I, too, enjoy Alex de Marban's "Council Watch" column and usually find him a highly entertaining writer who is fun to read (assuming, of course, you're not the latest mint in thze bowl of his "pissoir"). His series on the Davenport Ranch wastewater project was highly entertaining. In the outside chance, however, that somebody might be interested in the accurate facts, I offer them as follows:
This is not a "rich" vs. "poor" issue, it is not a "subsidy" for the rich; and most importantly, it is not an "either/or" proposition for Austinites, as has been repeatedly mischaracterized by several city councilmembers.
First and foremost, the members of the MUD Board are not developers: We are all residents who want to believe we are just as environmentally sensitive, concerned for the future of Austin, and scared of overdevelopment as anyone else. I have been living at Davenport Ranch since January, 1984, and I have been on the MUD Board for 11 years. I have never owned any interest in any development, and the only piece of real estate I have ever owned is my own home. Being residents there, we also were very concerned about the most environmentally sound way to handle our wastewater: Our choices were either to expand our plant with a several-million dollar investment, or to work with the City of Austin and pay for the use of their immense wastewater capacity. They wanted to make it available, and we wanted to pay to use it.
For the City of Austin, it was also an equally easy decision (or should have been): If the city truly is considering a future annexation of the Westlake peninsula, you do this deal. If you don't do this deal, the MUD either spends the millions of dollars to increase our own plant capacity (thus also increasing the debt which the City of Austin taxpayers would have to take over during any annexation) and/or the MUD works with the LCRA to take over our system. In either event, the city taxpayers will eventually spend many millions of additional dollars to annex.
What the opponents to this wastewater project never told you is this very simple equation: Unless there is a darn good reason, a city should never annex real estate unless it makes financial sense, i.e., there is a positive cash benefit for the city. If you have to spend additional taxpayer dollars annexing an area, thus increasing the overall city tax rates, it is not a good deal for the city.
By the away, the bug-a-boo in this proposal was never whether or not this was a good deal for the city. It always was, is, and has been a good deal. By "good deal" I mean that, even in the most pessimistic financial scenario, the city will always make money from this deal. The bug-a-boo was forcing people to speculate on whether or not some legislation would ever pass that would somehow affect Austin's annexation rights to the area. All we could tell the City of Austin was that we, as a MUD Board, would pledge never to oppose annexation or to be behind a lobbying effort. We can't muzzle private citizens from having their own opinions. From the beginning we simply asked the city to allow the MUD to remain neutral.
Now, about the idea that this is a "subsidy" for the rich: How do you figure? The MUD and its individual partners (on the west side of Loop 360) are building a $5 million project to the city's specifications and subject to city inspections. We are then going to give that project to the city. $1.9 million of this project will be paid in cash by the west side partners: a necessary infrastructure gift to the city. This is the same or similar project which the city admits they would have to build when they got ready for annexation. How in the world can somebody call this a subsidy? To the contrary, when councilwoman Griffith insisted that the city annex right away, she stated that this would only amount to a small rate increase for city residents. See, that's a subsidy: The rest of the inexhaustible taxpayers of the City of Austin are going to have to pay more money to underwrite an annexation which does not make financial sense. City staffers had realized from the beginning that, to annex this area, they are going to have to build additional capital infrastructure to support police, fire, EMS, and other city services: Money that is going to have to come out of the general fund which the city is not yet ready to pay. In other words, the tax revenues from these reputed zillion-dollar homes are not going to support the capital expenses anticipated by the city, and once again, you guessed it, they are going to have to raise taxes to support this premature annexation.
Which leads me to the last issue, the "either/or" delusion. Detractors constantly suggested that either we (the city) do this wastewater project, or we annex and make $40-60 million in tax revenue over the next 25 to 30 years. Why don't they truly say that you can sanely accept this plan and then annex when it makes sense? There is absolutely no prohibition to the City of Austin annexing the MUD after September, 1997. One would assume they would do so when it makes financial sense, but having witnessed some of the intelligent comments made at council, common sense seems to be a precious commodity. Don't forget that some areas on the west side of Loop 360 are already in the City of Austin, and their city taxes return no city services to them (shall we revisit who's subsidizing whom?).
