Our readers talk back.
Helping Make It Safe for Stratus, Trammell Crow ...Dear Editor,
First, thanks for the editorial addendum to my last letter to the Chronicle ["Postmarks," May 12]; you know, the snide comments you assured Rob D'Amico that you were going to be "more careful about" in the future ["Postmarks," April 28], since it's unfair to letter writers, who have no opportunity for rebuttal.
My concerns about Clark-Madison's potential conflict of interest were characterized as a "hysterical and venomous personal attack." Clark-Madison works for TateAustin, which represents many large corporate interests that might have been financially impacted by Props 1 and 2. In politics, when in doubt, follow the money! I will leave it to you to look at the anti-Prop contributors and put two and two together. Next time perhaps you might check your facts a little more before using the final word to trash a correspondent.
Also, thanks for helping to make Austin safe again for the likes of Stratus, Trammell Crow, and the HBA. I doubt it would have been possible without the thousands of lines of editorial content you devoted to the defeat of Props 1 and 2. William Randolph Hearst would have been most proud. A real newspaper might have tried to provide a little balance, perhaps by giving up some editorial space to the opposition; but we all know nothing of the sort exists in modern America.
Finally, I suggest you take a good look at the list of people and organizations you refer to as "Bunch Davidians": www.cleanaustin.org/endorsements.php. When I look at this list, I see a lot of folks who have worked long and hard for many years trying to make Austin a better place for everyone. I think these people deserve better than the disrespect you've shown them over the course of this campaign.
Objective EndorsementsDear Chronicle:
What's happened to you lately? Used to be, when you opposed an issue on the ballot, you stated your opinion and your reasons, often with a little humor, and left it at that. Now in your opposition to Props 1 and 2 you have abandoned all pretense of journalistic objectivity not merely in your editorials and endorsements, but in the "news" as well to launch venomous attacks on every aspect of these attempts to save Barton Springs and our city processes. Your hysterical rantings seem to include everything but the kitchen sink, yet somehow overlook relevant facts. You've forgotten the connections between the criminal and polluting corporation Freeport-McMoRan and its local subsidiary Stratus, working with AMD to pave the watershed; you barely mention these things while they sprinkle the town with cash so nobody notices what they are really doing. Is mass bribery no longer worth reporting on? The vast majority of the proposition opposition's funding comes from companies that benefit financially from development over the aquifer and are shrieking with rage at the prospect of their profit playground going off limits. Will Wynn trumpets his environmental accomplishments in his campaign letter and Web site, falsely claiming that he will protect the aquifer and Barton Springs, while remaining deafeningly silent on his failure to lead or even act at all against AMD's ruinous plans, the main reason he failed to get the Sierra Club endorsement. You write about the sudden need (?) for a new downtown library but overlook the urgent need to act now to save Barton Springs. You've spent weeks distracting from the real issue. Voters, we can wait forever for the perfect solution, or we can act now to save the soul of our city, the best swimming pool in North America. Vote for Props 1 and 2.
Political Chair of Austin Sierra Club
Member of the board of directors of SOS Alliance
Article on ACC Did a Disservice to All
Your article on the Austin Community College Board of Trustees election campaigns did a disservice to everyone involved and to ACC in general ["ACC Race: The Dirt," News, May 12].
As you all know, I have been personally involved in ACC politics for more than 15 years. I am finishing my third term as president of ACC's Adjunct Faculty Association, and I have worked on many ACC board campaigns over the years. I do not recall a time when the political climate has been calmer.
Your only evidence for calling the election an "ugly, rumor-mongering mess" seems to be a letter to the editor you published in your May 5 issue ["Postmarks"]. That letter was rebutted by another in the May 12 issue ["Postmarks"]. That's it - exactly two letters to the editor, total, and none at all in the American-Statesman. That, my friends, is not an ugly mess.
Your article focused entirely on the race between Allen Kaplan and Ana Mejia-Dietche race for Place 9, and didn't even mention the other race for Place 8 between James McGuffee and Rodney Ahart. I know all four of these people, and I assure that all of them are well qualified and would make great board members, and all are on friendly terms. The only real differences are in length of experience at ACC.
ACC is a tremendous resource for our city and our region and deserves more respect from you. As an underfunded institution of higher learning facing tremendous growth, we do have problems. Adequately compensating all of our employees remains a challenge, along with finding adequate space for everyone. These are problems we are all working on together.
Your view of ACC seems to be stuck in the Nineties. I wish you all would catch up to this decade - before we get into the Teens.
