Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., Aug. 19, 2005
Quote of the Week"When [George W. Bush] was speaking about the terrible loss of life that day and we had 30 troops killed in the first five days of August, which was heartbreaking and tragic for the families and to their communities but he came out and he said they died for a noble cause. And you know, Chris, I never have believed that a war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to the United States of America is a noble cause. Cindy Sheehan, mother of slain Iraq War soldier Casey Sheehan, on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews. See "Sheehan's Field of Dreams."
Headlines District Attorney Ronnie Earle announced Tuesday that the Travis Co. grand jury convened in the June 9 police shooting of Daniel Rocha has "no-billed" Austin police officer Julie Schroeder, declining to issue an indictment. See "Officer Cleared in Rocha Shooting."
Police Monitor Ashton Cumberbatch announced his resignation last week to take a job with Seton Healthcare Network; he said the resignation won't take effect until after APD Internal Affairs concludes its investigation of the Rocha case.
At press time, the 79th Legislature hadn't quite adjourned, but was staggering to an ignominious conclusion, having failed once again to enact a school finance reform plan. Finger-pointing was in heavy rotation; it seems likely that no changes will be made before a state Supreme Court ruling on the matter, expected this fall.
City Council meets today, Thursday, with a lengthy agenda including still-tight budget matters, likely to be overshadowed by consideration of a $57 million incentive package, intended to persuade Samsung to build a $3.5 billion chip facility in Austin.
Despite the Lege's willful ineptitude and dire headlines concerning uneven standardized-test scores, public schools opened locally and statewide this week, while the AISD board considered its proposed budget, amid controversy over the lack of a teacher pay raise.
Austin Stories UT announced last week that it won't use its eminent domain authority to seize land currently occupied by Players, the burger joint near the corner of MLK and Lavaca. UT wanted the real estate for a proposed hotel and conference center, with specific plans to use the Players' site for a parking garage. "Our position has always been that we'd like to negotiate for the property and that's what we're continuing to do," said UT System spokesman Don Hale. The design could be changed to omit Players, or the university could accommodate Players within the complex, Hale said. Players co-owner Carlos Oliveira told Naked City that he had refused offers better than UT's, and that he had no interest in selling. The decision shortly preceded the passage of Senate Bill 7, prohibiting governments from seizing private property for commercial development. SB 7 includes an amendment added specifically for Players by Rep. Rene Oliveira, a Brownsville Democrat and the cousin of Carlos, to prevent universities from using eminent domain to take land for lodging facilities, parking, or a parking structure to be used in conjunction with a lodging facility. Daniel Mottola
On Aug. 10, Austin Police Monitor Ashton Cumberbatch announced that he is resigning his position with the city but will not leave the office until after the citizen review panel has considered the police shooting death of 18-year-old Daniel Rocha. Cumberbatch is leaving his job as head of the Office of the Police Monitor to become vice president for advocacy and community relations with the Seton Healthcare Network. Cumberbatch, a former Travis Co. prosecutor, has been involved with Austin's police oversight system since its inception he served on the focus group that defined the mission of the office and was among the first citizens appointed to the citizen review panel. He left the panel to become Austin's second ever police monitor in late 2003. Cumberbatch told city officials he will remain in his current job until police Internal Affairs investigators finish their administrative inquiry into the Rocha shooting and the case has been reviewed by the monitor's office (see p.22). Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said that Assistant Police Monitor Susan Hutson will serve as acting monitor while the city undertakes its search to replace Cumberbatch. Jordan Smith
Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced last week that his request for $420,000 from this year's transportation bill to be used for improvements to East Seventh Street was approved, bringing the grand total in federal funds he has channeled into the beautification project to $2.5 million. "An improved East Seventh Street means a tree-lined boulevard with sidewalks and curb cuts for those with disabilities and cyclists," Doggett said. "East Seventh is a gateway to Austin and should be celebrated as such." Specified improvements include pedestrian lighting, new sidewalks, sidewalk repairs, pedestrian crossings, safety islands, and landscaping. D.M.
The downtown development deluge marches on, as Atlanta's Novare Group announced plans last Thursday to develop a 40-story, 420-unit condo tower sitting on a base of retail stores in rapidly expanding West downtown. The 520-foot skyscraper will stand at Third and Nueces, on what was once slated as Intel's parking garage, with prices around $200,000 for a one-bedroom unit, and $250,000 for a two-bedroom abode. A recent Statesman article defines the condos as "affordable" to earners making $60,000 to $120,000 a year; Novare and local investment firm Andrews Urban simply term them "more attainable." Construction begins early next year, with the condos ready to go by late 2007. Wells Dunbar
In a rare instance, the Texas Ethics Commission handed down two fines to the Austin Police Association Political Action Committee for the group's role in the 2005 City Council elections. APAPAC was fined $600 because it did not notify candidates of the money spent on their behalf and for not releasing donor occupations pertaining to funds they got from the Real Estate Council of Austin. Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Texas and a former City Council candidate, brought the allegations and considered the fine a vindication, noting in a press release that "of the approximately 450 complaints received by the TEC from 2002 through 2004, only 36 resulted in fines of $500 or more." The decision could lend momentum to Benedict's lawsuit against the APAPAC and RECA's Good Government PAC, as the suit accuses the pair of performing a similar illicit action exceeding campaign contribution limits via funneling cash through one another. "I think it's a concern that police, fire, and EMS are currently breaking our city budget, and they are the PACs [with contributions] being laundered through them," Benedict said. "There's a potential for conflict there." W.D.
