Wrong John, Wrong Reason
I write in response to the article "Tug of War," which was in your August 6, 1999, edition. I would like to point out at least two errors that I noted in the article.
First, your article stated that only one person submitted a card in opposition to closing Riverside Drive. I attended the council meeting and observed at least three or four comments in favor of the street remaining open.
Second, your article noted that John Wooley, "downtown developer and land owner," was that one person interested in Riverside Drive remaining open. The article went on to use this piece of information to make a case that "the proponents of keeping Riverside Drive open through the park are those who stand to make money off of it."
Unfortunately, the "fact" and the inference are both wrong. I submitted the card, and I am John Wooley the consulting engineer, not John Wooley the downtown developer. I and many other members of the Austin engineering community are opposed to closing Riverside Drive, not because we stand to make money off of keeping it open, but because closure doesn't make good common sense.
Although I cannot speak for John Wooley, downtown developer and land owner, or any other John Wooleys who might reside in this city, I can speak for myself. As a longtime Austinite with a South Austin business within three minutes of Riverside Drive, and a heavy user of the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail, I can tell you that you don't have to be an engineer, or a developer, or a land owner, to know that closing Riverside Drive is ill-advised given the current transportation infrastructure in the area. Just as availability of arts and parks is a quality-of-life issue, I vehemently maintain that mobility is also a quality-of-life issue. Closing Riverside Drive without significant improvements to Barton Springs Road, South Lamar, and even the Lamar Street Bridge over Town Lake doesn't make sense. How can we think about closing Riverside Drive at the same time we are debating what type of traffic calming devices we should use on Barton Springs Road?
Your article further implies that since we have made traffic planning mistakes in the past, it's all right to go ahead and make more in the future. In other words, we're doomed to have traffic congestion, so let it be. As an engineer, I have to reject that proposition. This community needs to insist that our city leaders put more resources into mobility infrastructure, just as we insist on more resources for parks, arts, police, fire protection, and libraries. Only after the resources are committed can we expect any better mobility in this city.
John A. Wooley, P.E.
Parks Need People
Dan Biederman, whose redesigned parks in New York make criminals feel uncomfortable and attract the public in droves, recently came to Austin and spoke on how they did it. There must be much beauty in the park and water features and so forth to attract people, but the main thing that attracts people is people. Hence the suggestion that the present asphalt parking lot down by the gazebo would possibly be better used as a restaurant, with tables spilling out onto patios and people there keeping an eye on the park, making it safe and making it used. Retail in the bottom of the parking garage doesn't represent crass commercialism, as your reporter asserts ["Council Watch," August 6], but rather a common-sense way to make the park safe by not having a blank wall obscuring the park from public view.
A slew of residents showed up at the public hearing, including me, but it is unfair to characterize what we felt by what we wrote on our cards. Most of us didn't write anything. You only write if you don't plan to speak. For the first time ever in the history of the city, a public hearing was called and the public was not allowed to speak. How could your reporter fail to mention this fact? How could she presume to know what we were going to say? Yes, we support the existing plans. It will be a beautiful park. And we hope that eventually the things that need to be done to attract people, the things which make a park safe, will be done as well. There needs to be one place in Austin where people gather, maybe just to read a book on their lunch hour, or to sit by the waterfall or to see their friends out on the plaza across the water from the beautiful downtown.
The following will supplement my more lengthy letter to your publisher regarding some errors in your "Tug of War" article ["Council Watch," Vol. 18, No. 49].
1. My statement about "wasteland" was meant to be a positive statement about opportunity and a negative statement about asphalt. I referred to "Town Lake Park as it appears today, a barren 80-acre wasteland of asphalt, a great opportunity waiting to happen."
2. As to "retail on the first floor of the parking garage," I said, "There is an ordinance in the Central Business District which requires the first floor of parking garages to be retail. The architects should explore the nature of the streetscape of the parking garage along Barton Springs Road to make it a pedestrian-friendly urban streetscape." Would the Bouldin Creek neighbors and park visitors rather walk down a sidewalk dominated by a wall of concrete and the grilles of automobiles? My statement was not indicative of a "sinister" plot by the Coalition to commercialize the Park.
3. "... varying degrees of zeal ..." Your reporter seems to suggest the Coalition was falling apart. The Coalition represented diverse views and agreed unanimously on two main issues: 1) Support of the Park and desire to be more involved not only in the input but also the decision-making process for planning the amenities. 2) Plan the Park as a high-quality, people-filled urban cultural park with a mixture of open green space and vibrant urban park amenities.
