Since the Chronicle is the only regular source of reliable information about the ongoing struggle to preserve Barton Springs, I have often written to correct, disagree or thank the Chronicle for its reporting and editorializing on this important subject. The Chronicle has played a critical role in keeping the citizens informed. My only wish has been that the Chronicle would take its role as media watchdog more seriously.
I write today to respond to Alex de Marban's lengthy profile on my role in the Save Our Springs effort ["Oh No, It's Mister Bill!" Vol. 16, No. 7]. While much of the piece is accurate -- and I appreciate your interest -- considering the number of hours I spent with Alex, the multiple delays in printing the piece, and the vast knowledge of Chronicle environment editor Robert Bryce, I had hoped for a more accurate picture of the S.O.S. struggle and my role in it.
Overall the piece ignores the role of thousands of Austin citizens who care enough to get involved and fight for our water and our home rule rights to shape the future of Austin. It specifically ignores the role of the Board of Directors of the S.O.S. Alliance (formerly S.O.S. Legal Defense Fund), which approves every legal action of the organization and establishes the general policy of the organization.
The opening quote is taken out of context and implies that I expect to lose the battle for the Springs. This is false. Life is too short to fight losing battles. As long as the Chronicle and others focus on the direct connection between corruption and pollution, and on the science and economics of water and land use, and enough citizens refuse to accept a future of dysfunctional democracy, corporate control, and endless sprawl as either desirable or inevitable, the progress made in the last few years to return the future of Austin to the citizens who actually believe Austin is "home" and not just a place to make money will continue.
The future of the Springs and the City depends on more people getting informed and active and I see that happening right now. Witness the more than 40 neighborhood associations who jumped in with us to oppose ACC's purchase of a new campus site above Barton Springs while south central and southeast Austin remain unserved by ACC. Consider the 1996 Austin Chronicle Readers Poll choosing S.O.S. as "Best Non-profit Group" and the recent election of Slusher, Goodman and Griffith to the Austin City Council.
While action invites reaction, I cannot take credit for the property rights activists or the time-honored tradition of Austin-bashing at the Texas Legislature. You falsely reported that I advocated for a 33-county critical habitat designation for the Golden-cheeked Warbler. I did no such thing. As far as I know no one ever advocated for such a proposal and the whole thing was fabricated by the Take Back Texas "pay me not to pollute"-ers. Austin-bashing is simply a species of special interest legislating, and was around long before I got involved. Austin-bashing will continue as long as Austin says no to transnational corporate bullies who would pollute our water and use our tax dollars to make it happen.
A journalist, like a lawyer or anyone seeking the truth, should look for credible sources. The claims of legal overreaching by me (and, hence, S.O.S.) come from opposing attorneys and anonymous sources. For example, you quote Alan Glen for the proposition that we had a "laydown case," but that our "broad pleading" somehow dragged down or strung out the Salamander lawsuit. You fail to mention that we filed the case on October 21, 1995 and had a final order from the federal court on November 27, 1995, all done on paper and without ever even appearing in court. It's hard to be more efficient and successful. (You might also have asked Mr. Glen if we had a "lay down" case then is he suggesting his opposition was frivolous?)
Similarly, your main support for suggesting that "consensus does not come easily" to me comes from a few folks who stood in the way of forging an across-the-board consensus of environmentalists on a strategy for protecting Barton Springs. I strongly believe that these few do not represent SBCA or any other environmental organization. I am definitely not interested in how developers define "consensus," which is "my way, more highways." S.O.S. is committed to honoring the real community consensus forged in the Austin Tomorrow Plan and the 2-1 S.O.S. vote.
Since divide-and-conquer is the only way for Jim Bob and company to defeat the clear public interest, SOS has worked overtime building consensus and will continue to do so. Starting with the famous June 7th, 1990 hearing and the Barton Springs position paper drafting in 1991, the environmental community has demonstrated unprecedented cooperation and consensus despite constant divide-and-conquer efforts by developers and their friends in public office. All disagreements are trivial in comparison.
The administrative challenge by S.O.S. to the Comp I ordinance forced the TNRCC to adopt both a "hands off" policy to city watershed protection ordinances and a policy that city ordinances are effective unless disapproved by TNRCC. Pinning TNRCC down on these points was important to defending the S.O.S. ordinance later. Alex either failed to understand this point or chose not to report it.
Thank you again for your interest and commitment to telling it like you see it. Without the Chronicle countering the real estate speculator propaganda from the Statesman (demonstrated most recently in the ACC Shadowridge deal), Austin would have been down the tubes long ago. Thanks also to your readers for caring enough to take action.
Morales Is Clueless
On October 28 at 2pm, I entered the Price Daniel Building to deliver the 1996 ACES (Association for Children for Enforcement of Support) Heartless Award to Attorney General Dan Morales [see "Naked City," Vol.16, No.8]. He was unable to receive his award, and it was evidently impossible to send another person in his place for one minute to accept his prize.
