The Austin Chronicle


July 23, 2004, Columns

Nothing to See Here

Letter to the editor of The Austin Chronicle, The Austin Police Department is very concerned with the article on July 16 titled "You Can't Have That!" [News]. The article contained inaccurate information, which according to the article, was provided to the Chronicle by unnamed sources. The Austin Police Department is unable to provide details of this case due to civil service laws that prohibit the department from discussing ongoing investigations.

Kevin Buchman

Austin Police Department

Public Information Manager

[News Editor Michael King responds: As of press time Wednesday, Mr. Buchman had not responded to our request to clarify his mysterious charge of inaccuracy. For the benefit of equally puzzled readers: The APD has refused to release normally public documents concerning two former officers' time and work records because it says those documents are now relevant to a subsequent criminal investigation. The city of Austin is defending that withholding of open records in court. Presumably, the documents contain information that may or may not confirm Buchman's charge of inaccuracy, but the APD will not further enlighten us – now claiming its hands are tied by unspecified civil service laws. Until the APD or the city is willing to identify the allegedly "inaccurate information," the Chronicle respectfully declines to issue a correction.]

Toll Roads Promote Sprawl, Spending

Dear Editor:

The Chronicle's limited interest in the proposed saddling of Travis County taxpayers with $2.2 billion in toll-road debt by an unelected toll road "authority" remains puzzling ["Divided CAMPO Says Yes to Toll Plan," News, July 16]. Your coverage has done little to dispel misinformation delivered by toll road proponents. Just two examples: The pro-toll road folks, including our esteemed mayor, want citizens to think we fell behind in road building and must "catch up," when we have been building roads faster than any other metropolitan area in the country except Tucson; these roads have only increased, not decreased, congestion, as will the toll roads if they are built.

Mayor Wynn and Chron reporter Clark-Madison have also made the absurd claim that the toll-road scheme is consistent with Envision Central Texas. The toll-road plan is based on sprawl-growth patterns and the traffic they generate continuing unchanged for the next several decades, while ECT's entire premise is based on changing our growth patterns to reduce sprawl and thereby save both tax dollars and our Hill Country watersheds. Guess which of these two futures will win if we bet $2.2 billion on the toll roads (only to be immediately followed by another few billion in Real Estate Council demands to expand roads to serve traffic trying to avoid the toll roads).

There are related issues worth writing and talking about. Perhaps we could imagine actually fulfilling the ECT vision and saving billions of dollars – dollars that could protect our water, provide health care, improve education, and deliver centrally located affordable housing that doesn't require 50-mile-per-day commutes. Or perhaps ask why Gov. Perry and the toll-road warriors want to lock us into tens of billions of 30- to 40-year road bonds based on the assumption that people will continue driving more and more just when global oil production is about to peak. Some people are even asking the question why we are spending $1 billion per week to fight for oil in Iraq.

Best regards,

Bill Bunch

Save Our Springs Alliance

Cap Metro Railroading

Dear Editor,

I was excited about the prospect of providing my input to Cap Metro for Austin's future transit plan at the June 22 workshop. However, as the workshop progressed, I felt we were being railroaded – literally.

At the workshop, large maps with colored rail and bus lines were provided. Upon learning that our exercise was to simply identify preferred train/bus station locations and routes using color dots and tape, I immediately became puzzled at our task. If Cap Metro had already planned routes and transit modes, what were we envisioning?

The Cap Metro presentation reinforced my concern. It was a one-sided slideshow touting the benefits and advantages of rail, with an overview of alternative bus transit types. That's it; there was no consideration or explanation of other types of transit systems, like HOV lanes, monorail, or road improvements.

Members at my workshop table were also upset over visioning constraints. We dismissed rail since proposed routes had no ridership justification. We instead promoted establishment of more circulatory bus routes in outlying areas that intersected transit hubs, like park 'n' rides, providing direct access to express bus services to Central Austin destinations.

It is unwarranted to spend millions of tax dollars on railways that only benefit folks in vicinity just so Cap Metro can leverage existing rail assets. First prove the transit ridership along rail corridors with bus technology before considering "off-road" transit solutions.

It wasn't surprising at meeting's close when each table, except ours, basically parroted the premapped railways as drawn by Cap Metro with slight modification as their long-term vision – what a joke!

If the other six workshops had similar results, then Cap Metro succeeded in getting a community "rubber stamp" of their rail plan. This wasn't envisioning – only child's play of placing color dots on colored lines.

