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June 8, 2001, Columns

O'Connor's Success No Little Feat

Editor:

I enjoyed the story about Tim O'Connor ["Ruling the Roost," June 1]. We used to sell tickets for him at Discount Records back in the mid-Seventies. He was always a hard case but a real music fan, he let us talk him into bringing Little Feat to Castle Creek for the first time in '74 or '75, and I'm sure he lost money on the show. But it was one of the best concerts ever played in this town. A lot of the great music that's been in Austin over the last 25 or 30 years is due to him. Good luck to him.

Doug Hanners


Clearing the Air

Editor:

The article "Haze Craze" by Mike Clark-Madison ["Naked City," April 20] regarding regional air quality planning, and in particular the Ozone Flex plan, lays out the background for a complicated issue in a coherent manner. No one knows if the type of unprecedented regional cooperation necessary for quantifiable emission reductions to help us comply again with the eight-hour ozone standard is possible yet. Economic considerations (the potential loss of federal highway funding) will certainly dominate the ongoing dialogue as much or more than health concerns.

Reducing ozone levels below present-day amounts will take a combination of voluntary and regulatory measures that are sustained over many years. Regional population growth and the corresponding growth in vehicle miles traveled will undermine any attempt to reduce pollution levels. For example, road and land construction activity is the largest uncontrolled (i.e. no pollution-control equipment) source of air pollution that contributes to ozone in the three-county area. Think about that the next time you vote for an unbalanced transportation bond package.

Mike mentions telecommuting and compressed work weeks as ozone-reducing strategies. They are, unless the vehicle owner continually starts and stops his vehicle on his day off or uses his vehicle to drive to lunch while telecommuting whereas he might walk from his corporate office. Requiring cleaner leaf blowers (electric or otherwise) would definitely help, particularly by reducing the direct exposure of the user to toxic gases and particulates. A broad-based effort to exchange gas-powered lawnmowers for push or electric models would have an even more dramatic impact because they have more hours of use than leaf blowers and also have minimal pollution-control devices.

Sincerely,

Scott Johnson

Former Chair, Air Quality

Austin Sierra Club


Zeitgeist a-Go-Go

Editor:

In last week's "Letters at 3AM" [May 25], Michael Ventura wrote:

"The 'good' war was not good; it was, like any war, the result of a massive unlivedness, a shared deadness, that had to result in organized mass murder (war) to manifest its deadness and shock the world back into some sort of life."

My dear! Do you pay him by the word, or is there some mysterious measure the Chronicle can take of the pretentious ponderousness of Mr. Ventura's verbose avoirdupois?

And don't even let me commence about that McGuffey Reader nonsense of weeks before [April 27], and how Mr. Ventura was able to channel Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and the collective zeitgeist of the United States in the 1860s to state that we still had time to turn back the forces of an irretrievable destiny, save the buffalo, the passenger pigeon, and the Pawnee Nation.

Still gagging,

Mike McKinley


Attack of the Demon Weed

Editor:

In the article "No Weed, Just Dopes" ["Naked City," May 25], sheriff's office spokesman Roger Wade says his department is investigating the incident for "any violations of policies or procedures." He goes on to say, "generally these things get started from people who call in and say, 'I've seen something,' or, 'I think something is going on.'"

As a 37-year resident of Texas recently relocated to Florida, I must ask if my former friends and neighbors have totally lost their marbles. Is it considered acceptable "policy or procedure" to investigate a possible backyard marijuana garden with over a dozen heavily armed officers, a swarm of vehicles, and a helicopter? Can a resident induce such an attack on one of his neighbors simply by calling in a phone tip of "I've seen something"?

What a brilliant use of tax dollars. It would seem that the local economy must really be booming if Austin area taxpayers are willingly putting up with such governmental excess.

Oh well, down here in Florida we have task forces which use more than 200 helicopters on a daily basis statewide to investigate possible cultivation of the "demon weed." So maybe silliness is not exclusive to the Lone Star State after all.

