Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., July 23, 2004
Quote of the Week: "The enemy declared war on us. Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president. The next four years will be peaceful years." President Bush, at an Iowa campaign appearance. (Insert your favorite 1984 allusion here.)
On the local front, fallout continues from last week's controversial toll road vote, with vows by the losing side to not let the issue die and to recall the local officials, starting with Mayor Will Wynn, who disappointed them. See p.22 and "Austin@Large," at right.
It's the last week of calm before the storm at City Hall: City Manager Toby Futrell will officially drop her proposed FY 2005 budget on Thursday. Same story over at the courthouse, where Travis Co. is set to release its preliminary spending plans on July 28.
Also next week, the City Council will get what it asked for a proposed overhaul of the city's historic preservation program, and a passel of controversy to go with it. See p.23.
Of course, nobody will be watching the City Council meeting, because everyone will be watching John Kerry give his acceptance speech at the Boston D Party. Right?
Abstinence makes the head grow softer: The State Board of Education is on its annual tour of the Stone Age, reading sexless high school health textbooks. Get plenty of rest, folks. See p.18.
Not getting plenty of rest is mountain man Lance Armstrong, who as we write this has just blown away the field at the Tour de France, which ends Sunday. Live strong, y'all.
Those nice folks at the Austin Police Department have begun publishing a handy weekly list of "traffic enforcement locations." Today's (Thursday) hot spots include North I-35, West Ben White Boulevard South I-35 at Woodward, and Slaughter Lane. Tomorrow, wave to the fuzz on East Seventh Street, West Anderson Lane, Rosewood Avenue, and South MoPac. Lest you think APD's brain trust has been sampling the wares in the evidence room, the department notes that the "goal of traffic enforcement is to increase citizens' voluntary compliance with traffic laws." Giving advance warning of speed traps "will lead to safer roadways through increased compliance." The logic here has, predictably, been lost on many sensible people, including Texas Monthly publisher and frequent APD critic Mike Levy, who fired off a Levygram to his mighty e-mail list with the subject line, "This is really stupid." M.C.M.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce rolled out another economic development campaign last week, this time focusing on trying to hang on to companies already in Austin. The Portfolio Austin features ubiquitous lawyer Pete Winstead leading the charge; Susan Davenport, the chamber's economic development director, will devote most of her in-house time to the new program. The effort is a component of the chamber's Opportunity Austin program, which seeks to create 72,000 new jobs in the next five years of which nearly two-thirds, the chamber speculates, would be from retention and growth of existing Austin businesses. Chamber officials will begin knocking on doors to get an idea of the challenges ahead. The idea is to identify those companies looking to expand in the next few years and convince them to stay in Austin. Amy Smith
First stop on Winstead's door-knocking tour if he hasn't dropped by already is likely Freescale Semiconductor, the former Motorola chip division that, with its IPO last week, became Austin's third hometown member of the Fortune 500. Word on the street says the newborn firm has already queried the city and state about incentives to keep the corporate HQ in town. Austin is home to Freescale's largest operations, dating back to the 1980s, but the Motorola division was based in Phoenix until the late 1990s, and many corporate functions were handled by the Motorola mothership in suburban Chicago. So staying in Austin is not inevitable, though losing Freescale would be a huge embarrassment that the city and chamber will probably pay handsomely to avoid. Though Freescale's IPO raised less money than the company had hoped, its stock price has gone up nicely in its first week, buoyed by the loss-plagued division's announcement Tuesday of a healthy 2003 profit. M.C.M
On the City Council's busy July 29 schedule, sharing marquee time with the budget, the historic zoning ordinance (see p.23), and Maria's Taco Xpress, will be the likely end of the conflict between the Northfield neighborhood and Up to Me Inc., which seeks to open a transitional housing facility for female felons at 5117 N. Lamar. Up to Me already operates a men-only facility farther north on Lamar, and its neighbors are supporting Northfield's campaign to deny Up to Me a conditional-use permit, for a variety of reasons (not just the expected qualms about public safety, but concerns that the 52-bed facility would be too intense a use for the property, which is flanked by single-family homes). Up to Me's 1999 attempt to open a similar women's facility in East Austin was spiked by the City Council, but neighbors fear a different outcome this time; the organization's agent Mike McHone has lobbied the council hard to reverse the Planning Commission's earlier unanimous denial of a permit, and got sympathy from the council at the case's public hearing back in June. M.C.M.
The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board has added its name to a long list of supporters favoring the creation of a greenbelt that extends from Zilker Park to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Proponents of the plan are calling for a community charette process to kick the effort forward, but the BSEACD stopped short of committing to participate in such a charette. Supporters say that existing parks and greenbelts can be linked to one another through just four Southwest Austin properties. Those parcels, however, include the S.R. Ridge tract at MoPac and Slaughter (formerly slated for a Wal-Mart and now in litigation); the Lowe's tract on Brodie Lane (also embroiled in a legal battle), the 118-acre Forum PUD site (home of a proposed Costco and other retail), and a smaller tract owned by a subsidiary of Wal-Mart. Agents for the Forum PUD have expressed an interest in connecting part of their property to the greenbelt. Supporters have pitched the idea to the city Environmental Board and Parks and Recreation Board, but neither has taken a position. More details on the proposal are at www.austinaction.org. A.S.
