Breaking news from Austin, the region, and elsewhere
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Nov. 21, 2003
Quote of the Week: "Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen. The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction. ... I don't formally recognize George Bush because he was not officially elected. So we are organizing an alternative reception for everybody who is not George Bush." -- London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who held a "peace party" for anti-war groups at City Hall during the Bush state visit
The Travis Co. grand jury that indicted Officer Scott Glasgow in the June shooting death of Jessie Lee Owens issued a report last week questioning apparently different standards and procedures of law enforcement on the city's east and west sides, and in particular a pattern of assigning young and inexperienced officers in minority neighborhoods (see APD, City Kick Off 'Dialogue').
The UT board of regents voted to raise tuition 14% for the spring semester but to delay a similar fall increase 60 days to allow for legislative review. Last week Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst questioned the size of the UT increase, and has asked an interim oversight committee to address the issue in December (see Dewhurst on De-Reg: Eeek!).
In a glimmer of good economic news echoing national and state indicators, Austin's sales-tax collections rose 4.1% in September over the same month last year. And the comptroller's office reported that statewide collections were up 3.6% for the month, the largest single increase since August 2001.
AISD has hired an ombudsman -- or more precisely in this case, an ombudswoman -- to mediate between parents, school administrators, and the district bureaucracy. Beverly Reeves, who will assist parents and community members in resolving school-related problems when normal procedures have failed, comes to AISD after 13 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Austin Community College President Richard Fonté announced his resignation, effective Jan. 5, to accept an appointment from the Bush administration to the We the People program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (see p.23).
At Monday's Capital Metro board meeting, the board voted to execute interlocal agreements with the villages of Point Venture and Volente, which allow the two communities to receive up to $34,700 each in funds for regional mobility projects next year. To receive funding, proposed transportation projects must: improve regional mobility, improve mass transit, leverage federal or private funds, add to an existing program, and/or expedite a critical mobility project. Also, the board voted to authorize disbursement of the one-fourth-cent sales-tax funds for FY 2003 and to hire Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. as the architecture and engineering consultant for a new Park & Ride facility on North I-35 at Tech Ridge; the contract is worth about $455,000. -- Lee Nichols
Local members of the national nonprofit group Not With Our Money are calling on UT System administrators to cut business ties with New York-based Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. because the company provides major financial backing for the nation's private prison industry. Lehman Brothers, a global investment banking firm, has underwritten $600 million in bonds for the UT System since 1988 and has also helped secure finances for several of the nation's largest private-prison vendors -- including organizing the 2002 bailout of Corrections Corporation of America, in part by providing the recently bankrupt company with a $715 million loan, according to NWOM. Activists complain that student tuition goes to pay Lehman's fees for underwriting system bonds, which the company then puts into private-prison financing deals. "The university has to live up to its promises to cultivate ethical and moral standards in students," NWOM organizer Bob Libal told the Austin Business Journal on Nov. 13. "Supporting companies that back for-profit prisons doesn't convey that." For more info, see www.notwithourmoney.org. -- Jordan Smith
The owners of Casa de Luz restaurant and Parkside Community School -- the popular Toomey Road destination points for nourishment of mind and body -- have a couple of months to come up to code on their long-running parking predicament. Consultant Kent Butler is working with proprietors Eduardo and Any Longoria to find additional parking for the busy campus tucked between Town Lake and Barton Springs Road. The owners -- along with 800 signers of a petition -- had sought a variance to reduce the required number of parking spaces from 68 to 10. Residents from the nearby Zilker Neighborhood Association and Barton Springs Road business landowners opposed the variance at last week's Board of Adjustment meeting and submitted a letter urging the board to deny the request. The board delayed a vote on the variance, instead voting 5-0 to allow Butler time to try to drum up some more parking for the restaurant and school, possibly through negotiations with Capital Metro, which uses a Park & Ride 'Dillo lot across the street. -- Amy Smith
Two child-centered nonprofits, the Any Baby Can Child and Family Resource Center and the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation, have merged in order to cut costs. Any Baby Can serves children with special needs; the Candlelighters help children with cancer. -- L.N.
The Old West Austin Neighborhood Association's second annual calendar drive kicks off this week, with all sales of the 2004 calendars going to support neighborhood historic-preservation efforts. The neighborhood -- from Lamar to MoPac, and Lake Austin to Enfield, and encompassing Clarksville -- is among Austin's oldest. OWANA hopes to raise nearly $40,000 to hire a consultant to survey and prepare an application for the neighborhood to be considered for a National Register historic district designation. This year's calendar once again features drawings of neighborhood landmarks by local artist and OWANA resident Ed Jordan. The calendars are available at businesses throughout the neighborhood, including Nau's, Sweetish Hill, and Wiggy's. For more info, call 474-6755. -- L.N.
For some Onion-style humor with an Austin twist, check out www.gracklenews.com. They're right -- the new Frost Bank building does look like the Fortress of Solitude! -- L.N.
Beyond City Limits
Drug czar John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, traveled to San Francisco last week to warn city leaders against studying the feasibility of a city-led medical marijuana cultivation and distribution program, approved by city voters last year. California's progressive medical marijuana laws have been a favorite target of federal law enforcement officers since passage of the state's first initiative legalizing pot use for seriously ill patients in 1996. As usual, Walters was full of spin: "The tendency is to talk about marijuana as if it was trivial," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. But, he said, pot smoking is an increasingly serious problem, especially among teens. "More teenagers are seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than for all other drugs combined." Drug trend data available on the ONDCP's own Web site contradicts El Czaro. According to a study released Nov. 9 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of teens that admitted to using marijuana when entering treatment programs did rise in 2002. But the researchers also note that their study excludes all information related to alcohol abuse by those same teens -- even though alcohol is the substance most frequently abused by teens. -- J.S.
