Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"This is a really strong statement. The momentum is very heavy right now, and those in the Senate who vote against the marriage amendment will do so at their own peril." Kelly Shackelford of the Free Market Foundation, on his group's plans to translate the success of Prop. 2 into a national ban on gay marriage
Quote of the Week
Rest easy tonight, Texans, your marriage is safe the homophobes convinced 76% of Texas voters to support Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Texas. Only one county out of 254 rejected the amendment pat yourself on the back, Travis. See "Victory for God – or Bigotry?"
More voting: Texans also passed six other amendments and rejected two, and Travis Co. voters passed three bond proposals to fund roads, parks, and jails. See "Election Results."
Speaking of Prop. 2, the fine citizens of the Ku Klux Klan rallied at City Hall to support the "family values" codified in the amendment. About 3,000 people showed up to denounce the dozen or so Kluxers. A lawsuit has been filed slamming the city for keeping the two sides far, far apart, and denying nontraditional media outlets access to the event. See "With God on Their Side: The KKK Stops By."
Ironically, across downtown from the Klan rally, Austin civil rights leader Volma Overton was laid to rest almost simultaneously. Overton was a key player in desegregating Austin's schools in the 1970s. See "Local Civil Rights Hero Overton Dies."
An APD video of officers re-enacting the Daniel Rocha shooting only fanned the ire of Rocha's family, who say the officers' statements don't match up. See "Instant Replay: How and Why Did Daniel Rocha Die?."
Thirty-six-year-old Richard Courtemanche, who was shot in the arm by Austin police during a standoff in the Barton Creek greenbelt Nov. 4, died at Brackenridge Hospital on Sunday, police officials report. Around 11am Friday morning, police responded to a call that a man, later identified as Courtemanche, had been spotted on the greenbelt armed with a shotgun. Members of the police SWAT team tried to calm Courtemanche during a nearly two-hour "dialogue"; at one point, Courtemanche put his shotgun down and walked several feet away but later became "highly agitated" and ran back toward his gun; police fired rubber bullets to try to "neutralize" him, but it didn't work and Courtemanche managed to retrieve his shotgun. SWAT Cpl. David Austin fired one round, striking Courtemanche in his right arm, after which Courtemanche turned his shotgun on himself, firing a single shot into his jaw. Cpl. Austin has been placed on restricted duty, pending the outcome of APD's investigation into the incident. Jordan Smith
Despite pleas from the Downtown Austin Alliance, chances of the Waller Creek tunnel project making the final list of recommended bond projects for the city's upcoming bond election do not look good. At this week's citizens Bond Election Advisory Committee, members were lukewarm to the idea of including the drainage project, mainly because of the big chunk of debt the single construction venture would entail. Even in its most modest format, the tunnel would require $42.4 million, on top of the $25 million Austin voters have already approved. Committee member Dave Sullivan, in hopes of throwing out a lifeline to the project, suggested a more balanced public-private partnership mix of financing, which may be discussed next week. The city has suggested splitting the additional cost of the tunnel project with Travis County, through the use of a tax increment finance district, but County Judge Sam Biscoe says it's been almost a year since anyone from the city contacted him to discuss the option. Kimberly Reeves
Austin Police are seeking information related to the Oct. 31 murder of 22-year-old UT student William Ehrhardt III at his West Campus apartment at 2812 Nueces. Ehrhardt called 911 just before 5:30pm to report that someone was trying to break into his apartment, but hung up after telling dispatchers that it appeared the would-be intruder had given up and left. Minutes later police received a second 911 call reporting that shots had been fired; someone had broken through a window at Ehrhardt's apartment and shot him. Ehrhardt was transported to Brackenridge where he died the next day. Police say Ehrhardt's neighbors reported seeing two males fleeing the area, heading west. Police are investigating whether there is any connection between Ehrhardt's murder and the Oct. 16 theft of his 1997 Isuzu from the apartment complex. At press time, no arrests had been made. Police ask that anyone with information about Ehrhardt's murder call the Homicide Unit tip line at 477-3588 or Crime Stoppers at 472-8477. J.S.
