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Stop me if you've heard this one before. It's about how the environmentalists -- not the economists or the politicians -- correctly predicted what was going to happen, and everyone ignored them.

Twenty years or so back, Austin voters kept turning down road bond packages which they felt would only encourage growth away from the city. Developers went to the state, which invent, through legislation, Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs). This gave a development meeting certain requirements the ability to issue bonds for infrastructure, thus creating financial and service obligations for the city.

Environmentalists hated the MUDs. They said that basically they would have the inner city subsidizing suburban sprawl. Then, they argued, when it was time for the city to annex the MUDs (allowing these developments to fulfill their end of the bargain), they would resist. In the end they would go back to the state against the city.

Now, if you read the letters page in the Statesman, you see a daily barrage of letters attacking Austin, and the moronic, unethical, unprincipled council, for wanting to annex them. Startlingly, history has been rewritten. These are not people who benefit from the city trying to wiggle out of a contract (and this includes some very affluent neighborhoods). No, these are patriots besieged by the British, innocent farmers trapped by a barbarian raid.

The central question is: Is it necessary for the city to annex these areas? Yes. Sorry, but it is that simple. There are lots of ugly problems associated with annexing these areas. Over the next 20-50 years, there will be far more ugly problems if the city doesn't annex.

Next, go get a compass (one of those things you use to draw circles). Draw a circle around Austin that extends to the edge of the annexed areas (this will of course be inaccurate, but go for a rough circle). Look at what a little space this is compared to Central Texas, then consider what a small space it is compared to all of Texas, or the Southwest. There is a ton of space out there that is in no way related to the City of Austin. Okay, so I'm betting that those people who live in the areas about to be annexed are here in some way because of Austin. Maybe they just like the regional quality of life the city promotes, maybe they cherish the city's resources, maybe they work for a business that is attracted to the quality of life and quality of personnel available in this area. If they hate the city, and don't want anything to do with the city, they should move away -- because there is, you see, a contract.

With a nod to all my right-wing friends, at the heart of a capitalist democracy is the sanctity of the contract. Many of these areas have a contract with the city allowing it to annex them. The city has fulfilled its part of the agreement. Now the MUDs, having already benefited from the contract, don't want to fulfill their end of the deal. This also is that simple. (Not all of the developments to be annexed are MUDs, not all MUDs are being annexed.)

To be fair, some of the tracts are unincorporated areas within Austin's five-mile ETJ, which means that the city has the legal right to annex them. And, when these areas are annexed, Austin's ETJ will expand to five miles beyond that, and on, and on, with each wave of annexation. So, none of those particular areas "knew" or "agreed to" being annexed; yet, that's the hazard of living near a vibrant city like Austin, Atlanta, or Dallas. Those other cities, by the way, are in the situation where they have annexed all the way to the edge of other incorporated areas and have nothing else to annex. Austin's got quite a way to go, and it probably will.

You can listen to the arguments -- there are many and they are complex. We present both sides of many of them in this issue's politics section. You can follow them, a little more one-sided, in the Statesman's letters section.

One of the most misleading arguments is the whole question of the city's commitment to the Eastside. This council more than any other knows that for the city to thrive, the Eastside must thrive. I predict that the big fight on the Eastside over the next 20 years will be gentrification -- as the area becomes more prosperous and the long-time residents are driven out -- rather than lack of city attention.

But this annexation is not an Eastside issue or an environmental one. It's not an issue concerned with different inner city and outer city concerns, as much as it may seem to be. It is about the future of the City of Austin, and of the best interests of our community. This demands the kind of long-term planning that leads to annexation.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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