Quote of the Week
"We close at 5." – Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, rejecting any extension of court hours for a pending death penalty appeal, for which colleagues were waiting
The Austin Revitalization Authority had a rough night at the Urban Renewal Board Monday, as the ARA tries to justify a city contract renewal for Eastside development. See "ARA Given Ultimatum on Redevelopment Plans."
The Texas Civil Rights Project filed an ethics complaint against Court of Criminal Appeals Chief Judge Sharon Keller, as prominent attorneys from across the state signed on and the Houston Chronicle called for her removal. See "Closing Time? Attorneys Call for Justice's Head."
In an interview with Evan Smith of Texas Monthly, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she does not intend to run for re-election in 2012 and may step down early to run for governor in 2010.
Thursday, Oct. 25, is the last day of business for Brentwood Tavern, the family-oriented restaurant at the former Travis Co. Farmers' Market on Burnet Road, which after only two years quickly became a community favorite in the Brentwood, Crestview, and Allandale neighborhoods. Travis Co. sold the farmers' market property this summer to English entrepreneur Paz Dhody, who has a plan for redeveloping the property that somehow will revolve around a display of "healing crystals." Kathleen Macek, co-owner of Brentwood Tavern with husband Tim Thomas, said Dhody wouldn't offer anything better than a month-to-month lease, which she said was too risky. "Were we to receive a long-term contract, we absolutely would have said yes to it," Macek said. "It's been blood, sweat, and tears for us over here. ... We worked 90 hours a week for the last three years here." Dhody said he likes Brentwood Tavern and wanted it to stay at least until next March; he also pointed out that the tavern was already month-to-month with the county, but Macek said that was due to a contract lapse of which they had been unaware. The Brentwood/Highland Combined Neighborhood Plan calls for the property to be developed as mixed-use; Dhody said that would be "an asset" to the site but that he's still "exploring what I can do." Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to see how crystals will be more healing than relaxing under a beautiful pecan tree with a burger and a beer while your kids play nearby. – Lee Nichols
Austin Community College maintenance worker Mark Goodrich filed a lawsuit last week against ACC, President Stephen B. Kinslow, and Vice President for Business Affairs Ben Ferrell for allegedly violating his free-speech rights. Goodrich, a union representative of ACC's American Federation of Teachers Local 6249, says in his suit that during citizens communication at the Aug. 6 ACC board meeting, he criticized Kinslow's leadership and "touched upon such matters as the safety of ACC's Rio Grande campus" (the subject of recent allegations of mercury contamination), among other topics. Goodrich says he got a letter from Ferrell on Aug. 10, reprimanding him for "repeatedly demanding inquiries regarding issues that the College has sufficiently addressed" and "raising issues to alarm other employees and the public by making false or inaccurate statements against the administration." The suit also says the letter threatened Goodrich with "immediate termination" and said that continuing to raise the issues "will not be tolerated." Ferrell referred questions to the law firm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta, which issued a statement: "We disagree with the facts as they are set out in the lawsuit, and we think their lawyers are very incorrectly interpreting the law, and we will vigorously defend ourselves." – L.N.
An amendment to the Save Our Springs Ordinance that would change the terms for redevelopment over the Barton Springs Watershed is heading toward a City Council vote, potentially on Nov. 8. The draft ordinance won unanimous conditional approval from the city's Environmental Board. It's now scheduled for a vote at the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 23. The intent of the Lee Leffingwell initiative is to tighten water-quality controls on land that is already developed. These existing commercial tracts are disproportionately responsible for about 10% of creek and aquifer pollution. The draft ordinance requires more developer-funded water-quality protections and conservation land as mitigation; it offers in exchange the right to redevelop property at existing levels of impervious cover. Eligible tracts include only about 1% of the Barton Springs Watershed, or 700 acres, including Oak Hill. But many in the environmental community are calling for further work on the language and terms of the ordinance before it goes to a council vote. In response to one key concern expressed – pollution during the construction phase of the redevelopment projects that would result – Leffingwell plans at council on Oct. 18 to forward a motion directing staff to update the city's construction-pollution standards and manual citywide. – Katherine Gregor
Sassy SoCo-goers will soon be able to strut more safely across the street thanks to new pedestrian islands the city will test on South Congress between Riverside and Ben White. The islands, to be installed on an eight-week trial basis beginning Monday, pending feedback from businesses and pedestrians, consist of diagonal striped areas within the center turn lane, outlined by 3-foot-tall plastic vertical reflectors to alert drivers. Erica Leak of the city's Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department said the islands are to be installed in long stretches between signalized intersections to give pedestrians refuge while crossing the street. If built, the permanent islands would include curbs, gutters, and cutout ramps for wheelchair accessibility, in addition to 10-foot-long no-parking areas along each sidewalk-access ramp, necessitating the removal of some parking, says the city. The proposed locations (and temporary installations) include two islands near the Texas School for the Deaf at 1007 and 1011 S. Congress, one between Zen and the Continental Club in the 1300 block, one at Gibson Street, and two near St. Edward's University at the La Vista and Coleman intersections. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. – Daniel Mottola
