Our readers talk back.
Could Have Done MoreDear Editor,
I used to be a regular at G/M Steakhouse for my morning paper, coffee, conversation, and cigar ["Food-o-File," Food, Dec. 30]. The regulars included people coming for more than 20 years.
G/M was renowned as a smoker's diner. The owner was infamous for always having a cigar in his mouth. Nonsmokers could walk 50 feet to Waterloo for a smoke-free breakfast.
When smoking was banned, I and many others stopped going as often and found other places with outside patios for our morning rituals. Nonsmoking customers did not increase to offset the loss of the smokers.
G/M has been driven out of business because it wasn't allowed to let consenting adults enjoy a legal product.
Certainly we all agree that no one should be exposed to smoke against their will, but what about the freedom of people who enjoy a smoke-friendly environment? What about a business that depends on that clientele?
The Chronicle could have done more to help educate the public about the unintended consequences of indiscriminate smoking bans and perhaps have saved a small mom-and-pop diner icon from political correctness.
Paul Silver[Virginia B. Wood responds: Paul Silver's explanation of the failure of G/M Steakhouse is as one-dimensional and flawed as the one proposed by the young man who placed the blame at the feet of a greedy land owner. A variety of factors contributed to the demise of that business.]
Baby Has Six Fingers?Dear Editor,
The baby on the cover has six fingers [Dec. 30]. Is this a graphics issue, or does the child really have extra digits?
Not Sumner, Me, Me, MeDear Editor,
Hi, Austin, my name is Kiloh, and I manage the Texas Psych Google group: www.groups.google.com/group/Texas-P. I read with bemusement your article, by Margaret Moser, on Sumner Erickson ["Starry Eyes," Music, Dec. 30].
The first inaccuracy in the Sumner article is that we are doing something "illegal" by trading CDs among ourselves for free. This activity is protected under federal law, specifically the Federal Audio Home Recording Act (3).
The second inaccuracy in the Sumner article is that the Roky Trust has always been against this activity. Ms. Moser knows that this trading was set up as far back as 1999 with the help of the Roky Trust. This was when Rick Triplett was running things and Roky was living in abject poverty. We arranged to collect a "donation" for each disc traded and forward it to Mr. Triplett for distribution to Roky in the form of pocket money. People that now sit on the current Roky "Trust" were engaged in a lawsuit with the (then) Roky Trust, and all monies were being tied up in escrow. We had to call it a "donation" to get the money to Roky. That certain people now sit on the Roky Trust in positions of "Trust" galls us and we maintain that the Trust relinquished the right to legitimacy by putting these people on it.
The third inaccuracy presented by Ms. Moser in the Sumner article was that Sumner Erickson "tried" to mend fences with us. This event just happened and the "story" presented by Ms. Moser is wholly untrue as she well knows. It was our group who tried to mend fences with Sumner. We contacted Sumner and opened a dialogue with him. Alas, after a series of increasingly obtuse and bizarre e-mails from him we decided to cut him loose.
Phoenix, Ariz.[Margaret Moser replies: 1) Sumner used the word "illegal." I did not. 2) Kiloh, who frequently calls himself "Satan" online, is correct in saying the Trust in its early days did not disapprove of the trading. However, when they were educated about it, their support was withdrawn. 3) The phrase "mend fences" doesn't suggest the action as much as participation. Sumner participated in an attempt to smooth over the rift with Kiloh, and Kiloh chose to end the effort.]
Dispute Over PercentageDear Editor,
In an otherwise excellent article on vanishing prairies ["Dreaming of Buffalo," News, Dec. 23] you say, "the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds Barton Springs ... contributes about 1% of the city's drinking water." Developers' allies propagated this erroneous claim many years ago. Unfortunately, this myth sometimes gets repeated as "fact."
The Tom Green Water Treatment Plant on Town Lake actually supplies 15 to 20% of the city's drinking water. And for much of the year, Barton Springs' flow is the major contributor to Green's water intake.
From mid-October to mid-March, essentially the only flow into Town Lake comes from Barton Creek (see www.lcra.org/water/river_report.html). In fact, Barton Creek, due to the Springs, right now is the largest measured tributary to the Colorado River below the Llano River (see http://waterdata.usgs.gov/tx/nwis/current?type=flow).
Later on in the year, more water in Town Lake does come from the Highland Lakes. Even then, Green may draw more from the aquifer because the mouth of Barton Creek is very close by upriver. Also, water of different temperatures doesn't evenly mix cold water sinks to the bottom of Town Lake on warm summer days. Colder aquifer water could disproportionately supply the Green intake 8 feet below the lake's surface.
An implied subtext to this debate is an unstated idea that the aquifer is expendable. However, a growing city that faces periodic droughts shouldn't throw away any high-quality water resource.
Some real estate interests want to replace the Green WTP with a new water plant on Lake Travis. Even though it could cost utility rate payers more to build a new water plant than to expand the old one, these interests covet the downtown land that Green sits on. Other developers would love to further undermine the case for protecting Barton Springs. These are the original sources for the 1% myth.
