the organization's medical, counseling, education, training, outreach, and volunteer services and administrative offices. Work on the project coincides with the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the 65th year of Planned Parenthood's presence in Austin. Backers also note that the clinic will meet new state requirements for abortion services. District 51 state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and other dignitaries attended the ceremony. -- Amy Smith
The richest man in town, Michael Dell, continues to occupy a lofty perch in the annual Forbes magazine listing of the 400 wealthiest Americans. The dude's $13 billion fortune landed him at No. 10 on the roster; Dell (who Forbes says is from Round Rock; we know better) is the only Austinite among the 36 Texans on the list. (They're overwhelmingly concentrated in the Metroplex.) Dell squeezes in between other rich people of local interest -- just ahead of him are five different Waltons, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and worth more than $20 billion each, and just behind him are the Cox sisters, owners of the Austin American-Statesman, worth $11 billion each. -- M.C.M.
A group of six researchers, including Arnold Schecter of UT's Health Sciences Center in Dallas, have released a study of 47 Austin and Dallas women that showed highly elevated levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in their breast milk, 10 to 100 times higher than their counterparts in Europe, where many PBDEs have been banned. Animal experiments have linked PBDEs to disrupted thyroid function and improper brain development. The study's authors suggest that the elevated levels in American women's milk is likely due to the use of brominated flame retardants in various consumer products, and express concern that, because use of the retardants is so widespread in America, they could be "the new PCBs." Like those now-banned toxins, PDBEs are fat-soluble and persist for decades both in the human body and in the environment. Despite the findings, the researchers still say that breast milk remains the best nutrition for infants. The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. -- Lee Nichols
Though Wesley Clark's entry into the presidential race has given Howard Dean a probably much-appreciated holiday from media scrutiny, the Deanies continue to play up their success among Texas Democrats. An Austin contingent of Dean supporters, as well as delegations from Houston and Dallas, was scheduled at press time to fly to Iowa to serve among Dean's "Texas Rangers" and drum up support for the former Vermont governor. The gambit is a parody of President Bush's re-election "Rangers" -- the successors to the Bush Pioneers and a club to which admittance costs $200,000. -- M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
And then there were 10. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark formally entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last week, joining the nine others ranging (from right to left) from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. (Thirteen Texas House members endorsed Clark in advance of his announcement; on Monday, El Paso's Norma Chavez added her name to the list. Clark will appear at the Capitol Monday at 1pm.) According to a Newsweek poll published Sept. 20, the former NATO supreme commander immediately became the front-runner, although the percentages suggest that few voters are paying much attention yet; a few days' headlines may change the numbers. According to the poll, Clark is favored by 14% of registered Democrats and sympathizers, while Lieberman and former Gov. Howard Dean each have 12%. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, with 10%, was the only other candidate in double digits. Also, a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll matched individual Dems against Bush; Clark, Lieberman, and Kerry are in a statistical dead heat against the president, while Dean and Gephardt trail Bush by just a few points. -- Michael King
Clark, an Arkansan, is said to have the encouragement of former President Bill Clinton -- despite the fact that Clinton's people pushed Clark out of his NATO job. But GOP spinmeisters like the New York Times' William Safire immediately went into overdrive on Bill and Hillary's Machiavellian plans for a "Clinton restoration." On the left, however, critics point out that Clark -- who now claims he strongly questioned the Iraq war -- immediately after the "victory" declared, "The campaign in Iraq illustrates the continuing progress of military technology and tactics, but if there is a single overriding lesson it must be this: American military power, especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable today. Take us on? Don't try! And that's not hubris, it's just plain fact." Since becoming a candidate -- that is, in the last week -- Clark has alternately said he supported, opposed, and had concerns about the Iraq adventure. -- M.K.
Yes, the Barton Springs drought study got rained out again last weekend -- plus, the city acceded to requests to keep the pool open during the ACL Fest. Third time's a charm: The pool is slated to be closed from 9am Wednesday, Sept. 24, through 5pm Friday, Sept. 26, while the city simulates drought conditions and studies the effect of low water levels on endangered species and water quality. Deep Eddy Pool will be open extended hours during the study.
Austin welcomes the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride on Saturday, Sept. 27, 8am-noon, at El Buen Samaritano (7000 Woodhue). Rally, live music, and a community fair. Austin is a stop for two freedom-ride buses en route from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress; the riders will then travel to Liberty State Park in New Jersey Oct. 3 and to New York City for a mass rally Oct. 4. For more, contact the Network for a Progressive Texas at 441-3003, or visit www.protex.org.
A Stop the Occupation march and rally will be held Sunday, Sept. 28, beginning at 2pm at Wooldridge Square Park at 10th and Guadalupe and proceeding to the Federal Building. Speakers will include members of Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and others who are sick of George and Dick's Un-Excellent Iraq Adventure.
The "Unofficial Austin Sister Cities' Exploration Committee for Cuba" will meet Tuesday, Sept. 30, at Cuba Libre, 409 Colorado. Happy hour at 6pm or so; meeting starts at about 6:30pm. For more info, contact Aralyn Hughes at 476-0682 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or see www.austinsistercities.org.
The Austin Center for Peace and Justice is hosting an open house/potluck event, "What Would Gandhi Do?" in honor of Mahatma Gandhi's 134th birthday on Thursday, Oct. 2, 6:30-8:30pm, at the center, 5801 Westminster (behind the Austin Mennonite Church in Northeast Austin). People are encouraged to bring a vegetarian potluck dish in honor of the nonviolent peace heroes of South Asia, but all foods are welcome. For more info, visit the ACPJ Web site at www.austinpeacecenter.org.
Jobs With Justice Labor and Community Breakfast, 9:30am-noon, Saturday, Oct. 4, at AFL-CIO Hall, 1106 Lavaca. Have breakfast on them, and see why your church or club should become a part of the organization. For more info, contact Paul Sherr at email@example.com.