Our readers talk back.
Slusher's Reasons for Voting 'No' on Toll Plan
Mike Clark-Madison recently maintained that my only stated reason for voting against the toll road plan was that I needed more time to make up my mind ["Austin@Large," News, July 23]. He said this was confusing to him. I appreciate Clark-Madison's willingness to take a controversial position, but there are several ways he could have helped his confusion: reading another article in the same Chronicle ["Road Foes Down, but Not Out," News, July 23]; listening to my remarks before the vote; or reading my statement released the day after the vote.
My point regarding time was that an issue of such magnitude needs lengthier and much more careful deliberation than this one got. The CAMPO board and public had three months to consider a $2.2 billion plan that tolls virtually every highway in the region except I-35. A mad rush to approval is after all a boondoggle indicator.
The vote gave unprecedented power and money to an unelected body, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which in my view has not shown signs of adequate accountability or financial safeguards. For example, on the night of the vote no CTRMA official could, or would, answer whether the RMA has authority or plans to condemn part of Zilker Park (the plan calls for new toll express lanes on MoPac from William Cannon to downtown).
I also cited massive road expansions over the Edwards Aquifer (though Clark-Madison claimed I didn't). Those include designation of Loop 360 as an eight-lane toll road, potential doubling in size of SH 45 further south, and the previously mentioned MoPac toll lanes all over the fragile recharge zone. One result is years of construction resulting in flyovers near beautiful and fragile Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
I have for years opposed such expansions on environmental grounds and because they are contrary to long-expressed community values. Now, neighbors who would use them the most (especially along 360) are saying en masse that they don't want them either. So why are we building them? As I said at the meeting, I am willing to take a few more minutes driving in order to protect these natural treasures.
Anyone interested in more reasons for my vote please see www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/ds_toll_roads.htm.
Austin City Council
Consensus? What Consensus?
Having substituted character assassination and bizarre fantasy for rational reporting on the proposed $2.2 billion toll road scheme, Mike Clark-Madison now seeks to backtrack and insist that his views really are reasonable, well-informed, and "reflect public consensus" ["Austin@Large," News, July 30]. Instead, he repeats key false claims while ignoring reality.
When our elected transportation officials receive an unprecedented 6,000 public comments against the toll scheme and fewer than 600 in favor, and that was only before the vote, one has to ask of what public consensus Clark-Madison speaks?
He claims the toll scheme favors local control, comparing the unelected but local toll road authority to the unelected state transportation commission. That's a false comparison; the real comparison is to the mostly elected and local CAMPO board itself. Unless reversed within the very near future before the unelected CTRMA makes financial commitments the CAMPO vote will stand as only the first wholesale and irreversible giveaway of voter control over local roadways and transportation dollars.
The biggest whopper is that the toll scheme is consistent with Envision Central Texas. The CAMPO 2025 plan which the $2-billion-plus debt-financed toll scheme would accelerate is based entirely on passed sprawl growth trends. The whole premise of ECT was to change how we grow, especially over the Edwards Aquifer.
Last week Clark-Madison even tried to suggest that the toll scheme was good for Barton Springs, noting CAMPO's amendment calling for "water quality controls on South MoPac." He didn't bother to mention that CAMPO gave all of South MoPac over to CTRMA's control, not just the William Cannon bridge, without any public notice or public hearing. Or that five of the first nine and more than $700 million in expanded concrete would be located in the Barton Springs Watershed all justified by and intended to serve future growth that ECT and the larger public have said we don't want. If this happens, it will only increase, not decrease, congestion on MoPac and on the still undisclosed MoPac-to-downtown freeway. That's in addition to killing the springs.
Thankfully, there are plenty of motivated people from across the region who aren't willing to sacrifice Barton Springs and our local control to bullying from Mike Krusee and Gov. Perry.
Save Our Springs Alliance
Big Thanks for Arts Coverage
I wish I could rent a page in your paper or rent a billboard to thank you! for the recent articles regarding visual arts in Austin ["The Art of the Business of Art," Visual Arts, July 30]. One must smile or happily cry reading such articles that have an incredible impact on all of us here in Austin. It shows your support of the visual arts and it encourages the makers, sellers, and buyers of art to see the light and optimism in the future of our city. Thank you again.
Give Nader a Chance
Thanks for Michael King's excellent piece on Ralph Nader's legal battle to get on the treacherous Texas ballot ["Nader Raiders Target Texas Ballot," News, July 30]. Correction: Mr. Nader filed 84,000 signatures (not 40,000).
I want to respond to Texas Democratic Party official Mike Lavigne, who was quoted saying, "Ralph Nader has become nothing more than a shill for the Republicans."
