Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Sept. 3, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Just because they brought snacks doesn't mean we're going to hear their case." One City Hall wag, after supporters of the Southwest Marketplace brought ample food and drink to sustain their many troops (and, naturally, freeloading city staff and local media) during the very, very long City Council meeting last week. (The aquifer-area project, anchored by a Costco, did avoid postponement and passed 6-1, with Brewster McCracken voting no.)
It's All Systems Go! unchanged for Capital Metro, which on Monday set a Nov. 2 election for its "starter" commuter-rail plan. See "Capital Metro Stays Its Course."
There's not much love in the streets around South Congress, as this weekend's festival spotlights discord among neighbors, merchants, and the strip's land barons. See "Saving South Congress - for Whom?."
Early voting for the AISD Bond Election ends Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 6pm. Locations include all AISD elementary and high school campuses, as well as area malls and grocery stores and the AISD headquarters on West Sixth Street. Election Day is Saturday, Sept. 11. Speak up now or forfeit your right to bitch later.
On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled against the Ralph Nader campaign in its lawsuit to allow Nader's name to appear on the presidential ballot in Texas, finding that the state's rules on ballot access are constitutional. The Nader campaign said it will appeal, but ballots are scheduled for printing next week.
In the wake of concerns raised by the Solar Austin campaign and the city Resource Management Commission, Austin Energy is revamping its procedures to make it easier for customers to subscribe to GreenChoice. Clean-energy advocates had complained that neither AE's marketing materials nor its call-center staff provided adequate info about GreenChoice or helped new customers subscribe. The utility has agreed to regularly report on these changes to the RMC. M.C.M.
It was all down for Up to Me at City Council last week, as the transitional-housing provider lost its battle to get a conditional-use permit for a facility for female ex-felons on North Lamar. Though a conditional-use permit previously denied by the Planning Commission attaches to the building, rather than the operator, Up to Me's supposed success running a men's facility farther north on Lamar had been cited to explain apparent council support for the organization's often-postponed appeal. That changed, though, when news broke that Up to Me was under investigation and could potentially lose its license and support from the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. The council well after midnight cited both Up to Me's problems and land-use concerns in ruling 5-2 to deny the appeal. M.C.M.
With final disposal of Up to Me, the summer's City Council perm-agenda was reduced to one item the University Neighborhood Overlay, postponed again last week (no snacks!) and today (Thursday) making its 11th appearance (we think) on the agenda. Daryl Slusher promised UT-area neighborhood leaders that they really, truly, for sure would vote this week on the UNO, designed (as part of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan) to allow dramatic increases in the density of West Campus in return for limiting density elsewhere around campus. Most other disputed cases in the mammoth CACNP have now been resolved. M.C.M.
Compared to all that, last week's final approval of zoning for the Mueller redevelopment sailed through, paving the way for consideration in late September of the city's master development agreement with Catellus Development for the reinvention of the old airport. Meanwhile, Catellus and the city announced this week a list of names for Mueller's dozens of new streets, selected (with the help of the Austin History Center) to honor famous Austin personages including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Emma Long, Kenneth Threadgill, and Barbara Jordan, as well as Robert Mueller himself. M.C.M.
Friday, Sept. 3, will be the first day that the Travis Co. Clerk's office can accept applications to vote by mail. You may vote early by mail if you are going to be away from the county during those times during which you could vote in person, are sick or disabled, will be 65 years of age or older on election day, or are confined in jail but not convicted of a felony. Call the Travis Co. Clerk's Election Division at 238-VOTE to request an application, or go to www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/bymail.asp. Lee Nichols
The total economic impact of the film and visual media industry in Austin is $360 million annually, according to a study by favored city consultant Jon Hockenyos released this week. The biz also supports more than 3,000 Austin jobs and $1.3 million in tax revenues, the study found; the effort included various recommendations for strengthening the industry both inside and outside City Hall, and City Manager Toby Futrell has already prepared an action plan in response. Discussion (most pointedly from Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman) of city support for the cultural industries that is, how to do more of it also arose last week during the City Council budget hearing on the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. M.C.M.
