News and happening from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols, Fri., Jan. 28, 2005
Quote of the Week
"I can tell you, though, that I have learned a political lesson during the toll [road] debate. And that is, the one thing some people like less than the problem is its solution."
Austin Mayor Will Wynn
"Southern segment of MoPac to be free," read the Statesman headline Tuesday, marking CAMPO's removal of a short segment of Loop 1 from the regional toll road plan and apparently a new era in highway funding: costless construction.
The Planning Commission considered at length Tuesday the proposed Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance and called for stronger language mandating affordable housing in the proposed transit zones. TOD had been tentatively scheduled for first reading at today's City Council session, but will likely be delayed. For a portrait of what TOD would bring, see "Here Comes the Train."
The Lege resumed work following its hiatus for the Bush inauguration, and Gov. Rick Perry delivered his State of the State address with a Bush-league refrain: We've kept taxes down and profits plentiful. Schools, kids, health care ... get in line.
Not to be outdone (it's January), Mayor Will Wynn delivered his State of the City address, declaring that over the last three years, "We found real fiscal discipline as a city, and second, we took advantage of the downturn to plan for our future."
Kinky Friedman is preparing to declare his candidacy for governor. Naked City is still trying to decide if that's a news story. See "Beyond City Limits."
And just in time for Thomas Crapper Day, which celebrates the life of the plumbing pioneer on Jan. 27, local environmentalists announced a new front on water policy: toilet flappers. See "A Better World, One Flush at a Time."
Austin Energy announced a major purchase of West Texas wind power Tuesday, effectively doubling its renewable energy capacity to 215 megawatts. The 12-year, 128-megawatt contract, which began supplying additional wind-generated energy to Austin this week, will keep Austin Energy on track for its goal of generating 20% of the city's electricity from renewable sources by 2020, while making it possible to expand GreenChoice, the nation's largest renewable energy subscription program. AE spokesman Ed Clark said GreenChoice was nearly sold out prior to the deal, but can now meet growing customer demand and accommodate the utility's plans to power more city buildings with clean energy. GreenChoice now serves 7,400 residential customers, 300 businesses, and 100% of Concordia University's energy needs, also supplying 45 million kilowatt hours annually to AISD, the largest public school purchase in the nation. For every kilowatt hour of green power purchased, Austin Energy ramps down its conventional power plants by that amount. While local environmental groups applaud the recent move, they maintain firm pressure on the utility to keep up with national trends. Recent leaps forward in renewable energy include the city of Portland's municipal buildings going 100% green and Minnesota-based Xcel Energy's plans to increase its wind power capacity to customers in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas from 85 megawatts to 445 megawatts by the end of 2005, accounting for more than 10% of the company's overall regional capability. Daniel Mottola
Even if Austin Community College can't seem to get its act together on its long-delayed South Austin campus, all is not doom and gloom for Austin's premier two-year institution. Another long-simmering debacle came to an end last week, when the college announced that its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, has taken the college off warning status, where it had been teetering since November 2003. To get back on SACS' good side, the ACC board first had to correct a pattern of personal "meddling" in administration some trustees had engaged in during the tempestuous years when relations between past ACC President Richard Fonté and just about everyone else were famously tense. More controversially, ACC gave notice to hundreds of part-time faculty whom SACS considered improperly credentialed, and told them that they couldn't teach until they got their résumés up to snuff. Many profs settled the matter by taking a summer school course or two, but others were still disgruntled that ACC didn't take a stand against SACS' definition of proper credentials 18 graduate hours in the subject being taught which they say doesn't reflect the diverse ways in which the different colleges name and organize their departments and degrees. Rachel Proctor May
The district representatives working in the Austin Police Department's North Central Area Command have been selected to receive a second Keep Austin Beautiful award for their Operation Restore Hope project designed to clean up blighted inner-city neighborhoods. (See "North Central Blues," May 7, 2004.) Last year, KAB handed the NCAC community policing gurus the community involvement award for their efforts to clean up Brownie Drive the first time anyone from APD had ever been selected for a KAB award. And now the NCAC officers have been selected to receive that award again, this time in recognition of their efforts to clean up Galewood Drive, the second phase of the ORH program. The annual awards will be presented at a Feb. 10 luncheon. For more info, go to www.keepaustinbeautiful.org. Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday touted his Texas Enterprise Fund as the best solution for creating new jobs and generating revenue for funding health care, education, and social welfare programs. But Perrys upbeat state of the state address happened to coincide with dismal economic news from the nations 13th largest employer San Antonio-based SBC Communications which plans to cut 7,000 jobs this year in an attempt to rein in costs in the face of reduced earnings. On school finance, Perry spoke less on funding than he did on improving school performance and establishing incentive pay for teachers. Wheres the beef? John Cole, president of Texas Federation of Teachers, asked in a statement following Perrys address. The governor speaks of reform, but whats really needed is an effort to fully fund the significant education reforms already on the books. He added that measures for improving accountability and performance are already in place, but those measures so far havent received the resources promised to make them successful. Amy Smith
House Democrats on Tuesday called for a full restoration of cuts made to the Children's Health Insurance Program in 2003, and for pursuing about $1.3 billion in federal funding available for CHIP funding in the next biennium. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, joined by about 20 other House members, urged the Lege leadership to provide more than lip service to the children of working poor. With the funding available, Texas could serve about 660,000 children nearly double the number called for by the Legislative Budget Board, Coleman said. The LBB's base budget restores vision and dental benefits but projects a gradual decline in the number of children served over the 2006-2007 biennium. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison recently criticized Gov. Rick Perry for allowing the state to lose $700 million in federal CHIP funds to other states since 2000. Hutchison is viewed as a possible Perry opponent in next year's gubernatorial race. "Our goal as a state should be to insure every child we can," said Coleman. "Not one federal dollar meant to provide access to health care for a Texas child should be sent to another state." A.S.
