Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Sept. 17, 2004
Quote of the Week: "It's almost like sending your child off to college. It's a feeling of excitement, and of hope, and a little bit of angst that we're not going to be involved anymore." Council Member Betty Dunkerley, discussing the imminent transfer of the city's health care portfolio to the Travis Co. Hospital District
City Council came through with an additional $7.7 million for the hospital district as they approved the fiscal 2005 budget on Monday. The county still unhappy that the city isn't giving more gave its blessing to the district's budget on Tuesday. See "Council Whistles a Happy Budget Tune."
By substantial margins, voters gave their approval to all six propositions in the AISD bond election. See "School Bond Proposals Roll to Victory."
What may have been the last stand for opponents of toll roads fizzled Monday night though not without nasty fireworks as the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization shut down two different attempts to reconsider its July vote. See "Austin @ Large."
On Wednesday, State District Judge John Dietz ruled the Texas school finance system unconstitutional. The state will appeal. More next week.
The write-in candidacies of Lorenzo Sadun and Karen Felthauser became official on Sept. 2, as both filed the necessary validated signatures with the Texas Secretary of State's office. Sadun is a Democrat who decided to run for Congressional District 10 after no Dem filed in the spring primaries; the same story applies to Felthauser, who will challenge incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Krusee in Williamson County's District 52. Lee Nichols
After several months of acrimony, the Planning Commission this week (for the second time) gave its required blessing to the Edward Joseph subdivision on Perry Road, near Johnston High School, where developer Evan Williams plans much to the chagrin of the neighbors to build 98 small-lot homes on a 15-acre tract. While neighbors have raised concerns about the impact of such density both on the character of the semideveloped neighborhood and on the environment (specifically drainage), the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan itself recommended the SF-4A zoning on the tract that makes such a large project possible, and the commission noted that under state law it must approve subdivisions that meet state and local code requirements. The case is also set for a hearing at the Environmental Board, but that panel likewise has no power to stop the project. M.C.M.
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is holding its national conference right now (through Saturday) at the Austin Convention Center. More than 6,000 attendees leaders of the U.S.'s 130 local Hispanic chambers, business executives, and elected officials will schmooze, network, and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the organization, whose former chair and current acting CEO is Austin ad man J.R. Gonzales. Featured speakers include Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. M.C.M.
The city Historic Landmark Commission postponed its recommendation on the latest staff proposal for a redevelopment strategy for the Rainey Street neighborhood Downtown. After hearing from querulous Rainey neighbors and property owners many of whom, for years, have been seeking city support for plans to sell their homes and open up the neighborhood south of the Convention Center for commercial redevelopment the staff plan now recommends full-on CBD zoning in most of the area. Several of Rainey's historic homes the area was designated a National Register historic district in 1987 would be moved, perhaps to or near the grounds of the Mexican-American Cultural Center being built at the foot of Rainey Street on Town Lake. In the past, the HLC has been among the most vocal opponents of Rainey redevelopment; other city boards, including the Planning Commission and the Downtown Commission, have been much more supportive of the long-running effort. The HLC also Monday night recommended historic zoning for a house at 1157 San Bernard in East Austin's Robertson Hill neighborhood the new home of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. M.C.M.
Texans for Truth, an Austin-based anti-Bush byproduct of the online activist group DriveDemocracy.org, has produced a 30-second TV ad titled "AWOL," which features a veteran of the Alabama 187th Air National Guard (Bush's former unit) who says he has no memory of Bush serving. The group is trying to raise funds to air the ad in swing states, but a visit to www.texansfortruth.org last week was met with this message: "We are temporarily unable to accept credit card donations online. The response has been so overwhelming that we have maxed out our donation processor's credit limits and are currently in negotiations with the credit card authorities to raise our limit." Texans for Truth asks that donations be sent by regular mail instead, to Texans for Truth, c/o Drive Democracy, PO Box 201958, Austin, 78720-1958. L.N.
