Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"There is a better way to show support for our troops than just sending more of them to be killed.
Unless we move forward to place firm limitations on appropriations, we will leave this war-making president restrained only by Dick Cheney's imagination." Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, arguing for a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's "surge" of troops to Iraq. The resolution passed 246-182.
Quote of the Week
Despite last-ditch efforts to work a deal with the feds, the long-unfinished carcass of the Intel building is scheduled for a demolition by implosion at 7am Sunday morning, to be replaced by a new federal courthouse. As of press time, the city hadn't officially designated any areas for public viewing; however, an announcement will be made before the weekend. (See "Farewell, Intel Shell"for more.)
Austin Judge Stephen Yelenosky derailed (at least temporarily) Gov. Rick Perry's 2005 executive order fast-tracking coal-plant permitting ruling on Tuesday that Perry lacked constitutional authority to dictate an accelerated timetable. See details on p.15.
In another slap at Perry's presumption of executive power, House members announced legislation to overturn his executive order mandating the vaccination of young girls against the human papillomavirus and said they have at least 90 sponsors for the measure.
For the first time in 29 years, the Texas House and Senate both voted to exceed the constitutionally mandated spending cap in order to pay for last session's school-finance reform and related property-tax cuts although no actual budget has been drafted yet.
The U.S. Senate failed Saturday to act on a nonbinding resolution against the Bush administration's escalation of the war in Iraq, as Democrats could not convince enough Republicans to reach 60 votes for closure. The House earlier passed a resolution opposing the increase in troops. Opponents say they'll now look at other tactics to impose limits on further escalation.
SaveTownLake.org will hold a rally of concerned citizens in front of City Hall at 5:30pm Tuesday, Feb. 27. The rally draws attention to new developments proposed directly on the shores of Town Lake, which are seeking variances from the city to build closer to the shoreline than allowed in the Waterfront Overlay District. Specifically, the nonprofit hopes to demonstrate strong citizen interest to the Parks and Recreation Board voting that same night on variances sought by CWS Capital Partners to build condo towers at 222/300 E. Riverside and the Planning Commission voting on variances requested by Star Riverside development for 1300 E. Riverside. For more, see www.savetownlake.org. Katherine Gregor
Law enforcers from 150 jurisdictions across the state are banding together for the state's largest-ever warrant roundup, to begin March 3. Class C misdemeanor scofflaws folks who have ignored tickets for parking violations, city-ordinance violations, and various criminal charges (such as being drunk in public) are the main target of the roundup, which includes citations issued locally by APD, and coordinated with warrant enforcement activities from around the state. Thousands of notices have been mailed out, and officials are urging offenders to pay up before the roundup. Individuals with unpaid tickets will go to jail, officials warn, which could be an "inconvenience and an embarrassment," notes a city press release. For more on paying outstanding tickets, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/court. Jordan Smith
Have a park-improvement project that you'd like to see happen? Thanks to the Rolling Stones concert held in Zilker Park last fall, the funds could be available. The Stones' presenters Capital Sports & Entertainment and Charles Attal Presents agreed to donate part of the proceeds as a way to "give back" to Zilker Park and the surrounding neighborhoods affected by their events. (They're doing the same thing with the Austin City Limits Festival.) As a result, the Austin Parks Foundation received $300,000. The city will use half of that to fund the next phase of an irrigation system for Zilker Park, which, appropriately, helps mitigate heavy public use at big events. The other $150,000 is now available for neighborhood park-improvement grants. The eligible neighborhood associations are Zilker, Barton Hills, and Bouldin Creek (all near Zilker Park), plus Old West Austin and the West Austin Neighborhood Group (which also endure traffic and noise impacts from events) and Rollingwood. The neighborhood groups will help select the projects to be funded. For example, Barton Hills will bankroll the Greenbelt Guardian; this volunteer group recently improved the Homedale and Gus Fruh greenbelt-access trails through restoration, new stone retaining walls, new signage, and removal of nonnative plants. If you have a bright idea for a parks-improvement project, call a neighborhood association, and get involved. K.G.
This Friday, Brushy Creek Elementary fourth-graders will learn the nuances of proper toothbrushing with the help of an oversized toothbrush, giant plastic teeth, and a giraffe named Geena. The presentation is part of Round Rock dentist Fredrick Lewcock's outreach for National Children's Dental Health Month. With students nationwide losing more than 51 million school hours annually to dental-related illness, schools have good reason to promote preventative care, especially to low-income children, among whom 50% of tooth decay goes untreated. To meet those children's needs, Travis County's Title I schools have partnered with the St. David's Community Health Foundation Leadership, whose five mobile clinics (up from last year's two) allow volunteer dentists to perform free exams and even tooth extractions right on school grounds. Last year, the program screened 30,000 children and treated 5,000, and while it will triple those numbers in 2007, "It doesn't even begin to touch the need," says program director Marsha Cook. Nora Ankrum
Austin teachers are eligible for a grant that could provide up to $10,000 to create or supplement arts and music classes. Victoria Knight-McDowell, creator of Airborne herbal cough syrup, will provide $250,000 to teachers across 25 states, including Texas. "With budgets becoming tighter each year," she says, "schools are faced with the difficult decisions of having to cut vital programs." The grants can be used for anything from supplies to special programs. Teachers can apply at www.airbornetrust.com. Michael May
February is Black History Month; several related events are planned throughout the city over the next few days. For a partial list, see p.66.
