Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., March 26, 2004
Quote of the Week: "We were part of one incident. ... I think it is the job of everyone else to put it into the context of everyday life." Ozomatli singer/guitarist Raul Pacheco, commenting on Austin's emerging reputation for excessive police zeal after the band's bust last week. See Not Quite 'Ya Se Fue!'.
Also on the police beat: The City Council is set today (Thursday) to approve a new five-year meet-and-confer contract with the Austin Police Association. See Austin at Large.
At the Capitol, lawmakers are talking loud and saying nothing about public school finance. See Capitol Chronicle.
And in D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case questioning the legality of as many as 100 death penalty cases. See Texas Death Cases on Trial
Naked City is getting old, and sometimes our memory fails us. Last week, we incorrectly stated that aspiring KLBJ-AM radio host and former City Councilwoman Louise Epstein was "thrown out of office by voters in 1993." Actually, as Epstein herself reminded us over the airwaves on Sunday, she decided not to seek re-election in 1993, thus preventing the inevitable. Lee Nichols
After no Democrat filed to run in the primary for the newly gerrymandered Congressional District 10, a group of Democrats is trying to recruit a candidate and organize a write-in campaign. If you're interested in helping, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 799-7565. L.N.
The City Council today (Thursday) is set to approve a midyear budget amendment for Austin Energy that would (among other things) provide $1 million this year to start up the solar rebate program outlined in the utility's strategic plan, adopted in November. The utility, which expects to offer rebates to customers with their own PV solar installations within weeks, has put the program together remarkably quickly; advocates and solar manufacturers hope that in fiscal 2005 and future years, the funding can be greatly enhanced. Industry leaders suggest that a commitment of at least $10 million in annual funding from AE over the next decade would be necessary to encourage major solar players to locate manufacturing facilities (and their jobs) in Austin; local advocates in the Solar Austin Campaign have suggested a target of 2% of AE's annual revenue, or $18 million a year. The agenda item before the council also includes a $7.7 million transfer to fund decommissioning costs for the Holly Power Plant. M.C.M.
Also at today's meeting, the City Council is set to take one further step away from the Vision Village fiasco. The property on FM 969 (the former Travis State School) site of the ill-starred public-private housing and social-services project is now known as Austin Ridge. The real estate investors who now own it are asking the city and county which lost $1.2 million and $200,000, respectively, when Vision Village went into default on its public loans to release their liens on the property in return for (among other space) providing office space for both jurisdictions, trail easements, and land and a building for the Center for Child Protection. The county is set to vote on the matter March 30. Two Vision Village staffers were indicted in 2002 for misappropriating public and private funds, after the project's director longtime Eastside minister the Rev. George Clark pled guilty to a lesser felony charge. M.C.M.
The Travis Co. Commissioners Court on Tuesday narrowly approved a deal with BFI Waste Systems of North America Inc., but delayed action on a similar proposal with Waste Management of Texas Inc. The county is trying to relocate the two firms' northeast Travis Co. landfills from their existing sites near residential neighborhoods. Commissioners voted 3-2 for a deal in which BFI would stop accepting household waste by 2019 but would continue processing construction debris. In return, the county would use its condemnation authority to help acquire another site for BFI's household waste. Commissioners Ron Davis, whose Precinct 1 includes the landfills, and Gerald Daugherty both voted against the plan. As for Waste Management, the plan is for the company to spend two years in a good-faith search for another landfill site; if they fail, the county would allow them to expand their current landfill. Neighbors and recycling proponents spoke against both agreements. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner's motion to reject the Waste Management proposal seconded by Davis failed to win a majority vote. County Judge Sam Biscoe favored (and the commissioners agreed) to postpone the matter to April 6. Amy Smith
Environmental war veteran Tim Jones will receive a Distinguished Service Award at City Council today as the camera-toting activist takes his leave after 13 years from the city Environmental Board. Council Member Daryl Slusher, who consistently reappointed Jones to the city board, will present the award. Jones recently submitted his resignation, citing his health as a factor in his decision. The activist promises to maintain his shutterbug activities as he patrols the local landscape documenting environmental mishaps and violations. His resignation from the board creates not just a vacancy but a void. A.S.
Beyond City Limits
As expected, congressional candidate Henry Cuellar officially requested a recount in the Democratic primary election for CD 28, in which he narrowly lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez by an Election Night count of 126 votes out of 48,542. After a party canvass, the margin stretched to 145, but in a statement Cuellar said, "Texas voters deserve an election process in which every eligible vote is accurately counted in a reasonable period of time." Cuellar deposited with the party the $13,000 required to underwrite the recount, and Rodriguez supporters noted that the check was delivered by Austin attorney Ed Shack, previously an adviser to Republican Speaker Tom Craddick and the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC leading to additional speculation about Cuellar's possibly elephantine future. The winner of the Democratic race will face either Jim Hopson of Seguin or Francisco "Quico" Canseco of Laredo, the GOP candidates in the April 13 run-off. Michael King
Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit legal organization devoted to aiding the poor, announced on March 8 that it is teaming with the Texas Credit Union League to study why Hispanic immigrants do not use traditional financial institutions. According to Appleseed, immigrants generally do not have bank accounts, and 60% of people without banking relationships are minorities or immigrants. Instead, "each year, Hispanics spend untold millions of dollars on high-fee check cashing centers and other predatory money handling companies," says Annette LoVoi, executive director of Texas Appleseed. "It's desirable both for Texas financial institutions and for Hispanics to forge a mutually beneficial relationship. ... It's simply good business for the financial community; it's much more stable and safe for the Hispanic community; and it's a major step in the right direction toward grounding immigrants in the U.S. community." More info may be found at www.appleseeds.net. L.N.
