Our readers talk back.
'Magnificent 7' Inspiring
The article on the "Magnificent 7" ["North Central Blues," News, May 7] inspired me with what a small group of dedicated public servants can accomplish.
As a lounge owner in the Warehouse District I have been part of a team of downtown business operators working to build rapport with the APD and other entities that have influence over the experience of downtown visitors and residents. It is slow going to get alignment from so many different parties with so many different priorities. But the caring, tenacity, and remarkable results of the North Central Command helps to restore my hope that progress is possible, if not inevitable.
Against Proposition 1
Proposition 1 is bad policy for Austin taxpayers and for all city employees except firefighters, and we urge voters Saturday to reject the issue. Our organization supports and appreciates firefighters generally, but not the preferential treatment sought by their union.
Under the current budget process, our firefighters have become the highest-paid fire department in Texas with the highest pension payments of any Austin city employees. They have an excellent health insurance program and are on duty 24 hours and then off 48 hours to rest or work on other jobs, which many do.
The union wants collective bargaining to force the city into even higher pay and benefits four individuals on all fire trucks, a separate health insurance program, and equal pay with police. Most cities pay their police officers slightly more than firefighters because only police officers face the constant danger of death by guns or knives.
Under collective bargaining, outside arbitrators or a district judge would make the final decision on pay matters if the city and the fire union did not agree. The City Council, whom we elect to make such decisions, would be bound by these decisions from outsiders and have no recourse.
More than 3,600 Austinites applied this spring for just 74 vacancies in the fire department. That means 48 applications for each vacancy. Certainly those several thousand individuals think that the current pay and benefits of firefighters are quite adequate.
Finally, voters should keep in mind that roughly one half of Austin firefighters live outside the Austin city limits and do not now pay the property taxes which pay their salaries.
The proposition is neither equitable nor fair to Austin taxpayers or to the thousands of other valuable city employees who have continually been left behind in pay raises in the past.
Terrell Blodgett Treasurer Taxpayers for Equity
Be Fair to Firefighters
I'm afraid that Terrell Blodgett has hoisted himself on his own petard in his letter regarding Austin firefighters and collective bargaining ["Postmarks" online, May 6].
Collective bargaining is not preferential treatment. It is equitable treatment. These are people who willingly walk into places that everyone else runs away from. Why should they not have every chance to get pay and benefits commensurate with the risk involved in their work?
Mr. Blodgett mentions, somewhat snidely, that they have 48 hours off after a 24-hour shift "to rest or work on other jobs, which many do." I find this interesting, because three paragraphs later Mr. Blodgett states, "More than 3,600 Austinites applied this spring for just 74 vacancies in the fire department. That means 48 applications for each vacancy. Certainly those several thousand individuals think that the current pay and benefits of firefighters are quite adequate."
Why, if the benefits and pay are so good, Mr. Blodgett, do our firefighters work those extra jobs you mentioned? Is it perhaps because they need the extra job to make ends meet? Your attitude also smacks of the very reason Austin firefighters need collective bargaining. When it comes to a profession where your life is at risk every time you go out on a call, "adequate" is just another way to say "as little as we can get away with." "Adequate" is taking them for granted.
As a taxpayer who lives in this city I do not believe that the concept of "good enough" or "too good" should exist in regard to people who put their lives on the line every day for our safety.
Firefighters protect our lives and our property. Letting them have a role in determining their pay and benefits is the least we can do as a community to say thanks. I will be voting for this measure, and I hope you will join me in doing so.
Debbie Russell had quite a list of questions that she asked us "Libbys" to answer for her ["Postmarks," May 7]. I'll give that a try.
The Constitution doesn't mention parties or ballot access because it relegates that to the states. I would think Ralph's people would remember Florida '00. And it isn't autocratic if Dems don't sign your petition; if a candidate can't muster enough actual supporters then he doesn't belong on the ballot. This doesn't prevent you from voting for whomever you want; last I checked you can still write in.
As to the blame for the '00 election, Nader didn't cost Gore the election. Gore ran a lousy campaign and didn't put up a fight during the recount. I'm not sure how that relates to whether Ralph deserves being on any state ballots now, unless we're supposed to put him there out of contrition.
