Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond.
Edited By Lee Nichols and Cheryl Smith, Fri., Aug. 26, 2005
"'Stay the course' is not a policy.
I think by any
measurement, any standard you apply to this, we're not winning." Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos
Quote of the Week
Cindy Sheehan, mother of slain Iraq war soldier Casey Sheehan, briefly suspended her vigil outside President Bush's Crawford Ranch to tend to her ill mother. At press time, she was expected to return to "Camp Casey" and continue to demand a meeting with (and honest answers from) the president. (At press time, "Naked City" learned that Sheehan will come to Austin for a rally on Wed., Aug. 31, at 5pm. For more details, go to www.codepink4peace.org.) See "A Message to the Crawford Memorial Vandal" for more on Sheehan.
The City Council, with little to no public input, approved a $58 million incentive package of waivers and tax rebates to woo electronics giant Samsung to build a chip-manufacturing facility here. And then the council got into a spitting match with the firefighters union because there, um, aren't enough tax dollars available. See "Our Groovy Capitalistic Council."
The release of the grand jury report on the Daniel Rocha shooting answered some questions but raised even more; the officer who shot Rocha was no-billed, but could still face punishment for improperly following procedures, including failure to turn on her patrol car camera. See "Darkness and Confusion."
Mayor Will Wynn and other community leaders announced an ambitious attempt by Austin and hopefully other cities to pressure auto makers to increase production of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. See "Austin on the Plug-In Hybrid Scene."
Colton Pitonyak was arrested in Mexico and charged with the brutal West Campus murder of 21-year-old UT student Jennifer Cave. See "UT Student Arrested for Brutal West Campus Murder."
Fire destroyed the popular downtown microbrewery/restaurant the Bitter End over the weekend; the cause has yet to be determined, but the owners plan to rebuild.
It appears Austin's public access television stations are coming under new management, as Monday night, the city Telecommunications Commission recommended that a new nonprofit, Public Access Community Television, take over the city's all-access airwaves. PACT, a newly incorporated nonprofit, was awarded the recommendation over another new nonprofit, Austin Television Access, and current managers Austin Community Access Center, who've overseen the access channels since their inception. ACAC has been catching flak since former director John Villarreal abruptly resigned last year amid allegations of embezzlement and financial mismanagement, still being investigated by the district attorney and City Auditor's office. PACT is composed of Linda Litowsky and Gary Wilkison; Litowsky owns her own production company, has experience with nonprofits, and "was one of the first producers appointed to the ACTV board," said Rondella Hawkins of the city's telecommunications board, while Wilkison has extensive experience in video production, working on "well known commercial programs," but also on Travis County's public access channel. Wilkison also owns his own video production and engineering firm. The recommendations will be presented to City Council for approval Sept. 1. Wells Dunbar
Travis Co. commissioners approved a $120 million bond package for roads, jails, open space, and drainage projects on Tuesday. Despite several hours of citizen communication urging the commissioners to approve the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee recommendation to include a stand-alone proposition to bond $60 million to buy open space, commissioners decided against it because the proposal would raise taxes. The vote was 3-2, with Sam Biscoe and Ron Davis holding out for more open space and roads in East Austin. The bond package proposal, written by Karen Sonleitner and Gerald Daugherty, carves out $18 million for open space in Southwest Travis Co., and prioritizes county road projects in two tiers, based on the possibility of public-private partnerships. Sonleitner said given the county's debt constraints, the call for additional money was too soon after the county spent $150 million on right-of-way for SH 130. The bond package will go before voters on Nov. 9. Rachel Proctor May and Kimberly Reeves
Demonstrators from the Texas Campaign for the Environment, responding to a new Computer TakeBack Campaign report documenting toxic contamination from computers and other electronics shipped overseas by U.S. recyclers, delivered obsolete Apple computer products to Apple's Barton Creek Mall store last Wednesday, demanding that CEO Steve Jobs agree to take back and properly recycle his company's old products. Apple announced in June that it would take back its iPods, but TCE's Robin Schneider says, "Apple needs to agree to take back its whole range of products and offer free and convenient take-back to customers that don't live near Apple stores. it's time for Apple to join HP and Dell, who agree that computer manufacturers are responsible for the end of life of their products." The report is available at www.computertakeback.com. See www.computerrecyclingproject.com/austin for suggestions on what to do with obsolete computers and computer parts. Daniel Mottola
The new City Council Land Use and Transportation subcommittee convened this week at long last; Brewster McCracken will be the chair, with Betty Dunkerley and Lee Leffingwell the other members. The first priorities: development (and possible annexation) along the SH130 corridor, completion of the Transit-Oriented Development process, and getting a handle on the massive Zoning Code rewrite. Nick Barbaro
AISD on Monday named longtime Bowie principal Kent Ewing to replace Marcus Nelson as head of AISD's blueprint high school initiative. The position will also entail running the district's effort to redesign its high schools. After Ewing's move, AISD will have two high schools with principal vacancies, Bowie and Reagan High in Northeast Austin. Superintendent Pat Forgione said he expected to appoint interim principals for this year; when the search for a permanent principal begins next spring, he expects high-performing Bowie to attract strong candidates from around the country. For Reagan, where the job involves a few more fireworks, Forgione expects to put the school on a redesign path similar to that taken at Johnston High, which was divided into three academies with separate leadership this year. R.P.M.
