Everybody talk about: pop music, aquifer protection, police presence, even doggie do and doggie don't.
Police Contract Nuts & Bolts
In your May 4 issue, city of Austin Public Information Officer Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez wrote in her letter to you that I made a statement which she says "is simply not true." She quoted me as saying that when the City Council signed the three-year police contract in March: " ... the City Council signed away all of their authority over this [police oversight] forevermore." She points out that the City Council can "certainly" ask for changes when the contract comes up for renewal in three years. In response, I respectfully request that you print my statement to the Austin City Council at their March 8 public hearing:
"It's been said we can fix it later. Let's look carefully, based on what the legal team told us we could do, to fix it later. The way we fix this later, according to this contract they are asking you to sign, is to go back into the contract negotiation process, the same thing they are doing right now and we'll fix it. Well, when are we going to have -- when are you, Council, going to have more power to fix it than you have right now? You put together a task force of the whole community including the police. That task force studied for a year and the police signed the agreement at the end. We then took it to you and you told the City Manager 7-0: get this in your contract because Mike Sheffield has already signed it, so obviously the police already agree to it. We've gone through a year a long process, put this in the contract. And they completely disobeyed your order. How are you going to fix it later to your benefit, to our benefit, when you've done all of this and 7-0 told them what to do and they aren't doing it? They didn't do it at all. So I am saying that politically it's very unlikely that we're going to be able to fix it later for anything that will benefit the community."
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
Ann del Llano
Sixth Street: House of Horrors
I just got through reading the cover story for your May 4, 2001 edition of the Chronicle ["Who Owns Sixth Street?"]. In response to that story I would like to state that I too have many concerns about the well-being of our beloved Sixth Street. Firstly I'd like to say that I am a single 26-year-old male who does enjoy the occasional drink at few of the not-so-popular bars on Sixth. By popular, I mean a bar that has flashy lights, a bass-booming dance floor, and barkers outside pushing cheap drinks. I have lived on Sixth and enjoyed its mix of faces, [but] until recently I have never hated the thought of being anywhere near Sixth. If it wasn't for a bar owner who owes me quite a bit of money for a design I did for his bar some time ago I would probably never go to Sixth for the very reasons listed in your story. Last trip I made to said bar owner's place of business was during Mardi Gras weekend. The sights that night (I believe it was the 24th) were of frat boys disrespectfully groping young women as they flashed for their beads and black knights with silver shields adorning their chests in full riot gear. I was there early enough to watch the officers close down the streets with their facemask down as if they were expecting trouble as early as 8pm.
You can imagine this to be a frightful sight I am sure, our "little town" has become a militant, crime-ridden city. I don't think that you can ever get rid of all the creeps on Sixth, unfortunately, but I do have some ideas on how you could regulate the situations a little better. Coming to this point, I would like to know how do I go about getting in contact with the people in charge of these groups listed in your story. Like the Downtown Austin Alliance, Friends of Sixth Street, and even the Austin Historic Society, I am sure there has to be one, and I don't doubt that they have some say about what happens with the historic buildings.
P. Shane Brown
Police Presence Often Unhealthy
In 1991, club owners had little problem accepting the police decision to barricade East Sixth, however they may feel about that option today. One factor was that barricading cut the numbers of officers needed from 24 down to 12.
Recently, more than 120 officers were unable to keep order several days before Mardi Gras. Their response to the melee was to bring in 200 officers and cancel a Mardi Gras Parade.
Ironically, removing vehicles and allowing unlimited people into an empty street now requires a greater police presence. Having vehicles on the street and people on the sidewalks spreads and thins the crowd and directs it into indoor businesses.
Police say removing vehicles makes Sixth Street safer. Also unhealthier, since it also attracts customers out of businesses, and that lowers sales. And that loss of sales caused the exodus of stores and restaurants from Sixth Street. I should know. My store at Sixth and Trinity emptied of shoppers whenever the barricades were erected, easily cutting our weekend business in half. We were forced out in 1995.
Aleksander Same Day Framing-Gallery
Same Old Song
Your "Austin Stories" short about the coaching situation at Johnston High School [May 11] was revealing. AISD can afford 24 coaches at Johnston, yet can't afford a full-time orchestra director at McCallum High School, which happens to host the district's Fine Arts Academy. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's Texas, and violinists don't march on Friday nights.