A special task force has informed the UT System board of regents that the system must spend at least $7 billion on new and renovated buildings by 2030 to meet anticipated needs. The state is currently pursuing its "Closing the Gaps" initiative, which seeks to increase overall enrollment and graduation rates on UT campuses, and to bring those rates for African-American and Hispanics up to the rates for Anglos. To meet those goals, the system estimates it will need to add 116,000 to 180,000 students, mostly at campuses other than UT-Austin. The task force estimated that existing funding sources could pay for $2.8 billion, but the balance would have to come from additional funding and better space utilization. L.N.
Texas' civil court system ranked among the five worst for "fairness," according to an annual study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, released March 8. In this second annual survey, 1,402 corporate attorneys were asked how "reasonable and fair the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. business." Nearly 60% said "fair" or "poor" and 80% said the "litigation environment" in a state could affect important business decisions. The top gripe of the surveyed attorneys was "excessive" punitive damages. In Texas, of course, the GOP elite led by state Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston last year passed a tort reform package that would cap those "excessive" awards. A majority of the Texas attorneys in the study said they had not yet seen the positive effects of the tort package, but 60% said they expect it will yield "meaningful or major improvement." To read the entire study, go to www.legalreformnow.com. J.S.
Liberals will finally be heard on AM talk radio at the end of the month ... but not in Austin. Air America Radio announced that it will lift off on March 31 on AM stations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and its on-air talent will include Janeane Garofalo, Chuck D, and Al Franken, among others. A press release announcing the new network took a shot at Rush Limbaugh by saying that Franken "is known for fact-based, drug-free satire" and at Bill O'Reilly by naming Franken's new show The O'Franken Factor. The release quoted Franken as saying, "I'm so happy that Air America Radio will be on in three battleground states, New York, Illinois and California ... no wait ... those aren't battleground states. What the hell are we doing?" L.N.
Voters and election officials in Orange Co., Calif., experienced major problems with their new Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines (the same kind Travis Co. uses) in the Golden State's March 2 primary election, but those problems appear to have begun with the humans using them. The Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register reported that as many as 7,000 OCers were given incorrect ballots; the Register reported that election volunteers were lectured for about three hours on how to use the machines, but then given only about 10 minutes of hands-on practice. "The next time we saw the machines was Election Day," said one poll worker. The excuse given by Orange Co.'s chief election official was pretty piss-poor: "What everyone I hope understands is this was the first time we brought this voting system out," Steve Rodermund told the Register. To date, Travis Co. has used the machines in three elections with no major failures a fact that Hart InterCivic is trying to spin to full advantage: A March 22 press release from the company boasted, "The eSlate ... was once again used successfully by the company's Texas customers" (emphasis ours). L.N.
The Politics of Anti-Semitism will examine "how charges of anti-Semitism are used to stifle discourse on Israeli policies." The public forum will feature Whit Bodman, professor of world religions at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Steve Wechsler, UT professor of linguistics; and UT grad students and activists Virginia Raymond and Bernice Hecker. The forum is at 7pm Thursday, March 25, at Garrison 109 on the UT campus.
Texas Green Party leader David Cobb, a candidate for the party's 2004 presidential nomination, will be making an Austin appearance to discuss his campaign and Green Party politics on Friday, March 26, at the Awarehouse, 3800 S. Congress (across from Ruta Maya). Music by Guy Forsyth and J.P. Allen. Free, donations appreciated. More info: 796-9439 or email@example.com.
The Travis Co. Democratic Convention will be held Saturday, March 27, at the Palmer Events Center, beginning at 9am. For more info, call 477-7500 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, March 27, the Connie Yerwood Conner African-American Women's Hall of Fame will host its induction ceremony, themed "Profiles of Prominence," in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the Huston-Tillotson College campus, 900 Chicon. The ceremony starts at 6pm, with reception to follow at 7:30pm.
The Cesar Chavez March for Unity will be held Sunday, March 28, starting at 9am; it will proceed from the East Austin Neighborhood Center (211 Comal), past the Capitol, to a rally at the AFL-CIO Building (1106 Lavaca). For more info, call 845-9959 or e-mail email@example.com.
Third Coast Activist Resource Center hosts a presentation, And They Call It Peace: The Lessons of U.S. Policy in Central America and Colombia, by documentary photographer and UT professor Donna DeCesare, who covered the war in El Salvador during the 1980s; her work has appeared in publications such as Life, New York Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Harper's, and The Village Voice. Monday, March 29, 7pm, UT CMA Auditorium (room 2.320), corner of 26th and Guadalupe.
Campaigns for People, the nonpartisan campaign reform group, will hold its Bi-Party Party fundraiser on Tuesday, March 30, 5-7pm, at Threadgill's World HQ, Riverside and Barton Springs Road. Speakers include former speaker of the Texas House Billy Clayton and Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen's Texas office. Tickets are $20.
Diana Philip, co-founder and director of Jane's Due Process, will be honored Thursday, April 1, at the first Lilith Fund Reproductive Equity Awards, 6-10pm, at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Bergman Dr. Complimentary food and beverage buffet; live local music, featuring Garreth Broesche Band and members of the Austin Civic Orchestra. Tickets $30 ($15 student/low income). Volunteers needed (includes free ticket). For tickets or sponsorship info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 877/355-1463. To learn more, visit www.lilithfund.org.