"What Las Manitas has given to Austin over the last 25 years is worth much, much more than $100 million." Jim Walker, Liveable City (see "Point Austin")
Quote of the Week
Former City Council member (1971-'74) and Mayor (1975-'77) Jeff Friedman, credited with bringing contemporary city politics to Austin, died June 7 at the age of 62 after a heart attack. Since stepping down from office, he had practiced law; he ran again for mayor and lost in 1988.
The search for a new police chief entered its last days, with the five finalists meeting this week with officials, the public, and the media. City Manager Toby Futrell is expected to recommend her choice to council this week for consideration June 21. See "Unsuspended Judgments."
Kevin Alexander Brown was laid to rest Friday, June 8, as the investigation continued into his June 3 death. Brown was shot dead by Austin Police Department Sgt. Michael Olsen near Chester's Eastside after-hours club. See "Unsuspended Judgments."
City Council approved a $750,000 partially forgivable loan for the Perez sisters, owners of Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, to enable the restaurant to relocate nearby when a Marriott hotel complex is built on the current site. See "Five Good Reasons Las Manitas Deserves a City Loan." at austinchronicle/chronic.
Dog-chaining or tying up a pooch with a rope, cord, or similar type of tether while unattended will be illegal in Austin as of Oct. 1, thanks to an ordinance adopted Thursday by City Council. The group Chain Free Austin has been campaigning for the measure since last September, citing a slew of studies that say chaining is unhealthy for dogs both physically and psychologically, as well as dangerous to people, especially kids, as dogs are twice as likely to attack while chained. Exceptions include lawful animal events, grooming, training, and chaining when the owner is present and outside. If dogs can't be brought inside to live, an enclosed outdoor living area that's at least 150 square feet is permissible. Though it's a relatively cheap and simple do-it-yourself job, depending on your handiness, financial assistance for constructing dog enclosures is available to low-income residents by way of the Austin Community Foundation and Town Lake Animal Shelter. Chain Free Austin will have an online grant application on its website by June 14. For more info, including the full ordinance, go to www.chainfreeaustin.org. Daniel Mottola
The Planning Commission voted 9-0 Tuesday to save the Mean Eyed Cat, approving a cocktail-lounge zoning change it needs in order to continue operation. The request now goes to council. The Mean Eyed Cat is an eclectic beer-bar shrine to Johnny Cash, with much supporting memorabilia; owner Chris Marsh named it after a Cash song his dad sang to him as a lullaby. Adding to the joint's cutting-edge appeal is its blade-bedecked decor, which pays homage to the shack's long history as Cut-Rite Chainshaws. The place became an instant classic soon after opening in 2004; it now is being kept as part of Fifth Street Commons, a large mixed-use project going up in the 1500 block of West Fifth with retail, restaurants, and 138 apartments. Some West Austinites are worried, however, that their neighborhood could be damaged by allowing a precedent-setting den of drunkenness. The bar had been operating under retail zoning, due to opposition from the start from the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. But Marsh never could meet the requirement that more than 50% of sales come from food, as he lacks a kitchen. Hence the request to change to a zoning that allows cocktail lounges. OWANA voiced the only opposition at Planning Commission. On Saturday from 6 to 10pm, the public is invited to the Concert to Stay Mean ($5 cover) at the Cat, to support the zoning change. More than 5,000 Austinites have signed a petition (www.staymean.com) in support of the Cat. A letter from numerous British music-industry luminaries including the Pretenders has arrived in support as well; the Brits hold an annual South by Southwest party there and adore the Texana Johnny Cash cum chain-saw-blade schtick. Katherine Gregor
What's your opinion on the city's budget priorities? If you're one of 12,000 randomly selected households, you can let City Hall know. With budget season well under way (see "Beside the Point," p.18 for details), the city will be sending out surveys to gauge the citizenry's opinion on the fiscal year 2008 budget like, where the hell's all the money for it? Three hundred people will also be selected for a phone survey. See previous years' results at www.cityofaustin.org/budget/citizensurvey.htm. Wells Dunbar
In other city business, on the agenda for next week's council meeting is an ordinance ensuring that all of Austin's municipal uniforms from sanitation workers' jumpers to police officers' blues are made with sweatshop-free labor. The Make Austin SweatFree campaign, a proponent of the measure, notes that Austin will join more than 170 other state and local governments that have said no to sweatshop labor. The State and Local Government SweatFree Consortium will attempt to ensure through monitoring that the city's uniform suppliers have fair, equitable working conditions; 1% of the city's uniform costs will fund the monitoring. Get more info on the nationwide movement against subsidizing sweatshop labor with local dollars at www.sweatfree.org. W.D.