John Kerry is pro-war? I must have missed the announcement. Or maybe the Iraq situation is too multifaceted for just anti-war/pro-war approaches. Just a thought.
And the reason "we" haven't impeached Bush is that we don't have the ability. This is a republic, not a democracy. Citizens don't get to vote on those things, except by proxy.
I hope this helps clear up your confusion. If not, try pulling your head out!
Where's the Vision?
Thanks for reporting on the rollout of the Envision Central Texas regional plan and noting the commitment of its 73-member board of directors to work with local decision-makers to encourage implementation ["ECT Serves Up Its Vision," News, May 7].
So just how does this square with the simultaneous actions by our transportation planners, AISD, and the LCRA? The toll road agency, Chamber of Commerce, and Real Estate Council (all of whom are represented on the ECT Executive Board) want $2.2 billion worth of toll roads the roads and tolls they will generate designed to serve and fund more sprawl. More than half of the "priority" toll projects totaling $770 million are located in the Barton Springs Watershed (which could be preserved for half that amount).
Our Austin school board (also represented on the ECT Board) is considering a $450 million bond package designed entirely on the assumption that historic growth patterns will continue. Many observers believe the proposal again shortchanges existing schools while funding new schools in the hinterlands.
LCRA General Manager Joe Beal, an ECT Executive Committee member, is racing to extend water lines out Hamilton Pool Road, Highway 71, RR 12, and Nutty Brown Road in complete disregard of ECT and in the face of overwhelming opposition from current rural residents and environmentalists. The sole purpose of these water system expansions is to serve suburban sprawl developers in the Barton Springs, Bee Creek, and Pedernales River watersheds.
So where's the vision? Was ECT just a three-year greenwash for the Chamber, RECA, and the highway boys, as many suspected? Will the other ECT board members sit by silently (or pick up pompoms) while CAMPO, CTRMA, AISD, LCRA, and others dash off with billions of taxpayer dollars to feed hypersprawl?
Save Our Springs Alliance
What About the Traffic?
The controversy surrounding the proposed Shops at the Galleria and the Hill Country Galleria developments overlooks one critical fact. What about the traffic? The developers conducted a traffic impact analysis for each proposed site. Projected car trips per day in and out of the Hill Country Galleria are a minimum of 46,000, and 28,000-33,000 for the Shops. Combined, these developments will produce 80,000 additional car trips in the Bee Cave corridor. (In 2000, there were roughly 65,000 cars per day through this area.) None of these figures include all the new developments proposed down Hamilton Pool Road or farther west out Highway 71.
The developer claims he'll solve the problem by adding two additional lanes to Highway 71 and a four-lane bypass road between FM 2244 and RR 620. But the numbers just don't add up. The Village approved the traffic impact analysis for the Shops without even requiring the developer to update his old traffic study for the Galleria even though the new Galleria plan includes an additional 490,000 square feet of apartments/condos. Village of Bee Caves ordinances prohibit the board from approving any development that will create failing intersections (as calculated by wait time, number of cars stacked up per intersection, etc.). So why is the Village turning a blind eye to this legal requirement and not insisting that the developer supply new, comprehensive traffic calculations instead of rushing through these approvals? Probably because the combined projects will fail the test miserably.
This Saturday, the Village of Bee Cave residents will determine what the Village will look like in 2007. If they vote for the incumbents, we'll soon see elevated freeways (most likely toll roads) and sprawling parking lots with big-box USA. If they vote for new leadership, maybe they'll get a vibrant, unique, thoughtfully planned town center community that serves the real needs of local citizens.
Lake Pointe resident
Concerning the Nudge Micro Digital Film Festival story on page 60 of the May 7 Chronicle ["Momentum Requires Movement," Screens]:
Courtney Fitzgerald accuses Scott Von Doviak of making the feature In Flagrante in Steve Mims' 1998 class. I write to clear his name and take full responsibility for writing and directing said movie.
