There Goes the Neighborhood
Dear Austin Chronicle:
I would like to commend Mike Clark-Madison for his article "Who's the Boss" [Vol.17, No.4], depicting the plight of homeowners in the Deer Park area. Sadly, Deer Park is not the only area where Kaufman & Board's intrusion has lead to devaluation of housing. Homeowners in several subdivisions in North Austin, Cedar Park, Leander (such as Cypress Bend, Ranch at Cypress Creek, etc. in Williamson County) face a similar situation. Homeowner equity and used home sale prices have plummetted this year due to availability of these low cost, low quality Kaufman & Board homes in these neighborhoods, a fact acknowledged by experienced local realtors. As in Deer Park, this has severely eroded the equity in our homes.
I am speaking from personal experience. Due to job relocation, I needed to sell my home in Cedar Park this summer. My home (along with other resales in my neighborhood) experienced at least 15% devaluation attributable to these low-cost new homes.
We feel that we have been sold out both by the original developer (Wilshire Homes) of our neighborhood as well as by local city planning officials. New construction in developing/developed neighborhoods should be of a quality that does NOT erode existing home-owner equity. To the city/county tax assesors I have this questions: if I am forced to sell my home at 20% below the price I paid for a brand new high-quality Wilshire home just two years ago, why isn't my property tax appraisal down by 20% as well?
Homeowner, Cedar Park, TX
To the Editor:
The residents of Deer Park wish to thank both the Chronicle and Mike Clark-Madison for his balanced and insightful article["Who's the Boss?" Vol.17, No.4] on the situation in our neighborhood. Of the 10 or so pieces of media coverage we have had so far, Clark-Madison's was the first to grasp what we consider to be the human aspect of our plight. I am writing to make two important clarifications. First, the group put in place by the developers is the Owners Association, with a five member board. We maintain that we, the neighborhood, control this board with all five members being residents. K&B maintains that they control the board, with three members being their employees and only two being residents. This is a critical distinction and is the heart of our suit against K&B. A second group, the Neighborhood Association, was formed this past May in response to the threat posed to our neighborhood by K&B. This group has a three member board, all residents. Second, K&B's suit against myself and five other residents alleges that we spit on cars belonging to their salespeople, not on the salespeople themselves. To my knowledge, none of us have done any spitting... I certainly have not. This has been as polite a social protest as one could hope to find anywhere.
Director, DP@MROA and DPNA.
Trials, Trailers, Tribulations
I don't want to distract the editors from their exhaustive coverage of the "Triangle Park" controversy, but some readers may want to know about the zoning hearing on September 25. After months of meetings and hard work by several South Austin neighborhoods, we hope to have the last hearing at the City Council to defeat the proposed 158 acre mobile home park. I am sorry the Chronicle decided the flooding dangers presented by this development on Onion Creek were less important than a vacant lot near Hyde Park.
Glen Shield, President,
Silverstone Homeowners Association
Everyone's Happy Now
The quote attributed to me in the referenced article should have been, "If you can get Kirk Watson to say, `We will annex all of Circle C (at once), assume that debt and provide all of the services you are paying for and getting now', I think you'd have some happy people."
The V. Wood article concerning the Austin Java Co. and Hyde Park Bar and Grill needed to have the heading "Editorial" before it. The article was unfairly biased, rife with false statements, and basically an advertisement for an admitted long term acquaintance of V. Wood. Space does not permit an analysis of all the false statements, but I would like to address two of them. First, Hyde Park Bakery was not a "failed" or a "failing" business. Anybody that came by the bakery in the mornings or afternoons and witnessed the number of customers would have realized it was not a "failing" business. Also, anyone that knows the foods business would realize that 12 years of continuous operation in this business is far from a failure. The bakery was closed on July 18, 1997 because Austin Java Co. was set to close the sale of the bakery on Monday the 21st and begin remodeling at that point. Second, I would like to see a resolution of this issue not because I am moving back to Houston (which I am not), but because I would like to see the loyal customers of Hyde Park Bakery have a place to enjoy baked goods, coffee, and reasonably priced food like they have for the last 12 years. I, of course, want to maintain the successful operation of the center as well. The lack of objectivity and mean-spirited nature of this article is unfortunate but not surprising.
