Urban planning and noise in the Hood
Do the Right Thing, Alcoa
Thank you for your excellent coverage of Neighbors for Neighbors (NFN), and Alcoa's triple threat["Neighbors vs. Neighbors," July 27]. The article's characterization of neighbor vs. neighbor, however, doesn't fit the way we, as members of NFN, perceive our struggle. We're sensitive to Alcoa-Rockdale's importance to the livelihoods of many Milam and Lee county citizens. Our consistent aim is not to shut the place down but to persuade the corporation to switch to a cleaner burning fuel such as natural gas.
And why should we believe a corporation that made over a billion dollars in profit last year, when it says it can't afford to do the right thing? For years the company's been saying it would have to shut down Rockdale if forced to cut SO2 emissions ... now, suddenly, Alcoa's announcing plans to cut SO2 emissions! Now Alcoa's telling the public that it's planning to cut its pollution months before the deadline set by recent legislation -- but its official paperwork to the TNRCC presents a different timeline. (With Alcoa, we've learned always to read the fine print.)
More examples of Alcoa blowing smoke: When the Travis County Commissioners Court passed a resolution -- in the face of vehement Alcoa opposition -- calling for Alcoa to switch to a cleaner burning fuel, company spokesman Jim Hodson told a TV news crew there was nothing in the resolution Alcoa-Rockdale wasn't already planning to do. (So switch, already!) In your article, Hodson's quoted as saying that increased emissions due to increased operating hours don't trigger possible violations of the Clean Air Act -- when in fact they can, in combination with capital expenditures like Alcoa's $45 million "betterment" program.
As for those who rely on Alcoa for their livelihoods, I'd remind them of the fable of the frog who consents to carry a scorpion across the pond, in exchange for the scorpion's ultimately false promise not to sting. This is a company that's been dumping workers by the thousands in the Northwest, because it can make easy money selling electricity (bought cheap from the government, by the way) and, at the same time, drive up the price of aluminum. Alcoa, not Neighbors for Neighbors, is the scorpion in this story; we're just trying not to become the next frog.
Billie Woods, President
Neighbors for Neighbors
Bring Down the Noise
In the July 27 edition, Ken Lieck opened his column ["Dancing About Architecture"] with a story concerning unreasonable neighbors suing the Red Eyed Fly. I am one of those unreasonable neighbors. If I am so unreasonable, how could I have been living in one of the coolest houses in Austin for 10 years, surrounded by bars, nightclubs, restaurants, crack dealers, and the Salvation Army, without ever once having filed any type of complaint or lawsuit? Mr. Lieck makes me sound like some interloping yuppie who recently moved into downtown and wants to make it over, tailored to her own desires. When, in fact, if Mr. Lieck had done any research at all, he would have realized that he had, in his capacity as a rock & roll gossip columnist, enjoyed my hospitality at many large parties, dating back to the beginning of the 1990s. I have entertained everyone from Guy Juke to My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult to Robbie Jacks (Leatherface) to Glover Gill, etc. Gibby Haynes spent innumerable hours performing some of his more notorious acts at my house. I hosted a Skatenigs CD release party. During the unfortunately short-lived morning DJ stint of Robbie Jacks and Gibby Haynes, I did a daily call in segment, "Live From Crack Corner."
All that I am trying to prove with these facts is that I am not an intolerant person. I am not trying to ruin anything for my other live-music-playing neighbors. If anything, I believe the Red Eyed Fly has put the other businesses in jeopardy more than I ever could, simply by being unreasonable neighbors, who seem to want things their way or no way.
The only reason I even filed a civil lawsuit is that every other avenue was attempted by us, and rejected by them. A civil lawsuit at least got their attention; they are from Dallas, after all.
In closing, wouldn't it be better for Austin as a whole to have a truly mixed-use downtown? Other large cities have successfully conquered these issues, to everyone's benefit. I'm sure we can as well.
