The dog-running controversy continues … and chalk another one up for Ventura.
Rio de Sangre
In reference to Brett Morris' letter, "Don't Blame It on Rio [Sept. 24]:"
It's interesting how when a minority neighborhood works together to "sweep out" a criminal nuisance, nobody gets up in arms or says that neighborhood is racist. But when a mixed neighborhood simply asks for the police to enforce the law, inevitably someone cries out, "racist." The inflammatory allegation disappoints me because of the sheer ignorance it takes to so frivolously come up with the baseless conclusion. I'm not sure where you get your facts, Mr. Morris, but the I-35/Airport Blvd. neighborhood has been calling 911 on the Rio for a decade. The Rio has been under abatement investigation for over two years. The owner knew what kind of activity was occurring on his property and I think it's about damn time the police enforced the law. In summation, Mr. Morris, I am offended by your frivolous allegations. It wouldn't matter to me if UT law students were using the Rio; if they're soliciting prostitutes, using illegal drugs, leaving needles in our yards, and engaging in other criminal activity (including murder), then I would still demand criminals face the consequences of their acts. Mr. Morris, I don't see where skin color factors into neighbors standing up to illegal activity and upholding the law.
The Rio Motel used to be a nice place 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, it has only gotten worse over time. Mr. Morris, if you think it is such a historic landmark, why don't you buy it and fix it up? I'll help you throw out the bloody mattresses.
I really enjoyed seeing your recent color photo essay on "The Fine Art of Dining" [Sept. 10]. Local artists and craftspeople have always played a key role in creating "Austintatious" environments, but they rarely receive recognition. Virginia Wood and Kenny Braun did a great job showcasing a variety of old and new work by area artisans in restaurants. Two noteworthy exclusions were Ben Livingston and Lynn Wilkerson. Ben designed the neon Amy's sign at Sixth & Lamar (which is usually selected as the best neon sign by Austin Chronicle readers), as well as his "nightsticks" in the Granite Cafe and the Bitter End. Lynn recently designed and fabricated the Statue of Liberty ("Libby") sculpture riding a custom Harley which is crashing through his cloud mural at Freebirds in Hancock Center. He is probably best known for his Dobie Theatre theme rooms (Egyptian, Gothic, and Tudor).
We have had the pleasure of working with Ben, Lynn, and a number of those whose artwork you featured. They have all been very easy to work with and I encourage anyone planning to open a new restaurant to consider incorporating artwork and artistic details (by local artisans) into your design. A good resource is the Architectural Artisans Collaborative, which is planning studio tours on October 9. (Profits benefit Austin Habitat for Humanity.) Many of the artists you mentioned, as well as artists like Claudia Reese, Reji Thomas, and Lars Stanley, are part of this group.
Partner, Laurie Smith Design Associates
Churches Are Bullies, Too
Re Amy Smith's September 17 column regarding the proposed Hyde Park Baptist Church expansion ["Off the Desk"]:
The problem is not just that the HPBC wants to build a five-story, 1,000-car parking garage on a narrow street with historic single-family homes and a four-story, 40,000-square-foot (to be expanded to 80,000) education building directly behind more such homes. The broader issue is whether we want to permit unmitigated growth of a large private institution in a compact inner-city neighborhood. This is not just a Hyde Park issue.
HPBC has 11,000 members and brings 3,000 people and their cars into Hyde Park every week. So far they have destroyed 37 homes and occupy 9.5 acres in a neighborhood with small (roughly 1é4-acre) lots. But HPBC is not content to stop there. The stated goal of HPBC's "Forward Forever" campaign is to buy up and develop all the land from Speedway to Guadalupe along 38th and 39th streets, displacing hundreds of homeowners and renters from an area currently occupied by large apartment buildings and several historic or single-family homes. The threatened residents include both students and long-term residents, some of whom have lived there 20 years or more. HPBC leaders are absolutely frank about placing no upper limit on size.
We cannot allow so much Central Austin housing stock to be destroyed in a city where housing is already scarce. According to HPBC figures, most of their members live in West Austin, far from the inner city. This project runs directly contrary to the city's Smart Growth principles, and we expect the city to act to stop it.