Dan Morales won this award for his lack of knowledge of the child support system and a lack of understanding and compassion for the people needing services. Morales allows field offices to keep employees who do not work a full week, do not return phone calls, much less take phone calls when they are supposedly working.
Morales tells the media that he is doing a great job when he has no clue. He claims to be in the top of all states in collections, but he refuses to admit that he's
also in the top of all states in the amount that should be collected, but isn't. Morales is the one responsible for whatever doesn't happen in the child support program, and he is accountable to the public. The public has voted him heartless.
As a 19-year-old college student who grew up in a home where my father abandoned me, I have first-hand knowledge of how devastating this is for children. My mother sought help from the child support agency. Nothing was ever done and the struggle continues because this agency ignores my mother and my situation. I felt very privileged to be the one to deliver the Heartless Award.
Almost my entire life has been spent waiting for the child support agency to do its job. I'm disappointed to see that after almost 13 years of being ignored, I'm still
not getting any attention. Just who isn't being honest?
Gretchen M. Cohenour
Part of the reason Dan Morales was chosen to receive the ACES heartless award was that his child support program is out of touch with clients and with the horrible experiences they are forced to endure -- often at the hands of the child support employees. The statement made by Ron Dusek in the article emphasizes this. Dusek said "They [ACES] cannot afford to be honest about the success of the [child support] program. If they were honest they'd be out of business."
Dusek -- to the credit of his boss -- has no clue who we are or what we are. This is a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that has no paid staff, no office, and certainly no business. The people who are involved in this organization are custodial parents -- mostly mothers who are victims of the ineffective and inefficient services of the child support program. There is no money made here -- we provide a free service because Dan Morales' child support agency doesn't do its job.
Obviously, Dusek -- to the credit of his boss -- sees us as so efficient that we appear to be a business. Maybe he -- and certainly his boss -- should take lessons from us. When they learn to do their job, ACES will be out of "business." Maybe he has us mixed up with the private collection agencies who are making their fortune because the child support program is doing such a lousy job.
Attorney General Dan Morales comments about the success of the child support program reminds me of an alcoholic or an abuser. Alcoholics and abusers cannot begin to improve until they admit there's a problem. As long as Morales refuses to admit that there's a problem, there's no hope for improvement for the thousands of families being abused by this broken child support system.
Lynda Milot Benson
President, ACES of Texas
[Marion] Winik's little essay on writing and drinking ["Mrs. Winik and Her Vicious Circle," Vol. 16, No. 8] contains an error that any undergraduate could spot. She cites a passage describing "an afternoon's drinking in Venice" by Hemingway's semi-autobiographical character Cantwell in "The Sun Also Rises." Cantwell appears in "Across the River and Into the Trees," not in "The Sun Also Rises," which takes place in Paris and Spain, and whose "semi-autobiographical character" is Jake Barnes.
My good buddy Marc Savlov made a boo-boo in the introduction to his Wes Craven interview [Vol. 16, No. 8]. Last House on the Left did not star Jodie Foster and a creepy Martin Sheen. Marc is thinking of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, a Canadian film directed by Nicholas Gessner four years after Craven made Last House. Gessner's film is a compelling and deeply eerie psychological thriller with fine performances by a pair of pros. Craven's film is a repugnant rape-and-revenge exploitation cheapie which stars no one of any interest. As for Marc's generous assessment of Craven's oeuvre on the whole... well, heh heh, Marc and I don't see eye to eye on everything, I suppose.
Until recently, I've waded through Mark Savlov's pseudo-informed hipster posturings with nothing but detached amusement. He wears black... he likes all things goth... he must be... alternative! Surely, his opinion is cutting edge!
And with the self-important ramblings that precede his interview with Wes Craven, Savlov flaunts his all-knowing expertise, offering sage readings of films that are generally given a shove-aside by "mainstream" critics. The problem is that he should've actually bothered to watch the movies he was researching. (I'm assuming that all of that introductory info came straight from research, as there were almost no questions that dealt with any Craven works besides the Nightmare films.) Had he done so, he would've realized that Last House on the Left has nothing to do with Nicolas Gessner's 1976 pic, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, which Savlov incorrectly recalled as being the aforementioned film.
Research is always useful, but please make sure that your writers know their subjects before writing about them. Alternative credibility doesn't make up for gross inaccuracy.
Dear Mr. Black:
Thank you for the in-depth article on the Austin Public Library in your September 20 issue. It is encouraging to see both our merits and problems reviewed in a sympathetic light.
One correction: The Manchaca Road Branch is described as a "de facto regional branch," but this isn't the case. Because Manchaca once was an official regional branch, the collection remains a sizable one, but no branch is now budgeted for a regional role in terms of its collection or staff. Manchaca, like other branches, is concentrating on providing materials of wide interest. More specialized materials, including the bulk of reference publications, are located at the Central Library (800 Guadalupe). Reference librarians may also be found there. For the most part, only general guidance is available at branches.