Advanced Micro Devices responded this week to the ongoing criticism of its planned move to southwest Austin, by posting to its Web site two studies by WHM Transportation Engineering that confirm AMD's claims that the move will result in less overall vehicle miles on Austin's roads. One study detailed the expected impact of relocation to the southwest Lantana site; the other analyzed other sites the company considered, including the Mueller redevelopment, the Lockheed site in southeast Austin, and the Davenport San Clemente site on Loop 360. Both studies are available at www.amd.com/austincampus. Rachel Proctor May
Amid a potent stench, demonstrators gathered Saturday morning in farmer Cecil Remmert's field along Blue Goose Road, adjacent to Browning Ferris Industries' Sunset Farms landfill in Northeast Travis County, toting a banner that read, "No trash sky high" to protest plans to expand the site upward by 75 feet. BFI has put a contractual agreement before the Travis Co. Commissioners Court that would close the landfill by 2015. The company, however, says it's running out of space and needs the expansion to remain competitive and buy time to find a new site claims residents firmly reject. Commissioners postponed a vote on the controversial matter for the second time Tuesday. Saturday's demonstration featured a helium balloon flown 160 feet from the ground, the approximate height the landfill would reach with the expansion. Residents for years have called for the closure of BFI's Sunset Farms facility as well as the similar landfill next door, run by Waste Management Inc. The landfills have been the subject of more than 800 odor complaints since 2001 and were cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2002 for storm water violations, TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson said. D.M.
Thirty-five-year-old John Smythe was killed while riding home on his bike around 3am last Friday near the corner of Sixth and Lamar. Motorist Omer B. Sen, 26, struck Smythe while making an erratic lane change and was later charged with intoxicated manslaughter. City Bike Program Coordinator Colly Kreidler said Smythe's westbound route down Sixth Street, although a designated route per the city's bicycle plan, is identified as having a "low ease of use" since riders share a traffic lane with cars. He said the city has a "full range of projects connecting routes identified as high ease of use." For example, the proposed Lance Armstrong Bikeway, spanning Third, Fourth, and Fifth streets from U.S. 183 in East Austin to Lake Austin Boulevard, will be an alternative for cyclists traveling across downtown in the future. Construction on the project is set to begin next June. Eric Anderson, who helped develop the bikeway, said cycling accidents commonly occur on busy major arterials designated as bike routes but lacking facilities, and that completing the Bikeway and other planned alternatives will improve safety. D.M.
Support Our Oops isn't a typo. It's an Austin-based apparel line whose profits are dedicated to correcting a much graver mistake. Due to poor planning, American service members lack basics like body armor, not to mention bonuses like calling cards and care packages. To help correct such mistakes, half the proceeds from Support Our Oops merchandise goes to charities serving our armed forces. Items range from tees and tops, hoodies, hats, and mugs, to cheekier apparel like boxers and thongs, all adorned with the SOO logo. SOO is the brainchild of student Kelly Hollabaugh, single mom Teresa Van Deusen, Army vet Aaron Camp, and writer/producer Robert Zimmer. Camp, who served as a cavalry scout in Bosnia, says, "I would never have joined a politically polarized organization. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue; in fact, it has nothing to do with the partisan politics paralyzing Washington, D.C. The simple truth is that our troops are not properly equipped and if the government won't do something about it, we will." Place your orders at www.supportouroops.org. W.D.
Beyond City Limits Dallas Co. District Attorney Bill Hill told reporters on Aug. 12 that he will again seek the death penalty for Thomas Miller-El in a retrial of the 1985 murder case. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Miller-El's conviction, opining that Hill's prosecutors had engaged in various forms of race-based jury selection to avoid seating black jurors. In all, 10 of the 11 eligible black jurors were struck from the jury pool. The case has been to the Supremes twice. First the court sent it back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. After the appellate court reaffirmed its previous finding that Miller-El had not been the victim of racial bias, the high court agreed to review the matter again, this time tossing the case altogether and remanding it to state district court. Racial bias apparently notwithstanding, Hill said the facts of Miller-El's alleged crime have never been in dispute, reports The Dallas Morning News. "His guilt of this heinous crime is not in question." J.S.
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