Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., July 30, 2004
Quote of the Week: "I was so overcome by the unbelievable excitement in the room, watching so many people yell and chant for my father, I could not help but get tears in my eyes. It was amazing to meet so many people that respect and love my dad almost as much as I do!" Young Barbara Bush, responding to a question (from College Station) in a live Web chat with sister Jenna on the Bush-Cheney campaign site.
All left-leaning eyes are on Boston for the Democratic National Convention, for tonight's (Thursday) acceptance speech by presidential nominee John Kerry. See "Happenings" for more info on viewing parties near you.
Likely also watching will be folks in the back room at the first Austin City Council meeting in a month featuring a marathon agenda, including the rollout of the proposed fiscal 2005 budget, the salvation (perhaps) of Maria's Taco Xpress, the renaming of the Austin Convention Center to honor the late Neal Kocurek, and much more. See "'Hold-the-Line' Budget Hits the City Streets," "And In Other Council Business ...," and "D-Day for Taco Xpress Deal."
Robin Hood met the sheriff or at least the judge this week, as court proceedings began in the latest lawsuit challenging the state's school finance system. A full trial is set to kick off Aug. 9. See "Robin Hood Goes To Court."
The toll road wounds are still fresh, but the transportation wars continue with attention now focused on the rail transit package Capital Metro will likely put on the ballot at month's end. See "Austin@Large," and "A Desire Named 'Streetcar'."
At press time, it appears that today's (Thursday) fun-filled, action-packed City Council meeting will not include an anticipated donnybrook over the historic preservation ordinance. City staff's recommendations for a long-discussed overhaul of the program, which has remained basically unchanged since its inception in 1974, differ from those made by the council's recently appointed Historic Task Force much to the displeasure of that task force's chair, Betty Baker and have spawned various concerns by preservation advocates in PreserveAustin, the Heritage Society of Austin, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and others. The Zoning and Platting Commission, which Baker also chairs, gave staff a thorough dressing-down last week and, at a special meeting called this week, voted to endorse the task force's recommendations though ZAP has no official charge to review proposed changes to city code. The Planning Commission, which does have that job, weighed in again Tuesday, siding with the task-force report in most respects. M.C.M.
The Save Our Springs Alliance and BudaCAN (Community Action Network) have told the city of Buda and two development concerns to expect a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act unless resolution is reached within 60 days the required waiting period in federal lawsuits. The two groups filed notice last week, alleging that pollutants from the Garlic Creek West development site were illegally discharged into Garlic Creek, which feeds Onion Creek. B&W Development and Weber Properties Inc., both of Austin, are developing the residential and commercial subdivision in Buda's extraterritorial jurisdiction under a development agreement approved by the Buda City Council (SOS is challenging that agreement in state court). According to the notice, a rock berm and soil dam that developers placed across Garlic Creek collapsed during recent rains, causing polluted sediment to flow into the creek. Additionally, the notice claims developers concocted the rock berm and dam without obtaining proper state and federal permits. About half of the 669-acre tract is in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Amy Smith
Elsewhere in Hays Co., SOS lost a court battle on Monday with a judge's dismissal of a lawsuit against the city of Dripping Springs and developers of two major subdivisions Rock Creek and Belterra. As in the Buda case, the group had challenged the development agreements approved by the Dripping Springs City Council and tried to make a case for irreparable harm to Barton Springs should the developments move forward. SOS will appeal Monday's ruling, made by a visiting judge from Cameron who decided that SOS had no legal standing to bring suit. A.S.
To commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (signed into law on July 26, 1990), the Texas Civil Rights Project and ADAPT of Texas have filed 14 lawsuits against local businesses and government entities that the groups claim failed to comply with ADA accessibility requirements. Among the alleged violators are Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, for failure to make all voting precincts accessible to voters with disabilities; Dillard's department store, where aisles are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs; Bank of America, because two Austin branches allegedly have inaccessible entrances and counters too high for wheelchair-using patrons; and Spaghetti Warehouse, whose wheelchair ramp and restrooms pose access problems. Also, TCRP and ADAPT have sued the federal Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security on behalf of a man with a prosthetic limb who was allegedly harassed at a Bergstrom security checkpoint. Jordan Smith
Longtime Eastside leader Ora Lee Nobles, president of the Blackshear Neighborhood Association and its nonprofit housing corporation, died this week. Nobles, 83, was preceded in death last week by her husband Spencer; funeral services for both were held Wednesday at St. James' Baptist Church. M.C.M.
If the state's fitful attempts at bringing slot machines to horse tracks bear fruit, Travis Co. may end up with two "racinos" rather than one. Execs of the Austin Jockey Club, which has held a Texas Racing Commission license since 2000, told the Daily Racing Form that in partnership with San Antonio's Retama Park they're making progress on buying a site in northern Travis Co. and beginning construction on a one-mile track next year. Right now, Manor Downs is the only licensed track in the Austin area; the Jockey Club's first intended site, near the Montopolis neighborhood, was shot down by strong citizen opposition and is now being developed with homes and apartments. M.C.M.