Sunset Valley prides itself on open space, community gardens, and an environmentally sustainable city hall. As stewards of the Edwards Aquifer, from which it draws most of its drinking water, it often views its neighbor AISD's Toney Burger Activity Center in Southwest Austin as an impervious eyesore. Now, city officials are concerned about AISD's proposal to replace the grass in the Burger football stadium with artificial turf, paid for with funds from AISD's 2004 bond election. Sunset Valley Mayor Terry Cowan and Mayor Pro Tem Cat Quintanilla don't believe that spending $700,000 on artificial turf constitutes an "improvement." "We are concerned about the environmental impact, safety for the kids, and the disposal issue when the turf has to be replaced," Cowan said. AISD argues that this isn't just any turf, but a granular infill synthetic turf with a gravel drainage area and a thick mat, designed to be safer for players because it offers a softer landing pad, and won't cause turf burns and ankle injuries like traditional artificial turf. City officials have called a special meeting for 7pm tonight (Thursday) to consider a resolution "expressing the council's concern" about the bond money going toward fake football turf. A turf engineer will address the positive aspects of this type of ground cover. Amy Smith
Don Zimmerman on Monday kicked off his campaign as a Republican candidate for District 50 in the Texas House. The Democratic incumbent, Rep. Mark Strama, intends to seek re-election to the post he narrowly wrested from former GOP Rep. Jack Stick in 2004. Zimmerman, an Austin software engineer, considers himself a "Ron Paul Republican" so-called because of U.S. Rep. Paul's Libertarian-style stand against taxes. On that score, Zimmerman helped defeat a recent $350 million bond election in the Round Rock school district. He also led an unsuccessful opposition to the 2004 creation of the Travis Co. hospital district. GOP political consultant Royal Masset has signed on to the Zimmerman campaign. A.S.
Elizabeth Yevich has resigned as executive director of the Travis Co. Democratic Party; she will move "back East" to be near family. Yevich will be replaced by Patti Edelman, who managed Lorenzo Sadun's unsuccessful write-in campaign for Congressional District 10 last year, and since then has been the sustaining member coordinator for the TCDP. L.N.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the Central Texas entity with the greatest authority to regulate the 3,500 square miles of the Edwards Aquifer, which lies beneath dozens of county, municipal, and other jurisdictions. Trouble is, according to environmentalists and some neighborhood groups, its rules are also the weakest. In response to the annual TCEQ request for public comment on its Edwards Aquifer Rules, a broad coalition of environmental groups, property owners, and none-of-the-aboves (i.e. the Sisters of Divine Providence of San Antonio) signed onto a letter urging the TCEQ to beef up its rules. Citing a slew of scientific studies, the letter urged TCEQ to limit impervious cover over the aquifer, and to devote more money and staff to enforcement. Given the past history of such hearings, however, appeals to divine providence may well be in order. "TCEQ has these hearings every year, and every year we tell them the same thing," said Annalisa Peace of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. The letter is on the group's Web site at www.aquiferalliance.org. R.P.M.
Beyond City Limits
The city of Georgetown last Saturday held a grand opening for its new San Gabriel River Trail. The 3.5-mile hike and bike path will connect San Gabriel Park to Lake Georgetown and create a trail network that links all of the city's major parks. With the new segment complete, according to city's Web site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park trail network around Lake Georgetown now connects with Rivery Park, as well as a 1.7-mile loop at San Gabriel Park and a one-mile trail to Blue Hole Park. The total trail length from the Lake Georgetown dam to San Gabriel Park is 5.6 miles, among the longest wheelchair- and stroller-accessible facilities in Central Texas. The trail includes areas for picnicking, bird watching, and nighttime stargazing. For more info, maps, and directions, see www.georgetown.org/departments/parks. D.M.
Forty-seven states are in "rebellion" against the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a report the nonprofit Civil Society Institute released last week. Chafing at unfunded mandates, questioning the ability of standardized tests to accurately measure school quality, and even casting aspersions on the act's ultimate motives, this rebel alliance has used state legislatures, lawsuits, applications for waivers, and numerous other techniques to protest the 2001 law. In Texas, Laredo ISD joined a National Education Association lawsuit claiming that the NCLB illegally forces districts to spend their own money on federal requirements (the Connecticut attorney general filed a lawsuit on Monday claiming the same thing). Laredo ISD Superintendent Sylvia Bruni said the standardized testing Texas had in place even before NCLB simply wasn't helping get poor, minority students up to speed. "For 20 years, Texas public schools have been holding their students accountable for their performance via a single, high-stakes test and the consequences have been increasingly tragic," Bruni said. R.P.M.