Our readers talk back.
Taking It to the Limit
I read your "Page Two" attack on term limits, Linda Curtis, and Kirk Mitchell [April 5]. It along with much recent press coverage reads as if Linda Curtis put term limits into the City Charter. I think if you research it you will find that:
No signatures were collected (by Linda Curtis or anyone else) to put term limits on the Austin ballot. The council itself voted it on. Politicians do not normally propose term limits on themselves, and the council members did so for a different purpose.
The council was searching for a way to induce voters to approve a single-member district (SMD) amendment they had rejected four times already. The council came up with the idea of combining SMD as a take-it-or-leave-it package with something voters like. Term limits was the something chosen.
Fortunately, a UT professor auditing the council hearing protested that these were two separate subjects, and the Austin American-Statesman reported the event. The public was informed and protested combining the two ideas.
When the vote to combine was taken, it failed 3-3. SMD and term limits went on the ballot as separate issues.
Council members seeking to avoid term limits were expecting to have to collect about 2,000 signatures from one of the 10 single-member districts. Usually it is citizens that bear the brunt of our innumerable laws' even larger number of unintended consequences. In this case, the council members nailed themselves.
The voting public actually believes in term limits. Amendments proposed by citizens rarely include the means for officeholders to avoid the limits intended.
Initiative for Texas
Slusher's Villas Vote 'Thoughtful'
I commend Daryl Slusher for demonstrating his thoughtfulness and independence on the Villas of Guadalupe vote. While he voted contrary to the wishes of the neighborhood association, there are good arguments in favor of this project.
Development in the central city along a street such as Guadalupe is preferable to building apartments for students miles away from campus. Students who live at the Villas will be leaving their cars at their apartments and walking to class. Also, one apartment complex built there is one less needed above the aquifer.
I can understand the disappointment of the opponents and respect their right to support someone other than Daryl. However, no one should characterize his decision as being based on anything other than the merits as he saw them. Indeed, neighborhood activists around the city should support him, because his sympathies and actions are clearly with neighborhoods most of the time.
No matter what our realm of community involvement, none of us should want the council to be our marionettes. We need thoughtful, informed people who will exercise their judgement as to what constitutes the greatest good for the entire community. All three council members standing for election this spring fit that description. Two voted against the Villas, one voted for; all of them should be returned to office.
Curtis Bites Back
Excuse me for butting in on Louis Black's hissy fit about my efforts to catch the city of Austin in a fib on Jackie Goodman's petition ["Page Two," April 5]. If I had won in the Texas Supreme Court, it could have relaxed the petition requirements not just for incumbent politicians, but for us poor slobs who've been standing out on street corners for the last 10 years petitioning for SOS, against the city's plan to socialize baseball, and for two campaign finance reform measures.
Furthermore, Louis, you wouldn't know a reformer if one bit you on the ass (a rather unpleasant thought for one who would like to). What are your bright ideas for campaign finance reform, Louis? Or do you think it's OK that Jackie and Daryl accepted PAC money from an array of developer lobbyists and their friends who do business with the city, including Richard Suttle (lawyer/lobbyist for the Villas and Hyde Park Baptist Church), Don Martin and Tre Salinas, lobbyists for the Longhorn Pipeline, and, of course, our own dear former mayor, Bruce Todd, now a city lobbyist.
Oh, and you make me want to puke, too.
Bone to Pick With Black
Louis Black seems to be turning into a conservative crank prematurely. He indicts electoral reform proponents for their "remarkably lazy, anti-establishment reaction rather than any thoughtful analysis of Austin politics" ["Page Two," April 5]. Black's own politics have become myopically pro-establishment, however, as demonstrated by his reflexive endorsements of incumbents in the recent county commissioner races and now in municipal elections.
Black trots out the well-worn Libertarian warhorse that term limits are anti-democratic, without explaining why -- especially since, in virtually all cases where term limits exist, they have been approved directly by voters rather than representative bodies. (Can anyone imagine sitting legislators voluntarily limiting their own power?) As anyone who's ever attempted to dislodge an incumbent knows, it's a Herculean feat. Incumbency advantages -- name recognition, superior fundraising capacity, etc. -- are virtually impossible to overcome, as a cursory glance at Austin municipal elections over the past 20 years or so readily reveals.