(parent of a violinist at McCallum)
Red Bud Isle in Fine Form
Several months ago I read a letter complaining about the desecration of lovely Red Bud Isle, thanks to the LCRA's "dam improvement project" ["Postmarks: No Longer an Island Unto Itself," Jan. 26]. That, heaped upon the insult of the City's Ulrich main project which has closed the downriver side of the island for over two years. Well, we were canoeing around the island this past weekend and saw what a great job LCRA and the city have done since those discouraging earlier signs. The upriver side has a nice-looking bridge with plenty of clearance underneath for boats, plus a great stair-step design down to the water using granite blocks from the old dam. And the downriver side has been upgraded into a very nice-looking park with loads of trees, trails, and a small (for Texas) parking lot. The full access we had previously is back, and the place is overall much better than before. I suppose what we'll all have to complain about now is how popular this site will become!
Hugs Good; Housing Better
Tell that Margaret Moser that I truly appreciate her recent story on my career (and my mouth) and that I owe her a giant sock monkey to add to her collection.
However, I need to make an urgent correction to her story. Although I would certainly be the first to commend people who want to hug homeless, the group is called House the Homeless, and its director, Richard Troxell, has worked tirelessly on behalf of Austin's displaced. Please let Chronicle readers know in case anyone wants to volunteer or get involved with the organization.
Speech-Giving Nightmare No. 1
By far the best moment of last Thursday's Austin Community College commencement ceremonies came during keynote speaker Carole Keeton Rylander's rambling, long-winded, right-wing tirade of a speech. About 35 minutes into her 45-minute, proselytizing, anti-liberal stump speech, a member of the audience stood up, yelled "Would you shut the fuck up?!" and stormed out.
It really renews my faith in Austin that he was followed out of the Erwin Center by scattered applause and numerous shouts of encouragement.
Humans Need Parks Too
I am a dog owner and a parent who has lived two blocks from West Austin Park for seven years. I fully support WAYA's efforts to revitalize this neglected park. Contrary to the comment by Ms. Uribe ["Naked City: Who Shut the Dogs Out?" May 11], this is about kids vs. dogs. The south end of the park, designed as a ballfield, had literally been laid to waste by dog excrement until WAYA stepped up and began improving it. A few years ago the city placed and stocked (at taxpayer cost) a doggie-doo bag station so dog owners could clean up after their pets. It is obvious that few of these owners chose to use the bags, as evidenced by the minefield of poop out there. It's hard for kids enjoy the field when they are dodging piles everywhere.
As for OWANA, they have sat on their collective hands regarding this park ever since I moved in here. The playscape needs to be replaced to meet current safety standards. Where's OWANA on that one?
Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. While my dog generally stays inside, I realize they need to be outside and running free like the rest of us. But Old West Austin is plagued by dog shit, and it's not the just the park. Many of these owners walk their leashless dogs right through their neighbors' yards, thoroughly oblivious to their pets' destructive territorial habits.
Free space in Austin is getting a tad tight these days. West Austin Park is pretty small. With a leash-free park, that field's use is limited to a doggie playpen. With the new improvements and rules, you can have baseball, kickball, pee-wee soccer, or just go out and roll in the grass. The dogs have had a monopoly on that field for too long.
I would suggest that these dog owners take their pooches just a few blocks north to Pease Park, which has much more space for them to run and less of a chance that someone will curse them while he's scraping their crap off of his shoes.
Rep. Green Not Listening
I am deeply troubled by Senator Armbrister and Rep. Rick Green's refusal to honor the wishes of Northern Hays County citizens. We are being asked to bless or at least ignore their sponsorship of a dozen Texas Senate and House bills that will endanger or contaminate my family's and my community's drinking water source and quality; will use our hard-earned tax money to help big developers pay for their infrastructure; and will burden Northern Hays County with short-sighted, high-density development that is not sustainable for this area.
Please allow me to state plainly, I'm much more against stupidity than I am against development.
Hays County developers want to parasitize Austin's economy without complying with most water quality regulations except as imposed by the Endangered Species Act and enforced by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Even if the LCRA pipeline becomes reality and local developers manage to avoid drilling into local aquifers, we still have to question what constitutes the sewage "powers" granted in SBs 1619 and 1620.
Who's going to mitigate the downstream effects of the water LCRA spreads out all over the countryside?