John Herndon, adjunct professor of English and Creative Writing
President, Adjunct Faculty Association
Austin Community College
[News Editor Michael King responds: John Herndon appears to believe that the only means voters and campaigners have of communicating their perceptions, disagreeable or otherwise, to reporters and editors is via letters in "Postmarks." As our endorsements reflected, we don't disagree with his overall judgment of the ACC candidates but our reporters' job is not to "do a service," good or ill, to either the candidates or indeed ACC. We didn't invent the bad historical blood still lingering beneath one of the campaigns, and we reported what we found there. If Herndon truly wants ACC to move into the 21st century, perhaps a good beginning would be to abandon the provincial "speak no evil" approach to public affairs reflected in his letter.]
Affordable HousingDear Editor,
Re: "Looking for Cheap Dirt" [News, May 12]: While the price of gas registers as a national crisis, the fact that so many people (believe themselves to) benefit from the housing bubble affords the problem far less attention than the much more crucial issue of affordable housing. In Austin it is getting more and more difficult to put a roof over one's head, and Rachel Proctor May's article is therefore as welcome as it is timely. I nonetheless had two problems with the piece. First, its occasionally glib tone, in my view, did not adequately express the serious threat that a future of wealthy people living in cookie-cutter developments poses to both basic considerations of justice and the city's "Keep Austin Weird" funkiness. More directly, however, I was somewhat surprised to see omitted from the writer's list of possible solutions the most basic one: rent and vacancy control. Though Texas libertarianism has little room for such ideas, they are a staple of many urban municipalities; as Austin grapples with big-city problems of homelessness and unequal access to housing stock, those not lucky enough to own property also demand our attention.
Facilitating Bad ActivitiesDear Editor,
Let's see, in Washington we have the Bush administration compensating journalists to generate and promote "advocacy news" presented as real news to support their agenda. Here in Austin it appears, we have the Chronicle allowing its writers to craft articles that promote the agenda of the PR firms employing them ["Austin @ Large," News, May 5].
What is next from Clark-Madison and the Chronicle? Fast food is healthy for kids, or is it that global warming is a myth? Perhaps that will depend on the local PR firms.
Might it be easier for your readers to bypass the Chronicle altogether and simply go to TateAustin's Web site for its news?
I like my neighborhood library too.
Mark W. Tschurr
SOS board member
Intense Campaign GoodDear Editor,
Apparently, Black doesn't actually like democracy or at least not the part about people strongly disagreeing with each other ["Page Two," May 12]. Since the very first elections in this country, political campaigns have been hot, and people get involved at a personal level. When there is no heat, it may be a sign that neither the officials we elect nor the propositions before us actually promise anything significant to the voters. Then we think our vote doesn't matter.
This election is about real issues that matter development over the watershed and the accountability of our government. More than any election in recent memory, the propositions have forced candidates to stake out positions on these issues, even if they say they oppose the propositions themselves. We have enjoyed a rich public debate about tax abatements, grandfathering, toll roads, access to information, police accountability, and much more.
If Black doesn't like the tone of that debate, he should look to City Council, who set the tone at the very beginning. A court had to step in and overturn the council's very personal, very black-and-white reaction.
When council launches its campaign from the dais, using its public acts to electioneer, the tone has been set, and not in a civil or respectful way.
I usually agree with the Chronicle's endorsements, but the council's reaction alone is the reason I'm voting for 1 and 2 it really makes me wonder if they have something to hide.
The Value of Rigorous DebateDear Chronicle,
Has Louis Black forgotten the value of rigorous debate ["Page Two," May 5]? Propositions 1 and 2 address issues that matter directing development away from our state's most sensitive watershed and holding our city government accountable. The propositions have inspired a rich, if heated, public debate about unnecessary tax abatements, grandfathering to avoid SOS standards, the proliferation of toll roads, our rightful access to public information, accountability of our police, and more.
If Mr. Black is uncomfortable with the debate, maybe he should blame the City Council. After all, a court of law had to throw out the council's misleading ballot language because electioneering against the propositions right there on the ballot is illegal. The edited ballot still contains electioneering language, as bewildered voters will see. When the City Council spends our tax dollars to influence an election this way, they cross the line. I'd rather have heated debate at every election than this cynical corruption of our right to a fair vote.
The City Council's weird tactics are a big reason why I support Propositions 1 and 2. We need open government to reveal the City Council's motivations and as always, we need to save our aquifer from rapacious development.
Hopes He Dies Before He Becomes Michael KingDear Editor,
The Chronicle's quixotic endorsement of Brewster McCracken notwithstanding [Endorsements, May 5], I've got a couple of dumbbells I need to get off my chest.