Independents across the country began our participation in this election by offering support to any of the Democratic primary candidates if they would address our concerns to minimize special interest influence on the policy-making process. In particular, Howard Dean began to reach out to independents. However, the Democratic "regulars" put the stop to the Dean movement. Enter American hero Ralph Nader. Now these same Democrats seek to destroy Mr. Nader's campaign, and with it, the independent movement for political reform.
In a letter to Terry McAuliffe, Independent activist of New York Jackie Salit recently wrote, "Independents are very familiar with the political tricks used against us whenever we step out of the box. In this instance, the Democratic Party with your full throated endorsement is conspiring to remove Nader from the ballot wherever possible, an obstruction of democracy that is unprecedented in a presidential election. When that obstruction is resisted including by Republicans your response is to tar and feather Nader and the independent movement with the charge that we have capitulated to right-wing corporate power. Rarely have I seen such a vivid example of the pot calling the kettle black."
Mr. Nader has put his legacy on the line by daring to run in this election. He is giving us the 35% independent plurality a chance to hear a sincere opposition viewpoint in this election as the only anti-war, anti-special-interest candidate. The courts will decide whether he will be on the Texas ballot. Let's not let the parties decide who will be heard. Sign the petition at
[Michael King responds: As I should have made clear, the 40,000 signatures cited by Nader campaign spokeswoman Debbie Russell referred to those submitted on Nader's behalf by Republican consultants in Michigan Nader's own petitioners submitted approximately 5,400 of the 30,000 needed in that state. As stipulated by both parties in federal court last week, Nader's Texas campaign submitted somewhat fewer than the 64,076 valid signatures required for ballot access in Texas.
As Linda Curtis well knows, describing Jackie Salit as an "Independent activist" is rather like describing Rush Limbaugh as a "professional journalist." Salit is the spokeswoman for something called the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, the latest front-group of New York psychological huckster Fred Newman and his cultlike "social therapy" movement. That Nader's campaign is now relying heavily on GOP petitioners and repackaged Newmanites for core support does not speak well either for Nader or his campaign.]
The Name Remains the Same
To whom it may concern,
In Amy Smith's July 30 piece, "And They're Off!" [News], it was incorrectly reported that our organization's name, SafePlace, had been changed to the Kelly White Family Shelter. SafePlace as an agency was not renamed; however, one of the buildings was dedicated to Kelly White in recognition of her many years of service with our organization.
In addition to operating [The Kelly White] emergency shelter for adults and children who are escaping domestic violence, SafePlace also provides the community with a 24-hour crisis hotline, counseling for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, hospital support for rape survivors, transitional housing, legal advocacy, outreach programs in local schools, and several prevention initiatives. Persons who want more information about SafePlace and how to access our services can call 267-SAFE or visit the Web site at www.austin-safeplace.org.
Public relations manager
[News Editor Michael King responds: We thank Erin Smith for the clarification.]
Defending Environment Not Easy
What is going on in Texas government where developers are out of control in their disdain for the environment and our government agencies appear to hold this issue in the same contempt? The story is still out on Lick Creek a truly beautiful spot still being polluted on a regular basis and now ... Garlic Creek.
Why is it necessary for SOS and groups such as the Guardians of Lick Creek to sue in order to save our areas and/or garner attention? Wish I knew. In the meantime, the Guardians will continue to raise "hell."
We appreciate the Chronicle and Amy Smith's efforts on behalf of western Travis County ["Naked City," News, July 30] and we wish SOS the best of luck regarding Garlic Creek as we watch the TCEQ, as well as other agencies, continue to ignore the environmental quality of our land.
'Dope' No Hippie Hysteria
As a charter member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, let me say that without "The Straight Dope" I don't know if there remains sufficient reason to read your rag. Sure the "hate Bush" letters are amusing, and the howling and squealing after each election is good for a few laughs, but lately even the anti-war idiots are sounding a little lame. Come on people! I enjoy reading the wisdom of 19-year-old JC students. I like being lectured by college professors who can't make it in the real world. And of course, I love the rants of the hippies and homosexuals. But I fear that over time the same old tripe and hysteria bores. Can we have some variety? Or better yet, can you bring my "Dope" back.
Retire Lance's BOA Jersey
My friend and I moved here to Austin recently from Lincoln, Neb. I know, it's as bad as it sounds, it's Nebraska ... meh. So we were looking over the ol' Best of AusChron, all the way back to 1993 (I think). We were wondering if you could not name Lance Armstrong "Best Local Athlete" for the 2004 year. Not shooting Lance down, god no! The man has won six freakin' Tour de France titles ... in a row! Instead you should rename it the "Lance Armstrong Award." I mean come on, it's not even fair naming him the best local athlete every year. The only person that could even knock him off is the religious figure Jesus Christ.
