Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., June 18, 2004
Quotes of the Week
Special "Bush: The Reagan Years" Twofer Edition:
"We want to keep on obeying the laws of our country, which we are now obeying. ... [Overthrowing the Sandinistas] would be a violation of the law." Ronald Reagan, lying in America's face back in 1987.
"The authorization I issued ... was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations. " President Bush, lying in the world's face last week. See "War Drums."
It doesn't get better here at home, as Gov. Rick Perry lies in Texans' faces about a school finance solution and a fifth special session being just around the corner. See "Capitol Chronicle."
While you're celebrating Juneteenth, don't forget to cast your vote in the Austin Community College run-off election between Marc Levin and Veronica Rivera. See "Endorsements" for more on ACC, "Calendar" for more on Juneteenth.
Two environmental groups and the city of Sunset Valley scored a court victory Tuesday with a district judge's ruling that effectively strikes down a 4-3 City Council vote last December approving a settlement agreement with Lowe's Home Centers Inc. Judge Lora Livingston agreed with plaintiffs the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Save Barton Creek Association, and the city of Sunset Valley that an amendment to the SOS Ordinance allowing Lowe's to exceed impervious cover limits required six votes of the council, regardless of whether a state law supersedes SOS. It was uncertain at press time how the ruling would affect the ongoing construction of the Lowe's store on Brodie Lane, over the Edwards Aquifer. In any case, it's likely that the city and Lowe's will appeal the judge's decision. Amy Smith
On June 16, Travis Co. District Judge Paul Davis denied the city of Austin's motion for summary judgement in the whistle-blower lawsuit filed by APD Officer Jeff White, ruling that White's suit contained enough "facts" to go to trial. Davis encouraged attorneys for White and the city to get the case moving toward trial; however, before the case can go before a jury, the two sides must first engage in mediation for a potential settlement. State Rep. Terry Keel, the lone courtroom observer, listened in on the proceedings on behalf of his client, former APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman, who allegedly retaliated against White after the former organized crime officer reported concerns that Chapman had engaged in possible criminal activity related to a mid-Nineties drug-trafficking investigation, code named Mala Sangre. (For more on the case, see "Still Bleeding," May 31, 2002.) Jordan Smith
Stratus Properties and a Southwest Austin neighborhood association both got what they wanted last week from the City Council a zoning change that will give residents a grocery store with generous setbacks, and relieve Stratus of trying to peddle another retail-zoned tract with accessibility issues. The approval clears the way for a 93,000-square-foot HEB anchor store in a small shopping center at Slaughter Lane and Escarpment Boulevard. Stratus had initially sought to build a 400-unit apartment complex on the site, as part of its controversial 2002 development deal with the city, but withdrew that plan when HEB opted out of a nearby commercial tract. In 2002, Stratus and leaders of the adjoining New Villages at Western Oaks Neighborhood Association had fought tooth and nail over the tract initially slated for multifamily zoning. The two sides hit an impasse when Stratus refused to budge beyond a 200-foot setback. In this case, both Stratus and HEB agreed to 425-foot setbacks. A.S.
The expected marquee item on today's (Thursday) council agenda the approval (if only on first reading) of a Mueller zoning plan has instead been postponed until next week. No reason has been given as of press time, though Muelleristas speculate that city staff, neighborhood and community leaders, and Catellus Development (the prospective master developer of the old airport) are still trying to find a win-win solution to the question of what retail uses can be permitted at Mueller's northwest corner. The Planning Commission's only change to the massive Mueller zoning case was to strip out "construction sales and service" i.e., a Lowe's Home Center from the permitted uses on that parcel. M.C.M.
Mueller's postponement makes room on this week's agenda for another massive zoning case, the Robinson Ranch a 6,000-acre chunk of Williamson Co. that city planners and others envision as a mixed-use urban node of the future. The case was postponed last week. The Zoning and Platting Commission failed, but the council did move forward on zoning for the Ribelin Ranch, a different parcel (north of RM 2222). Ribelin, like Robinson, is being annexed by Austin, but for different reasons: Ribelin includes a 186-acre parcel the city would very much like to acquire for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Between them, the Ribelin and Robinson ranches account for 10 items on today's agenda. M.C.M.
In turn, Robinson Ranch's postponement last week made room for another massive zoning case the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan and its associated University Neighborhood Overlay. After what was basically a rerun of the first public hearing on the UNO last month, the council approved on first reading both the "noncontroversial" elements of the CACNP, covering the neighborhoods surrounding the UT campus, and the UNO, a custom zoning ordinance that would allow true urban density in West Campus. The UNO is expected to be ready for final approval June 24, but dozens upon dozens of contested individual cases in the combined planning area mean the CACNP itself won't likely come back until the end of July. M.C.M.
Five Austin police officers were honored June 8 for their outstanding service to the community by the newly formed Hispanic Action Committee, a fledgling community group that will work with APD to build better cultural understanding between Hispanics and police. The HAC will work with APD on cadet training issues and efforts to increase diversity within APD's ranks, among other "solution-focused" activities. At the Tuesday award ceremony HAC recognized Sgt. Carlos Botello, officers Joe Muñoz and Jose Rodriguez, and cpls. Mike Alexander and George Jackoskie for their service. Jordan Smith
In other (positive) APD news, the department has teamed up with Garza Independence High School to create a six-week forensic science class at the school. The new GHS program kicked off June 14, when the 15 students enrolled in the fledgling program had their first field trip to APD's new East Austin forensics lab, where they met the APD staff that will lead their studies. The class, an extension of the established Criminal Justice Program at Lanier High, will offer students a chance to learn the basics of crime scene investigation including evidence collection, latent fingerprint processing, bloodstain pattern interpretation, and DNA analysis. Meanwhile, APD continues to work with Huston-Tillotson College to expand its criminal-justice curriculum, to which they are currently adding forensic science, which, in turn, will offer Garza students opportunity for advanced study. J.S.