Ruefully submitted,

Stephen Heath

Drug Policy Forum of Florida

Clearwater, Fla.


New Urbanism, Same Problems

Editor:

The Chronicle recently reviewed a book about why New Urbanist projects aren't working. New Urbanism is an architectural movement aimed at making cities more civilized and pleasant, through reduction of car use by way of street design. Unfortunately, Austin's New Urbanists do exactly what the review describes. They don't incorporate reduction of car use into their work. They focus on converting one-way streets to two-way, narrow lanes in streets, potted plants on sidewalks, new streetlight fixtures, and painting pictures on manhole covers. Meanwhile, they more or less leave transportation problems alone, trusting that some sort of magic will solve them.

At the most recent Great Streets meeting, the official transportation consultant said, "I don't believe in changing people's behavior." She then added that it doesn't matter if all current residents of Austin continue to drive their cars everywhere, because, if enough bicyclists and transit users move here from outside, the percentage of trips made by bus and bicycle will increase anyway.

This is very muddled reasoning. Austin's present level of car use is sufficient to find the air, clog the streets, and produce a large urban heat island effect. To solve these problems, we must make it easy and pleasant for people to change their transportation behavior.

This means converting some car space to bicycle, bus, tram, and high occupancy vehicle space. It means making it easy to ride a bicycle, walk, or take the bus, and simultaneously making it less convenient to drive. If we're not willing to do this, you're still going to be sitting in a stalled, smoking car in 2025, heating up the asphalt, poisoning the air, making it hard to get around by bus or bicycle, and waiting for someone to fix things.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich


Spotlight on Alvarez

Editor:

Austin City Council Member Raul Alvarez's recent rezoning efforts on behalf of developer Max Bennett's proposed shopping mall in the Guadalupe neighborhood shows how well he plays the role of what sociologists call a "border watchdog."

The border watchdog belongs to a group that typically has interests adverse to the establishment. However, the establishment co-opts that person to protect its interests against encroachment by the very group to which the border watchdog belongs. It's a clever tactic. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his rantings against affirmative action is a perfect example.

On Thursday, May 24, Alvarez did the same by leading the City Council into voting for an enormous rezoning change for the shopping mall, and against one of East Austin's oldest and most stable neighborhoods. There he was, a "neighborhood" person, environmentalist, and a Hispanic, carrying water for a developer (not just voting for him). He also allowed the developer to finesse him with various procedural machinations at the council meeting so that the developer actually got more than he had expected, and the Guadalupe neighborhood even ended up with a worse deal than what had been negotiated in mediation or from where things had begun years ago: greater density, taller buildings, no corridor view of downtown, and more substantial loss of neighborhood amenities.

Some of Alvarez's comments uttered from the council dais were just plain false (such as the constantly shifting goals of the Guadalupe neighborhood). But, to add insult to injury, Alvarez then sugarcoated his handiwork for the developer by bestowing on him a $21 million tax subsidy. With "neighborhood" representatives like this, what developer need worry or feel constrained?

Sincerely,

James C. Harrington

Director

Texas Civil Rights Project


Stop Trashing Austin

Editor:

I'm writing because it really saddens me to see the "state" Austin is evolving to be. I'm referring to trash. Come on, people, this is not California. Nor is it New York!! This is Austin, Texas ... a diamond in the rough, an environmentally conscious city, a place where people value salamanders, natural aquifers, and beauty. It hurts my heart to see people's papers, bottles, and glass all along MoPac, here and there. Come on, people -- we need to stop trashing Austin. Put your junk where it belongs, in the trash.

Thank you,

Christina L. Pino


Austin Needs UPN, Too

Editor:

When Time Warner announced they would no longer carry UPN, I shrugged it off as, at the time, UPN was nothing more than syndicated Voyager and wrestling. Now, however, with Buffy and Roswell moving to UPN and the emergence of a new -- and hopefully more exciting -- Star Trek franchise, I find it absolutely absurd that Austin is the only major city in Texas that does not get UPN.