Hyde Park Bakery
[Virginia B. Wood replies: Mr. Shaw neglects to mention that I became acquainted with him at approximately the same time as I did Bick Brown and in exactly the same capacity. As restaurant owners or managers, both men purchased desserts from a wholesale company I operated during the early Eighties. In reviewing my notes, I found this statement made by Ed Shaw in our telephone conversation in late August: "I just want to get this thing settled soon because my mother has several other businesses in Houston and I need to get back down there to take care of them."]
City Council 101
It is a political truism that city managers and city councils will always find it easier to add spending to the budget than to cut it. Yet our particular budget process in Austin seems set up to reinforce this conventional wisdom. After studying and voting on two city budgets, I am convinced that without real change in this process, the Austin City Council will lose its ability to manage the city's revenues in any meaningful sense.
Here's how the City of Austin decides its budget now:
1. The city manager presents a proposed budget to the city council in which he includes spending cuts to allow the city to stay afloat while maintaining ever more expensive services to the citizens.
2. We hold public hearings that allow citizens who feel strongly about city programs to come before the Council and advocate either against the city manager's cuts or for more money for other programs.
3. Councilmembers then a) advocate against cuts to programs they feel are critical and b) propose that new funds be appropriated for new projects or to augment existing ones.
This system can produce a budget that seems very reasonable, but there is a critical step missing. A new councilmember committed to eliminating waste in city government learns quickly that no one asks the council for cuts. At least in part because this step is missing, any suggestion that the city pay for new and innovative programs by cutting old, outdated, and ineffective programs will have a tough row to hoe. The current city budget process is just not geared for this kind of thinking.
I have a policy that I will not propose spending additions to the manager's budget unless I have indentified viable cuts or revenue enhancements equal or greater than the amount of the proposed increase. This year I identified millions of dollars in savings. Some of these proposals management argued were not viable. Some management agreed were good. Some the council majority found lacking, and others the Council adopted.
In the end, I was able to secure agreement from the full council on several hundred thousand dollars in savings and revenue increases. While this amount is significant, it could be much higher in future years if the council acts to change the budget process. I plan to bring forward a resolution to dedicate one half day on the city council agenda for councilmembers to suggest savings ideas and revenue enhancements. This session should be held early enough in the budget cycle so that city staff can have plenty of time to respond to our ideas before the final budget vote.
As it is, the budget process makes proposing savings and revenue increases feel a lot like swimming upstream. By making the search for budget savings and income opportunities part of the norm, my proposal would encourage councilmembers to look on an ongoing basis for ways to make city government more efficient.
Beverly Griffith, City Council
Speaking for the Ass
Eeyore would like to thank your readers for choosing his birthday party as the best annual party for 1997. As soon as any news breaks on the 1998 celebration it will be posted on the Eeyore's WWW site: http://www.sexton.com/eeyores
See you there
Scott H. Sexton
To the Editors, Austin Chronicle
I appreciate your kind words on Internet activism and MAIN in your current "Best of Austin" issue, but need to offer one clarification.
While it is my honor and pleasure to serve as a spokeperson for MAIN, ours is a large team of truly dedicated people. Any acclaim for MAIN's efforts must include: VP David Riggins's countless hours as webmaster; founders and leaders like Sue Soy and Ron Wyllys; and all the other leaders and volunteers who give their time and talent freely to bring Web resources to other Central Texas nonprofit community groups.
MAIN has become a national example of a caring local "telecommunity" helping to make a difference for all their neighbors -- the very best of community spirit at work in Austin. I'm proud to be part of this team.
BTW, we have another "webraising" Nov. 1st, where volunteers provide free web services for local community activities. Details at http://www.main.org
President, Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network (MAIN)
President, Texas Internet Service Providers Association (TISPA)
Tax Dollars at Work!
The Chronicle has been doing a fine job of alerting the community to many issues concerning neighborhoods, such as the impending construction project at Triangle Park. Austin is a fast-growing city now, and proper development and construction planning is necessary to retain the atmosphere and environment that is Austin, the reasons so many choose to stay and live here. Very little press has been given, however, to the large construction project now occurring at the Ben White/IH-35 intersection. I have attended meetings comprised of representatives from such groups as South Central Association of Neighbors (SCAN), Save Our Springs, the Sierra Club, and the Dawson and Bouldin Neighborhood Associations, to name but a few. The greatest danger is that the drainage tunnel will allow pollution runoff to flow into Williamson Creek and McKinney Falls State Park. Other possible effects are damage to the aquifer situated there, and to the creeks they supply. Stacy Pool, one of Austin's few spring-fed pools, could lose its source if the digging destroys or reroutes the headwaters of Blunn Creek.
