Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"Why should you hold up a several hundred million dollar investment because of a small little restaurant?" J. Willard Marriott, CEO of Marriott International Inc., who wants to build a hotel where Las Manitas now sits; quoted in the Statesman.
Quote of the Week
Austin, and especially its country music community, said goodbye on Monday to Don Walser God's own yodeler and the nicest man in the world. Walser passed away on Sept. 20 at age 72. More in our Music section.
Democratic bloggers continued digging up old politically incorrect quotes from Kinky Friedman over the past week in an attempt to tar him as racist; Kinky responded about how you'd expect. See our election coverage.
Much to the Bush administration's consternation, portions of a National Intelligence Estimate leaked this week, with assertions that surprise! the Iraq war is actually increasing, not eliminating, radical Islamic terrorism. Who'da thunk?
After 10 years of volunteer service, AISD board vice-president and trustee Rudy Montoya submitted his resignation to the other eight trustees Monday night. Explaining his decision in a letter to his colleagues, Montoya cited his new responsibilities as the head of the Information Technology division for the office of the attorney general. Montoya, who represented East and Southeast Austin in District 2, was the longest-serving member of the board. Trustees said they were sorry to lose him but were thankful for his years of service. "He has been a clear and strong voice for thoughtful decision-making, especially during our most trying and financially challenging times. His rigorous thinking and quiet leadership have consistently supported the board's careful balancing of the competing demands of so many worthy sectors," Superintendent Pat Forgione said. The resignation will become effective Nov. 13. Michael May
In other AISD board news, the school district is considering granting a $4.1 million tax break for a Hewlett-Packard data center. The district won't actually lose any tax revenue in the deal; by law, the state must compensate it for any tax breaks designed to attract jobs. Still, the tax break will affect the amount of money Texas could spend on education overall, and the district will have to pay for educating any children whose parents relocate to Austin for the new jobs. The company has promised to contribute $600,000 to the district in both contributions and resources and to encourage its employees to mentor and tutor students. The computer maker plans to build two data centers that would employ 280 people at around $60,000 a year. The AISD board plans to vote on the proposal on Oct. 9. M.M.
Also in local education news, AISD dignitaries dusted off their ceremonial shovels and on Sept. 21 broke ground on the fifth school that will be built with funds from the $519.5 million bond voters approved in 2004. The school, which will be named for longtime education volunteer John Blazier, is located off of Slaughter in South Austin, just east of I-35. A total of eight schools six middle schools and two elementaries will be built to meet the needs of the fast-growing, 80,000-student district; two new schools, Perez and Clayton elementaries, opened in August. Blazier Elementary should open its doors to its 600 students in August 2007. M.M.
Also, the UT System has agreed to release the location of some but not all of its security cameras on campus, finally settling a 3-year-old open-records request the university newspaper filed with its university. Then reporter Jonathan Young of The Daily Texan had asked for the location of the cameras prior to the state's homeland security law under an open-records request. When Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in favor of the Texan, the UT System took it to court. Under the settlement, UT has agreed to release the location of some cameras; it exempted, among others, cameras at its nuclear-testing lab at the Pickle Research Center. Kimberly Reeves
Council Member Lee Leffingwell has called for the creation of a Water Conservation Task Force. Water, and its protection, is a key issue for Leffingwell, former chair of the Environmental Board. Right now, a number of surrounding communities in Central Texas are facing drought conditions. The first meeting of the task force, which will be open to the public, will be 2:30pm Friday in the Boards and Commissions Room of Austin City Hall. K.R.
