Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Nov. 14, 2003
Quote of the Week: "I certainly wouldn't want to be a party to killing a creek, no matter where it is." -- Council Member Daryl Slusher, signaling trepidation before the City Council's 7-0 vote to approve -- on first reading only -- zoning for a Wal-Mart at the head of Blunn Creek in South Austin.
Slusher didn't, however, join the majority's 4-3 vote to OK a settlement deal with Lowe's to allow another big box over the aquifer. For the latest big-box news, see Lowe's Deal Gets Council OK, Another Win for Wal-Mart, and Austin at Large.
An internal memo obtained by the Chronicle indicates that Farmers Insurance kept information about "troublesome" claims away from state investigators during last year's insurance crisis. See Did Farmers Insurance Keep Secrets From the State?.
Austin Police Chief Stan Knee has handed down heavy discipline of the Decker Creek Six -- the cops caught fishing on the job at the city power plant -- even as APD has remained curiously passive in the face of other, more serious charges against its officers. See Knee Won't Let Fishing Cops Off the Hook.
Despite losing its general contractor after a concerted pressure campaign from pro-life activists, Planned Parenthood says its new facility in South Austin will be completed as planned. See Planned Parenthood Says Its Future Is Set in Stone.
Both the Austin City Council and the Travis Co. Commissioners Court voted last week to join lawsuits filed against congressional redistricting. (Former Mayor Gus Garcia and several commissioners have also joined as individual plaintiffs.) Last Friday was the deadline to join the case; the trial (consolidating all the suits filed across the state) is set to begin Dec. 11 in Austin.
On Wednesday, as the Chronicle went to press, Williamson County Attorney Gene Taylor filed a civil suit seeking the removal from office of Sheriff John Maspero over the sheriff's (very) public intoxication. More on this next week.
The revived boat races haven't capsized yet; local businessman William Archer has put up billboards and a Web site promoting his planned River City Fiesta, a drag-boat racing event scheduled for "summer 2004" at a still-undetermined location. Archer's plan to bring hot-boat racing back to Austin met with almost universal negativity from both Eastside leaders and the City Council, but the Rivercityfiesta.com site includes an impact study from Texas Perspectives which speculates that a national-circuit boat racing event (drawing as many as 6,000 out-of-towners among 45,000 attendees) would spur more than $4 million of economic benefit. The city shut down hot-boat racing at Festival Beach in the 1970s after years of conflict between Eastside neighbors, Mexican-American activists, race spectators, and Austin police. Current city code bans most any powercraft from Town Lake and requires motorboats on Lake Austin and Lake Walter E. Long to maintain "reasonable and prudent speeds"; the Web site acknowledges that plans for up to 200 boats, racing as fast as 240 mph, are "pending Austin City Council approval." At least five council members have announced opposition to the plans. -- M.C.M.
A proposed Eckerd drugstore won final approval from City Council last week, over the objections of residents who live in its far Northwest neighborhood. Neighbors feared the project at RR 620 and El Salido Parkway would open the door to more high-density commercial development at the entrance to their neighborhood. Eckerd had previously agreed to scale down the property -- being rezoned from office to retail -- and to build a privacy fence and pedestrian crossing at the site. Yet, a driveway from the proposed store to El Salido Parkway, which residents opposed on grounds that it would increase traffic in the neighborhood, remained intact as the council delivered the final vote. While the Eckerd site is in the city limits, many of the neighbors who protested it are not; the Anderson Mill area is slated for annexation come 2005. -- Amy Smith
City leaders and advocates for the homeless last week celebrated the grand opening of Garden Terrace, a 85-unit complex on William Cannon that is Austin's first single-room-occupancy supportive housing facility. Garden Terrace is designed as a housing option for homeless adults who need more than temporary shelter but aren't yet ready or able to move into a Housing Authority project or other subsidized rental housing (much of which is designed for families, not single adults). The facility, funded by the city and managed by Foundation Communities, provides not only housing but support services to homeless or very-low-income Austinites making their first steps into self-sufficiency. In its most recent housing needs assessment report, the Austin/Travis County Community Action Network called for the creation of 100 supportive SRO units like those at Garden Terrace, though the need is likely even greater. More online at www.gardenterrace.org. -- M.C.M.