Steve Gonzales

Thanks to CAMPO

Dear Editor,

I would like to express my appreciation to the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board for their decision to include the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority toll projects in the CAMPO 2030 Plan and the Transportation Improvement Program ["Divided CAMPO Says Yes to Toll Plan," News, July 16].

This was neither an easy nor popular decision, but it was the right one. The toll-road plan is the most effective tool we have to combat the congestion that plagues our region, and the CAMPO board made the best of an improbable situation. CAMPO leaders will have time to perfect the plan as we progress, and the public will have opportunities to address specific concerns during the implementation process, but CAMPO's commitment allows our region to remain eligible for its share of the Texas Mobility Fund. Without this action, Central Texans would have languished in congestion for decades before traditional funding could catch up to our transportation needs.

I commend the CAMPO board members who voted to approve this plan for their willingness to make an unpopular decision for the greater public good.

Bruce Byron

Executive Director

Capital Area Transportation Coalition

Toll Plan an Attack on Austin Taxpayers

Dear Editor,

The proposed toll-road plan was not really a plan, but more like an attack ["Divided CAMPO Says Yes to Toll Plan," News, July 16]. But not all roads are appropriate to become toll roads. Case in point, the overpass over William Cannon solves a problem for the William Cannon drivers, not just the people driving MoPac. Case in point, the SH 45 extension to 1626 will require additional lanes to provide tolling over environmentally sensitive lands. And Austin voters voted for bonds to pay for this. Furthermore, it is all about Gov. Perry's promise not to raise taxes. Hello? A toll is a tax. We were told that in order to pay for roads with a gas tax, it would cost $3 per gallon. In fact, it would not cost anywhere near that much. Some analysts have said that 15 cents per gallon would do it.

Since the Hays and Williamson county reps are so eager to put tolls on Austin roads, I will state that I am OK with putting tollgates at the borders into Austin from those border towns and counties.

The promotional Web site said "a toll of approximately 12 cents per mile," but now the Web site says for Highway 290 west of RM 1826 to east of Williamson Creek, "$1.00 for the main lane and $.25 for the ramp." So if you drive this just twice daily it will cost you $50 a month. That is approximately what my personal gasoline bill is monthly. So, many of us will not be able to afford the road. Of course those who drive gas-guzzlers won't have to pay more. We would not want to discourage them.

It will not solve the problem of gridlock in the inner city. Wasn't this supposed to be about "mobility"?

Cliff Anderson

Treasurer Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods

Don't Do Tombstone Any Favors

Dear Editor,

Get your facts straight before you review a CD next time; it's obvious Darcie [Stevens] did not ["Texas Platters," Music, July 16]. I am from Atlanta, Ga., not San Antonio. And the overproduced record was made for $500. I guess some people really can be fooled by a good engineer. Next time don't do us any more favors. Too bad this CD was in the top 10 on XM Satellite Radio for six weeks straight. Just had to say my peace.

Stevie Tombstone

Our Apologies to Grok Books/BookPeople Founder and Former Owner Philip Sansone

Dear Editor,

Contrary to revisionist history, the founder/owner of BookPeople, as well as Grok Books before it, was – is – Philip Sansone ["News/Print," Arts, July 9].

Craig Axelrod

Dripping Springs

Restaurant Review Misses Charm, Quality

Dear Editor,

Regarding your recent review of Thai Tara ["The Assimilated Appetite," Food, June 25], I felt it failed to represent the charm and quality of the restaurant. It is certainly among the best Thai restaurants in town. The Tom Ka is fabulous, and the dishes are all based on Yupa's own home-cooked recipes. I have quite an appetite for spicy food and have always met my match by simply asking for it to be spicy. You can also always request a spice tray. Finally, the atmosphere is great, with several nooks and crannies away from the TVs, not to mention the pleasant outdoor patio. I highly recommend it.

Daniel Yoder

Mistake to Fire Radio Deejays

Dear Editor,

By the time Emmis realizes how many listeners they've lost in Austin, by their rash and heartless move of firing favorite deejay personalities during a ratings swing that actually wasn't even there, it will be too late for them to repair the damage ["The Emmis Shoe Falls at KLBJ," News, July 16].

Too bad they had to hurt people during their quest for higher profits that will probably actually result in lower ones. It has certainly resulted in a great personal distaste for them as a company. And I know I'm not alone.