Stephen Beers[Rachel Proctor May responds: According to the Austin Water Utility, the figure is roughly 1%.]
Sumner Made Right DecisionDear Editor,
The story is an inspiring tale of not only a comeback, but of a brother's devotion ["Starry Eyes," Music, Dec. 30]. I visited Sumner [Erickson] during his Pittsburgh Symphony days (when he also was on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon Institute) and could not understand his decision to return to Austin for more pressing duties. His success is a glowing story beautifully described in The Austin Chronicle. I was wrong and he was right in making the decision to switch careers for a primary goal of participating in Roky [Erickson]'s long-awaited recovery as a legendary Austin contributor to the music scene.
G/M Not Gone ForeverDear Editor,
I just read Virginia Wood's article on my dad's restaurant, the G/M Steakhouse ["Food-o-File," Food, Dec. 30]. It's true that my father, Gus, has decided to hang up his spatula and turn west toward his sunset, but it doesn't mean the G/M is gone forever. I have decided to keep the spot going and negotiated a lease with the owner of the property to reopen the classic diner that many "true" Austinites have grown accustomed to. There will be some remodeling for the next few weeks to regain that old G/M charm and, unfortunately for Gus, no smoking. I look forward to serving up good food to all the "regulars" and newbies in the coming years.
Nonsmokers Are Better PeopleDear Editor,
I need to clarify something for Carl Swanson ("Postmarks," Jan. 6). The proliferation of butts on Austin streets and sidewalks, and presumably in Austin watersheds, is not because of the smoking ban. It's because the vast majority of Austin smokers are pigs. They throw their butts out of their cars. (Did carmakers suddenly quit making ashtrays?) They smoke a cigarette outside their office (on their boss' dime) and then throw the butt on the sidewalk. They wait for a table at a restaurant and, when they get one, throw their butts on the ground. People who'd never think of throwing trash or garbage into the street think nothing of flicking their butts there.
I don't know the solution of correcting behavior of people who are acting like barnyard animals, but nonsmokers aren't causing the problem.
Michael M. Simpson
Too Much Development AlreadyDear Editor,
Douglas Watkins writes ["Postmarks," Jan. 6] about the extensive development in the Barton Springs Watershed of the Edwards Aquifer, where rainfall runs off land or pavement, enters the aquifer, flows underground, and emerges at Barton Springs.
There has been an awful lot of urban development over the Barton Springs Watershed. Watkins is wrong to conclude that Advanced Micro Devices should spur further urbanization by building a major campus in our most fragile watershed and setting off a growth boom Southwest.
More urban development in the Barton Springs Watershed means more pollution of Barton Springs, drinking-water wells, water supply to the city of Austin, plus more flooding downstream.
Mr. Watkins points out that Motorola (now Freescale) has an enormous operation in the watershed. The residential developments Watkins points out in the watershed were spurred in large part by Motorola's creation of a major employment center in Southwest Austin and the accompanying infrastructure. The result of that urban development is dirtier water in Barton Springs.
Where rocks once glistened under clear water, they are now covered in sediment and algae. After heavy rains the water turns murky, pumping out pollutants washed into the aquifer.
In dry weather, the water clears. Barton Springs is still a marvel of nature but one that's been damaged by man, by our urbanization over a karst limestone aquifer.
If AMD moves to Stratus/Freeport's Southwest Parkway land, there will be more urbanization of thousands of acres, and more pollution of Barton Springs.
If AMD backs off, we can protect forever thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the Barton Springs Watershed.
AMD can choose another site. The aquifer and watershed cannot relocate.
The horse of urbanization is halfway out of the barn. Will we let it run wild?
Environment DegradedDear Editor,
Silicon Labs may have helped save the aquifer, but, after the Labs' move downtown, the total fuel burned each day by its workforce is likely to increase, and congestion on MoPac will increase by about 500 cars per day ["Silicon Labs to Move Downtown, Out of Watershed," News, Dec. 9]. Long story short: The workers' environment will take a hit while SOS claims a victory.
First Night a Smashing SuccessDear Editor,
I must say that I was a bit skeptical of how Austin's First Night would turn out ["The Last Shall Be First," Arts, Dec. 30]. The results not only surprised me, they reaffirmed everything that I have loved about Austin. Sure, there were no giant corporate floats with inflated logos and bright flashing lights. But then ... there were no giant corporate floats with inflated logos and bright flashing lights! Instead, the parade consisted of community groups, dancing ants, and creative DIY mobile artwork built by Austinites. Better yet, even the crowd that gathered along the street was the eclectic mix of friendly, down-to-earth Austin people that convinced me to move here in the first place. For all of the gentrification and clone-store takeover of our city, the core of the community I love is alive and well, and First Night brought everyone back out to play. This is still a lively, unique city that I am proud to have chosen as my home base. Well done, Austin. Keep it weird in the New Year, y'all!
