Our readers talk back.
Porter Running Against Carter
In the article entitled "Which Austin Congressman?" [News, April 16] Mr. Mike Clark-Madison states that incumbent Congressman John Carter is unopposed. This is not true. Jon Porter has filed and is running in that district as a Democrat for that seat. I realize that the district was drawn to elect a Republican, and that defeating an incumbent is difficult, but at least Mr. Porter's existence deserves to be acknowledged, don't you think?
Thank you, Amy Foster
[News Editor Michael King responds: We regret the error, and thank Amy Foster for the sharp eyes and the quick correction.]
In your April 2 article on the Historic Task Force ["New Rules for Old Buildings: The Historic Task Force," News], Mike Clark-Madison mistakenly includes "three houses on West Lynn in Old West Austin" in a group of high profile cases in which "neighbors have rather openly sought historic designation as a land-use planning tool, against the wishes of owners seeking to demolish the structures and build new (and larger) projects in their place." While this was mentioned by one or two individuals over the course of this four month process, the fact is that extensive research, evidence, and expert testimony over that time led to the inescapable conclusion that these three small houses are rare "Section" houses built by the International & Great Northern Railway in the latter part of the 19th century to house the workers who built and ran the railway. Everyone agreed that they met many of the current 13 Historic Criteria; the question was how many.
While reasonable people can debate the wisdom of saving such historic structures owned by people who do not wish to keep them, Clark-Madison bought hook, line, and sinker the developer's erroneous argument that their historic preservation was an irrelevant effort to stop his development. The neighborhood's commitment to preserve them as historic structures is evidenced by our efforts to research their history, raise funds, find a suitable location to move them to, and ultimately to restore them.
Our city, state, and country are the poorer for losing these buildings that link our neighborhood to its industrial past. They were demolished today. In these difficult economic times, historic preservation faces an uphill battle. Your blanket mischaracterization of serious attempts to preserve Austin's historic buildings only makes it harder. We expect more from you.
Former City Officer Comments
As the former city of Austin historic preservation officer, I would like to add my perspective to the City Council-appointed Historic Preservation Task Force recommendations discussed in Mike Clark-Madison's April 2 article ["New Rules for Old Buildings: The Historic Task Force," News]. When I left Austin in 2002, it was certain that the city historic preservation program was heading for a crisis. Established in 1974, the program had hardly been updated since. The original ordinance did not readily accommodate local historic district overlay zoning, instead relying heavily on a "courtesy" but unbinding review of building permits for areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Without local historic districts as an option and a more binding design review process, the city has not been able to protect valued historic neighborhoods (even those in the National Register) in any meaningful way.
Austin is the only major city in the country that I am aware of that does not have local historic district overlay zoning. Phoenix where I am now the city historic preservation officer has 36 local historic districts. And by the way, most cities do not require a petition of 50% or more of the residents of an area to initiate a historic district zoning process. These cities instead initiate proceedings for qualified neighborhoods based on grassroots support and rely on their normal zoning requirements to "fine tune" the boundaries. A 50% petition requirement would not be in step with what other cities have learned elsewhere in the U.S. with much more successful programs. I would also encourage the city to establish a streamlined mechanism to confer local historic designation on existing National Register Historic Districts in Austin, and to phase out the outdated courtesy review process currently in place for National Register Historic Districts.
Yes, Austin has very generous tax abatements for historic properties. It also has the highest property taxes in Texas. And, don't forget that these tax incentives have been the key to retaining valued low-scale historic buildings in the central city. Keep in mind that the owners of historic buildings in the Bremond Block, Congress Avenue, and Sixth Street are sitting on prime skyscraper-zoned real estate. Without strong financial incentives, these property owners might not find their historic overlay zoning so satisfying and may want the designation (and the buildings) removed. These downtown historic areas are also a major economic engine downtown creating unique entertainment venues and attracting small locally owned businesses and retail establishments. If $600,000 of annual tax incentives protect Austin's neat, eclectic historic identity downtown, then perhaps it is money well spent.
I also don't think a 75-year age requirement for individual or historic district designation or financial incentives makes any sense. This is really out of date with historic preservation thinking elsewhere in the country. So, the city leaders really think that there are no historic properties worth saving or assisting in Austin that date after 1929? While most cities in the country have long recognized World War II properties, modern architecture, and early ranch architecture as significant, Austin is turning back the clock even further to satisfy Betty Baker, the 71-year-old task force chair, and her outdated notions of what is worth saving and protecting in Austin.