Neighborhood opposition is mounting. This is an important development issue for Austin generally, and not just for Hyde Park. In the months to come you will be hearing much more on this issue.
Watching the Water Flow
Many thanks to Louis Black and Jenny Staff Johnson for insisting on close attention to the proposed $1.1 billion, 50-year water deal between the city and LCRA ["Page Two," Sept. 17, and "Council Watch," Sept. 24]. Such an enormous transfer of funds from Austin ratepayers to LCRA's Hill Country expansion plans and the obvious conflicts with Smart Growth deserve the highest degree of public and media scrutiny.
Thanks also for taking the Statesman to task for its attacks on citizens who are asking the tough questions and insisting on meaningful public input on the proposed deal. The last time the city and LCRA tried to work out an agreement on water rights, the Statesman editorial board correctly observed that the LCRA is "one of the most arrogant and unaccountable public bodies in the state" and advocated protecting the Colorado from "abuse and overuse." (Sept. 23, 1986, page A8). I guess current Statesman editors don't share those views. Thankfully, the Chronicle is once again playing a critical role informing Austin citizens.
Dear Mr. Editor:
In your last issue, Ken Lieck wrote that "Sandra Bullock found herself staring down the barrel of a four-foot penis at last week's Uranium Savages performance --"
This is a startling misstatement of fact and I would like to help set the record straight if I may.
The Uranium Savages have far too much respect for Ms. Bullock as an actress and as a woman to make her "stare down the barrel of a four-foot penis."
Our penises are only three feet long.
I'm here to visit my son, who lives in South Austin. He's got a barbecue pit in the front yard, a case of Lone Star in the fridge, an Austin array of buds (snags, over-the-hill X'ers, rednecks, and young major dudes) who hang out on the stoop, and an Ernest Hemingway shrine on the wall.
Hemingway's 100th birthday passed with small mention in the press. He is not PC these days. Declassé, as they say along the stinking streets of Paris. Michael Ventura, critic in Austin's underground rag, the Chronicle, wrote a wonderfully crafted paean to the artist who has defined the American short story, and who typifies the guy in the question, "What ever happened to real men?" I want to thank Michael Ventura for reminding me of the man who was the icon during my adolescence, and my favorite writer during the riotous era when I attained the ripe age of 20. That would be 1967.
The underlying tenor of a town vibrates in its alternative rags. San Francisco has the Bay Guardian and the S.F. Weekly. New York has The Village Voice and the New York Press. The Austin Chronicle does this river city proud.
P.S. Yes, one m -- but the library's closed and it's time to relax.
By the Book, Please
I just finished reading Roger Gathman's review of Bad Boy From Rosebud ["Book Reviews," Sept. 3]. I didn't realize that your writers had so little opportunity to discuss their political and social viewpoints that they had to use the pretense of reviewing books to express them. I found Mr. Gathman's review a review of Mr. Gathman's political and social viewpoints and learned much more about those than the book he was pretending to review! If I want to know about someone's political stance, I'll ask. If I want a review of a book, I'll go somewhere else.
Justiel Sweet RN
I feel compelled to address the responses to "Bad Dog" [Sept. 10] While I do agree that some points in Ms. James' article are a bit unrealistic, I too have experienced unfounded, irrational reactions to my dog being off-leash. I walk my dog to the neighborhood park every morning off-leash, but in a "heel," and very much under control. About five or six other dog owners also bring their dogs at about the same time each day, and most of the dogs are off-leash. In our park, we pick up after our off-leash dogs, but I've noticed that the dog poop left on the ground is frequently from dogs whose owners keep them on-leash. Also, dogs that are well-socialized with other dogs and people are significantly less likely to be aggressive than dogs who are kept on a tight rein, away from other dogs and people.
I am sorry that both Ms. Criste and Mr. Moore have lost cats to a wayward dog, but their stereotyping of dog owners is offensive to me. My dog greets all the cats in my neighborhood with a tail wag and a smile, she regularly plays with a cat from next door, and feels it is her duty to non-violently break up cat fights (thus saving the cats' owners the expense of having to take their cats to the vet). The dogs you will encounter off-leash with their owners are not likely the same dogs that are running free at night killing cats.
