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A good book, a jumbo corn dog, and thou. Hungry souls line up at one of many food stations at last weekend's Texas Book Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of book lovers to Austin.
A good book, a jumbo corn dog, and thou. Hungry souls line up at one of many food stations at last weekend's Texas Book Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of book lovers to Austin. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Downtown and Underwhelmed

In his State of Down­town address on Oct. 28, homeboy Mayor Lee Leffingwell reminisced about the safe and lively Downtown of his youth and praised at length previous mayors Kirk Watson and Will Wynn for making Downtown revitalization a top priority. "What Kirk achieved was game-changing for Downtown," he noted. He slyly praised Down­town resident Wynn for walking to work at City Hall and "occasionally stopping for a friendly chat with construction workers." But after placing himself firmly in the Watson-Wynn tradition, Leffing­well's speech culminated with a bold call for ... better sidewalks. His other two priorities: a bigger Convention Center hotel and rail transit, both stalled projects discussed for years. (Urban planning has never really been Leffingwell's thing.) The mayor did use the address to stump for Austin Urban Rail: "The future of Downtown depends on transportation, and it's too important to leave to chance," he asserted. In a humorous nod to rail skeptics, he said: "Study our urban rail proposal when it comes out – and then you can decide to support it." – Katherine Gregor

Coal Patrol

The Roll Beyond Coal rally and Clean Energy Bike Tour, organized by the local Sierra Club chapter, drew a sizable crowd to City Hall plaza on a sunny and breezy Hallo­ween afternoon; speakers included City Council Member Chris Riley and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. Simultaneous rallies were held across the state to protest "the second wave of the Texas Coal Rush." In Texas, 11 new coal plants are in progress – by far the most of any state in the U.S. The Sierra Club is calling for the Texas Commis­sion on Environmental Quality to enforce the federal Clean Air Act (as is the Environmental Protection Agency) and for Austin Energy to close its Fayette coal plant by 2020. Meanwhile, an Austin business coalition is arguing the opposite case. Calling themselves the Coalition for Clean Afford­able Reliable Energy, large electricity-users have organized to fight Austin Energy's proposed new generation plan, which would replace coal-fueled electricity generation with renewable energy – and could raise electricity rates in the short term, CCARE says. (Long term, an increase is likely without a shift to renewables, too.) While CCARE supports "carbon-reducing initiatives," it seeks special consideration for its members, which include AMD, Dell, Freescale, Spansion, Highland Mall, IBM, National Instru­ments, Samsung, Seton Hospit­als, St. David's, and the Building Owners and Managers Association. – K.G.

ARA Audit Arrives

A long-awaited city of Austin audit of the Austin Revitalization Authority was finally presented to the City Council's Audit and Finance Committee Tuesday. City staff found that while the ARA has reduced slum and blight conditions along portions of the East 11th and 12th Street corridors, it also has major financial problems – including "liquidity challenges" and ineffective financial planning – that "have adversely impacted ARA's long-term viability." The audit also said ARA, charged with returning the two corridors to their previously vibrant states, has not fully adhered to its mission to preserve community character in the area. ARA board chair and former Mayor Pro Tem Charles Urdy responded that the city's failure to make certain land transfers to ARA has delayed projects that might have increased revenues to the authority. The ARA's financial manager also said city auditors used flawed means to determine that ARA truly has a liquidity problem. More on the audit next week. – Lee Nichols

Bolton Draws a Challenger

Valinda Bolton
Valinda Bolton (Photo by John Anderson)

For a while, it looked as if Rep. Donna Howard might be the only Travis County Democrat to face a Republican challenger, but now local businessman Paul Workman has announced that he plans to challenge two-term incumbent Rep. Valinda Bolton in House District 47. The founder of Workman Commercial Construction Services Ltd. and now director of development for property firm T. Stacy & Associ­ates, Workman served on the Real Estate Council of Austin board for eight years and is now on the board of directors of reactionary tort reform advocates Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas. In that latter capacity, Workman pushed last session against the expansion of asbestos-related lawsuits. Workman's campaign claims that "Bolton is widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats given her narrow margin in the 2008 election." In fact, Bolton increased her share of the vote from 50% in 2006's three-way race to 51% in 2008, when she fought off a well-funded and highly negative challenge from Repub­lican Donna Keel, sister-in-law to former HD 47 rep-turned-House Parliamentarian Terry Keel. – Richard Whittaker

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Lee Leffingwell, Valinda Bolton, Paul Workman, coal, Roll Beyond Coal, Sierra Club

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