Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., March 5, 2004
Quote of the Week: "If Gov. Perry wanted to go to a beach to talk about public school finance, he could have gone to South Padre Island and sat down to talk out in the open air with the people who have children in Texas public schools." The well-known commie pinkos at the Hereford Brand in Deaf Smith Co., commenting on Perry's now-notorious Bahamas "holiday."
For his part, Perry said "I'm glad I went" to Abaco Island with his political pimps and ho's (and wife Anita), and that a spring special session to ram through ... er, "consider" a new school-funding plan is still in the offing.
That is, if the key GOP Lege players (both in and out of office) aren't under indictment in the ever-widening investigation of alleged campaign finance scandals now centered around House Speaker Tom Craddick. See "Capitol Chronicle," p.16.
Meanwhile, at City Hall, the Austin Music Network once again took up far more civic attention particularly on the mayor's part than it possibly deserves. See "Austin@Large," at right.
The City Council last week also embarked on the latest phase in its response to big box sprawl developing meaningful design standards for large-scale commercial projects. See p.21.
We welcome to the world John Montford ("Ford") McCracken; the first child of Mindy and Brewster McCracken arrived Tuesday night.
Early voting in the March 9 primary election ends Friday, and so far low turnout in Travis Co. and phenomenal turnout in Hidalgo Co. has put the fear of God into U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, fighting for his political life against McAllen's Leticia Hinojosa. See p.18 for the latest local election news. As of Tuesday, 18,368 voters had cast ballots in Travis Co., with Democrats outnumbering Republicans more than 2-1.
On the national front, Sen. John Edwards announced his withdrawal from the presidential race Wednesday, leaving the Democratic prize (and the Texas primary) for Sen. John Kerry to pluck. Meanwhile, new indie candidate Ralph Nader brought his latest campaign to Austin and Texas last week; see p.24.
A district court judge's ruling last week has brought a halt to the contested Shops at the Galleria retail development project in Bee Cave, pending resolution of a lawsuit brought by the SOS Alliance. District Judge Darlene Byrne granted the alliance's requested temporary injunction, based on the group's argument that the project could cause irreparable harm to the environment. Developer Chris Milam, in partnership with Lincoln Property Co. of Dallas, had only recently gained Bee Cave officials' approval to move forward on the 555,000-square-foot retail project on Highway 71, adjacent to Little Barton Creek. The SOS lawsuit is expected to go to trial this summer if the matter isn't resolved beforehand. SOS hopes the construction delay, not to mention the ensuing financial costs, will force Milam to take his development plans outside the Barton Springs Watershed. Amy Smith
City officials have launched a search for a third-party consultant to assess environmental, health, and safety factors associated with the Kinder Morgan Rancho Pipeline project. The city and Austin Energy contracted with Kinder Morgan in May to provide natural gas to the new Sand Hill Energy Center power plant in Southeast Austin, beginning July 1. Community activists have since raised environmental and safety concerns about the pipeline, similar to those raised two years ago about the Longhorn Pipeline, planned to carry gasoline across South Austin and Travis Co. along a route not far from that of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The city's Watershed Protection & Development Review department will oversee the study, in conjunction with the consultant. The staff expects to report the study's findings this spring. A.S.
Speaking of WPDR, the department announced this week positive early results in its efforts to streamline the city's long-deplored development review process. In the first quarter of fiscal 2004, WPDR says, customer volume more than doubled from the same period a year earlier, but customer waiting times at the Development Assistance Center dropped by 40%; turnaround times for subsequent staff review of development proposals also dropped substantially. The department's commitment to a "faster and friendlier" review process accompanied by a substantial cut in its staff and budget was one of the high-profile "process improvements" touted by City Manager Toby Futrell in her efforts to close Austin's enormous budget gap, and came in the wake of complaints (by Mayor Will Wynn, among others) about Austin's time-consuming and highly detailed approach to development review. M.C.M.
On Feb. 23, the Children's Advocacy Center nonprofit announced that it has changed its name to the Center for Child Protection; it also announced that it had awarded Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott its Commitment to Children Award. Lee Nichols
The Austin Visitors Center moved into its new home this week at 209 E. Sixth, in the old Grove Drug Building. The welcome center operated by the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau formerly located on Second Street, near the convention center will also now be open longer hours, 9am-6pm during the week and 9am-7pm on weekends. The Grove Drug location will include AusTIX theatre and event ticket sales and the usual gifts and souvenirs including Austin and Texas music, courtesy of Waterloo Records and will also host live music performances. M.C.M.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce announced this week that it has selected TateAustin to handle $3.5 million of marketing and PR work for the chamber's Opportunity Austin economic development effort. Though TateAustin founder Kerry Tate is a former chair of the chamber, her firm and its partners had to compete against 10 other teams of Austin media pros in the bidding process for the contract, the largest ever awarded by the chamber. Opportunity Austin aims to bring 72,000 new jobs and nearly $3 billion in new payroll to Austin over the next five years; the chamber has already raised $5.5 million for corporate backers to fund the effort. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
The Austin Business Journal has reported that Austin-based grocery chain Whole Foods Market has apparently benefited from the Southern California grocery workers strike. As California shoppers moved their business away from Safeway, Albertsons, and Ralphs (owned by the Kroger Co.) either in support of the just-ended United Food and Commercial Workers strike or just to avoid its picket lines, Whole Foods experienced and will continue to experience "positive sales benefit from the ongoing strike," a Whole Foods spokesman said. The ABJ failed to note the irony that Whole Foods is aggressively anti-union. Its CEO, John Mackey, has authored a pamphlet titled "Beyond Unions" and compared unions to herpes; the chain has been the target of various UFCW actions over the years, and the union briefly succeeded in organizing Whole Foods' store in Madison, Wis. L.N.