To oversimplify a problem with complicated permit laws and ramifications, I understand that the Texas Department of Public Transportation (TxDoT) failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Study even though several natural areas would be adversely affected. To date, they are not addressing current citizen and environmental group concerns that have been very visibly and obviously brought to their attention. There will be an upcoming public hearing October 7 with EPA representatives to discuss TxDoT's permit, and whether they should place pollution filters to protect creek waters from discharges of oil, grease, and other toxic materials, as well as trash and debris. The Texas Department of Transportation believes these would be too expensive, and its failure to place pollution safeguards in past similar drainoff tunnels have clogged and polluted other creeks in the city, Bouldin as an example. Although raised constructions (e.g. cloverleaf road designs) would be less harmful, these are said to limit available commercial strips for business.
This tunnel will benefit the car dealerships located at this intersection at the expense of South Austin's natural springs and a state park. Your tax dollars at work! Individuals interested in persuading TxDoT to be friendlier to Austin's natural environment and think before they dig are encouraged to show up at the public hearing at the TNRCC (Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission), Building E, 12100 Park 35 Circle (off IH-35 and Yager Lane), October 7, 1997 at 7pm. Informal public meeting discussions will be at 3pm, and you must sign up in advance if you wish to speak at 7pm. Written comments are also accepted and encouraged.
[Ed Note: We direct readers to the story running this issue on the Williamson Creek Tunnel.]
Miss Manners Visits Austin
To the Editor:
As a frequent shopper at Central Market, I don't think that you needed to tell people that it is the "Best Free Meal & Grazing" spot. It is abundantly evident that most people already know this. What you should have done was provide an accompanying list of appropriate behavior when sampling free food.
I won't even get into what I've seen unaccompanied children do. Giving these kids the benefit of the doubt, I assume that they haven't yet been taught better. Physically grown adults, however, constitute an entirely different group. I have witnessed adults mauling each other to get a free piece of food. I have seen them eat enough free bread samples as to constitute an entire loaf, which may only cost $1.00 to buy. I have seen them throw childlike tantrums and yell at Central Market employees because they did not like, or found too bland or too spicy, etc., the free food they chose to sample.
I would like to suggest that shoppers of all ages follow the simple rules I overheard one wonderful mother give her children:
1. Walk. Stop at the table. Be nice.
2. Take the first, and only, sample you touch.
3. No double dipping ever -- no putting your bread twice into the olive oil, no chip twice into the salsa, and no sample spoon twice anywhere!! Sharing the bacterial contents of your mouth with everyone after you who tastes (or, omigod, actually buys food from the salad bar) is not a kind of generosity of which the world needs more.
4. Say thank you.
Enjoy the cornucopia of food available at Central Market. I'm sure that is what the folks at the store intended. Please remember, however, that your fellow shoppers are watching.
Anti Bad Things
Yeah, racism is bad, and yeah, prejudice is bad, and yes we should think twice before speaking (and printing and broadcasting) and ain't life unfair sometimes and why can't we all stand together against the common enemy... oh pooh!
Let me stand up and be counted! I'm against bad things!
There now, I feel better. What's for dinner?
You know I used to borrow a lot of moral interest from having been a yippie-kid, raising hell in Washington D.C. back in the Sixties, when in truth, many of us youngsters couldn't pass up an excuse to skip class and catch a few rays downtown, and oh yeah, ain't war bad, and racism, and prejudice...
