Environs Observer

To the Editor:

While reading the "Environs" column of Vol.16, No.45, I was quite confused at seeing a very different account of an event I witnessed at Barton Creek.

I happened to be with Jim Fries the day he asked, not accosted, Dick Droese and his two friends not to enter Barton Creek at that location. Ultimately, Jim allowed the three to continue down after Dick identified himself as being on official business for the CE-Bar fire department. (Incidentally, I saw no emergency equipment in their canoe, merely a cooler and an inner tube.)

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is performing a valiant deed for Earth. Since neither the government, big business nor many individuals seem to realize life on this planet is interconnected, those that have banded together to preserve habitats. TNC is one such band. TNC, through Barton Creek Habitat Preserve (BCHP), is protecting endangered species, two are birds.

The adage goes "It's the bad 5% ruining it for the remaining 95%." Many rafters are leaving trash, disturbing nesting sites, damaging plants, plant habitats, private property structures, and some bring dogs that scare wildlife away. Many rafters enter by cutting fences on property above the creek. One day in June, someone ran their vehicle through the locked gate at the entrance to BCHP.

Jim has been battling encroachment from those who would destroy what little is left of the Barton Creek Habitat. If Dick's "sympathies are with the environmental movement," why did they not act on that thought? With the rest of the creek habitat being wiped out by development, pollution and traffic, why do some insist on throwing away this remnant?


Ginger Hudson-Maffei

Expanding Oppel

Dear Editor,

I am ever leery of reporters reporting about reporters. I have seen, time and again, the gloss over process implemented, ensuring that both the reporter and the reportee come out as heroes and pinnacles of their profession. That is not, however, what happened with Lee Nichols' article on Austin American-Statesman Editor Richard Oppel ["News Boss," Vol.16, No.45].

As a freelance writer I have had the pleasure (and sometimes, disappointment) of working with both newspaper and magazine editors. So, I am writing this letter to say thank you to Lee Nichols for not pulling punches or sucking up to Mr. Oppel, as I have seen other reporters do. I am also thankful that Nichols did not simply blast Oppel, because of the obvious newspaper rivalry. I read both the American-Statesman and the Chronicle, which I feel gives me a wide variety of views and opinions. I think the two newspapers complement each other and we, as area residents, are quite fortunate to have both of them.

Now, having said that, one thing that stuck out in my mind from Nichols' article was a quote from former American-Statesman columnist, James Garcia. Garcia said, "Oppel suggested that he didn't meet people who read my column; that was his gauge. I said, `Maybe we don't meet the same people.' I talk to the poor... he doesn't. I think I've been vindicated since. People ask me, `Why is the column gone?'" If this assessment of Mr. Oppel is accurate it seems that he, as well as many other editors, falls short of hearing, in many instances, the voices of those outside of his own socio/economic bracket. In the very next paragraph, though, Mr. Oppel is quoted as saying, "We have a diverse staff, and it will be increasingly diverse." Am I the only person who caught this contradiction?

Mr. Oppel may have turned the American-Statesman around, but how can he possibly expect to increase the number of diverse voices at the newspaper without setting foot outside of his own comfort zone; his own neighborhood? Oppel deserves the acclamation, but he also needs to expand his horizons.

Kenneth Edwards

Just the Facts, Nichols

Dear Editor:

Lee Nichols' finding of the Truth about Sammy and Bob ["Media Clips," Vol.16, No.46] reminded me that everything he alleges about that duo is what I read in The Austin Chronicle (nee Hypocrite), albeit with a different slant. Nichols: Just give me the facts (all sides) without all your sanctimonious opinions and let me make up my own mind - who knows what conclusions I might come up with. Is that not the basis of a democracy - give the people the facts and let them decide, even though everyone may not come up with the same Truth.


Robert M. Ward

Cornerstone Corrections

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your recent article on the challenges facing the Cornerstone Gay & Lesbian Center as it confronts its adolescence. There were minor errors in the numbers used and in naming the board members in the photo, but overall we appreciate your reasonable and balanced reporting.

We must, however, correct one serious error in the story: the Cornerstone did not hold a fund raiser for Mr. Watson in the recent campaign. We do not engage in political activities; that is a role already admirably filled by others. The reception was hosted by the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus (ALGPC), who rented the space from our landlord. While the building is referred to as the Cornerstone, we are just one of several tenants and had no role in the event.