Sidewalks Are for Walking
As an urban pedestrian and cyclist, I heartily endorse Erika Kleinman's exhortation to cyclists to respect pedestrians and refrain from terrorizing them, even accidentally ["Postmarks," July 23]. I'm afraid, though, that cyclists who are rude to pedestrians are just taking their cue from the rest of society.
As Ms. Kleinman points out, the sidewalk is for walking. Trucks (including city trucks) should not be parked on sidewalks, nor should cars, motorcycles, or bulldozers. Street signs (usually saying "road work ahead") should not be stored on sidewalks or in bike lanes. Garbage cans and brush should not block sidewalks. Foliage should be trimmed so as not to block the walkway. Businesses should not block sidewalks for "sidewalk sales." City signs reading "sidewalk closed use other side" are a cruel joke, as the street is seldom easy to cross and there is seldom a usable walkway on the other side. Motorists should slow down and drive courteously near pedestrians. Motorists should not shout, honk horns, or blast car alarms at pedestrians. Motor vehicles should not park at stop signs.
Where there is no sidewalk, city law and common courtesy mandate that the pedestrian right-of-way not be obstructed by parked cars and trucks, garbage cans, brush, landscaping, and fences. Flowers are nice, but not if one must risk one's life to admire them.
These laws are not enforced, and are routinely broken and stomped upon by motorists, contractors, business owners, and homeowners. Most of these folks are perfectly nice people, as are most rude cyclists. They're just not aware of what they are doing to pedestrians.
If Austin could become aware of how it treats pedestrians, this could become a truly great city.
Supporting Slaid's Stand
Regarding letter-writer Ann-Marie Madden's characterization of Slaid Cleaves as having a "prima donna meltdown" because, gasp, he didn't want to perform a concert while TVs were on ["Postmarks," July 30]: To paraphrase Ms. Madden, what part of the term "music venue" do you not understand? (Or concert, or listen, or song?) What does it say about our culture that the TVs (plural, no less) are always on at a music venue? (Rhetorical question, unfortunately.) I applaud Slaid for his music and for taking a stand.
Time for Turnover at City Hall
Well, time has come, campers, to toss the old and get someone new in City Hall. We need to find candidates that are more concerned with the quality of life for the residents than they are concerned about the tax revenues businesses can generate. We need to change direction, stop the move toward big-city urban sprawl, and retain what we have here while we still have it. We don't need more roads, more apartments, more office buildings, more construction to make Austin "a better place." We need less of all those things, and we can keep what's left of this town if we get new people to run the place. Time for some real candidates, from whatever party, to step forward and put the brakes on this relentless drive to commercialize Austin.
Carl T. Swanson
Vote on Paper
Please recommend to your readers that they request an absentee ballot for the presidential vote Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004. You must apply by Sept. 3. It is the only way they can have a paper record of their vote. Web page: www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/bymail.asp.
Austin at Risk
After returning to my hometown of Austin after a 12-year absence, I am sad to see how many things this city has lost. Apparently, elected officials who listen to the general public and keep our environment pristine are long gone. The CAMPO board recently demonstrated this in its backward handling of the toll road situation ["Austin@Large," News, July 30]. The board rushed their ill-thought plan through before they even attempted to synchronize traffic lights in this city. The truth is that the funding would not have been lost if a better, revamped plan was presented a few weeks down the road. There was time for this board to take a serious look at all the issues and find an equitable solution that most Austinites supported. Most of them were just too unconcerned about public sentiment to take the time to find a better alternative.
These roads aren't aimed at traffic improvement; they are a revenue-generating scheme that poses a threat to the aquifer and to Zilker Park. I am appalled that our mayor and many of our elected officials would put the generation of income before the concerns and desires of their constituents. It is a tragedy that Austin's environment and landmarks are at risk.
Why, Ricky, Why?
Someone once told me that "God does not give us gifts he doesn't want us to use." As of today, one of the most gifted running backs I have ever seen is no longer playing football. Perhaps I could be more subjective if I wasn't a lifelong Dolphins fan whose season just got flushed down the drain.
I feel deflated and angry and wanting to know why.
Why are you doing this?
Why didn't you tell the team earlier?
What about the fans? What about me?
The truth is, he doesn't owe me anything. When asked how he felt, he said, "I'm finally free. I can't remember ever being this happy!"
He's right you know; my mother tells me the same thing, "Do what makes you happy, David." That's what Ricky is doing. He's making himself happy, and it's getting everybody upset. Oh, people have tried to convince him to stay. His coach, the press, the fans, all pleading how can you leave us?