"Representative" Green's water districts (see HB 3641, et al.) will put golf courses over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone for treated wastewater disposal. Anyone relying on well water (the sole source of water for about 40,000 of us in Northern Hays County) will have to contend with surface water contamination from a development like Cypress Realty's, which could house up to 2,700 families and their waste. We residents are facing upcoming development for huge tracts of land like Rutherford Ranch (30,000 acres).
Mr. Green said his legislation "provide[s] us with opportunities to have good, quality development, to get the infrastructure we need, so we can have sewer instead of septic. If you want, we can have trailer parks on all of these [properties]." All these developers champing at the bit to profit from trailer parks? C'mon!
What we really need is foresighted, sustainable development in Hays County. Why can't Mr. Green heed his constituents, the current residents of his district?
Northern Hays County
Greens on Campaign Reform
In response to Vincent May's letter regarding Linda Curtis and Clean Campaigns for Austin's petition for local campaign finance reform ["Postmarks: A Bad Idea, Dollar for Dollar," May 11], I ask that he do a better job of checking the facts.
The act would not restrict free speech, because the spending limits it imposes are completely voluntary (you have to limit the amount of money you spend campaigning only if you accept matching funds).
The Austin Fair Elections Act would raise contribution limits for City Council races from the current $100 to $200, not Mr. May's gross exaggeration of $1,000. Right now, the current limit of $100 makes it difficult to raise the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to run a successful campaign without being either independently wealthy or courting powerful political interest groups. By providing matching funds to qualifying candidates (and qualifying is not exactly easy), it would allow candidates to run without depending on powerful PACs for support. This will allow our politicians more time to learn about and respond to community issues instead of spending inordinate amounts of time raising money as they do now.
Finally, this is not a one-woman "assault on the First Amendment rights of Austinites" or a maneuver to put Curtis into office. While she plays an important role in the campaign, the act is the fruit of many concerned Austin groups working together to improve this city. Endorsements include: Common Cause of Texas, the Democracy Coalition, the Gray Panthers, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club -- Austin Chapter, the Travis County Green Party, and Texans for Public Justice.
Certainly, when incorrect data makes it into print, the waters get muddied and it becomes difficult to form an informed opinion. I urge everyone to learn more about the Austin Fair Elections Act on its Web site: www.cleancampaigns.org/.
Co-Chair, Travis County Green Party
P.S. Why does Mr. May care, anyway? As someone who lives in Elgin, the Austin Fair Elections Act does not affect him one way or another. This is an Austin issue, and Austinites are fully capable of making intelligent decisions for themselves. Or would it be appropriate for us to show up in Elgin and tell them how to run their elections?
The Culture of Pop
Kudos to Christopher Gray for the informative and entertaining article on Austin's growing pop scene ["They Got the Beat," May 4].
It was refreshing to read about someone other than Austin's "usual suspects," and I think it did a nice job of attempting to shed some light on a much-neglected musical art form. Your guest panel was right in that pop music is hard to define, and "scenes" basically do suck the credibility right out of a movement. Yet there is safety in numbers, and it's refreshing to see these bands networking to promote their art despite the overwhelming odds and lack of media and air support.
There are resources available should anyone prefer to judge with their ears rather than their eyes. A fine magazine called Pop Culture Press (www.popculturepress.com) is made right here in Austin, and is internationally recognized as a beacon to all music classified as "pop." In issue No. 51 there is a free CD sampler that contains material from such pop innovators as Guided by Voices, the Minus Five, Kristin Hersh, as well as Austin's own Darin, the Golden Apples, and Blue Cartoon.
Pop music is huge in Europe, Japan, college campuses around the world, and anywhere the love of a good song is valued over the package that is delivering it. Please don't make this your basic flavor-of-the-month-type feature. Keep us informed.
Traffic Solutions Need Work
Why doesn't Austin solve its transportation problems? It may be that Austin is not trying.
There's no movement among Austin businesses to allow flexible hours for employees. There's no restriction on the hours when trucks may make deliveries. Cheap construction of high-occupancy vehicle and bus lanes, by converting existing car lanes, is not discussed. Only expensive HOV and bus lanes are considered. The bus system is not expanded and upgraded, even through Capitol Metro has money.
