Blue Lines to White Sheets

Top 10 local stories

Smoking in bars officially became illegal in Austin on Sept. 1; some hailed it as progress, others attacked it as more de-weirding of Austin
Smoking in bars officially became illegal in Austin on Sept. 1; some hailed it as progress, others attacked it as more de-weirding of Austin (Photo By Aubrey Edwards)

1) APD Blues: From the Midtown Live! embarrassment, through the charges of undue electoral and City Council influence, the Taser controversies, and the deaths of Daniel Rocha and Michael Clark, it has not been a stellar year for the Austin Police Department. Just when we thought APD might be striving for redemption with the officer dismissal and discipline in the Rocha case, here comes last week's indictment of three more cops for beating a handcuffed suspect. Look at the bright side: 2006 has to be better. (For more on Sixth Street Blues, see "Top 10 Crime and Justice stories.")

2) Smoke Gets in Your Politics: After a bitter rhetorical campaign (some of it fought in these pages), the forces of Clean Air Everywhere triumphed, as in May Austin voters narrowly approved a stricter anti-smoking ordinance that (beginning Sept. 1) effectively banned smoking in virtually all public venues, including some pool parlors and downtown music venues whose owners say they can't survive smoke-free. The legal battle continues, and the jury is out on the ultimate effects – with anti-tobacco activists Onward Austin facing off against smokers' rightists Keep Austin Free in a continuing public relations war. By this time next year, we may know how the social experiment turned out ...

3) AMD Aims for Lantana: The latest front in the 30-year struggle to protect the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs is known as the Lantana tract, at the intersection of the Southwest Parkway and West William Cannon. Advanced Micro Devices is determined to relocate there, and an environmental coalition led by Save Our Springs Alliance is equally determined to hold the line. Recently, AMD bought the land outright, and hired a huge crew of greenbuilders. And they have the support of Oak Hill neighborhood associations yearning for suburban development ... the next six months may tell the tale.

Austin Mayor Will Wynn rolled up his sleeves and got personally involved in helping evacuees housed at the Austin Convention Center, doing everything from washing laundry and entertaining children (above) to more official duties.
photo by Bob Daemmrich

4) Hurricane Haven: Austin didn't get hit directly by hurricanes Katrina and Rita but became an instant shelter against the storm, with a remarkable outpouring of both private and public support for the evacuees from New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast. The story is far from concluded – smaller disasters and desperations linger for many of the folks torn from their homes – but the city responded admirably and has welcomed a wave of new cultural and economic energy. Whether the feds, the state, and the city can continue to meet the responsibilities the hurricanes brought is a story for 2006.

5) Quality Time: While a few boorish cops generated the Midtown Live! headlines, the city was simultaneously trying to get a handle on the constricting possibilities of cultural and economic life for local African-Americans, for whom the burning night club was only too obvious a symbol. The year's result was focus groups, public forums, council hearings, and the beginnings of a plan to redress grievances and rebuild the social network, under the rubric "Quality of Life." The plan is to address everything from unequal law enforcement to inadequate health care networks to insufficient cultural relations – keep your ears open and your fingers crossed.

6) How Dense Are You?: "Urban density" was the planning buzzword of the year, as Downtown development swirled about the new Second Street District (Seaholm, Block 21, and a host of finger-food, futon, and fashion boutiques). "Transit-Oriented Development" became an official areawide project (with affordable housing tagging uncertainly along for the ride). And new "Design Standards" were aimed at taming the big boxes and the asphalt oceans, giving way to pedestrian-friendly architecture and higher residential rises (and zoning fights). "Sprawl" is out, "Dense" is in, so get in on the ground floor – the penthouse will be way too expensive.

7) How Green Is Our Council?: It's too soon to be certain, but the signs point toward drought. In May's changeover, longtime enviro and neighborhood stalwarts Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman stepped down (term limits), replaced by cautiously progressive Lee Leffingwell and the still-unpredictable Jennifer Kim – when the question might have been, "What would Margot [Clarke] do?" With re-elected Betty Dunkerley steering a predictably institutional course, Mayor Will Wynn and Brewster McCracken vying for Downtown's Most Favorite, and new Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas seldom making waves, expect a whole lot more of "stay the course" in the New Year – at least until this May's council election.

8) Three Giants Pass: If there's any truth in the saying that bad news comes in threes, 2005 confirmed it on the East Side, as local civil rights pioneers Dorothy Turner (April 6, age 69), Volma Overton (Oct. 31, age 81), and Hazel Falke-Obey (Dec. 30, age 62) all passed over this year. Turner was a firebrand who sometimes fought with more passion than direction, but inspired a younger generation to keep on keeping on. Overton was a steady rock of courage from his first days back from World War II, leading the local NAACP during its most dangerous struggles against segregation. Falke-Obey was a quiet leader of the post-integration generation, working inside and out of the political system to redress injustice, until the untimely day of her passing last week. May they rest by the waters of justice.

9) The Winds (and Sun) of Change: This might have been the year that "Renewable Energy" came into its own, except that we've been saying that for nearly a decade now. Nonetheless, Austin Energy is now bragging that it's the largest municipal source of renewable energy in the nation, no small thanks to Solar Austin, the enviro coalition that has kept AE's and the city's feet to the solar fire. The latest goal is to be the first city in the nation to make renewable sources 50% of energy usage – which will be more doable if AE's energy program can find enough sources (e.g., wind) to do the job. The effort could use a boost from the Lege – lot of wind there, but not much energy.

KKK terrorizes city!
photo by Jana Birchum

10) KKK Terrorizes City!: Or at least its officials, who treated a half-dozen slouching Klansters from San Angelo, in town to engage in ritual Proposition 2 gay-bashing at City Hall, as though they were the second coming of Hitler's blitzkreig. Hundreds of cops, boats, helicopters, sharpshooters, etc., held a hysterical line against several thousand counterprotesters who did little more than yell insults and wave anti-racist banners – under rights presumably to be protected just like the Klan's. The city managers even decided to officially determine who is and who is not a "professional" journalist – generating a lawsuit and a public relations black eye that was no doubt welcomed in Klan-Kuckoo Land.

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