As far as development, everyone has talked about the million square feet of office space which this project will facilitate building. They neglect to mention that this development was long since approved by city council. Nevertheless, in our contract with the city, not only have we limited future development to what was already approved, but the Davenport West developer actually agreed to reduce the amount of development to facilitate this contract. The true issue, which concerns all of us, is how quickly this development comes. As residents, we will be most affected by too much traffic and overbuilding. That's what we should be talking about, not turning this into a class conflict bellowing "subsidies for the rich," or that this deal will cause the "death of the inner city." Gimme a break.
In doing this deal, a majority of council finally showed that it has the strength to be a leader in prudent regional planning. It's not as fun to see it that way for some reporters, but, hey, the truth hurts.
Very truly yours,
Claude E. Ducloux
VP, Davenport Ranch MUD
Where Is the Outrage?
Dear Mr. Black:
What's the deal, Louis? I don't get it. Ten years ago you would have been ranting and raving about a wealthy lawyer who moves to town to run for mayor as a stepping stone for statewide office. You would have been outraged that he's setting a record for raising funds outside of Austin. You would have had a conniption that developers are backing both big money candidates. But instead you choose to bash Max. Are you going through some sort of mid-life identity crisis? I went through the Sixties, too, so I think I know what you're going through. But here's the thing: If you won't speak out on the fact that Austin seems to be up for sale to the highest bidder in this election, why don't you at least let Max do it? Don't you think at least someone should do something?
With all due respect to Alex de Marban, I think Alex missed the point last week on his place in the campaign consultants article. Everyone in town is trying to figure out how the heck Max has a serious shot at getting into the runoff when he has no money against the record $1 million Ronney and Kirk are going to spend.
Actually, Kirk Watson alluded to the answer the other day on KVET. He said he has to raise $500,000-plus because Max has $200,000 worth of name recognition that he doesn't have. Putting aside the question of just how Max built this name recognition (that Max has a record, not just a resumé), the question has to be raised as to what about the other $300,000-plus?
So, I hereby challenge to the two suits running against Max. We'll grant you that Max's name is worth $200,000. Since you've both raised considerably more than that (Watson -- $500,000, Reynolds -- $300,000), how 'bout if you guys send back everything you've raised over $200,000? Then, if you'll agree to our $100 limits, just like Max has, we've got a fair fight.
Please respond ASAP, election day is coming soon on May 3. I can't wait to see if Austin voters can figure this one out with all this confusion.
The Anti-Consultant ConsultantRiver City Voices
Cover the Candidates
I wanted to give an explanation for my un-RSVP'd absence from your consultants' photo shoot and ice cream social Saturday morning in front of City Hall. I feel that before you start doing photo spreads of the consultants, you should first cover the candidates. Besides one article on Place 5, and a December declaration that Kirk Watson had already won, your campaign coverage has been non-existent.
I find your focus on "insiders" misplaced; you are performing a disservice to your readers by focusing on the horse race rather than on the candidates and the issues. I hope your coverage will improve before election day.
The preceding was a personal opinion and was not a statement representing the views of any campaign. I am not now employed by any candidate for Austin City Council, but am strongly supporting four candidates: Karen Hadden for Place 5, Willie Lewis for Place 6, Gus Garcia for Place 2 and Kirk Watson for Mayor. I urge your readers to vote for them; they deserve your support.