I don't know how this rumor got started, as Steve's press release and flier clearly name me as the culprit, and he swears up and down that when called and questioned about the Von Doviak attribution he set the caller straight and gave them my full name.
Thanks. I hope this clears things up.
To the editor,
Carl Anderson's advocacy of unfettered, no-tax capitalism (May 7) ["Postmarks"] sounds good, on paper. Fortunately, there's a reality check. If our system is so superior to the European one home to what Anderson characterizes "old" corporations such as Siemens you'd think Europeans would be beating down the gates to buy American-made goods. The results are just the opposite. In 2002, the last year for which data is available, the United States ran up a $93 billion merchandise trade deficit with the European Union.
Texas Needs an Income Tax
No pamphlet in American history has been more inflammatory than one written in 1776 by Thomas Paine. Titled Common Sense, it pointed out the hypocrisy of remaining loyal to the British crown and at the same time fighting British troops on the colonists' own soil. His argument was logical and compelling. The effect was dramatic. In a few months Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and a new nation was born.
Today Texas stands at its own crossroads. On the one hand it can be considered a great state. Webster's Dictionary defines "great" as "much higher in some quality or degree" and "much above the ordinary or average." Does Texas measure up to those standards? We can be proud of its glorious history, its ranching and agriculture that fed and continue to feed the nation, widespread manufacturing, booming high tech, and three flagship universities.
On the other hand, negative aspects damage the image of greatness: a state government that meets only 38% of its constitutional obligation to fund public education, leaving the remainder to be funded by school districts and counties through increasingly higher property taxes. Furthermore, the state depends on a regressive sales tax to provide 50% of its entire revenue.
Finally, in social services and the salaries of employees funded by tax dollars, we find Texas' standing in comparison to the other states to be embarrassingly low: 50th in the percentage of those without health care; 49th as the most desirable state in which to raise children, among the 10 worst in all factors relating to teenage pregnancy; 38th in high school dropout rate; 39th in funding per pupil in higher education; 38th in public school teachers' pay; 45th in funding for public libraries; and 45th in nursing home funding.
No Texan can be proud of these standings. Common sense tells us the state needs more revenue. How much longer do we boast of a balanced budget just to avoid a tax raise? Texas must adopt a progressive personal income tax, a deductible item on the federal tax return. Is there any alternative? When approved by the voters and enacted into law the income tax would provide the funds needed to finance public education and other purposes and relieve property owners of the high taxes they now pay.
Common sense tells us to adopt the state income tax to keep Texas from sliding to a lower level of respectability and accountability to its people.
E.V. Niemeyer Jr.
Great Nader Piece
You wrote a very well-written article on Nader's position in Texas ["Nader: Think Global, Act Texan," News, April 30]. Thanks for writing an honest piece that dealt with the issue. I've been keeping track of the campaign and I think you wrote one of the best articles on Nader so far. I hope you keep it up.
Chamy Will Be Missed
Dear Michael Chamy,
I want to thank you for all that you have done for adventurous independent music in Austin. During your tenure at the Chronicle as associate music editor, you consistently championed the burgeoning musical avant-garde in Austin. Your recognition and advocacy of grassroots cultural activity is one of the main reasons for the vitality of the current scene. Thank you.
Your departure comes at a bittersweet moment. Austin audiences have enjoyed some very significant adventurous music events in recent months (Brötzmann at the Parish, Marilyn Crispell and the New Music Coop's presentation of works of the New York School at Ballet Austin, and the emergence of the Church of the Friendly Ghost as the premier venue for radical and groundbreaking performance). This month also sees the closing of Thirty Three Degrees record store, one of the major institutions for the local adventurous music community. This is an amazing loss, whose effect will be felt immediately. For the last nine years Thirty Three Degrees has been a key component in the rise and good health of avant-garde music in Austin. Not only have they stocked an impressive collection of contemporary art music and independent rock, they have also served as a meeting place for the community.