4. Mr. John Wooley, who wrote a card regarding Riverside Drive, is neither a downtown developer nor a land owner and won't make a dime off Riverside Drive. Mr. Wooley was not the only person who wrote a card supporting Riverside Drive being left open. Additionally, despite this being a public hearing, the council allowed no citizen input beyond the five-minute speeches by the council-designated stakeholders and the Coalition.
5. There was no "Coalition side" or "fan of the master plan" side in the council chambers. About half of the Coalition members were on the north side of the chamber amongst the "fans." As to Mr. Smith, don't staff members always sit on the east side? To suggest that Mr. Smith is somehow in cahoots with the Coalition is a slap at a city official whose reputation is one of fairness and competency.
6. Your article states, "the proponents of keeping Riverside Drive open through the park are those who stand to make money off of it." I'm not sure how Coalition members could make money off of an open Riverside. Do they now?
7. The traffic study does not mention "delays of less than a second." It does describe the year "2005 forecasted conditions -- Riverside Drive through the Park closed" condition as having 23 locations nearby where the "level of service" is rated unacceptable. Five of these intersections (as compared to one in the current day Riverside-open scenario) are immediately adjacent to the Bouldin Creek neighborhood.
And does about 4,000,000 annual car trips qualify Riverside as "little used" road?
8. On July 30 you lauded the "50 hours worth of public [input] meetings." Input is not necessarily decision-making. The "Guiding Principles" of the 12-member Town Lake Advisory Group (submitted to the council on July 31, 1998) appear to have been disregarded as about two months later the council formed a new stakeholder group comprised of only four members. Charettes excluded, the public was neither notified nor encouraged to attend this group's many meetings starting in November.
I'm glad your reporter liked the giant chessboard idea. That was input from a neighborhood charette attendee. See folks, somebody was listening. ...
More Misleading Figures
Rick Hall's recent anti-rail letter uses numbers in a misleading way ["Postmarks," Aug. 6]. Mr. Hall gives $612 million as the cost of building a light rail line. That's the total cost, not the cost per day or per year. He says that the predicted ridership for the first year is 11,500 people per day. Mr. Hall then states that "this is $50,000 per weekday trip." This does not make sense.
There is no rule that says that only 11,500 people per day, in perpetuity, would use a new rail line. The number 11,500 does not represent the capacity of the rail line. The capacity of the rail line is flexible. The number 11,500 is just Capital Metro's prediction (arrived at by methods not revealed to the public) of how many people would use a light rail system in its first year. This figure is probably much too low.
In Mr. Hall's letter, in newspaper articles, and at Capital Metro's recent transportation workshop, rail projects are presented with price tags and road projects without. This encourages people to think of road projects as free. Roads, especially highways, aren't cheap. They cost as much as rail lines. Parking spaces and parking garages are not free. It would cost about $600 million to park 20,000 cars underground.
If we're going to discuss rail projects with percentages attached, then please let's discuss road and car-parking projects the same way.
Fear of Eating
Dear Austin Chronicle,
Thank you very much for your cover story in the August 6 issue, "It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature. The more I know and learn about this issue the scarier it is!
Thank you for headlining the story concerning genetically engineered (GE) foods. Since at least 50% of the American public has no notion of what "Frankenfoods" are, obtaining labels for these products will not happen overnight.
President Clinton has already hinted that some labels may be necessary. This is a good first step, but he must be held to institute this policy. The Alliance for Labelling of Genetically Engineered Foods was formed to ensure that this policy gets introduced into governmental standards and to give citizens a choice of what they want to eat.
Adequate and accurate labels will ensure that when labels are required for these foods that they state: "Genetically Altered" or "Genetically Modified" and not something as vague as the statement: "Grown Better."
If you are concerned about the future of the world food supply, we urge you to write your senators and congresspersons and also President Clinton and Vice-President Gore.
For readers who would like to get more involved and demand labeling of these "foods" call The Alliance for Labelling of Genetically Engineered Foods at 512/454-2364. Thanks.
Give Veggies a Chance
I read with interest Rosie Weaver's letter to the editor in the August 6 edition of The Austin Chronicle. In the letter Ms. Weaver comments that she has given up reading the food and restaurant reviews because they do not, even on occasion, mention vegetarian and vegan entrees. When I read Ms. Weaver's letter, the famous Yogi Berra quotation drifted through my mind, "It's deja vu all over again" because I had exactly the same experience: I read the reviews for a while, but quickly lost interest after it became clear that the reviews never touched upon vegan and vegetarian entrees.
