"Our culture typically acknowledges people for qualities such as intelligence, physical strength, and personal bravery. This may be the first award the city ever gave for stubbornness to acknowledge an activist that wouldn't go away."
Qote of the Week
Paul Robbins, a constant critic of Austin Energy, after a Downtown chiller plant was named after him. Quoted in In Fact Daily; see "Beside the Point."
David Morales, beaten to death last week in an Eastside parking lot, was laid to rest this week amid controversy over the police handling and media reporting of the incident. For more, see "The Morales Murder."
Vowing to be an engaged and active leader, new Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo was confirmed by City Council last week. Acevedo, formerly of the California Highway Patrol, won the job over some 70 initial candidates and five finalists in the last month.
The new Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas held its grand-opening celebration Tuesday night, as the public wandered through the state-of-the-art examination room, viewed high tech equipment, and experienced features designed to make young patients and their families feel at home.
If you're reading this anywhere in Central Texas, it's probably still raining.
The city of Austin approved on Tuesday a second site plan for the redevelopment of Northcross Mall filed by Lincoln Property Co., despite objections by the neighborhood group Responsible Growth for Northcross, which has asserted the city is acting not only unwisely but illegally. "We are dismayed that the City once again has approved a site plan for Northcross in violation of several of its own laws," said RG4N President Hope Morrison in a statement. "We have tried for months to resolve this situation without litigation, but the City, the developer and Wal-Mart have made it clear that they won't listen unless someone sues them." On Wednesday morning, RG4N was preparing to serve a lawsuit against the city; Lincoln also is likely to be named in the legal action. The broad-based group of area residents and business owners seeks a mixed-use, community-oriented mall redevelopment without a supercenter. In a press release praising the site plan approval Tuesday, the megaretailer stated, "Wal-Mart is committed to making minor changes to Lincoln's approved site plan and to its actual operations in order to address the concerns of our neighbors and to create a project that will reflect the community's needs." Lincoln has begun redeveloping the eastern portion of the site as a reconfigured mall, where new and relocated tenants plan to open by October. Plans for the Lincoln-developed portion of the site primarily an old-style boxy mall of 153,000 square feet show a bland project of notably inferior quality to plans shown by Wal-Mart for its portion, which includes a 192,000-square-foot supercenter with a 322,000-square-foot parking garage. Lincoln's plans lack the exterior design, native landscaping, pedestrian amenities, and sustainable "green building" features that were added by Wal-Mart in an effort to appease the surrounding neighborhoods. Katherine Gregor
On a related note, members of the Planning Commission are kicking around the idea of using independent-business investment zones as a way to support small, locally owned businesses that are struggling to survive. Northcross Mall would be one example of a place where local businesses who fear the impending arrival of Wal-Mart might need some extra city support through the IBIZ designation. This is not a loan, as in the case of Las Manitas. Instead, it would be a push to provide additional city infrastructure and support to an area or the creation of a public improvement district to provide some funded direction for infrastructure and police protection. Kimberly Reeves
Marriott and White Lodging will develop two hotels not three under the initial plans for the Second Street and Congress Avenue site now home to Las Manitas. At a Design Commission meeting this week, agent Richard Suttle and HOK design firm Director of Design Todd Halamka unveiled some of the basics of the project. Under the plan, the JW Marriott site would face Congress, with an entry on Second Street. Two glass-walled ballrooms would face Congress Avenue. The second hotel would be a Marriott. The maximum height of the hotel towers will be 34 stories. K.R.