Never mind your capricious and damned near libelous take on my knowledge of city issues. Everyone I've talked to (other candidates included) has dismissed the Chronicle's off-base character assassination attempt as "a cheap shot" that "pissed [them] off." I was willing to dismiss it as well.
Never mind the gruff and bullying advice handed down from the grandmaster of all things Austin, Michael King, that I had better stop saying water-treatment plants were in East Austin which I've never said.
I have said on numerous occasions, and I will continue to say, that most of the facilities "similar" to what a water-treatment plant would be that is, definitely undesirable, possibly dangerous, and likely an eyesore are already in East Austin.
Mr. King: Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, USA.
0198614373 $10.95 at BookPeople. Or, www.oed.com, as you aren't receiving any hefty city contracts (yet).
One thing I cannot abide, however, is the sloppy journalism that the Chronicle has employed throughout the council race.
It kind of cheese-grated on my nerves when I was written off as a "student wannabe," but I understand; you're all a bunch of ageist geriatrics who shouldn't be allowed to drive or hold sharp objects.
However, I'm studying journalism, and May 5's "Election Notes" took the cake from my messy preschool fingers and used it to dress the teat of power from which the Chronicle seems to be suckling as of late.
I was the second biggest fundraiser for the Place 5 seat, but you wouldn't know that by reading the Chronicle. I raised more than $1,000, spending very little of my own money generally, the sign of a well-functioning campaign.
Facts are facts even the ones you leave out.
Daryl Slusher was castigated for losing his soul after leaving the Chronicle for a career in public service, but if Michael King is any indication, you don't have to leave journalism for the vacuous stench of entrenched complacency to suck your spirit down the tubes. Just hang around. It comes with age.
I'm a 20-year-old student newcomer-wannabe with almost no knowledge of Austin government. Well, that's half-right.
But Billy Joel was all right: "Only the good die young."
I hope I die before I become Michael King.
Leash HimDear Louis Black,
You must put a leash on Michael King's inability to take criticism without demanding the last word ["Postmarks," May 12]. If a letter-writer misstates facts, and there is plenty room for interpretation there, of course a correction is enlightening. But Michael King just seems to personally get upset.
Snarky Nature of ResponsesEditor,
I've been noticing a trend recently over the last six months or so. Perhaps it has been going on longer, and I just wasn't paying attention. The trend is the snarky nature of the Chronicle's responses to the printed letters-to-the-editor. The responses by Louis Black and Mike Clark-Madison to the "Bunch Davidians" was about as egregious an example as I can remember seeing.
The letters published, which seemed normal for the type the Chronicle tends to publish, were labeled as hysterical and venomous by Mr. Black. Mr Clark-Madison called the letter-writers "Bunch Davidians," and Bill Bunch, I assume, was called Kim Jong Bill, as well as referring to Kirk Mitchell as a sugar daddy ["Postmarks," May 12]. Rereading the letters that engendered such responses, it seems it was the Chronicle that engaged in personal attacks. If Mr. Clark-Madison was referred to as a whore, perhaps the Chronicle should have shown that. After all, the Chronicle does control the flow of information in this particular instance.
School Ratings Are UnfairDear Editor,
Re: "Shrinking Schools" [News, May 20, 2005]: I know that this article is an old one, but I just had to write and say how wonderful it was to read. I'm planning a move to Austin with my fourth grader and scoping schools and neighborhoods like crazy. Researching Austin schools, I happened across this story online. We are urban dwellers, through and through. My daughter goes to an elementary school in Houston ISD that most would consider unworthy, but one that we have loved for five years and hate to leave. Just the mere mention of a move to Austin has been an open invitation to a plethora of comments on AISD and which schools to avoid. So far, I can't find anything wrong with the schools mentioned except for their minority population, standardized test scores, and poverty levels. I find that so incredibly frustrating. If I thought that way, we would never have chosen the school that we've been so incredibly happy with all of these years. Thanks for printing this article.
No Human Development Is GoodDear Editor,
So the bottom line (as much as I loathe that word) is: Vote against 1 and 2 because the means with which they would allegedly protect the environment are too extreme and would compromise representative government, and their language is harsh and not (easily) amenable to recourse (some would also say the campaign is manipulatively simplifying). And the pro-props are debating that, claim by claim.