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office and APD's Crisis Intervention Teams formerly the mental health unit officers have moved their offices into new digs at the Austin State Hospital. (The two units previously shared space at Austin-Travis Co. MHMR's downtown Psychiatric Emergency Services center.) The new location places the officers closer to the mental health court, which decides questions of hospital admittance and release, and will provide space for training mental health officers from Austin and other Central Texas jurisdictions. The move also means each unit has a new telephone number: TCSO CIT can be reached at 854-3445; APD CIT is at 854-3450. J.S.
Ruthe Winegarten, scholar, author, and feminist activist, died this week in Austin. Winegarten was the curator of the Texas Women's History Project and the author or co-author of 18 books, including Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph and Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History. Frieda Werden, a longtime friend and collaborator and the producer of Women's International News Gathering Service, said of Winegarten, "Her contribution to women's history, particularly in Texas, has been incalculably vast, laying the groundwork for what will be many generations of scholarship about women and social history." A memorial service is scheduled for 10am Thursday (today) at the Mayfield House and Preserve on Old Bull Creek Road, near Laguna Gloria. Michael King
Beyond City Limits
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that he wants Gov. Rick Perry to call yet another special legislative session this year to address public school finance and property taxes. As reported by the San Antonio Express-News, Dewhurst said that he's concerned that if those issues are left until next year's regularly scheduled session, there will be too many "competing needs for money. ... I'm concerned we won't be able to allocate the resources, we won't have the will to allocate the resources, and we won't be able to cut our local property taxes as much as we need to in order to spur more economic development in the state." Dewhurst has said he favors a broad-based business tax to replace the revenue lost by cutting property taxes, but last week Perry rejected that option as "wrong." "I'm willing to negotiate," said Perry. "I'm just not going to say yes." M.K.
The Hays Co. Commissioners Court gave final approval last week to the controversial Heatherwood residential development south of Dripping Springs. Critics of the project say developers bent the rules by submitting the proposal as a single-family subdivision, even though they intend to build 17 condominiums on 1.73 acres of a 12-acre site east of Ranch Road 12. "The developers have used existing county rules as a smorgasbord," said Charles O'Dell of the Hays Community Action Network, a watchdog organization that monitors growth in the area. "They have picked some regulations and ignored others to permit their allies on the Commissioners Court to approve a subdivision that is far more dense and far less regulated than anything previously allowed in unincorporated areas of Hays Co." O'Dell also pointed out that the Hays-Trinity Groundwater District has withdrawn its water well permits to the subdivision, after learning that the development was not, in fact, a single-family residential project. A.S.
Continuing its fight against electronic waste, Texas Campaign for the Environment on Monday released a 35-page report warning that an "e-waste tsunami" will roll across the United States starting in 2007 and peaking in 2010, unless recycling laws and industry practices change immediately. The report also specifically focused on this tidal wave's effect on Texas, claiming that Lone Star taxpayers will end up with a bill of at least $606 million (and possibly six times that) to pay for disposing of obsolete computers and televisions. Environmental groups argue that manufacturers need to take responsibility for safely recycling and disposing of their products, which contain heavy metals and other toxic materials, dangerous if dumped into an ordinary landfill. "We want to nip this problem in the bud," said TCE's Robin Schneider. "Some manufacturers are starting to step up to the plate, such as Dell and HP, which are publicly supporting producer takeback policies." Schneider recommended that Texas follow the lead of Maine, which has passed laws requiring manufacturer takeback. (In related news, Dell announced last week that it will recycle more than 18,000 pieces of old computer equipment for Chicago Public Schools.) Lee Nichols
Orange County, Calif., has been told by state election officials it can go ahead with its electronic voting plans in the November election. That's good news for Hart InterCivic Inc., the Austin-based manufacturer of the eSlate voting system that the O.C. (and Travis Co.) uses. Following several system failures around the state in March, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned e-voting statewide, but said that 10 of the 14 counties affected could get their systems recertified if they met about two dozen security conditions. (Counties using McKinney-based Diebold systems were told they could not get recertified under any conditions.) County officials "came to Sacramento and answered tough questions," Shelley told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm very pleased with their assurances." The machines will not be required to produce voter-verifiable paper receipts, which have been demanded by activists concerned about e-voting. However, Shelley has said that such receipts will be required by 2006. L.N.
Austin Mayor Will Wynn headlines the Travis Co. Libertarian Party's Distinguished Speaker Series on Sunday, June 20, 3:45pm, at the LCRA Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. All political stripes are welcome. For more info, call 467-1776 or go to www.austinliberty.org.
On Thursday, June 24, at 7pm, Third Coast Activist presents the documentary Flag Wars at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (Fourth and Colorado). Flag Wars is a stark look inside the conflicts that surface when black, working-class families are faced with an influx of white, gay homebuyers into their Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood. Buy tickets at the door or in advance at www.drafthouse.com.