The latest wrinkle in the Holly Power Plant saga: A proposal by the Texas United Latino Artists that the city sell the site (at the foot of Rainey Street) currently planned for the Mexican-American Cultural Center, use part of the money to close down the plant, and move the MACC to ... the Holly Power Plant site. (Two Holly units are scheduled to shut down in December 2004, and the whole plant in 2007.) According to TULA Chair Joe M. Perez, the proposal is an attempt to solve three problems at once: the danger to the Eastside neighborhood health and welfare represented by the power plant, the location of the MACC on the "wrong" (west) side of I-35, and the consequent need for an alternative site for the MACC. The artists are also proposing some money be set aside for a "tax freeze" for residents of Rainey Street and that their new MACC -- offered in published designs to look like a Meso-American pyramid -- be equipped with a southern wall of solar cells "to provide electrical power to a substantial portion of the Eastside." TULA is holding a meeting tonight (Thursday) at Papa Panchos, 2401 E. Cesar Chavez, 7pm, to discuss the proposal and possible designs. For more info: 477-5829 or email@example.com. -- Michael King
Local start-ups Power Tube and WindKraft, both part of Austin's Clean Energy Incubator, will be among the 34 young companies presenting their business plans at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's 16th Industry Growth Forum, to be held Nov. 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. The presenters are exactly the kind of firms Austin wants to encourage as the city seeks to become a clean-energy capital; they'll get to make their pitches to venture investors and "influencers" in the energy industry (clean and otherwise). The NREL forum is also sponsored by the Austin Clean Energy Initiative, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, and Austin Energy itself, among other corporate backers. -- M.C.M.
The city is offering free mulch -- first-come, first-served -- at Walnut Creek Park. No supervisors or equipment will be available, so get it yourself at 12138 N. Lamar. -- Lee Nichols
Beyond City Limits
Austin-based Whole Foods Market has announced plans to use wind power for 10% of its electricity needs in its Mid-Atlantic region stores. Twenty-four stores will be part of the deal, which will buy wind energy from Community Energy Inc. of Wayne, Pa. -- L.N.
A report released late last month by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmentalist nonprofit, examines the 2002 EPA data on toxic and climate-changing air emissions from power plants and finds that, yet again, Texas has some of the dirtiest air in the nation. We rank first in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, fourth in releases of sulfur dioxide (Ohio is the worst), fifth in nitrogen oxides (Ohio again). Combine those rankings with strength of schedule, and we could very well get into a BCS bowl game. The report, "Lethal Legacy: A Comprehensive Look at America's Dirtiest Power Plants," can be downloaded by going to www.uspirg.org and clicking on "Reports." -- L.N.
When poor people break the rules, it's moral turpitude. When government breaks the rules, it's fiscal responsibility. Earlier this month, the Texas Workforce Commission imposed new restrictions to deny Medicaid to adults who fail to comply with all aspects of the state's "Personal Responsibility Agreement" -- not just failure to actually work or pay child support (restrictions allowed under federal law), but also failure to keep kids immunized, attending school, and so on. To accomplish this, the TWC changed its rules, in secret, to redefine those latter actions as "work" -- thus apparently violating both federal law and state open-meeting laws. Roughly 20,000 people already lost Medicaid (thus creating a new public health risk) under sanctions imposed in September, and the TWC's rule changes should add another 2,000 or so of the poorest of the poor (earning less than $3,000 a year) to emergency-room waiting areas. Commented U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, "Violating federal law and common sense, today's misguided decision is only the latest example of the Republican leadership's ailing health policy that ensures only the well-heeled get healed." -- M.K.