Employees of Whole Foods Market's Madison, Wis., store have petitioned to de-unionize, and Whole Foods has withdrawn its recognition of the United Food and Commercial Workers. When the store unionized earlier this year, it became the first to do so in a company that is notoriously anti-union. The situation is currently being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board. -- L.N.
A Glimmer of Hope, the Austin-based charity known for famine-relief efforts in Ethiopia, has announced that it will donate $5 million over the next 10 years toward improving the lives of at-risk youths in Austin. A Glimmer of Hope was founded in 2000 by Phillip and Donna Berber; Phillip is the former owner of CyBerCorp Inc., now CyberTrader Inc., a stock-trading software company. -- L.N.
Boxes o' Cash: With the addition of a host of new retail ventures -- including several, err, big ol' boxes -- Georgetown's sales tax revenues shot up 20% in September, boosting fiscal year tax collection to 7.5% higher than this time last year. -- J.S.
In response to idiotic comments by deejays on four different Clear Channel radio stations (including one in Houston) encouraging motorists to hit bicyclists, activists are attempting to organize a nationwide Clear Channel Critical Mass ride on Nov. 27. For info, see www.clearchannelcriticalmass.com. -- L.N.
Continuing its efforts toward a comprehensive anti-smoking ordinance in Austin, the American Cancer Society will celebrate its 27th annual Great American Smokeout with "a visual representation of the toll tobacco takes on our community" today (Thursday, Nov. 20, 11:15am) in front of the Austin Municipal Building, 124 W. Eighth. Speakers will include former smoker Todd Sileo, and John Paul DeJoria, chairman and CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems and an anti-smoking activist.
Activists will gather again this year at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., in an attempt to shut down the notorious military training facility, also known as the "School of Assassins" and officially re-named the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation." For over a decade, annual protests have taken nonviolent direct action at the facility and helped publicize the U.S. military's role in training the warrior class of Central and South American countries in methods of repression and counterrevolution. This year, the two days of demonstrations and direct action (Nov. 22-23) will follow a day of workshops and training. More info: www.soaw.org. -- Michael King
On Sunday, Nov. 23, at 1pm, there will be a protest at San Antonio's Lackland Air Force Base in solidarity with this weekend's demonstrations at the School of the Americas. Lackland is home of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy. The protest is being organized by activist groups from San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. Gather at noon at the San Antonio Peace Center, 1443 S. Saint Mary's St., to caravan to Lackland. For more info: www.iconmedia.org/mdp/iaafa.
More than 500 ecologists, land planners, landscape architects, and wildlife biologists from over 15 countries are in Austin this week for the international conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration. One of the participants' tasks on Friday will be to design a restoration plan for a 25-mile stretch of the Colorado River, from Longhorn Dam to the Travis Co. line. This portion of the river is suffering the ills of extensive gravel mining in its floodplain and the effects of development, conference organizers say. The conference is at the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark. Texas SER is hosting the event; for more info, call conference chair Steve Windhager at 470-3281, or see www.ser.org.
The San Marcos Bill of Rights Defense Committee presents a forum, "What Does the USA PATRIOT Act Do?" tonight (Thursday, Nov. 20) at 7pm at the San Marcos Activity Center, 501 Hopkins. The panelists are: Stephanie Langenkamp (San Marcos public librarian), Ron Sievert (U.S. assistant attorney, Department of Justice), Dr. Paul Kens (Political Science professor), Justin Foster (Students Toward a New Democracy), Ahmad Zamer (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League), Don Montague (Hays Co. sheriff), and Scott Henson (American Civil Liberties Union). For more info, call 393-7173.
The Bastrop County Bill of Rights Defense Committee will host a forum on the USA PATRIOT Act on Saturday, Nov. 22, 3pm, at the Smithville Recreation Center, 106 Royston, in Smithville. Speakers include U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Ann del Llano (ACLU-Texas), Charlotte Flynn (Gray Panthers of Austin), and Ahmad Zamer (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee).
Austin Area Interreligious Ministries hosts the 19th annual Interreligious Thanksgiving Service on Sunday, Nov. 23, 3-4:30pm, at the Dell Jewish Community Center, 7300 Hart Ln. Free; call 386-9145 or visit www.aaimaustin.org for more info.
In other AAIM events, the International Holiday Market will be held Nov. 21-22, at Eaton Hall, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 3003 Northland (10am-7pm Friday, 9am-4pm Saturday). The event is part of the international fair trade movement. For info, call 252-7287. Also, the Colores del Pueblo/Hebron Embroidery Project Fair will be held Saturday, Nov. 22, 9am-4pm, at First English Lutheran Church, 3001 Whitis, in the Fellowship Hall. This annual sale of Latin American and Palestinian crafts supports craft and agricultural cooperatives in those regions, and purchases provide income and empowerment to artisans.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends Tuesday, Nov. 25. Local Muslims will end the month of fasting with communal prayers marking the beginning of Eid ul-Fitr, or "feast of fast breaking," at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd., at 7:30am (prayers start at 8am). The event is sponsored by the Islamic Center of Greater Austin and the North Austin Muslim Community Center; for info, call 659-1523 or 826-4422; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
A coalition of groups will sponsor a candlelight vigil tonight (Thursday, Nov. 20) as part of an internationally coordinated Transgender Day of Remembrance in honor of transgendered murder victims. The event takes place at 6:30pm on the UT Main Mall, in front of the Tower. Sponsoring organizations include the Transgender Advocates of Central Texas, the Women's Resource Center, and the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Info: www.gender.org/remember/day/index.html.