Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., May 21, 2004
Quote of the Week: "The greatest strength of the American economy is found right here, right in this room, found in the pride and skill of the American work force." President Bush, back in April 2003, pumping his tax-cut plans at a Timken Co. steel plant in Canton, Ohio. This week, the company whose Chairman W. R. Timken is a major Bush fundraiser closed that very plant and two others in Canton, leaving 1,300 people out of work and devastating the city's tax base.
Special session? What special session? How quickly we forget, as the Legislature gets out of town while the getting's good, having accomplished ... well, nothing. See "Capitol Chronicle."
Election Day saw solid victories for a Travis Co. hospital district and for the city firefighters' union, surprising strength from Marc Levin and (ahem) Jennifer Gale, and mixed messages about growth out in the suburbs. See "Health, Wealth, and Happiness on E-Night."
City Hall's redevelopment frenzy continues to gain momentum, as Austin closes in on a final Mueller deal (see "The New Mueller: Prepare for Landing!") and seeks suitors for Seaholm Power Plant (see "City Seeks Seaholm Suitor").
Austin ISD trustees voted to take a $519.5 million bond package to the citizens in September, while Superintendent Pat Forgione provided school kids with new fashion do's and don'ts. See "AISD Bonds: $519.5 Million" and "Forgione's Fashion Police".
In an apparent response to pleas from local and state officials, the Lower Colorado River Authority board of directors voted Wednesday to postpone action on a proposed water pipeline in southwest Travis Co. The board will revisit the pipeline question in December. By then, a regional planning group should have in place a series of water quality protection measures designed to influence the planning process in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The LCRA board had recently received letters from representatives of regional entities, as well as Gonzalo Barrientos and Daryl Slusher, who led the early efforts to establish a water-quality plan. The LCRA contributed $100,000 toward that project. Nevertheless, the agency has spent the last year in quiet negotiations with landowners seeking surface water for their proposed developments, despite a regional movement to try to minimize growth in the area. Wednesday's vote concerned the proposed extension of water services to three landowner/developers in the Hamilton Pool Road area. Amy Smith
Stratus Properties' winning scorecard at City Hall doesn't appear to be translating to the company's balance sheet. The real estate development firm reported a $1.8 million loss (or 25 cents per share) for the first quarter of this year a dramatic drop when compared to the $340,000 loss posted for the same period in 2003. The company also reported a first-quarter dip in revenue, sliding from $2.7 million in 2003 to $1.8 million this quarter. Two years ago, Stratus settled a legal dispute with the city of Austin, allowing the company to move ahead on developing its Circle C holdings in Southwest Austin, which environmentalists opposed. More recently, Stratus became a player in the effort to thwart the development of a Wal-Mart big box over the aquifer. The owner of that property has since filed suit against the city and Stratus, alleging the two conspired to keep Wal-Mart from building on the site. A.S.
The Internet unplugged made its open-stage debut this week at Republic Square Park, where Downtown laptop users can gain free wireless Web access in the great outdoors. Auditorium Shores will get equipped with wireless connections in the next 30 days, followed by Brush Square and Wooldridge Square Park in the next three months. The service is courtesy of the city and the Downtown Austin Alliance, with hookup costs covered by Schlotzsky's. A.S.
That mythical place "between Austin and Round Rock" is set to soon become even more illusory, as the City Council heads for an expected June 10 vote to annex the 6,000-acre Robinson Ranch property, on the north edge of town between FM 1325 and Parmer. Right now, the ranch still owned by the Robinson family is basically undeveloped, but civic leaders both in Austin and Williamson Co. envision it as a potential New Urban village similar to perhaps even more dense than the Mueller redevelopment project, and as the home to regional amenities like a new university campus and medical school. (However, in the city's proposed term sheet, nearly a third of the ranch would be kept as open space.) The Robinsons have, after some coaxing, agreed to go along with limited-purpose annexation and the subsequent zoning of the ranch to accommodate this grand vision. As usually happens with annexations, the required City Council public hearings have attracted little citizen comment; the case also went before the city Zoning and Platting Commission this week. M.C.M.
Meanwhile, at the way, way other end of town, plans for Double Creek Village a 330-acre mixed-use master-planned etc., etc., project south of FM 1626 continue to gather steam. This week, Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, one of the nation's largest retail developers and a firm that's been trying to establish an Austin presence, announced plans for an open-air "lifestyle center" mall (the size of Barton Creek Square) to be planned by ubiquitous New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe. The Double Creek project is also slated to include a hotel and hundreds of apartment units. M.C.M.
