Naked City

Headlines and happenings from around the world

The rise of the Internet as a political force brought major political figures to the South by Southwest Interactive Conference this weekend, including speeches by MoveOn.org organizers Zack Exley (above) and Eli Pariser, and former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. Speaking of the lightspeed-quick ability that the Internet gives MoveOn.org to communicate and interact with its members, Exley said, The thing that made it explode was that it was just so damned simple. ... There really is this physical change that's happening to the structure of the thing we call the people, as in 'We the People.'
The rise of the Internet as a political force brought major political figures to the South by Southwest Interactive Conference this weekend, including speeches by MoveOn.org organizers Zack Exley (above) and Eli Pariser, and former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi. Speaking of the lightspeed-quick ability that the Internet gives MoveOn.org to communicate and interact with its members, Exley said, "The thing that made it explode was that it was just so damned simple. ... There really is this physical change that's happening to the structure of the thing we call the people, as in 'We the People.'" (Photo By John Anderson)


Headlines

Quote of the Week: "They think they ought to control the minds and hearts of every black in the Democratic Party, and if you don't do what they say, they're going to try to drag you back to the plantation like a runaway slave." – Soon-to-be-ex-state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, blaming "white liberals" for his primary defeat last week.

Wilson's loss to Alma Allen means the 28-year veteran must immediately give up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee – which throws a wrench into plans, if indeed there are any, for a spring special session on public school finance. See 'No More Taxes: Capisce?'.

City Hall and APD topsiders tried last week to talk the community and City Council down after the supposedly done-deal meet-and-confer agreement with the Austin Police Association proved to be a bit more controversial than expected. The council and union will both vote whether to approve the five-year deal next week. See Meet-and-Confer Draws Fire.

More trash talk from both sides in the Tomstown Scandal; see Welcome to Tomstown for a wrap-up.


Austin Stories

After months of contemplating the subject, the city of Austin on March 12 officially released its request-for-proposals for Block 21 – the city-owned parcel just north of the new City Hall. The block, owned by the city for more than 30 years, had been slated for several generations of civic buildings (including a prior City Hall plan and a new central library) before it was handed off to Computer Sciences Corp. as part of that controversial deal (done without an RFP) in 1999; after the boom went bust, CSC downsized its plans and sold development rights to Block 21 back to the city for more than $3 million. (The block is currently appraised at $9.2 million.) Dozens of developers have expressed interest in Block 21; the city will require the eventual winner to devote ground-floor space in its project to retail, as part of the emerging Second Street Retail District. – M.C.M.

The City Council last week approved what staff termed minor "improvements" to its $37 million tax-incentive deal with the developers of the Domain mixed-use complex in North Austin. The changes to the agreement with Endeavor Real Estate Group – now partnered with Simon Property Group in a joint venture on the project – were intended, according to staff, to clarify that the generous rebates and incentives in the 20-year deal were conditional upon approval by future councils. Daryl Slusher, the only vote against the Domain deal when it was first approved in June 2003, likewise voted against the improvements, noting that the involvement of Simon – the world's largest mall developer – in the project would seemingly make it even less needy of a city tax subsidy. – M.C.M.

Also on the economic-development front, the City Council agreed unanimously to ask for an economic impact study of the Austin film industry. Leaders of that industry entertained the council with clips from Austin-made films and noted that the growth and impact of the industry in the last five years has already been immense – with just the films shot at the Austin Studios (at the old airport) generating $150 million in direct expenditures. The economic impact study is expected to be the first step in a more targeted effort by the city (perhaps including financial incentives) to nurture the local film industry; a similar study of the local music industry was generated in 2001. – M.C.M.