As for Black's reading of Austin politics, he unfortunately confuses "thoughtful analysis" with rabid insults (and not particularly original ones, at that) aimed at those who have incurred the self-styled kingmaker's wrath. Kirk Mitchell, as "Page Two" whines, defied Black by continuing to lobby publisher Nick Barbaro "[e]ven after [Black] told him to stop." For her part, Linda Curtis is the target of some choice epithets, including "hypocrite's hypocrite" and "running joke." (Then again, no one's ever accused Austin politics of being civil.) Her crime appears to have been merely getting paid for gathering signatures for someone she supports (Griffith) while challenging signatures for someone she's running against (Goodman) -- both clearly legal and ethical activities. Not only did Goodman use PAC money to pay signature gatherers, in apparent violation of campaign contribution limits, but the city of Austin also used a seriously flawed statistical method that systematically overestimated the number of valid signatures on Goodman's petitions, an issue the Chronicle curiously omitted from its "thoughtful analysis."
Though the courts ultimately ruled against them, Mitchell and Curtis were well within their rights to challenge Slusher and Goodman. Black, though, stepped far outside the bounds of both journalistic ethics and common sense with his frothing diatribe.
Regrets & Dedication
I was somewhat dismayed upon reading Dan Oko's take on me and the animal sanctuary I founded in his review of my ex-husband, J.R. Helton's book Man and Beast [March 29]. Oko apparently equates people who care about the lives of animals as extremists who blow up vivisection labs. He seems confounded that an "animal rights activist of the purist order" would channel her energy into starting a sanctuary. Well, the truth is lots of normal people who have real jobs believe in animal rights and simply choose to live a life free of cruelty.
And while Oko believes helping animals doesn't make for a "captivating read," some people find fulfillment and find it interesting to do something that matters in the world. Doing what I do is not practical, that's for sure. It sure would be easier if all I had to worry about was catching the next hot band at South by Southwest or going to Vespaio and having veal.
I'm not a saint by any means, neither am I a collector or hoarder as Oko refers to me when he says Helton married the cat lady down the block. I really take offense to that statement as I frequently have to deal with collectors; people with real obsessive compulsive disorders that mistreat animals and wind up with more than they can handle, people that cannot relate to other people. Some hoarders even keep dead animals because they cannot bear to part with them.
Unfortunately, John (aka J.R.) missed an opportunity to write a good book about a great thing, instead he got mired down in his usual introspective, way-too-personal crap that nobody needs to know. Our personal life was just that. Now everybody can read how he was abusive and I threw a rock at him. Pretty compelling, huh? And bear in mind that he has a flair for hyperbole and takes some serious poetic license in his book.
At any rate, I encourage people who don't know about S.A.R.A. to check out our Web site at www.sara sanctuary.org. I regret a lot of things that happened out here in the early days, which are highlighted in Man and Beast. If only I had known then what I know now, I would have never married the author, among other things.
Executive Director/Founder of S.A.R.A.
What an inspiring piece on the Bubble recording studio and its inhabitants, one that gives hope that real Austin music lives on and will spring back if given half a chance ["Showers of Sound," March 29].
And then there was Nick Barbaro's inventive "Page Two" counterpoint, asking why the isolating bubble of elected office manages to block actions that seem obvious.
Barbaro's call for sound city planning so that we could avoid the need to "make ugly decisions piecemeal and in a vacuum" -- would empower citizens while reducing council power.
Absent vision and fair rules that inspire us to cooperate and ask "what would be best for our community?" we are left with case-by-case, brute-force dealmaking where the only question is "what will you suffer?"
Those on the inside then justify the accumulating failures with the standard, "if everybody was angry, then I must have made the right decision."
Thanks for some great writing,
Overlooked Day Care
To the Editor:
Jordan Smith is mistaken in saying that "Huerta discovered there wasn't a single day care facility in Austin that catered to special needs families" ["Sammy's House Looks for a Home," April 5]. As a matter of fact, the Open Door has been providing day care to children with special needs for over 25 years. I know this because my sons go to the Open Door's East Campus (there are three; the Central campus recently expanded). Open Door's mission is to provide day care for children of all abilities. My older son has had children with cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome in his classes, and one of his volunteer teachers uses a wheelchair. Clearly there is a need for even more services to families with special needs children, and I wish Ms. Huerta the best in her quest to expand her center. But I must ask the reporter and her editors to check her facts more thoroughly.
Reviews Longer Than Movies
I know in the ultimate scheme of things this is not a biggie, but how about breaking up some of your longer movie reviews into paragraphs. I get a headache reading a paragraph that is several hundred words long.