The Austin-based National Poultry Justice Alliance representing growers and workers, as well as environmental, public health, religious, and social justice organizations released a statement Monday openly criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan for responding to a U.S. outbreak of bird flu, saying the plan ignores the safety of poultry workers and the public, while protecting big business' bottom line. "The USDA does not address industry practices that increase the risk of spreading avian influenza," the statement reads. "Not only are big poultry producers housing hundreds of thousands of birds, they're moving birds, feed, and supplies, and even poultry waste to be used as fertilizer or to be fed to other animals," says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, adding, "[T]he USDA is incorrectly focusing its attention on small and free-range poultry farmers." Mark Lauritsen of the United Food and Commercial Workers said that while poultry workers would be first exposed to bird flu, the plan fails to ensure they have protective equipment, specialized sanitation, training, human flu vaccinations, and whistle-blower protections for detecting and reporting sick birds. NPJA director Andrea Whiteis said the USDA plan provides compensation for the large poultry companies that own birds, while workers and farmers who contract with them stand to lose their entire livelihood. Daniel Mottola
Longtime City Commissioner Jean Mather, who currently sits on the Historic Landmark Commission, had strong questions this week about whether the new McMansion ordinance was doing its job. This month, as it is every month, the Historic Landmark Commission was faced with multiple cases of teardowns in urban neighborhoods primarily Hyde Park and Pemberton where the new home construction would be far out of scale with its neighbors. Yet each case met the new code requirements. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky confirms that demolition permits on older houses are up in the city probably triple what they were last year and says that part of the problem is the fact that neighborhoods are still preparing local historic district applications. The new local historic districts are intended to decrease teardowns by requiring compatible construction. Historic neighborhoods are concerned because some of the homes under demolition threat could be contributing to their local historic districts. K.R.
The Austin Police Department's Cold Case Unit on Sept. 21 arrested 58-year-old Jose "Joe" Reyes for the 1983 murder of Esther Gervara Broberg. On May 22, 1983, softball players found Broberg's nude body, her clothing strewn nearby, in Givens District Park on East 12th. Police said Broberg had been sexually assaulted and stabbed multiple times. Although police quickly found three suspects, there wasn't enough evidence to take the case to trial, and the investigation went cold. That changed when detectives reopened the case earlier this year and found a DNA sample collected from the crime scene; last week police said the sample matched Reyes, one of the three original suspects. A Travis Co. grand jury has indicted Reyes on a charge of capital murder; he remains in the Travis County Jail on a $250,000 bond. Police say that Broberg and Reyes were acquaintances but have declined to elaborate detectives believe Reyes may have had at least one accomplice and are asking anyone with information to call the homicide tip line at 477-3588 or Capital Area Crime Stoppers at 472-8477. Jordan Smith
In other crime news, this week the city announced the beginning of its student safety coalition, a joint project between the city, the APD, UT, and its student government and service groups. During the City Council meeting proposing the coalition, Council Member Jennifer Kim said there have been four deaths, 18 reported rapes, and more than 3,000 thefts in the 78705 ZIP code abutting campus. High-profile incidents in West Campus, such as the death and mutilation of Jennifer Cave, have also drawn attention to security concerns. "Through creation of this coalition, we are taking steps to create a safer place for students throughout our community," said Kim in a press release. The group is scheduled to meet three times during the fall semester and twice in the spring. Wells Dunbar
Also, the sit-in protesting the United States' policy of not letting open gays into the military that we reported on last week apparently got a lot more heated after we left. Rebecca Solomon and Jesus Sanchez were arrested Tuesday, Sept. 19, and subsequently charged with criminal trespassing, a Class C misdemeanor, after, according to an e-mail from Solomon, dashing into the military recruitment center at Dobie Mall when someone left the building and didn't lock the door. Both Solomon, 18, and Sanchez, 24, are openly gay and have been told they can't serve their country for that reason. "There are currently approximately 64,000 people serving in silence," said Solomon, referring to the military's current Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, at a press conference before she and Sanchez began their sit-in outside the recruitment center. "We are here as openly gay people who want to enlist and are ready to serve our country." Cheryl Smith
A group known as Chain Free Austin expects to propose a new city ordinance in the coming weeks. No, it's not meant to eliminate local bondage pervs but rather the perverse practice of chaining or tethering dogs for extended periods of time. Chain Free's Lyndon Poole listed a series of recent, real-life examples of how chaining has led to serious attacks on children and dog deaths. The law would have an exemption for temporary animal functions, such as vet visits, grooming, and obedience training, and for temporary tasks as long as the owner or handler is present throughout the task. Poole pointed out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded that continuous confinement of dogs by tethering is inhumane and that 11 cities nationwide have banned chaining so far. "Our purpose is to protect children who come in contact with chained or tethered dogs and to encourage more humane treatment of dogs," Poole said. Still in the early draft stages, the proposed ordinance already has the support of the Texas Federation of Humane Societies, the Texas Humane Legislation Network, and three local pet-owner organizations, according to Poole. Chain Free Austin should have a Web site up in the next few weeks. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. D.M.
Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region last week announced the retirement of 16-year veteran CEO Glenda Parks, effective Sept. 26. "Glenda's vision and work ethic are the reasons that Planned Parenthood in Austin is a vital link in the safety-net system in Austin," said board Chair Elyse Yates in a press release. "She has been the steady hand at the helm as the agency has grown and triumphed over obstacles these last few years." Ken Lambrecht, the agency's operation officer, has been named interim CEO. J.S.
The Planning Commission is looking for a little intervention planning, not divine in the upcoming case for a new zoning overlay for the former Concordia University site. In the case, which will make its way to the commission in October, developers want to turn the soon-to-be-former university campus into a mixed-use, high-density, walking community with more than 1,200 apartments, office space, and a 250-room hotel. In a recent plea to a commission subcommittee, the Hancock Neighborhood Association noted that the city has rarely attempted such a large-scale development the Concordia campus is 22 acres without the guidance of a planner like design group ROMA. The commissioners agreed and asked staff to try to arrange more mediation before the case moves to the commission. K.R.
Robert Conran an old-school crooner and expert flamenco dancer who was imprisoned for six years for a crime he most likely did not commit and then deported to England after losing his bid for a full pardon by just two votes of the Board of Pardons and Paroles died in England earlier this month, after losing a battle with hepatitis C. Conran was convicted for the 1996 robbery of the Furr's Cafeteria on South Lamar based on the testimony of a single eyewitness the cafeteria cashier, who said that when Conran came in to eat at Furr's the day after the robbery, she recognized him as the man who stole nearly $1,000 from the till the previous evening. Despite serious inconsistencies in the cashier's testimony, Conran was sentenced to seven years. Under normal circumstances, he would have served his time and been released, but because he was a British citizen, even though he'd emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 6 years old, Conran's release from prison meant transfer to an immigration detention facility outside of Houston and deportation in 2002. While in the Houston facility, Conran had a cancerous kidney removed, and once in England, his health began to decline, says his sister, Elaine, until problems with his liver and remaining kidney "became too much for his body to take." Conran died Sept. 5, with family by his side, at the Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. (To read Conran's story, see "Now Serving
Time," June 29, 2001.) J.S.
Beyond City Limits
Underwater basket weaving is nowhere to be found, but there's no dearth of academic tomfoolery in the "10 most moronic college courses in America" list online in Radar Magazine. Clocking in at a respectable No. 8, between UC-Santa Cruz's "Muppet Magic: Jim Henson's Art" and a class devoted to the incarcerated queen bee, rapper Lil' Kim, is UT-Austin. Singled out for abuse is the course "Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond." The course description states we "won't be learning any one language specifically, but we will be learning about the art, ideas, and goals behind invented languages using diverse sources from literature, the internet, films, video games, and other aspects of popular culture." Still, this dive into the Trekkie lexicon at nerd factor 9 "will consider constructed/invented languages from a variety of viewpoints, such as languages created as fictional plot devices, for philosophical debates, to serve an international function, and languages created for private fun." So maybe my poli-sci dissertation on Battlestar Galactica is worth its salt after all. For the complete list, go to here. W.D.