Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 3, 2003
Quote of the Week: "I don't think you'll ever see an appreciable difference on I-35" -- State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, telling the Statesman's Ben Wear about the vast impact SH 130 will have on local mobility. The long-awaited Eastside toll road, first officially proposed 18 years ago, will have its groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 3.
Partisan bulldogs rule the roost on the House-Senate conference committee aiming to reconcile the two chambers' competing re-redistricting maps. Both left Travis Co. basically alone, but plans to Balkanize Austin and get rid of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett continue to emerge from the swamps below the House floor. See p.20.
Mayor Will Wynn's thinking-out-loud about giving Wal-Mart a tax-break deal to not build a Supercenter over the aquifer was roundly drubbed by the anti-big-box coalition forces -- who are instead talking "lawsuit" to stop the Beast. See Austin@Large.
Democratic presidential candidates were thicker than crickets on the Austin ground this week, including the current It Boy, Gen. Wesley Clark. See Capitol Chronicle.
Soup's on from Envision Central Texas -- the five-county regional planning campaign is finally ready to release the fruits of its labors. The ECT effort, guided by dozens of political and civic leaders from throughout metro Austin, has been working for nearly two years with superstar planners John Fregonese and Peter Calthorpe (who've done similar exercises in Salt Lake City and other high-growth regions) to gather input and develop scenarios for accommodating the expected 1.5 million more people who'll come to the metro area in the next 20 years. The four scenarios -- ranging from the sprawl-driven status quo to building new compact towns in the hinterlands to focusing on Austin urban infill -- officially hit the streets Monday, Oct. 6, kicking off a three-week-long window for citizens to vote on which elements they like best. (Mayor Will Wynn and ECT board Chair Neal Kocurek will complete the first surveys.) An eight-page insert containing details of all four scenarios will be included in next week's Chronicle and other local papers. Also this week, ECT revealed the results of its workshops earlier this year focusing on specific sites in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties, including East Austin's Featherlite tract, recently purchased with great fanfare by ex-Dell exec Tom Meredith. -- M.C.M.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced the awarding of federal funding to several worthy local projects. Austin's SafePlace is set to receive nearly $200,000 in federal funds to support its Dating Violence Prevention Project as a national model for preventing dating-related violence. And Austin ISD will get more than $260,000 to support efforts to bring more students from disadvantaged communities into the Advanced Placement program. -- M.C.M. and Jordan Smith
From the Department of Local Patriotism: On Sept. 23 the UT Student Government overwhelmingly passed a resolution denouncing the USA PATRIOT Act, by a vote of 22-9. Among its provisions, the resolution calls on Fred Heath, UT provost of general libraries, to post in every campus library a warning that federal law-enforcers are able to access student reading records. The SG also urged that the UT Police Department cease undercover surveillance of student activists done in connection with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Two days later, the Austin City Council, after a two-month delay, finally passed its own anti-PATRIOT resolution on Sept. 25. Daryl Slusher -- who insisted on last-minute wording changes -- joined the resolution's sponsors, Raul Alvarez, Danny Thomas, and Jackie Goodman, in support; Brewster McCracken, Betty Dunkerley, and Mayor Will Wynn abstained. -- J.S.
The Young Conservatives of Texas released its ratings of the 78th Legislature last week, and there was plenty of love for Austin: District 46 Rep. Dawnna Dukes tied with El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh as the "most liberal" legislators in the state, because they voted the way YCT wanted only 6% of the time. (We'd like to have a word with Dukes about that 6%.) Also making the "most liberal" list (10% or below) were Austin Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez (both at 10%); Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos narrowly missed that honor with 12%. And don't feel too bad about our local Republicans -- the most conservative was Todd Baxter, who only gave in to the Dark Side 75% of the time. In the YCT's eyes, that doesn't even get him an honorable mention. -- Lee Nichols
Speaking of the YCT: The Sept. 22 issue of The Daily Texan featured a fascinating story about Pakistani student Umer Zaman, who allegedly forged transcripts to enter the United States and matriculate at UT, and has since disappeared. By day's end, the YCT had responded in typical fashion: It distributed "Wanted" posters around campus, creating the impression that Zaman was being sought for arrest. "There's no telling where this guy's at," the UT YCT chairman told the Texan. "He could be in Austin, and he needs to be apprehended." Trouble is, Zaman is not "wanted" -- though the Texan story said the FBI had taken an interest in the case, nothing suggests they actually want Zaman in custody. The Texan editorial page blasted the YCT, saying that the group was trying to link Zaman to terrorism without evidence, and labeled the posters "an overt attempt to villainize [Zaman] for his background." -- L.N.
And speaking of flyers, on Sept. 24 the National Alliance, a white supremacist group, covered the UT campus with racist flyers. UT President Larry Faulkner's office quickly sent an e-mail to all students denouncing the flyers and pointing out that, since it is not a student group, the alliance has no legal right to distribute such flyers on campus. -- L.N.
AISD last week announced that projects begun under last year's $49.3 million health and safety bond initiative have reached the halfway mark -- on time and largely within budget. Voters overwhelmingly passed the bond package last February to complete mold remediation at selected campuses, and to perform preventive roof, drainage, and ventilation-system improvements on nearly every campus. According to an AISD press release, the district spent $20 million on its first-year projects, which focused on major mold remediation at seven campuses, especially Boone, Galindo, Patton, and Kocurek elementaries in South Austin. The second year of projects (costing nearly $10 million) is now "substantially complete"; planning for the 2004 projects began in August with the issuance of bid requests, and architects and engineers will be selected in November from the pool of qualified bidders. -- J.S.
