Our readers talk back.
Don't Blame the Planners
Your comment in "Page Two" in the January 18 issue that "the city doesn't really have planners any more" does a terrible disservice to the city of Austin staff. I served on the Smart Growth Task Force and the Corridor Planning Committee and have spent countless additional hours interfacing with the city of Austin planning staff on a variety of issues. I invite you to take the time to get to know the likes of Ms. Glassco, Mr. Librach, Mr. Smith, Mr. Adams, and many others. If you have a frank and honest discussion with them off the record, I believe you will find they are extremely knowledgeable. In fact, as one who has been involved in development projects in several U.S. cities, I can say they are among the best I've encountered. They truly do understand urban planning, growth management, transportation, and other issues facing our city as it grows. The first step in Austin's "real planning reform" you wish for might actually happen if the City Council would listen to staff's good ideas and take advantage of their significant insights.
'A Neighborhood Nightmare'
The January 10 City Council vote regarding the Villas on Guadalupe caught our neighborhood by surprise. At a previous meeting, the council had unanimously passed Jackie Goodman's motion approving MF-4 zoning for this property. MF-4 provides as many as 100 student-housing units while preserving the neighborhood's integrity. We had received assurances from nearly all the council that the proposed high-density, MF-6 zoning was incompatible with this residential setting.
But on January 10 the council abruptly changed course, zoning the property MF-6. Everyone, with the notable exceptions of Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez, seemed to have forgotten the earlier passed MF-4 zoning for this site. We were shocked.
Of course, things change -- including council votes and neighborhoods. But there are several unalterable facts the council should consider:
This shotgun zoning approach defies any comprehensive planning process and ignores the negative impact on neighborhoods. Across the city, neighborhoods are experiencing similar treatment. And, with upcoming elections, voters will be looking for neighborhood-friendly candidates who can reverse this trend.
A pro-neighborhood compromise is still possible with this council. But a final "solution" of MF-6 zoning reflects neither compromise nor neighborhood friendliness.
North University Neighborhood Association
Pro: Villas at Guadalupe
It's a very sad thing that some of the members of NUNA can't look beyond their own rather narrowly defined self-interest to what is good for the Austin community as a whole ["Postmarks," Jan. 18]. On the other hand, members of the City Council who showed courage in standing up to these neighborhood bullies deserve to be commended.
Because of its centrality, existing land use density, and access to amenities, the UT campus area affords us the unique opportunity of having at least one district that does not require residents to own or regularly use a motor vehicle in order to exist. Don't we want to afford our young people the opportunity to experience life free from slavery to the automobile? Isn't college the ideal time to allow for changes in attitude and lifestyle, which might eventually lead to more sustainable and less fossil-fuel dependent communities? And for heaven's sake, if you can't put high-density housing on a major thoroughfare like Guadalupe, then where can you put it?
The Villas at Guadalupe development is a win-win-win proposal. It's a win for students who will be able to live close to campus, and -- as the developer points out -- leave their cars at home. It's a win for the city in that having these students walk to school means fewer cars on the road, and it's a win for taxpayers in that the high property taxes collected on this project will reduce the property-tax pressure on all property owners in the city. And yet NUNA opposes this project tooth and nail because they might be slightly inconvenienced or delayed as they jet about town running short errands in their ... cars. Sad, very, very sad.
Final comment: To paraphrase [Samuel Johnson] and with regard to Austin land-use politics, calling dilapidated wooden shacks "historic homes which must be preserved" is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
High Density Zoning
I am disgusted at the new mayor and City Council's total disregard for residents in Central Austin. With the exception of neighborhood advocates Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez, the City Council has sold out to developers who want to tear down Austin's oldest neighborhoods and make millions of dollars at residents' expense. In particular, I am speaking about council's recent vote to approve MF-6 zoning, the highest allowable multifamily density, in the North University area at 29th and Hemphill Park. Residents have been working to preserve this charming neighborhood which has been home to students, professors, and even UT presidents since the Twenties. Mayor Garcia suggested that this neighborhood was in transition and that residents should be prepared to allow higher density development to replace it. He even suggested relocating Kirby Hall School, which has provided high-quality education to neighborhood children for 25 years. I am outraged at this mentality! Our neighborhood is not in transition. We are not preparing to move out, and we plan to fight to the end to preserve and protect our historic neighborhood. MF-6 zoning is not compatible with the surrounding residential properties; it would have a devastating effect on the character, historic fabric, and livability of our neighborhood. At the last council meeting, over 100 residents showed up in opposition to this MF-6 project. The mayor and council ignored our passionate plea for help or compromise. Instead, they voted for the developer's plan to build a huge, multi-story, high-density, high-rent luxury apartment complex with inadequate parking facilities in our neighborhood. This is irresponsible and shameful. I regret voting for these elected officials. In the future, my neighbors and I plan to vote only for those officials who truly demonstrate they represent the people of this community.