Thanks in advance,
Misheard, Misquoted, Mistaken
In Michael Chamy's review of Fugazi's performance on March 31 ["Phases and Stages," May 5], he quotes Ian MacKaye as saying "punk rockers are the stormtroopers of justification." This is incorrect. What MacKaye actually said was "punk rockers are the stormtroopers of gentrification," which makes perfect sense in the context of a rant about people being priced out of their homes. What Mr. Chamy quoted him as saying makes him look like an ass.
[Ed. note: What happened in this case was a misheard word, and then a misquote, certainly not an attempt to make Mr. MacKaye look like an ass. The Chronicle regrets the error.]
SIMS' Callback Issues
In light of the recent discussion on the merits/weaknesses of the SIMS Foundation, I feel compelled to share my experiences. I concur 100% with Mr. Grady's remarks ["Postmarks: SIMS Doesn't Earn Paycheck," March 29] that phone calls are almost never returned by the organization. My first contact with the SIMS Foundation was during a time of deep emotional distress and desperation, and I called their office (i.e. Peyton Wimmer's voicemail) for help. I left several messages, almost daily, over the course of about two weeks, begging for someone to call me back. I never received a call. With the help of good friends and some herbal anti-depressants, I worked my way back to a healthier state of mind. Several months later, I sought help again. As happened the first time, I did not receive any response. I made repeated phone calls and finally, after about two weeks, I received a message from Mr. Wimmer. In the interest of fairness, I can say that once Mr. Wimmer contacted me, we were able to move forward and since then, the SIMS Foundation has been a source of tremendous help. However, had I not been persistent (something that many sufferers of depression cannot be -- oftentimes they turn to suicide if they reach out for help and are ignored), I would not have been able to utilize the resources available. The SIMS Foundation can be a wonderful resource and has the potential to make a huge positive impact on the emotional lives of musicians in Texas. But I challenge the director and the board to take an honest look at the workings of the organization and its responsibility to serve persons in crisis -- that is something that requires improved efficiency and timeliness of response as it carries out its mission.
Notes From a Traveler
I just visited what is called the most beautiful and hippest city in Texas -- Austin. While I found great beauty there, I also found it after navigating through incredible corridors of sprawl wielding out of control in all directions. Now that the city is overpopulated, state and local officials are trying to decide how to construct roads fast enough to keep up with all the traffic and congestion.
As for Texas' famed Hill Country, I found a beautiful Nature Conservancy Preserve near Dripping Springs. It was great, except another new development next to it called the "Preserve" threatens to destroy it. Wimberley was cool, with all its pseudo-hippies, wannabes, and SUVs.
The I-35 corridor from Dallas to San Antonio is choked with sprawl, and little of the once-beautiful Texas landscape remains. Is there anyone interested in land preservation and managed growth down there?
Elk Rapids, Mich.
Ventura Fan Speaks
I really enjoyed this piece ["Letters at 3AM," March 22]. Extremely well written and researched. Free of hyperbole. Ventura is brilliant. Thanks as well for the archive of his writings [austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/deep_focus/cols_ventura.html]. I will be going back through them for more of his excellent writing.
Victoria, British Columbia
Now That's Real Progress
I was just settling in with my carrot cake at a local bakery when, while perusing the "Postmarks" section of this weekly, I came across the words "Hightower" and "bitching" ["What's in a Name," April 5], which must have resonated with me on some level since I stopped to read the letter containing them. The first sentence set up what I thought was the premise, then two short paragraphs later I sat there thinking, "Is this guy for real?" Whoa, Kurt, you're funnier than a bag of adolescent boys -- and one of best advertisements for progressives I've ever seen. Keep up the good work.
Bring Back 'Behind the Screens'
Dear Mr. Black:
I am writing this letter to you in hopes that you might be able to help us get Behind the Screens back on the air. KNVA canceled the show. It was a very good show. It not only gave us good movie reviews, it also gave away free movie passes to upcoming new movies. The only other place to get free movie passes is The Austin Chronicle. I always get this magazine also. To us moviegoers, it is an Austin legend.
I stated a petition going around, and as of now I have thirteen (13) pages of signatures from moviegoers who would like to see their show back on the air. If there is any way that you could help us with this project, it will be greatly appreciated. I have been enjoying movies for a long time now.
I enjoyed the program with Cory, Martin, and Jana. They did a good job. They discussed the pros and cons of all the movies that they reviewed. That helped us to decide which would be a better movie for us to go see.
