Page Two

Page Two
The first thing this Wednesday morning I read the Statesman, as I do most mornings. There was an article on the city bringing a lawsuit against Circle C that quoted developer Gary Bradley as calling this action "arrogant" on the city's part (for more on this, see "Naked City," p.16). I would love to say that this statement took my breath away, but that would be disingenuous. This is the attitude that Bradley has always maintained.

But this label -- neither unique nor unexpected -- is still staggering and worth noting. As a developer, Gary Bradley had a wonderful relationship with the city, which not only provided financing for infrastructure but, over the years, a school, a veloway, parks, and services. When he couldn't get his way, Bradley went to the legislature. It didn't hurt that he was a minority owner of the Houston Rockets basketball team but in any case, with his considerable charm and ability, he talked an already anti-Austin legislature to simply unconscionably interfere in the city's internal business one more time. "Arrogant."

The argument over the environment must move away from heroes and villains. Vilifying Bradley accomplishes nothing, but labeling the city's only legitimate response to a threat on its autonomy "arrogant" is typical of the way Bradley has consistently cast this battle. And the most dangerous thing is, his is not a lone view but represents a widespread opinion.

On a regular basis in the Statesman, occupants of some of the disputed territorial areas write in to assail the city for a deterioration of services and an increase in costs which, they claim, leads logically to a demand for civic autonomy. The only problem is that the deterioration of services and increase in costs is as dramatic in the inner city. The major reason for this problem is the unprecedented growth in this region, and the city's generous support of it. The city never managed to find the moment to purchase Barton Springs land, even after the voters approved money for such a purpose two decades ago, but it rarely found a sewer system that it didn't fund. Now, the bills are coming due -- for everyone. And everyone is complaining. And those who are most righteously decrying and spurning the city are the ones on whose part much of the expense was incurred, not only for build-out but for the stress the ever-expanding population places on Austin as the central metropolitan area.

Dealing with the City of Austin can be a nightmare. Try to build anywhere and you face a daunting web of bureaucratic complications. This can be frustrating. The city, however, has to plan not for the next 10 years or the next 20 years, but for the next 50, trying to think of exactly how it needs to grow to thrive and survive. Getting there means a host of regulations that often seem ridiculous and contradictory. There does have to be a better way to go. The council and the city claim to have made streamlining the permit process a priority. We'll see.

Austin is not attempting to punish developers, or even slow growth, and certainly not to fight with the legislature. The city is making a perfectly reasonable attempt to preserve its environmental integrity, with a specific eye towards the future and the effects of staggering growth on this area. This is not for the good of bugs nor snails nor tree-hugging environmentalists, but for the good of all of us. What this city is like well into the next millennium will affect not only us and our children but our children's children. There is plenty of arrogance here, but precious little of it is on the city's part. n

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