Robert Stuckey

Local Economy Could Use Skatepark

Dear Editor,

Just wanted to say thanks to the Chron for bringing to light the ongoing issue of the plight of skateboarders in Austin ["House Park Skateboarders Roll for Action," News, July 16].

It's amazing to me that the most progressive city in the state still lacks a permanent concrete skate park. We have funds. We have supposed support from the city manager, the mayor, and the Parks and Recreation Department, and yet we still have no park or actual plan for getting one built. Meanwhile the skaters of Austin are run off or out of most every place they try to skate. It's tiring waiting for something you've been promised for years that everyone agrees is a good idea but no one with any power to fix will actually do anything about. Skateboarding is a multibillion dollar a year industry. Seems like if Austin was really interested in courting more of that business they'd build facilities to support it. I guess that's not as interesting as building empty buildings and engineering tax breaks for silicone pirates.

Bosco Farr

Problem With Texas Human Services Agencies Is Inadequate Funding

Dear Editor,

The governor's call to investigate CPS for their mishandling of several cases with horrific consequences is less about identifying and correcting the problems and more about giving the appearance of doing something ["Perry Calls for CPS Probe," News, July 9]. We have seen this pattern all too often in our leaders. Undoubtedly they will find some breakdown in procedure, blame staff, and propose new rules. They will make a big deal about more funding, but any increase will quickly disappear as focus turns to some new crisis. Little to nothing will be done to address the underlying issues, such as low wages, ever-increasing case loads, high turnover, and never-ending pressure to close cases when budgets are stressed.

Problems at CPS and other essential Human Services agencies have been around for years. In 2002 my niece was nearing the end of a one-year program for abused and neglected children. All indications were that CPS was going to have her placed in foster care. This suddenly changed and she was sent back home. CPS was $20 million over budget. My niece died within six months of going home from a kidney infection treated too late.

How can the governor with a straight face say that he will address the problems of Child Protective Services, CHIPS, school funding, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and the myriad of other inadequately funded programs while at the same time calling for a 5% cut in all programs to buy voters via a tax break? It disgusts me.

Frank Feuerbacher

Greed Hasn't Won on Mueller Deal – Yet

Dear Editor,

The 7-0 council vote to sell the developer our former Mueller airport site doesn't quite yet mean "greed won," which we had concluded and the Chronicle quoted, June 18 ["Mueller in the Middle," News] – from our never-printed letter to its editor ["Postmarks Online," April 16]. Citizen input did clear up why, in contrast to varied reasons given for leasing (more revenue, more land-use control), the argument for selling was always "to move ahead" on the master plan: The developer, Catellus, revealed that nothing but selling Mueller to the developer was ever considered during the years Catellus has been exclusively negotiating with the city staff.

The big hurdle remaining for Catellus and friends is how to get around the Texas Local Government Code that stipulates a government entity, whether selling land or leasing it, must get fair market value. That's so there is never money from land due the city that goes instead into preferred pockets, in this case the pockets of all buyers and sellers of Mueller land, including Catellus stockholders. That could happen if an indifferent City Council lets city staff and developer have the city paying, after the sale, for improvements which, if it paid them before the sale, add to the land's fair market value that the city as the landowner would collect.

Something is wrong already. The staff showed that after selling Mueller, an incredibly valuable piece of real estate, the city will owe money! After paying new landowner Catellus' infrastructure expenses?

Watch whether the council allows negotiations to bypass the fair-market-value law and place a huge dent in the city's finances. If somehow found legal, it would make the usual business subsidies the council is fond of making ["Austin@Large," News, July 2] look like chicken feed.

So tax-burdened Austinites can't say quite yet that greed has won.

Mary Lehmann

[email protected]

Majority of Americans Apathetic

Dear Editor,

Louis Black indicated in last week's editorial that despite the problems associated with the 2000 presidential election the "system" still works ["Page Two," July 9]. The lack of large-scale unrest and other Third World shenanigans proves the fact that the "system" is basically OK. Perhaps another way to look at the situation is that the majority of Americans are too apathetic and ignorant to cause much of a stir. The hypnotic drone of the corporate media lulls us into complacency so that the perversion of our fundamental principles goes largely unnoticed. The football season starts on time, shiny new cars dot the highway, so all must be hunky-dory. Given the fact that our elected leader was chosen by one Supreme Court vote, perhaps a bit more unrest would have been appropriate.