Sex and Money
On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, we are cruelly reminded by our "liberal" weekly, The Austin Chronicle, that indeed things have not changed so very much since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. There should be no room for misogynistic ads on a page where a hate crime is reported. Yet, a quick glance at page 21 of last week's edition both reports on two local women's rapes by executives of a dot-com corporation ["Raped by the Players," Jan. 18] and markets computers through an image of a female technician in a sexual posture. Closer inspection of the ad reveals a young model revealing a portion of her breasts, while pointing a drill up with one hand. The kinds of questions such a juxtaposition poses include: Should the women in the rape case be taken seriously? Should female computer lab technicians and sales representatives be taken seriously? Should feminism be taken seriously? And lastly: Should feminists take The Austin Chronicle and its sponsors seriously?
Let this disturbing example of insensitivity and objectification of women instruct us: We have far to go in achieving equality and justice for all.
Justice for All
I wonder, does Sylvia Shihadeh ["Postmarks: 'End the Occupation,'" Jan. 18] consider it resisting occupation when the Palestinians strap explosives onto themselves, walk into pizza parlors, discos, and shopping malls, and blow up as many young Israelis as possible? Were Palestinians resisting occupation when they set off grenades underneath a city bus and gunned down the fleeing occupants? Or, most recently, when they attacked a bat mitzvah, a religious ceremony, shooting six people dead including the grandfather of the girl whom the event was for?
If so, then she sees the deliberate murder of a country's civilians as a legitimate act of protest against their government's policies. I can imagine she must greatly approve of the events of Sept. 11. After all, the men who killed over 2,000 Americans were trying to express their opposition to American foreign policy. So, are we now to sympathize with those men? The same way Shihadeh sympathizes with Palestinian murderers? Is murder now excused if the killer has a grievance against the victims' government?
Shihadeh and her ilk can make all the excuses they want, but if they truly want "peace with justice," then there must be justice for the Israelis as well. Nothing else will suffice. Ever.
Surfers Deserve Your Love
It's been almost two weeks since your publication of the Texas top 10 [Jan. 4], and I would like to point out a scandalous oversight on the critics poll. It is absolutely comical that the Butthole Surfers, Weird Revolution, were snubbed from Texas top 10 and for that matter national. BHS have been a Texas band and producing fresh distinct albums since before half of the UT students here were born, and for that alone they deserve some love. Would they have caught your attention if they hadn't achieved commercial success? This reminded me of the early Nineties when "real music fans" snubbed Nirvana because they were successful while overlooking the genius of the album. Even if the critics thought Weird Revolution wasn't a good album or was all over the place (you know who you are), what about the performance and production at La Zona Rosa? Just as the music was overlooked so was the performance, but that's not shocking considering a local told me that he heard BHS had too many lights in their light show. "So you can pluck out his feathers and smile because you're defending our weird women from the freaky assed thoughts of the bug-eyed bowlegged normal man."
I need lunch,
The Power of City Elections
In spite of what local developers such as Stratus Properties think, we who live outside the city of Austin, in Travis County, really are members of the 21st century! We keep up with local events, follow local political campaigns (even contributing to re-election funds), read local periodicals, and are just as concerned about people's quality of life as Austin residents are. The one difference is that we cannot vote in city elections. It seems that this difference is of monumental importance to the developers of the Bear Lake PUD, which is located at the corner of SH 45 and FM 1826. They take for granted that no one of importance will listen to us because we don't count at the ballot box. This is a big mistake, as they discovered at the Zoning and Platting hearing. Five of the nine commissioners expressed their concerns about traffic safety after listening to the neighborhood groups, four voting against the PUD's approval, and the fifth adding a traffic safety amendment. The "1826 Coalition," consisting of six neighborhood associations, has come to terms with almost every issue concerning Stratus' Bear Lake PUD except for one. Their project is going to increase the number of trips per day by an additional 7,300 trips! For those of you who have traveled FM 1826 (Camp Ben McCullough Road), you know it is already an extremely dangerous two-lane county road where accidents occur weekly. The line of sight is five seconds at best in the area where Stratus wants the entrance for 200 condos to be. The neighborhoods are asking that they seek alternatives to this particular entrance. They are the only builder on 1826 who has the option of routing the traffic onto SH 45, which is a four-lane highway. We have been told that there would be minimal work involved in getting approval from SOS and Texas Wildlife to divert the traffic. It seems that the value of life for those of us in Travis County is not a priority because we cannot vote. We are counting on the City Council members to insist that Stratus find an alternative entrance, which puts the focus back on the safety of every school bus, bicyclist, teenager, and even us regular country folk who drive on 1826.