Austin's Common Sense Collective and Pangloss Publishing have issued an inexpensive, 80-page pamphlet titled Patriot Dreams: A User's Manual for Democracy, which the collective hopes you, the voter, will put into the hands of your favorite nonvoters to get them mobilized and into the ballot booth. Contributors include, among others, Green Party presidential nominee David Cobb. A kickoff event for the manual will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, 7pm, at MonkeyWrench Books, 110 E. North Loop. Call 453-5669 for details. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Wallace Jefferson as the new chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, replacing the retired Tom Phillips. "He has demonstrated great scholarship and a keen legal mind time and again," Perry said. "I believe no one is more prepared to lead this court as it renders decisions of extreme importance to a great many Texans." Jefferson, a San Antonio native, was appointed by Perry to the court its first African-American member in 2001 and won election in 2002. Perry applauded Jefferson's record as a "conservative" jurist, employing "a philosophy that the bench is not the place to make laws but interpret them." Jefferson is well-respected, but made his legal reputation as a corporate attorney, and is comfortably central on a court that has distinguished itself as exceedingly friendly to corporate defendants and dubious of the claims of consumers and workers. Perry's formal announcement continued with a curious exhortation, redolent of the speeches of Booker T. Washington, about the virtues of diligence: "Millions of Texans can know that if they work hard, pursue their dreams, and fulfill their potential, the door of opportunity is open to them, and to future generations, in ways their ancestors never dreamed possible." Michael King
The most recent edition of the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters' e-mail newsletter singled out three congressional Texans for the group's endorsement: Austin's Lloyd Doggett, Dallas' Martin Frost, and Beaumont's Nick Lampson. Not surprisingly, all three Democrats were targeted by redistricting; while Doggett is favored (over Rebecca Armendariz Klein) in the new CD 25, Frost (facing fellow U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions in CD 32) and Lampson (facing longtime Houston Judge Ted Poe in CD 2) are in much deeper water. The LCV praises Doggett for a 98% pro-environment lifetime voting record; Frost for "support[ing] new EPA standards to improve air quality in one of the most polluted cities in the country"; and Lampson, representing an area heavy on both woodlands and refineries, "has worked to safeguard water and air quality as well as maintain safeguards for wildlife and wildlife habitat in our national forests." L.N.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced Sept. 13 that the state's portion of a multistate $8 million settlement related to the sale of George Foreman grills will be given to the Texas Department of Health Services for its child diabetes prevention program. Texas got a $585,000 settlement in the antitrust lawsuit against Salton Inc., the company that distributes the grills, which alleged that the company unlawfully forced retailers to enter into illegal resale price schemes that prohibited stores from placing the grills on sale without permission from Salton. Jordan Smith
The Texas Supreme Court on Sept. 8 heard testimony regarding the status of the state's legal aid program, which provides civil legal services to poor Texans. Unlike the criminal system, there is no right to legal representation in the civil system, which handles protective orders and crime victims compensation requests, among other actions. Texas is currently 42nd in funding for legal aid services; last year the program had a $60.7 million budget with which to support the nearly 3.3 million Texans eligible for services. That number continues to rise while the budget continues to shrink state legal aid organizations have cut 71 jobs over the past two years; currently, the legal aid system is only able to serve 25% of the eligible population. James Sales, chairman of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, outlined for the Supremes a plan to beef up the program over the next five years establishing a statewide endowment, using additional attorney volunteers and partnering with law schools to offer scholarships to students who promise to work for legal aid for a period of time after graduation. For more info, go to www.texasatj.org. J.S.
During President George W. Bush's term in office, federal prosecutions of environmental law offenders have dropped 23%, reports the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. According to the new TRAC report, Bill Clinton increased prosecution of environmental offenders during his second term in office by 28%, a record high that has tanked during Bush's reign. In its new bulletin, TRAC notes that U.S. Department of Justice data belies Environmental Protection Agency administrator Mike Leavitt's recent assertion that the federal government "will bring the full force and strength of the [EPA] to bear" against "evaders" of environmental statutes. According to the TRAC analysis, the Bush administration's prosecution of evaders has dropped 23%, the number of convictions won has dropped 18%, and the number of offenders sentenced to prison has dropped 28% in four years. For more info, go to www.trac.syr.edu/tracreports/environ/65. J.S.
National Run Against Bush Day is a way for walkers and joggers to make a statement against the incumbent president. In Austin, the event will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, 8am at Town Lake by the Hyatt. Participants are encouraged to wear Kerry/Edwards T-shirts (there will be Run Against Bush T-shirts available for purchase). For more info, call 281/221-1987 or email@example.com.
The Monthly Peace and Justice Breakfast will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, 10am-noon, at Central Christian Church, 1110 Guadalupe. This month's featured group is School of the Americas Watch-Austin (www.soaw.org/new) as it gears up for the annual vigil at Fort Benning, Ga., in November. To RSVP or for more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Huston-Tillotson College (Ninth and Chicon) will observe Diez y Seis de Septiembre, the holiday marking Mexican independence from Spain, on Saturday, Sept. 18, with a lecture, panel discussion, poetry slam, and more, at 10am in the Agard-Lovinggood Auditorium. Breakfast served. Call 505-3006 for more info.
God's Healing Presence: Providing Help and Bringing Hope, a conference to address domestic violence, sponsored by Hope Ministry and the Catholic Charities Department of Parish Social Ministry, will be held Saturday, Sept. 18, 9am-3pm at St. Ignatius Parish Hall, 126 W. Oltorf. This conference is designed to give parish ministers and volunteers information about domestic violence. There will be tracks in both English and Spanish. For more info, call 836-1213 x203, or e-mail email@example.com.
A Progressives Picnic will be held Sunday, Sept. 19, noon-3pm, at Balcones District Park (Duval Road at Amherst, between MoPac and 183). The brown-bag event will feature political candidates Lorenzo Sadun (write-in Democrat for CD 10), Greg Hamilton (Democrat for Travis Co. sheriff), and others. Also kite-flying, three-legged races, and sack races. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Despite being angry over "how our national party treats Texas like an ATM machine, taking millions of dollars from Texas donors to use in other states while giving us nothing in return," state Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting is encouraging Dems to give money to Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar in his U.S. Senate race against right-wing beer mogul Pete Coors. Salazar is the guest of honor and beneficiary of a fundraising reception on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth, 6-7:30pm. For more info or to RSVP, call 542-9744 or e-mail email@example.com.