Naked City

Activists with the Student/Farmworker Alliance converged on the UT-area McDonald's last Friday to mark the birthday of the late farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez and to demand better treatment and pay for the farmworkers who supply McDonald's with produce. A similar, three-year protest against Taco Bell in recent years helped win an agreement from that company to improve farmworker conditions.
Activists with the Student/Farmworker Alliance converged on the UT-area McDonald's last Friday to mark the birthday of the late farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez and to demand better treatment and pay for the farmworkers who supply McDonald's with produce. A similar, three-year protest against Taco Bell in recent years helped win an agreement from that company to improve farmworker conditions. (Photo By John Anderson)


Quote of the Week

"This is a very strong Republican district. It's obvious to me that anybody but me running here will overwhelmingly win the seat." – Tom DeLay, to Time magazine, announcing that he would not defend his congressional District 22 incumbency


Headlines

• Ding, dong, the witch is dead! U.S. Rep Tom DeLay's karma finally caught up with him this week when he announced the premature end of his congressional career in the face of polls showing him in big trouble against Democrat Nick Lampson; see "Tom DeLay Throws in the Towel."

• And speaking of Austin's idiotically gerrymandered districts, voters go to the polls on Tuesday, April 11, to settle a few primary run-offs and set the November ballot; see "Run-Offs to Go."

• Under court order, the City Council revised its ballot language for Propositions 1 and 2 on the May municipal ballot. Advocates for the so-called "Clean Water/Clean Government" props say the new wording isn't much better but won't sue again due to time constraints before the election; see "Ballot Battle."

• Austin cop Christopher Gray and former officer William Heilman were acquitted on charges of official oppression last week. The pair were videotaped beating and Tasering suspect Ramon Hernandez last September, while he was handcuffed and lying face-down on the ground; see "Officers Cleared in Hernandez Beating Trial."


Naked City

• What's the biggest difference between House District 47 in Southwest Travis County and HD 50 in the northeast? Money, money, money. HD 47 candidates in Tuesday's primary run-off elections raked in big bucks between Feb. 26 and April 1, according to the latest campaign finance filings. HD 50 Republican hopefuls raised fewer dollars than the two GOP rivals in HD 47, largely because the winner will face an uphill battle in November against incumbent Dem Mark Strama. HD 50 hopeful Jeff Fleece raised $8,489 during the latest reporting period and has $1,540 left, while opponent Don Zimmerman raised just $1,450 but has $13,182 in the till. In the HD 47 GOP run-off, Alex Castano is the obvious favorite of Houston homebuilder and GOP bankroller Bob Perry, who dropped $45,000 on the Castano campaign in the period. His take for the period was $86,512. He spent $64,960, and has $14,114 in the bank and $19,000 in outstanding loans. Castano also reported repaying himself $11,000 and paying his company, Castano Property Trust, $4,000 for the campaign's office space. Bill Welch raised $18,845, spent $73,174, and has $13,555 remaining and $164,551 in outstanding loans. In the Democratic run-off, Jason Earle took in $32,810, spent $36,225, and has $6,046 left. Run-off opponent Valinda Bolton had her best fundraising effort yet, collecting $28,525 and spending $27,353; she had $4,720 in the bank as of April 1 and $10,000 in outstanding loans. – Amy Smith

• On a list of cities best equipped to deal with an oil crisis, Austin ranks 20th out of 50 major cities, according to a study released Tuesday by SustainLane.com, a self-described online destination for healthy and sustainable living. The study took into account how many people rode, drove, carpooled, walked, or biked to work; public-transit use; and traffic congestion. Access to robust wireless networks for telecommuting and locally grown fresh food were also considered. "If you're counting on produce flown in from Chile, your dinner is going to be very expensive during a crisis," said SustainLane.com CEO James Elsen. New York City was #1 and Oklahoma City was #50. Local transportation guru Roger Baker, faulting Austin's less-than-aggressive implementation of public transit, wrote in an e-mail, "Will Wynn's idea of dealing with the energy crisis seems to be to beg Detroit to build more hybrid cars to serve the continuing sprawl development that CAMPO envisions for decades into the future. Not coincidentally, a way to sound green while not offending the road and real estate lobbies." Read the study at www.sustainlane.com. – Daniel Mottola