Central Texas activists were going "old school" election night, as local election watchdogs from Vote Rescue teamed up with national activists from Black Box Voting to hold parallel paper ballot elections as Austinites voted on their eSlates. Karen Renick, director of Vote Rescue, said some 25 volunteers descended on six area schools and churches, polling places that served a total of 12 precincts. With admittedly small resources and sampling, their purpose Tuesday wasn't an outright challenge of election results, but to "demonstrate real, literal, hands-on democracy." The process was completely transparent, with voters casting their ballot into a clear box, after reading a pledge affirming they were voting the same way they voted in the booth. Results were tallied in the open once the polls closed. "You can see every step along the way," Renick said. "There's been so many failures and miscounts," she said of e-voting, citing a critical report from Congress' General Accounting Office. "There is no way to have a recount with these electoral machines there's no way of trusting the results we're given." Renick predicts greater accuracy and taxpayer savings with a return to paper ballots. Wells Dunbar
The City Council's Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee approved a final draft Monday of the proposed commercial design standards ordinance, which will now go to full council for approval this Thursday. The ordinance aims to make Austin a denser, more pedestrian-friendly place that's lighter on the strip malls and heavier on wide sidewalks, trees, and that deity of the urban-planning world, vertical mixed-use architecture. The final version incorporates changes to make the standards acceptable to both neighborhood associations and the fast-food industry, which initially felt targeted by the standards' distaste for drive-through establishments and branded architecture. The committee also voted to recommend that council expand the boundaries of the convention center's transit-oriented development district to include all of downtown. Rachel Proctor May
The Planning Commission has voted to recommend a city ban on the use and sale of coal-tar sealants, a recommendation that will be forward to City Council. The sealants, typically used to protect parking lots, were the subject of an extensive study by the city after an article by the late Kevin Carmody of the Austin American-Statesman pointed out high levels of pollutants in Barton Creek. Last month, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, former chair of the Environmental Board, requested that the city's voluntary coal-tar sealant ban be turned into a mandatory ban. About 90% of all sealants used in Austin are coal-tar, with the other 10% being asphalt-based. Industry leaders were out in force at the Planning Commission to oppose the ban claiming that the pollution increases were due to increased vehicle miles and that further study is needed to separate out the contributing pollutants. Led by Nancy McClintock, assistant director of Watershed Protection & Development Review, city staff stood firm on the issue, however. The only "no" vote on the Planning Commission was Matt Moore, who worried whether the city had explored the actual practical impact of such a ban in the city. K.R.
In the year since Austin voters approved a $520 million bond package to build and renovate schools throughout AISD, the district has started work on five new schools and major additions to three others. As the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee reported to the Board of Trustees Thursday, all of those projects but one are already over budget. In its report, the CBOC blamed higher materials costs (think oil prices and hurricane reconstruction) and unanticipated site development costs, but also assured trustees that the overrun was not so large that it couldn't be covered by the $21 million contingency fund included in the budget. The CBOC criticized the board for deciding to locate a promised south-central elementary school in southeast Austin without first holding a public hearing the committee agreed that the demographics supported the move but thought the public should have been informed first. There's another issue brewing over the level of impervious cover at schools in the Barton Springs recharge zone, an issue that will affect Kiker Elementary, and perhaps Zilker as well, if it is to get the cafeteria expansion area parents have been clamoring for. R.P.M.
Local biodiesel retailer Austin Biofuels has announced that it is expanding the marketing effort for its B100 (100% biodiesel), by adding two new biodiesel stations and expanding the company's headquarters in southeast Austin, in a new partnership with Willie Nelson. Marketing director and co-founder Jeff Plowman says ABF hopes to open unmanned, automated, B100 stations in Wimberley and Oak Hill, and at their expanded headquarters at 10012 Old Lockhart Rd., southeast of Slaughter Lane. ABF already has retail locations at Eco-Wise, 110 W. Elizabeth; Fuelman, 1501 E. Seventh; and Alternative Fuel Systems, 2027 Anchor. As part of a partnership to offer their B100 under Willie Nelson's Biowillie biodiesel brand in Austin, Plowman said plans are under way to open an unmanned station near the singer's Luck, Texas, ranch, off Highway 71 West, on the grounds of Arbormaster tree farm. By operating the new stations with its own equipment, ABF will be able to pass federal income tax credit savings associated with B100 along to customers. At press time, B100 was selling for $3.40 per gallon. For more info, see www.austinbiofuels.com or www.biodiesel.org. Daniel Mottola
Travis Co. commissioners were expected to announce a sweeping open space plan Wednesday in the wake of passage of the open-space proposition on the county's bond ballot. Commissioner Karen Sonleitner confirms the county has spent the last six weeks, with the help of the Nature Conservancy and others, locating available preservation land in southwest Travis Co. Sonleitner, who is also the court's biggest advocate for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, told In Fact Daily Tuesday night that she was giddy over the victory at the polls and the prospect of making quick work of a promise to voters to protect water quality in Travis Co. The county often buys preservation land 10 or 12 acres at a time. This open-space proposal could be up to 2,400 acres. K.R.