Lloyd Doggett Sr., father of the Austin congressman, died July 13. The elder Doggett, 94, was a dentist who was praised for providing care to those who couldn't pay. In keeping with this legacy, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to East Austin's Manos de Cristo dental clinic. Lee Nichols
It was all warm fuzzies between environmental activists and Michael Dell at the annual Dell shareholders meeting at the Austin Convention Center. After targeting Dell with protests the past three years, Texas Campaign for the Environment director Robin Schneider showed up to praise Dell for drastically improving its recycling program for obsolete computers; the firm is offering a summerlong deal for free recycling of old models with the purchase of certain new Dell products. But as old fences get mended, new ones get broken: a group named People for Responsible Outsourcing to End Excessive Costs to Stockholders (PROTECTS) slammed Dell for hiring the controversial Wackenhut firm for security purposes. Dell said he was unfamiliar with Wackenhut's alleged failings, but assured shareholders that Wackenhut meets whatever security standards Dell places on it. L.N.
Edwin Dorn, dean since 1997 of UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs, has announced he's stepping down at year's end; returning to the regular faculty, he says, will give him the chance to catch up on his writing and the "freedom to comment on current events." Dorn was a Pentagon official under President Clinton before taking the LBJ School reins; during his tenure, his fundraising prowess nearly doubled the school's budget. No word yet on a replacement. M.C.M.
Also in personnel news: Louis Malfaro, longtime leader of Education Austin, has been elected a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Malfaro's headed the Austin ISD teacher and staff union since 1994. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
Gov. Perry has yet another reason to be looking over his shoulder. According to a late June poll by Austin-based Montgomery & Associates, Perry is disliked by almost as many Texans who say they like him, numbers considered dire by those who monitor such things. Perry was known well by 75% of those surveyed; 40% said they have a favorable impression and 35% unfavorable. By contrast, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was "best-known and best liked" 80% recognize her, 66% approve and only 14% disapprove. Hutchison is repeatedly mentioned as a possible primary rival to Perry in 2006. Another potential foe, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, was known by 53% of the respondents, with a favorable number of 41% and an unfavorable number of 12%. Commented poll director Jeff Montgomery, "We tell candidates that their favorable number should [be] twice as high as their unfavorable number, or they could be facing trouble. ... It does suggest that the governor has some problems with Texans as a whole." Michael King
After reading an editorial by the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Young complaining that no local theatre was showing Fahrenheit 9/11, filmmaker Michael Moore announced that he will allow a fundraiser screening by the Friends of Peace nonprofit in nearby Crawford the non-D.C. home of President Bush with free admission to those holding Republican voter cards and an $8 charge on everyone else. The date, time, and exact location are still to be announced. And speaking of lefty documentaries, we're told that Outfoxed, the MoveOn.org-sponsored attack on Fox News, was enjoyed by an outdoor crowd of 400 or so at Jo's Hot Coffee on South Congress last weekend. L.N.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is taking aim at 70 Texas law enforcement agencies that have failed to comply with his recent open-records request, seeking two years worth of racial-profiling data. West is the author is the state's racial-profiling law (SB 1074), which passed in 2001. Earlier this year West asked 600 law enforcement agencies across the state to provide him with their racial-profiling data collected in 2002 and 2003. More than 100 agencies failed to respond to West's original request in violation of the Texas Public Information Act; 70 agencies have yet to respond to a follow-up request West sent in June. "Racial profiling is a serious issue," West said in a press release. "Now some departments are refusing to report the data to the public. What are they hiding from?" According to the release, some of the agencies that did respond to his request provided data that actually exceeded the legal requirements, demonstrating "that compliance with the racial-profiling act is possible for any department, large or small," he said. Jordan Smith
According to a report released by the Environmental Working Group on July 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has aggressively avoided paying to black farmers the settlement money they won in a landmark civil rights case against the agency. The farmers brought suit in 1997 against the USDA claiming that for years the department systematically denied crop loans readily available to white farmers. The 94,000 farmers who joined the suit won a settlement worth $2.3 billion. Yet the EWG (a nonprofit group specializing in "environmental investigations," many related to farm subsidy spending) found the USDA has withheld three-quarters of that money and has denied compensation to 81,000 of the eligible farmers including 150 in Texas. Further, the EWG reports that the USDA spent $12 million to contract with Department of Justice lawyers to contest 129 individual claims. "This willful obstruction of justice by the USDA demands immediate action on the part of the U.S. Congress," reads the EWG report. For more information, go to www.ewg.org. J.S.
If our president's flailing attempts to speak the English language grate on you, perhaps you'd appreciate them with a more melodic presentation: The George W Bush Singers, a group of Austin musicians including, among others, Guy Forsyth and Chronicle photographer Todd Wolfson, have set Dubya's inelegant misarticulations to choral arrangements. Hear the singers live on Saturday, July 24, at Antone's (213 W. Fifth) at 7pm. The George W. Bush Singers have also released an album, Songs in the Key of W, which we assume will be available at the show but may also be obtained at fine record shops or at www.georgewbushsingers.com.
Supporters of an unusual Walgreens/Maria's Taco Xpress development agreement will hold a music fest 3-6pm Sunday at the restaurant, 2529 S. Lamar. The event is designed to raise awareness and rally support for a plan that would allow Walgreens to build a new store at South Lamar and Bluebonnet. The national drug-store chain would also pay for the construction of a new Taco Xpress at (almost) the same location. The City Council will hold a public hearing and consider a zoning proposal for the plan at 4pm July 29. The music bill includes Leeann Atherton, Dimestore Poets, Steel Beam, and Texas Radio. Entry is free. See www.savemarias.com for more details.
Local happenings in the Kerry/Edwards campaign: Democratic VP choice John Edwards is hosting a Sunday brunch in San Antonio, 11:30am-2pm, on July 25. Also, Austin for Kerry is having a meet-up at Mother Egan's Irish Pub (715 W. Sixth) tonight (Thursday) with speeches by Kirk Watson, Glen Maxey, Greg Hamilton, and Kelly White. Call 431-3173 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.