Protect Unpopular Speech
It's certainly interesting when someone suggests that others may not protest abortion ("Don't like abortions? Then don't have one"), while pursuing her own protest agenda ("Meat stinks"). This is a much smaller-scale version of the left exercising its own free speech while belittling free speech rights for the other side. (Of course, the right has never been a friend of free speech either, but unlike the left, it rarely claims to be.) I've seen pro-choicers shouting down a pro-life rally, "progressives" destroying yard signs for political candidates they oppose, "liberals" circulating e-mail petitions to prevent right-wing groups from securing a discussion space on the Internet, and the like. When challenged about this blatant attack on free speech, the typical response is that "It's dangerous to let people like this spread their message" (would we like that argument applied to us?), or that "They would attack our free speech if they had the chance." (So we should imitate that which we criticize? Brilliant.)
But this comparison is not just about speech, it's about choice. And I have often found my leftist associates as eager to legislate away choices they disagree with as eagerly as they want to restrict free speech they don't like.
If the "Don't like.../Don't have..." slogan is based on the idea that abortion is not murder (a concept nearly never articulated so directly), then there's nothing inconsistent with espousing that idea along with advocating on other issues. But if the slogan is based on the idea that we should all get to make our own decisions about what's right and wrong and that advocacy to the contrary is inappropriate, then this is clearly at odds with evangelzing a position on a different topic rather than letting people make their own decisions without interference.
Let's examine what we really mean by "choice," and what criteria we're going to use when we want to restrict it. Of course, nobody advocates unlimited choice in all areas, but hopefully our criteria is better than "choice for issues I favor and no choice for issues I oppose."
Am I the only one who thinks George Bush, Jr. is just a little off on his ridiculous quest to remove slot-like video machines simply because the resemble Vegas style slots?
What are we really paying this man to do?
I mean, with the state lotto having turned every convenience store into a mini-casino, where shopping for basic needs takes the back seat to someone monopolizing the clerk with a hundred transactions, isn't this a bit hypocritical?
And speaking of wasting our money, this cops-in-shops programs is a joke. Like our police officers don't have anything better to do than to stand around and sell cigs, booze, and don't forget the lotto tickets, hoping to pop some teenager trying to score a six pack of Shiner.
Phil & Kay Bail
To the Editor:
I was frightened and saddened to learn that both Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison gave in again to special interest contributors and voted against the Bryan Amendment to the budget bill.
It's just another example of how our representatives are not putting citizen interests first. That amendment would have saved taxpayers 35 million dollars this year and helped to protect the untouched parts of our national forests.
I personally do not like the idea of footing the bill for roads to be built in my public lands that our government cannot even afford to maintain. There are better uses for our tax dollars.
Let's take action and let our representatives know that we are not pleased with their decision on the Bryan Amendment. It's time for our officials to work for us and not special groups like the timber industry.
Is it coincidence that as the media is consistently pushing further back the bounds of morality, the same seems to apply in every aspect of our real existence? (Insert here the many instances of greed, violence, and neglect.) Through what we call entertainment we are altering our environment, society, and psyche... resulting in what might be called a rapidly evolving vicious beast that threatens to devour the human soul. If that sounds funny or radical, then perhaps the pulling claws already hold you in their grasp, thus commencing the downward spiral. If it must exist, and inevitably it will, then let us demand that it serve to move us forward into a greater understanding of compassion, and purpose of being... because our televisions, our music and art, our periodicals and computers, and the messages we choose to send through such mediums are undeniably the most powerful and influential elements affecting the evolution of human consciousness. We, as a species, have backed ourselves up into many dark corners, and we have put enormous efforts forth trying to make what we have created more tolerable. Unfortunately, most of these attempts have only lured us further into the darkness. It is time to finally start stepping out into the light.
Ultimately, we are always in constant motion towards one of two states of mind: positive and negative. Good and evil. It does not seem as though we are presently on the path of goodness, and to simply turn around in the middle of this road is a great challenge because it requires many people to agree to do so at once. Speed is rapidly accelerating and as this happens the likelihood of even putting on the brakes becomes less probable. It is for this reason that I fear what our future might entail. Will our lust for gore and perversion excalate to obsession with "virtual" games in which we can become adept at rape, murder, and terrorism? Will this country soon become one giant super-city entirely void of all organic life, connected by an endless sea of newly erected apartment complexes and fast food chains? Will our ideals never reach beyond an existence revolving around the accumulation of money? What will it take to break through the facade of this reality that we have become so reluctantly inclined to? Our minds are becoming sad and stale. We all feel it. I just hope we can come together and reverse this dementia before it's too late.
