The Austin Chronicle


October 29, 1999, Columns

Back to the Neighborhood


Your article "House of Cards" (Oct. 22) about the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, fails to address perhaps the two most important issues regarding low-income housing.

First, it doesn't work because it concentrates poverty. Second, it is not affordable because the housing is generally located in areas requiring dependency on the private automobile for daily mobility. Last time I checked, cars ain't cheap.

The issue of how the developers are selected to construct the "projects" begs the question: Why do we even have such a program if it doesn't work? While improvements have been made to the LIHTC program, these inherent flaws remain, and they guarantee that the program will not work. And guess what? We are subsidizing it.

Throughout our history, affordable housing has been provided most successfully in small increments, integrated throughout neighborhoods, in buildings that were completely compatible with, if not indistinguishable from, the buildings around them.

Apartments above stores, garage apartments, duplexes, and fourplexes in the building form of large single-family homes, small but distinguished apartment buildings, all within walking distance of shopping, schools, and workplaces: These are our successful, traditional forms of affordable housing. And they are not subsidized; rather, they are individually constructed and supervised by entrepreneurs.

Don't believe me? Walk around Clarksville or Hyde Park sometime. The affordable housing in those neighborhoods has gone up in price, because we don't allow those kinds of neighborhoods to be built anymore -- we've restricted the supply.

We need to completely change our approach to affordable housing in Central Texas, back to the neighborhood form.

Rob Dickson

A Federal Case?

Dear editor and readers,

Thank you for the story concerned with affordable housing in Austin that you ran in the last issue. ("House of Cards," Oct. 22). As the article mentions, the FBI is investigating the issue.

This comes a no surprise to me. In a city with a 99% apartment occupancy rate, it does not surprise me that so many federal laws are being violated that the FBI investigates.


Frank Bartlett

A Vote for ACC

Dear editors,

Thanks for your endorsement of Austin Community College's tax increase (Oct. 22). You're right that Austin voters and Chronicle readers should support education at all levels. ACC serves the educational needs of this community uniquely -- with open enrollment and accessibility to historically underserved communities, and with a special commitment to educating people for the increasingly complex workplace -- providing opportunities to more than 25,000 people.

I understand the reluctance with which you make this endorsement, given the struggles ACC has been through in the last decade. However, I want to point out the positive changes at ACC which suggest your hope that the college will make good use of the revenue this tax increase would bring is well-founded.

As a two-time president of the Adjunct Faculty Association at ACC, I have agitated for fair pay, health benefits, job security, and a voice in the governance of the college for the last 10 years. If you had asked me two years ago whether I would support a tax increase for ACC, I would have said no, because I did not then believe that the board of trustees or the administration were at all committed to fair labor practices.

However, I am wholeheartedly supporting the tax increase because so much has changed in the last couple of years. The board has enacted policies and the administration has taken steps to end the unfair exploitation of adjunct faculty and address our demands. We have better communication with and more support from the board and administration than at any time in the past. Instead of us fighting the board and administration, they are now working with us on achieving our goals for fair treatment as employees.

Does ACC still have problems? Absolutely. It would probably be impossible to run such a large institution without problems. A yes vote on the tax increase will help ACC reduce the number and severity of problems, and move the college faster and farther in the right direction.


John Herndon

President, ACC Adjunct Faculty Association

Raise the ACC Roof

Dear Editor:

I was the only member of the Austin Community College board of trustees to vote against calling an election to raise ACC's tax cap. However, I am now fully in support of raising the cap.

When the vote to raise the cap was taken, the ACC board had not committed to competitive pay and benefits for ACC employees. I believe that the most important thing ACC can do to ensure quality education is to make sure that it continues to hire and keep the best employees, additional money from an increase in taxes would, in my view, be wasted.