I am angry that the negligence of some dog owners has given all of us a bad reputation and that people who see my dog off-leash feel compelled to reprimand me for it.
Ms. Criste -- in urban and suburban areas, it is dangerous and illegal to "shoot a wandering dog on site." Clearly, you are saddened that your cat was killed, so it is hypocritical and -- with all the senseless shootings in the news -- grossly inappropriate for you to make such a suggestion.
Julie B. Olsen
Dogging the Dog Owners
Paula James' essay about dogs ["Bad Dog," Sep. 10] really reflects the same type of subjective behavior that is all too common among dog owners. She confuses the dog with nature, but a dog isn't nature; a wolf or a coyote is nature. Dogs are the result of selective breeding -- a type of technology that goes back 100,000 years. And despite her litany about nature, she chooses to live in a city, and prefers to live in a neighborhood with lawns that are perfect green squares where children do not play. Very sad.
We live in a multiethnic, working class neighborhood and we don't have green lawns but living spaces in front of our houses. And we have children playing in the yards and streets. But you really miss the point about the fear of dogs by projecting your own sadness on your loss of freedom because you choose to live in a sterile, soulless neighborhood. The issue isn't dog poop, urine on trees and autos, having my shoes dragged off the porch, or my 17-year-old cat killed. The issue is that a dog can maim or kill a small child. I don't care that you have a happy dog that wags its silly tail, and I do not intend to confine my children to the house (as they apparently do where you live). Until you understand that dogs are confused and reckless when they wander the streets of Austin, you should leash your dog.
Chasing deer? Are you serious?
The Petroleum Bullet
The Tom Tomorrow cartoon published in the Chronicle on Sept. 24 presents the often-stated view that, although cars kill more people than guns do in this country, that's okay, because most of these car killings are accidental. It's difficult for people who don't worship cars to buy this argument.
Most gun killings are intentional, and most car killings are accidental. About 37,000 deaths per year are attributed to guns in the U.S., and about 24,000 of these are classified as accidental. In contrast, motor vehicles kill about 40,000 people per year, and nearly all these deaths are classified as accidental.
It seems that guns are better-designed than cars. In fact, just about every tool we use is better designed than cars. If any other tool (the hammer, or the chainsaw, for example) killed 40,000 people each year in the U.S. by accident, such a tool would be regarded as a serious public safety hazard and outlawed until its design could be improved. With cars this is not done, simply because cars are our sacred exeption to all sensible rules. (Guns are also sacred, of course.)
Cars are registered and regulated more than guns. But on the other hand, deaths due to guns are investigated much more than deaths due to cars. Car drivers who kill or injure people with their cars are not usually prosecuted. People who kill with their cars do not lose their drivers' licenses, as long as the killing is accidental. Killing people by driving incompetently is okay.
Cars are a public safety menace at least on a par with guns. They also have the side effects of poisoning our air and water, raising the poverty level, and burning up irreplaceable fuel.
All Talk, No Walk
Once again, Gov. Bush has demonstrated what he means by "compassionate conservativism": He comforted the victims of the recent massacre at a Fort Worth church, but refuses to support stringent gun control laws that will prevent such tragedies. Gov. Bush, it was awfully nice of you to take time out of your busy fundraising schedule to pat those gunshot victims on the head and blame their plight on a national "wave of evil." But such compassionate words do not help them in any meaningful way. Do you really want to help them? Then call a special session of the Texas Legislature, insist that our lawmakers pass a package of strict gun control measures, and sign those measures into law. By doing so, you will demonstrate true compassion, as well as the courage to put public safety ahead of politics.
Mark Your Territory
I am very concerned that Austin is in process of doing "community planning" without clearly defining its communities and neighborhoods first. The city will not define neighborhoods nor communities for fear of a political backlash from strong neighborhood associations. Entrenched neighborhood association leaders like the power the ambiguity affords them. Checkmate!
