Quote of the Week
"We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community." – Former Vice President Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10
An independent arbitrator ruled former Austin Police Department Officer Gary Griffin, terminated by acting Chief Cathy Ellison for beating a mentally ill man during a June 2006 EMS call, should be retrained for "sensitivity" and returned to the force. See "Cruz Beating."
On a semirelated note, the city's Civil Service Commission will hear the appeal of former Austin Police Sgt. Michael Olsen, fired last month for his actions in the death of 25-year-old Kevin Brown in June. Commission members will hear Olsen's appeal to get his job back on February 18, 2008, at the city's Learning and Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr.
City Council holds its final 2007 meeting today (Thursday), with its agenda including such intriguing tidbits as the purchase of another site for Water Treatment Plant No. 4, the creation of an African American Cultural Arts District, and a host of items to be named later. See "Beside the Point."
The city's Charter Revision Committee, seeking more feedback on its discussion of single-member districts, posted an online survey this week, hoping "to capture input from all sectors of the Austin community," said committee Vice Chair Chad Williams. For more info, or to respond to the survey, see www.ci.austin.tx.us/charter.
A Travis Co. grand jury declined on Dec. 10 to indict Austin Police Detective Aaron Bishop for shooting 72-year-old Felix Rosales in October during an early-morning raid at Rosales' house in the Montopolis neighborhood. The police executed a knock-and-announce raid at the Rosales home just after 6am on Oct. 22. When no one answered the door, police forced their way in; whether Rosales was aware the intruders were police is unknown, but as the narcotics officers entered the living room, Rosales fired a single shot, striking Detective Robert Benfer in the foot. Bishop returned fire, striking Rosales in the chest. Benfer was treated at Brackenridge Hospital and released that afternoon; Rosales' injury required surgery, and he remains in the hospital and in the custody of the Travis Co. Sheriff's Office on a charge of intentional capital murder. The grand jury's decision Tuesday clears the way for APD Internal Affairs investigators to begin an administrative inquiry into the shooting. – Jordan Smith
Cid Galindo has announced his intention to run for the City Council seat currently held by Betty Dunkerley, Place 4. Dunkerley will retire after this term. Galindo, a former Planning commissioner, joins a field of candidates also including the former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Laura Morrison, and the environmentally friendly Robin Cravey, who recently spearheaded community efforts to address upgrades to Barton Springs Pool. Morrison announced her own candidacy at a Dec. 12 fundraiser and kickoff event. – Kimberly Reeves
At its Nov. 27 meeting, the City Council voted 7-0 to approve on first reading developer Steve Beuerlein's project at 3215 Exposition, with a cap of 20 units on the property. The developer had been asking for 27 units, but nearby Tarrytown residents objected in numbers, with more than 120 people signing up to speak in opposition. The cap is not far from the neighborhood's latest concession – allowing 17 units instead of a dozen. It's also not far from what West Austin Neighborhood Group President Gwen Jewiss says was the developer's original proposition of 18 to 24 units. Jewiss says WANG is optimistic about the second reading, expected to be in January. "I think the council did a good thing, taking a deep breath and looking at it at 20 units. There's still work that needs to be done, but we've had a lot of good discussion." She believes if the developer can be coaxed down to his original low end, "17 or 18 units would be a great compromise. That would be great for everyone and good for the neighbors." – Jacob Cottingham
In other city business, council agreed last week to remove fraternities and sororities in West Campus from a zoning overlay meant to encourage density in the neighborhood. Council approved a zoning change for the neighborhood three years ago that increased height and zoning allowances in the area and has successfully encouraged denser development. But the changes have also increased property values in the area and, by extension, property taxes. Some frats and sororities complained their tax bills had tripled and that they were in danger of being priced out of their homes. There is some concern that removing the buildings from the overlay will make it more difficult to create a dense, walkable neighborhood. It's also unclear whether the zoning change will actually lower property taxes. – Michael May
The University of Texas System Board of Regents voted last week to create a $2 million fund to provide a stepping stone between system labs and the market. In the spirit of similar state funds, like the Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Texas Ignition Program aims to promote the development and commercialization of new technologies. UT conducted a yearlong technology transfer analysis and found commercially viable technologies often need a little boost to take them from the basic research stage to a marketable product. The boost will come in the form of grants of up to $50,000 to system institutions. Technology transfer has paid off for the system, so far. According to a state report released in September, UT-Austin alone made $8.4 million in 2006, a 26% increase from the previous year. – Justin Ward
UT-Austin has built its first certified, bona fide environmentally friendly building. The new Research Office Complex at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus has been officially certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the U.S. Green Building Council. In order to become LEED-certified, the project had to meet goals on everything from water efficiency to energy use to indoor air quality. The project reused or recycled 95% of the waste generated by the construction. The parking lot features recharge stations employees can use once they start driving their electric cars to work. The office complex has a reflective roof, which stops the sun from cooking the building. And they used nontoxic materials inside the building, including carpets made of recycled rubber and yarn. "The certification sends a message that UT-Austin cares about the health of the building's occupants," said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, in a press release. "Everyone's comfort, safety and well-being will benefit from the fresh air and natural daylight." – M.M.
