Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., May 14, 2004
Quote of the Week: "For me, this has been a healing process." Developer lawyer Richard Suttle, singing the praises of former foes in support of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan. See " Central Austin Plan: Love Is All Around!".
As Envision Central Texas heads down the decades-long path toward implementation of its glowing vision, an essential component of that vision a Capital Metro regional transit system made its public debut this week. See "The Envision Thing: Clearing the First Hurdle".
Another notch, of sorts, in the ECT belt the redevelopment of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport is likewise heating up discussions at City Hall. See "City: Don't Keep the Land!".
Meanwhile, the Lower Colorado River Authority seems to have missed the ECT memo and blown off its own regional planning project as it barrels ahead with pipeline plans on Hamilton Pool Road. See " LCRA Express Spawns Hamilton Pool Traffic Jam."
Sources at AISD have told Naked City that Superintendent Pat Forgione sent apples to all of the district's teachers on May 5. The next day, a reply was written on the teachers lounge message board at Summit Elementary: "Dear Dr. F, Thanks for the apples. We would like to make a pie. All we are missing now is the 'dough.'" Lee Nichols
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority's proposed toll-road plan got a less fractious reception than expected at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's meeting Monday night. Largely because CAMPO on the initiative of Austin Mayor Will Wynn, who sits on the group's Transportation Policy Board agreed to delay action until July on incorporating the RMA's $2.2 billion toll-road proposal into the official regional long-range transportation plan, the anticipated battle royal was avoided (at least until next month's CAMPO meeting). But the CTRMA plan is still drawing plenty of fire from angry Northwest and Southwest suburbanites who don't want their long-awaited highway projects to be tolled, and from Austin progressives who call the toll-road scheme an invitation to sprawl just as the region has supposedly agreed to embrace growth management. The CTRMA is continuing its public outreach effort, announcing a new hotline at 314-5711 for citizens seeking more info. The toll-road sales job has also been embraced by a new "private" nonprofit called Citizens for Mobility, chaired by former Texas Turnpike Authority Chair Pete Winstead engaging the services of local PR mavens Don Martin and Trey Salinas. M.C.M.
Responding to big-box mania in the Austin area, a coalition of business, labor, and community activists have mobilized behind Full CIRCLE (Citizens for Responsible Corporations and Local Economies), a new organization dedicated to promoting and balancing pocketbook issues on the local level. The group will operate with three goals in mind: to encourage corporate retailers to act responsibly toward their employees and the community; to encourage consumers to shop where "corporate responsibility" is given more than just lip service; and to work with policy makers to maintain a balanced local economy. One of the group's first projects, in collaboration with the Austin Independent Business Alliance, is to work toward creating Independent Business Investment Zones. IBIZs would draw from a number of resources to promote the clustering of indies in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. More details on this and other Full CIRCLE efforts are at www.austinfullcircle.org. Amy Smith
Last year, UT President Larry R. Faulkner appointed a 15-member Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness, which that summer recommended, among other things, a new VP position to focus on inclusion and cross-cultural issues and a mandatory course on multiculturalism. On Monday Faulkner largely embraced the task force's efforts, proposing a "central officer" to oversee cross-cultural sensitivity and a new high-level University Council on Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Effectiveness. He also said he supported the course requirement concept, but that it would have to be considered in an overall review of the university core curriculum. Faulkner also said he would address the task force's concerns about the statues on UT's South Mall, most of which honor leaders of the Confederacy. L.N.
In other UT news, Faulkner on Tuesday endorsed the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy recommendations, which include increasing the number of faculty, reducing the student population to 48,000 over the next five years, and pursuing legislative changes that would limit the percentage of new students admitted under the state's top 10% law, which grants automatic admission to students in the top 10% of any Texas high school graduating class. In a press statement, the university complained that such automatic admissions have increased to 65% of the incoming freshman class, and "the use of class rank exclusively for the admission of an increasingly larger portion of freshmen limits the discretionary power of the university to achieve a representative student body." L.N.
A mere seven years after spending a lot of time and energy creating an elaborate ordinance to encourage New Urbanist subdivisions, City Hall last week gave its preliminary blessing to Austin's first "traditional neighborhood district" the proposed Pioneer Hill project in Northeast Austin. Pioneer Hill itself has taken several years to bring together, and it's still not entirely through the pipeline concerns about its impact on drainage and erosion along Walnut Creek still need to be addressed. Also on the city's to-do list: streamlining the TND code and approval process. M.C.M.