DriveDemocracy.org, the MoveOn.org-affiliated activist Web site focused on progressive Texas politics, has launched the Drive Democracy blog. DD Director Glenn Smith, former Texas Observer publisher Geoff Rips, online activist Nathan Wilcox, and "guest bloggers" will be blogging away for your reading pleasure at www.drivedemocracy.org/blog. One guest blogger this week is state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who had these choice words inspired by the Democratic convention: "When President Clinton stated that strength and wisdom are not mutually exclusive, I was reminded of the many times I had to deal with Bush when he was Governor of Texas and I was the chair of the House Human Services Committee. Invariably, I had to remind myself that the man has no intellectual curiosity and is basically clueless and oblivious when it comes to most matters, especially those wherein he has not been extensively tutored by Karl Rove or Karen Hughes or Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld." Lee Nichols
Beyond City Limits
The UT System isn't the only Lone Star university interested in managing the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Last week, Texas A&M informed the Department of Energy that it also is considering a bid for the contract to manage the nuclear-research facility, which is being farmed out by the feds after decades of management by the University of California. UT's bid is being protested by anti-nuke and anti-war activists, because the lab is key to the development of America's nuclear weapons arsenal; the lab has also received intense media scrutiny lately for alleged lapses in security. An A&M system vice chancellor told the Houston Chronicle that A&M is considering competing against UT for the contract, but is also open to a joint Aggie-Longhorn management deal. L.N.
Time has run out for former Austin Assistant City Manager Marcia Conner, who was "separated" this week from her job as city manager of Durham, N.C., after three tumultuous years. Conner, who left Austin for the Tar Heel State in 2001, had already been placed on a very tight leash by the Durham council her salary docked, her authority to award contracts stripped, and her performance evaluated monthly after public outcry over various missteps, including illegal city contracting and a twice-failed search for a new police chief. Even with these issues, and even after a petition signed by 7,000 citizens demanding Conner's ouster, the council was reportedly deadlocked until Conner acceded to leave by mutual agreement. M.C.M.
Coincidentally, the old Durham police chief who Conner needed to replace Teresa Chambers also got fired this week from her job as head of the U.S. Park Police. Chambers, who left Durham for D.C. in 2000, had already become a cause célèbre after being put on leave late last year for candidly telling The Washington Post that the Bush administration had not adequately funded her department which patrols the National Mall, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and other potential terror targets visited by millions annually. Chambers, who says she only went to the media after intense in-house lobbying for more money proved fruitless, has already gone to court to get her job back. M.C.M.
One in every 32 Americans was in prison, on probation, or on parole in 2003, according to annual statistics released on July 25 by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The nation's combined correctional population federal, state, and local reached a record of nearly 6.9 million prisoners, probationers and parolees, up more than 130,000 over 2002. Texas (534,260) and California (485,039) accounted for more than a million of the nation's total. The BJS also reports that as of Dec. 31, more than half of probationers were white, 30% were black, and 12% Hispanic; women accounted for 23%. Of all probationers, 25% had been convicted of a drug offense, 17% on DWI charges, and 7% convicted of domestic violence. To see the report, go to www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/ppus03.htm. J.S.
Weed Watch: He's free! Tommy Chong was released from federal prison in California on July 7 after completing a nine-month stint for selling a glass bong over the Internet to federal law enforcers in Pennsylvania. Chong was among several dozen people busted as part of a 2003 sting code-named Operation Pipe Dreams, but was apparently the only defendant to receive jail time. Prior to the bong bust Chong had never before been in trouble with the law for anything not pot, not even a speeding ticket he claimed in a Tonight Show appearance July 9. This irony wasn't lost on the not-always-so-sharp Jay Leno: Chong "feels that the government used him as an example to high- profile celebrities," he told the audience. "If you sell a bong, you go to jail. If you murder your wife hey, don't worry about that." Chong and old sidekick Cheech Marin are getting ready to shoot a new movie. J.S.
John Kerry supporters will be holding convention-watching parties at about 20 different locations around town tonight (Thursday), as the Democrat gives the Speech of His Life accepting the party's nomination. The Austin for Kerry organization's main party will be at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, 715 W. Sixth, at 8pm. For more info, call 743-8633 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org. To find the party location nearest you, go to www.austin4kerry.org.
On Saturday, July 31, 10am-3pm, Austin Center for Peace and Justice (5801 Westminster) will host an activist training with a coalition of local peace and justice groups. Sessions will be taught by experienced grassroots activists and public interest lobbyists. Lunch provided; $5 donation requested. For more info and to RSVP, call 389-0215 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Texas chapter of DrivingVotes.org an anti-Bush group devoted to registering voters in swing states will hold an organizational meeting at 10am on Saturday, July 31, at Ruta Maya Coffeehouse, 3601 S. Congress. For more info, call 350-4517 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Democratic get-togethers: the Capital City Young Democrats hold their monthly meeting at 7pm Tuesday, Aug. 3, at Opal Divine's (corner of Sixth and Rio Grande). Call 569-0097 or e-mail email@example.com. A Democracy for Texas Meetup will be held the next night, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 7pm, at Scholz Garten; for info, call 323-9086 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. And an Austin Tejano Democrats event honoring the Rev. Monsignor Lonnie C. Reyes, John Moore, Ron De La Rosa, Josephine Zamarripa, and Gloria Aleman will be held Thursday, Aug. 5, 6-9pm, at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Bergman. $10 admission, sponsorships of $100-500 available. For info, call 241-1398 or e-mail email@example.com.
A fundraiser for Casa Marianella, a shelter and support organization for immigrants and refugees, will pay tribute to the late Ed Wendler Sr., who 18 years ago donated the four-bedroom house on Gunter Street that Casa calls home. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 11, 5:30-7:30pm, at Nuevo Leon restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth. Speakers include Molly Ivins, Garry Mauro, and other Wendler friends. Suggested donation is $50; sponsorships, $100-500. For event info or to buy a ticket, visit www.casamarianella.org or call 266-7952.