With the mayoral election approaching, I was pondering the qualifications of the candidates. While Kirk Watson is an intelligent individual with views which could soothe the ruffled feathers brought about by the opposing viewpoints concerning environmental protection and rapid uncontrolled growth, he lacks an essential element to be an adequate politician. Let's recall Mr. Reynolds' ability to "Serve the People," which after all is what our elected officials are obliged to do. I of course am referring to the "public" service he performed a couple of years ago as a caddy for Jim Bob Moffet, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan, during a large golf tournament here in Austin. So that pretty much settles it for me. However, my opinion of Mr. Kirk could change if he could "serve" some equally infamous characters. Maybe we could get O.J. to move out to Barton Creek Country Club!
More Election Section
What is the 1990s equivalent in Austin politics to the gentleman's agreement which circuited single member districts while allowing the local establishment to elect "minority" councilmembers? I believe it is the Sierra Club's political endorsement of Place 5 candidate Bill Spelman, and subsequent turning of their heads when Spelman does "political speak" which is contrary to their beliefs.
Recently in the Oak Hill Gazette, Spelman said he is against the closing of Southwest Parkway, he is for an election on light rail before the project begins, he is for an election for the rollback of the Cap Metro sales tax, and he is for building schools in the aquifer recharge zone.
This is certainly in contrast with the Sierra Club's questionnaire for the 1997 council elections which stated (asked), "I will vote for and promote the passage of a bond election to fully fund Phase 1 of the light rail system as proposed by city staff." "I will only appoint persons to the board of Capital Metro who will vote to expand the mass transit system and who are supportive of the Capital Metro (MTA) sales tax." "I support any means possible to limit development over the Edwards recharge and contributing zone...."
How does Karen Hadden, Place 5 candidate and longtime environmental activist, feel about this inconsistency of the endorsement and Spelman's "political speak?" She is very consistent on what she says, because it is what she believes. How does the rest of the environmental community feel about Spelman's inconsistencies?
As a citizen of Austin, it concerns me greatly. If he says one thing for convenience's sake at one location, and something else at another, what is to keep this behavior from occurring once he is in office?
Integrity and consistency are two of the most important characteristics in someone running for political office. I am not sure Mr. Spelman is showing either at this time, and I am concerned that his political supporters may be actually encouraging this behavior.
Poets On Our Pages
Dear Austin Chronicle:
Praise be y'all for finding space to feature the Austin poets Raúl Salinas and Albert Huffstickler in recent issues. Both poets are true river city voices, but better known outside the city than through their publications. Your articles help change that situation.
Austin has many fine poets, still unknown at home, who have been publishing since the early 1970s. These would include (among others): Susan Bright, Paul Foreman, Dave Oliphant, David Wevill, and Glen Hardin. I hope you can continue your series beyond the short AIPF weeks.
Thanks From AArC
I would like to thank the Chronicle for its coverage of the Architectural Artisans Collaborative (AArC) Studio Tour held on April 5. Due to the excellent turnout, we were able to raise $1,800 to benefit Habitat for Humanity.
There was one error, however, in your article. Clayworks was listed as a sponsor of the event. Clayworks was actually one of the 15 studios on the tour. The sponsors were AArC and the Texas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
I would like to publicly thank the AIA for its enthusiastic support of this event.
Michael Bertin's review of the Sheridans' User Friendly sounds more like a diatribe than a record review. I think the reviewer may have been treating his assignment as a writing exercise, and the piece not only lacks professional objectivity; it sounds a lot like personal hate-mail. What has happened to the once-reliable Chronicle detachment?
Double Pop 2020
Letter to the Editor:
I want to congratulate Mike Clark-Madison and Dan Quinn on their excellent articles on passenger rail prospects in the Austin metropolitan area and the Round Rock/Austin/San Marcos/New Braunfels/San Antonio corridor.
Our high population growth rate since 1990 -- and forecasted to continue through 2020 -- requires us to find more efficient ways to move ourselves around during rush hours than one-person-per-car. Passenger rail, buses, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, carpools, bicycles, walking, and telecommunicating are all things we must concentrate on to solve the problem, in addition to building new roads. There is no single silver bullet solution.
