Neighbors relate their own housing crunches in response to last week's cover story.
The recent planning commission meeting that ended in a walkout by neighborhood activists (East Cesar Chavez overlay) has reinforced my perception that although PODER and El Concilio have their hearts in the right place, maybe they haven't seen as much gentrification as I have and misunderstand the process. I first lived in Soho in Manhattan, New York in 1980. There was still industry on West Broadway, but the price of lofts was starting to skyrocket. I watched New York go from a very cheap place to live to a place where only the super rich can afford. I've witnessed this process in other cities and fimly believe those who want to de-industrialize the Eastside are misguided and will result in the death of the Eastside as a multiracial, working-class neighborhood. It is probably true that anything the Eastside has that Rollingwood doesn't is a result of racism (the disparity between services available to those on the Eastside and those in West Austin is unconsionable). It's also true that under New Urbanism the mix of housing and industry (read: jobs) is what we are aiming for. Trucking firms are loud and dirty, but provide higher than minimum-wage jobs that don't require higher education. Without industry the only thing keeping the Eastside from being completely gentrified is racism. Experience has shown whites get over racism when there is money to be made or housing to be had. If the Holly Street plant is closed to coincide with CSC coming to downtown, the Holly Street neighborhood will become whiter and more expensive. The pressure to sell will be intense, and many who bought cheap because of the plant and East Austin's depressed prices will make a windfall. I also was saddened by the closing of the recycling plant. Those who don't live near it might think it's the largest generator of trash in the area. The McDonald's up the street (along with the other fast food places) produce much more trash on Airport than BFI. I know that with the strength of N.A.'s side activists should watch what they wish for or "Downtown East" with stunning lake views and easy commute to high-tech firms downtown is a reality and el barrio has been chased to the far south and east of Decker lake.
Kinney Court Blues
I live directly next to Kinney Court. A two-story house looms over my back fence. Imagine my amusement at learning I live in a "decaying" neighborhood, that Bill Howell's development will "save" ["Under One Roof," July 28]. I bought the house I have rented for 18 years in spite of the abomination rising three feet outside my yard, and I hope my vibrant, diverse, and eclectic neighborhood will survive in spite of it also. I had indeed planned on fixing my place up for my own reasons, not because it would please the new yuppies next door. Now those plans are on hold indefinitely. I want my new neighbors to look out of their $300,000 bedroom window and see my back yard in all its South Austin glory, with its compost heap, xeriscaping, fowl enclosure, and baying hounds. They should enjoy it while they can. As taxes on this neighborhood rise, due in part to developments like Kinney Court, real people won't be able to live here much longer. Then, I guess, Bill Howell's version of "saving" us will have come true.
Dove Springs No Debacle
I was offended by the article this week about housing in Southeast Austin ["Under One Roof," July 28]. The description of the so-called Dove Springs area is inaccurate and deliberately denigrating. The area which is the Dove Springs subdivision is only a small part of the neighborhoods near east Stassney, and the crime in the area has been significantly reduced in recent years. By lazily painting the area with a broad brush, the writer is contributing to the unfair characterization of Southeast Austin neighborhoods which damages our viability. I live close to the Indian Hills neighborhood, and there are problems in that area. I have not seen any "lean-to camps in Indian Hills that crumble into squalor before they're even built out." Please issue an immediate apology and correction to this inaccurate report.
Thanks for an interesting perspective on the housing crunch ["Under One Roof," July 28]. Low-income service workers are trapped between a rock and a hard place, neither of their own making. When high-tech businesses are enticed to move here with all sorts of abatements and exemptions, they bring with them high-paying professional jobs which require advanced training few "everyday working people" possess. Meanwhile, the stock of housing cannot be expanded due to land use and zoning restrictions, so we create our own Central Texas San Jose -- with developers and apartment builders building to lure the new arriving cyber-yuppie types. But those reasons alone don't explain the problem.
In modern America young twentysomethings are somehow expected to be out and on their own when in most Latin countries I've visited, I noticed that young people often live with their parents right up until marriage. (Indeed, a Colombian friend commented after watching a video of Friends: Why are they not living with their families?) In America anyone living at home past 25 can expect all sorts of unfavorable gossip. The last thing the owner of a one-bedroom apartment would ever want would be for young people to board with parents or other relatives. I, however, would discourage anyone working in any of the low-paying service jobs you cited in the article from even thinking about taking on the obligations of rent or house payments in this town.
But people make bad career choices. They choose to quit school, take menial jobs, etc. Subsidized housing or subsidized transit will do nothing but remove any incentive the employer has to raise the pay rate for his secretary or janitor.