Austin Independent School District Superintendent Pat Forgione presented a preliminary 2007-2008 budget to the AISD board of trustees Monday. The money for the $762.9 million budget would be raised through a $1.178 tax on every $100 of assessed property value, and the largest portion of the budget would go toward paying the district's 11,500 employees who will likely get a 3% raise this year, thanks to an agreement between the district and the teacher's union, Education Austin. The budget also includes $2.3 million that the Texas Legislature granted to the district to spend on incentive pay. The money could be used to attract teachers to high-need campuses or to subject matter where more teachers are needed. The trustees will hold a work session on the budget Monday, June 18, and will listen to citizens' comments at a hearing on Monday, June 25. They're expected to vote on the budget in August. Michael May
AISD trustees approved a plan Monday to give high school teachers 11 mornings during the school year to receive professional development. The teacher training is one aspect of the district's ambitious plan to transform all of its high schools. On these "late start" days, teachers will receive training from 8-10:15am, at which point the school day will begin. All periods, including lunch, will be shorter on those days. The late start days for 2007-2008 are Sept. 24, Oct. 22 and 29, Nov. 26, Dec. 3, Jan. 14 and 21, Feb. 11, March 24 and 31, and April 7. M.M.
Also, trustees confirmed more new principals and administrators Monday, including turnover at three middle schools. Kealing Middle School, which has been through three principals in the past two years, will get another one next year: John Murtrell, who comes from leading a middle school in Krum Independent School District, replaces the controversial Ron Gonzales, who's heading to Pflugerville. Reynaldo Garcia will take over as interim principal after a roller-coaster year at Webb Middle School; he has worked in Seguin ISD and Round Rock ISD. Kimiko Cartwright moves from assistant principal to principal of Murchison Middle School. James Troutman Jr. is coming from Houston to be principal of Pearce Middle School. Christy Rome will be AISD's new director of intergovernmental relations; she has been a senior policy analyst for the Texas Senate Committee on Education since 2002. M.M.
At last Monday's meeting, AISD trustees congratulated a number of award winners. Pillow Elementary School principal Linda Webb and LBJ High School science teacher David Journeay were awarded HEB Excellence in Education Awards. Bowie High School student Samantha McCrary and Small Middle School student Sam Kanoff were both winners in their divisions at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival and Exxon Mobile Texas Science and Engineering Fair. The LBJ High School newspaper, The Liberator, placed third in Best of Show at the National High School Journalism Conference. And the LBJ High School team won first in the state at the Annual Science Olympiad. M.M.