Come to think of it, Louis might be right; the "system" works fine. Just ask George W. and the gang.

Sincerely, David Kendall

Correcting Myopic Assertions

Dear Editor,

Like Alan Moe Monserrat, I would not claim to be an expert on Arab culture ["Postmarks," July 2]. However, as a member of the Arab Students Association dance troupe and as a graduate student researching in Morocco, I, too, have some experience with Arab culture. Mine compels me to correct several aspects of Monserrat's letter.

First, he treats Arab and Muslim as synonymous. They are not. The Arab League is united by language, not religion. There are significant non-Muslim Arab communities – indeed, according to Zogby's 2000 census data, only 23% of Arab-Americans identify as Muslim. Of the 10 countries with the largest Muslim populations, only one (Egypt) is an Arab League country.

Secondly, he asserts that the Islamic religious beliefs and moral values are inherently in opposition to the American lifestyle and moral values. I can only guess at what he means by this, but it must be news to the millions of American Muslims who daily reconcile the two. If he means that Muslims must be opposed to freedom of speech and women's rights, then he needs to explain why Arab scholars would authorize a report for the United Nations calling for improvements in exactly those areas.

Most disturbing to me, he asserts that Muslims will never accept Jews. In fact, Islam holds both Jews and Christians in special esteem as People of the Book, and Muslim-ruled lands were sanctuaries for Jews during the Middle Ages when they were persecuted in Christian Europe. My personal experience in both the U.S. and Morocco testifies that this openness is not consigned to the dustbins of history but is a present day reality for the many Muslims and Jews who get along just fine.

Miriam Robinson Gould

Bicyclists: Rights & Responsibilities

Dear bicyclists of Austin,

Just because you live in the city where Lance Armstrong has been deified does not give you the right to forgo basic bicycling etiquette. Granted, Austin is not exactly a bike-friendly town (I have had my share of near hits with inconsiderate automobile drivers), but if you expect any kind of support for the "Share the Road With Bicyclists" movement, it would be wise to stop alienating all of your pedestrian friends.

First of all, my pedaling friends, it is called a sidewalk. That means that you should be maneuvering yourself around people who are walking. It does not mean that we should have to leap out of the way as you scream, "Watch where you are going!" I realize that the street is not always suitable for bicyclists, but should you find yourself using the sidewalk, note that you are a guest and act accordingly.

Most of us are aware of the wonderful natural exercise park that is Town Lake. It is a fantastic resource for everyone in Austin, including bicyclists, joggers, and dog owners. I am not asking that the bicyclists refrain from using the park. However, I request that when you whiz by at supersonic speeds that you merely mumble, "On your left," or employ a standard bicycle bell which will let me know that you are coming by close enough to move my arm hairs. This way, I will not move suddenly and risk life and limb (most likely my own) because I did not look over my shoulder in time to see you. Also, those who have dogs can make sure they keep the leash taut in order to avoid disaster.

As you can see, it is not your competence as a bicyclist that I am protesting. I am more than happy to share space and even defend your right to ride in the street among the SUVs and Harleys. All I ask is that you share the road and look out for your slower and much more vulnerable pedestrian friends, making Austin a safe place for bicyclists and the rest of us.


Erika Kleinman

Stop Acts of Animal Cruelty

Dear Editor,

I would like to inform the public that a horrendous act of animal cruelty is happening on the upper decks of I-35. It is apparent that kittens are being thrown from vehicles in areas of the interstate where there is no route of escape. According to Animal Trustees of Austin, four kittens have been rescued by heroic citizens that have risked their lives to save the poor, disoriented creatures. At this time, Animal Trustees of Austin is offering a reward of $3,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. Please report any similar suspicious behavior to APD's animal cruelty hotline at 911. People that commit cruel acts such as these are dangerous!

Thanks for your consideration,

Michelle Sefcik

Reviewers Should Get to the Point

Dear Editor,

Are you reviewers nuts!? Why do they not write well?

Each tries to outdo the other in new metaphors, and I think they are silly.

Being erudite is wasted when you can't get your damn point across.

Please ask you reviewers to stop writing like overeducated shitheads, and get to the damn point of "what this movie is about" and "why I liked it, or not."

How hard is that?

They make me laugh at how bizarre and nonsensical they actually are.

I am sure I got my point across. Why can't they? Do you pay them per word?

You should fire the lot of them, and get a "wo/man in the street" opinion or two – or three.

Eric Neumann

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