In the growing gay community movement, I suppose we find some thin comfort in knowing that ours are precisely the same issues that face every younger community center in America. The question isn't one merely of survival, but rather of realizing the vibrant vision of the Cornerstone's 300-plus founders. Sexual minority people, long separated from each other by their marginalizaion in society, are growing in an awareness of their commonalities. The Cornerstone, if fulfilled, is the logical place where we (and our heterosexual friends) can come together in support and nurturing.


Sandy Bartlett

Board Chair, Conerstone Gay & Lesbian Center

Seven Year Itch

Dear Editor:

Thanks so much for the coverage of AISD in your politics section! Any insight into the complicated web of AISD decisionmaking is a welcome relief to those of us who are consistently stunned by their lack of common sense.

In particular, I am distressed by Dr. Fox's philosophy that no leader can remain effective in the same position for longer than seven years. This is an affront to all logic. If his philosophy is to hold water then we are to believe that Bill Gates is no longer the effective leader of Microsoft. Perhaps Dr. Fox considers Jim Bob Moffett as overdue for a leadership change of venue at Freeport McMoran. I wonder if Dr. Fox would go so far as to say that parents are no longer effective after seven years?

Leadership must be judged solely on performance, not a dictated timeline. Dr. Fox insists on maintaining an aura of fear and disruption among all AISD employees by implementing abrupt and unnecessary staff reassignments starting with the surplus teacher list and continuing with unprecedented principal reallocations. I wonder how long the School Board will allow this reign of administrative terror to continue to relocate effective and well loved staff based on such a faulty and unproved philosophy. I truly hope the AISD School Board will wake up and see that effective leadership cannot be measured in days or even years, but by the positive effect they have on their followers.


Teresa Van Deusen

parent, AISD

Contact Deep & Meaningful

Regarding your review of Contact,

Crappy, appalling, wrong, disgusting, off-base, narrow-minded, wishy-washy, radically unfortunate - these terms reveal the ridiculousness of Marjorie Baumgarten's film review of Contact [Vol.16, No.45].

It wasn't enough to give away the entire plot to the film within the review, ruining it for potential viewers. Also, hidden beneath a soiled veil of pseudo-witty analysis, is a fundamental accusation that the film's target audience is completely incapable of appreciating the film's intricacies. Indeed, I highly doubt the reviewer understands them either and is in fact lashing in spiritual frustration against a film that profoundly addresses such issues.

The thing that disgusts me most however is the reviewer's completely wrong interpretation of how the film addresses "life's unanswerable questions." She argues that the film does not respect them, however she could not be more neurotically wrong. Indeed this film's sole existence is a soul-touching homage to said questions, and it intelligently addresses them in a way that Kubrick was afraid of (2001's ending is a cop-out).

I think the reviewer is angry and frustrated because Contact is right, and that just isn't possible. After all, someone who respects a wimp like Kubrick (who did not create relevant commentary but instead psychedelic blather), is also someone who would be unwilling to create relevant commentary themselves. Giving a film 4.5 or 5 stars would require courage. Rating it worse than drivel like The Lost World is a cop-out.


Jonathan S. Gilbert

[Editor's note: Russell Smith wrote the Contact review.]

Well, Don't You Just
Know it All!

Dear Editor,

Christopher Gray's review ("Bonus Tracks," Vol.16, No.45) implies that Sons of the Desert are some kind of latter day Monkees - that the name and composition of the band ("Five hunky Dance Across Texas types") are the creation of Big Binness. Furthermore, he states that they were then "unleashed on the radio scant months later." It's a pity that Gray's review is so flawed by his own erroneous conjecture. Readers would have been better served and Sons of the Desert more fairly treated had Gray either checked the facts or honestly stated that he was going to just make it up on the fly.

S.O.D. formed eight years ago in 1989 and coined their name at that time, borrowing it from a classic Laurel and Hardy film. As to being "unleashed on the radio scant months later," the first tracks of their debut album were laid down in early 1996, with the first single, "Whatever Comes First," not being released to radio until a full year later and the album not being released until June 3 of this year. That first single, by the way, cracked the Top 10. Again, it's more than a little irritating to see Gray savage this group with misinformation of his own manufacture.

Gray's article on Glorium, appearing in the same issue, reveals him to be a capable writer. So next time I hope Mr. Gray either fully commits to an informed review or does the correct thing and takes a pass on the assignment.