Barton "Facts' WrongDear Editor,
An earlier letter to the Chronicle incorrectly states that the recharge zone and contributing zone for Barton Springs are extensively developed and incorrectly suggests that runoff from the development would not discharge to Barton Springs ["Postmarks," Jan. 6]. However, less than one-half of the recharge zone is fully developed and only a small percent of the contributing zone is developed.
Even then, substantial water-quality degradation has been documented at Barton Springs (www.ci.austin.tx.us/watershed/oprslade.htm).
Although some degradation has occurred, the water quality of Barton Springs is still well within swimming criteria. However, it is likely that uncontrolled urbanization in the watersheds feeding the springs will eventually cause Barton Springs to be degraded to the extent that it must be closed to swimming.
Raymond Slade Jr.
Certified professional hydrologist
Ludicrous ResponseDear Editor,
I just read Kiloh Smith's ludicrous response [p.6] to Margaret Moser's article about Roky Erickson ["Starry Eyes," Music, Dec. 30] ... it made me laugh my head off. Kiloh is the "moderator" (although there's nothing moderate about him) of an online group, Texas Psych, and just considering the quality of his own listserv, I find it silly that he has the nerve to pick a bone with anyone. He sounds like all those other folks out there who are pissed off because they no longer have such easy access to Roky now that Sumner is looking out for him. Get a life, Kiloh!
The Bigger Story on PotDear Editor,
It's true medical marijuana didn't get out of committee in the Texas Lege ["The Chronic Goes On," News, Jan. 6], but a bigger story, IMO, was that the same committee (House Criminal Jurisprudence) approved HB 254 unanimously, with Republicans Mary Denny, Terry Keel, and Debbie Riddle voting for it along with former drug task force commander Democrat Juan Escobar. That bill would have reduced the penalties for low-level marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor meaning a traffic-ticketlike fine and a drug education class comparable to what's currently required in Austin for paraphernalia charges.
Speaker Tom Craddick and the Calendars Committee didn't let the bill get a vote on the House floor, but it cleared committee mostly for financial reasons: with class B's, counties must pay incarceration and indigent defense costs, while class C's generate fines and revenue, with fewer associated expenses. With county jails like Travis' and most others completely full, that legislation should still have legs in future sessions.
Supports Donna HowardDear Editor,
Donna Howard has the shortest learning curve in preparing for the special session on education funding of the candidates running for the District 48 seat in the House of Representatives ["Special Election for Texas House of Representatives, District 48," Jan. 6]. The Texas Supreme Court has ordered the Texas Legislature to come up with a public education funding plan by June 2006.
Donna Howard has attended House/Senate Committee meetings since 2002. She heard the discussion of the committees, the testimony of school districts, taxpayers, PTAs, large and small businesses, and the concerns of Robin Hood districts and the Equity Center. Donna helped to bring these disparate interests together in discussion panels across the state.
District 48 needs Donna Howard. She can immediately participate in the discussion. She will represent the school districts of District 48 and has the respect of those she will be working with.
Vote Jan. 17.
AISD board of trustees
Celebrate Roky EricksonDear Editor,
Not long ago my son Jon, who is now 35 and in the Air Force, checked the Travis County Appraisal District and told me that the home where he lived in the late 60's with his little brother and my son Craig Stewart, was worth quite a bit more than he had expected. I remember the home as quite small and it seemed a steep price to me at $185,000 for 1,100 square feet. I preface this comment to tell you that during the time I lived there, a certain Roky Erickson, of 13th Floor Elevators fame, lived right in the same area. I spent my days, however, as a mother to Craig, and Jon David Stewart, and being a teacher at nearby St. Elmo School. My music ran in the direction of Charlie Pride, or Jim Reeves, more or less, and the 1969 Texas Longhorns were much more exciting to me than "some rock band" called the Elevators.
But the fact remains, from the area of Bluebonnet and South Lamar a legend was being created at this time. Right down the street from my house, Roky Erickson, a student at Travis High, was launching his career in the now defunct 13th Floor Elevators. Oh, the "cool" people knew who he was, for they would gather at the New Orleans Club or the Jade Room in the Sixties to hear him scream "You're Gonna Miss Me," but not this mommy and teacher.
Through Craig, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Roky at his 55th birthday party on Sixth Street in 2002, and I've enjoyed his company a few times since then at benefits and dinner at his favorite Threadgill's on Barton Springs. Those of you who know him are aware of how calm and charismatic he is. He's a breath of fresh air in the complicated Austin of the 21st century. You look at him and marvel at the talent he displayed 35 years ago, cranking out songs like "Living on Monkey Island." Not long ago, my dream came true. I was able to relive what I missed during the late Sixties and watch Roky bravely, and without trepidation, step on the stage to once more, 35 years later, share his talent and genius with all who gathered there at Ruta Maya one hot night last summer.
And now, though 61 years old, I can join my voices and scream and jump with the rest who love and adore Roky, no matter what their ages. Ask me to sing any of his songs I can, you know, and I join with my friend, Lili Lytle ["Postmarks," Jan. 6], in saying, "I love you, too, Roky"!