Get a Hog!!
You blew it! You got this rebel guy on the cover, and he's sitting on a stinkin' Honda! Rebels don't ride Hondas. Everybody knows that. Unless he's rebelling against rebels...
"No" on Prop.2
There is so much wrong with Proposition 2 that it is hard to know where to begin. Here we have a $65 million raid on Water & Wastewater (W&WW) utility rate payers that was conceived in secrecy and is being promoted dishonestly. What do I mean by dishonest? We are being told this is to protect our "drinking water." This is simply false, as buying land over the Barton Creek contributing zone will do exactly zip to protect our drinking water. Why? Because we don't get our water from there! We get 99+ percent of it from the Colorado River. Perhaps our new Mayor missed the staff briefing where this was all explained.
Next, the use of utility revenue bonds is supposed to be reserved for projects that enable us to better serve W&WW customers and/or create a revenue stream. This does neither. Again, we don't get our water from there -- and buying millions in raw land will not create a revenue stream. Another stated goal, that of preserving "open space," is not the job of the W&WW utility. This is why we have a Parks & Recreation Department. This represents the intrusion of personal political agendas into utility planning by the "salamander seven" at City Hall. This is the same type of council meddling that led to the STNP, the Sumiken and Avante Buildings, the Manure Burner, the Waste-to Energy Plant, etc. This latest raid on the rate payers is being attempted at a time when our W&WW utility has the highest overall debt of 50 utilities the city surveyed. It also has the highest debt per customer. We simply owe too much to even contemplate something so foolish with our remaining available credit. Heaven help our bond ratings if we do this deal.
Finally, the Travis County Democratic primary election voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot proposition calling for a ban on sales taxes on food and medicine. Such taxes were seen as too regressive to be tolerated. But if taxing food and medicine is bad, then what can we say about jacking up water rates? Surely water is as essential as food or medicine. Wouldn't this be seen as especially regressive? Exactly what benefits will lower-income Austinites get for the millions more in water rates they will pay to help finance a $65 million yuppie eco-getaway?
This has all the earmarks of a special interest boondoggle. I urge a "No" vote on May 2nd.
James A. Cooley
The Real Tourist Trap
The idea that Prop 1 would be paid for with other people's money so its defeat would be surprising seems absurd ["Conventional Thinking," Vol.17, No.31]. My cousin came to town recently and was shocked to find that her rental car included 10% bed tax, 10% sales tax, and $1.50 per day tax for picking it up at the airport. We never used the Convention Center while she was here, just as most of the high-tech, government, and academic visitors to Austin rarely set foot in the Convention Center. Why do we really want a larger convention center? I've made a number of trips to New Orleans in the last few years on business and am unable to dine in one of my favorite restaurants because every time I call for reservations they laugh and say, "you realize there are 50,000 TV executives in town this week, we've been booked for months!" Is that what we want here? The locals finally give up trying to get to their favorite places because there are too many conventioneers. Herb Caen always regretted having been part of the transformation of San Francisco from a city where people live and work into a tourist mecca where most of the useful shops have been replaced by cheap T-shirt outlets. Does anyone remember when they last bought something useful on Sixth Street? Keep Austin for Austinites!
Revitalizing downtown Austin is a laudable goal. But the strategies backed by the Mayor and the Downtown Alliance seem downright silly. Megabuildings are a bummer. Like shopping malls, they are not built to human scale. They make the city landscape dull, and encourage people to drive cars rather than walk or bicycle. A huge new library and an expanded convention center will blight downtown, not liven it up.
Our Mayor has touted tourism as "a clean industry." When the tourists are all driving rental cars, tourism is not clean. When tourists come to our city in huge packs, they behave obnoxiously, drive recklessly, and throw trash around. They don't improve the face of downtown.
For tourism to work well, we need to attract large numbers of individual tourists, who will come singly or in twos and threes to Austin. What downtown needs is lots and lots of different small shops, libraries, offices, restaurants, apartments, and museums, in place of acre on acre of dull, ugly parking lots. It also needs fewer and slower cars. Some sections of downtown should be car-free. Then we could have sidewalk cafés.
For all this to work, we need decent public transportation (quiet, non-smelly electric trams, not diesel-fueled, lumbering buses). There's no point in attracting people downtown if they're all going to come in cars.
One convention I would like Austin to host is the annual meeting of the International Human-Powered Vehicle Association. We'd have fabulous human powered vehicles all over town. It would really be fun, and would give Austinites a chance to see what amazing things can be done with non-motorized transportation.
City Moves on Transit
Dear Mr. Black:
A recent artilce entitled "Council Navigates Transportation Matters -- Mixed Signals" was published in your April 3 edition ["Council Watch," Vol.17, No.30]. There were a number of issues raised in that article that I believe need some clarification.
In discussing issues involving the North Loop/Burnet intersection, the reporter makes the statement, "...in any case, the city staff has already, without council's direction, stacked the deck in its favor by buying $319,266 of right-of-way from the businesses at Burnet and and North Loop in preparation for the road expansion, and it isn't likely that council will let that investment go to waste."
