"Our PUD process is broken.
Our current way of doing business is broken if we don't want to have a city that looks like California with a $400,000 housing average." City Council Member Brewster McCracken, after a trying, three-day meeting to resolve the Concordia redevelopment zoning negotiations (see "Beside the Point" and "Developing Stories").
Quote of the Week
After weeks of negotiations and three days of unusual City Council special sessions, the Hancock Neighborhood Association and developers East Avenue IG came to an agreement (and a rezoning ordinance) to allow redevelopment of the Concordia University campus site along I-35 allowing the school to move to Northwest Austin. See "Developing Stories."
The AISD special election campaign, heading for a May 12 vote, began in earnest this week, with four candidates vying for the District 2 position currently held by Rudy Montoya Jr., who is stepping down.
State House committees began formal consideration of the 2007-'08 budget this week, with dustups expected over education and health care, as well as over a House rule prohibiting increases in total state budget funding.
Thanks to a string of recent deluges, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District voted last week to remove the aquifer's Alarm Stage Drought status and declare a No Drought condition. Critical Stage drought, the most serious groundwater shortage level, was declared last September for the first time in the BS/EACD's 20-year history; it was downgraded to Alarm Stage in January. Though monitoring wells now show levels more than a foot above Alarm Stage levels, the BS/EACD cautions that the aquifer still remains well below its long-term average water level. The district's water-conservation period extends from May to September, and folks are urged to voluntarily conserve and to hold off on trying to re-establish lost vegetation with heavy watering. Automatic sprinkler owners are asked to monitor and maintain their systems and to only water when necessary. Find drought updates and conservation tips at www.bseacd.org. Daniel Mottola
KLBJ-FM rock icon Johnny Walker was officially canned last week, as part of a companywide shake-up in the local offices of Emmis Communications. Emmis also dumped Hot 93.3 part-time nighttime co-host "Austin" and KLBJ-FM program assistant and on-air personality "A.D." The moves follow a management reconfiguration at the local station group, including a new operations manager and program director. "We're having to redeploy some resources" as the company looks to expands its Web content and other formats, said group general manager Scott Gillmore. Walker, who used to be routinely voted one of the top radio personalities in the Chronicle's annual Austin Music Awards, lost his full-time afternoon job in 2004. He was switched to part-time and was heard on tape on weekday evenings. "Frankly, nights were not performing well for us on KLBJ-FM," Gillmore said. Kevin Brass
Travis Co. commissioners unanimously approved participation in a 20-year tax-increment finance district for the Waller Creek tunnel project on Tuesday. The county's participation will be half of any incremental increases in tax revenue. The only opposition came from neighborhood activist Jeff Jack, who suggested that landowners should pay for their own improvements in order to preserve tax dollars. Council must still approve the deal, which is considered a foregone conclusion at this point. An interlocal agreement should be signed in about six weeks. Kimberly Reeves
The Historic Landmark Commission heard the case of the demolition of Kilian Hall on the Concordia University campus on Monday night, a rather curious fact, given that council approved new zoning for a major high-rise multiuse development on the site hours earlier. The two-story Spanish Colonial Kilian Hall was the original building on campus, and the university intends to take pieces of it to its new location in far North Austin. The commission, seeing the writing on the wall, reluctantly agreed to the demolition permit on the building. For more on Concordia's move, see "Developing Stories." K.R.
The Travis County Healthcare District's board of managers approved a tentative transition plan last week for the county's health-care clinics, which are still being run by the city. Under the plan, a 501c3 nonprofit agency would be created to handle the administration of the clinics; the district would continue to act as fiscal agent. This will continue an arm's length relationship with specific health-care operations, which will let the board continue to focus on health-care policy, said board Chair Clarke Heidrick. The plan requires federal approval. K.R.