In my tenure as city historic preservation officer, I never thought that the city leadership fully appreciated what historic preservation had done (and was doing) for Austin's economy. The rest of the country loves Austin's funky character and charm including its historic downtown and charming historic neighborhoods. Other cities are expanding their historic programs to protect their identities. Meanwhile, Austin is tightening the screws on its historic preservation program and its leaders. Why? Simply because the program needs updating and the City Landmark Commission needs better tools at its disposal. Interestingly enough, Betty Baker has been a major reason why previously proposed revisions to the city's historic preservation ordinance have not gone through (such as a local historic district ordinance). What gives? I would venture to say that it is not a program "in a point of crisis" it's a city in a crisis. Austin needs to look outside of Austin if it is going to stay special.
Brenner's High on Life
There are three things worth noting about Wayne Alan Brenner, so let's name them in order and be done with it:
1) If you are ever at a party and you want to stand next to someone really, really nice and really, really cool and really, really enthusiastic about so many things that he is a delight to talk to, then Wayne Alan Brenner is your man. He really is that person you hope to find yourself standing next to whenever you find yourself in a corner at a boring party holding a red plastic cup full of microbrew.
2) He's got a really cool house with really cool stuff in it, including a black millipede that he will enthusiastically place upon your open palms so it can crawl with all its million creepy little legs. I think he has spiders, too, plus all kinds of really cool stuff that he can enthusiastically tell you about, plus you probably won't be able to leave without at least one amazing CD he has discovered lately that he feels you should absolutely positively die over.
3) Most of the time, he writes play reviews that I totally, absolutely, enthusiastically agree with. The operative words of the day: most of the time.
And here's the sad part. I feel it is my duty to write this e-mail as a sort of public service, and as a means of getting Brenner the help he needs. The enormous amount of crack he must have ingested while viewing the latest production by local theatre troupe Gypsy Baby and during the subsequent writing of the review ["Exhibitionism," Arts, April 16] probably would've killed a horse.
I don't know how much crack the man smoked, but it must have been ... like ... a whole big bunch, so much that I, like, don't even want to think about it.
p.s. I still love you, man, but wow, you were so mean!
p.p.s. We are so going to toilet paper your house and steal your millipede!
Stop the Doom and Gloom
Lately I stopped reading the Chronicle (except for the entertainment section) because the News articles are so consistently panicky. Ten minutes and I'm totally bummed that Austin funk is nearly history. I can get a daily dose of downers from the Statesman or TV news, thank you. I used to look forward to Thursdays for my weekly reminder of just how lucky I am to live in Austin.
However, I was pleased by your article on Professor Griffin and his Midnight Shadow Show ["Short Cuts," Screens, April 9]. It's been a regular Friday night pleasure. I even won his trivia contest and got a really cool prize. Austin is not going down the tubes! Droves of Austinites are out there putting themselves on the line daily, nurturing us with the crazy and dazzling creativity we love about Austin. If your editors think Austin's treasured weirdness is dying, try living somewhere else for awhile. It's a desert out there. What makes Austin great is its outstanding artistic community, including the Chronicle. I am sad to see your paper becoming sensationalistic. Presenting the news in such an alarmist way nurtures the mindset that weird Austin is a dying dream. That helps kill it just as surely as greedy developers. We do need to know this stuff, but jeez! You've become hysteric.
Brilliant fun provided by Professor Griffin, along with the likes of Mr. Sinus Theater, is proof that Austin lives! All the wacky, precious efforts Austinites make toward creating effervescence for us all generate a treasure trove of local culture. I met a person online who dreams of coming to Austin to see Bruce Campbell at the Alamo. We live here! Get off the doom and gloom. And hire some critics who like movies for cripes sake!
Supports Media Arts Funding Reforms
As the former chair for the Media Arts Panel, I applaud the efforts of all concerned to make real, tangible funding reforms ["Clean Start for the Arts," Arts, April 16].
I do hope these measures will assist the many wonderfully deserving individual artists, emerging groups, and established organizations.
Let's end these arts wars and find those blasted weapons of mass defunding!
Tracey Leigh Crossett Will Be Missed
Thank you for acknowledging the passing of Tracey Leigh Crossett, 17-year-old singer and bass player for the Quicks (formerly Catscratch) ["TCB," Music, April 16]. This tragic event has shocked all of us, totally. I had only gone to hear the band play once a couple of years ago, and was impressed with the musicianship of the girls. Yesterday, her father played a recent recording of some songs for me, and I was blown away. Like Lia's (the drummer) dad said at the funeral service, the music was so good! Tracey's voice exuded velvety smooth confidence in the recording that reminded me of Chrissie Hynde's ability to inspire goose bumps. Her voice had the kind of force that pushes its way past the diaphragm on its way from someplace deeper, the kind that doesn't require volume or gimmick but that presses forward so you can hear it with your skin. I heard it in her father's car yesterday, and he was so proud. And we're all so sad.