The forecasted doubling of our population by the year 2020 is more than a statistic. If it occurs as expected, the reality will be much different from conditions we experience today and we must prepare for it in order to maintain and enhance our special quality of life here.
Director, Austin Transportation Study
Beware of the Cliquemeister
Paradox abounds in expounding poetic plays in this town. The recent International Festival juxtaposed with the recent departure of the great Allen Ginsberg are placed in apt relief.
Two articles in the Chronicle heralded the coming festival; one said it unified the cliques into some kind of open forum, the other all but admitted the fact this festival is clique to the nth degree, and should be. A statement was made comparing the Beats with this phenomenon. What exactly is a clique? The Nazis; they burnt books. The Politburo; they exiled writers. A clique is a private enclave afraid of freedom. The Beats were antithesis to that, the current scene the epitome. This isn't to say there aren't good and interesting writers out there; some are aware what I'm saying is true. But cliqueism itself is the death knell to creativity and should be exposed.
Always, there's a cliquemeister running the show. I saw it two years ago. Silenced. Since then I've bothered not apply. That's just my story, by itself insignificant. Of late others have come under attack; anyone this one has reason to fear has ended up tasting his virulent, vituperative vengeance, molding the scene into a private salon of sycophants and otherwise poisoning the pool of free expression in Austin. Beware -- it's not what you think it is.
We are what we do: writers write, scenemakers manipulate. While extroverted fools run the world, introspective thought is the spirit of the writer, the retreat from falsehood, search for substance. Diametric poles. Yet the writer looks around at what should be his little nook of sanity and finds this, too, co-opted by some Napoleonic fool. His only recourse to retreat to obscurity with dignity intact. Some day freedom will be allowed, he tells himself. Goodbye Allen, may your legacy prevail.
To all who have responded to my previous letter regarding bicyclists, read on. First off, I would like to thank William Kelly for at least taking the time to read the letter I was responding to. Apparently the rest of you didn't and made your assumptions. I would like to clear up a few things. First off, I don't have a problem with bicyclists in general. I do have a problem with a bicyclist who expects everyone else to look out for them. I have no intentions of disrespecting the rights of any bicyclist, but you have to be a realist. Motor vehicles will win any confrontation with a bicycle. If you don't respect yourself enough to ride your bicycle safely, how can you expect me to respect you? Frankly, I am opposed to the helmet law, as applied to an adult, and the Austin City Council in general. The point I was trying to make to the gentleman who bragged about not even having a driver license is that in addition to all the other taxes we all pay I, as a motorist, pay additional taxes for the privilege of driving on the road. I attempted to point out, in a facetious manner, all the burdens that come about with owning and operating a motor vehicle and are not applicable to a bicyclist, especially one that neither owns nor drives a motor vehicle. For those of you who think your property taxes go to road building and maintenance, I suggest you find out exactly what your taxes are spent on. I think you will be surprised and not very happy about it, either. I am all for bike lanes and dedicated paths for bicyclists but I ask this: Where is the money to come from? Should those who will benefit from it pay the costs? Should the citizens of Austin in general pay for it? Should we make motorists pay for it? Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Just don't tell me what mine is.
