Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., June 11, 2004
Quote of the Week: "I just wish they'd put a tax on 'dumb' and get it over with." Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, rallying Democrats in Blanco by mocking Gov. Rick Perry's various school-funding proposals.
Then again, when you have a Texas Supreme Court in your pocket, you're always well-dressed. Gov. Tits-for-Tots reportedly told leaders in the Metroplex that the suit by local school districts against the current recapture system was doomed, because he "appointed five and helped elect another" of the court's nine members.
Gov. One-Man-and-One-Woman was a big hit, however, at the state GOP convention in San Antonio, where the decline of Western civilization picked up a bit of speed. See "Capitol Chronicle."
And ... busy Gov. Loosest-Slots-in-Town also found time to give all of Texas state government the day off tomorrow (Friday) to "pay their respects to the memory of Ronald Reagan ... through appropriate ceremonies in homes, businesses, public buildings, schools, places of worship, or other suitable places for public expression of grief and remembrance." City employees will not get the day off, although "supervisors will work with employees who want to watch the televised ceremony."
Back in the real world, early voting in the ACC run-off election between Veronica Rivera and Marc Levin ends Tuesday, June 15. Early voting is being conducted at all ACC campuses (see Endorsements). Election day is Saturday, June 19.
As life heats back up (for a week or two) at City Hall, City Manager Toby Futrell is about the only person who hasn't changed jobs. See "Change Constant at City Hall." A hot item on today's (Thursday) council agenda: Futrell's latest budget briefing, probably the last preview of coming attractions before the budget makes its actual debut July 30.
Other big-ticket items on today's city council agenda: the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan and the University Neighborhood Overlay; annexation and zoning for the Robinson and Ribelin ranches; approval of Stratus Properties' proposed amendments to its development deal to put an HEB in Circle C; and the first council "discussion" of the recent recommendations of the Historic Preservation Task Force.
General managers of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District have shorter life spans than Austin assistant city managers. The BSEACD board of directors on Tuesday accepted the resignation of GM Veva McCaig, who had stepped in last year to replace another short-timer, Floyd Marsh. Dana Wilson, administration program manager for the district, will serve as acting GM. Amy Smith
Is the Domain deal doomed? The city and the developers of the North Austin mixed-use mall project -- Simon Property Group and Endeavor Real Estate Group -- have reached a settlement with local businessman Brian Rodgers, who sued over the $37 million tax-rebate package the City Council awarded to Endeavor last May. Part of the settlement clarifies that, despite the 20-year duration of the original agreement, the Domain deal (and the rather minor obligations on Simon and Endeavor's part to build affordable housing, support small businesses, and provide other civic benefits in return for the city's largesse) will go away if the City Council fails to appropriate the relevant funds. Since there's no legal way to ensure that future councils will do so, that makes the "commitments" in the deal somewhat mythical, and industry observers suggest that Simon -- the nation's largest mall developer -- would be well advised to walk away now. More to come, we're sure. -- M.C.M.
The Travis Co. Commissioners Court last week approved the acquisition of 237 acres of existing conservation land in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The Bull Creek Warbler Owners Association is expected to transfer the land located west of Loop 360 off Spicewood Springs Road to the county and will help offset some of the management costs. The tract was set aside for conservation in 1994, but is coming under county ownership as part of the county's endeavor to play a more prominent role in BCP operations. The BCP is a multijurisdictional effort to set aside at least 30,428 acres in western Travis Co. for endangered species and their habitats. About 90% of that goal has been achieved to date. A.S.
The City Council will this week consider revisions to city code proposed by the Austin Human Rights Commission, including adding "gender identity" as a class protected from discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodations. Other changes clarify the existing human-rights ordinance to reflect that the city's Human Resources Department's compliance division (to be renamed the Equal Employment Opportunity/ Fair Housing Office), rather than the commission itself, actually investigates local discrimination complaints. -- M.C.M.
And they called it ... Mueller! The City Council is set this week to vote on a resolution to officially keep the old airport's name for the new urban village planned for the site. After a recent call for public input, the city and its private-sector partner Catellus Development got more than 700 suggestions for names, but the majority were variations of the existing moniker, chosen back in 1930 after the untimely death of city councilman Robert Mueller. "It is such an obvious choice that we now wonder why a name search was needed," says the city. (The Chronicle had suggested the name "Myooler" which is how everyone incorrectly pronounces it anyway but we were ignored.) More Mueller news on p.21. M.C.M.
A proposed commercial center on a 31-acre tract along Brodie Lane a South Austin roadway thick with big boxes, retail strips, and traffic narrowly secured approval from the Zoning and Platting Commission, which voted 5-3 to support the zoning request for the planned unit development. About 14 acres of the tract would be dedicated to a conservation easement and buffer zone. The project would include convenience storage, an automotive shop, and two restaurants. The Cherry Creek on Brodie Neighborhood Association has noted its concerns about traffic impacts on nearby Deer Lane and Davis Lane. ZAP Chair Betty Baker, citing her discomfort with the convenience-storage component of the PUD, voted against the proposal, as did Commissioners John Donisi and Joseph Martinez. A.S.