But the reasons I'd vote for them are exactly those. You say the city is already progressive and moving toward conscientious development. No human development is ever good in any way for nature (maybe except zoos and solely conservatory structures). It's a zero-sum game, and there's no turning back. Wake up: Progressive/conscientious development is an oxymoron. If we were to do it, we can do it or at least convince ourselves we are doing it "conscientiously" or less ruthlessly. But if we have a choice whether to do it in the first place, then no, I'd vote for no development. Period. Maybe I'm too cynical and value wildlife, clean water, and unspoilt land over human progress, but I'd vote for 1 and 2 precisely because it's brash, retaliatory, "unsophisticated." I realize this may be very Bush-esque rhetoric, but sometimes you have to ... stoop to their level ... to actually get things done (good things, too). Radical gestures remain that gestures, empty. It may take more sophistication to know when to be brusque and unrelenting, and it's time.
How Many Times?Dear Editor,
Just one question for Bill Bunch and the SOSA. Since, according to you and your group, every time someone paves a driveway or builds a house, Barton Springs is destroyed, how many times have you and your group saved Barton Springs? It's so fragile, I imagine it's been brought back from the brink of destruction dozens of times, because since I've been here in Austin, according to SOS, Barton Springs has been destroyed at least a dozen times. Pave this road, it will destroy Barton Springs. Build an office complex, and Barton Springs is destroyed. Yadda yadda. You know Bill, people get tired of others who do nothing but scream about constant, impending disaster when it never materializes. Edwards Aquifer has millions if not billions of square feet of homes, roads, and offices on it, and I swear, Barton Springs hasn't been destroyed yet. But to listen to SOS, there's fixin' to be an oil slick on it if one more building or road is built. Did MoPac destroy Barton Springs? Nope. Barton Creek Mall destroy it? Nope. The railroad? Nope. Did Rollingwood destroy it? Nope. Wonder why not all are on "our most fragile treasure, the heart of Austin," Barton Springs. And as we know, anything will "destroy Barton Springs," just ask SOS. Thank you for your time and consideration.
'Chronicle' Sides With LiarsDear Editor,
Anyone who has lived here in Austin for 20 years or more can see and feel the damage done already to our beautiful ecosystem. Even with the protections afforded now, which are vastly not enough to save what is left, we know the damage is done. This damage is almost irreversible already! At the whim of developers and their allies in our city government, just to make a bigger buck for themselves or for their campaign war chests and the promise of a job in the private sector after their so-called civil service. It is a shame that the voting public is just a fraction of the population and is becoming more and more one-sided. These people lie and propagandize to get the dollar, all the while professing they are for the people and environment. Balderdash! The Statesman backs the issue with lies and half-truths because the biggest advertisers are developers, the current mayor and council for the most part don't want to lose their gravy train either, and the rest are realtors and businesses that gain from the destruction of our proud Hill Country. Why the Chronicle sides with these people is beyond me. But the fact remains we have been led down this path of destruction that is fraught with rolling blackouts, polluted creeks and rivers that you can't even swim in, and drinking water that smells as bad as it tastes and is for you. If this is what intelligent progress is, it stinks just like the water and the Snydley Whiplashes that create it. Save our aquifers now and turn the damage around or we all are in the treatment plants. Austin has always developed faster than the proper infrastructure could be placed, and that has always been very shortsighted. To keep developing the same way is just wrong and is of no benefit to the community but a few. Vote yes on Props. 1 and 2 and help put a little life back in our beautiful Austin, and some controls on our deceiving politicians.
Complaint About Food CoverageDear Editor,
I sent Virginia Wood an e-mail awhile back about the lack of information on the quality of restaurants currently in the Chronicle. An example is the current issue: descriptions of people in the food business who are artists ["Musicians on the Menu," Food, May 12]. Nothing about the businesses; quality of food, etc. Thank goodness Dale Rice is still available.
Joe Langston[Editor responds: We're unclear on this one. Some issues we run restaurant reviews; other issues we run food-related features. Almost every issue we have Restaurant Roulette, with short comments on dozens and dozens of restaurants.]
Plain IrresponsibleDear Editor,
I must admit that I'm really disappointed in your misrepresentation of Props 1 and 2. The dissenting opinions, especially of Prop. 2, are much more accurate and straightforward [Endorsements, May 12]. Proposition 2 only puts in writing what the city is saying (protect the aquifer) but isn't doing. The idea that tax dollars are being used to subsidize the destruction of the springs is insane and should not be allowed. This does not mean all construction in the watershed is banned but rather that we aren't having to pay for it. You have a huge impact on progressive voters, and your call on these props is just plain irresponsible.