Yes, I am campaigning for a television mini-network, but so what? I think between the four completely unrelated cult series there is enough of a fan base in Austin that UPN is now a necessity! Not everyone in town can get satellite. In fact, with the large number of new Austinites that live in apartments and lofts, there are probably more now than ever. This is a matter of public interest, and I'm doing my best to say, "Yes, we can do without our cult TV, but why should we have to?!"

Bill Sigler


70 Beds, 0 Respect for Homeless

Editor:

I am writing to you to express my concern about the recent city ordinance prohibiting sitting or lying on streets in downtown Austin and/or along the Drag. I just saw a news blurb about this ["Naked City: Austin Stories," June 1]. In this self-same blurb, it was mentioned that there were going to be 70 new beds dedicated to the homeless here in Austin. I believe this parenthetical remark was meant as wink to the uninformed as to whom this ordinance was directed.

Well, we have closed down the state hospital to our homeless. We have closed down the parks to our homeless. We are now closing down the streets to our homeless. I am not sure they can even get into prison for a solid eight and three squares. I call them "our homeless" because they are ours. They are part of our community. Like it or not, they are part of "us." We can try to ordinance them away, bribe them away (with our increased capacity of 70 more cots!) or wish them away. It doesn't work. We know it. They know it.

I have lived here 32 years, and what I really don't like is my freedom being abrogated in the name of this issue. I believe it is time we all sat down on Congress Avenue together and thought about this. We should pick a day and sit there. We should sit and talk and think and worry about what it is that has gotten us here. What brought us to believe that 70 beds would be a good exchange for turning our backs on our heritage of inclusiveness and compassion?

Sincerely,

Barbara Solomon


Like Father Like Daughters?

Editor:

I am very concerned about the message being sent to today's teenagers by the first family -- underage drinking is OK, just get a fake ID.

I believe this type of behavior by, of all people, the children of our president (!) has the potential to overturn in minutes, years of work that has been done by the fine organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Can we stand by and let this occur?

Obviously, the president wishes his daughters weren't caught, but this is just the tip of the iceberg -- stories are coming out of the woodwork about the regular drinking habits of the first daughters and their endless supply of fake identification.

Where do they get this? Isn't this illegal? Does the Secret Service provide them with fake identification? When the Secret Service watches them breaking the law, shouldn't they step in? If the girls were shooting someone wouldn't they stop them? Yes! Likewise, they should stop the girls from buying alcohol illegally!

Obviously, the president could order them to step in, but he clearly has given them orders not to interfere. This is actually contributing to the delinquency of a minor on the part of both the Secret Service and the president. Shouldn't there be an inquiry into where the girls got the fake IDs in the first place? Shouldn't heads be rolling? The fact that there isn't such a crackdown is very disturbing. Very disturbing indeed. Perhaps we should be lobbying for much stiffer penalties for providing teenagers with fake IDs?

In my opinion, it's time for Mothers Against Drunk Driving to take a very vocal public stand on this specific issue -- make a campaign about it! Because of the example of the Bush twins, they are in jeopardy of watching all their hard work get flushed down the toilet.

Mark my words, because of the escapades of the Bush twins, very soon you will begin see legislation introduced across the U.S. to lower the drinking age to 18.

It's time to take a stand on this issue -- a very insistent vocal stand.

Jeff Burke


Mueller = Money

Editor:

For those homeowners shell-shocked by their latest tax appraisals and the bureaucrats pinching pennies to keep the city coffers in the black, help may be on the way if our city leaders make the right decisions regarding the fate of one of our most valuable public assets -- the former Robert Mueller Airport site. If the city retains ownership of the Mueller site, and reaches a long-term lease agreement with a qualified master developer (at as close to market rate as possible), the Mueller site will produce a continuous revenue stream for the city and its citizens far into the foreseeable future.