Former Texas 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Lee Yeakel was sworn in last week as Austin's newest federal district judge. He replaces veteran Judge James Nowlin, who is retiring to senior status. President Bush's lifetime appointment of Yeakel to take Nowlin's spot was confirmed in July by the U.S. Senate. As governor, Bush first appointed Yeakel to the 3rd Court, to which Yeakel was re-elected in 2000. -- J.S.
In other judicial news, the Travis Co. Commissioners Court last week denied a pay raise requested by three county justices of the peace. Richard Scott, Elena Diaz, and Herb Evans were seeking a $10,000 raise, in line with those the county's district judges are set to receive, but commissioners Karen Sonleitner, Margaret Gomez, and Ron Davis voted against the measure. The JPs currently earn just over $69,000 per year. A $5,000-per-year compromise floated by County Judge Sam Biscoe also failed. -- J.S.
A whistle-blower complaint by the former editor of the UT Center for Mexican American Studies' publishing arm, CMAS Books, has already prompted change in CMAS operations, sources tell us. Former CMAS Books Editor Victor Guerra was fired this summer when CMAS Books was shut down, ostensibly because it wasn't making a hefty enough profit, even though CMAS is obviously a nonprofit enterprise. Guerra alleges he was fired in retaliation for reporting improprieties within the CMAS administration -- including CMAS Director José Limón and Associate Director Richard Flores hiring their daughters to work at the center, in direct violation of UT's nepotism policy. (See "Closing the Books," Sept. 12.) Sources say that, despite initial protestations that no policy was violated, Limón has since announced the termination of his stepdaughter's employment -- effective Sept. 30 -- and that the impending employment of Flores' daughter had been canceled. Richard Lariviere, the dean of UT's College of Liberal Arts, did not return calls requesting comment. Meanwhile, UT Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson is expected to release his decision on Guerra's grievance appeal Oct. 10. -- J.S.
Beyond City Limits
After 15 months of delays, the new Williamson Co. Juvenile Justice Center is slated to open on Oct. 3 -- featuring approximately $160,000 in new flooring installed this summer. The old, failed flooring brought into the spotlight controversial provisions of the county's contract with Georgetown-based FT Woods Construction -- which was awarded without competitive bid and which has earned FT Woods more than $2 million for work on the $19.9 million JJC project. Part of that money is from late fees awarded to FT Woods while the JJC remained unfinished, even though the contractor who installed the failed epoxy-coated concrete floors claims FT Woods is responsible for the failure and thus the delay. The county and FT Woods dispute this, but the matter remains unresolved. For more, see "Money for Nothing," Aug. 15. -- J.S.
After "outing" the liberal activist Web site MoveOn.org as "the activist arm of the Communist Party USA" [see "We Got Reds in Our Webs!" Sept. 26] -- based solely on an Internet link from the latter's Web site to the former -- the conservative Texas Citizens Action Network is now crowing that the prominent link has been removed "following" Texas C.A.N.'s e-mail alert highlighting the connection. The link appeared in the "Action Box" on the left-hand side of the party's site, www.cpusa.org. The Communists, however, deny that the removal had anything to do with the alert: "That's the nature of the Action Box," CPUSA spokesman Noel Rabinowitz told Naked City. "It was linking to a particular campaign for a fixed amount of time that's now over. Now it's linked to the [Immigrant Workers'] Freedom Ride." As for Texas C.A.N.'s assertion that MoveOn.org -- which had supported anti-redistricting efforts in Texas, among other causes -- was just a tool of Rabinowitz and his evil, America-hating henchmen, Rabinowitz commented, "I didn't know [Texas C.A.N.] was a comedy group." -- L.N.
Actually, the lying liars at Texas C.A.N. have moved on to new lies. In its weekly "Legislative Update" e-mail, the conservative group exhorted its minions to show their support for the Lege's attempt at re-redistricting, warning, "Other states are redistricting to elect more LIBERALS!" News junkies that we are, Naked City is unaware of any such action in any state. Much like their Texan brethren, Colorado Republicans redistricted earlier this year to screw that state's Democrats, and in North Carolina, the majority Dems are under court order to produce a (statehouse) map that is more fair to the Republicans. Texas C.A.N. did not return phone calls. -- L.N.
A Census Bureau report released Monday says that the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 2.4 million over the last year, that 43.6 million people -- 15.2% of the population -- are now without health insurance, and that the Texas percentage is 24.7%. (And that's for 2001-2002, before the Legislature responded to the state's budget deficit by slashing Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.) Texas is No. 1 in uninsured people; the only other state above 20% is New Mexico, at 20.9%. Analysts pointed to the lack of organized labor in Texas and the high number of immigrants who work in low-paying jobs unlikely to have benefits. -- Michael King
The Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League's 17th annual "Celebration of Choice" silent auction and fundraiser is today (Thursday, Oct. 2) from 5:30 to 8:30pm at 1604 E. 11th. Tickets are $35 in advance (call 462-1661 or visit www.taral.org) or $40 at the door and include food, drinks, and more.
Velocity -- a documentary on wind power as an alternative energy source -- will get another Austin screening at 3pm Sunday (Oct. 5) at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. The work of Austin filmmaker Michelle Voss, the documentary premiered in Austin in May to coincide with the American Wind Energy Association conference. This time, Voss' film will precede the Green Festival, which takes place the following weekend at the Austin Convention Center. Voss will take questions from the audience following the screening.
Two scholars of political communication -- professors Charlton McIlwain of NYU and Stephen Maynard Caliendo of Avila University (Kansas City, Mo.) -- will speak on the use of race in U.S. political campaign advertising on Monday, Oct. 6, at 7pm, in the CMA Auditorium (Room 2.320), at 26th and Guadalupe on the UT campus. For more info: 471-1990 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.