Well he's leaving to be happy, to live his life! The more I thought about it the more I understood:
His coach is paid to win, not to give a young man advice.
Reporters get paid to sell newspapers, not to be your friend.
Fans must realize even though your team's winning makes you happy, it's not a player's job to make you feel good. Ricky Williams just decided to walk away, away from millions of dollars, away from people who idolize him only as an athlete, to pursue his sense of self-worth and to find out what makes him happy as a person.
He leaves us again to ask why? Maybe he's just different? Or maybe the gifts God gave him don't show up on a football field.
White Plains, N.Y.
The 9/11 Commission report is out. The commission unanimously said we need action now to correct our government's failures in intelligence, administration, and communication. So what happens? The president goes on vacation, Congress adjourns to campaign, and no action is taken.
Almost three years after the twin towers tragedy, we have a government so mired in the petty politics of name-calling that they prefer to jeopardize the security of the United States to solving problems.
This administration has shown its disdain and contempt for the American people through its policies from the inauguration to now. It has pursued policies based not on the public good but on the private gain.
The majority of working families have lost income, if not jobs, during the past few years. They have lost medical benefits and will lose even more in the coming months. Every so-called improvement in the economy has been for those earning sums that most of us have difficulty even imagining.
This administration has used the fear of terrorism to coerce Congress and the people of this country to back policies that are gradually eroding the protections of our Constitution and changing our democracy to something very close to a plutocracy.
Unless we take control of our executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government by voting, by writing, by phoning, by e-mailing, by communicating to our representatives our wishes, democracy may become a system of government studied in history books and a word in a dictionary.
Road Plan Won't Solve Gridlock Problem
How will the passing of toll roads help solve the gridlock ["Austin@Large," News, July 30]? As I drive in from Southwest Austin the choice of roads will still be the same, I can go 290 to MoPac or come in Highway 45/MoPac ... and still face back-up on MoPac. I don't see any new roads planned leading into downtown from out here. I'll be paying a toll to continue to sit in traffic on MoPac. Can anyone please explain it all to me?
Tolls Without Booths?
From what I've heard so far, the toll roads might not even have booths they will sell yearly "passes" in the form of electronic gadgets that are attached to your car, which will be detected when you get on the road.
So, this pretty much means that it will mainly be Austinites who are going to be paying for the roads again. What about visitors to the city? What if there is a wreck on the access road? No one will be able to take the toll road because they don't have the pass.
Someone tell me this isn't true.
Keel Should Back Up Assertion
I have been waiting for someone else to bring up this subject, but so far I have not seen a comment. According to reports from the CAMPO meeting, Rep. Kerry Keel essentially called Austin District Engineer Daigh and the three members of the Texas Transportation Committee liars when he blurted that he thinks the TxDOT funding shortage is greatly exaggerated.
If he sincerely believes this assertion, Rep. Keel should call for a thorough and complete audit of TxDOT activities in order to discover where the highway funds have gone. If he was just posturing, he owes all of the citizens of Texas an apology for his offhanded remark.
Restore U.S. Freedoms
The following observations should be obvious, but apparently they have been forgotten.
Always question any information (including this). Where did it come from? Who said it? Why did they say it? What could be the hidden or second agenda?
When did serving any government instead of the government serving the citizens become mandatory?
This country was founded on the premise that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. Remember those days?
Giving up our personal and civil rights in the name of "security" is just another way for the government to control your life and choices. Letting this "Chicken Little" mentality rule our lives is a tragic state of fear.
The government is not in the truth business. Manipulation, cover-up, and outright lies are the way it's done these days.
The enforcement of any law should never depend on race, age, where someone might live, or any other form of legalized discrimination.
It should be clear that no government can legislate or enforce common sense or morality. The tighter the leash, the more we will defy and rebel against it.
The corruption in our government has never been greater. Daily we find the payoffs, influence peddling, unbelievable waste, and tax fraud.
Any public official who violates the law, or the spirit of those laws, should be removed from office and brought before the courts for prosecution and jailed. No probation, parole, or any other form of avoiding taking responsibility for their crimes.
Any corporate or company official that is found guilty of embezzlement, "cooking the books," or in any way stealing from stockholders or employees should serve a mandatory prison term and forfeit all personal holdings acquired while employed for that company.
Regardless how strongly anyone feels about their religion, you have no right to force those opinions on anyone else. Freedom of religion is why America was started and why there is supposed to be a separation of church and state.
If we do not take the power of the people to the ballot box, we have no power. Choosing not to be involved is how America has fallen so far from our ideals.
It is time to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. Get involved, stay informed, and take action to restore America to the United States of freedom and liberty we were born from. Your vote does matter. Take advantage of your rights while we still have some.