Black a Snide Half-WitDear Editor,
No doubt The Austin Chronicle is being deluged with letters of readers unhappy with the defeat of Propositions 1 and 2. I was surprised by the defeat, even with the massive campaign against them.
My reaction to the result is similar to when the American-Statesman endorsed Bush in 2000 and again, to my wonderment and dismay, in 2004. I've never bought the paper in the six years since.
Since the Chron is free, my solution is to simply stop reading Louis Black and his snide half-wit titles to letters.
For whatever reason I don't understand that he wants Austin encircled by toll roads, I just want to say to the majority who voted for them: you'll be paying the king of Spain to drive on the roads we've already paid for. Congratulations.
Kenney C. Kennedy
This Is Where You Come In ...Dear Editor,
In last week's article, "ACC Race: The Dirt" [News, May 12], Rachel Proctor May wrote "Perhaps it should come as no surprise that ... [it] has devolved into an ugly, rumor-mongering mess." How sad that the majority of space in your paper dedicated to the ACC election was devoted to the politics of personal destruction in the Place 9 race. Where was the article devoted to a discussion of the issues that my worthy and honorable opponent, Mr. Ahart, and I were debating?
As your ACC trustee-elect in Place 8, I pledge to give six years of dedicated, quality community service. However, in order for government to work well we also need an informed public. That's where you come in. I strongly encourage you to more actively cover the actions of the ACC board of trustees. Be actively involved in informing the public year-round. Don't limit yourself to bringing out your shovels every two years trying to uncover dirt.
Yours in service,
Changes Often PermanentDear Editor,
Recently, for my husband's birthday, I gave him a copy of the book Austin, Texas Then and Now by local resident Jeffrey Kerr. It is filled with historical photos of Austin landmarks and how they appear today. He read it cover to cover one evening, then sat, looking thoroughly depressed. I asked him what was wrong. "They can't leave anything alone," he said. Read the book. You'll see. (It really is a great book.)
Did you know that there was another spring right here in the center of town? Seider spring. It was a popular destination for swimming, picnicking, and relaxing by the water's edge. Sound familiar? All that is left of it today is a small trickle. It is paved over and a nondescript, corporate grocery store sits on top. When I thought about the area I wondered if the road dipped right there on 35th Street because there used to be water below it.
If AMD is allowed to build on the Barton Springs Watershed it will simply continue the process that turned Seider spring into asphalt and a historical marker instead of a cool body of water. Make no mistake. They really can't leave anything alone. Once we let one corporation bend the rules, they'll push the door wide open, and we'll never be able to close it again. It might not happen the year after they build it or even several years later. But it will happen. And maybe when my small children grow to be teenagers they'll tell us that the water at Barton Springs isn't safe to swim in anymore. And maybe by the time they are adults, with children of their own, Barton Springs will be a curious dip in the road that cars zoom over, unaware of the beauty that once lay beneath.
And maybe, right there on top of the deep end, a nondescript corporate grocery store will stand, exactly in the spot of the diving board where my son once stood.
As Kerr says in his book about our town, "The changes we impose often prove to be permanent."
A Tragi-Comedy in the Making?Dear Mr. Black,
Given the results and the resignation of your last editorials ["Page Two," May 5 and 12], I believe you got "punked." Remember it's bad form to publicly kick hell out of the politically handicapped (challenged?). As I have insisted for some time. SOSAnistas aren't representative of Austin, or most of the "enviro" community. Militant unicausal ideology as it relates to democratic politics and the sociology of running a functional government makes most unsuitable for positions of power in representative democracy. They tend to not recognize that advocacy can lead to authoritarian fixation. Often they lack appreciation for basic economic realties, and the administration of law and regulation in our humble real world. Perhaps, it's due to having to represent against developer attorneys and government administrators, who actually have anti-environmental agendas. Regardless, it is evident that they're tone deaf to what Austin voters are telling them.
Given this denial, it's no surprise that they align with similar groups whose ambitions minimize political reality. The ACLU wants to run APD, El Concilio/Poder/LULAC (local) wants to run E Austin, ANC wants to glacialize/control COA planning, EFF wants a "free" Internet the ambitions are huge, the funds often narrow, and the groups "share" the same base of supporters. Group names change, but often the players stay the same. The latest misadventure won't cure their ailment. The council's ordinances won't be broad enough, fast enough, or good enough to please them. While their "values" campaign (à la W), should teach them a need for good relations and coherent proposal content, what is most likely to happen is redoubling of "vision" intensity. As the chasm grows wider, contempt will boil over and all local greens will take some lumps. A tragi-comedy is in the making.