Enemies of the Scene, or Friendly Neighbors
Ken Lieck's diatribe against downtown residents ["Dancing About Architecture," July 27] got one thing right: There is "a fly in the ointment" around Eighth and Red River. But the fly isn't the residents around there, who have peacefully coexisted with live music venues for many years. It's the Red Eyed Fly, which early this year erected a megaphone-shaped outdoor stage with speakers pointed directly at nearby residents. The Fly's idea of neighborliness is to blast those residents out of their longtime homes, and then portray them as enemies of the music scene for asserting the right to live in the neighborhood.
The residents involved in the lawsuit aren't out to limit the noise level of indoor music, or even to preclude outdoor music at the Red Eyed Fly. But they are suggesting that some reasonable rules should apply, even in the central city. And driving residents from their homes until 1 or 2am, up to seven nights a week, is not reasonable. As the judge rightly noted at the hearing, just because we're the live music capital of the world doesn't mean we have to be the loud music capital of the world.
Chris Riley, President
Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association
Three Cheers for Live Oak Development
I was happy to see Daniel Herd, president of Live Oak Development, get involved in the discussion of the Marathon tracts now owned by Carter and Brooke Bruce ["Postmarks: Developing Concerns," July 27]. The Live Oak mixed-use development at 29th and San Gabriel is a truly magnificent piece of work, the likes of which Austin could stand to see a lot more of.
I did mistakenly substitute Rosewood for Alta Vista in my original posting on this issue, as was pointed out to me by more than one person before the letter even went to press. Further, development considerations for this parcel would have naturally taken the original Triangle negotiations into consideration, and as many will remember, these negotiations ended badly the first time around. I find it very hard to believe that another development like the one at 29th and San Gabriel wouldn't have been wildly successful at 45th and Lamar. Of course all development considerations are ultimately economic; neighborhood support or opposition to a project factors directly into the bottom line in terms of time lost and money spent and can make the difference between profit or loss.
Finally, I want to say that my criticism of the past actions of some neighborhood associations should not be construed as a directive to roll over and play dead. On the contrary, I strongly encourage Alta Vista to get with it and convince the Bruces to do something other than build ugly suburban snout houses on Marathon. Perhaps even Live Oak could be convinced to reconsider their involvement and work with the Bruces and the neighborhood to develop something that includes an affordable housing component and is aesthetically appealing and profitable. As Scott Barnes and David Richardson both point out, we must work together in order to move forward.
Reinventing the Urban Landscape
I was pleased to see three letters in the Chronicle concerning Austin neighborhood development issues. However, the Chronicle edited my letter ["Postmarks: Negotiate in Good Faith," July 27] and changed the meaning of an important sentence and concept. I wrote, "Resolving the issues of urban redevelopment and repair requires a systems approach matched with patience and persistence." The Chronicle edited "systems" to "system[atic]" (a well-defined process or series of steps).
My intent was to propose a more sophisticated approach to redevelopment that recognizes the interdependence of many elements in a neighborhood. Zoning, the amount and size of parking lots, the presence or absence of sidewalks and public transportation, the speed of traffic, the housing density of the surrounding neighborhood, and other factors all contribute to the success and appropriateness of a development project. We can explore these elements in turn, "systematically." However, a developer must analyze these elements as a composite of inter-relating elements, a "system."
For example, some say Austin's traffic woes are the result of inadequate roads. Others suggest it's our spread out needs. We must drive to shop, attend school or exercise. The malls with their mega parking lots (mandated by city codes but never full) disperse the stores even more. Sometimes I drive to different stores in the same mall!
Should Austin re-examine its urban landscape? Widening roads will destroy local shops and increase our need to drive. Does this make sense? Other cities and certain parts of Austin have neighborhood stores with sidewalks and limited street parking. This design encourages pedestrian traffic, enhances community interaction, and reduces traffic. When people find work, shopping, and schools closer to where they live, within walking or biking distance, traffic and the need for roads will fall proportionally. Those guys telling us we need more roads ... they used to work for the tobacco companies.
Austin Metro City Club
The Ballad of Mambo John
I was very moved by Andy Langer's article on John "Mambo" Treanor ["You Can Leave Your Hat On," July 20]. The ways in which his fellow musicians talked about him and his playing were such a tribute, and the way in which Mambo talked about himself and his life was genuine and touching.