The Austin Independent School District board of trustees appointed two new administrators and created a new position Monday. Andrew Kim is the new assistant superintendent of educational support services. He's been deputy superintendent in the Manor ISD since 2005 and has also held positions in the Dallas and Round Rock ISDs. He's a doctoral candidate at UT-Austin. Viviana Lopez is the new executive director of curriculum, a promotion from her current position as AISD curriculum director. She's been an administrator in San Antonio and Waco ISDs and holds a master's degree from UT-San Antonio. The board also created a position called director of middle grades at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. – M.M.
Beyond City Limits
Michael Aulick has submitted his resignation as executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, effective next month. In a letter to board members and employees, Aulick wrote it's time to move on to his next challenge after serving 15 years with the transportation planning organization. Chair Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, thanked Aulick for his service to CAMPO and said the board would like to move sooner rather than later on finding Aulick's replacement. The emphasis will be on a candidate with strong urban transportation planning experience. Aulick's resignation is effective Jan. 15, a day after the next board meeting. – K.R.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson have entered into a bitter war of words over the proposed sale to private owners of the Christmas Mountains in West Texas. In a Dec. 6 letter, Whitmire called the plan "nuts" and argued that the land should and could remain in public hands. Currently, the sale has been suspended for 90 days to allow the National Park Service to mount a rival bid. Whitmire called for this to become a two-year moratorium and said the Legislature should come up with a solution next session. Patterson responded that he intended to sell the wilderness to "an owner, public or private, who can provide the best stewardship and best public access, unlike the naysayers who are only concerned about whose name is on the title." – Richard Whittaker
Gov. Rick Perry recently appointed 29 officials to the Governor's Competitiveness Council, which looks for "impediments to the state's ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace." The council includes reps from nine public corporations (AT&T, Time Warner, Dell, Frito-Lay, etc.) – most of which maintain nondiscrimination policies covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, the state of Texas does nothing to protect these rights and in certain cases (e.g., Defense of Marriage Act) actively undermines them. Wanna remain competitive, Ricky? Here's a tip: Catch up with the corporate big boys on valuing employees/citizens based on the merits of the job, not how they choose to work it at home. – Kate Getty
According to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies, the country's overall immigrant population rose to an all-time high of 37.9 million in 2007; one in eight U.S. residents is either a legal or illegal immigrant, "the highest level in 80 years." Almost one in three immigrants is undocumented, and the largest overall immigrant population increases were in Texas, California, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. According to its website, the center is "animated by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted." Partial translation: The CIS wants fewer immigrants in this country. Regardless of the center's stance, the report is informative. To read it, see www.cis.org/articles/2007/back1007.html. – Cheryl Smith
In what could potentially be the quid pro quo atom bomb of the millennium, plans for a West Texas toxic-waste dump proposed by billionaire and all-star GOP benefactor Harold Simmons are now before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality but are already taking heavy flak from the Lone Star Sierra Club. Simmons seemingly greased every palm in the statehouse to smooth his radioactive plans, with his company, Waste Control Specialists, giving more than $2 million in political cash since 2001 while spending $2.8 million on 63 lobby contracts, according to Texans for Public Justice. Now the Sierra Club is attacking the TCEQ's decision to grant WCS a draft license – done when a company submits a complete permit application pending technical review. Sierra Club state Director Ken Kramer said the license "lacks basic information on and/or includes contradictions about the porosity, fissures, and saturation levels of the soils in which the radioactive waste will be dumped," which is unacceptable since many locals rely on the groundwater. For this and other permit discrepancies, the Sierra Club demands the draft license be withdrawn and sent back to WCS. Otherwise, the Sierrans and 11 nearby residents will request a contested case hearing on the dump. Learn more at www.texas.sierraclub.org. – Daniel Mottola
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would accept an appeal brought by Fredericksburg man Walter Allen Rothgery, who is asking the court to clarify at what point in the criminal justice process an individual has the right to an attorney or to legal counsel. Rothgery was arrested on a gun-related charge out of California and taken into custody but was denied access to a court-appointed lawyer until after he'd been in jail for nearly six months. As it turned out, the charges against him were brought in error; his lawyer was able to get them dismissed and secure Rothgery's release from jail. Rothgery then sued Gillespie County, arguing the county was wrong to deny him access to a lawyer at his first court hearing before the county's criminal magistrate. The county, however, argues the right to counsel doesn't kick in until a suspect is actually indicted – a position with which the 5th Court of Appeals agreed on appeal. The Supremes will hear Rothgery's case in March. – J.S.
Representing sorely needed energy independence and climate-change reform leadership, the Dem-led U.S. House passed landmark energy legislation last week, including the first fuel-economy increase in more than 30 years, mandating a 35-mile-per-gallon standard for all vehicles by 2020 while shifting more than $13 million in tax breaks away from big oil and extending key renewable energy production tax credits and investment tax credits. The bill also phases out the incandescent lightbulb by 2020 and mandates a sevenfold increase in the use of biofuels, including standards to ensure the fuels substantially reduce life-cycle greenhouse-gas pollution compared to petroleum and that they don't compete with food sources. Perhaps the measure's most ambitious mandate, that 15% of U.S. electricity must come from renewable sources by 2020, was sadly dropped in Senate negotiations this week in attempts to win over Republican opponents. Prior to that, the bill was seven votes short of the 60 needed to close Senate debate, and a presidential veto threat still looms. Local legislators Michael McCaul and Lamar Smith voted against the bill, as did Sen. John Cornyn and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison didn't vote. Green groups are calling statewide for public pressure on state lawmakers. – D.M.