Speaking of drainage in the Northeast, the controversial "Weston study plan" to amend the Land Development Code to allow administrative approval of environmental variances in that part of town goes to City Council today (Thursday). The idea is to make it easier for developers to help build out the huge backlog of water and sewer projects needed to support anticipated post-SH 130 Northeast growth, but the city Environmental Board, Planning Commission, and Zoning and Platting Commission have all given the proposal a thumbs-down. M.C.M.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced this week that several local arts projects and agencies will receive a total of $891,200 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Among the recipients are Texas Folklife Resources, Pro Arts Collective, Junebug Productions, the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, Conspirare, and the Austin Symphony. "Federal support for local artists is critical for them to maintain their level of commitment to our communities," Doggett said. The NEA funds are matching grants supporting projects that either provide arts education programs for youth or help preserve the nation's heritage, and are estimated to generate, on average, $7 in economic development for each dollar awarded. Michael King
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's cyber crimes prosecutors have scored a five-year federal prison sentence for convicted Austin child predator Srinath Audityan. According to an AG press release, Audityan was nabbed in San Marcos last summer when he showed up at a scheduled rendezvous with someone whom he thought was a 13-year-old girl he'd met in an Internet chat room not knowing that the "girl" was actually a Cyber Crimes Unit investigator. Since May 2003, the AG's CCU has arrested 43 men on similar charges; six have been convicted. Jordan Smith
After their policy of not allowing students to bring a same-sex date to the school prom made national headlines with a little help from the People for the American Way Foundation the Lago Vista ISD last week decided to suspend that policy. The PFAWF penned a letter to Lago Vista High School principal Donna Larkin on behalf of student Sherrell Ingram and her mother Ginger White, saying that the policy constituted unlawful and unconstitutional sex discrimination (under Title IX and the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause). Ingram (who is not gay) and White were concerned that the policy constituted unfair discrimination against gay students. In a May 7 letter, LVISD's legal counsel wrote that while the district did not agree with PFAWF's "analysis" of the legal issues involved, they nonetheless had decided to "suspend the prom attendance guidelines for the remainder of this year until the District has an opportunity to further evaluate its role in the sponsorship of school activities." For more on the dustup, see www.pfaw.org. J.S.
Beyond City Limits
The Ralph Nader presidential campaign filed a federal lawsuit late Monday challenging Texas' ballot-access laws. The campaign had gathered more than 50,000 signatures from nonprimary voters by the May 10 deadline 14,000 names short of what Nader needs to get on the November ballot (equivalent to 1% of the Texas vote in the 2000 election, or less than half of what Nader actually got in that contest). Nader asked the court to declare the Texas law unconstitutional for imposing a different standard on independent candidates than on either major-party or third-party candidates. In a statement, Nader said, "Democracy is under assault in Texas. Through unconstitutional laws and denial of access to public places, Texas voters are being denied more voices and more choices." M.K.
Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party is apparently terrified at the prospect of competition from Nader, judging from a recent e-mail bulletin to party faithful warning, "Keep Ralph Nader off the Texas Ballot." Nader "makes a point of attacking and trying to defeat Democrats," Dem officials write. "We need to make sure he is nowhere near a ballot in Texas." Presumably the warning is to Democrats so dedicated that they didn't bother to vote in the March primary reassuring to know the Dems have their eye on the ball this fall. M.K.
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips has announced he will resign his post effective Sept. 3. Former Gov. Bill Clements appointed Phillips, then 38 years old, to the post in 1988 (making him the first Republican in a statewide judicial post since Reconstruction); Phillips has retained the post through four election cycles. In a press statement, Phillips said that he is "proud" of the court's commitment to "the rule of law," but that "the Texas judiciary is still far from perfect," because its structure is still a "relic of the nineteenth century." Phillips has been a vocal opponent of partisan judicial elections, and in 2002 he refused to accept contributions in an attempt to highlight the need for campaign reform. "I sought a fourth term ... because I believed that this Legislature would make real changes in the way we select our judges and organize our courts," he said. "Some progress was made, but not enough." Phillips will spend next year teaching at the South Texas College of Law in Houston while pursuing "future career opportunities." Jordan Smith
On Tuesday, as expected, acting state District Judge Joe Hart dismissed a lawsuit by incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez seeking to overturn the recount that gave former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar an apparent victory in their Democratic primary contest. Rodriguez picked up about 140 votes in a Webb Co.-only recount ordered last week by the Laredo district court, but it wasn't enough to unseat Cuellar as the presumptive nominee by 58 votes in CD 28. Rodriguez appeared to have prevailed on March 9, but the first recount featured surprising, and suspicious, gains for Cuellar in his home turf of Webb and Zapata counties. The Rodriguez campaign anticipated its Tuesday setback, since the judge had already ruled inadmissible certain evidence of illegal voting and ballot tampering the incumbent considered essential to his case. His attorneys are preparing an appeal to the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio. M.K.
Tyler-area white supremacist William Kral was sentenced last week to more than 11 years in prison after pleading guilty last year to possessing a sodium cyanide bomb, other bombs, illegal stockpiles of machine guns, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Though Kral's arrest represents one of the most substantial federal anti-terror busts of the post-9/11 era, the FBI has done little to publicize the case certainly less than comparable snares of Muslim terrorists and the story still has yet to make a ripple in the national media. L.N.
