Forget ideology for a second, drop discussion of profits or businesses or planning. Let's all talk together, ignoring private property rights and salamander protection. Where would we like Austin to be in 50 years? Take a deep breath - what is your own personal preference? Is there anyone who wants to see a congested, over-built city with its surrounding land turned into pavement suburbs and parking-lot roadways? Is that anyone's vision?
I think we would all like to see as much green as possible, protected water, excellent schools, superior city services, usable roadways and, perhaps, though not so common a concern, alternative methods of transportation including rail and extensive bike paths. Outside of a small handful of people who might profit from over-building, is there anyone hereabouts, regardless of ideology, that wants to see the Hill Country covered in a layer of cement? Is there anyone who really wants sprawling suburbs and congested roads sitting on top of water sources? Is there anyone who wants to see the deterioration of city services? Is this anybody's real vision, even the most violent property rights activist? So forget the arguments of today, for a moment; stop and think what our vision of the future is.
In this issue, Lee Nichols, in his "Media Clips" column, compares some choice quotes from Daryl Slusher, Chronicle Political Writer, to quotes from Daryl Slusher, City Councilmember. The idea is not to nail Daryl (although chiding him a bit with his own words doesn't hurt). Instead, it is to indicate the distance the environmental/political community has traveled in the last half-decade. It used to be easy: There were bad guys - the developers - who wanted to ruin Austin and it was up to all of us to try and stop them. Now, we've come to realize that developers are just a symptom of the problem. The problem is growth. The problem is people, just like all the rest of us, who want to move here. You want to test this theory? Ban all new residential building tomorrow. In a year, the housing market in this city will be outrageously tight and the cost of housing will rise dramatically, causing everyone to complain. People will still come, and there will be more of us trying to fit into the same number of residences.
The issue now is not to stop growth, but to plan for it and direct it. Recently, in the Chronicle offices, we've entered into some soul-searching over two issues that our opinion on, at one time, could have almost been predicted in advance - State Highway 130 and private/public ventures involving the new Convention Center. The Chronicle has almost never met a road project it liked, and has always been especially suspicious of private and public ventures as potential hotbeds of influence peddling and corruption. On SH 130, our politics staff has entered into some discussion as to whether it is a good idea. This has been made difficult because it is hard to decipher exactly when, where, and how that road would be built. On this road we certainly don't have a consensus (I support it but with some reservations). In our Convention Center discussions, we came to the conclusion that private and public co-ventures in developing this area would likely be of benefit to the city. We were especially enamored of the idea of a hotel built above the Convention Center as some kind of public and private enterprise cooperative venture. During some of our discussions, it was noted that part of the problem with these kinds of deals is that the vehemence with which the Chronicle has attacked them makes everyone nervous about them.
No easy answers, but we cannot deal with the issues facing the city today bound by the rhetoric or the ideas of the past. This is a lesson Daryl Slusher has learned admirably. On a strong, active council he is an outstanding leader. Here at the Chronicle, we've barely begun the discussion about how our political coverage will evolve, and exactly what voice our political coverage will assume. About five years ago there was a consensus among the staff which was echoed, informally, in the Politics section. The issues have so evolved that there is no easy common ground and finding the balance between the opinions expressed in articles and the shared voice when the Chronicle speaks editorially has been difficult. Certainly, those issues have been ongoing over all the years the paper has been publishing, but as our future grows more complex, so do the issues.
The results of this election and the actions of this council bode well for the city's future. The recent court victory of S.O.S. is another good sign. But this is a voyage on which there is no destination; there is just the ever-ongoing life of Austin, Texas.
Coincidentally, but not without consequence, we have Amy Smith as our new Politics Editor and she is re-shaping the department. Starting this issue, as part of those changes, Jenny Staff will take over "Council Watch" from Kayte VanScoy, who will concentrate on features.
Some notes: The Austin Chronicle Short Story contest deadlines May 18; this is your chance to write the 2,000-word story you've always dreamed of, see ad on p. 35.
There will be another, more musical benefit for writer Jan Reid this Sunday at La Zona Rosa starting at 7pm. The lineup includes Ana Egge, Jimmy LaFave, Kinky Friedman, Tish Hinojosa, Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, and guests.
A favorite among recent CDs at my house has been Red Hand by Ingrid Karklins and Backbone. This Friday evening, in what should be a splendid event, Ingrid and the gang will be in performance at McKinney Falls State Park (park information, 243-1643).