UT Surcharge Faulkner's Fault
The burdensome $500 surcharge on University of Texas students proposed by President Larry Faulkner would probably not be necessary if Faulkner had not foolishly wasted millions of dollars uselessly fighting the Hopwood decision, in a vain effort to save the university's anti-white "affirmative action" discrimination. Faulkner should resign.
Fight to Save City
Remember when 360, south of the MoPac intersection, was glutted with protesters alerting everyone to development of the H.E. Brodie Tract? Huge office buildings were proposed. The problem was the development started next to a quiet little neighborhood and spread out to cover what is a documented environmentally sensitive tract of land. In the 11th hour, it was saved with public money purchasing it.
Now the city is in a money crunch and feels compelled to sell. As public land, we have full control over its fate. Council has an opportunity to propose something visionary that would excite the public and market place, potentially generating a higher quality of life and profit. Do we want to see yet another complex of offices looming over the creek, destroying habitat, and polluting Barton Springs and the watershed, not to mention more traffic in the area?
In a word, "no." As citizens we must become more involved in the processes of government. Talk to your neighbors and help get information out about what is going on around us. Better connect our neighborhoods and join in concert to have a louder and bigger voice. We love Austin. It is our home. Lets fight to take care of it and not allow outside interests to hold all the seats at the table.
Barton View Neighborhood Assoc. member
OK, I'll say right up front, I don't like cops. After reading Officer Enlow's rebuttal of the earlier critique of his profiling and traffic law ignorance ["Postmarks: Profiling? Not Quite," Jan. 18], I see no reason to change my low opinion of them. Officer Enlow's implication that the collective ignorance of the law by all of his superiors somehow mitigates what happened is laughable. Don't flatter yourself, Officer Enlow, like more people than you'd care to admit, Mr. Henson probably doesn't need your help and can take care of himself.
With apologies to political correctness, I feel that police are essentially useless in fighting violent crime in that they usually show up on the scene after the crime has been perpetrated and spend way too much of their time hassling honest people over things like backup lights.
In all fairness though, it sounds like Officer Enlow was at least trying to play a hunch and possibly stop a crime before it occurred. That's a step in the right direction. However, I think the real questions are why do we have so many petty laws that the cops don't even know the correct interpretations, and why engage in a car chase, putting yourself and the public in danger, over something as simple as a backup light that did or did not work?
True Lies or True Commitment?
Prior to the January 10 City Council meeting, members of the North University Neighborhood Association met with council members. We registered our opposition to the Villas on Guadalupe MF-6 project and offered a compromise proposal. Several council members personally confirmed their support for our MF-4 compromise proposal and the remainder indicated their opposition to MF-6 plan.
During the December 8 council meeting, Jackie Goodman offered a motion supporting MF-4 zoning that would be compatible with the character of the neighborhood. The council strongly approved this measure. Later, Ms. Goodman confirmed that the intent of her motion was to establish MF-4 zoning with conditional overlays. Mayor Gus Garcia, Beverly Griffith, and Raul Alvarez were supportive of the compromise proposal.
What a difference a few weeks can make! With the outstanding exceptions of Beverly Griffith and Raul Alvarez, who remained true to their word with a less dense proposal, the mayor and other council members we contacted experienced collective amnesia. Obviously, what went on behind our backs dramatically altered those promises made face-to-face with NUNA representatives.
One side stands for those eager to reap a windfall: the developer, the University Area Partners (a UT/merchants association led by the developer's agent, Mike McHone), and the developments' property owners. The glaring omission from this financial alliance is the current residents of NUNA. At five public hearings not one resident, many of whom are UT students and faculty, has spoken in favor of this development.