Even though gas prices have begun to drop again, there are still reasons to ride the bus. Thursday, June 21, is National Dump the Pump Day, and Capital Metro is urging local drivers to dump their cars, ride the bus, and "win some bread." The "bread" is a $500 grocery shopping spree that will go to one person who rides the bus on Dump the Pump Day. Go to www.capmetro.org and click the Dump the Pump icon to enter the contest, or complete a form provided on each bus. Cap Met spokesman Adam Shaivitz said ridership on public transportation grew by 30% between 1995 and 2006, a rate that exceeded both population growth and use of the nation's highway system over the same period of time. Kimberly Reeves
In the midst of raging controversy over immigration issues nationwide, Travis Co. has given diversity its due by compiling the 2006-2007 Travis County Immigrant Assessment Report. The report, released June 6, is a compelling and comprehensive take on the county's evolving demographics. Diverse voices, including representatives from government, nonprofit, faith-based, and private sectors, as well as immigrants themselves, contributed to the report, which is refreshingly celebratory rather than unfairly or narrowly alarmist. "The report highlights both the diversity of Travis County's immigrant population and its significant growth," said Rachel Coff, of the Travis County Health & Human Services Research & Planning Division. According to the report, between 1990 and 2005, Travis County's foreign-born population grew by almost 230%. Other statistical highlights include: In 2005, 17% of Travis Co. residents were foreign-born, 51% of Travis Co. immigrants were from Mexico and 24% from Asia, and 32% of Travis Co. residents speak a language other than English at home about 254,000 people, the majority of whom are fluent in English. See www.co.travis.tx.us/health_human_services/research_planning/default.asp to view the report. Patricia J. Ruland
Calling all public comments: Travis County will receive a $848,245 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant, awarded to benefit low- to moderate-income residents living outside any city limits, and Travis Co. Commissioners Court and CDBG staff are seeking input on how best to spend the money. HUD grants money to communities to help fund social services, roads and water systems, job creation, recreational buildings, and affordable and decent housing, among other priorities. After a series of public hearings in February and March, the county consolidated the best prospects for spending this grant money in a Year Two Action Plan (2007); during the 30-day public comment period June 20 through July 19 residents and service providers can respond to the these documents, which will be available for review at www.co.travis.tx.us. Paper copies will be available at the following community centers: South Rural in Del Valle, Travis County in Pflugerville, West Rural in Oak Hill, Northwest Rural in Jonestown, East Rural in Manor, and Palm Square and Post Road, both in Austin. In addition, public hearings are scheduled for 9am on June 26 and 6pm on July 10, before the Travis Co. Commissioners Court at the Ned Granger Administration Building, 314 W. 11th. Or submit comments in writing to CDBG Program, Travis County HHSVS, PO Box 1748, Austin, TX 78767 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. P.J.R.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, crime decreased 5.3% overall in 2006. Statewide, the rate of property crime fell 5.7% last year, while violent crime decreased 2.3%. "While this is encouraging, there is still much work to be done," said DPS Col. Thomas A. Davis in a recent press statement. The crime numbers are collected by DPS from law enforcement agencies across the state for 2006, slightly more than 1,000 agencies filed crime stats with the agency, representing 99.9% of the state population, DPS reports. (The stats collected by DPS are also collected and tracked by the FBI, which puts out an annual nationwide Uniform Crime Report.) While the overall property crime rate dropped, the number of robberies statewide actually increased, up 4.2% last year. In Austin, DPS reports a 0.4% increase in the overall crime rate in essence, a statistical flatline. Austin did see an increase in the number of robberies reported to police, however, up 14.9%; burglary also saw a slight increase, up 2.5% over 2005. Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits
New federal rules many believed would effectively shut down the U.S. wind-power industry were removed from pending energy legislation last week. Originally added by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., supposedly to protect birds, bats, and other wildlife, the rules would have halted many operational and under-construction wind projects while new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations were written for up to a year, many feared and while instituting hefty fines and jail time for violations both at large wind farms and small-scale backyard windmills. Rahall backed off the rules in favor of "guidelines" proposed by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to safeguard wildlife from wind turbines. Research has shown minimal impact on wildlife from windmills. The wind industry has been growing 25% a year, according to an Associated Press report, installing more than 2,400 megawatts of capacity last year, with expectations of adding an additional 3,000 megawatts in 2007. The American Wind Energy Association also applauded a separate proposal in Washington by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., establishing a national renewable-energy portfolio, requiring that 15% of the country's electricity come from wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources by 2020. They noted the gigantic list of Fortune 500 corporations, manufacturers, utilities, faith, community, and enviro groups even oil companies who co-authored a letter last month supporting the federal Renewable Portfolio Standard. Daniel Mottola