On Nov. 8, former APD Officer Jason Lockaby was convicted of "improper sexual activity with a person in custody," attempted improper sexual activity with a person in custody, and official oppression. Lockaby, 35, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of deferred adjudication. He was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine by Travis Co. District Judge Jon Wisser on the first count and was sentenced to an extra two years deferred adjudication for the attempted improper sexual activity and official oppression charges. Lockaby must also forfeit his peace officer license. He was a two-year veteran of the department when, on Nov. 18, 2004, he was arrested for touching the breasts and pressing the nipples of a woman he was arresting last spring. He was also accused of promising a second woman that he would not take her to jail if she showed him her breasts. Lockaby is out of jail on bond and will begin his three-month sentence in January. J.S.
Affordable housing nonprofit Foundation Communities is in the midst of a furniture drive for Hurricane Katrina evacuees transitioning from its extend-a-stay hotel into apartments all over town. Back in September, the organization filled a 1,200-square-foot storage room with furniture for evacuees, but the space was empty by the time 30 apartments had been furnished. The goal of this second drive is to collect enough new or gently used major furniture pieces kitchen tables and chairs, couches, sofa chairs, and queen, twin, and full-size beds to furnish apartments for 60 families, said Karen Lyons, the drive's lead organizer. "It's not that people can't survive without furniture, but if we want people to get back to a sense of normalcy after two months, this is really important," said Executive Director Walter Moreau. Foundation Communities will accept donations at its Garden Terrace apartment complex, 1015 William Cannon, Saturday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 19 from 10am-3pm. Due to storage space limitations, organizers recommend leaving donations other than major pieces of furniture with Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or St. Vincent de Paul. For more info, call 447-2026 x22 or e-mail email@example.com. Cheryl Smith
Spurred by the controversial Prop. 2, voter turnout was more than double the norm statewide for a constitutional amendment election, but still pathetically low for a free democracy. Depending on the proposition, about 15-18% of registered voters cast ballots. (Precise numbers weren't available at press time, as the Secretary of State's office was still waiting to hear from 37 of the state's 7,429 precincts.) Highest turnout, unsurprisingly, was for Prop. 2. No doubt due to Austin's large gay and gay-friendly population, Travis Co. turnout was even higher, at 25.7%, with 136,941 votes recorded. Lee Nichols
Beyond City Limits
The Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas has changed its name to just two words Equality Texas, or EQTX for short. The LGRL board voted Monday to change the group's name to reflect the broad-based coalition that grew out of the No Nonsense in November campaign that attempted to defeat Prop. 2. "Our previous name could no longer tell the full story of Texans working for equality," said co-chair Jill Ireland. The organization launched the No Nonsense effort four months ago and aims to capitalize on the momentum of that campaign as it moves beyond this week's election. Amy Smith
A lycra-clad Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, addressed the Texas Trails Network Conference in San Marcos last Sunday, en route from Austin to New Braunfels by bicycle. The theme of the conference was connecting communities through bike and pedestrian trails, and, more specifically, promoting statewide bicycle tourism. During the last session, Ellis sponsored the Texas Bicycle Tourism Bill, which passed by a wide bipartisan margin. Robin Stallings, Texas Bike Coalition president and conference participant, said the bill has the potential to create a network of trails across the entire state, making Texas a world-class bike tourism destination. As an example, he pointed to the possibility of extending the Lance Armstrong Bikeway east to Manor to connect with Texas Highway 20, creating a 200-mile trail through historic railroad towns all the way to Houston. Stallings said San Marcos' recent successful passage of a $1.2 million bond proposition for bike and pedestrian facilities should send a message to Austin going into its upcoming bond talks. He says by sticking with the current 15% of transportation bond money designated for trails, Austin could soon embark on projects like the first 12 miles of a possible 80-mile bike trail along SH 130 from US 290 to TX 71. For more info, see www.texastrails.org and www.biketexas.org. D.M.
That scruffy student experience will get a little scruffier next year if the UT Board of Regents moves ahead with a tuition increase proposed by the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee this week. The committee, consisting of five faculty members and four students, recommended a 5.5% tuition hike next year and 3.9% the next, bringing tuition to roughly $3,800 per semester for a full-time liberal arts undergrad. Financial aid would cover the entire increase for students from households with an annual income under $40,000, and some of the increase for households earning up to $80,000, but on top of the tuition increase, students would pay a surcharge to cover the spike in natural gas prices that already has the university, which generates its own electricity with gas turbines, some $20 million in the hole. The surcharge would be capped at $150 per student roughly the cost of one keg of quality beer, or two of the cheap stuff. UT President Larry Faulkner will now develop the final proposal to pass on to the Board of Regents, whose members will officially decide what young Texans will pay next year to wear burnt orange and white. R.P.M.