As part of the city auditor's City Council-ordered examination of local public safety, citizens have one last chance to give their feedback about the Austin Police Department, Austin Park Police, Airport Police, City Marshals, and the Office of the Police Monitor. Austin Listening is the independent program created to collect the public's feelings and experiences good or bad. The city is asking residents to come to City Hall this Saturday, June 30, 9am-6pm, to share any and all "experiences and opinions" about Austin cops. Translators will be available, and comments may be made anonymously. If you can't make it Downtown, don't fret: Comment online at austinlistening.mgtofamerica.com or by calling 391-0800. Jordan Smith, Wells Dunbar
An Austin-based start-up company called Dadnab is now offering a free cell-phone text-messaging service, which allows Capital Metro riders to get route information sent straight to their phones. Riders send a text message in the format "[origin] to [destination]" to email@example.com, and within seconds, it returns a trip plan complete with transfers, routes, and stop times. The service is sure to be a better fit for cell-phone-wielding, go-go Austinites than Cap Met's chronically hard-of-hearing automated route line. The idea came to the company's founder, Roger Cauvin, one day when stranded at Wal-Mart. "I thought, 'This is precisely the kind of service I personally would need to find the optimal way to go to get where I wanted to be,'" said Cauvin, who noted he's currently not making any revenue off the service but offers it for no charge because it's zero-overhead. The service's Web interface allows it to send text messages for free. Eventually, Cauvin plans to include location-specific ads along with text messages. The service is also available in major cities throughout Texas and the rest of the nation, including Houston, Dallas, Boston, and New York. Justin Ward
In other Capital Metro news, Lago Vista Mayor Pro Tem Fred Harless, a longtime stalwart on the Capital Metro board of directors, has submitted his letter of resignation to the board, effective June 30, in order to move closer to family in Indiana. Harless, who has served on the board for seven years, also served as Capital Metro's representative to the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District, which also saw the recent departure of former Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. Spokesman Adam Shaivitz says the mayors of Travis County's suburban cities will appoint a replacement for Harless on the Cap Met board, which will in turn find a replacement for Harless on the rail-district board. K.R.
Also concerning Capital Metro, this month it will begin using the fuel additive ORYXE in its diesel city buses and support vehicles to reduce emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide. ORYXE is the first nitrogen-oxide-reduction additive to be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, whose testing with it demonstrated a 5.7% reduction in nitrogen oxide. The move was applauded by the Clean Air Force of Central Texas, as the Austin area sits on the brink of federal violation for smog-related pollution. ORYXE is also being used by the city of Dallas' fleet in conjunction with B20, a blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petrol diesel, something greens have long pressed the city of Austin to try. Biodiesel, typically made from domestic or regional crops and processed to run in unmodified diesel engines, displaces oil and reduces all other diesel pollutants except nitrogen oxide. Biodiesel/ORYXE blends tested by the TCEQ resulted in reductions in particulate matter by 29%, total hydrocarbons by 18%, and carbon monoxide by 19%. B20 biodiesel is widely available in Austin and typically costs the same as or less than regular diesel, thanks to federal tax credits. For local info and availability, see www.austinbiofuels.com. Daniel Mottola
On a related note, Will Wynn's constant sermonizing over global warming is finally starting to pay off in the props department. Wynn got a shout-out from Wal-Mart, that bastion of progressive thinking, when the company joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors in recognizing him with a 2007 Climate Protection Outstanding Achievement Award. First-prize awards went to Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, N.M., and Dan Coody of Fayetteville, Ark. Wynn, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley received Outstanding Achievement Awards, one-upping New York City mayor and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who got a much less glamorous Honorable Mention. J.W.
The Austin History Center has created an online chronology of the desegregation era in Austin, from the 1940s, when Heman Marion Sweatt sued the UT-Austin School of Law for not admitting him because he was black, through the controversial use of busing to desegregate Austin schools in the 1980s. The timeline was created by Karen Riles, the neighborhood liaison at the History Center, who used primary and secondary sources from the center's collection, as well as interviews with activists and city leaders who lived through it. The chronology can be found at www.cityofaustin.org/library/ahc/africanam.htm, or call 974-7480 for more info. Michael May
Amparo Garcia-Crow, the new manager of the Mexican American Cultural Center, was introduced at this week's Parks Board meeting. Cultural Center staff began moving into the center's space this week, and Garcia-Crow promises a summer schedule that will include four pilot projects aimed at youth, including work with the Latino Comedy Project and a tribute to poet and author Raúl Salinas. The MACC's official opening is Sept. 15, Diez y Seis de Septiembre weekend, and will include both a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a community march to Republic Square. K.R.