But since the initial vote on the tax cap, the ACC board has passed a compensation policy that is aimed at making ACC's salaries and benefits competitive with those of other employers. It will, for example, make ACC's pay for part-time faculty competitive with what UT and Southwest Texas State pay the bulk of their part-time faculty. This is a commitment to hire and keep quality teachers, the most critical element in assuring quality education. Because the ACC board has made this commitment to excellence in education, I now strongly support raising the cap on ACC's property tax. I urge all Austin progressives to vote for raising the cap on November 2nd.


John Worley

21st Century Schizoid Clan

The 21st Century's Mutation, by A.K. Spooner

As science-fiction writers have said, these days more horses, dogs, and cats who can talk sometimes and act out or by body language communicate some, or a little, so the 21st century brings some changes.

As in North America the Indians said a woman does not need to produce five or six offspring, which is fairly close to 1930 codes where assorted bitter waters for what was then called female problems were for sale to assorted female humans, 12-year-olds, to 40- or 50-year-olds, without physician prescription. In the old Hebrew Bible's third book, such bitter waters or herbals were listed as allowable, where a female person felt herself defiled, as the writer of Numbers put it in a Bible book, Chapter 5, Verses 18 to 29, presumably the curse of what is one class of unwanted embryo, or some other man's child in her womb, and not her husband's developing offspring.

Alice Kennedy Spooner

Up Against the Wall

Austin citizens:

Council Member Spelman responded to the Gotham objections with the following quote:

"I can't see how it's neccessarily true of having another big building surrounded by others is going to make things worse."

With the greatest respect, this is naive. Time after time developers have said "just this once." Many things happen which no reasonable person can foresee. When big money is involved, reason is an early casualty.

The possibility is real for building on the American-Statesman site. Allowing this project further entrenches the precedent set by the Hyatt. The Hyatt was a "just this once" project. Rest assured, if the Gotham goes forward this issue will be back using the Hyatt and now the Gotham as precedent. Even now the Hyatt is being used as a precedent, and Spelman is a thinking council member. I'm afraid too many citizens have not been in Austin long enough to have experienced the many unthinking council members. The spirit of the Town Lake Overlay initiative is being jettisoned in the name of downtown living. That is not the issue -- the issue is where will downtown living occur.

With both sides presenting arguments of merit, one path to decision might be to weigh the relative negatives.

Allowing this project encourages downtown living; we like that. Does rejecting the site discourage building downtown? Not in anyone's wildest dreams; that would be naive.

Allowing this project also encourages other buildings along Town Lake, promoting the concrete wall. It will contribute to the rapidly escalating property values in South Austin, making it that much harder to retain diversity, while driving out locally owned businesses and encouraging chains. This increases the likelihood of radically altering the character of all neighborhoods just south of the river.

The potential fallout from denying the site is far more benign than the potential fallout of allowing this project to be built.


Mark Coffey

Ellen Johnson

Ingrid Weigand

Mateo Scoggins

Ronald Dittmar

Keep Downtown Smart

Dear Editor,

At the Gotham public hearing, Randall Davis said he spent a year and a half looking for a downtown site for his residential project and turned up nothing. There are still dozens of empty or barely used properties downtown, yet even builders of million-dollar condos apparently can't find sites. The mayor's Smart Growth initiative must be in big trouble.

Downtown Austin will never be built out as long as builders know they can get the City Council to suspend the rules on much cheaper land elsewhere. If the council really wants to see housing downtown, they will uphold the existing zoning alongside South Congress and Town Lake. Then the mayor can put Davis together with the Downtown Alliance to find an appropriate downtown site for the Gotham. It would make an excellent replacement for any of the parking garages along the edges of the Capitol complex, and since those garages represent a drain on the state treasury, the state should be even more eager to strike a deal than it was on the Triangle property.

Sincerely yours,

Lorraine Atherton

A Bridge Too Political

Howdy y'all,

Since "perception is reality," Austin's media sources have endeavored to make reports of the development planning process as real as fictitious gets. Currently, the goal of the media is to build Central Austin into "The Castle Manhattan."

We deserve better.