Might the Triangle property one day become "affordable housing"? I wouldn't bet on it.
Protect Our Parks!
Recently I came across a group of people in a busy street downtown heatedly discussing a number of threats endangering our national parks and immediately dismissed them. At the time, I was certain that these fanatic alarmists were simply blowing things out of proportion and that all kinds of agencies worked around the clock to preserve our country's natural wonders. With very little effort I found startling information about how few regulations there are outside of tiny, specific camping areas. Outdated restrictions currently exist regarding dumping and air pollution right up to park boundaries. Many folks to whom I've spoken have cynical outlooks regarding the effectiveness of any attempt to stop corporate lobbyists from controlling these policies. Only through optimism, awareness, and unity can we make a difference.
Let there be no doubt that actively concerned Americans can make changes!
How about more articles on these issues?
(Ed. Note): see our Natural State story in this issue
ACAC: United We Stand
The "Mad TV" and "Access Denied" articles [July 14] bring to light what's wrong with cable access television. These two articles center on the personal disputes of at least two followings. If one's show content centers around disparaging someone else, then the show host has lost his creativity by being dictated by the actions of the person who is his focus. I believe that all concerned -- Sotelo, Jones, Ramirez, Side, and Henry -- have the intelligence and talent to promote their respective genre of video programs. As De Niro said, "wasted talent." By the way, all these gents have the same influence here as the other 500 producers; no more, no less.
I ponder if ACAC will stand the test of time on two fronts, though there are more. My first concern is a political one. If access television is to remain a part of this community, its support will ultimately be a political one. Will the city council continue to support cable access when they see the bickering that your article focuses on? Thankfully, there are many more shows than you reported that reflect the Austin community's interests. Hopefully, these programs will weigh more on the council's mind when they vote to continue to keep public access in Austin (some communities have not fared as well). Additionally, we have to keep an eye on state legislation. There is a move by the big telecommunications conglomerates to strip franchising authority from local municipalities and vest them in the state. Under this scenario, public access for each municipality risks serious modification, or even worse, extermination. Then none of the aforementioned gentlemen will have a voice in the Austin community. We have seen what the state can do with the public's money, especially in an election year. And who will have the best-paid lobbyists, and who do you think would serve on boards that disburse the funds? There are more serious issues that public access has to address.
My second concern is the direction local media is headed. While the suspension of Sotelo's program is regrettable, he errs when he was quoted that commercialism is only applicable to sponsorship. However, his suspension has received more than average attention in weeks past in your publication because of his association with your editor, publisher, and staff writers. Did anyone ask Sotelo why he would commit an infraction that would get him off the air, disappointing his legion of fans? In all the correspondence that I received from his supporters, none admonished him for his actions. More disturbing is the tone of the articles. The content of the ongoing quibble brings to mind the Jerry Springer/Jenny Jones skew on reporting that leaves a rancid aftertaste on what journalism should be. When journalism pits personalities/followings against one another, it becomes entertainment. That's a whole different credibility factor. I do thank you for reporting on the other wonderful programs at ACAC ["The Reel World," "All Access: ACAC Then and Now"].
Executive Director, ACAC
More Streetcar History
Robert Bryce's article about Austin's streetcars leaves out some historical context. In the 1930s transit companies were privately owned. Streetcar companies were failing to make a profit. In 1936, a new bus company appeared in thirty different U.S. cities. Its name was National City Lines. It was a front company for General Motors, in league with the oil and rubber industries. National City Lines bought and destroyed streetcar systems in over 30 cities. They replaced them with bus systems. Their goal was not to make a profit running a bus system, but to remove a means of transportation that obstructed and completed with private cars.
When you own your own competition, you're in a good position. Eventually National City Lines cut services and raised prices, and buses became ever less popular.
Austin wasn't one of the cities whose streetcars were bought by National City Lines. In trading its streetcars for buses, Austin was just going along with the national trend started by National City Lines.
Now there are nearly no trains or streetcars in the United States. Most cities have bus-only public transportation, or else no public transit at all. We don't build sidewalks or cycle paths, because we need all available funds for more roads and parking lots, for our exponentially growing car population.
It's much more sensible to subsidize a good public transit system than to publicly subsidize private cars and their ever-growing need for impervious cover.
Dear Mr. Black:
While ROAD appreciates all the information Michael Clark-Madison crammed into his story about light rail and its potential impact on Austin ["The Road to Rail," July 21], there are several issues with which we could take exception. However, we are writing in response to your absolute favoritism of light rail due to the "damn mass transit, build more roads" philosophy of the opposition.