With prayers for Tracey's brother and parents,
For Tracey's family and friends,
Eisenhower Not a Texan
With regards to Gene Elder's letter in the April 16 edition ["Postmarks"]: Unless Dwight David Eisenhower was a Texan, there was not a Texan in the White House at the time the John Wayne version of The Alamo was released (1960). Lyndon Johnson did not take office as president until November 1963. And even if Mr. Elder was referring to Johnson's vice-presidency, he was still off. That did not occur until 1961, with the Kennedy inauguration. Perhaps it is Mr. Elder who needs to "do the math."
Three Points Missed
The recent article by W.M. Adler ["Will Shill for Nukes," News, April 16] described professors submitting nuclear-industry PR releases to newspapers as their own writings. Three points were missed:
1) Conflict of professors' interest caused by money paid by the nuclear industry?
2) Questionable capacity statistics what are the correct statistics here?
3) Media's acceptance of a Ph.D.'s pronouncements on social policy, economics, etc., even when the Ph.D. is in a completely different field.
Karen S. Frost
Hurray for Ms. Opal Walker ("Postmarks," April 16). I love her erudite spunkiness and would like to read more. Why not offer her a column? May I suggest Mr. Moser's space?
Fighting for Our Rights!
This Sunday, April 25, my mom and I will be in Washington, D.C., to take part in a historic event: the March for Women's Lives. Along with hundreds of other Texans, we will represent the Lone Star State, and with hundreds of thousands of women, men, and youth, we will stand proud for choice.
We cannot stand idly by while the global gag rule stays in effect and while Bush makes recess appointments of extreme, "activist" judges. We will not tolerate the terrorist tactics employed by those seeking to deny affordable and reliable women's reproductive services. Instead, we will march for women's health, reproductive services, cancer screenings, international family planning, and AIDS funding. We will be advocates for these rights for future generations to ensure that the voices of women are always heard. We will fight back, so that we may move forward.
Crystal A. Viagran
An SOS Editorial
The city of Austin has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with respect to stopping big-box development in the Barton Springs recharge zone. Environmentalists and MoPac South neighbors won a victory last October when Wal-Mart announced it would not pursue its plans for a 200,000-square-foot Supercenter at MoPac and Slaughter Lane. But since then, city officials have passed up two opportunities to put the nail on the big-box coffin and instead seem to be going out of their way to assist Wal-Mart or some other equally big, big-box store to locate at that sensitive site.
In December, when the City Council enacted a No Big Box Over the Aquifer zoning ordinance, the council at the 11th hour approved a special exemption for the Wal-Mart site at Slaughter Lane and MoPac. Wal-Mart had already backed out, and this site had no grandfathered rights to a particular zoning category, and the settlement agreement did not obligate Austin to allow big-box development there. So after the resounding victory for neighborhoods and the aquifer, why did the city give it all away?
Now we learn, as of April 1, that the city has approved the Wal-Mart site plan. The city could have rejected the site plan and prevented big-box development simply by requiring adherence to the law specifically the 300-foot setback from a recharge feature called Big Oak Cave. Instead, city staff granted an administrative variance to allow a roadway essential to big-box development through the setback. (City staff apparently has even authorized a nonpaved construction road through the setback.)
The city twice now has passed up the opportunity to stop big-box development in the recharge zone at Slaughter Lane and MoPac. Why has the city again chosen to side with developers against the unified wishes of neighborhoods and the environmental community?
Maybe the Problem Is Policy?
Well, ain't this peculiar. Seems billionaire (that makes him "evil rich bastard" to liberals) George Soros has dedicated $300 million to "get Bush." Alec Baldwin and his amigos are trying to raise an additional $300 million, or what Barbra Streisand makes on tour, also to "get Bush." Cool, this is America, and evil rich greedy bastards can spend their money on whatever they want. Seems odd though that with all the bitching and moaning about funding for schools and the poor and medicine and yadda yadda yadda, these self-described compassionate liberals would spend so much on a personal vendetta when all that money could have gone to, well, helping develop alternative energy sources so they could save the planet and get those evil rich greedy bastards who run evil greedy big oil companies. How many jobs could have been created in low income areas with $600 million? How many homes for people living in colonias? How many prescription drugs for seniors can you buy with $600 million? How many computers for schools? But hey, let's "get Bush"; screw spending the money on anything that really matters!
Carl T. Swanson