Austin Police say 50-year-old David Lozano is being charged with attempted capital murder for shooting at Roger Boudreau, a four-year veteran APD officer, during a response to a family-disturbance police call just after midnight on March 21. As Boudreau approached the front door of a house at 1205 Silverton Court in Northeast Austin, police say he could hear a "verbal disturbance" inside; when he knocked on the door, he heard what he believed was "a round being chambered into a gun" as Lozano approached the door from inside. Lozano opened the door and opened fire on Boudreau, according to a department press release, missing the officer who took cover and fired back, striking Lozano. Lozano went back inside the house but later surrendered and was taken to Brackenridge Hospital, where he was charged with Boudreau's attempted murder, a first-degree felony. Unless Lozano can post a $300,000 bail, he'll go to jail upon release from the hospital. Jordan Smith
Also, it was just after 10:30pm on March 22 when Travis County Sheriff's Office deputies at the Precinct 4 substation in Southeast Travis Co. heard gunshots. As it turned out, the shots were coming from a car driven by 22-year-old Jose Roberto Vallejo, who was passing by the substation. Vallejo took off when the deputies came outside. He sped down FM 812 with the deputies in pursuit running into a TCSO patrol car at one point, forcing it off the road, damaging it, and sending Deputy Demetrio Medina to the hospital with minor injuries. Vallejo, driving at speeds of up to 100 mph, turned onto Highway 21 West into Bastrop Co., where he finally pulled over, got out of the car, and started shooting at the two deputies still in pursuit David Carroll and Juan Arispe. They returned fire, striking and killing Vallejo, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Sheriff Greg Hamilton has asked the Texas Rangers to lead the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting, which is pending. Meanwhile, TCSO's Internal Affairs Unit is also investigating the case; when the two investigations are complete, the case will be presented to a Bastrop Co. grand jury for review. Carroll and Arispe have been placed on "administrative duties" pending the outcome of the investigation. J.S.
Those grand arbiters of the universe at Men's Journal have named Austin one of the Top 5 places in the country to "embrace urban life." According to the Journal, "There are always two versions of the city jostling for position. The older version is the friendly, funky college town that's long been a countercultural capital (think Matthew McConaughey). Then there's the newer, glossier version full of high-energy overachievers (Lance Armstrong)." Damned if you do continues the publication, "The good news is that this cultural clash has created a vibrant setting alongside the banks of Town Lake." Yeah, especially at the Planning Commission. Wells Dunbar
The Austin Independent School District is holding a Downtown art exhibit featuring work from each of its 107 schools. "Our Schools Through Our Eyes" features artwork representing each AISD campus. The event is part of the district's celebration of its 125th anniversary and is intended to raise awareness of the history of Austin's schools and the contributions they've made to the city. The exhibit is at the Scarbrough Building at 101 W. Sixth and will remain on display until April 15. Michael May
In other AISD news, Pillow Elementary in North Central Austin was one of seven schools across the country to get the 2007 Excellence in Education Award, given by the National Center for Urban School Transformation at San Diego State University. The award is given to successful schools where a majority of the students come from low-income families. At Pillow, 64% of its 500 students are low income, 70% are Latino or African-American, and 33% are learning English as a second language. The schools were judged by a number of on-site visits, as well as on attendance rates, the number of student suspensions, test scores, and other factors. "Their sustained work over the past several years has proved that all children can succeed at high levels," said Superintendent Pat Forgione of Pillow. M.M.
Austin's Yellow Bike Project held the grand opening last Saturday for its newest bike shop, located at Treasure City Thrift, 1720 E. 12th. In conjunction with the Austin Cycling Association, YBP presented 35Êneighborhood youths, including kids from nearby Blackshear Elementary, with bikesÊdonated and overhauled through the REI-grant-funded Bikes to Schools program. The new shop is equipped for minor repairs like replacing brake cables, fixing flats, and greasing bearings, says YBP.ÊComplete overhauls and multiday projects areÊbetter accommodated atÊYBP's Main Shop at 2012 E. 51st. The Treasure City space is similar to the former satellite shop located behind Wheatsville Co-op, which closed earlier this year to make way for the Co-op's planned expansion. Visit www.austinyellowbike.org for more info. D.M.