It was a long time coming, but the Austin Women's Hospital finally opened its doors for business last Wednesday, delivering its first baby three days later. The city-owned hospital, on the fifth floor of Brackenridge Hospital, provides reproductive care to low-income women. The UT Medical Branch at Galveston runs the single-floor facility, while Seton Healthcare Network leases and manages the rest of Brackenridge. The "hospital within a hospital" arrangement grew out of the Catholic Church's directive to Seton to cease providing tubal ligations and other birth control services at its hospitals. The Women's Hospital marked its first delivery on March 14 with the birth of Fabian Garcia. – Amy Smith

Austin Habitat for Humanity has hired Michael Willard as its new executive director. Willard, currently working with Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Ga., will begin work in Austin later this month. He has held several executive positions with the renowned nonprofit, which builds low-cost housing. – Lee Nichols

Capital Metro is expanding its downtown 'Dillo service to benefit the South by Southwest crowd as it moves from venue to venue downtown, including the Auditorium Shores shows. The Starlight and Moonlight 'Dillos will run until 3am each night. Go to www.capmetro.org for maps. – L.N.

On the health care front: A new national study names Austin as one of the 10 worst cities in America for the quality of nursing home care. The study by Denver-based HealthGrades found that 40% of Austin's licensed nursing homes had at least four violations involving patient harm over the last four years, making us No. 9 on the 10-worst list. Fort Worth and Houston also earned that dubious honor; Los Angeles topped the nation's-best list. – M.C.M.

The U.S. Army has admitted that it screwed up when two Army lawyers went on a door-knocking expedition to try to gather info on attendees after a recent UT Law School conference on Islam, women, and the law. Army intelligence officers are not allowed to look into civilian matters unless specifically asked to by the FBI, which Army brass acknowledge was not done. Spokeswoman Deborah Parker told reporters that the two lawyers informed their superiors – as they are required to – of "suspicious behavior" by conference participants who had figured out their Army connections, but that their subsequent activities were "a lapse in judgment" and "not something that was done maliciously." Conference organizers suggest the Army was trying to send a message of intimidation to those who might be sympathetic to Islam. No decision has been made on whether to discipline the two lawyers. – M.C.M.


Beyond City Limits

Water conservation advocate Jim Camp has withdrawn his bid for re-election to the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board. The board president and northwest Hays Co. activist has served on the BSEACD board since 2000 and was one of the most outspoken members of its "green" majority. His probable Precinct 1 replacement, former Buda City Council Member Chuck Murphy, shares Camp's concerns about the depletion of water from the aquifer. Murphy is running unopposed, so BSEACD will not hold its previously scheduled May 15 election. Two other board members – Jack Goodman and Robert Larsen – will be returned to their seats, as neither faced opposition in this election cycle. – A.S.

On March 11 the Taylor City Council voted to approve Williamson Co. Commissioner Frankie Limmer's bid to create a new county water control and improvement district on 548 acres of undeveloped land his family owns near Hutto. The WCID will offer Limmer and his family several attractive tax-exempt financing options for developing the property and establishing infrastructure like water service (through, say, a water supply company such as Magellan Water, which Limmer started back in 2002). Limmer, who currently represents Precinct 4 (including Taylor and environs) on the Commissioners Court, got approval last summer from his colleagues for the WCID, leading to loud complaints of cronyism and conflicts of interest. (Limmer recused himself from the vote.) The commissioners didn't realize at the time that the WCID would actually require Taylor city approval; Taylor Councilman Tim Mikeska cast the only "no" vote last week, calling the Limmer deal "a political favor" that offers no benefits to Taylor taxpayers, approved out of fear that Limmer would "retaliate by limiting county support for projects in our area." – Jordan Smith

On March 10, lawyers for the exonerated Tulia 46 announced a settlement with the city of Amarillo, in which the city has agreed to pay $5 million to the 45 remaining defendants (one has died), to permanently disband the city-led regional drug task force responsible for falsely arresting the defendants, and to push two of the task force supervisors into early retirement. "This is undoubtedly the last major chapter in the Tulia story," attorney Jeff Blackburn told The New York Times, "and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice." Meanwhile, residents of Hale and Swisher counties (where Tulia is located) weighed in last week on the Tulia scandal in their own way, by voting out District Attorney Terry McEachern in the GOP primary. McEachern (who also had a highly publicized DUI incident last year) was responsible for the self-righteous Tulia prosecutions, which were based on the sorry, sketchy – and now, discredited – testimony of one "witness," former task force Officer Tom Coleman. – J.S.