Sunday, May 23, is the fifth birthday of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; the celebrations actually kick off Friday, with cake being served to passengers on the concourse and at the ABIA visitors center from 2-4pm. On Sunday at 8am, the Runway 5K will give the active set a chance to run, walk, or wheelchair on the Bergstrom tarmac; proceeds benefit United Way Capital Area, and you can register online at www.abia.org. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
"Give me my life back," asked death row inmate Kelsey Patterson, as the lethal drugs took effect Tuesday night, completing his execution. Patterson was convicted of the 1992 murder of two people in Palestine, despite general acknowledgement that he was severely mentally ill and incapable of understanding that he was about to be put to death he continued to insist to the end that he had been acquitted of capital murder. In denying clemency, Gov. Rick Perry rejected a rare 5-1 recommendation of commutation or reprieve by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, saying, "The courts have determined there is no legal bar to [Patterson's] execution." Perry added that since Texas has no "life without parole" sentence an option bitterly opposed by prosecutors and conservative politicians because it might mean fewer sentences of death "no one can guarantee this defendant would never be freed to commit other crimes were his sentence commuted." Patterson's final ravings included, "No kin, no kin, no kin. I'm not guilty of a charge of capital murder. Give me my rights. I'm acquitted of capital murder." Michael King
The watchdog group Public Citizen has asked that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recuse himself from an open-records ruling requested by Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle in the ongoing TRMPAC/TAB/Tomstown investigation. Earle has requested that certain grand jury documents requested by the Texas Republican Party and by Texas Association of Business attorney Andy Taylor be withheld, claiming their release may compromise his investigation into the potentially illegal use of corporate funding in the 2002 legislative elections. Public Citizen state director Tom "Smitty" Smith says that because the investigation may also involve Abbott's own 2002 campaign, the AG should "appoint an impartial outsider" to rule on Earle's request. Smith points to the connections between Abbott's campaign and TRMPAC director John Colyandro and other parties connected to the investigation. "Our hope," concluded Smith, "is that you will take the necessary action to ensure that this ruling is fair and ethical." M.K.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had good economic news last week, reporting that April state sales tax revenues were up a whopping 26.4% over last year, following a March jump of 17.2%. The boost is partly indicative of a stronger overall economy, but also reflects a tax amnesty provision enacted last spring, allowing businesses to pay delinquent taxes without interest or penalties. According to the comptroller's announcement, allocations to various local jurisdictions were up 10.3%, and specifically to local governments were up 8.7% over last year. M.K.
Speaking of Strayhorn, it's early, but Capitol politicos have begun to maneuver for position in upcoming statewide elections. It's been presumed for some time that the comptroller has her eyes on higher office the latest rumor is that she is considering a gubernatorial run as an independent and now Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs has said that if Strayhorn does move on, she'll be a candidate for the comptroller's office. Combs told reporters last week that she would only run if the office is vacant, but that, "I expect the primary will be open." The election would be in the spring of 2006. M.K.
On May 12, the Texas Department of Health announced that it has increased the amount of money allocated to pay for milk and cheese for its Women, Infants and Children welfare program clients. The increase up to $4.50 per gallon of milk or pound of cheese was prompted by the recent wholesale and retail price increase for dairy products. (Last spring's milk-cattle herd reductions, combined with unusually hot weather last summer in the Midwest and California, which decreased overall milk production, sparked the price increase, reports Bloomberg.com.) TDH's Mike Montgomery, chief of the agency's nutrition services bureau, said the agency will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the WIC program, to pony up an additional $12 million to cover the increases through the end of the fiscal year. Texas' WIC program provides vouchers for nutritional staples, including milk, cheese, juice, carrots, and tuna, to 866,000 low-income clients a month. Jordan Smith
The trial of two Greenpeace activists who boarded a commercial ship off the coast of Florida two years ago to protest the delivery of 70 tons of mahogany illegally harvested from a Brazilian rainforest begins today in federal court in Miami. The two were charged with misdemeanor violations after boarding the ship to unfurl a large banner that read "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging." Though they pled guilty over a year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice is prosecuting Greenpeace USA for its role in the 2002 protest, under an 1872 "sailor-mongering" statute, designed to keep "houses of ill repute" from luring sailors off ships at port a statute last used in 1890. A conviction could cost Greenpeace up to $20,000 in fines and jeopardize its tax-exempt status. "This is the first time in U.S. history that the Government has prosecuted an organization for the free-speech-related activities of its supporters," Greenpeace USA Executive Director John Passacantando wrote in a letter to supporters. "The stakes are extremely high for all Americans who value our tradition of free speech, peaceful protest, and civil disobedience." Meanwhile, the company which imported the mahogany a violation of both U.S. and international law has yet to be charged with any offense, reports the e-newsletter BushGreenwatch, www.bushgreenwatch.org. (As Naked City was going to press, Reuters reported that the government's case against Greenpeace had been dismissed by U.S. District Judge Aldaberto Jordan.) J.S.
Tonight (Thursday), the Travis Co. Democratic Women's Committee will host a speech by Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting at the Marimont Cafeteria at 623 W. 38th aka ground zero of where Tom DeLay carved up Travis Co. like a Thanksgiving turkey with redistricting. The topic will be Rejuvenating the Party. Dinner at 5:30pm, speech at 6:15. For more info, call 327-0854, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dean Edwin Dorn of UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs will deliver a free public lecture on the USA PATRIOT Act, Thursday (tonight) at 7pm. The lecture, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Austin Area, will be held in the Bass Lecture Hall at the LBJ School on the UT campus (Red River and 26th). For more info, call 345-8159 or e-mail email@example.com.
On Thursday, May 27, at 7pm, Bombies plays at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (Fourth and Colorado) for Third Coast Activist's monthly film night. Bombies examines the problem of unexploded cluster bombs and argues for their elimination as a weapon of war. These devastating devices, engineered to shred and maim humans, are still a standard part of the U.S. arsenal and were dropped in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. Tickets are $6, general admission, or $4.50, students, at the door or online at www.drafthouse.com.
The Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research monthly program on Saturday, May 22, will focus on Diversity and the Bottom Line. The event is from 1 to 3pm in the Colorado Room of the Lower Colorado River Authority headquarters, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. No charge for members and first-timers; $3 for students; $5 for others. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hispanic Faculty/Staff Association at UT-Austin will offer a symposium on Saturday, May 22 to encourage discussion about the role of Latinos in communication and the importance of messages they convey about Latinos to the rest of the world. Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, assistant professor of journalism, will be the keynote speaker for the symposium, which is titled Latinos in Communication: Nuestro Futuro, Nuestro Mensaje. The event is free; registration begins at 9am in the James Harvey Shell Auditorium, Welch Hall 3.502 (24th and Speedway). The symposium also features a panel discussion titled Shaping Perspectives: The Role of Latinos in Communication, which will be followed by an awards presentation luncheon in the Red McCombs School of Business atrium.