I believe that Peter Rieck, Director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation, has already submitted a letter to you regarding this subject. However, I thought it important to reiterate that the City Council both reviewed and approved the right-of-way purchases for this intersection in 1994 and 1995. And, the actual cost is $361,378.
The article also focused on the "choice" between the neighborhood plan for this intersection and the staff plan. While that discussion did indeed take place, there was no mention that the staff proposal had been dramatically altered, at the request of Council, into a compromise proposal following consultation with neighborhood representatives. Basically, the original staff plan called simply for adding turn lanes. Neighborhood representatives favored a tree-lined median without turn lanes. Council rejected the original staff proposal and staff returned with a tree-lined median with a 10-foot turn lane. On Thursday, April 9, the Council approved a further compromise that includes medians and turn lanes on Burnet and medians only on North Loop.
Although the article focused on the one item, I also wanted to mention that of the 20 items on the transportation work session agenda, all but one passed. And, on April 8, the Council further showed its intent to move forward with critical transportation projects by approving construction of a separate pedestrian and bicycle bridge on Lamar.
Finally, the reporter included a section on the Dell Jewish Community Center project, approved by the City Council in March. The statement was made that "the projected increase between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicle trips a day was not curtailed." The Council approved a phased-in approach for the Center. Phase I will keep vehicle trips under 3,800 trips a day. Phase II will allow those trips to increase up to a maximum of 4,264 vehicle trips per day -- and no more.
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify these issues. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions.
Michele E. Middlebrook-Gonzalez
Public Information Officer, City of Austin
I wanted to write and express my and my wife's appreciation of your personal ad service. I placed an ad in March/April 1995 and met several wonderful people and one extraordinary woman. We met on April 23, 1995 and married last September. We are expecting our first child on October 20 and we couldn't be happier. Thank you again. Austin Chronicle Personals do work!
On the Contrary...
Mr. Loren Alexander's letter to the editor on March 27, 1998, contained several mis- or incomplete statements:
* Although Mr. Alexander of Waste Management, Inc.(WMI) may believe "that voluntary cleanup" of the old Industrial Site at its Austin Community Landfill (ACL) "is the right thing to do," WMI's investigation Work Plan presents a different motive. "In the development of approaches, emphasis will be placed upon those options which maximize direct disposal on site." "Once the industrial waste has been removed, the area may be reclaimed for use as part of the existing municipal solid waste landfill." Apparently, the "right thing" is really engendered by the need for additional landfill space. WMI is seeking the 30-year waste disposal contract with the City of Austin, but ACL does not have sufficient landfill capacity.
* Mr. Alexander states that WMI "is not required to spend the estimated $10 million necessary to excavate the wastes and re-dispose of them in a more environmentally protective manner." What he doesn't mention is the liability to the City of Austin from having its municipal solid waste buried, and possibly mixed, with industrial and potentially hazardous wastes relocated from the three acid pits and trenches containing an estimated 21,000 fifty-five gallon drums. WMI's municipal solid waste permit precludes placement of municipal solid waste on top of the old Industrial Site.
* Mr. Alexander asked the Chronicle to support WMI's efforts to cleanup the Industrial Site. While this seems laudable, what Mr. Alexander fails to say is that WMI proposed to sample the buried drums using invasive techniques that could puncture and release their contents. A listing of wastes disposed in the drums includes several that are incompatible, which, if released and mixed together, could result in explosion, fire, excessive heat, intense reaction, and the release of toxic vapors.
* Mr. Alexander states that "the Industrial Site is a properly closed and monitored disposal area under TNRCC guidelines." Closure took place around 1972 before there were regulations or guidelines governing how it was to be done. The only closure activity performed by WMI was to pile dirt on top of the Industrial Site. At one time, WMI did monitor the Industrial Site with monitoring wells. Sampling these wells was required by the Industrial and Hazardous Waste Division of the predecessor agency to the TNRCC. With TNRCC's permission, WMI discontinued monitoring these wells, even though potential groundwater contamination was indicated.
* Mr. Alexander states that "in 1993 we made the decision to synthetically line all new waste disposal cells with High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) in addition to recompacted clay." WMI has installed only about 3 acres of such a liner system at the ACL. This 3 acres represents a small fraction of the more than 100 acres of waste at the landfill. Waste received before and after this liner was installed was placed, and will continue to be placed, over liners that do not meet current requirements. Since the 3 acres of liner described by Mr. Alexander were installed in 1994, the approximately 13 acres of newer liner systems at ACL have been a different type.
* It also should be noted that elsewhere in the state, WMI has been attempting to expand capacity by vertical height increases, even over liner systems that do not meet current standards. Any implication by WMI that its corporate commitment is to dispose of all new waste on synthetic membranes over recompacted clay is fallacious.
Mr. Alexander ends his letter with a challenge to other companies to do the right thing. It is Mr. Alexander who should do the right thing and tell the truth.