Over 100 residents and property owners, whose neighborhood quality will be severely impacted by this MF-6 zoning, registered their opposition at the Jan. 10 council meeting. The neighborhood's expectation was that council members would stay true to their commitments. With the laudable exceptions above, it didn't happen. Can the record be set straight on January 31? Which will it be: true lies or true commitment to the neighborhoods?
Rice R. Jackson
'Bloody Sunday' Bloody Wrong
I wonder whether you would publish these comments, which might -- only might -- reach the attention of Dana Lay of Austin. Her name figured regarding comments she had made after watching the film Bloody Sunday at the Sundance Festival in Utah. She, like far too many people at the festival, if reports are true, seemed to believe that the story portrayed in Bloody Sunday is absolutely 100% cast-iron correct, and I doubt anyone is likely to consider that it is like a lot of anti-English films recently shown in the States -- complete propaganda.
For the past 60 years I have been fervently pro-American. Much more pro-American, I would add, than a lot of Americans appear to be. I have defended the States in many European countries and on many occasions. In my opinion, America could do no wrong. I now hope I haven't been totally wrong in my thinking.
I have put up with the anti-English rhetoric of the Kennedy family and of the IRA supporters throughout the States (in spite of their financial support to help the IRA bomb innocent women and children -- including the bomb at a Cenotaph in Ireland on Remembrance Day; bet you wouldn't believe that if they made it into a film, Ms. Lay). I have accepted it all as a small minority viewpoint, but over the last few years I have begun to wonder. The anti-English propaganda seems to be increasingly the done thing in the States, and it would now take very little for me to believe that it is in fact a majority view.
It would be a great pity if such stupid, and continuing, films were accepted as gospel, although no doubt some people would be delighted.
Mack's Cash, Austin's Burden
Mack Brown, from North Carolina, got his $250,000 pay raise authorized as UT football coach, after receiving a million some years back, just to get him a la par with the rest of the coaches of the nation. His 10 assistants are in line for a little bit of green, too. Not a single one of them is from Austin. This is your second issue since it appeared in the news, and you have suspiciously held your ink on the subject. I expected you to write about it, because the next day, Mr. Larry Faulkner, from Louisiana, announced an increase of almost $500 for each student, to pay yearly bills, meaning that chances at UT for the entire east half of Austin are a little beyond their reach now. But Mack Brown is just the ejemplo. Forget UT, go to Texas A&M, Southwest Texas State, Georgetown, or even Huston-Tillotson, and you'll find all these outsiders with funny names in positions of command, that surely have some palancas in local and state politics. Or just look at Johnston and Reagan High Schools. Or you may call this guy from Washington, in charge of the Austin Equity Commission, to see what he says about Mr. Brown's news' repercussions on the psyche of the local population. These facts are worthy of a little space in the Chronicle, better than mariguanos, drunks, and jotitos.
Cable Bill Goes Up Again
I opened my Time Warner cable bill this month to find that my bill had increased from $41.14 to $47.90, a 16% increase! In the last 14 months my bill has increased a total of 30%. How can Time Warner justify this monopolistic pricing policy (oops, I forgot they are a monopoly)? I called to complain, and they said they had increased the number of channels they provided this year (the ones nobody wants anyway) and that by law they are allowed to increase their rates at the beginning of a year. They raised their rates about $2 the last couple of years, which works out to about 5%. What's up with this 16% rate increase? And what lame-ass government entity is allowing this rip-off of the consumer? On top of that, there is a blurb on the bill stating that a $5 late fee will be added if your bill is not paid by the due date. I looked at the due date & it was Jan. 11. The bill was postmarked Jan. 9 and I received it Jan. 14. Way to go, a-holes! To the corporations out there ripping us off I say: Save your advertising budget, I don't believe a word you sleazy bastards have to say. To the government: Thanks for nothing! I'll see you at the polls.
A Book Recommendation
Dear Austin Chronicle:
When I lived in Austin, I always made sure to pick up a new copy of your paper each week. I would spend the entire week reading and re-reading it. You put out a fantastic paper!
I recently came across something that might interest your readers. Someone has put out a book called The Convict's Cookbook. Apparently this is some type of fundraising book to abolish the death penalty. Anyway, I got my copy of it the other night, and I must say that this is a really good book. It's got around 100 or so recipes, some really cool cartoons, a lot of them with these little cockroach characters that are hilarious. It even has a prison slang glossary. I've already put several of the recipes to the test, and they are pretty good.
I've sent along one of the brochures that I got with my copy, thought maybe this might be the kind of thing you might want to pass on to your readers.