A residential alcohol and drug treatment program won't have to close its doors after all, thanks to a state agency's change of heart and $540,000. Austin Recovery's Family House, a residential facility for women and children, got official notice last week that the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse would restore most of the funding that had initially been stripped to zero. Hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from supporters and advocacy groups may have played a role in TCADA's reversal. Family House, one of several treatment programs run by Austin Recovery, relies heavily on state-allocated dollars it receives through a competitive application process. Last year, the program got more than $637,000 from TCADA. Austin Recovery's other programs have also taken budget hits this year, but the center's officials were especially concerned about finding placement for the women and children residing at Family House. "There are just not that many [residential treatment facilities] for women and children," said Austin Recovery spokeswoman Stephanie Sheppard. The TCADA money, she added, effectively restores 85% of Family House's budget and provides enough cushion to keep the facility running while administrators pursue other funding sources. Amy Smith
The progressive nonprofit ProTex held an "Irish wake" to mourn its own demise Friday at Scholz Garten. The organization, founded six years ago with the idea of coordinating and building coalitions in the often-fragmented nonprofit scene, essentially supported itself with one megagrant from the Ford Foundation. When the foundation decided not to renew funding this year, the group soon learned that its low-profile, behind-the-scenes approach kept them from other sources of funding. "The idea was to fly under the radar, just building infrastructure," said Steven Smith, one of two ProTex employees now out of a job. "That makes perfect sense when you have funding, but not when you don't." Nevertheless, some of the group's projects will survive: The Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition has enough money to remain active, and plans are in the works to reinvent the Health Care for All initiative as its own nonprofit. Rachel Proctor May
Beyond City Limits
Among the heads talking at the Republican National Convention was CD 25 candidate Rebecca Armendariz Klein, who got one minute of off-air podium time (as did 19 other candidates) as "the future of the Republican Party." "It was a privilege and an honor to talk about my district's concerns and values on a national level," Armendariz Klein said afterwards. "The enthusiastic response I've been getting here and at home is propelling me toward victory on Election Day." Her somewhat less-than-terrified opponent in the new majority-Hispanic CD 25, incumbent U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, noted, "Once people realize she's with the Republican Party, it'll help me." M.C.M.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is not in New York this week for the convention, saying she's just too busy with fiscal year-end business. (We're certain it has nothing to do with reports from New York that most of the back-room high-dollar GOP festivities are closed to the press.) However, she did take a moment to announce that the draft audit of her agency by the state auditor's office the governor's office had raised suspicions that the agency might be involved in selective enforcement on tax cases has given the comptroller "a clean bill of health." It's a bit of old news, since the audit was completed earlier this summer, but this week the attorney general's office ruled that it is indeed public information. "I am pleased that we can now release these findings," declared Strayhorn, who also reported "an exceptional, economic bumper crop of a year in Texas [confirmed by] an increase in sales tax collections for 12 months running." Michael King
The good news is that the Bush administration released the latest Census Bureau economic numbers a whole month ahead of schedule, while dismissing any suggestion that the August news slump would help avoid bad publicity that might douse the president's post-convention bounce. The bad news is, well, the economic numbers themselves. The number of Americans in poverty rose 1.3 million (4%) in 2003 to 35.9 million, or 12.5% of the population, the highest since 1998 when figured at a princely annual income of $9,573 or less for one person, or $18,660 for a family of four with two children. Incomes were stagnant, and the number of U.S. residents without health insurance also rose 1.4 million, bringing the total to 45.9 million. The poverty rate in Texas rose to 16.3%. Commented Dayna Finet of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, "Some observers think that poverty is due to lack of work [but] in 2002, nearly four in five poor Texas families included one or more working adults. Poverty has more to do with low wages." M.K.
