Quote of the Week
"If you were confronted with someone who wished to do you harm, you could put on your best Clint Eastwood persona and say, 'OK, creep, am I complying with national parks rule 36.1 or am I not? Make my day.'" – Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on why he thinks the National Park Service should allow loaded guns in national parks
In Tuesday's yawner of a constitutional amendment election, all 16 propositions passed easily, with a whopping 8.5% voter turnout. Lance Armstrong immediately declared imminent defeat of the big "C." See "Texas Voters Approve Props; Travis Narrowly Passes Cancer Measure" for coverage.
City Council meets today (Thursday), with the long-term Lower Colorado River Authority water deal pending and proposed amendments to the SOS Ordinance also on the agenda. See "Beside the Point."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's magnanimous determination to spread firearms everywhere seems to have stalled at the Christmas Mountains, when his fellow Texas Veterans Land Board members balked at selling the state tract until the National Park Service gets a real shot, even unarmed. See "No Christmas Present."
Unlocking the door after the horse was executed, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced it will henceforth accept emergency motions by e-mail rather than shut its doors at 5pm. So Michael Richard did not die in vain. See "Court of Criminal Appeals to Accept E-Filing in Death Penalty Cases."
A developer wanting to collect a $294,000 judgment against the Save Our Springs Alliance is challenging the group's Chapter 11 reorganization plan, claiming SOS is seeking bankruptcy protection to shirk responsibility for filing a "frivolous" lawsuit against him. SOS leaders and developer Bill Gunn, who's building a large subdivision in an ecologically sensitive area of western Travis County, met Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the first day of a hearing to determine whether the nonprofit's plan is up to snuff. Both Gunn, of Sweetwater Properties (aka Lazy Nine municipal utility district), and SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch were expected to testify Wednesday, as we went to press. Gunn's counsel, Rebecca McElroy, argued SOS' reorganization plan is "riddled with problems," the first being a lack of good faith. "This was not an entity without the ability to pay their debts," she said. Gunn is seeking to have SOS liquidated under Chapter 7, which would essentially force the nonprofit's dissolution. A Chapter 11 confirmation would allow SOS to continue operating under a payment plan to creditors. SOS bankruptcy attorney Weldon Ponder said most of the group's creditors belong to a class of friendly "insiders." Of these, megadonor and board member Kirk Mitchell is owed the largest sum – about $175,000. – Amy Smith
In other development news, the wheels have begun turning in the lawsuit by Responsible Growth for Northcross and the Allandale Neighborhood Association against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property to prevent a Wal-Mart Supercenter from being built on the former Northcross Mall property. Last week the ANA made a motion for summary judgment; Judge Margaret Cooper declined to make an immediate decision and said she would rule within the next two or three weeks. The trial is set to begin Nov. 13. On Sunday afternoon, RG4N will hold an event dubbed Feisty Fest (after their recent "Best of Austin" award for Feistiest Neighborhood Rebellion) at the Triangle (46th & Lamar). Admission is free; the event runs noon-6pm and features live music and guest speaker Jim Hightower. – Lee Nichols
The North Burnet/Gateway Master Plan (phase one) has been approved by City Council. The land-use plan will guide redevelopment of the 2,300-acre area, which could surpass Downtown by 2035. Anchored by the Domain, the mixed-use area with walkable neighborhoods could sprout 15-story towers – and even 30-story towers in transit-oriented development areas near commuter-rail stops. – Katherine Gregor