Austin Police Chief Stan Knee has awarded the department's Special Weapons and Tactics Team and the Critical Incident Negotiation Team the Chief's Excellence Award for their "continued professionalism and exemplary expertise when placed in dangerous situations under difficult conditions," the APD announced June 3. Since May 29, APD's SWAT and CINT officers have responded to four critical incidents including one on June 2 in which a barricaded subject armed with a .44 magnum fired at least five rounds at police before being taken into custody. Officers handled each by using less-than-lethal munitions including beanbag rounds and without use of deadly force. Indeed, since 1998 SWAT and CINT officers have resolved 428 "critical incidents," all without use of lethal force. Jordan Smith
In other APD news, the department's North Central Area Command has won the first-place Government Award from Keep Texas Beautiful for their ongoing efforts with Operation Restore Hope the NCAC-designed plan for cleaning up distressed neighborhoods in North Austin. The annual KTB Awards recognize groups committed to litter prevention and cleanup, illegal dumping enforcement, and community beautification; the NCAC officers will receive their award during the annual KTB convention, June 15-18 at the Austin Marriott at the Capitol. (For more on the NCAC and Operation Restore Hope, see "North Central Blues," May 7.) J.S.
Anti-abortion activist Chris Danze sent out an e-mail alert Monday morning directing folks to a new Web-based video that connects the rather obvious dots between Planned Parenthood's new Choice Project and gasp! Mayor Will Wynn, former Mayor Kirk Watson, Council Member Brewster McCracken, Austin state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith, and so on, all big supporters of the project. Graphic photos of dilation and extraction procedures, known to opponents as "partial birth abortions," provide segues into each photo of the above-named backers of the new facility. The video, Danze explains, "connects Choice Project supporters with what they support." Creators of the video say it's just the first of a multipart series. A.S.
After a last-minute postponement last month, the City Council will today (Thursday) consider whether to vacate and sell Moffett Drive in Tarrytown to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, which aims to consolidate its facilities on a single two-block parcel. While the street vacation itself appears uncontroversial part of a plan that's been OK'd by the church's neighbors the sales price is still raising eyebrows. The city has appraised the 18,000-square-foot chunk of street at a mere $54,345, even though (according to the tax rolls), the adjoining house lots, each less than one third of that square footage, are valued at more than $247,000 each. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
So when is last call in Round Rock? That's been a controversial topic up in Austin's little sister city, where the City Council repealed an ordinance passed last year extending alcohol sales until 2am (currently, the taps go dry at midnight on weeknights, 1am on weekends) after protests from the temperance set, which gathered enough signatures to force an election on the matter. Now, however, Rockers who support longer bar hours are trying (for the second time) to collect their own signatures to put the question to the voters. M.C.M.
This fall, more than 7,000 public-school students at 13 schools across the state will be given laptop computers loaded with educational software as part of the Texas Education Agency's Technology Immersion Project, created last year by SB 396, authored by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. Since TIP will outfit each student with a take-home laptop computer, teachers will be able to plan technology-based assignments in math, science, language arts, and social studies, notes a TEA press release. TIP is funded by $12 million in federal Title II grant money; so far grants totaling $3.7 million have been awarded to 13 schools. The TEA is currently soliciting applications from middle school campuses serving grades 6-8 for the second round of TIP grants. "[A] great education requires great literacy in technology," Shapleigh said in a TEA press release. "By creating a laptop immersion program ... Texas makes great strides in educating our children in technology." J.S.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled unanimously this week that Mexican trucks can start operating north of the border whenever President Bush so desires. The Supremes rejected an appeal by the watchdog group Public Citizen one of several labor and environmental groups opposed to unrestricted Mexican truck traffic on narrow technical grounds, holding that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not need to do a full environmental impact statement to assess the impact of Mexican truck operations. Congress enacted a moratorium on cross-border trucking years ago but gave the president the authority to lift it, which Bush did in 2002. M.C.M.
On Thursday (tonight) and Saturday, June 12, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (14311 Wells Port Dr.) will screen the documentary Beyond Good and Evil. The video examines how a simplistic rhetoric of "good versus evil" in entertainment and news media in the United States facilitates the dehumanization of others, justifying their killing and treating the suffering of innocent civilians as necessary sacrifice, and also focuses on the impact this thinking has on children. Afterward, UT media law professor Dr. Robert Jensen will moderate a discussion with the audience and a panel of clergy. Tonight's showing is at 7:30pm; the Saturday showing is at 4:30pm. Call 251-0698 for information.
A Police/Community Solutions Panel will be presented Saturday, June 12, 9-11am, at the Davage-Durden Student Union of Huston-Tillotson College (900 Chicon). This is the first in a three-part series of meetings to help define solutions leading to better community/ police relations. Representatives from the ACLU, NAACP, LULAC, and Texas Civil Rights Project will take part in a panel discussion. For more info, call 927-6161.
A new organization named ahem Women Against Bush will host the Kiss Bush Goodbye Happy Hour on Saturday, June 12, 6-7:30pm, at Momos, 618 W. Sixth (upstairs from Katz's). Organizers say that approximately 22 million single women ages 18-30 did not vote in the 2000 election, making them the least likely demographic to vote. WAB is a project of the Running in Heels political action committee, which focuses on promoting women's participation in elections and the government. For more info, call 264-8384 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Mass Voter Registration Project will be held Saturday, June 12 at multiple sites in Austin. The event will start with Constable Bruce Elfant deputizing volunteer registrars at 9am at the Travis County Democratic Party office at 706 W. MLK, Suite 8. For more info, call 454-1392 or e-mail email@example.com.
Young people ages 13-24 from diverse religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds are called upon to participate in the Summer of Service, June 14-23. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 832-1086.