Perhaps the Chronicle could retain a vegan or vegetarian columnist to write bi-weekly or monthly columns on vegan and vegetarian offerings at Austin restaurants. Alternatively, your regular reviewers may want to consider reviewing vegan and vegetarian meals on occasion. In the meantime, I'll content myself with the always excellent "News of the Weird," "Straight Dope," "Council Watch," and the bereft-of-substance "Postmarks" submissions of Babich-bashing SUV lovers.
No Free Ride for ACC
ACC will ask voters in November for permission to raise their tax rate by five cents -- double what it is now! -- their reason being that they cannot currently meet the growing demand of training a skilled workforce for Austin's glorious economy.
Read the fine print, folks! This is welfare (once again) at taxpayer expense. The ones who will benefit the most from this tax hike is the high-tech industry and the 81 (or so) new people who move here each day for economic gain.
I'm tired of paying for the capitalistic joyride of others. Economic gain is not the same as quality of life. As Austin grows so does the true cost of living here. As I watch my taxes rise year after year, I seem to get less of what I truly love(d) about Austin. Clean air/water, green space, and people with a heart & soul.
So to all you new folk moving here to cash in (or sell out?), don't ask me to help destroy the place any further. If you're going to pave our green space, shit in our water, and turn our air brown for the sake of the almighty dollar (and a Hill Country view) -- then pay your own fucking way!
Vote NO on ACC tax rate hikes! -- or kiss Austin's ass goodbye (and rename it "Houston lite").
Bruce A. Hop
Quality Air Time
I wish to respond to the "Improving KUT" fiasco as submitted by Pat Gunn ["Postmarks," July 30]. Six painful hours to Pat are six hours of quality and exceptional programming to most of us who listen. John is the very best interviewer here in Central Texas and his wealth of knowledge and experience makes anyone in his presence feel comfortable and welcome. John certainly doesn't need me to explain the relative merits, many he shares on a regular basis with his listeners. They respond during fundraising, and he makes us aware of things very special that in a city as large as Austin you could easily miss.
On further analysis, I must say there is no other show like Folkways. Having done live radio in Minnesota for eight and a half years in a format a lot like Folkways, the quality of that show with a very talented set of hosts make each Saturday special. I suggest AM radio for Pat Gunn.
A Call to Arms
Start the revolution NOW!
News8's Blank Canvas
I'm up late as usual (I'm a sound engineer) and seeing the first of the "News8 Austin" infomercials, heralding 24/7 news coverage of the Austin community and my immediate thought is, "Are they kidding??" In a town with four major networks all covering the exact same stories at the exact same time every day and weekend, is another channel necessary, even more bewildering -- one that features around-the-clock news? Of what, I ask ? Already our major local affiliates struggle to fill their (even excessive) allotted time with national and local events. Even CNN covers the world to a tee in an hour! It seems to me that this is an exercise in vanity, misled investment, and ... well ... stupidity. What are they going to cover after the first hour? ... little league sports scores ... a police blotter, or perhaps endless blocks of "heartwarming" human interest stories? Not that Austin isn't capable of generating newsworthy events, but despite our Chicago-style traffic and 100% occupancy, Austin is still a relatively small town, at least in attitude. Much to our benefit, there's just not enough big city crime and scandal to go around and launching a 24/7 news channel for this town is about as prudent as opening a dance club on Sixth Street.
P.S. Is there a statistic for talking heads per capita?
Local Talent Ignored
Roberta Shaffer has come from Washington, D.C., as dean of UT School of Library and Information Science, and Jeffrey Van Slyke is getting the job of campus police chief. He's coming from Iowa. Add their weight to that of the president, football coach, their assistants and others, as a tremendous wedge that pushes the aspirations for promotion of workers, teachers, and staffers farther away. These guys are also a threat to the environment, because of their expensive lifestyles. Perhaps UT employees don't care, but I know of some retirees, whom after decades of helping build up UT with hard work into what it is now, have left even without improving their own education, from a major university! Their experiences and everyday small decisions are present on every brick, every hall, every field, but unrecognized. Those who "recommend" or "appoint" all these outsiders, overlooking local talent, should be charged with treason to the people and the land. Look at the "progress" around you: More apartments, more retail stores and restaurants are hurting Austin, so these privileged swingers stay cared for, your kids, well, they'll get a "decent job." Rents, taxes, groceries are on the rise, police are staying closer to them. Wait a little more, and your children will pay the consequences, pendejos!