Not too long ago Capital Metro held a light rail workshop; "invited" were 15 light rail experts. These national "experts" were manipulated and constrained to the Lamar/Guadalupe/Congress route by a restrictive parameter laid down by Capital Metro from the very beginning. The "experts" were told to run the light rail on the surface streets which had the highest trip count. And so the Lamar/Guadalupe/Congress light rail route was born.

The chair of Cap Metro then threw out the one constraint and forced the "experts" to design an extra rail route to run through East Austin to the new airport. There was no vehicular or ridership count to justify such planning. The chairman of Cap Metro silenced the resulting protest from the workshop and announced he could summon a representative from the mayor's office to back him up. As stated, in less than 30 minutes the mayor's representative appeared.

Recently the media spin came out that the bridges of Congress and South First couldn't hold the weight of a light rail line. Odd to think that those 15 light rail "experts" missed that problem, don't you think?

These "experts" did not decide to use either of those two bridges for light rail. The "experts" did plan and establish the cost for a separate bridge just west of the Congress bridge to carry the light rail. Somehow in the time between the "experts'" planned light rail bridge and the current plan to build a "Gotham Towers" at the end of the Congress Bridge, the "experts'" planned bridge was politically evaporated.

Clearly the transportation needs of Austin would be better served if the bulk of Cap Metro tax holdings were used to establish a complete north and south bus rapid transit system that serves all of Austin.

Rick Hall

Rail Taco Light


The reason I wrote is I'd like to ask if you know how I could get a taco franchise at one of those new, million-dollar, glitzy rail stations. I want to be part of the dynamic growth and development that will be made possible by fixed guidance systems. I might try for a parking concession too. I'm a hometown boy and like cars. Do you think that will hurt my chances?

Hope you are as excited as I am.


Robert Gerstenberg

Linguistics 101

Eddy Tor,

This a comment on the "Second Helpings" part of your Cuisines section of the Oct. 22 issue. The expression "ole" is strictly a Spanish, i.e. European, word. As such, it is no more used anywhere in Latin America than "jolly good show!" is used by English speakers in the U.S.

I happen to use OLE, but only when I do drawings on my computer with CAD (computer aided drafting/design) programs. In such cases, it stands for Object Linking and Embedding. Big difference! And it's not Spanish!

One more thing. I agree with Marc Savlov's review of the The 13th Warrior, starring the Spanish actor Anthony Flags, aka Mr. Melanie Griffith, but would like to note that "cheers," "salud," "zum wohl," etc. in the Scandinavian languages is spelled "skål." That's an "a" with a little doughnut on top!

I enjoy reading your paper, but please stop confusing us with Spaniards, i.e. Europeans. Hispanics, to tell the truth, can't stand our guts! When I was in Spain, a local guy with whom I had a difference of opinion called me the Spanish equivalent of "nigger!" Had I known exactly what he had said, I would have punched him on the mouth. Unfortunately, it wasn't until later that I learned the meaning of the term he had used.

Memo Torres

Don't Move Here

Dear Editor,

Lance New makes a good point in his letter of October 15. If we don't want Austin to grow uncontrollably, we should not not rejoice when Austin is named "Most Livable City" or "Best Place to Do Business." A title like "Worst Place to Relocate" would serve our interests better.

Right now, Mayor Watson, Jackie Goodman, and Willie Lewis are going to Asia to try to persuade multinational computer companies to come to Austin. This is a bad idea. Whenever we have more jobs than people, we become a population attractor. Also, it's unwise for a city to rely on one industry or on big corporations. If everyone in Austin works in computers, what happens when it's massive layoff time in the computer business?

Austin can survive just fine without multinational corporations that pay high salaries. Many Austinites would rather have some free time than a big salary. Big companies are generous with money and stingy with leisure time. They drive out the lower key, smaller businesses and produce an atmosphere of work-work-work, rush-rush-rush, spend-spend-spend. They attract people who like this high-speed, high-dollar, resource-trampling way of life.