Steve M. Knickerbocker
Slow Is Good
Letter to the Editor:
Nearing the end of a century filled with calamities unmatched in human history, no rational person can continue believing in "progress" unless they are blind to the wider world beyond their four cozy walls. The insatiable desire for more wealth, greater comfort, and more sensuous entertainment has led to an abrogation of the difference between wants and needs. Our materialistic preoccupations have resulted in a spiritual crisis that includes not only the moral breakdown of society, exemplified by the growing chasm between the rich and poor, but also the environmental devastation of the planet, evident in the increasing pollution and species extinction. But in spite of common knowledge of this fact we keep striving for more progress consisting of acquisitive individualism, unlimited economic growth, and the unsustainable expenditures of natural resources. Consumerism is the name of this disease and symptomatic of having lost the reverence for life that is the basis for a civilized society. We can treat the symptom by recognizing how luxuries rapidly become necessities when we blur the distinction between wants and needs. The insanity of continuing to strive for "progress" becomes clear in considering what would happen if the consumptive practices of North America and Europe extended to other continents. What happens when the five billion poor people of the world start consuming at the same rate as the one billion people in the industrialized nations? We affluent folks are only 20% of the world population, yet we consume 80% of world resources and account for 70% of the environmental destruction. Advocates of continued economic growth seem oblivious to the fact that increasing affluence will be matched by increasing environmental devastation of the planet. Such "progress" will accelerate ozone depletion, global warming, pollution of air and water, and species extinction to the point where our children will be condemned to live in misery. Continuing economic growth is a recipe for ecological disaster: It is time to stop regarding fast as good, big as better, and more as best and to realize the virtue of living by the truth that slow is good, small is better, and less is best. That is the lifestyle needed to provide us the possibility for developing a world in which life can be good and better and best for everyone.
Lack of Vision
Isn't it interesting that all of the environmentalists support the new 130 Loop or MoKan? Has anyone recommended one proposal to alleviate some of the problems on I-35, such as identifying the far left lane as the truck lane? I drive I-35 and the main reason for problems is bad driving, poor signage, and no policing. Sure I-35 is crowded, but that's the way it's supposed to be. Some people would like it to be like the Southwest Parkway. But to respond to these problems might mitigate a crisis which would throw a monkey wrench in the creation of more public debt. Hey, let's build a light rail, a new highway, my recommended bike lanes, a canal, and a subsidized Southwest [Airlines] commuter plane. Or San Marcos could have eight-man sculls to row to Austin as part of the yellow boat program.
There is a belief that more cement will solve every transportation need in Austin, that we need to be able to drive everywhere we go. Look at the proposal for the Drag section of Guadalupe. The complete objective is drivability. Not, "Is this a destination I have in mind?" The warehouse district is not so accessible, but people find it a good destination and modify their behavior patterns accordingly.
Is there a lack of vision on the council or what? The environmentalist's council? Can you say Frank Cooksey council? I know Bruce Todd ain't no Frank, but he can kowtow with the best of them. Somehow I imagine Mayor Todd on his off hours locked in a box with full leather face mask and nipple rings. Is that just my imagination?
I love those village-minded light rail boosters who want to build a train to Leander from Austin. Has anyone asked Leanderites whether they want to come to Austin? Because I can assure you no one wants to go to Leander, except truck drivers to get loads of rock. And has it occurred to anyone that people moved to Leander because they don't want to be in Austin? And they say it will stop urban sprawl, come again....
Has the city council noticed Austin is becoming ugly? But, hey we need those jobs even if we already have jobs. As John Doggett would say, "We're all environmentalists. What's the problem?" The most recent votes by Ronney Reynolds, Eric Mitchell, Mayor Todd, and Jackie Goodman gave the wealthiest corporations in America $4 million in reduced electric rates that comes out of everyone's hide, while their incomes are in the billions. But, hey, they do support those 10K runs. Isn't that enough? And then Mrs. Goodman and the mayor left a hearing to secretly negotiate giving Davenport funding. Mrs. Goodman misled her constituency by saying she supported the sewer because of the environmental concerns; it was just about money.
I find these despicable behaviors the lowest form of government service and moral character. I am ashamed to have Mayor Todd as a representative of Austin, likewise Mrs. Goodman. I know I am being too vitriolic, but the Austin that I have lived in all my life and loved has now been occupied by an invading horde of pinheads. And the mayor, Mrs. Goodman, Eric "The Hood" Mitchell, and non-Ronney Reynolds are complicit in sycophantically aiding the people with bad taste and no morals. For shame. Makes me wish I didn't know what I do, but I do.