Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 1, 2004
Quote of the Week: "This just emphasizes what I've been saying all along, that this investigation isn't about me." U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, whistling a happy tune in the wake of the indictments of some of his closest political associates. See p.22 and "Capitol Chronicle."
Hurricane TRMPAC's high winds and heavy rains are mussing the nice hair of state Reps. Todd Baxter and Jack Stick. See p.22 for more election news.
Also, on Tuesday, a new character entered the Tomstown Saga former Mayor Kirk Watson, who filed suit alleging illegal use of corporate cash against him in the 2002 attorney general's race.
Alcoa Corp. has announced it's shutting down the dirty power plants at its Rockdale smelter one of the state's (and Austin's) largest sources of air pollution by 2007. Activists are skeptical. More on this next week.
What's on Channel 15? By the time you read this, who knows? See "Austin@Large," and p.26 for the latest on ACTV and the Austin Music Network.
In addition to ACTV, historic zoning, and the lingering Central Austin neighborhood plan (see "Austin@Large," at right), this week's City Council agenda features much housekeeping and cleanup final approval for the South Lamar Walgreens, adopting a collective bargaining resolution for the firefighters (whose negotiations with the city are already in progress), and so on. The agenda also includes an amendment to once-and-for-all get rid of the planned grocery store in the Triangle development which, seven years ago, sparked a central-city revolt aimed mostly at its proposed anchor super-Randalls. The item before the council would change the site plan to include several smaller retail spaces; the revised plan then goes the following Tuesday to the "special board of review" of state and local officials that has final say over plans for the still-state-owned land. And the council is also set to approve a $75,000 contract with a North Carolina consultancy to create a "Civic Arts/Public Art Downtown Master Plan" exactly the sort of city endeavor certain committed citizens will now complain about for months on end. M.C.M.
Travis Co. commissioners on Tuesday stuck a fork in the fiscal 2005 county budget; the $336.9 million General Fund spending plan (up $14 million from FY 04) is supported by a tax rate of 48.72 cents per $100, after adjustment to accommodate the Travis Co. Hospital District, whose budget and tax rate were also green-lit by the Commissioners Court. Like the city before it, the county is offering its first across-the-board pay raises in three years; other highlights include new prosecution teams for environmental enforcement and family violence, cold-case sheriff's detectives, legal counsel for the hospital district, and opening the county's new East Metro Park. M.C.M.
A lawsuit brought under the Clean Water Act against a western Travis Co. developer will be heard in federal court rather than state court, a U.S. district judge ruled on Sept. 20. Since the lawsuit over the West Cypress Hills project on Lick Creek alleges violations of a federal law, developer Rusty Parker had the option of transferring the case to the higher court, where the docket typically moves at a slower pace. The plaintiffs, all members of a neighborhood advocacy group called Guardians of Lick Creek, have fought a yearlong battle with the developer since first noticing the degradation of the once-pristine creek and tracing the problems upstream to Parker's development, where a stormwater detention pond and dam were failing to keep silt and other pollutants out of the waterway. Regulatory agencies forced the developer to halt construction until they were satisfied that corrective measures were in place and working properly. Parker gained the green light last month, and the Guardians' lawsuit against Parker, his engineer Ed Moore, and two companies, Cypress Ranch Ltd. and Cypress Ranch Development Inc. followed two weeks later. Amy Smith
In a whiff of rhetoric reminiscent of none other than the retired but unlamented Phil "Mad Dog" Gramm, Republican CD 25 candidate Becky Armendariz Klein ("but it's 'Rebecca' on the ballot!") has accused her opponent, incumbent Democrat Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, of being a "pro-abortionist, an advocate of a homosexual agenda, and [he] opposes school prayer and religious freedom of expression." Klein offered no substantiation, but she may be looking beyond November to a post-election appointment (should President Bush win) to Michael Powell's chair at the FCC. Speculation persists that Powell will be stepping down either for a judicial appointment or to run for office and Klein, formerly furniture at the Texas Public Utility Commission, is often mentioned as a likely successor. Powell has been polishing his résumé by losing weight and fining broadcasters for "indecency" most recently $550,000 from Viacom for Janet Jackson's notorious Super Bowl breast-flash while studiously avoiding any interference in corporate communications mergers. With her balance of moral Pecksniffery coupled with the PUC's tradition of regulatory indifference toward corporate power, Klein should fit right in at the FCC. Michael King
"While Texas continues to veer to the right politically, I believe the people of this state are committed to the values of fairness, respect, and compassion," declared Samantha Smoot last week in announcing her resignation, effective Jan. 1, as president of the Texas Freedom Network. Smoot succeeded TFN founder Cecile Richards in 1998, and has led a considerable expansion of the religious and intellectual freedom organization. TFN Chairman Terry Kenyon said a committee has already begun a search to replace Smoot. "The Texas Freedom Network has made great strides under Sam's leadership," Kenyon said. "We're all proud of what she has accomplished and are obviously very sad to see her go." M.K.