Speak for Yourself
It's time for Powell, Bush, and Clinton to speak for themselves. As Americans, we who write this do not consider ourselves property of the community. Each of us leads our life by use of our reasoning mind -- and solely our reasoning mind. We produce our wealth as individuals and trade these values with other individuals. America was founded on this very premise -- a man has by his nature as a sovereign rational being the inalienable right to live his own life as he deems worthy, to the level of his abilities. Every American citizen may exercise this freedom. What, then, can justify Powell, Bush, and Clinton's assertion that one becomes moral only through giving -- not trading -- but giving away one's own life to the group? Why is it moral to live for others but immoral (or amoral at best) to live for oneself? They do not answer because altruism, as an ethical stance, has no earthly justification.
Personally, we are insulted that these politicos use their servitude summit to equate morality with devoting our efforts to those we do not and cannot value. That they have the power to enforce their morality only deepens their hypocrisy. If our lives -- every single minute -- do not belong to ourselves, then the principle is established that the state does have a right to us. If Uncle Willie can claim three seconds, why not three years... or thirty? Statism is a form of hemophilia that thrives off wounded principles -- scratch the right to life and it will bleed, uncontrolled, until nothing is left.
The only way to stop the bleeding is to stand up for your own life, to proudly proclaim that nobody belongs to you and that you belong to nobody. This is not a world of slaves and masters, but of heroic producers, and such heroism is what America truly stands for.
The subtext of Professor Lino Graglia's comments reflect a national trend in blaming segments of the population for the shortcomings of the dominant majority. It is totally irresponsible for a man of his position and ethnic background to generalize a national debate and bring it to the forefront with such racial undertones. He only succeeded in displaying his own socio-economic and cultural bias. Culturally, Professor Graglia is ethnically and culturally closer to the Latino culture than the dominant majority. He may not be cognizant that historically his ethnic group has continually met with biases similar to those of people he speaks about today. In 1860 a census of wage earnings in the New York City dock areas found that German and English decent were paid $3.00 an hour, Irish were paid $2.00 an hour, Blacks $1.00 an hour and Italians were paid the grand total of $.75 an hour.
The point is not that wages have increased or that Italian-Americans have not gone on to distinguish themselves. The major debate in this country should be the disparity that has divided us into the haves and have-nots and that as a nation, we must all recognize and confront the issue. Environment, as Professor Graglia points out, is a major contributor to success, but this cuts through all groups and is not defined by one's skin color. If his premise is that whites are the only group that can compete in the Law School at UT, then every white guest on Jerry Springer is law school material.
Moreover, competition is not based on skin color or ethnic background. The basic premise for all who came on the boat and those of us who met the boat is survival -- that is the most base of competition. No one has the monopoly on competition. In 1997, the major players in this country are black -- Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Venus Williams, the whole NFL, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg -- and rich and educated and influential and do I have to go on. It took more than God-given talent to raise to this level -- motivation, dedication, intelligence, self-esteem, education and competition. One should synchronize their thoughts and tongues because he who lives in a glass house should never throw stones.
When I first heard the news reports about Lino Graglia I noticed his name sounded different than an Anglo name. This had me intrigued and I thought to myself, I bet this man is a minority himself, but because he's Anglo looking, has these opinions, and has a law degree he's being slaughtered. Sure enough an article clarifying his ethnicity and statements came out shortly later, but by then the bloodlust had set in.
I call it bloodlust because I am familiar with the sway and appeal of jumping on a runaway train issue. I first moved to Austin when I was 19, in 1984. I was recruited by a radical protest group to go to demonstrations and gladly went to "fight for causes I believed in." I was at the Republican convention with a group of others. We painted ourselves with body paint hidden under our clothes. It was fun and exiting to enter inconspicuously and then disrobe partially to our bikini tops (females) and bare chests (males), etc., and shout and sing slogans. And to see the bee stung expressions on the Republicans around us was thrilling. It wasn't till a few years later I realized we had accomplished nothing.
In this case I wish I had seen more people form discussion groups instead of protests and formulate ideas for constructive change to the system, involving Lino Graglia in this process. The "you against us" fight always ends the same way -- with division. I like what happens occasionally at unusual moments when people say "What do me and this person I disagree with have in common? And how can we achieve our mutual goals?"