If you could give us any kind of help to get our program back on KNVA that would be just great. Again, thank you for the wonderful shows that KNVA already has. I am one of your regular viewers. You are my favorite station. I enjoy all your shows.
Mary G. Espinoza
'3AM' Wake-Up Call
Dear Mr. Black,
Since Michael Ventura ["Letters at 3AM"] does not have an e-mail address, I'm sending this to you, both to thank you for publishing his work, and in the hopes you will pass it on to him.
His column "The Shadow of Totalitarianism," published on March 22, was e-mailed to me by a friend. I've sent it on to a number of people, most of whom have also passed it on to at least several more people. Clichéd though the phrase is, "a wake-up call" is the best way to describe this extremely powerful piece of writing. Of course I haven't liked what's been going on, but I've been averting my eyes, and thinking, basically, "It couldn't happen here." It can, it is, but maybe if enough of us wake up it can be stopped, and be reversed.
So, thanks, and I'd like Mr. Ventura to know that there are a lot more people reading his thoughts, and talking about them, than he was perhaps aware of.
The Almighty Dollar
I request that the children of Kirby School (and the children of the entire North University Neighborhood Association) take a moment out of each day at their respective schools and bow their heads for a moment of silence to reflect upon the power of the Almighty Dollar. We as parents would like to thank Mike McHone and the developers of the Villas of Guadalupe for teaching our children the importance of having the biggest bank account.
Children, listen to the Great and Powerful McHone! Heed his words of wisdom: "It's only business!" If you children have a dispute, don't compromise with the majority of your friends that are most affected by your actions. No! Throw money at them and tell them to go away. Don't despair, you can buy them off! (It's only business.) If your friends have followed the letter and spirit of the law of the playground and come to you in good faith, with their laboriously collected, crayon-inscribed petition, pay it no heed! You have money! Delay! Don't despair, you can buy them off! (It's only business.) If the lives of your friends have changed unbearably because of your actions, if some of them are unhappy, depressed, even injured or hurt, it's not your fault! Don't despair, you can buy new friends! (It's only business.) You and the Almighty Dollar can leave your indelible mark on the landscape of life and open the way for further destruction of another Central Austin neighborhood. Don't despair, there are more neighborhoods awaiting you! (And besides, it was only business.)
The McGinty-Barish Family
KUT: News Radio Banshee
Someone has sold KUT a bill of goods, apparently with the blessing of NPR's new president. "Your demographics are all wrong; you audience is too old. You need to attract a younger, hipper audience by playing more news and less of that dreary old music."
So they threw all the music shows into a jumble and cut them all by an hour so they could add more news and information. Daytime jazz, once a staple, is now basically a blow job in a bus station at one hour four days a week. We're up to 10 or 11 hours of news and information every weekday, depending on how you feel about Fresh Air.
Folks, there ain't 10 hours worth of news in the entire universe every day. There's about one hour, so they resort to things like the saga of school cafeteria turkey tetrazzini, and they play what little actual news they have over and over again. Those of us who used to turn KUT on in the morning and leave it on all day are driven batty by the repetition and turn the damn thing off.
Fine; it's their radio station, but when they ask me for money next fundraiser, I plan to pledge $1 to KUT in place of my usual generous contribution, to let KUT management know how much I appreciate their turning a good music station into a news radio banshee suitable for flushing possums from the garage at high volume.
I urge everyone to give KUT's new programming the support it deserves, although I doubt if the credit card companies will process pledges of less than a dollar.
Food for Thought
Just a few quick points. If the government has a program to distribute food to the poor in America, why do we have food banks in literally every town? Why doesn't the Food Stamp Program provide enough food for a person for an entire month? If the government is going to administer a food program, it should provide enough food for the entire month, not just the first three weeks.
If the government has a health care plan for seniors, how come it doesn't cover everything, including prescription drugs? How come Medicare, as it stands right now, is nothing more than a cash cow for supplemental insurance companies who make billions a year selling policies to seniors to cover the gaps in Medicare coverage and reimbursement? If the government is going to provide health care to retired people, it should be totally without cost, period.
If pollution is such an issue, when are environmentalists going to call for the eradication of cedar from the Hill Country? It is non-native, creates incredible amounts of particulate air pollution which costs allergy sufferers hundreds of millions of dollars in Texas alone in lost wages and medication. Kids get sick. Cedars use 20 times the water native plants use. So how come nobody is talking about solutions to plant-based air pollution?
Carl T. Swanson