Speaking of the Domain, Travis Co. is in the process of auditing the area's compliance with affordable-housing subsidies. At last Tuesday's meeting of the Travis Co. Housing Finance Corp. – county commissioners serve as the board's directors – Libertarian Party leader Wes Benedict did not miss his chance to call on the county to reduce or eliminate county-backed incentives for the Domain. Benedict has launched a petition drive to put a charter amendment on the city ballot next May to block future subsidies for upscale development. During the meeting, Harvey Davis, the finance corporation's top staffer, told commissioners the Domain developers had committed to set aside 10% of its current units – 30 units – for affordable housing. Benedict said it was hard to justify a tax break for Neiman Marcus when Austin's lower-income residents were more likely to be shopping at Highland Mall or Northcross. – Kimberly Reeves
Richard Allan Lee, charged with second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter in the July death of Austin cyclist Vilhelm Hesness, was arrested after several unsuccessful attempts outside his Austin home Tuesday by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Lee hit Hesness from behind as he was riding lawfully along Manchaca Road in far South Austin. Lee was later found to be under the influence of four potent and incompatibleprescriptiondrugs, includingsedatives Xanax and Soma, as well as Zoloft, an anti-depressant, and meprobamate, a tranquilizer. The case has renewed calls from the cycling community for stronger enforcement against motorists who endanger, injure, or kill bicyclists as more and more Austinites transport themselves by bike. Fred Meredith, a riding partner of Hesness, editor of Southwest Cycling News, and a longtime member of the Austin CyclingAssociation, said he had no criticismsof authorities'pursuit of the case, though others faulted DPS delays in processing Lee's blood test. Lee's bond was set at $10,000. – Daniel Mottola
A radioactive debate is on the horizon over the proposed expansion of the South Texas Project, one of more than 20 new nuke proposals nationwide. Austin Energy owns 16% of STP, and it produces about 29% of the city's electricity. New Jersey-based utility NRG Energy has applied for federal permits to add two reactors to the two existing units at the Bay City facility. Enviro groups are opposing the plans based on financial riskiness tied to new federal incentives they say would leave taxpayers liable for repeats of the astronomical cost overruns sufferedby the last generation of nukes built in the 1970s. Greens locally and nationwide fault the hefty subsidization of the volatile technology, still without a viable method of handling its toxic waste, at the expense of better funding renewable-energy development. Though the city hasn't formally taken a position on the issue, Council Member Jennifer Kim has joined local green groups in urging San Antonio's municipally owned utility, City Public Service, which owns a larger portion of STP, to reconsider its support for the expansion. Kim favors exploring solar energy in particular, and eco groups highlighted San Antonio's huge energy-efficiency potential. – D.M.
Last week City Council unveiled AustinGo.org, a Web survey meant to measure public priorities in redesigning the city's official website. (How meta.) Unveiled as a response to last year's failed charter amendment promising more information and transparency online, the results, along with focus groups and town hall meetings, will be used to overhaul www.cityofaustin.org in an ostensibly more open fashion. Participate at www.austingo.org. – Wells Dunbar
Next week's meeting agenda for the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee contains a presentation on converting the sleepy Downtown creek into a potential white-water rafting course. When the city announced its plans to proceed with the long-delayed Waller Creek tunnel, standardizing flow and preventing flooding of the urban creek, outdoorsman Jim Stuart saw a hidden potential: white-water rafting. He sees a white-water course as a potential revenue and tourism stream; urban white waters aren't as far-fetched as you might think, with rapids coursing through part of Denver's lower downtown and elsewhere. Stuart also says the costs would be a relatively negligible part of the project's $100 million-plus price tag – namely, purchasing a pair of stronger pumps to circulate the water more forcefully than now planned (with the rapids turned off when not in use). The meeting is next Thursday, Nov. 15, at City Hall; for more information, visit www.wallercreekwhitewatertrail.com. – W.D.