It's time to slow down, think small, and become less attractive to outsiders. There are now six billion people on earth, consuming away like mad and destroying other species. Every city considers growth a sign of health and prosperity. But this is a mistake. Now that it's clear how catastrophic growth and overconsumption can be, let's slow down. Let's encourage local businesses, not multinationals. Let's stop closing local music clubs. Let's stop building and widening roads to facilitate mindless zooming. Let's restrict development to land that's already developed. And let's make centrally located housing affordable, to keep Central Austinites from moving to the city's periphery. Really Smart Growth is slow growth. Let's slow down and let Austin breathe.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Atomic Ruminations


Letters such as Pat Crews' ["Postmarks," Oct. 22] should be on the comic page. We had a good laugh reading it, and I'm sure Jesse Helms and three white guys in Mississippi would have agreed with his assertions and spin on the truth. The letter starts out with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, then wanders hysterically all over the place.

The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty merely ratifies de facto agreements among the leading powers regarding testing and proliferation. It is good faith -- not a piece of paper that binds nations together in reaching common goals. The Senate vote could shatter other countries' trust in our motives. Our friends and allies throughout the world were dismayed and confused by this vindictive vote.

Republican senators have been frustrated by President Clinton's enormous popularity and support throughout the world and sought to embarrass him rather than take the responsible course of action. Let's hope that George W. can summon a more responsible group of Republican candidates that can bring credibility and respect back to a once-honorable party.

Cliff Rierson

Rider Revolt


As a frequent bus rider and friend of bus riders, I have experienced my fair share of disservices and heard other people's shares as well, like the time a bus driver waved cheerily at me as he drove by me without stopping because he was 20 minutes late. Or the two bus drivers who regularly speed on the way to campus in order to gain extra time to stop at a particular stop to take an extra smoke break. Or my personal favorite: A friend of mine was on a bus that was just leaving a stop when he saw a person running to catch up with him. The driver drove a little away and stopped, waited for the guy to get closer, drove a little away and stopped, waited for the guy to get closer, drove a little away and stopped, and then drove away.

We all have to take this kind of abuse from the drivers every now and then, but I have to tell you, it gets very tiresome.

On October 21, I got on the No. 8 bus out of Northcross at 10:46. The bus was supposed to arrive at 10:46 and leave at 10:56. The bus was on time. The driver got off the bus to talk to the driver of the No.3.

When 10:56 rolled around he was still talking.

11:00 --

11:05 --

At 11:06, when the bus was now 10 minutes late, I got off and complained. The driver said "Yeah, we'll be leaving in a few minutes."

11:09 --

11:12 --

At 11:15 the driver got back in the bus and we drove out; the bus arrived at Northcross on time and left 19 minutes late.

Did the bus break down? No. Did a person in a wheelchair delay us? No. Was there a drunk on the bus causing problems? Not that I know of. No, we left late because the driver of the Govalle bus #1107 wanted to shoot the breeze and didn't feel like doing his job at that particular time. This is the kind of exemplary service I've come to expect from Capital Metro. Thank you, Capital Metro, thank you!


Samuel Craig,

A man who has received all the convincing necessary to buy a car

Nostradamus Sold His SUV


Our leaders are assuring us that the effects of Y2K will be minimal. But locally, what about PGL? Permanent Grid Lock Traffic experts, together with a small, but reliable, number of seers and wizards, predict with amazing accuracy that on February 3, 2000, all vehicles in Austin will stop forever. This will occur at exactly 5:32pm. The congestion will peak, simultaneously, at the intersection of W. Sixth & Lamar, and the HEB parking lot at Oltorf & S. Congress. Within minutes -- nay, seconds -- it will spread to the outer reaches of Travis County.

Be prepared to walk home or spend the rest of your life in your car, P/U, or beloved SUV.

Beware PGL!

B. Coleman

What a Dump


I have never lived in a city that had so much litter strewn about. This town is truly trashed. Across the street from every store, gas station, and construction site are piles of plastic, cans, bottles, and cigarette butts -- good god, the cigarette butts! It's starting to look like Manhattan Island in Escape From New York. Save the planet! Death to the Slobs!

Brian Gleason

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