This revenue will help fund public safety, health care, parks, libraries, road repair, neighborhood sidewalks and bike lanes -- lessening the need to raise taxes. We could even dedicate a portion of the revenues for the purchase and preservation of environmentally sensitive land. A lease arrangement, as opposed to a sale to the highest bidder, will also give the city maximum control over critical issues like affordability, compatibility, and traffic generation. Most importantly, at the end of the day we will still own this valuable public resource.

The "alternative revenue source" City Manager Jesus Garza so craves to keep the city budget intact is already in our hands. It's in all our best interests to keep the Mueller site, not squander it.

Mary Lehmann

Keep the Land


A Disturbing Memorial

Editor:

Driving by Bartholomew District Park, 5201 Berkman, on Memorial Day I saw a Border Patrol roundup. While the A/C blew cold and 102.3 classic rock blared on the radio, I watched what makes Memorial Day in the park -- kids, grills, families, American pie -- turned upside down. A group of white vans with tinted windows, some marked, some unmarked, swooped down onto the park. A van rumbled from 51st Street over the grass toward a trio of presumed illegals scrambling through a creek. Another van stopped on Berkman and a portly green-unformed officer jumped out and waddled towards the wildly scampering trio down in the creek. A surreal carnival scene of Border Patrol officers dashing this way, disc golfers over there, kids on the playground, illegals dashing that way, smoking barbecue grills, and puzzled onlookers replaced a picture-perfect Memorial Day in the park. Looking back, it seemed a pale reflection of the scene in Planet of the Apes when the apes rounded up the docile humans. As I drove away past the lawns with American flags, two questions jumped out to me. One, what would the kids in the park remember most about Memorial Day 2001? The sacrifices of America's airmen, sailors, and soldiers; or the day uniformed federal authorities jumped out of unmarked vans to chase down illegals. Two, and more disturbingly, could some of those illegal-looking Hispanic males have been military veterans themselves enjoying the day in the park with their families?

Sincerely,

Geoff Treitel


Sixth Time's the Charm?

Editor:

Today the public airwaves are filled with the news that the Austin City Council is considering changing the city charter to restrict voting by Austinites to a single member of the City Council. The spin that city political operatives have put on this idea (and that the media seems to have bought hook, line, and sinker) is that "Austin is the largest city in Texas still using at-large voting for the City Council."

What is missing from the newscasts is that restricting voters to the election of a single council member is such a bad idea that Austin voters have rejected it at the polls in 1973, 1978, 1985, 1989, and 1997.

Single-member district voting is good for office-seekers and their backers -- and that is why it keeps being proposed over and over again.

Mike Ford

Initiative for Texas


Digging Through the 'Media Clips'

Editor:

Hi. I read your piece ["Media Clips," July 14, 2000] from some lady's Web site about Alex Jones. I don't personally know him or your writer, but because of this piece I went to the Web site. Now, I've been interested in government encroachment of our rights, all of them, for a long time, and I've seen his documentation with the government's own paper work which I have verified by my own searches in a law library. I've noticed that you do the one thing you accuse him of, lots of name-calling. The only problem is you use more names than he does. You took a piece on Alex Jones and turned it into a promotion for a guy on public-access TV who showed an old Nike commercial. If you expect to win a battle against this Alex Jones, why don't you try being what you accuse him of not being: journalists, historians, etc., etc.? I read not one thing in your article that backed up your story. That's sad, because I thought journalists are supposed to be objective. Don't get me wrong, I am personally not a fan of this man. But if I had to choose between your news and the news that he has presented, I would have to choose his. Independently of him without ever knowing about him until your article, I've seen the things he is trying to tell you about. You are discrediting the messenger, therefore hoping by association to kill his message. That's pretty spineless to say the least.

Peter Bosshart

Richmond, Texas


Repeating a Racist History

Editor:

"I be quiet. Yeah, I be real quiet. You ain't hearin' me be nuthin' but real quiet."

