Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Oct. 15, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Do we honestly want to risk executing people who may be innocent? I had enough questions about our administration of the death penalty to have my name taken off the prison that houses death row inmates. This is one of the reasons why I did so." Former TDCJ Chairman Charles Terrell, in a letter to The Dallas Morning News, supporting calls for a moratorium on Harris Co. executions in the wake of the Houston crime-lab fiasco.
Let the games begin! Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 18. See the ballot for voting info and the Chronicle's endorsements. See the "News" section for the latest election news including the rail referendum("We Think It Can, We Think It Can ...") and constables' races("What's a Constable to Do?"). Next week: the Texas House and 3rd Court of Appeals.
No City Council meeting this week giving City Hall types extra time to digest the community riposte to the summer's lame big-box study (see "Put That in Your Big Box and ...") and Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas' Eastside revitalization incentive plan (see "Austin@Large").
Even with tolls, the regional long-range transportation plan is facing a $5.1 billion gap between vision and reality. See "We Think It Can, We Think It Can ...".
County commissioners gave approval this week to a controversial new subdivision on Hamilton Pool Road but the new Hill Country Coalition isn't through fighting yet. See "County OKs Rocky Creek."
As the bad smell of Tom DeLay wafts through the Capitol halls (see "Capitol Chronicle"), how does "House Speaker Mike Krusee" sound to you? Just asking.
And another question: What sort of proclamation would Mayor Will Wynn find too "offensive" to sign?
The AISD board of trustees kicked off an effort to "redesign" AISD high schools Monday night, hearing two reports commissioned by the district that outlined ways to prepare graduates for the ever-fashionable 21st century economy. If the trustees follow the advice as several indicated they intended to consider AISD would implement a more rigorous and targeted curriculum placing students in "smaller learning communities" focused on specific tracks for example, math/science, international business, humanities, or career prep for fields like health technology. However, trustee Robert Schneider raised the issue, sure to be shared by many, of how such a program could be implemented without resulting in segregation, a criticism that has already been leveled at the district's magnet programs. The district will offer several opportunities for the public to weigh in on redesign plans throughout the fall. Rachel Proctor May
In a surprise announcement, the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 12 said it will hear two cases challenging displays on public property featuring the Ten Commandments. One is the Austin case brought by homeless lawyer Thomas Van Orden, who challenged the monument that sits between the State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court. The Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument to the state in 1961 as part of a national campaign inspired by the Charlton Heston movie. Van Orden argues that its location on the Capitol grounds endorses Judaism and Christianity to the exclusion of other faiths. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who will argue the state's side before the high court, has successfully countered Van Orden in both district and appeals court using the "secular importance" defense that while the Decalogue is a religious text, it is also a "fundamental document in the development of Western legal codes and cultures." The Supremes also took a Kentucky case in which a court barred the posting of the TCs in state courthouses. Interestingly, the high court last week rejected an appeal from former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, tossed from the bench last year for refusing to remove his Top 10 List from the state Supreme Court lobby. Jordan Smith
More orneriness on Rainey Street: The city Zoning and Platting Commission last week went along with the city staff plan to bring Downtown zoning to most of the lakeside neighborhood, but balked at extending that largesse to the two blocks of Rainey that lie within a National Register Historic District. The ZAP instead recommended less intense GR-MU zoning on those blocks, called for a study of Rainey properties to see which merit actual historic zoning (which none have now), and sought a freeze on demolition permits in the interim. The staff plan, supported by Rainey neighbors who've been pushing for redevelopment for more than a decade, would create an "enclave" of historic structures, not necessarily where they currently sit on Rainey Street. The City Council is set to consider Rainey next week. M.C.M.
Govalle neighbors opposed to parking plans for Austin Community College's Eastview Campus failed last week to sway the City Council, which voted 7-0 to uphold ACC's conditional-use permit for a new 370-space surface lot. Opponents, led by PODER director Susana Almanza, argued that ACC which did not bring its project past the Govalle planning team only needs a fraction of those spaces now and should develop a long-term parking plan and invest in structured parking, at Eastview and its other campuses. Despite siding with ACC, the council echoed the comments of ACC President Robert Aguero that PODER and the neighbors had made the project better with their input. M.C.M.
Beyond City Limits
Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced Tuesday that former UT Chancellor William H. Cunningham will chair her task force appointed to study school start-dates. Strayhorn has charged the task force, to be composed of dozens of members affiliated with various school associations and interests, with exploring alternatives to early school start-dates, laying out a plan that preserves the necessary instructional school days, and examining the start-date waiver loophole process in existing law. Strayhorn has claimed that early start dates cost the state an annual $790 million, much of that attributed to lost tourism revenue. If they can come up with a plan that pleases everybody, presumably the group will recommend legislation for the 2005 Legislature. Michael King
With much fanfare, on Monday the U.S. Senate approved a corporate tax "reform" bill that would also permit Texans who itemize their federal income tax deductions about one-fourth of the state's taxpayers, typically in the highest income groups to deduct state sales taxes. Texas is one of seven states that still rely primarily on sales taxes for revenue, and the GOP leadership welcomed the end to "discrimination" against Texas taxpayers. The deduction, scheduled to expire after two years, is expected to increase pressure to raise Texas sales taxes to help resolve the school finance crisis. Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities released a statement advising against that option, noting, "Most Texas families gain nothing from this change. ... If the Legislature raised the sales tax rate, all that most Texans would see is a higher sales tax not an increase in their federal income tax deductions." M.K.
According to a new report just released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 25% of America's working families are living in poverty, and 40% of minority working families are low-income. Most of these families pay more than 33% of their monthly income for housing; more than one-third have at least one parent without health insurance. In Texas, the findings are even more stark: 34.3% of working families are low-income, including more than 40% of the children in the state. More than 53% of Texas' working poor families are without health insurance the highest percentage of any state. The new report is part of a multistate collaboration, which included Texas information compiled by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. For the full report, see www.aecf.org/initiatives/jobsinitiative/ workingpoor.htm. J.S.
UT journalism professor Robert Jensen will discuss "Media Reform and the Future of Democracy" at the October meeting of the Informal Discussion Group of the League of Women Voters on Monday, Oct. 18, 6pm at the Marimont Cafeteria, 38th and Guadalupe. For more info, call 928-0681 or 335-9659 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Political singer-songwriter David Rovics, whom the BBC has compared to Phil Ochs, will perform Monday, Oct. 18, 7-9pm at Ruta Maya, 3601 S. Congress. Austinite Kristine Pettersen will open. For more info, go to www.davidrovics.com.
Former Texas Observer reporter and Zapatista rebellion expert John Ross will discuss "Rebel Journalism on the Barricades in the Americas, South and North" on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 7pm, on the UT campus at Parlin Hall, Room 201.