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club is reporting a victory from the small Texas-Louisiana border town of DeBerry, in a longstanding dispute over groundwater contamination caused by improper disposal of oil and gas waste. For four years, the Rev. David Hudson of Panola County has been crusading for the right to clean drinking water for his relatives and neighbors. According to Hudson, an oil and gas company operating in his area dumps waste from loading and unloading into pits, which overflow into the surface water during heavy rain, while overpressure from pumping waste into old injection wells has cracked pipe casings and leaked toxic lead, radionuclides, and other chemicals into the aquifer. After reportedly appealing unsuccessfully to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Railroad Commission of Texas, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently decided to allocate funds to hook DeBerry residents up to a nearby main water line, giving them access to clean drinking water. The Sierra Club's Donna Hoffman said, "There are many cases all over Texas where oil and gas companies are causing environmental ruin through irresponsible waste disposal. Reverend Hudson has led the defense and wins the prize for never being silent." D.M.
Beyond City Limits
It's been two weeks of appointments and internal promotions on Gov. Rick Perry's staff. First Perry's deputy chief of staff, Phil Wilson, who previously had served as his director of communications, was announced as replacing Roger Williams as secretary of state. Wilson's job will now be split between Perry's senior adviser and former press secretary Kathy Walt and his deputy legislative director, Kris Heckmann. Then Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi, who had served on Perry's election staff as policy and research director in '98 and campaign manager in '02, stood down. Her replacement? The governor's general counsel, Brian Newby. Finally, the director of administration services, Donna White, resigned on Friday. Having served in the same position for Perry when he was lieutenant governor, she followed him to the Governor's Mansion. She now heads to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, where she'll be special assistant to the deputy of the office of administrative services. Her replacement has yet to be announced. Richard Whittaker
Texas wind power was given a boost this week with two big announcements about its role in the future of energy in the state. First, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas announced Friday that, under new calculations, the proportion of the state's total electricity production capacity available from wind turbines has risen from 2.3% to 8.7% with another 1,200 megawatts of wind production coming on line soon. Then on Monday, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2 million to the Lone Star Wind Alliance for a new turbine testing facility at Ingleside, near Corpus Christi. The alliance, a consortium of universities, state agencies, and businesses, will work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to create blades more than double the current lengths. These 230-foot blades will generate electricity at lower wind speeds than the current 60- to 120-foot designs. This also marks a significant change from the current policy of placing wind farms in rural West Texas, as alliance members, like the Texas General Land Office, are pushing to place turbines in the Gulf of Mexico. "Texas has the deep-water ports, strong gulf winds, and political will to make our coast the perfect site for the new blade-testing facility," said GLO Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a press release. R.W.
The U.S. Senate passed a broad energy bill last week that included many notable reforms, with others suffering partisan defeat. Most notably, the bill raises the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard substantially for the first time in two decades, requiring 35 miles per gallon from all vehicles by 2020. Efforts to further boost CAFE by 4% annually until 2030 were defeated. The bill also mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels (like biodiesel and ethanol) by 2022 and establishes penalties for petrol price-gouging. Federal money will also go toward researching hybrids, advanced diesel, and battery technologies. Included as well are new appliance- and lighting-efficiency standards, as well as tighter energy requirements for federal buildings. Thankfully, billions in federal cash destined to aid production of coal-based vehicle fuels a potential carbon-dioxide nightmare were nixed. But Democrats' plans to syphon $32 billion in excess oil and gas subsidies to fund renewable-energy development and efficiency were killed by the GOP, though Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to reignite the effort. The bill now heads to the House, where it could be altered drastically. D.M.
Texas Baptists helped launched the first nationwide, church-based program to help immigrants navigate the oft-treacherous waters of pursuing U.S. citizenship at Convención Baptista Hispana, held June 24-26 at Hyde Park Baptist Church. As announced at the conference, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Buckner International have established the Immigration Service and Aid Center, which will assist clergy with obtaining immigration-law training, among other services. Albert Reyes, president of Buckner Children and Family Services, said the program is part of fulfilling BGCT's mission to improve the lives of at-risk children and families. "Immigrant families face tremendous challenges that put stress on their homes. This ministry helps immigrant families stay together," Reyes said. An especially critical facet of the program will be to help immigrants avoid falling prey to unscrupulous "immigration consultants." For more info about the program, call 888/244-9400 and ask for immigration services or visit www.bgct.org/texasbaptists. Patricia J. Ruland