Epistrophy Arts has had a crucial partnership with Thirty Three Degrees since its inception. In January of 1998, they hosted the first Epistrophy Arts concert with Joe McPhee, Arthur Doyle, Susie Ibarra, and Assif Tsahar. Later that year they hosted Epistrophy Arts concerts featuring Wadada Leo Smith and in July of '98 a historic concert by Sunny Murray and Sonny Simmons. These landmark events helped to pave the way for Epistrophy Arts' current success. We will really miss them.
If you've spent any time in Austin, you have certainly seen your share of closures of treasured institutions. Venues, film programs, restaurants, record stores, etc., have disappeared due to unavoidable pressures. Sometimes their demise is due to neglect. The loss of Thirty Three Degrees should serve as a reminder of the fragility of the local independent spirit. We should do everything we can to nurture this spirit by supporting local businesses and organizations that make Austin such a great place to live. We should, to quote a composition by the great Joe McPhee, "Give them their flowers while they're here."
Pedro G. Moreno
When is a governor not a governor?
When he's Rick Perry!
Initially, Perry insulted Texans with his plan to provide school financing via slots, sales tax, and sin taxes. He wants to max appraisals at 3% per year, which will result in manipulating the real estate market to show false lower appraisal values.
Then Perry derided House representatives when he bashed their efforts to put together a better financing package. Well, the governor wanted legislative consensus and he did get what he asked for. The House voted unanimously against Perry's inadequate plan 126-0. That's about as good a consensus as we've ever seen here in Texas.
Now the problem goes before the Senate, which generally has been a bit more reality-based than the governor and the House. Hopefully a plan will emerge that avoids increasing or adding regressive taxes that hurt hardworking Texans most. There are many alternate options available to fairly spread out the responsibility of financing schools among the wealthy, middle, and poor citizenry, and also the business sector needs to pay its fair share.
Finally, the only way to resolve the issue of school financing is to put aside partisan agendas and special interests, and for legislators to work together with the entire community of Texans so that intelligent and reality-based tax sources will be selected. It's time to work united to ensure a positive change.
I Miss America
I miss America. I know I'm naive but I miss feeling good about America's position in the world: having others envy our passion for truth, justice, and the hope that the pursuit of happiness will be rewarded. Others in the world could feel and see our compassion for those seeking the same goals.
Somehow our goals seem to have changed. Our government has changed from one that is of the people, for the people, and by the people to one of the greedy, for the greedy, and ruled by the greedy.
Surely we can do better.
Forget What the Article Actually Said, Here Are My Issues ...
There's Jordan Smith now acting the master of deception to the masses. She takes full advantage of the lack of legislation for subliminal messages in the media with her "APD's 'Magnificent 7'" article ["North Central Blues," News, May 7], where she introduces us with a spectacle of trash and filth in a neighborhood peopled with ... Mexicans! She slams the word "immigrants" over four times, and makes sure to flash a 90% Spanish-speakers figure, some poverty, then peppers it with a "lots of kids" insinuation; enter policeman James Hellums suggestion to write tickets as a deterrent. Why in heaven send seven toots with poop cake for brains to take care of poverty and ignorance with economic punishment, when the only thing they ever do is tickets ... or shootings?
This article is pure racism and pits an ethnic group against the regular cop. Mr. Black should apologize for leading the Chronicle down this path. Well, no, just forget my whining. Maybe dirty Christ was walking along with them, but got deported by la migra. Or maybe they felt confident under their Catholic faith, after all those limosnas they contribute to the church. Then these fools never cared to read about the Jews. By the way, Chief Knee has a degree in criminal justice, no?
Tailgaters Our Suicide Bombers
When I hear a politician today talk about giving American freedoms to other peoples, my gut reaction is, "Exactly which Americans are you talking about?" I spend 90 to 120 minutes a day driving my daughter to and from PISD and myself to a part-time job in downtown Austin. Out of the thousands of drivers I see each day, there are dozens, some days hundreds, of drivers who exercise their freedom to coerce others into driving in a reckless and dangerous manner. It is a rare leg of travel where I do not have a driver tailgate me at 55 mph and up, refusing to pass me, even when the left lane is clear. It is a daily occurrence to have a driver tailgate me even after I've changed lanes to get out of his way.
