Naked City

Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

<i>The Texas Observer</i>, that venerable institution 
of liberal muckraking in a state that so desperately 
needs it, celebrated its 50th anniversary of publication 
this year with a symposium on the role of the 
mainstream media in this year's elections – and 
it should surprise no one that very little positive was 
said about the subject. Among the many celebrated 
figures of progressive journalism featured were past 
<i>Observer</i> editors Molly Ivins (r) and founding 
editor Ronnie Dugger, who took the job way back then 
at the tender age of 24. For more on the symposium, 
see <b><a href=pols_feature5.html target=blank>
<i>Observer</i> to History at 50</a></b>.
The Texas Observer, that venerable institution of liberal muckraking in a state that so desperately needs it, celebrated its 50th anniversary of publication this year with a symposium on the role of the mainstream media in this year's elections – and it should surprise no one that very little positive was said about the subject. Among the many celebrated figures of progressive journalism featured were past Observer editors Molly Ivins (r) and founding editor Ronnie Dugger, who took the job way back then at the tender age of 24. For more on the symposium, see " Observer to History at 50." (Photo By Jana Birchum)


Headlines

Quote of the Week: "So here's to another half-century of ... observing. Because chances are, as Texas Democrats, that's all you'll be doing." – Comedian/prophet Jon Stewart, giving the love to celebrants at The Texas Observer's 50th birthday bash. See "Observer to History at 50."

Coming as no great surprise, the Lower Colorado River Authority is moving full-speed ahead with plans for a water pipeline to support – or encourage – growth along Hamilton Pool Road. See "LCRA Gets Its Pipe On."

The Save Our Springs Alliance's run of good legal luck ended with a thud this week, as a visiting judge not only ruled against the enviro group but slapped it with sanctions for filing a "frivolous" lawsuit. See "Judge Slaps SOS, Bunch."

You are now free to move around the airport: The City Council approved the Mueller master development agreement with Catellus Austin last week. See "Mueller: Landing, or Just Refueling?."

Roses are red, not yellow: Yes, we hang our Horns in shame that the road to the Granddaddy Bowl – and a side of Bevo at Lawry's – was paved with whining. Now go kick some Wolverine ass.

Speaking of sports, Naked City is proud to note that our performance is not enhanced by anything we put under our tongues. Except for, um, the flaxseed oil.


Austin Stories

The winning bid – $28.5 million – to buy bankrupt Schlotzsky's Inc. at Tuesday's auction in Dallas was cast by Bobby Cox Companies Inc., a Fort Worth-based investment company led by a major donor to the Texas Republican Party. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Leif Clark approved the bid Wednesday following a daylong hearing in San Antonio. The deadline for finalizing the sale is Dec. 31 – but not if fired CEO John Wooley is able to stop the train before then. The Austin-based deli chain will hold its annual – and perhaps last – shareholder meeting today (Thursday) in Austin. Wooley has been relentless in his efforts to thwart the sale of the company he bought in 1981. He says he is working with Gryphon Partners L.P., an investment group out of Dallas, on a reorganization proposal that would keep the company operating as a public entity. The plan, Wooley said, also addresses the $65 million in liabilities the company claimed in its bankruptcy filing, as well as a commitment to maintain existing contracts with area developers, who oversee the development of franchise restaurants in several regions. Wooley hopes to present the plan at today's shareholder meeting. – Amy Smith

The AISD board of trustees unanimously approved a tax-abatement plan for a Home Depot data center that will bring 500 tech jobs to the Austin economy. While the plan will save Home Depot about $5.7 million in property taxes over the next 10 years, AISD won't lose any money in the deal – the state will reimburse the lost tax revenue, and Home Depot will actually give the district $1.2 million of goodies. Nevertheless, critics contend the combined $30 million in incentives the company will receive from the city, state, county, and now AISD, is a high price to pay for 500 jobs with an average salary of $58,000, and that the more local governments offer incentives, the more businesses will wield the threat-to-move-elsewhere stick to force communities to offer tax-incentive carrots. – Rachel Proctor May

The City Council kicked into limbo last week a zoning case that would, ostensibly, produce exactly what the city says it wants – a dense, mixed-use infill development in the urban core, at the corner of I-35 and Riverside Drive. But neighbors object to the project's location on what they feel is a necessary open-space buffer between adjoining single-family homes and the encroaching congested highway strip. The "indefinite postponement" of the case, proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, is to allow the matter to be considered as part of the area's neighborhood planning effort. – M.C.M.

It's now officially the Neal Kocurek Memorial Austin Convention Center – the name change, first approved back in July by the City Council, was set in stone, or at least in bronze, with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque honoring the late Austin civic leader who, among many other endeavors, led the community effort to approve and then build the center. New signage with the new name will be installed "in the near future." – M.C.M.

One of the lingering projects from the long-ago 1998 bond election – the expansion of the South Austin Tennis Center – has now acquired a controversial air, with the adjoining Galindo Elementary Neighborhood Association taking a strong stance against the project. The plan, which would expand the tennis complex to 18 courts, would "dramatically reduce open green space and collective multi-purpose parkland, have a negative environmental impact, and diminish neighborhood quality of life," say GENA leaders. The NA urges the city to find another location "that is more suitable for a large tennis tournament center" – but that's unlikely to be any of the city's three other central-city tennis centers (Austin High School, the Caswell Tennis Center along Shoal Creek, and the Pharr Tennis Center in Patterson Park), which likewise have space constraints and/or equally unenthused neighbors. The SATC neighbors take their fight next week to the Land and Facilities Committee of the city Parks Board. – M.C.M.