Bill Hughes

Chron Bends Over


I hope you do something worthwhile with the massive chunk of cash Phillip Morris gave you for that full-page ad. I hear the American Cancer Society is accepting donations....

Gretchen Ramke

Dear Editor, owner(s), etc.

Great. Save the ozone - but who will be around to enjoy it if we are all dead from cigarette smoke and second-hand smoke? Were you bending over when they handed you the check?

Granted, we are all human and can all be quite subjective, but this deliberation was quite obvious - it was a bad call. What do they say about "glass houses"?

Better vision in the future.

Warmest regards,

Cliff Martinez

Traffic Woes

Dear Editor:

I am very concerned about a proposed development that could raise our taxes and triple the traffic on 2222 in the near future.

On Thursday, July 24, the city council will hear public comment on a proposed zoning change for Park West, the clifftop acreage located on the south side of 2222, just opposite the former location of Tumbleweed Restaurant. The City of Austin owns this acreage and would like to sell it to Cypress Realty, a Houston development concern that wants to build several six-story office buildings, a restaurant, a retail shopping center, and some 630 apartments on the property.

Allowing this zoning change and subsequent development to proceed would release an incredible flood of automobiles onto 2222 and 360. If we add this development to projects already approved along this stretch, the developers' own estimates indicate that the traffic count will skyrocket to more than 100,000 car trips per day!

The taxpayers have just paid for widening and improving 2222 between 360 and 620. The new road can now handle 39,000 car trips per day, and the traffic count is already at 37,000. We can ill afford to tear it all up and start over. Also, when you consider that the traffic will likely be headed either downtown or to the Arboretum/183 area (via 360), we will likely face widening and overpasses for 360 as well.

We could all see 2222 become another 360 and 360 become another MoPac.

It's not that the City has set out to destroy the Hill Country with some evil plan. Our agreement with the federal government under the Balcones Canyonland Preserve plan requires Austin to set aside 30,000 acres for habitat conservation land, and we have 10,000 yet to purchase. The city wants to sell Park West to purchase other land elsewhere. But do we really need to do this? And if we must sell it, why not seek a buyer willing to use it for a lower-impact development?

Development along 2222 is inevitable. But if we don't carefully plan for it, we will all end up paying for roads we shouldn't have to build - and lose much of our city's natural beauty in the bargain.

Citizens who feel as I do or who simply want more information on this development should show up Thursday night at city council.

Bruce Wright


I would like to know who the idiot is who decided to build an expressway down Ben White and end it right at the intersection of IH-35 and 290. Whoever it was wasted a lot of time and money on the entire damn thing because ending it there completely eliminates the usefulness of the entire freeway. I have to detour around that red light, even though theoretically the quickest way for me to get anywhere would be to run right down to IH35 and truck on home. The traffic backup at that intersection is sickening and I think the entire freeway was poorly planned and a huge disappointment to all who have to deal with the red light every damn day. And to the jackass who designed it, I would just like to say, you suck.

Joye Richards

Vacant Talk...


Regarding the letter from John. W. Sullivan, Randalls Division Manager, the proposed Randalls at the Triangle is a very large store, 10,000 sq. ft. larger than Central Market with significantly more parking (300 spaces), and only one-third smaller than the super mega HEB at Red River. There is a very considerable opposition to the proposed development at the Triangle as evidenced by at least 3,000 signatures on a petition opposing the development from those in contiguous neighborhoods (not just a few affected residents). I haven't heard a single person voice a need for another grocery store (no matter what its size), especially with at least eight already in existence within a 1.5-mile radius, and, frankly, the expressed distaste for a Randalls, in particular, surprises even me.

The behavior of those who are presenting us with this development sometimes reminds me of the proverbial doctor telling the little kid this shot won't hurt. We've been told we won't really notice the additional traffic (an estimated 23,000 trips daily), we'll barely be aware of the 1,200 parking spaces because they're going to be bisected with long concrete strips called "paseos" and camouflaged with trees, we're going to have greenspace - a two-acre detention pond which we can use when there's no water in it, the twelve-plex 2,000 seat Act III cinema will devote three screens to art movies if there's an audience, and this isn't really a lovely meadow and wetland being paved over for yet another shopping mall in a town full of malls but, hey, just a vacant lot.


Sally Saul

Numbers, Numbers...