Hoping to amplify the organized voices of women on state issues, and involve more women in public activism, a group of activist organizations have formed the Texas Women's Coalition. The TWC, created over the past year, links 14 established women's organizations with a combined membership of more than 15,000. Representatives of the groups held their first annual meeting Oct. 29 on the UT campus and elected Darlene Hicks, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, as TWC's first president. The TWC is patterned after the National Council of Women's Organizations (www.womensorganizations.org) which unites about 200 women's organizations nationwide. Said steering committee member Valarie Bristol, "The erosion of rights in the national arena, along with some of the things that were said and done in the 2003 Texas Legislature, spurred us to act. It was the principle of 'Don't get mad, get organized.'" -- M.K.
Saturday, Nov. 15, is not only Austin Unchained buy-local day (see "Austin@Large"), but also Texas Recycles Day, which conveniently enough is also America Recycles Day. To get involved, go to www.texasrecyclesday.org. Then go to www.americarecyclesday.org, where by pledging to begin or renew your commitment to recycling, you can enter a national drawing for a 2004 Ford Focus PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle), Trek Model 4300 24-speed bicycles, or spa vacation packages. Pledges must be submitted no later than midnight Nov. 15.
Activists, concerned that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization might eliminate the 15% bicycle/pedestrian set-aside from its Metro Mobility Fund, will rally outside UT's Joe C. Thompson Conference Center at 26th and Red River at 5pm, Monday, Nov. 17, before going inside at 6pm to attend CAMPO's public hearing on the issue. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Colombia Human Rights Network of Austin will host a panel discussion entitled "The Role of Colombia in the New World Order" on Monday, Nov. 17, 7-9pm, in UT's Gearing Hall, Room 105. The panel features a Colombian sociologist in exile, a specialist in crop fumigation, and a photojournalist with recent experience in Colombia. Moderated by UT journalism professor Bob Jensen. Also featured is a video screening of The Hidden Story: Confronting Colombia's Dirty War.
The LBJ School of Public Affairs' War on Terror Lecture Series features Oliver "Buck" Revell, former associate deputy director of the FBI, and James Olson, former chief of station and chief of counterintelligence of the CIA, discussing the role of intelligence in the war. Each will give a 20-minute presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session. Monday, Nov. 17, 7pm in Bass Lecture Hall at UT's LBJ School, 2315 Red River. For more info, call 471-8954.
A short-term master plan for downtown's historic Brush Square, home of the O. Henry Museum and the recently relocated Susanna Dickinson-Hannig Home, is being created. City planners want to meet with stakeholders, neighbors, and other interested parties for input on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 6:30-8pm, in room 105 of Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th.
"They want to steal Town Lake Park!" So cries out the South Austin Culture Club, which will hold a meeting/party/happening Wednesday, Nov. 19, 11:30am, at the Austin Lyric Opera building, Barton Springs Road and Bouldin (across from the site of the planned-and-postponed park). Admission is $12; Cactus Pryor will host, and current and former City Council luminaries (Gus Garcia, Jackie Goodman, Beverly Griffith) will be there for the virtual "ribbon cutting." Attendees will get a free "Town Lake Park Now!" commemorative Frisbee and "docent-guided tours" of the park-to-be from the Lyric Opera's rooftop. RSVP requested to email@example.com or 619-7350; more info at www.southaustinculture.org.
GLBTgrad, a UT campus organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered grad students, will host a "visibility picnic" 11:30am-1pm on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at the turtle pond north of the Tower. Organizers say the brown-bag affair is one of several social endeavors planned as a result of a recent study showing a lack of political and social cohesiveness among GLBT students on campus. See studentorgs.utexas.edu/glbtgrad for more info.
This year's Harvest for Hunger concert features Pat Green and Cory Morrow playing "unplugged" this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 8pm, at the Paramount Theatre. Net proceeds will go to the Capital Area Food Bank. Last year's show raised $10,000; each dollar spent on tickets can provide 5.6 meals to people in Central Texas. For tickets, call 469-SHOW or 888/597-7827.