Opponents of dirty coal rejoiced Tuesday evening when a Travis County district judge issued a temporary injunction instructing state administrative hearings judges to ignore Gov. Perry's 2005 executive order fast-tracking coal-plant permitting as hearings were set to begin Wednesday on six TXU plants, consolidated into one case under Perry's order. The hearings were set to proceed at press time, with the possibility of being delayed and rescheduled at a slower pace; the ruling could have broad implications on the state's proposed 17-plant coal rush. Austin Judge Stephen Yelenosky upheld arguments brought by two rural citizens groups directly impacted by the plants and overwhelmed by the fast-track that Perry lacked the constitutional authority to dictate an accelerated timetable to State Office of Administrative Hearings judges, who hear public testimony and recommend or deny permit approvals to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Tuesday night at the Waco Convention Center rallying behind the Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition, a group of 36 cities, counties, and school boards organized by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller Steve Sussman, the coalition's pro bono lawyer, told the crowd that he seeks to prove there is no energy crisis and that TXU's billion-dollar 11-plant plan has nothing to do with affordable energy and everything to do with locking out competitors (including cleaner alternatives) while pumping as much carbon dioxide as possible into the air in hopes of profiting from anticipated federal climate-change emissions cap and trade laws. Sussman says he has the witnesses and high-level TXU documents to prove it. Daniel Mottola
Beyond City Limits
On a related note, the new report, "Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.: Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions From Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030," released recently by the American Solar Energy Society, represents perhaps the most comprehensive road map for what the U.S. can do to halt and reverse the effects of climate change. With contributions from the nation's top scientists, engineers, and energy experts, the report also definitively illustrates how we can curb climate change while maintaining ample energy supplies without resorting to outdated and polluting fossil-fuel sources. Depicted in unique wedge graphs, the report lays out precisely how key carbon reductions can be achieved through phasing out fossil-energy sources while phasing in energy-efficiency measures and renewable-energy resources. Edited by Chuck Kutscher of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the report combines the results of six individual reports examining possible carbon reductions from energy efficiency in buildings, transportation, and industry and from renewable-energy technologies. Download the full report at www.ases.org/climatechange. D.M.
On Friday, Feb. 16, an eight-months-pregnant mother of two was released, along with her 4- and 9-year-old daughters, from the T. Don Hutto Residential Center after 3½ months of incarceration. The woman, who is from Honduras, entered the U.S. illegally by crossing the border on foot, a victim of domestic violence seeking asylum in the U.S. "In many Latin American countries, police departments don't protect victims of domestic violence," explained Frances Valdez of the UT Immigration Center, who is representing the woman. Valdez says that her client, whose identity is being kept secret for her protection, was offered help from a stranger who, after finding her walking on the side of the road with her children, took them to his home and helped her contact her mother, who lives in Houston. The next day, the man's wife apparently talked the woman into turning herself into U.S. Immigration authorities, saying that they would help her. Instead, she and her daughters were arrested for being in the country without documentation and wound up in the prison-turned-"residential facility" north of Austin in Taylor, with a bond set at $18,000, plus separate $3,000 bonds for her children. Valdez's client couldn't pay, so she remained in custody until her sudden release on Friday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials could not answer questions about the decision to forgo the bonds and release the family on their own recognizance; ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda only said, via e-mail, "If a detainee needs to be released from ICE custody due to medical reasons, ICE and [Public Health Services] will determine that on a case by case basis." No matter the reasoning, members of Texans United for Families, which has led numerous protests and vigils to draw attention to the facility, are pleased with the outcome. "We don't know exactly why they chose to release her, but we'd like them to exercise that discretion more often," says Rebecca Bernhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union, part of TUFF. Diana Welch
Spc. Mark Wilkerson's court martial is scheduled to take place today at Fort Hood in Killeen, where the war resister turned himself in on Aug. 31, 2006, after a year and a half of living in hiding as an absent-without-leave soldier. Facing redeployment, he made the decision to go AWOL after his application for conscientious-objector status, which he had filed within a month of returning from his first tour in Iraq, was denied. After pleading guilty to missing troop movement and desertion, he faces up to 10 months in prison. For more on Wilkerson's story, see "Soldier of Morality," Sept. 8, 2006. D.W.
Around 200 activists will descend on Wimberley next weekend, March 2-5, for the eighth annual Radical Encuentro camp, a grassroots-organizers convention of sorts that, in true light-footprint fashion, gathers at a campsite rather than a conference center and features three vegan squares a day in lieu of the usual coffee and pastries. Radical Encuentro (www.radicalencuentro.org) started as the Radical Education Community but later adopted the Zapatista-coined "encuentro" "encounter" as more descriptive of its gatherings, which bring together diverse activist groups not only for skills-training and issue education but for meaningful encounters (or, as they put it, "building solidarity," an arguably more eloquent turn of phrase than its conference-speak counterpart, "networking"). RE will include workshops on everything from media skills to "creative strategic campaigning," with a special focus this year on utility company TXU's 11 proposed coal plants. While global warming is on the tip of everyone's tongues right now, RE's 2007 theme, Climate Change and Climate Justice, emphasizes not just the science of the matter but its disproportionate impact on different groups of people; panels include members of New Mexico's Dine tribe, who are fighting coal extraction from their land, as well as Appalachia and Gulf Coast residents. N.A.
Partiers, art and culture freaks, patrons of the Big Easy, the hurricane of all charitable party causes is upon us. According to the Associated Press, the city of New Orleans has started an online and text-message fundraising campaign to help pay for its annual Mardi Gras celebration. It's too late to get in on the hardcore revelry this year, as Carnival season peaked Feb. 20 with Fat Tuesday, but that doesn't mean the well for giving to the mother of all U.S. Carnival celebrations has run dry. The campaign's goal is to generate $1 million by Carnival 2008. Cell-phone users with PayPal accounts can donate by texting a code and a dollar amount to a specified phone number. To donate online, go to www.cityofno.com/portal.aspx?tabid=86 and click on "Mardi Gras Sponsorship & Support Program." Cheryl Smith