Did you know that you can "create" an association and then represent "your neighborhood" in the planning process? Anyone and everyone can "represent" the "neighborhood." The City of Rollingwood is officially recognized. The Legislature of the State of Texas could be too! The city can't ever create a "Neighborhood Map" of Austin. Parts of the four-mile stretch of Town Lake from MoPac to Longhorn Dam are "claimed" by 35 neighborhood and community associations. Some houses and blocks are "represented" by as many as nine associations! Now how crazy, undemocratic, and ineffective is that?
How do we do any planning without defining the boundaries first? My grandmother knows that she lives in the State of Minnesota, Hennepin County, City of Minneapolis, the Longfellow Community, and the Hiawatha Neighborhood. Each of the 81, clearly defined neighborhoods in Minneapolis have one strong neighborhood association representing it within one of the 11 Community Councils. Each has drafted their respective Neighborhood Plan and Community Plan. They do not overlap and all city services, statistics, and City Council Wards respect those boundaries and plans.
I hope most of us can agree that the current undemocratic free-for-all of associations has to end. I also hope we can agree that "community planning" will work best if we clearly define community and neighborhood boundaries. The current City Council and the neighborhood associations need to work this impasse out. If you agree, now is the time to speak up.
Jeffery S. Fischer
Mauro's Dirty Money
No one should be surprised that Ben Barnes sought refuge for former first son and now first Texan George W. Bush in the National Guard back during the Vietnam War. He's been carrying the ball (and the bag) for special interests (himself first, of course) since he was weaned. That's the nature of Texas politics. But who else besides this writer is going to demand that unsuccessful Democratic governor candidate Garry Mauro give back to the appropriate victims the $100,000 political contribution he accepted from that 29-year-old wonderboy and convicted felon Brian Russell Stearns now under arrest for securities fraud? So Mauro says he asked the White House to check out Stearns. What was the response? Probably, "The guy's got cash; who cares!" It doesn't take a genius to realize that the good ole boys in Texas and elsewhere are thugs and they associate with thugs. It's the way it is, and it ain't gonna change. But at least Mauro ought to be made to pay the taxes on the loot if he gets to keep it. Meanwhile, watch out John Q. Public. If you think Ben Barnes knows how to take care of himself and his buddies, you haven't seen anything yet. You are about to learn a new meaning for Bush-whacked.
Have a nice daze!
Target of Derision
Recently I was walking to cap off a nice Hut's hamburger with some Amy's ice cream. As I approached the intersection of Sixth and Lamar for the first time I actually read the signs and realized with horror there are actually plans to build a Target in downtown. My God, have we lost our minds?
I understand the improvement to a shopping district, and I could not agree more. But once again, the civic planners of this once nice, quaint town dropped the ball, watched it roll into the street, and got hit by a bus retrieving it. Unlike normal cities, we decided to put one of the shrines to suburban lack of culture and substance in the middle of our downtown district -- Target.
Since most of the suburbanites who are coming for the luxurious Target shopping experience drive SUVs, we're going to either have to make lanes downtown 30 feet wide or finally build a monorail. I know this has been a dream of Capital Metro, but with new tourists coming it makes sense.
Of course the main station will be our Target. But what other stops should it make? I'm sure if Target is an attraction, think of the lure of Wal-Mart on 183 and I-35. Next stop will be the Highland Mall. The monorail shall roll on to Whole Foods, for obvious reasons, and last, Office Depot. Oh what joys the monorail will bring! The Mass Consumption! The Opulence!
I hope I helped you with your plan. For those on the wagon train out of town, there will support groups for "Austin, Boy Did We Blow a Good Thing" in Brooklyn. I know, because I am already on my way.
One Foot Out the Door,
Tired of the Mess
In response to the letter by Ty Hurless ["Postmarks," Sept. 10], yes Ty, others are concerned about what I refer to as the "land pollution" that plagues Austin. However, judging from the total lack of response in last week's Chronicle, we are in the minority.
Fourteen years ago I relocated to Austin, in part, because of its pristine beauty and the apparent concern residents had for environmental issues. Sadly, the pristine beauty is lost and the environmental issues focus only on air and water. Both of which, I might add, are deplorable.
It's easy to point the finger of blame, for it points to us all. The challenge is how to rectify the situation. A new jingle or slogan is not the answer. What is needed is vision and leadership from Mayor Watson and the city fathers. Unfortunately, they focus only on economic issues. I requested KXAN-TV do a segment on their "Austin On The Move" and the Statesman do an editorial or feature drawing attention to the problem, both to no avail.