In this month's edition of Texas Medicine, the magazine of the Texas Medical Association reaffirms its support for a physician's right to discuss any treatment with a patient, including the use of medical marijuana. The TMA's House of Delegates passed a policy on the topic earlier this year, calling for a "well-controlled" study of the use of medi-pot and for the right of docs to discuss medi-pot with patients. "We should be able to talk about anything that we know to be of benefit to the patient," Leonides Cigarroa, chair of the TMA's council on scientific affairs, told TM. Jordan Smith
Texans for Public Justice has released a new report on the Bush Pioneer and Ranger fundraising network, analyzing the personal and corporate sources of the president's major fundraisers, and taking a closer look at what the donors may have received in return for their campaign generosity. The 554 elite donors are credited with raising $76.5 million, roughly 70 times what they could contribute as individuals under federal law. Among the TPJ's findings: 377 (69%) of the 2004 Pioneers & Rangers are CEOs and business executives; 92 (17%) are lobbyists; 100 are connected to corporate scandals. And 146 donors from 2000 and 2004 received government appointments; those appointees include two cabinet secretaries, 24 ambassadors, and 47 transition-team members. As well, 102 companies that have employed 125 elite Bush donors received federal contracts worth $84.1 billion in fiscal year 2002. For the full report, see www.tpj.org/pioneers/pioneers04/index_pio.html. M.K.
Is political dissent a threat to national security? Apparently the U.S. Department of Justice thinks so. Earlier this year the ACLU Foundation filed federal suit against the government, charging that portions of the USA PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional including the government's use of a so-called National Security Letter, which puts a person on notice that they are being watched but, among other things, forbids the person to talk about it. Reams of documents have been filed in the case, many of which have faced heavy redaction necessary, the government claims, to protect national security. The ACLU objected and appealed to New York U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, who lifted the gag on portions of the documents. Ironically or, perhaps, not among the information the DOJ deemed too volatile for public consumption is a quote from a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, available for decades as a public record: "The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' ... The danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent." To see the ACLU documents, go to www.aclu.org/gagorder. J.S.
The 2004 Travis Co. Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign will hold "End of an Error" House Parties and fundraisers at various locations around Austin on Thursday, Sept. 2 the date Dubya will accept the GOP nomination. To find out who's hosting a party near you, call 443-1019 or see www.austinforchange.com.
Celebrate Labor Day early with actual working folks: The Texas AFL-CIO Labor Day Cookout will be held Friday, Sept. 3, 6pm, at Texas AFL-CIO headquarters, 1106 Lavaca. The beer is free (!) and it's $6 per plate for the fish fry. For more info, call 477-6195 or write email@example.com. If you'd rather wait until the actual holiday or if you just want second helpings the Texas State Employees Union will host its own cookout on Monday, Sept. 6, 5-8pm, at its offices at 1700 S. First. For more info, call 448-4225.
This week's political fundraisers, all Democrats: Kelly White, Texas House District 48, Friday, Sept. 3, 4:30-6:30pm, Little Woodrow's (520 W. Sixth); Stephen Yelenosky, 345th District Court, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 5:30-7:30pm, at 219 W. Fourth; Jan Patterson, Texas 3rd Court of Appeals, Thursday, Sept. 9, 5-6:45pm, Shoreline Grill (98 San Jacinto)
The George W. Bush Singers, Austin musicians who put the, um, eloquence of our fearless leader into choral arrangements, are back in town after a trip to Los Angeles. They'll be at Antone's (Fifth and Lavaca) on Saturday, Sept. 4, 7pm. Tickets $12, at the door.
Club meetings: The Capital Area Progressive Democrats' annual membership party will be held Tuesday, Sept. 7, 5:30-7pm, at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth. For more info, call 576-5357 or go to www.capdemocrats.org. The Capital Area Democratic Women will get together for their monthly meeting over lunch, also at Nuevo Leon, on Thursday, Sept. 9, 11:30am. Lunch is $11 for members, $15 for nonmembers. Membership forms are always available at each meeting. RSVPs are strongly encouraged. Call 342-7137 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.