Dear Mr. Black,

I've represented the Northfield/Highland Neighborhood Association in the "neighborhood input" process with Cencor Realty since March. It doesn't surprise me then that Cencor Realty and Randalls wrote letters last week about the triangle, they mentioned everything but the content of the mall and its impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Whenever the neighborhoods complained about the huge chain stores, the 93% impervious cover, and incredible traffic impact brought by a suburban mall, Cencor always changed the subject to sidewalks and architectural fronts. The fact is that the core of the strip mall has never changed. Now, the neighborhoods are left with a mall that will increase our traffic by probably 30% on the weekday and over 50% on the weekend. The neighborhoods are left with at least three local stores closing - two Randalls and the Bookstop at Central Park. The neighborhoods are left with infrastructure improvements for traffic and flooding that they want us to pay for.

Jenny Hammer of Cencor complained that the cover photo didn't look quite right. What Cencor doesn't seem to get is that store fronts are irrelevant when you are talking about a suburban mall with a Randalls superstore, a 2,000 seat Act III Theatre, four high-turnover chain restaurants, and a sea of parking all around. The damage is already done. Changing the store front is not going to make any difference.

The best Mr. Sullivan could do in Randalls's defense was change the subject to school funding of all things. Then he had the gall to suggest that he is giving us a store we asked for. Who asked, Mr. Sullivan? When? A petition opposing this mall is growing to well over 3,000 signatures, 1,000 yard signs have gone up, and neighborhood associations like Hyde Park and the Northfield/Highlands are beginning to take opposition stances to your plan. So, what will Randalls do when the neighborhoods tell you overwhelmingly that we don't want your mall?


Charles Burmeister

Stop the Prop


Jenny Hammer's recent letter ["Postmarks," Vol.16, No.45] repeats the Triangle park development party line, that opponents are "small and vocal." Everyone I've heard express an opinion either is too cynical to care or opposed to it. The only supporters of this project I've heard of have vested interests.

Let's address some of the strange claims we've heard: Triangle would include the only cinema in this part of the city. Hogwash. Dobie, Texas Union, Highland Cinema and Lincoln Village are all 10-15 minute bike rides from my place. Its not like we need another grocery store in the neighborhood, least of all another Randalls. Randalls' "flagship" store in NW Austin has tiny aisles, selection comparable to Fiesta, and overpriced cigars. Bloody awful.

Aside from concerns of pollution, flooding, and democracy, I wonder if the developers have a realistic business plan? Central Market works because HEB did a damned good job getting quality foods, good service, and even many items reasonably priced. Be realistic - you expect to make money off the neighborhoods you've alienated by your threats and lies?

Two constructive suggestions. First of all, rather than develop an environmentally friendly mall here, why not go where there's nothing like this at all, say in East Austin? Why pour money into this part of town? Wasn't Eric Mitchell trying a few years ago to build a mall in East Austin? He's not doing anything now, why not do this there to attract jobs and money and business where it's sorely needed?

Secondly, why aren't developers as a matter of course instructed by City Staff to consult 1988's AustinPlan? I participated in the process as a neighborhood rep for sector one (I-35 to Lamar, Koenig to Lake Austin), and we designated high density compact housing for this area as well as the hub around 38th and Lamar. We came to a consensus in sector one that we should go with the vision of a compact city, with little areas like parks sprinkled in here and there. Actually, I think all citizens should acquaint themselves with this document, and perhaps something about the process of give and take there, instead of this neo-Northern Ireland atmosphere of vitriol and propaganda.

George Leake

Zapatista News

Dear Austin Chronicle:

July 25th is the date of the first day of the Zapatista Intercontinental Encounter in Barcelona, Spain. For those of us who can't be there, but are committed to this new alternative for humanity, we can show our support by joining the demonstrations held at Mexican consulates and embassies all over the world. Here in Austin, the demonstration will be at noon at the Mexican Consulate at 6th and Brazos on July 25th. Join us!

The Committee in Solidarity with Chiapas is also inviting the Austin Community to participate in the second delegation to Chiapas to support the Zapatista women and their weaving cooperative.

The sale from the first delegation last March has been very successful and the proceeds will be now used to bring more Zapatista textiles to support the indigenous struggle in Chiapas.

The delegation will visit Chiapas on August 20-27, 1997. It will include visits to Zapatista Centers of Resistance and the Women's Cooperative.