I am a pedestrian by choice and see firsthand the trash to which you refer. I have seen everything from cigarette butts to dirty underwear, dirty diapers to used prophylactics; it's appalling.
Businesses make minimal effort to keep their property clean. This includes Capital Metro bus stops.
Enough complaining; here are some suggestions: (1) Initiate an adopt-a-street program; (2) Hire all those people standing on every corner in town holding "will work for food" signs; (3) Enforce vagrancy and littering laws.
Alas, nothing will really change until Austinites realize that the only way to make Austin clean again is to care enough to do something about it. Austin cannot rely on tourism propaganda forever.
Don't toss it! Slam dunk it!
Warning to Time Warner
Does Time Warner think Hispanics are more likely to steal cable service than other ethnic groups? If you received their most recent mailout warning of the consequences of cable theft, you'd think they did. The bilingual flyer I received in my mail features the Spanish-language version of each paragraph either above or to the left of the English version. Even a brain-dead, first-year advertising intern knows that that's where you place your message to reach a target audience. So who are they targeting? Also, to add insult to insult, the mailing also prominently features a police officer ticketing a cable thief. At a glance the officer appears Hispanic and -- surprise -- when you look at his name tag, he's Officer Fernandez. Obviously, the whiz-kid ad execs thought that this would balance out any offense given. It doesn't work. Time Warner needs to be a little more sensitive to our ethnic diversity and quit playing to stereotypes.
As you probably know, Mr. Pat Forgione, from Washington, shoved into AISD by this search company from Illinois, has hired Joy R. Mc.Larty, from Iowa, to start in October as a deputy superintendent, for $125,000 a year and a promise of a good $10,000 in bonuses. (a lot of money that many Austinites just don't make, and a figure that I'm sure pokes into the dignity of many old AISD workers). And we haven't heard of assistants yet. The goal here is to generate accurate data, including the dropout reports, so the public confidence will be restored. Also, the money from the tax increase will go to administration as well, or so I've heard. I'm the one choking back tears now. It's your children's education, pendejos! Y'all keep on bringing principals, teachers, and high-paid outsiders to your schools from all over creation, busing packs of students across town every day, throwing junk food at them, most of which is not consumed, creating waste. Kids bring home bad habits which the parents have to deal with every day, after getting bombarded with an educational plan based on the European structure, ignoring the reality of local life, and, in the afternoon, they all sit down to watch TV for today's crack of the family block. Why is the dropout rate so racially imbalanced? "Majorities" are getting stuffed into town every year to maintain the economy high, and the best-paid jobs are being filled with people that only God knows where they came from. Convenience stores, janitors, and burger joints don't require a good education, so why bother? Idiocy and ignorance are not being eradicated, and it's just another burden for the land and its people. I'd give you a name for all of this, but I've lost the last page of my dictionary!
Godspeed You Foul Meat
Factory farms have become a major environmental nuisance in the U.S. Their wastes have fouled America's ground and surface waters, spawned the deadly Pfiesteria piscicida organisms, and devastated Atlantic fisheries. Their foul odors have ruined the lives of rural neighbors. A dozen states have restricted the size and emissions of factory farms. Because of these restrictions and shrinking domestic markets, large U.S. meat conglomerates are exporting their operations to developing countries.
These operations would devastate the food supplies, environmental resources, public health, and economic infrastructure of developing nations. The resulting depletion of grain stocks would create widespread famine. Their domination and associated "contract farming" would exploit local farmers in a form of "meat colonialism."
Why should Americans care? Because we don't want our international image shaped by the excesses of the U.S. meat industry. Because we are sensitive to the economic needs of developing nations. Because we are committed to preserving the world's natural resources. Because some of the production will take place here, devastating our own environment.
On October 2, caring folks in several hundred communities in the U.S. and several other countries are planning exhibits, information tables, leafleting, and vigils to raise public awareness of this problem. I urge my fellow citizens to get involved by visiting http://www.farmusa.org or by calling 888/FARM USA.