Customers should keep in mind three aids to obtaining publications and information if their local branch isn't sufficient.
(1) The library system's computerized catalog covers all locations. A customer may request via telephone that any publication available for checkout be delivered to the most convenient pickup location. (The catalog is on the Internet at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/. A connection capable of using Telnet is required.)
(2) The Central Library's Telephone Information Center (499-7599) can research many types of questions Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm. For questions related to Austin, the Austin History Center (499-7480) has a telephone service operating the same hours.
(3) Publications not owned by any Austin Public Library location can frequently be borrowed from other libraries across the U.S. within two or three weeks. Requests can be made through the Telephone Information Center or at any location.
Manager, Manchaca Road Branch
To the People of Austin:
Broken Heart Killed Jaroschy
A wake-up call to the supporters and appreciators of art in Austin. Austin has lost a pillar of the local arts community. Michel Jaroschy, the founder and artistic director of Capitol City Playhouse died this past weekend. People die every day, and many may not even pause to read the obituary, but the circumstances around Michel's death are noteworthy, and in my opinion, alarming.
Michel had a dream, and dedicated his life to fulfilling his dream, and in the process, giving Austin a first-class theatre. For over 10 years, Capitol City Playhouse has provided Austin audiences with shows worth seeing; from mainstream theatre and dance, to late night alternative performances.
I was fortunate enough to experience the Playhouse from every angle. As an art critic for KVRX and KOOP, and as a theatre-goer, I enjoyed many productions from the audience position. To pay off a traffic ticket, I completed my community service hours by folding programs and answering phones in the office, and even continued to volunteer after my required hours were completed. As an usher, I showed many people, maybe you, to their seats. And as a performer, I took to the stage with my participation in the late-night Phobia Productions.
Having recently returned to Austin from a stay in Europe, I was informed that Capitol City Playhouse was in search of a new home due to sky-rocketing rents and a mounting debt. Several performers were planning a fund-raising event organized by Rachel Heiken and SXIP, in which I was invited to participate. At our first rehearsal on Sunday night, the announcement was made that there will be no show; Michel is dead. Dead of a heart attack.
Dead of a broken heart seems more accurate. A man who had given everything to live a dream, just to see his dream taken away from him by money-hungry landlords and downtown developers. Rumor has it that a bar will be the next occupant of the space at Fourth and Lavaca. Another bar, just what Austin needs.
If indeed everything happens for a reason, let this awaken the people of Austin. Don't let another art space and an art crusader be victims of the greed and capitalism that is mutating the Austin Art Community. It might be too late for Michel and Capitol City Playhouse, but it is not too late to get involved and support the arts.
S. Alton Dulaney
Be careful, your bias is showing. I'm writing in regard to your mostly excellent piece on Mike Godwin, "Geek Love" [Vol.16, No.9]. In your article you discuss the "Communications Decency Act," and while I rejoice with Godwin and the legions of other netizens at its apparent demise, I was a little disturbed by an evident bit of bias in your description of its author, Jim Exon. Your article labels him "Republican Senator Jim Exon" and then parenthetically notes "(D-Nebraska)." Exon is indeed a Democrat. While this could be a mere typo, my sixth sense indicates that it more likely is a representation of that favorite old conservative saw, the "liberal bias" of the media. Exon is writing a law advocating censorship, therefore the reflex action is to assume he must be a Republican. The truth is that Democrats and Republicans are equally culpable for this bit of boneheadedness (the CDA's co-sponsor was Slade Gorton, R-Wa.). While I know it's probably not possible for the media leopards to change their spots, in the future you might at least try hiding it a little better.
Kung Fu Flighty
I am only now, after half a year, able to articulate my dismay at Marjorie Baumgarten's failure to note Tom Jones contributed his version of "Kung Fu Fighting" to Jackie Chan's Supercop. How, Marjorie, could you have overlooked this vital cultural news item? I have been too dismayed with Austin's cultural elite to write on this essential subject until now. Please atone for your collective shortcomings.
Scott Andrew Gordon
Dear Austin Chronicle,
Lost without LaBernz
What happened to Mindy LaBernz? We haven't heard much from her since that School for the Blind article. The letters that criticized that piece were, in my opinion, right on in pointing out her ignorance. But Jesus Christ, don't stop writing and/or leave town! I always enjoyed Ms. LaBernz's sassy music reviews. If you see her, please tell her to get back on the horse.
[Ed. Note: Not long after her School for the Blind story (Feb. 23, 1996), Mindy moved to Washington, D.C., where she writes for their weekly, Washington City Paper. She also does freelance work for Raygun, and the online magazine, Sonicnet.]