• Austin police are asking for help identifying two vehicles seen driving "suspiciously" through the parking lot of a Northwest Austin strip center on March 18, shortly before 44-year-old Anthony William Benesh III was killed by a single shot fired from a high-powered rifle. Video clips released this week by APD show two vehicles – a dark four-door sedan and a light-colored SUV – driving through the parking lot outside Saccone's Pizza at 13812 Research, the night Benesh was murdered. Benesh was shot once through the head as he exited the pizza joint where he'd eaten dinner with his girlfriend and two sons, ages 9 and 11. Police believe Benesh was murdered by members of the Texas-based Banditos motorcycle gang in response to his reported desire to organize a local chapter of the Hell's Angels, a rival gang. Anyone with info related to the murder should call APD's homicide tip line at 477-3588, or CrimeStoppers at 472-8477. – Jordan Smith

• Former President Bill Clinton will be in Austin May 19 as the keynote speaker at an event celebrating his old friend and campaign contributor Bernard Rapoport. The Waco insurance company executive and progressive philanthropist will be honored at a legacy dinner benefiting the Center for Public Policy Priorities. Luci Johnson, another longtime Rapoport friend and daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson, is the honorary event chair. Born in 1917 in San Antonio to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Rapoport – known as "B" to his friends – has lived the quintessential poor-boy-makes-good tale of hard work and determination. He has provided financial support for education, social justice, and political causes, and for venerable institutions of all sizes, from the Texas Observer to UT. In 1991, Gov. Ann Richards, another beneficiary of Rapoport's wealth, appointed him to the UT Board of Regents, which he chaired 1993-97. The CPPP will begin selling tickets to the dinner on Monday. Go to www.cppp.org or call 320-0222 for more info. – A.S.

• The United Way released on Tuesday its Child Well-Being Report Card for Austin-Travis County 2006. It grades Austin-Travis County on three criteria: child healthiness, happiness, and intelligence. The area got a grade of C for children's health, due partly to lower-than-national immunization rates and a slightly higher-than-average number of babies born with low birth weight. "Happiness" focused on abuse concerns, income, and mental-health measures for children and families. The area received a D, due to the number of area families in poverty, and the average of confirmed victims of child abuse. The area also got a dismal D for the study's "smart goals," noting a below-average number of child-care workers with college degrees, and 50% enrollment of eligible children in Head Start and similar early-learning programs. To see the report and more info, visit www.sb6centraltexas.org. – Wells Dunbar

• Travis County is taking the idea of a conservation-development ordinance – an incentive-based plan for developers to set aside large parcels of unspoiled land for preserve space – out for a test run over the next month. The proposal, hailed by local environmentalists, is aimed at developers of what is expected to be a small number of "niche" communities in the more ecologically sensitive areas of the county. Under the proposal, the developer would agree to set aside at least half of a subdivision's gross acreage in natural space and roadside buffers. Development would be planned around that open space, just as golf communities are planned around golf courses. In return, developers would get quicker approval and fewer fees. If it works, the plan would provide an alternative to the region's current strategy for open-space preservation, which is to create large-scale preserves of sensitive land, purchased one parcel at a time with bond monies. – Kimberly Reeves

• In other development news, Travis Co. staff did everything but handstands this week trying to please two adjacent high-end subdivisions off Bee Caves Road – one that wanted its roads private and closed and the other, which would prefer to see all roads open to public use. Countering conventional county wisdom – all traffic calming is bad traffic calming – Joe Gieselman of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department proposed every option possible to both keep the roads open and keep the volume and speed down, from a choke point narrowing traffic to one lane on Olympus Drive to more progressive measures of speed cushions and traffic circles on the new through-street, Marly Way. Neighbors in the established neighborhood of the Bluffs scorned the traffic-calming measures, pointing to Shoal Creek Boulevard as a good example of traffic calming gone wrong. In the end, commissioners decided to keep the roads open in the Seven Oaks subdivision, monitor traffic volume for six months, and abandon the idea of choke points to narrow traffic on Olympus. Neighbors from the Bluffs cheered the decision. – K.R.