Today (Thursday) marks the 13th anniversary of the infamous yogurt shop murders. On Dec. 9, 1991, four girls – Eliza Thomas, 17, Amy Ayers, 13, and sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, 17 and 15 – were found shot and horribly burned inside a North Austin I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! store. After more than eight years of investigation, officials claimed they'd solved the crime and in 1999 arrested Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pierce, and Forrest Welborn. However, charges against Welborn were dropped after two Travis Co. grand juries failed to indict him, and in 2003 District Attorney Ronnie Earle dropped all charges against Pierce, saying that there wasn't enough evidence to obtain a conviction. The two convictions the office has secured – death for Springsteen and life for Scott – are also now at risk of being overturned on appeals turning on whether the two men's rights were violated by the admission at their trials of portions of each other's "confessions" to police. (A 2003 Supreme Court ruling supports the defendent's claims.) Officially, the case remains open. – Jordan Smith


Beyond City Limits

Public Sector Amateur Hour continues in Cedar Park; the Northwest Corridor burg will have a municipal election on Feb. 5 after all, not (as previously planned) to fill vacant city council seats, but (for the second time) to pitch to voters a public-financing deal to build a new arena for the Austin Ice Bats. The first deal went down in flames back in 2002, and the latest deal was also supposed to be dead as recently as two weeks ago, but hope springs eternal. Meanwhile, the entire city council received a public woodshedding from state Attorney General Greg Abbott for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act last spring, when they conferred by phone to discuss firing then City Manager Robert Powers. Both he and then Mayor Bob Young – who apparently ratted out his former colleagues as part of a plea-bargain agreement – have since departed; the remaining council agreed to undergo open-gov training and perform other acts of public repentance within six months, or else face indictment. – M.C.M.

Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor on Dec. 6 announced that the state has – finally – reached a $100 million rate-adjustment settlement with Farmers Insurance that he said will provide "substantial relief" to the company's homeowners policyholders. Farmers agreed to reduce rates by 5% for all current and new policyholders, a cut that will be locked in for the next year and a half. Renewing customers will get an additional 15% cut, for a total rate reduction of 20%. In addition, Montemayor said, the company has agreed to write in increased water-damage coverage at no additional cost. – J.S.

After interviewing 92,000 community college students throughout the state, a team of UT researchers found that only a quarter of those who start community college programs intending to earn degrees or certificates (i.e., not counting professionals taking a quick continuing-ed course or two) actually do so within six years. The report sprinkles some rain on the idea, currently popular among school districts and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, that community colleges are key to incubating a better-educated, higher-earning Texas workforce. If the colleges are to turn out workers with the skills and credentials to lure employers, the report says, they need to focus on increasing graduation rates. The report says the main reason students fizzle out is the difficulty of juggling school and work – two-thirds of community college students attend part-time. So if the state is really serious about developing a higher-educated workforce, it may have to put its money where its mouth is, either through more financial aid or funding to keep tuition low. Fortunately, the state of Texas is absolutely rolling in the dough at the moment ... – R.P.M.

Weed Watch: According to a survey of 300 police chiefs, law-enforcement approaches to the war on drugs have been wholly unsuccessful. In the survey, conducted by two nonprofits – the Police Foundation and Drug Strategies – 67% of administrators said law enforcement has been unsuccessful in reducing drug problems in their jurisdiction; 84% said the nation's war on drugs needs either a "fundamental overhaul" or a "few major changes" in order to be successful; and 44% felt that public health programs and the criminal justice system should be employed equally to handle drug use and abuse. Majorities also favored requiring nonviolent offenders to enter court-supervised drug treatment in lieu of prosecution, though many felt such programs were hard to find. – J.S.


Happenings

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries and Texas Impact present Salt, Light, and Yeast: Austin Religious Communities Prepare for the Legislative Session tonight (Thursday), 7-8:30pm (refreshments served at 6:30pm), at the Congregational Church of Austin, 408 W. 23rd. Free parking in the University Co-op parking lots on San Antonio. Guest speaker is Max Sherman, dean emeritus of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, former member of the Texas Senate, and ordained elder at Austin's University Presbyterian Church. For more info, call 472-3903, or e-mail [email protected].

The Women's Health Caucus will hold a fundraiser tonight (Thursday), 5-7pm at 219 West, 219 W. Fourth. Valet and street parking available. Suggested contribution is $50. Appetizers will be served; cash bar. For more info, call 799-8341 or write [email protected].

The Legislative Study Group will celebrate its 10th anniversary tonight (Thursday), 5:30-7:30pm, at the home of Liz and Kirk Watson, 2301 Woodlawn. Suggested donations: $25-500. RSVP to 826-2504.

The Ashera Project will celebrate the launch of its Reagan High School pregnancy prevention program at Ruta Maya on Saturday, Dec. 11, 3-6pm. The event, which includes a raffle, silent auction, live music, and a chance to mingle with state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, is free, but donations will be gladly accepted.

Protesters demanding investigations into "the root causes of voting system and voting process failures during the 2004 elections" and "a verified, accurate, and complete recount of the votes cast in the November 2nd elections" will meet at the state Capitol on Sunday, Dec. 12, at noon as part of a nationwide "You Stole My Vote" protest at every state capitol and the national capitol. For more info, see www.51capitalmarch.com; for info on the Texas march, e-mail [email protected].

The Travis Co. Democratic Party will have its Holiday Party on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 5:30-8:30pm, at Threadgill's World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside. Cash bar. Attendees are requested to bring any canned good or nonperishable item to donate to Austin area food banks. For more info, call 477-7500 or e-mail [email protected].

Here they come: Gregg Knaupe will kick off his campaign for Austin City Council at Little Mexico Restaurant, 2304 S. First, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 5:30-7:30pm. For more info, send an e-mail to [email protected].

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