Is the honeymoon over between George W. Bush and the Texas press? That's the question local writer and former Austin Chronicle staffer Robert Bryce author of this week's feature on the Texas Funeral Services Commission asks in the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. See the story online at www.cjr.org. L.N.
Speaking of the Bushter, about the only positive element of his long-ago sweetheart deal to build a new ballpark for his Texas Rangers that they didn't sell the naming rights to some out-of-state corporate jet trash has now gone by the wayside. Thanks to current Rangers owner (and special Bush buddy) Tom Hicks, the Ballpark at Arlington will become Ameriquest Field hawking the wares of a subprime mortgage lender (how apt!) with barely any business presence in the Metroplex (seven offices out of the California firm's 250-plus nationwide). The deal will earn Hicks et al. a fairly paltry $70 million over 30 years a decade longer than Ameriquest has been in existence. M.C.M.
Corporations that own the nation's top 50 power-plant polluters have close ties to the Bush administration, are large campaign contributors, and have had influence over pollution-related policy making, according to a study released last week by the Environmental Integrity Project. The EIP reports that since 1999, the 30 largest utility companies have contributed $6.6 million to Bush's presidential campaigns and the Republican National Committee; company lobbyists and lawyers have raised an additional $3.4 million. Further, according to the report (titled "America's Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged Into the Bush Administration") the same companies, joined by their trade associations, met at least 17 times with VP Dick Cheney's energy task force. "It is no coincidence that the wholesale assault on the Clean Air Act is taking place today," said EIP founder Eric Schaeffer, who founded the group in 2002 after resigning in protest his post as director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Regulatory Enforcement. "This is a well-connected industry that is absolutely intent on preserving its 'right' to foul the air regardless of the consequences to the American people." To read the complete report, see www.environmentalintegrity.org. J.S.
A report issued last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated that a significant number of working Americans in every state do not have health care coverage, with at least 20 million working Americans not having coverage. In six states, at least one in five working adults is uninsured. Texas is No. 1 27% of working adults (employed or self-employed) are without coverage. In 38 other states, at least one working adult in every 10 does not have health insurance. The report further reveals that in every state, adults who do not have health insurance experience significant gaps in medical care compared to those who do. For more detail, see the full report at www.covertheuninsuredweek.org. M.K.
A town hall meeting on marriage equality will be held from 7 to 9pm tonight (Thursday) at the AMC Barton Creek Square 14, sponsored by the Texas Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby and the Human Rights Campaign. Then on Sunday, a big rally on the same theme will be held at 4pm on the south steps of the Capitol. An increasingly organized GLBT community will be represented by the LGRL, HRC, Family Pride Coalition, Austin Coalition for Marriage Equality, Soulforce, and PFLAG. Meanwhile in Massachusetts, the state on Monday will begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
The city Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office will hold its sixth annual NeighborFest Saturday, May 15, 9am-1pm, at Barbara Jordan Elementary, 6711 Johnny Morris Rd. Info on a wide variety of city services will be available; the event will also include a home-buyer assistance workshop, a home weatherization workshop, and activities for children and families.
A "Boycott the Bell" demonstration will be held Saturday at noon at Taco Bell, 311 S. Lamar, in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' ongoing national campaign on behalf of Florida tomato pickers. Taco Bell and its parent YUM! Brands are being asked to pay one more penny per pound for their Florida tomatoes, which would nearly double the workers' wages. The local event is sponsored by the Austin Solidarity Project and several student groups from UT and St. Edward's; a picnic, with food provided, will follow.
Supporters of a proposed Travis Co. hospital district will gather at Cafe Serranos, 1111 Red River, after the polls close Saturday to monitor and most likely celebrate the election night returns. Voters will decide whether to create a tax-financed district to support public health care delivery in the county. The proposed district would create a uniform tax system for all county residents, although city residents, who already pay the larger share of tax dollars, would not see an increase in property taxes.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for Travis Co. Constable Bruce Elfant's 12th annual ice cream social, to be held Sunday, May 16, 3-5pm at the AFL-CIO Hall, 11th and Lavaca. General admission is $15, and sponsorships range from "French Vanilla" ($25) to "Kahlua Almond Fudge" ($1,000). The event is also Elfant's re-election campaign kickoff, and proceeds will go toward that worthy cause. For more info, call 467-0452.
An interreligious assembly on Critical Conditions: CHIP and the Hospital District, sponsored by Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, will be held today (Thursday), 5:30-8pm, at Congregation Beth Israel, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd. Dinner is at 5:30pm; dessert, welcome, and announcements at 6pm; followed by the main program at 6:30pm. The event is free and open to the public, but a $10 donation is suggested. For more info, call 386-9145 x20 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep hope alive: The Texas Democratic Women of Williamson County (yes, Williamson) meets the third Tuesday of every month in Room A of the Round Rock Public Library, 216 E. Main. The May 18 meeting is at 6:40pm. For more info, call 331-8774 or e-mail email@example.com.