Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., July 29, 2005
Quote of the Week"Mr. Speaker, show me voting 'no'." Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, pulling the plug on HB 3, his own tax bill, in the wake of the 79-62 defeat of HB 2, the school bill paired with it. Keffer described HB 3, rejected 124-8, as "Gov. Perry's plan," and said, "We tried to massage it, but we just couldn't get there."
City Council returns to work this morning (Thursday), as city staff formally presents the 2006 budget. Meanwhile, the citizens' bond advisory committee continues its prep work for next year. See "Point Austin."
Thanks to diligent document review by Capitol reporter Laylin Copelin, the Statesman identified 18 of the 30 corporations that underwrote the 2002 Texas Association of Business election "education" campaign that "blew the doors off" the Legislature and packed it with corporate-friendly Republicans. Fifteen of the 18 were insurance companies, including Aetna, Cigna, State Farm, and Allstate.
Two major member unions, the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters, boycotted the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago and then voted to leave the federation, with other unions considering the same move. The disagreement is over money, organizing, and the future of labor; the SEIU recently began a major organizing effort among Houston janitors.
On Sunday in Paris (now there's a dateline), Austin's favorite son, Lance Armstrong, won his seventh consecutive Tour de France and made official his retirement from professional bicycle racing. Armstrong is expected home in the next couple of weeks, and City Hall is planning a big welcome.
Austin Stories Austin Community College President Steve Kinslow this week announced an administrative reorganization that adds more high-level administrators but cuts midlevel ones, resulting in a savings of $193,000 in administrative salaries within the college's $141 million budget. The goal of the reorganization is to help the college meet its "Closing the Gaps" goals of both moving more high schoolers into college, and making sure they finish their studies once they get there. The administrative shuffle will be followed by a campus-level reorganization effort this fall. Rachel Proctor May
As is its tradition, the Texas Civil Rights Project commemorated the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act on the day of its signing, July 26, by filing 15 access-related lawsuits across the state. Among the alleged ADA violators are the new Gables condo development on West Avenue, whose first-floor businesses are largely inaccessible except by calling ahead to disabled patrons, and the Bexar Co. Detention Center, where guards allegedly abused a mentally ill Muslim man in part by taunting him with ethnic slurs and by shaving his hair and beard without his permission. The city put a positive spin on the day by bestowing Access Awards on Austin's most easily accessible and accommodating businesses. Recognized by the Mayor's Committee for People With Disabilities were Chili's Restaurant at Stassney Road, Chuy's Restaurant on North Lamar, Fuddrucker's, Grape Vine Market, Green Muse Coffee House, HEB at Brodie Lane, Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, Rupert & Associates, and Target's Ben White location. "A diverse group of citizens, disability advocates, and accessibility professionals" made the nominations, Mayor Will Wynn said. Jordan Smith and Wells Dunbar
The Department of Housing and Urban Development charged two Austin landlords last week with violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Latinos during four home sales in Austin and San Antonio. Landlords Anibal and Janet Silva tricked Latino home-buyers with limited English proficiency into making down payments and signing leases on homes when the buyers were led to believe they were entering into purchase agreements. "Liliana Ramirez, who worked as an agent with Anibal Silva, told HUD officials that the Silvas targeted Hispanics because it was easy to get them to sign documents since they do not read them, or they are unable to read them due to their limited English skills," says a HUD press release on the investigation. The Silvas, who Ramirez reportedly said always asked for money up front, frequently refused refunds when duped home-buyers would ask for their money back. "The Spanish-language ads this couple placed in the newspapers said that a person could buy a home with easy qualifications and no credit check," said Floyd May, HUD's deputy assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in the release. "In reality, they were preying on Hispanic families, who knew little English, turning their dreams of home-ownership into living nightmares." C.S.
According to Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza the city has decided to consolidate four public safety units the park police, airport police, city marshals, and the Office of Emergency Management into one, which will be known as the Department of Safety and Security and will be overseen by former Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Bruce Mills, who is currently chief of airport police. The new department will be completely independent of the APD, and employees of each division will remain assigned to their regular duties; however, the consolidation will allow the city to standardize training and is expected to create "efficiencies" in how the departments are trained and how they function. Further, in light of the passage of HB 304, which would give meet-and-confer labor negotiation rights to additional municipal organizations, the consolidation would allow the city to negotiate with one "unit" as opposed to three separate police forces. J.S.
The Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association and the city of Austin have given a final OK to the planned 1400 South Congress mixed-use development just north of Guero's restaurant on the former Capitol Car Credit site. Neighbors took issue with plans initially presented in January due to the proximity of tall buildings and to projected traffic on adjacent residential street Eva. In return for changing problem areas of the plan, neighbors cooperated with developers' variance requests, allowing for an extra floor of condos elsewhere in the project. BCNA President Cory Walton said, "We were willing to spend neighborhood time and resources to support this revised project because the developers, Rob Lippincott, Abe Zimmerman, and Stan Biderman, sought neighborhood feedback from the beginning of their planning process and they responded to serious neighborhood concerns by modifying their project to address those concerns." Walton added that he hopes the cooperation on the project will carry over to future development projects in the area. Developer and Guero's owner Lippincott agreed, calling the outcome a "win-win." Along with its 28-32 condos (still being finalized), the development will likely include a family practice physician, a small specialty grocery, a well-known local dress shop, and a local restaurant, Lippincott said. Ground-breaking is scheduled for October with a one-year construction timeline. Daniel Mottola
Facing class C misdemeanor charges filed by the city for a series of building code violations at its South Congress Cafe, Trudy's Texas Star Inc. appeared in court last week for the equivalent of an arraignment and entered a not-guilty plea, requesting a trial by judge and declining a deferred adjudication offer from the city. Trudy's South Congress Cafe troubles began in February during the construction of a rear patio deck, outdoor bar, and privacy fencing, some of which was built atop city right-of-way property and sidewalk, and all of which was done without a required site plan. Trudy's is also accused of ignoring three stop-work orders issued during the patio's construction. According to Assistant City Attorney Nancy Matchus, the city's deferred adjudication offer stipulated that the South Congress Cafe discontinue use of the deck, file an approved site plan by October, and post a $1,000 bond ensuring that the cafe would come into compliance with city code within 90 days. The case is on the docket for trial, but no date has been set, Matchus said. Trudy's attorney Richard Suttle could not be reached at press time. D.M.
Beyond City Limits Inspired by Arizona's Minutemen Project, lots of so-called volunteer border patrol groups have popped up around Texas, California, and New Mexico. In Texas alone, we have the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of Texas, formed by Bill Parmley after original Minuteman Chris Simcox held a town meeting in Goliad in June, and the Texas Minutemen LLC, led by former Arizona Minuteman Shannon McGauley. (However, at press time, the Associated Press cited reports that Parmley had quit, "citing racism within the group and other problems.") While the Goliad gang plans to join Simcox's Minutemen Civil Defense Corps in its ambitious goal of monitoring the border all the way from California to Texas, McGauley's camp plans to focus solely on the home state. Operations are still set to begin in October, with El Paso recently added to the list, as confirmed by a Minutemen Civil Defense Corps spokesperson. El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego raised some eyebrows earlier this month when he suggested the Minutemen be thought of as a neighborhood watch group. Samaniego is part of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, which recently formed in response to concerns about illegal immigration and terrorism. Diana Welch
With surprisingly little fanfare, Rex Baker III a real estate lawyer/investor, title company owner, and Hays Co. justice of the peace resigned from his position as Dripping Springs city attorney earlier this month. Baker cited a hectic work schedule and added responsibilities as the reasons for his July 12 resignation. Neighborhood groups and outside critics had long questioned Baker's multiple roles in a small town that saw its greatest growth spurt during his seven-year tenure as city attorney. Much of the growth continues to spring up in sensitive recharge areas of the Edwards Aquifer. Baker profited from the development boom, which left many taxpayers wondering if his development ties influenced his legal advice to the mayor and city council in approving zoning requests and development agreements. Baker always insisted that he was without conflict, and pointed to his position on the state bar's Judicial Conduct Committee as proof. Should a conflict arise, Baker told the Chronicle in 2002, he simply recuses himself from the matter and another attorney steps in. This time, another attorney has stepped in to replace Baker altogether. He is Austin attorney Alan Bojorquez, who has served as special counsel to the city for the last two years. Baker now fills Bojorquez's role as special counsel. Amy Smith
Happenings Capital Metro is holding three public comment meetings regarding implementation of its proposed rapid bus service, which, according to Cap Metro, will be operating along North Lamar and South Congress by 2007 and will be 15% to 20% faster than traditional bus service. The first was yesterday, but the other two are today (Thursday), July 28, at City Hall, 301 W. Second, at 11:30am and at Grace United Methodist Church, 205 E. Monroe, at 6:30pm. Comments can also be mailed to Sam Archer, Capital Metro Transportation Authority, 2910 E. Fifth, Austin, TX 78702, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PODER and a handful of other community activist groups will be holding a protest in front of City Hall today (Thursday), 5-7pm, to call for "justice" for 18-year-old Daniel Rocha, whom Austin Police Officer Julie Schroeder shot and killed on June 9. For more info, e-mail email@example.com.