Star Wars' R2-D2 is in A-town! Or at least mailboxes decorated to look like the mechanical hero of the Battle of Yavin. Snail mail becomes geek-cool again as letters can now be dropped in the same slot in which Princess Leia hid the plans for the Death Star. The U.S. Postal Service is putting up the special droid-shaped mailboxes at 400 locations around the country to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie. (The postal service will also unveil a commemorative stamp.) R2 mailboxes have been spotted at the northwest corner of Sixth and Congress and the southwest corner of Guadalupe and 24th. Visit www.uspsjedimaster.com to see if there are any more around town. Richard Whittaker
With less than a month until federal taxes are due, here's one question you need to ask yourself: Are you getting back as much money as you could (or should)? According to IRS spokeswoman Lea Crusberg, only about 65% of Texans who have filed their returns filled out a form requesting the so-called Telephone Excise Tax Refund a pot of nearly $13 billion in one-time refund money available for more than 159 million Americans. Here's the scoop: The excise tax was instituted in 1898 on long-distance phone service in essence it was a tax on only the very wealthy, since those were the only folks who could afford phone service. As the information age dawned, the excise tax remained, until May 2006, when the U.S. Treasury Department finally conceded that the tax was antiquated and should be pardon the T-Man pun "disconnected" (and, Treasury Secretary John Snow continued in a press release, "permanently put on the 'do not call list'"). So the feds are trying to give all that money back this tax season well, at least three years' worth of it, since the statute of limitations only goes back that far. People who carried long-distance service between Feb. 28, 2003 and Aug. 1, 2006 are eligible to apply for the refund even people who, because of income level, don't legally have to file income tax. See www.irs.gov/newsroom for more info. J.S.
Beyond City Limits
Big Bend-area residents are up in arms over Texas Department of Transportation's proposed La Entrada al Pacífico trade corridor, a route connecting 18-wheeler traffic from the emerging Mexican Pacific port of Topolobampo (an outlet for Asian-made products) with a distribution center in Midland-Odessa which would exponentially increase Mexican big-rig traffic directly through the sleepy far West Texas towns of Alpine and Marfa (The New York Times reported estimates of more than 1,400 trucks by 2020, compared to 49 today). La Entrada was first given conceptual approval in 1997 by then-guv W. The Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance is now backing the corridor, though TxDOT officials insist the project is far from a done deal; a feasibility study is expected in a year. Fearing damage to the region's thriving tourism and comparatively pristine air quality, virtually all 350 attendees at a March 20 meeting in Alpine reportedly opposed the project. "We own a precious natural resource that is becoming more and more valuable: peace and quiet," Don Dowdey, chairman of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club was quoted as saying. The Alpine City Council passed a resolution urging TxDOT to upgrade the nearby South Orient Railroad seen as a more logical, energy conscious, and less-polluting option by many, including the Sierra Club to carry the freight nonstop from the border to Midland-Odessa. Dowdey told TxDOT, "You're not the Texas department of roads." D.M.
March 22 marked the 35th anniversary of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse's famed report, "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," which concluded that marijuana use and distribution, in large part, should be made legal. The report was the product of the Shafer Commission named after its chair, Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer whose members were appointed by then-President Richard Nixon. Nixon refused to even read the report, which concluded that "neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety" not exactly the kind of message that helps ramp up a federally funded war on dope. (Still, Nixon's response was not unlike that of his contemporaries, who love ignoring science and other considered opinions concluding that drug prohibition is a flop.) Read the entire report online at www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm; for more reefer-related news, see Reefer Madness. J.S.
A gay version of March Madness hit Mexico City this month as same-sex partners began taking advantage of a new law allowing civil unions in the country's capital. As a fitting tribute to their new legal recognition, two lawyers became the first couple to tie the knot in a small City Hall ceremony March 16, according to Reuters. City leaders approved the civil-union law in November, causing heads to spin within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Mexico is one of the largest Catholic countries in the world. Church officials have denounced the new liberalism in Mexico City government, calling the trend "Hitlerian" and warning Catholics not to vote for the liberal Party of the Democratic Revolution, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese told the news service, "A Catholic who votes for one of these [politicians] has a huge lack of values." Amy Smith
Also, Mexico's highest-ranking rights official recently told the country's Senate Commission on Human Rights, "The Mexican government was an accomplice in the killing of 20 people in last year's conflict in the tourist city of Oaxaca and permitted torture and illegal arrests," reports Reuters. José Luis Soberanes, head of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, said in presenting the report to the commission on March 15, "'Authorities and public officials either by action or omission caused rights violations,' including the right to life of 20 people." During an approximate six months of turmoil, a combination of striking teachers, indigenous groups, students, and leftists was demanding the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, saying his 2004 election was fraudulent and that his government consistently retaliated against dissenters. "[P]olice used excessive force, threats, illegal arrests and torture to take back the city from protesters and blamed the government for badly managing the crisis," Soberanes said. He also said the protesters "exceeded their right to legitimate protest in some cases," and "warned the conflict had not been resolved and could flare up again." For ongoing Oaxaca coverage, see www.narconews.com; for past Chronicle reporting, see "Oaxaca Turmoil Touches Austin," Dec. 8, 2006. Cheryl Smith