City Hall Hustle: Gather Round Yon Virgins

Council lopes toward Christmas in thermal underwear

The holidays are supposed to be about the less fortunate – and that reminder was the first thing to surface last Thurs­day, at City Council's final meeting of the year.

On a message of personal privilege, Mike Martinez and Randi Shade opened the meeting by eulogizing Jennifer Gale. The transgendered, homeless City Council regular and perennial candidate died two years ago on the street, suffering a heart attack in the early morning of Dec. 17, 2008. Her death came just hours after she sang a Christmas carol to council's Public Health and Human Services subcommittee – ironically, the group tasked with addressing the health of the city, including our homeless population. To that end, they played a clip of her singing a now-solemn "Silent Night" to hushed chambers.

Gale was a complicated, polarizing figure, and she could easily become intransigent (especially with reporters) if it was suggested that her quixotic campaigns for office were just a hobby. Gale's most irritating aspect wasn't Gale herself, but the polite fiction that surrounded her – that this homeless person in obvious need of physical and psychological assistance was instead a quirky exemplar of Austin weirdness.

Martinez and Shade said they'll soon affix a placard in the front row of council chambers in Gale's memory. However, they also suggested a donation to House the Homeless' thermal underwear drive as a gift to the less fortunate this holiday season. Every little bit helps.

Cab Rate Quandary

Need doesn't discriminate: There's the homeless, and there's the working poor.

All year long, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid argued that many – if not most – of Austin's taxi drivers fell into the latter category, issuing a report finding that cabbies are trapped by fees and costs that drastically cut their take-home pay (see "Sharecropping on Wheels," June 11). TRLA's Austin Branch Manager D'Ann Johnson spoke on two agenda items, one which sets a base fare for trips from the airport, and another setting cleanup fees for messy passengers.

The ordinances set fees leaving the airport at a four-mile minimum, as cabs can queue for fares at the airport for hours, then pick up a passenger who may simply want to go to the Hilton next door. The cleanup fee adds a 10-cent surcharge, returned to drivers (an estimated $359 a year) for cleanup costs. While calling the fees too low (for instance, Johnson said six miles would be a more realistic minimum fare from the airport), Johnson conceded it is "better than nothing, which is what we have right now."

Water Flowing Underground

"I've been making a list here, and I've checked it twice, and it looks like four of you are going to be naughty, and three of you will continue to be nice."

That was the holiday admonishment from the Sierra Club's Roy Waley, who accurately predicted that evening's Water Treatment Plant No. 4-related vote, which mirrored the previous half-dozen: lumps of coal for plant proponents Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole, and Randi Shade. "There's always a possibility that just like the Grinch, it's possible that one of you, your heart will grow three sizes today. And you will change your vote ... although I'm afraid three sizes still might not be enough."

Indeed, it wasn't to be, as the vote split 4-3 along the traditional lines (with Bill Spelman, Laura Morrison, and Chris Riley dissenting) over the matter of the Spicewood Springs shaft, a deep hole now slated to be excavated on parkland opposite homes, required in order for excavations related to a transmission main running from the plant intake to a storage reservoir. The public hearing was required per Chapter 26 of the Texas Parks and Wild­life Code, which requires that in order for a parkland taking to occur, an official finding must be made that no "feasible and prudent" alternative exists – a finding that nearby residents and local environmentalists disputed and sought to prevent.

"You cannot tonight find with rational basis that there's no feasible and prudent alternatives to the taking or use of the parkland, or that all reasonable measures have been taken – reasonable planning measures to minimize the harm to the park and [Balcones Canyonlands] preserve land," said Save Our Springs Alliance Director Bill Bunch.

While the Hustle had been tempted to anticipate that this winter's $300 million omnibus appropriation of WTP4 funding, coupled with the Chapter 26 approval, might put some sort of end to wrangling over the plant, the effect of SOSA's lawsuit against the city on Austin's "Candidate Conservation Agree­ment With Assurances" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regarding the Jollyville Plateau salamander, is still to be played out – meaning WTP4 will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving, at least into the spring.

And to council, city staff, and Hustlers everywhere, with a seasonal flourish, a holiday good night!

Remember the less fortunate. Contribute to House the Home­less' thermal underwear drive at

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House the Homeless, Jennifer Gale, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, cab fees

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