Robert S. Kier, Ph.D., CPG
As a fan of Margaret Moser's "TV Eye" column, and knowing full well that everyone has a right to their opinion, I have to disagree with her review of Robbie Robertson's new album Contact From the Underworld of Redboy [Vol.17, No.30].
It's time critics stop expecting Robertson to make Return to Big Pink or Back Down Cripple Creek. Robertson's Band days are behind him, and they have been for some time. Looking back at his recent solo work, the road to Contact becomes much clearer. To say that the album comes with a "built-in guilt factor" because it addresses injustice to Native Americans is to sell it way short. Would this same guilt factor be found in Dylan's "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"? Absolutely, but protest music is supposed to stir up emotions. Robertson's main message is not to make white people feel guilty with this music. His point is to show the strength and pride of his people, and to shine light on certain injustices that have taken place. These themes are as old as dirt, but because they touch on human emotions, they are also timeless. Critics should focus more on the fact that this album sounds fresh and completely otherworldly. While other prominent artists may have had successful "hybrids of ethnic music," that should not tarnish Robertson's latest creation. Finally, Robertson's inclusion of Native Americans as contributors and inspiration to the sound of Contact should be applauded rather than criticized. These voices have gone unheard to most of the population, and Robertson has created finely crafted songs around them.
While Contact is not a perfect record, the many high points on this album are extremely rewarding, and I hope that the general public will give it a chance to affect them.
Concerning Gretchen Phillips' long-winded and utterly boring, self-indulgent whining about her return to Austin ["Why I Moved Back," Vol.17, No.27], all I have to say is Austin doesn't care. The only reason she came back to Austin is because people couldn't care less about her in San Francisco. For her to make it there, she needed talent and persistence. Gretchen, your 15 minutes in the spotlight ended shortly after the release of the first Two Nice Girls LP. How long are you going to ride that tired 15 minute wave? Even I liked "Birth Control and Beer," but that was 10 years ago. Austin should not have to bear the egomaniacal rantings of a has-been dyke who purports to speak for the gay community. For you to be allowed back to the pulpit is a clear sign of the Chronicle's ineptitude to distinguish between what is the current pulse and not the flatline of Austin's former lesbian scene. For God's sake, please don't pick up a pen and start writing books and articles -- save that for your songs that fill empty bars. Your "insights" are the kind of material that should be taken up in your therapist's office, not in the pages of the Chronicle. Kate Messer, what were you thinking? Take pity on us!
It seems that Kurt Standiford has some seriously misguided values ["Postmarks," Vol.17, No.31]. Every one of his letters deals with homosexuality. It is evident that he is obsessed with sex. It is also a shame that he is unable to deal with the real issue and that is his own sexuality. Apparently he is frustrated with the choices people make and cannot accept those for who they are or what they do. Ideally he would want us all to conform to a suburban, right-wing ideology. Unfortunately this cancerous mentality is already plaguing our society in the form of religion.
Kill for God
Euchlich McKenna's letter to you ["Postmarks," Vol.17, No.31] states that the separation of church and state caused the killings in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I'm intrigued, because in each country in which the church is the state, such as countries in the Middle East, death and destruction of all opposing faiths is the rule. You see, Euchlich, I have no problem with the thought that a society needs morality. My problem is with fanatics like you who would "fight to the death to put God back into our society and schools." Gee, I thought killing was a sin. I guess killing is okay if you are killing non-believers. But see, not everyone has the same religious beliefs that you do. So, would it be okay with you if we install My God in the schools instead of yours? My God likes a country where people can believe what they wish, and not have someone else's fantasy of the Pearly Gates crammed down their throats. My God finds it perplexing that humankind continually puts itself above the rest of creation, to the extent that we can completely annihilate other species put on this earth because of our greed and thoughtlessness. Are humans the pinnacle of creation? Look around, Euchlich, can you really believe that? Are we really more important than the rest of life on this planet?
Now, you may believe that all of society's problems are caused because all the people don't have your religious beliefs. But you know, a lot of us non-believers are moralistic people. This society works as good as any others, past or present. Oh, I guess you are talking about a long time ago, when we all believed in the same God, and performed genocide on the Indians (who, big surprise, were non-believers in your God, but deeply believed in the sacred, nonetheless) and enslaved the non-believer Africans.
To summarize, Euchlich, I think you need professional help.
Overland Park, Kansas
Jesus Abandons Alabama
Headline in the Washington Post on Wed., April 8, 1998: "Alabama Finds `Jesus' in Mailboxes at Home." Headline in Associated Press article, Thursday, April 9, 1998: "Storms Strike Alabama, 20 Dead." Does anyone else see the irony here? Either this alleged Jesus is not the loving and powerful saviour many claim he is, or he isn't there at all. One way or another, it seems useless to worship an alleged god who can't be relied on for assistance. Better to use that energy to learn about the forces of nature and protect oneself and one's family as far as is possible. That is, we as members of the human family have to rely on ourselves, not on a non-existent god of human invention.