"Naked City" reported last week on the Oct. 4 derailment of a Capital Metro train on East Sixth ("Off the Tracks"). Chronicle writer Abe Louise Young reported that several workers who'd been riding the train estimated its speed at a much greater rate – 20 to 30 mph – than the official estimate of 3 to 5 mph made by Cap Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited. Young, who was conversing with the men in Spanish, was interrupted by an unidentified man in Cap Metro insignia who told her, "These men are mine. They work for me. You can't talk to them." A couple of days later, Cap Metro communications manager Adam Shaivitz gave us the train's "black box" charts, which he says reflect its actual speed – "approximately 8 mph at the time of the derailment," Shaivitz informed us. "The track speed limit in this area is 10 mph." (Check out the charts in Chronic: "Cap Metro's Little Black Box.") Shaivitz said the train is managed by Cap Metro contractor Veolia Transportation, in turn through another subcontractor, Watco. He couldn't identify the man who stopped the workers from speaking to Young and did not know if the subcontractor employees wear Cap Metro insignia. "We do try to have one spokesperson represent the agency at the site of an accident," he said and conceded that whoever interrupted Young might have acted unprofessionally. Asked if he thought the workers might be subject to retaliation, Shaivitz said, "There is no agency policy that employees cannot speak to the media." – Michael King
Social and environmental activist group Corporate Accountability International urged Will Wynn last week to wean city government off a board-meeting mainstay: bottled water. The group cited waste and the undermining of municipal water systems as reasons why the city of Austin should can bottled water – figuratively, that is. The group started the campaign earlier this summer; since then, the bottled-water industry has started a PR campaign of its own, highlighting its commitment to recycling and corporate responsibility. If the city were to ban bottled water at the workplace, it would join major city governments such as Minneapolis, Boston, and San Francisco. Wynn told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he plans to have the city manager "investigate ways that we as a city organization can reduce our use of bottled water and instead take better advantage of the drinking water we proudly produce." – Justin Ward
The presentation of revisions to the Capitol View Corridors section of the city ordinance was a bit of a letdown at council last week. The Downtown Commission, led by Jeb Boyt, finally got the chance to make its recommendations on where the current 30 corridors – in place in both city ordinance and state law – should be adjusted. The Downtown Commission has suggested changes and technical corrections to the corridors, which had the Heritage Society of Austin, among others, up in arms. Instead of fireworks, though, council members appeared to be ready to defer the recommendations until the Downtown Plan is completed. Council Member Lee Leffingwell did raise concerns that members of the commission had met with state lawmakers to discuss proposed changes. He was concerned that the discussion might have somehow implied council had taken a position on corridor changes, which it still hasn't. – Kimberly Reeves
The Austin Independent School District is offering another chance for former students to take the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. At the end of last school year, 11% of Austin's seniors failed to get a high school diploma because they hadn't passed the test. The state allows students to take the test until they pass, offering it even over the summer. Still, AISD reports 345 of last year's seniors still have to take the test, not to mention hundreds more who failed in past years. They'll offer the test Oct. 23-26 at various campuses. Students can register by calling AISD's testing office at 414-3711. – Michael May
Beyond City Limits
If you live in San Marcos and are worried about the achievement gap in public schools, here's your chance to sound off. The local nonprofits E3 Alliance and Austin Voices for Education and Youth are holding a series of discussions on the topic this month, designed to give community members a chance to share ideas about what can be done to improve the performance of economically disadvantaged and minority youths in San Marcos. The discussions will be on three consecutive Mondays, Oct. 22, 29, and Nov. 5, at the cafeteria of the new high school on McCarty Lane. For more info or to RSVP, call 512/393-6744 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. – M.M.
In other education news, Gov. Rick Perry named acting Education Commissioner Robert Scott to head the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday. Scott, a longtime employee, has served as acting head of the agency since former Commissioner Shirley Neeley departed in June. For most of the summer, it appeared Sandy Kress, former adviser to President George W. Bush on the No Child Left Behind Act, had the inside track with the governor's appointment office, but rumors are that conservative sugar daddy James Leininger put the kibosh on that plan. Kress told The Dallas Morning News two weeks ago that he had never been in the running. In the meantime, Scott has announced plans for a major reorganization of the TEA – minor reorganizations are an annual event – and told school administrators at a recent conference he's committed to aligning high school and college curriculum, overhauling career and technology education, and getting the nod from the feds to expand the program to use the state's credit to guarantee school district bonds. – K.R.
Gov. Rick Perry endorsed former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's candidacy for president in a live morning interview on Fox News Wednesday morning. This is an odd pairing between Perry, who has positioned himself as a conservative who championed the traditional marriage amendment, and Giuliani, considered one of the most liberal GOP candidates because he is both pro-choice and pro-gay rights. In recent speeches, however, Giuliani has made a point of painting himself as a fiscal conservative. Of course, Giuliani, who is a partner in Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani, would be looking for a running mate to balance his ticket if he wins the Republican nomination. – K.R.
For the second time, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bipartisan measure that would allow state farmers to legally cultivate industrial hemp, the nonnarcotic cousin of the evil weed marijuana. Assembly Bill 684 defined legal hemp as cannabis containing less than 0.03% tetrahydrocannabinol and would have established a five-year pilot project in four counties to let farmers grow hemp to supply state manufacturers that currently must import raw hemp fiber, seed, and oil from Canada and other countries (including China) to make various popular hemp-containing consumer products – including food, clothing, and body-care products. Schwarzenegger's "environmental credentials should take a hit because of this veto," said David Bronner, president of the Hemp Industries Association and maker of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, in a press release. "Industrial hemp is about sustainable agriculture that saves our forests, reduces use of agricultural chemicals, and cuts carbon emissions by replacing petroleum-based products like fiberglass in insulation. ... Schwarzenegger has again embraced an irrational approach to one of the most environmentally beneficial crops known to man." – Jordan Smith