There is a program to make over downtown streets to improve mobility, but it's not serious. It's called the Great Streets project. The mission statement says that on a Great Street the pedestrian comes first, the bicycle second, the bus third, and private car last.
But they don't mean it. If they meant it, downtown Austin might come to resemble downtown Amsterdam, with separate space for bicycles (which have their own part of the sidewalk, distinct from the pedestrian space) and for trams or buses (which have their own lanes in the middle of the street).
But the Great Streets planners don't mean what they say. Really, they put cars first. The first step in their planning process is to ask Austin traffic engineers how much space the cars will require for parking, driving, left turns, and so on. The cars need just about all the space there is, and other modes of transportation must squeeze in where they can.
Austin's failure to solve transportation problems may well be due to lack of trying.
Notes From Underground
I am just now able to refute the Secret Service's utterly false claim that no protesters were arrested at the Texas History museum dedication, as I have been held incommunicado by Travis County Sheriff Margo L. Frasier until now.
The morning of April 27, as I was proceeding north from the Capitol to the Texas History Museum, I encountered a man parading a large Confederate flag around the Capitol complex. This purveyor of racism and I engaged in a brief, but heated, verbal altercation, at the conclusion of which I continued on to the museum to join the other anti-Bush demonstrators.
Immediately upon arriving at the area designated by police as the sole protest zone, I was approached by approximately five Texas Department of Public Safety officers. These DPS officers inquired whether I would submit to an interrogation and pat search. When I questioned their probable cause, an officer responded that the encounter with the man displaying the confederate flag had brought me under the scrutiny of the Secret Service and that they had requested DPS search me for weapons. It should be noted at this juncture that the promotion of white nation chauvinism through the Confederate battle flag was allowed to continue unimpeded.
During the course of an interrogation and body search, DPS officers discovered an arrest warrant for a matter unrelated to the anti-Bush protests, and I was taken into custody; but, I was a protester arrested at the Texas History Museum singled out by the Secret Service and Texas Department of Public Safety due to my vocal opposition to a racist symbol.
The moral of this story is: It is permissible to display the stars and bars at an event presided over by U.S. President George W. Bush, but if you dress in black and red, as I did, and are vocal in your political dissent, you invite the wrath of the rulers.
Yours for a better world, I am.
Stephen L. Trapp
Watch Out for the Drug Czar
I see the current occupant of the White House has named John Walters, a hard-liner, as czar of the War on Drugs, and made it a cabinet level position. But has Dubya thought this out completely? What if his coke spoon falls out of his pocket during a cabinet meeting? Will he get busted by his own drug cop? But wait. I forgot. Dubya doesn't do that any more. Never did it at all, in fact, right? Um, right, Dubya?
Taking the moral high ground once again, Dubya refuses to say.
$6.4 Million Fingerprints
On Thursday, May 4, 2001, the bill that would have eliminated a projected $6.4 million from being wasted on finger-imaging poor applicants for Food Stamps and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) in Texas died in the Senate Human Services Committee. The nine-member Senate committee failed to hold open hearings on the ineffective Finger Imaging program and decided to serve the interests of French company Sagem Morpho, which makes and runs the program, and continue it with modifications. Sagem Morpho had received $16 million over five years to run the program in Texas and the sorry five-year result was that only nine potential prosecutions of welfare fraud resulted. Not only was this $16 million wastefully spent, but many poor working Texans had to choose between missing work/wages or trekking to a local food stamp office to be finger imaged to preserve the families' benefits from Food Stamps and/or TANF. These nine cowards did nothing to assist the working poor when they compromised to excuse the elderly and disabled from the fingerprinting program. This committee decided without hearings to continue corporate welfare to Sagem Morpho and its heavy-handed lobbyists led by ex-legislators Hugo Berlanga and Terral Smith.
What a shame! $6.4 million needed for benefits for the poor goes to corporate fat cats under the guise of fraud prevention. These nine Senators are Mike Moncrief, John Carona, David Bernsen, Mario Gallegos Jr., Chris Harris, Frank Madia, Jane Nelson, Eliot Shapleigh, and David Sibley. Theirs is not a profile of courage, but one of cowardice.
May they receive justice on the next election day. Meanwhile, how many needy Texans will continue to be unfairly denied from receiving needed benefits because they couldn't afford to lose wages to miss work and travel to the Food Stamp office to be finger printed?