A new report from the Legislative Budget Board predicts that the state's prison population will rise above capacity before the end of the fiscal year, which may force the state to lease space in county jails to house the overflow inmates. According to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Mike Viesca, as of Jan. 19 the state is housing 150,778 inmates in the state's 106 facilities, putting TDCJ at nearly 97.5% of capacity, right on the cusp of safe operating levels. Based on current projections, Viesca said, the department may have to lease county jail space beginning in March unfortunately, there's no money in TDCJ's current budget to buy space, which means the agency will be looking to state lawmakers for an emergency appropriation to cover the gap. "Because the prison population is so dynamic, we aren't sure exactly when we might need the additional space, how much we might need, or how much it would cost," Viesca said. For the full LBB report, go to www.lbb.state.tx.us/PubSafety_CrimJustice/
Hold on to your hats Kinky Friedman will make official next week his candidacy for Texas governor, running as an independent against Gov. Rick Perry, and possibly a couple of li'l ladies. Perry can't buy the kind of publicity Friedman will get out of merely announcing his bid in San Antonio, scheduled for 7am, Feb. 3, at the Alamo, followed by an 8am press conference at the historic Menger Hotel, à la Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. The author, humorist, musician, and Texas Monthly columnist will have the luxury of announcing his intentions on a live broadcast of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning. Stay tuned. A.S.
Weed Watch: Looking for a way to explain your marijuana use to your kids? Or, perhaps you're just interested in offering the tots a glimpse into the scourge of pot that the federal drug narcos are trying (so earnestly and yet totally ineffectively) to wipe out? Maybe you're just looking for a new bedtime story. Whatever the reason, look no further than the new children's book It's Just a Plant, written and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes. According to the publishers (New York City's "pop culture collective" the Magic Propaganda Mill), the colorfully illustrated book aims to offer "accurate and reliable" information about marijuana to children. The story focuses on Jackie, who finds out about marijuana after seeing her parents toking a jay. Subsequently, Jackie's mom takes her daughter on an educational romp from farm to doctor's office to a street corner, in an attempt to teach her what the plant is really all about. The 48-page book is scheduled for release this spring, but an advance copy is already available for viewing at www.justaplant.com. J.S.
The next Chamber of Commerce-IBM Education Roundtable will focus on the "Robin Hood" decision and education issues before the upcoming Legislative session. David Thompson, attorney for the 263 plaintiffs who challenged the Texas School Finance System, will address the court's decision, ramifications to the decision, and other educational issues before the 79th Texas Lege. Friday, Jan. 28, at 7:30am at St. Edward's University, main building, third floor. $10 for Chamber members, $20 for nonmembers. Register at www.austinchamber.org or 322-5623.
The Spicewood Springs Branch of the Austin Public Library will reopen after being closed for exterior construction. The branch has much-improved entrances and exits and an expanded parking lot with space for 80 vehicles. APL is holding a free open house celebration with refreshments and children's activities on Saturday, Jan. 29, 10am. 8637 Spicewood Springs Rd.
The annual meeting of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries will be Sunday, Jan. 30, at 3pm, at Highland Park Baptist Church, 5206 Balcones. Free and open to the public. An offering will be collected benefiting tsunami victims. Keynote speaker will be Dr. Betty Sue Flowers on the topic of "Democracy and Presence." Music by singer-songwriter Denise Kotrla. AAIM's 2005 budget and slate of officers will be presented, and the 2005 Hope Awards will be announced. For more info, go to www.aaimaustin.org.
The Stonewall Democrats hold their monthly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 1, at 7:30pm at Magnolia Cafe South (1920 S. Congress) on the back patio. There will be a brief introduction of some of the candidates in the upcoming City Council races. For more info call 383-1754 or go to www.stonewallaustin.org.
The next Austin Democracy for America Meetup is Wednesday, Feb. 2, 7pm, at Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto. Featured speaker is Congressman Chris Bell, who filed ethics charges against Tom DeLay in the U.S. House. RSVP to www.dfa.meetup.com/99/events/ 4016617. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
UT volunteers are operating a donation station for tsunami victims on Gregory Plaza near the corner of Speedway and 21st that will be in service 10am-2pm daily through Feb. 4. Cash or check donations are accepted.