I wish you well, Mambo.
Picky, Picky, Eh?
After reading the Greg Beets May 4, 2001, article on K-Tel ["Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hits!"], I thought I should bring to your attention that Winnipeg is in Manitoba and not Ontario.
Use Manpower and Water More Efficiently
The other day I heard the news that water consumption in Austin had reached particularly high levels. One news outlet told of a number of pipe breakages around town and that the city only has six crews scrambling to put them right. Here's a suggestion: Rethink those new street roundabouts popping up around town. There are a number of them here in Hyde Park, and every single one of them is equipped with sprinklers watering the plants therein. Just this afternoon, on the way home from work, at the hottest part of the day, I saw one of these roundabout sprinklers spraying so much water it was draining in rivulets down the street. Further, city staff is often working on the roundabouts, presumably to weed plants or fix the sprinklers. Might I suggest it would be better to replant all these roundabouts with Xeriscaped native plants (i.e., no sprinklers needed at all), and thus these precious human resources can be reallocated to helping out one of the short-staffed pipe-fixing crews?
If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down,
Austin's War on the Poor
The Austin Equity Commission held a meeting on July 17. Equity in Austin is not about economics or the environment, this issue centers on ethics.
For Austinites, the growth planning we are getting from City Hall is really discrimination planning. Where is the noblesse oblige? Has City Hall been vacuumed of ethics?
Austin's Smart Growth planning is a land grab, a purge of lower-income Austinites. City Hall added "densification" to neighborhood planning and it is known to cause Smart Growth gentrification. If your income is little better than low-income Austinites, go to the council chambers and speak up.
Smart Growth planners employed by City Hall have stopped their original rhetoric that Smart Growth planning must be used or we will end up with a "doughnut hole full of poor people downtown." Try asking city planners for the ratio or percentage of rich to poor residents that City Hall is looking for in central Austin and they will not answer.
Someone at City Hall has unleashed the dogs of densification on the lower-income Austinites living in central Austin. How does densification cause gentrification? Rezoning single family lots (SF-3) to smaller lot sizes means yet another wave of rapidly increasing property taxes. And the same can be said of rental properties, and higher rents will result.
Do you have a low or fixed income? And over the years have you paid city, state, and federal taxes? Isn't City Hall financing their Smart Growth/gentrification planning through city departments with your tax money?
Clearly it is unethical for City Hall to use your own wages/tax money to push densification rezoning planning.
Let's call Austin's Smart Growth planning what it really is, a War on the Poor.
Stop Corporate Welfare
Corporate welfare is difficult, if not impossible to justify. That said, I believe the "tax incentive" packages offered by the city of Austin to Intel and other Fortune 500 companies do not reflect the will of Austin's taxpayers. I believe these acts are fiscally reckless, unconscionable, and establish a very poor precedent for Austin's future.
Tax incentives should be issued reluctantly by public servants and then only under special circumstances; such as to small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas where they can be tied to local job creation. Unfortunately, the reasons behind granting tax incentives have been forgotten. Today they are overused by politicians and abused by Fortune 500 companies and professional sports franchises that now demand them as a mechanism to remove themselves from public tax rolls, or pit one city against another in their quest for growth. Today, the unique small-business community and vibrant entrepreneurial spirit that made Austin a great place to live and work are threatened by some of Austin's leaders who seem to endorse a business climate characterized by the seemingly endless availability of tax subsidies for Fortune 500 companies.
I want to stop "corporate welfare" in Austin and I need your help. First, if you are interested in participating in an organized but peaceful anti-corporate welfare demonstration in the near future, please e-mail me. Participation by artists and musicians is highly encouraged. If you cannot participate please e-mail me stating your opposition to "corporate welfare" and whether you would support a public initiative or voter referendum aimed at restricting future corporate tax subsidies. Companies will move to Austin without tax incentives, why should we, the taxpayers, subsidize them?
When government does not act in the best interests of its citizenry, we the people, must speak and act in order to effect change. United, as a community, we can act to insure Fortune 500 companies pay their fair share of taxes as we the people do. Please contact me now, I need your help!