• Festivals are supposed to be fun, right? The Old Pecan Street Spring Arts Festival is off to a very nonfun start, unless a nasty fight over who owns the festival is your idea of fun. Apparently, the Old Pecan Street Association, which exists to promote the 30-year-old festival each spring and fall on Sixth Street between Congress and I-35, decided to sever ties with French Smith's Roadstar Productions, which has long held the event management contract. According to OPSA, Roadstar then gathered up its marbles and sulked over to West Sixth, where it will hold a similar festival the same weekend, May 6-7. Roadstar begs to differ: According to a notice on their Web site, it's OPSA that canceled their festival, leaving Roadstar no choice but to fill the void. Au contraire, says OPSA: Roadstar had a signed contract for the spring festival, but it was to be its last – in the fall, OPSA will go with a different event management company. To add insult to injury, Roadstar is touting the "upscale" new West Sixth address as a selling point for the new festival. – Rachel Proctor May


Beyond City Limits

• Public education advocates have launched an electronic petition drive asking Texans to support more funding for public schools and teachers. The petitions will be presented to the Lege on April 17, the opening day of the special session on school finance. Advocates hope to convince lawmakers to craft a plan that accomplishes more than the proposed tax swap recommended by the governor's Tax Reform Commission. Organizations participating in the petition drive include the Citizens Commission on Education Excellence, Friends of Public Schools, Texas Impact, and the Baptist-Christian Life Commission, among several others. Supporters of more school funding can add their names to the petition at www.fundtexasschools.org. – A.S.

• Leery of new sewage-treatment plans for a Hill Country community near the Hays/Travis County line that calls for releasing 800,000 gallons per day of treated sewage directly into Bear Creek – which recharges the Edwards and Trinity aquifers as well as many area residents' water wells – downstream neighbors and a posse of area groups, including local governing bodies, are demanding alternatives and the denial of a required TCEQ permit. The plan, initiated by Hays Co. Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, seeks to vastly boost current treatment capacity of 150,000 gallons a day (now discharged by drip irrigation on 35 acres of greenspace), primarily to serve Belterra, a growing 1,600-acre "premier master-planned community" where residents can "experience life wide open." Charles O'Dell, who lives a mile downstream and runs Hays County Community Action Network, calls the plans unprecedented for the Hill Country, and suggests that Mak Foster Ranch LP, an affiliate of California real estate and development firm Makar Properties LLC and developer of Belterra and other Hill Country subdivisions, is controlling the utility district and is behind the plans. Makar couldn't be reached at press time. See www.hillcountryalliance.org for more info. – D.M.

• Twenty new ethanol pumps are coming to Texas thanks to a partnership announced last Thursday between the state, Kroger grocery stores, General Motors, and Spanish biofuel maker Abengoa Bioenergy. Unfortunately, they're destined for Houston and Dallas, not Austin. Stacy Neef, coordinator of Central Texas Clean Cities, says negotiations are under way to have ethanol pumps in Austin in 12 to 18 months. Speakers at the state Capitol event were flanked by a veritable marina of ethanol-compatible GM land yachts – the Tahoe, Impala, and Avalanche – all emblazoned with GM's "Live Green, Go Yellow" slogan, as they fancied oil independence and clean air. The fuel, known as E85, is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. While corn has been the feed crop of choice (hence the "Go Yellow," Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said other Texas crops – such as grasslike grain sorghum, timber, rice hulls, and sugar cane – could also be used. More info at www.e85fuel.com. – D.M.