By a wide margin, Education Austin held on to its status as the bargaining agent for Austin Independent School District employees in a districtwide election Tuesday. The teacher union's chief rival, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, challenged the union for exclusive consultation and lost in a 1,503-787 vote. Education Austin is hailing the election as a victory for "workplace democracy," citing ATPE's support for right-to-work laws. Exclusive consultation is the next best thing to collective bargaining for public employees, who are denied the right to strike by state law. – Justin Ward
The Travis Co. Sheriff's Office is looking for information or tips to find out who is responsible for a rash of vandalism in west-county neighborhoods. In five neighborhoods near Bee Caves Road – Barton Creek West, Senna Hills, Lake Pointe, Lost Creek, and Barton Creek – residents reported 14 acts of vandalism, including smashed car windshields (eight reports) and slashed tires. In two neighborhoods off Ranch Road 620 – Steiner Ranch and Anderson Mill – residents made seven reports of car windows shot out by pellet guns. All reports came in on Nov. 2 and 3, and, despite the similarity in events, TCSO spokesman Roger Wade says it doesn't appear one person is responsible for all the damage. Anyone with information should contact the TCSO West Command Criminal Investigation unit at 854-9728. – Jordan Smith
Beyond City Limits
While other local animal shelters run for cover in thunderstorms of controversy, the nonprofit Humane Society of Williamson County in Leander is celebrating sunny days, poetically speaking. The society recently won a top prize in the second annual Community TechKnowledge annual haiku competition with the apt and rapturous entry: "raining cats and dogsour umbrella breaks their fallshelter from the storm." The puppy poetry purse was pretty precious – $2,000, which will help fund their adoption program. The umbrella metaphor has another layer of meaning, for the WilCo Humane Society recently formed a countywide shelter coalition: "We are trying to bring public and private shelters in Williamson County under a more formalized umbrella organization," called the Pet Alliance of Central Texas, says board member Julia Whitley. Indeed, a number of WilCo animal-welfare agencies are participating in a Low Cost Microchipping Event, Saturday, Nov. 10, 10am-2pm at Williamson Co. Regional Park. Microchipping, city and county tags for unaltered animals, low-cost vaccinations, and other services will be offered, sponsored by the Humane Society; the cities of Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Leander; the Williamson Co. Regional Animal Shelter; Premier Animal Hospital; and the Central Texas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. – Patricia J. Ruland
A person can buy almost anything on eBay: vintage records, vintage posters, vintage clothes – but a vintage town? Local Realtor Bobby Cave is auctioning off the 13-acre Hill Country town of Albert to the highest bidder. Originally, Cave intended to make Albert a tourist destination, but after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars restoring the historic town, which was once the site of a schoolhouse attended by Lyndon Baines Johnson, he decided to put it up for sale on the popular auction site. The winning bidder will get the land, an 88-year-old refurbished dance hall, and Cave's master plan to renovate the town. So far the highest bid is $3 million – half a million more than Cave's original asking price. Bidding ends Nov. 23. – J.W.
Scenic Texas has launched a letter-writing campaign against the introduction of electronic billboards to Texas, currently going through Texas Department of Transportation's rule-making process. The group, whose members are generally opposed to all billboards, considers the extraterritorial jurisdictions of counties – which have no regulatory authority over billboard displays – to be most at risk for this high-intensity advertising. TxDOT rules will limit direction, timing, and display intensity. Comments are being accepted through Dec. 6. For more info, go to here. – K.R.
After just one session, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, is already being called an ecological leader in the Lege. As part of its biennial Legislative Service Awards, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club named her for New Leadership for the Environment – singled out for working with Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, to found the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus and for her spirited defense of state parks in the Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee. This is her second pat on the back from green groups this year: In September, she got an A++ rating from the Texas League of Conservation Voters for her voting record on 27 key environmental bills. She'll join fellow winners Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Galena Park, and Reps. Stephen Frost, D-New Boston; Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and Joe Straus, R-San Antonio at the fundraising award dinner at Carmelo's Ristorante on Nov. 10. – Richard Whittaker
Keeping good math and science teachers in the classroom is a significant challenge in Texas public schools, researcher Ed Fuller recently told an audience at a Texas Public Policy Foundation luncheon on priming the pump to meet the state's impending high school math and science requirements. Starting with freshman in 2011, all high school students pursuing a recognized or distinguished diploma must take four years of math and four years of science. Fuller, who at one time crunched numbers at the State Board of Educator Certification, agreed that the production of math and science teachers has not kept up with demand but also noted that a pool of 10,000 teachers certified in math or science in Texas over the last 10 years is no longer teaching in Texas public classrooms. – K.R.