On Feb. 26, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, announced a settlement in connection with the ongoing voting-rights controversy between Waller Co. District Attorney Oliver Kitzman and students from Prairie View A&M University. Kitzman had opined that students from the predominately black college aren't necessarily county residents able to register and vote in local elections. Waller Co. officials were disabused of this notion back in 1978 by the U.S. Supreme Court but Kitzman tried again late last year to reassert the idea, only to be slapped down in an opinion penned last month by state Attorney General Greg Abbott at Ellis' request. Last week, Kitzman agreed to create a Waller Co. criminal justice intern position within his office, to be staffed each semester by a PVAMU student. Additionally, he agreed to monthly meetings with a PVAMU liaison to be appointed by the Prairie View chapter of the NAACP. In a press release, Ellis said the reforms mark an "enormous step in the political enfranchisement" of PVAMU students. "Justice is often a long road," he said. Jordan Smith
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Feb. 26 filed an antitrust suit in federal court in an effort to block software maker Oracle Corp.'s hostile takeover of competitor PeopleSoft Inc. The two companies are the nation's leading providers of human resource and financial management enterprise software, used by both business and governmental entities, and the takeover threatens to make obsolete some programs and eliminate consumer choice. "There is no way that eliminating choice will benefit anyone but Oracle," he said. Abbott's suit comes after eight months of investigation and will join seven other suits challenging the deal including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice pending in federal district court in San Francisco. "We believe this acquisition would leave large enterprises stranded and locked in to a product without an active future," he said. J.S.
At 5pm Thursday (today), the Austin chapter of Jobs With Justice will join with 45 other chapters nationally to protest the U.S. crisis in health care. Calling for insurance coverage for all Texans and eventually a universal health care plan, supporters will rally at the Texas Employees Retirement System building (18th and Brazos) from 5 to 6pm, followed by a forum on health care at the Texas State Teachers Association auditorium (12th and Lavaca) at 7pm, with speakers on labor, medical, and political issues associated with public health. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The final AISD Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee forum is tonight (Thursday) at Martin Middle School cafeteria, 1601 Haskell, 6:30pm. The CBAC, chaired by John Blazier, Sheryl Cole, and Vincent Torres, is a group of 19 citizens appointed by the school board to develop recommendations for a 2004 bond proposal, including possible new facilities and infrastructure improvements, and will make its recommendations to the board later this month. The bond election is expected this fall. Citizens who cannot attend the forums can write the board directly at email@example.com.
The eighth annual Barbara Jordan National Forum on Public Policy will be held Thursday-Saturday, March 4-6, at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, on the UT campus, 2315 Red River. With the theme "Fulfilling America's Promise," the forum will bring together scholars, practitioners, politicians, and the community to examine ways to increase equal opportunity and social equity in Texas and the nation. The event is free and open to the public. For more info (including registration), go to www.utexas.edu/lbj/barbarajordanforum/forum.htm or call 232-1400.
Anti-death penalty advocates are sponsoring an "alternative spring break" from March 4-7, featuring protests, panel discussions, and a petition drive. For more info and a schedule of events, call Scott Cobb with the Texas Moratorium Network at 680-7806 or Lily Hughes with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty at 494-0667.
"Issues in Good Governance: Global Perspectives," a discussion of central questions in good governance with leading faculty from UT, will be held 4-6pm, Friday, March 5, at the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center, Building A, Room 3.130 (26th and Whitis). A reception will follow at the Campus Club (second floor of Walter Webb Hall, across Guadalupe). Featured speakers include Catharine Boone, Department of Government; Mounira Charrad, Department of Sociology; James K. Galbraith and Robert Wilson, LBJ School of Public Affairs; Shannon Speed, Department of Anthropology; and Karin Wilkins, College of Communication. For more info, call 232-6337 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Jack Shaheen will discuss his book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, at UT's University Teaching Center, Room 2.112A (on 21st between University Avenue and Speedway), tonight (Thursday) at 7:30pm. A reception follows the lecture. For more info, e-mail email@example.com.
"Explore UT," what UT bills as "the biggest open house in Texas," takes place Saturday, March 6, 11am-5pm. UT officials expect 30,000 visitors to campus. Events are far too numerous to list here; for info, go to www.utexas.edu/events/exploreut.
The 2004 Austin Cropwalk will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 6 & 7, to benefit anti-hunger efforts, at Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park, 800 Grove Blvd. For more info, call 327-3229 or 451-2062.
The Third Coast Activist Resource Center and Soft Skull Press will present a live show by British comedian-turned-political novelist Rob Newman at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, 409 Colorado, on Monday, March 8, at 7pm. Tickets are $7.50 or $5 for students and Austin Film Society members. For more info, call 458-8635.
A free screening of Señorita Extraviada, a documentary about the more than 320 women who have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and the approximately 450 Juárez women who are missing, will be shown at the Ventana del Soul Cultural Center & Coffee House, 1834 E. Oltorf, on International Women's Day, Sunday, March 7, at 6pm. The screening is sponsored by local feminist peace group CodePink, and Josefina Castillo from American Friends Service Committee will provide some background on the issue. In closing, participants will be invited to help create a memorial for the murdered women to be delivered to the Mexican Consulate the following day.