• The Texas League of Women Voters has announced its support for legislation to protect medi-pot use by ill patients. According to a new policy statement, the LWV is encouraging lawmakers working on issues related to drug abuse and addiction to craft a law that "include[s] no criminal penalties for cannabis … possession when recommended by a physician." Noelle Davis, executive director of Texans for Medical Marijuana, said she's "really excited" by the LWV position. "The League is a very mainstream organization, and they took the time to look at both sides before coming to this conclusion," Davis said. Texas legislators in 2001 (Terry Keel), and in 2005 (Elliott Naishtat, joined by Keel and Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas) authored medi-pot bills; despite public support for medi-pot, both bills died in committee. But nearly 30 states have already passed laws supporting medi-pot – including 12 that legalize it outright – indicating, in part, that legislators will likely be asked to consider the issue again during the 2007 regular session. – J.S.

• Plenty of consumer advocates consider the Internal Revenue Service's proposed plan to share taxpayer information more broadly with third-party vendors to be a bad idea, and that includes Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has joined 46 other state attorney generals in protesting the proposed rule change. Abbott says he fears identity theft. Beth McConnell – who testified on Tuesday before the IRS on the rule change, representing the state chapters of the Public Interest Research Group – says that tax returns are a window into an individual's personal financial life that needs to remain closed: "Any proposal to allow our tax returns to be released to the highest bidder should be rejected." The IRS has announced no final timeline for the rule change and could still choose to abandon the proposal. – K.R.

• Taking into account the ongoing work of the Texas Tax Reform Commission and efforts to update the TCEQ's penalty policy, a group of nonprofits have offered a series of "green tax" proposals that they hope can address the state's property tax, school funding, and pollution issues. The proposals, submitted to the Tax Reform Commission Friday, along with 600 supporting letters, would implement a tax on coal use and increase penalties on environmental lawbreakers by recovering the economic benefit they gained from not complying with the law. A recent report by the Texas Center for Policy Studies claims the green taxes could generate $1.5 billion over the next two years. "Hopefully the proposals will become part of the tax commission's draft proposal, to be sent to the Legislature April 17," said Public Citizen Director Tom "Smitty" Smith. Environment Texas' Luke Metzger pointed to a 2003 state auditor study reporting that environmental law violators were making eight times more from breaking the law than the TCEQ penalties they were forced to pay. – D.M.

Louisiana Medicaid health care coverage and/or Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program coverage is ending for hurricane evacuees living in Texas and nine other states. "The Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals Medicaid Program will send letters to Louisiana Medicaid and LaCHIP enrollees … explaining that they have 45 days before their Medicaid coverage from Louisiana will end. This is an extension from the 10 days notice Medicaid normally gives to people when coverage is ending," says a state press release. Evacuees can apply for CHIP and Medicaid for children in Texas, or just find out more about the programs, by visiting www.texcarepartnership.com/CHIP-About-TexCarePartnership.htm, or by calling 800/647-6558. For info on Medicaid in general, plus other Texas Health and Human Services programs, call 211 or go to www.hhsc.state.tx.us/Programs/Programs.html. – Cheryl Smith

  • More of the Story

  • Keeping Austin From Getting E-Wasted

    A local school and area activists step up their efforts to recycle electronic waste

    Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office

    After year of screwups in the Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office, Chief ME Roberto Bayardo announces that he will retire

    Navasky & Barsamian

    Former editor of The Nation discusses the role of the alternative press
  • Tom DeLay Throws in the Towel

    Former majority leader feared getting hammered by one of his own redistricting victims.

    Immigrant Supporters Make Themselves Heard

    Millions of people across the country take to streets in response to anti-immigrant legislation

    The Voucher Game

    As a result of a flawed, out-of-date funding formula, Bush's current $15.9 billion budget request to Congress for 2007 Section 8 funds would cut about 20,000 vouchers from 70% of housing agencies across the country, report documents

    Elementaries Spared Axe

    Forgione withdraws long-fought-about proposal to close Becker and Oak Springs elementaries

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