Rewind 80 years ago.

"Dis sho' am good."

Is there any person on this planet who can tell me why movie studios routinely shelve movies, cartoons, and shorts from the early days of film citing the racist content, and then turn around and make brand-spanking-new films for the year 2001 with close-up zooms on black people's eyes bugging out and their voices girly screaming comically as a bug bites them on the butt? Having to listen to Eddie Murphy as the donkey who would not ebonically shut up was already bad enough. Watching Cuba Gooding Jr. twitch and bugaboo his way through Chill Factor was even worse, but having to think that people's own blindness to what they are seeing on screen by whitewashing it with the sad thinking, "We've shelved those awful films of the past, therefore we are not racist" is the worst offense of them all.

Suzanne Schroeder


Immigration Sweeps Week

Editor:

It's been a week since another sweep program of immigrant families began. I've heard reports of car dealerships, restaurants, and construction contractors being hit by la migra, forcing some to work overtime to keep their schedules. This time, even apartments units, Fiesta, and some pulguita markets have been stalked by the verdes, in order to flush as many off to Mexico as possible. The quality of their disciplined work is undeniable, known among some of us who need them sometimes, compared with the bossy attitude that frustrated local workers show (thanks to the brainwash they succumb to in high school). This is the way regional commerce announces that another boom is over, and INS utilizes Mexican agents to kick Mexicans out. Have you guys checked out your cleaning team lately?

Paul Aviña


Drugstore Cowboys

Editor:

While watching the IMAX film "Amazing Caves" at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, I was struck by the repeated scenes depicting the collection of biological samples in remote and dangerous places to develop life-saving drugs.

Many scenes showed an attractive young "teacher's aide," risking her life while working in harsh field conditions, sometimes in a remote camp with a laboratory microscope, searching for new life forms.

One could not help but wonder if the dramatic film had not been subsidized by the pharmaceutical industry in a subtle (or not so subtle) attempt to influence public opinion at a time when the industry is being criticized by many sources for several reasons.

Werner J. Severin


Defining Progressivism

Editor:

If Mr. James Weaver of Bellmead is at all interested in understanding why Jim Hightower, and millions of other progressive thinkers, tend to cast a jaundiced eye on the actions of corporations, I'd like to suggest that he read a few books. Hundreds are out there, but let's start with these three:

Who Will Tell the People by William Greider. This book documents how our government has been corrupted by the influence of corporate money. How laws made in the interest of public health and safety regularly go unenforced when Corporate Money comes to call on the House, the Senate, and the White House. In other words, who our representative government really represents. (It ain't you and me, Mr. Weaver.)

Corporations are Gonna Get Your Mama by Kevin Danaher(available at www.globalexchange.org). This book demonstrates how transnational corporations control our lives and our choices in ways that have destroyed the traditional "American Dream." (Corporations are capitalist until it comes to cleaning up their waste; then they become socialists, leaving the dirty work to you and me, and a government that increasingly doesn't care.)

And to help understand why we, the people, are not kept informed of these encroachments on our personal liberties and of the deconstruction of our American democracy, I recommend The Propaganda Model by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman. This book demonstrates how ordinary market forces keep important news stories out of the mainstream media, so that citizens of this country are not properly or fully informed.

Since the Republican Party has traditionally been the party of Big Business, it's only natural that they should be seen as the party largely to blame for the current sorry state of our democracy.

Conservative: tending to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these.

Conservatives need to know that the institutions that they want to preserve have been corrupted, and if we wish to preserve them, we ought to preserve them in their original states, not in the current, corrupted state we find them today.

Liberal: favoring reform or progress ... specifically, favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual; progressive.

Liberals need to be reminded that real change is possible, if we want it. Our government was established to represent "We, the people." (And this includes, as Mr. Weaver puts it, "the enviro-nuts, feminist, queers, [and] racist blacks.")

David Ort

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