In other drug war news, this week makes 10 years since former California Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law the state's notorious Three Strikes law, under which lengthy sentences – up to life in prison – are handed down for repeat felony offenders. Although the law was aimed at violent offenders, nearly two-thirds of all Three Strikes felons are sitting in jail for nonviolent offenses, primarily drug possession. According to a study released this month by the Justice Policy Institute, California taxpayers will dole out at least $8 billion to pay for three-strikers, with little effect on reducing crime. Not surprisingly, JPI researchers found the law has a disproportionate impact on blacks and Hispanics, who were imprisoned at rates far outpacing their white counterparts. For more info or to read the report, see www.justicepolicy.org. – J.S.

Showing the panache that has made him such a beloved public figure, the Rev. Al Sharpton this week simultaneously endorsed Sen. John Kerry for president and declared his intention to stay in the Democratic race to keep the party focused on the "urban agenda." Kerry thanked Sharpton for his support and "for helping unify our party toward its common goal" – beating President Bush come November – but had no comment on the activist's plans to remain in the race until the convention. – M.C.M.


Happenings

Ralph Nader will be in town Friday, March 19, 9pm-12mid, to kick off the petition drive to get him on the presidential ballot in Texas. "Good beer, music, and camaraderie" are promised by organizers, and entrance donations are on a sliding scale of $7-15 or free with 20 signatures. 11241 Slaughter Creek Dr. For more info, call 619-8125 or go to www.votenader.org.

The Chestnut Neighborhood Clean-Up will be held Saturday, March 20, 8am-noon, sponsored by the city of Austin Solid Waste Services, Austin Police Department, Chestnut Neighborhood Association, and Keep Austin Beautiful. The day includes a block party at Garza Independence High School on Chicon. For more info, call 225-9326 or 220-8599 or e-mail dolphin1@grandecom.net.

Austin activists are hitting the streets March 20 to focus attention on a compendium of causes – among them an end to police brutality and gentrification as well as a call for environmental justice and respect for immigrant rights. The March for Peace and Justice starts with a 9:30am rally at Rosewood Park (2300 Rosewood), followed by a 10am march to Austin Police HQ for an 11am rally with musical guests (like Michelle Shocked) and a host of speakers. For more info, go to www.austinagainstwar.org or call 472-9921.

But wait! There's more! Caravans and carpools of like-minded activists will leave the APD HQ rally site starting at 11am for an afternoon protest near President Bush's Crawford ranchette. The protest, sponsored by North Texas for Justice and Peace in partnership with the Dallas Peace Center, is part of the Global Day of Action, coinciding with the first anniversary of the Iraq war and calling for an end to "aggressive American foreign policies." Protesters should meet in Crawford's Tonkawa Falls Park at noon, followed by a parade through Crawford at 2pm, culminating with a two-hour rally back at Tonkawa from 3-5pm, with a host of bands and speakers. For maps to the event, a list of sponsors, and other info, check out www.marchcrawford.org or call the North Texas for Justice and Peace hotline at 214/432-5628.

The Austin Parks Foundation is planning its second annual It's My Park! Day for Saturday, April 24, and is looking for volunteers. To register or volunteer, go to www.austinparks.org.

The UT LBJ School symposium Civil Rights: From Black & White to Color will be held Thursday-Saturday, March 25-27, at the Thompson Conference Center, 2315 Red River. The agenda is too huge to list here, but among the highlights are an awards ceremony – free and open to the public – recognizing the contributions of veteran civil rights movement leaders, to be held at 6pm on Thursday, March 25, in the Great Hall of the LBJ Library. Honorees include U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza; Nashville sit-in organizer Diane Nash; and Austin activists Volma Overton and Ada Anderson. Other events require registration ($120) which can be done online at www.utexas.edu/lbj/civilrights.

In a related event, South African civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu will speak on Peace and Reconciliation, Friday, March 26, 7pm, at the Corbin J. Robertson Center of Southwestern University, 1001 E. University, in Georgetown. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased by calling 512/863-1483 or e-mailing codyj@southwestern.edu. For more info, go to www.southwestern.edu/shilling-lectures.

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