For more information come to Resistencia Book Store, 2210B South First St., where the Committee meets every Saturday at 4pm, or call 454-8097, or


Eduardo Vera and The Comite

We Want Our WWW

Dear Editor,

A few comments on the Austin Public Library's continuing use of filtering software to block access to some Internet sites:

Brenda Branch says she believes the Supreme Court's recent ruling overturning the Communications Decency Act "actually says that filtering software is part of the solution." She is wrong. While filtering software may be a useful tool for parents, the Supreme Court did not suggest that government agencies such as public libraries should use filtering software. This is censorship.

Ms. Branch suggests that "CyberPatrol protects her staff from being held liable under Texas statutes that forbid the distribution of obscene or pornographic material to minors." In reality, it seems that such risk is extremely remote (it would involve the City arresting itself, after all) and we suspect that the City is far more likely to face legal challenges by censoring what adults can access.

Ms. Branch originally told the Austin American-Statesman and a roundtable of concerned citizens that CyberPatrol was intended to be an interim rather than a final solution. It was this group of citizens and not Frank Bridge who suggested the reduction of filter categories from 12 to four as part of the temporary agreement pending the creation of something like an `acceptable use' policy for library patrons using Internet access.

Filters have numerous problems: they are very broad in their selection of sites to filter, and they tend to exclude sites the acceptability of which, even for minors, is arguable. Where filtering is used, adults can only see what some software company thinks is fit for a child.

Ms. Branch's position differs radically from that of the American Library Association, which on July 2 issued a resolution stating that the Supreme Court's "sweeping re-affirmation of core First Amendment principles" in the CDA case indicated that "use in libraries of software filters which block Constitutionally protected speech is inconsistent with the United States Constitution and federal law." In fact, the ALA is convinced that using filtering software - by violating the First Amendment - is more likely to lead to "legal exposure for the library and its governing authorities" than not using such software. The ALA, long a staunch defender of the public's right to know, also believes that " the use of filtering software by libraries to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights."

EFF-Austin agrees with the ALA, and hopes that the Austin Public Library will adopt a policy in line with the ALA's policy, rather than give in to inchoate fears.

(One other note: the national Electronic Frontier Foundation and our local organization, EFF-Austin, have no formal association.)


Jon Lebkowsky

Against All Odds

Dear Mr. Huffstickler:

Re: your letter in which you bemoaned the loss of fair odds in Texas Lottery Scratch Off Tickets ["Postmarks," Vol.16, No.46]. May I suggest that state run lotteries are designed (like casinos) to make rather than lose money? Therefore, the majority of people who play must lose. The only variance for them is the amount of loss sustained. I would not be surprised if the odds for winning have dropped since the lottery began, but have no evidence first hand of this fact. Regardless, you are providing corrupt lottery CEOs with much needed severance packages, so morally all is not lost for you.

Would that you could come to my Friday night poker games and see what real gambling is like. No, it is not legal, but it is a lot of fun, and unlike casinos and the state, you do not have to pay the house. Besides, we can always use another player.


Carl "The Captain" Williams

P.S. My favorite bird is the crow.

House Us All!

Editor and UT students:

In view of proposals and articles about the "homeless" mess, an important point seems to be missing - the cause. The cause is a 97% apartment occupancy in central Austin. A person is laid off from the oil well job or is part of Apple Computers downsizing and comes to Austin - and simply there is nowhere to stay.

I also am shocked that UT has only 5,290 dorms for 50,000 students... there should be at least 10,000-30,000 one-bedroom dorms. Why not turn those falling down, unused warehouses in the center of the city into affordable apartments? Dallas converted similar warehouses in a beautiful district downtown. Requiring people who work outside in 97[[ring]] heat doing hard labor to sleep in this heat, as the Orlando project does, is cruel and stupid. House the Austin students and construction workers!

Frank Bartlett

Say No to Lies


On TV, I saw the Hong Kong takeover. Taiwanese want my opinion. What upsets me is Congressman Gephardt's being bashed because exports and imports make up a small share of U.S. GDP. If he wants to see political prisoners, look at the million plus U.S. prison population, the majority victims of the U.S. drug war. It's easier to make political hay out of the "red" Chinese, the '90s yellow peril. (For the '80s, we had the Japanese.) Sophistry isn't a solution for Chinese political prisoners nor American ones. The situation won't change until people just say no to lies. The U.S. prison population is now so large The Economist says it effects U.S. unemployment rates. Incarceration isn't the way to a better tomorrow in China or the U.S.A.

Warren Weappa,


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