The "obedience to authority" experiments showed 60% of a representative sample of New Haven would torture and execute a stranger because of orders from a man in a white lab coat. Only 2% refused. Congress outlawed the experiment before anyone could find out what percentage would torture and kill for the hell of it. Given the behavior of drivers on I-35, I think it is way above 2%.
Tailgaters are America's "bizzaro world" equivalent to suicide bombers. Both are willing to kill innocent strangers for a cause. But unlike those who kill for God or country, American tailgating extortionists will kill for a few seconds in a day with 8,440 seconds, for a few feet in a journey of miles. The lack of any politician, pundit, or talk-show host condemning such behavior gives you an idea of how many ATEs are out there. No one wants to lose elections or rating points, even if it would save a dozen lives each year.
In Case You Were Wondering
If you liked the instrumental piece that was played at the end of the finale of Friends, it's "Embryonic Journey" by Jefferson Airplane. The guitarist is Jorma Kaukonen, and that same song appears on several Hot Tuna and Jorma albums.
Hold Congress Accountable
Both major political parties spend a lot of time these days pointing fingers at numerous elected officials and expect voters to support their special interests demanding various resignations. Recently it was the president under scrutiny. Lately, Rumsfeld has all eyes upon him. If we want to hold elected officials accountable for their actions, we should start with our Congress. These are the folks that brought the Iraq War into everyone's living room. Without sufficient factual documentation, members of Congress (both parties) approved to give the president what he asked for. The president received congressional blessings to do whatever he wanted "a la carte blanche." As history shows us, that was a big mistake.
It's not enough that Americans focus on one or two individuals for their unprofessionalism or inept administration. Congress needs to hold its members accountable for what has happened since the 9/11 tragedy. If anything, Americans would do well to demand that Congress censure its own members. Our Congress did not act professionally when they unanimously accepted President Bush's ultimatum to invade Iraq. Bush and company lobbied hard and pressured both parties to accept his terms. Congress approved the war without requesting the factual proof corroborating all that the administration cited against Iraq and the Hussein family. In addition, elected officials approved the president's terms against the advice of America's allies. The U.S. dramatically and irrationally went to war without a real game plan once the invasion and occupation were completed, and now it pays the steep price in lives and tax dollars for the rash approval given by an emotional and impatient Congress.
If the American people want accountability, they need to hold the president and our Congress equally responsible.
Against Proposition 1
Normally, a ballot item for collective bargaining for any group of employees denied this right is something I would support. But I'm convinced that collective bargaining for Austin firefighters is the wrong step now for providing appropriate city services.
If we were looking at collective bargaining for all city employees, I might support that. I believe the city should set an exemplary standard for pay, benefits, and rights to its employees. But at a time when our firefighters are the best paid in the state, and when employees at our libraries, parks, and other services go shorthanded and underpaid, we cannot afford to further unbalance our budget. Our priority now should be investing in other departments and staff that have been starved by recent budget cuts.
We have learned from the last several budgets that most fire truck responses involve calls that should go to smaller, better-equipped Emergency Medical Services crews. Instead of having two fire trucks in a firehouse we probably should have a fire truck and an EMS vehicle. This would mean first response for a heart attack victim would be EMS, and firefighters would be available to do what they do best. If the Firefighters Association were supporting this change, then I might be supporting their right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to get us there. But that hasn't happened yet, and recently they tried to abolish EMS altogether and make it part of the Fire Department.
All of us who live in Austin want the appropriate level of fire protection along with emergency medical services, libraries, parks, and the other things that make Austin a great city. To get there we need to vote against collective bargaining for firefighters this time so we can head down the right path for the future. Collective bargaining for firefighters in Austin today is not a good bargain for Austin taxpayers.
'In Flagrante' No. 2
While I appreciate the nice mention of my award-winning film In Flagrante in Courtney Fitzgerald's piece on Austin FilmWorks ["Momentum Requires Movement," Screens, May 7], I should point out in the interest of accuracy that it isn't actually my film at all. I merely reviewed the movie for Film Threat four years ago. If my review was accurate, the actual filmmaker is Tom Chamberlain.
Scott Von Doviak