ROAD, in its opposition to light rail, has never advocated building more roads as the only answer to Austin's traffic problems. ROAD believes in mobility. And ROAD believes that Austin's traffic problems are a nightmare that are only growing worse through neglect. For 10 to 15 years we've neglected our roadway planning and upgrading, yet we've continued to recruit businesses that bring people to town who drive cars that they won't give up! Nowhere that light rail has been built has it had any impact on mobility or traffic congestion, and therefore air quality, just as your writer noted in his opening paragraph. Yet, when selling light rail to the public, those are the very reasons given for spending billions to build it.
ROAD believes we need to catch up on our roadway infrastructure first and use some less-expensive transportation solutions before we give away the only realistic funding source for these items (Capital Metro's taxing authority). We have stated time and again that we agree with all the items in the mayor's "toolbox" such as HOV lanes, traffic management systems, light synchronization, bus rapid transit, and an improved bus system, but we clearly disagree with the inclusion of light rail. It is simply too costly for the return on investment and does not live up to its promises.
It would serve you well, as a journalist, to hear the arguments of the light rail opposition before you state they are weak and shortsighted. ROAD invites you to hear a factual presentation about the other side of light rail.
Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars
It's strange that Werner Severin ("Postmarks," July 28) objects to light rail being subsidized by tax money. Subsidizing transportation is as American as God, motherhood, and apple pie.
Throughout our history, tax money has subsidized canal building, locks for river barges, railroads, aviation, and road building.
The very day his letter appeared, the local daily reported Cap Metro is considered diverting sales tax revenue it collects to road improvements. In the name of consistency, I do hope Severin writes a letter protesting the use of tax money to support roads.
Out of Sync, Ideas
1) How smart is light rail ["The Road to Rail," July 21]? It seems to me that truly effective light rail grows up with a city, and the city grows up around it. Retrofits are bound to be incomplete and only partly effective. Will our light rail branch at least once into every significant residential and employment area in greater Austin?
2) Will traffic signals ever be in sync? I believe traffic signals are synched as far as the Public Works Department currently dares. If every signal turned red just as it was reached by the first vehicles from the previous signal, then would the signals be synched as the department prefers. With regard to downtown and its "pre-sync days" discussed on page 30 ["All Together Now," July 21], remember that Ben White once had "sync days"? There followed the "post-sync days" that bamboozled everybody into paying for the new six-lane highway downhill-to-a-red-light that we now enjoy.
Of course people noticed when all that money was spent on signal missynchronization.
On Christmas in '98 (oh, that was before!), when my car really was the only one around, I drove from east 290 to downtown Lamar, at the speed limit, into red after red after red, etc. The system was clearly not at that time being defeated by traffic.
What did Kite not say? "The thing the signals are set to do is balance the time allotted in one direction to maximize the number that can be idling their engines."
Give us flashing signals, not in-pavement monitors, for lower-volume conditions, so that thoroughfare traffic doesn't have to screech to a halt to let proceed side-street traffic that shouldn't have had to wait at a red to begin with.
"One-time contemporary relief?" Well, I've seen "everyday permanent misery" begin time and again the day that working roads receive department ministrations. What about that?
The big cheeses will do what we let 'em do.
Step Up to Sidewalk Maintenance
I would like to join in the celebration and wish all other persons with disabilities the very best on the 10-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I wish our city could be truly accepting of the honor as doing all it could to help those that have problems helping themselves, but the city of Austin cannot accept this honor because they have not done all that they can to help. Austin has been very generous in its treatment and compassion to the disabled by providing curb cuts and access to all of our sidewalks but that is where it stops. They have no further responsibility or will not accept any suggestion that they repair or otherwise make the areas that they have opened up accessible beyond their cut, unless it is in the business district. The city is very quick to point out that they own the area and approximately four feet beyond the sidewalk but they will not maintain this area. Some of the sidewalks in the neighborhoods are like crazy paving, cracks, gaps, uneven, and of course this makes it impossible to use a wheelchair, baby pram, or even walk. The city states that it is the adjacent property owner's responsibility for maintenance according to the Austin Land Development Code Chap. IV: Par 13-8-83. Does this sound fair or even civilized? To further complicate our problems, the Austin Police are not making a concerted effort to enforce the "No Parking on the Sidewalk Ordinance" in the residential areas or some areas of the business district. I ask that persons with disabilities and others that care do what they can to right these problems.
Jack E. Rogers