News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Out of the Ring, Into the Pen
Austin-born junior middleweight boxer James Kirkland was sentenced to two years in federal prison last week. Kirkland was charged in April with illegal possession of a firearm that he'd bought at the monthly Saxet Gun Show in North Austin (he'd been convicted of armed robbery in 2003, making him a felon in possession). Kirkland could have faced a far longer sentence, but federal District Judge James Nowlin was reportedly sufficiently impressed by Kirkland's supporters to lower the sentence. Women's champion boxer Ann Wolfe and Kirkland's promoter, retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya, spoke to the court on Kirkland's behalf. "I told the judge that James made a stupid mistake that cost him dearly," De La Hoya told ESPN.com. De La Hoya said that he believes Kirkland was trying to protect himself: "He's a kid who was winning, fighting on HBO, and making money, and I think he figured he'd protect himself." – Jordan Smith
Five Yeas for South Shore PUD
The South Shore Planned Unit Development, a project from developer Grayco Partners, passed on first reading at City Council last week. Voting nay in the 5-2 outcome were Laura Morrison, and, perhaps more surprisingly, Lee Leffingwell, who cited encroachment on Lady Bird Lake as the reason. It seems the question of affordable housing in the project, slated east of I-35, between Riverside and the waterfront, will continue to dominate the discussion: As the project will demolish an affordable, albeit older apartment complex, talks have focused on whether the affordable housing dollars offered by Grayco are sufficient – a question also raised by Morrison. "We still have some work to do on the affordable housing provisions, and on the PUD notes and covenants that would nail down the commitments the owner is making," writes City Council Member Chris Riley in a widely circulated e-mail defending his vote. "I look forward to more input on these items and others as the case moves forward. Lady Bird Lake is a treasure for the whole community, so we all have a stake in getting this right." – Wells Dunbar
A Southern Pioneer Passes On
Donald Howard Yarborough, who ran for Texas governor three times (1962, '64, '68) and helped mobilize the progressive Democratic movement in Texas, died Sept. 23 at his home in Houston. Said to be the first southern politician to come out in support of the Civil Rights Act, he was praised by Eleanor Roosevelt for his courage. In 1963, Yarborough wrote in support of a federal law guaranteeing equal access to public acccomodations: "I take my stand on the side of freedom, justice and the future." – Michael King
Food Assistance in Crisis?
Just when Texans may need it most, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as the food stamp program) may be in crisis as applications pile up and the state delays hiring extra staff. On average, the agency receives 110,000 applications a month, but those numbers have increased since the beginning of the year, reaching 170,000 in August. During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a budget rider allowing the overstretched Health and Human Services Commission to request an extra 650 staffers to help with increased applications. The plan was to start hiring well before the end of the year, but Legislative Budget Board staff want more time to work on the request. HHSC Communications Director Stephanie Goodman said, "We very much consider it an issue we're discussing." Unfortunately, that won't help HHSC now – 2.8 million Texans receive SNAP benefits, up 11% from this time last year, but according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a third of all July applications were not handled within the federal limit of 30 days (or seven days for expedited claims). The agency recently received a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service calling the situation "unacceptable" and demanding immediate reforms. HHSC is also being sued by the Texas Legal Services Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice for failing to meet federal timelines. The agency is currently trying to speed processing through training, but it can take up to a year for new staff to be able to handle a full workload. Goodman said that while calculating total backlog is complex, 38,000 applications have currently missed the deadlines, "and there could be more sitting on people's desks." – Richard Whittaker
Dispatches From Denmark: Oct. 5-10
Chronicle staff writer Katherine Gregor will be blogging from Copenhagen in the NewsDesk section of Chronolog, providing coverage of Denmark's climate action in advance of the COP15 United Nations conference on global warming Dec. 7-18. Gregor was invited by the Royal Danish Embassy as one of five U.S. correspondents on the trip. Denmark is a small country of many islands threatened by catastrophic flooding in climate change scenarios.