If you'd like to see a presidential debate in person, you don't have to go to Miami, St. Louis, or Tempe, because one will be held right here at UT. No donkeys or elephants, though: This one will be between Green nominee David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. (It shouldn't have been too hard to pick UT as a location: Badnarik is an Austinite and San Francisco resident Cobb is a Texas native.) John Kerry, George W. Bush, and Ralph Nader have also been invited but are not likely to attend (especially since Nader did not qualify for the Texas ballot, but then again, he rarely passes up the opportunity to take shots at the major parties). The debate will be held Thursday, Oct. 7, at 11:30am on the UT West Mall (the west side of the UT Tower, 2300 block of Guadalupe). For more info, call 689-2696 or e-mail email@example.com. Cobb and Badnarik also plan a similar debate in Miami tonight (Thursday), just across the highway from where Kerry and Bush will be holding their debate at the same time. Lee Nichols
The satirical riffs on the Pentagon's "Most Wanted" card deck keep coming so fast they're not even worth tracking any more, but an Austinite, Mark Garrison, prefers a different kind of deck: baseball cards. To see and purchase his "Bushball" Cards featuring all your favorite neocons in ballplayer uniforms, replete with "stats" on the back go to www.bushballcards.com. L.N.
Beyond City Limits
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced last week that due to a rebounding state economy, a successful comptroller tax amnesty program, and strong tax collections from oil and gas companies, the state's general revenues ended fiscal 2004 $1.8 billion higher than in 2003. "2004 was truly an economic bumper crop of a year for Texans," Strayhorn said. "Nine of my 10 economic indicators are positive and we have enjoyed an increase in sales tax collections for 12 months running." Fiscal 2004 general revenues grew 6.4% over those of 2003, she said, the highest growth rate since fiscal 2001. Strayhorn added that it is too soon to tell whether the state's rising fortunes will sustain themselves through next spring's legislative session, and recommended building the Rainy Day Fund from its current $878 million to $3 billion. In the wake of last month's court decision declaring the state's public school financing system "inadequate," observers are also suggesting that it will take two or three billion in new money just to catch up with current costs. M.K.
There were 491 occupational fatalities in Texas in 2003 up 17.7% from the previous year, according to statistics compiled by the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission. While such a jump may sound alarming, it's worth noting that the 417 deaths the year before were the fewest in over a decade. Since 1990, workplace fatalities have fluctuated between that low and a high of 572 (in 2000). Transportation incidents are the leading cause of death (42%), followed by assaults and violent acts (18%). The most dangerous occupations were motor vehicle operators (21%), construction trades workers (15%), and sales and related occupations (11%). Men suffered disproportionately, accounting for an amazing 92% of fatalities. L.N.
Since passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1994, federal, state, and local authorities have received more than 53 million applications for "firearm transfer" and have rejected just over 1 million of those, according to a new report from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Brady Act mandates criminal background checks on individuals applying to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. By law, individuals who are addicted to drugs, are mentally ill, are illegal aliens, have renounced their U.S. citizenship, are convicted felons, or are under indictment are forbidden from buying a gun. To date, the federal government has awarded states over $348 million in grants to enhance criminal records systems that support FBI recordkeeping in an effort to expedite the background check process. Since 1998, 2.1% of all firearm applications have been rejected nearly half of those because the applicant was a convicted felon or was under felony indictment. From 1999 through 2003 about 8,000 people were arrested for supplying false information, or on an outstanding warrant. For the complete report, see www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/bcft03.pdf. J.S.
Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 30), a Debate Watch will be held at Ruta Maya Coffee House, 3601 S. Congress, hosted by Austin4Kerry.org. Free, but organizers note that donations are always welcome. There will be musical entertainment starting at 7pm.
Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 30), at 9:45pm, Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire will play for Third Coast Activist film night at the Alamo Drafthouse (409 Colorado). Narrated by Julian Bond, the documentary focuses on how the Bush administration used 9/11 to push its pre-existing plan to invade Iraq. Tickets available in advance at www.drafthouse.com.
Envision Central Texas is sponsoring a Southwest Trail and Greenbelt Planning Workshop, "Blazing a New Trail," on Saturday, Oct. 2, 9:30am-5pm at the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse. The participatory workshop is hosted by UT School of Architecture and Community Planning Dean Dr. Frederick Steiner, and endorsed by 27 neighborhood associations, environmental groups, and businesses, with a goal of designing a continuous greenbelt trail stretching from Town Lake through Zilker Park, past Barton Springs, southwest all the way to the LBJ Wildflower Center and beyond, into the Hill Country. Lunch is complimentary for those participating in both the morning and afternoon sessions (RSVP required). For more info, go to www.swgreenbelt.org or call 459-5227 or 477-3311.
On Saturday, Oct. 2, there will be an anti-war march and rally at the State Capitol, planned by various peace and justice groups in Texas in honor of the 135th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi. The event begins at Auditorium Shores at 11:30am, followed by a 12:30pm march to the State Capitol for a 1pm program of speakers and music. Speakers will include Mohammed Al-Atar, founder of Palestinians for Peace and Democracy; Atul Kothari, curator of the Gandhi Library in Houston; and Fernando Suarez del Solar of Military Families Speak Out. Program details at www.austinagainstwar.org.
Midnight, on Monday, Oct. 4, is the deadline to get registered for the November election. One easy and entertaining way to sign up is to attend the 36-hour voter registration marathon and benefit for the Travis Co. Democratic Party on Sunday, Oct. 3 featuring music by the Amazing Letdowns, Li'l Cap'n Travis, and Fastball at Momos, 618 W. Sixth. Doors open at 7pm, music starts at 8pm. ages 18 and up, and there's a $10 cover. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.