Mobile Home Motif

Channeling Time Warner

The chamber was briefly host to a discussion of corporate responsibility for use of the public airwaves, as the council passed a resolution asking Time Warner Cable to drop its plans to move the AISD channel from 8 to 22. In case any Time Warner executives were home watching Channel 6, the council made its case for letting Channel 8 stay: The spot on the dial has belonged to AISD for 20+ years, and Austin's education policy junkies are used to going there for their fix. Furthermore, the channel's close proximity to the city and public access cable channels makes for a nice little package of civic information. Channel 8's presumably small but loyal audience agreed. Those few concerned citizens and Board of Trustees members who turned out last week urged the council to use their "moral authority" to keep Time Warner honest. Enjoined Board of Trustees member Ted Whatley, "Send one of our corporate citizens a message to do the right thing, and not put their profits ahead of the community that allows them to make those profits."

Smart Growth Challenged

Then the politics of manufactured housing in Austin were revisited, as the council approved (on first reading) zoning for a new mobile home park on 52 acres in southwest Austin. Ignoring a petition signed by all residents of the neighborhood except corporate neighbor Stratus Properties (that's Freeport McMoRan to you), the council approved the development 5-2, with councilmembers Bill Spelman and Griffith dissenting. The developer argued that while a negative opinion of mobile homes is "human nature," the park would meet a demonstrated need for affordable housing in Austin, a cause the mayor has consistently supported by voting for a string of recent mobile home zoning projects.

Bill Bunch of Save Our Springs was confounded by the decision, wondering, "Why is the council even thinking about approving zoning that creates more development in the drinking water protection zone?" He said the one element of Smart Growth that was "crystal clear from the beginning" was that development would be steered away from the area, but that that hasn't panned out: "On a regular basis, they're considering zoning changes that increase density in the drinking water protection zone. They ought to do the reverse; they ought to be down-zoning. Most of the zoning out there is totally inappropriate, done in the S&L rip-off era of the Eighties," the chief S.O.S. counsel said. Bunch added that AISD is currently considering moving a planned elementary school, which "they told the voters was going to be central," to Oak Hill instead, and that the mobile home park would only increase the likelihood of the move, thereby exacerbating the cycle of population growth and infrastructure needs in the area. So why would the council go for something that's seemingly contrary to their expressed policy objectives? It isn't, said Councilmember Gus Garcia. The Smart Growth initiative does not prohibit all growth in the water protection zone, and the S.O.S.-regulated development will not threaten the environment. Garcia accused environmentalists of arrogance for opposing the mobile homes while supporting other types of development. "I think that is arrogant. A regular home is out of reach of many people that live in this community. What is happening in this community, because we've placed a lot of mobile homes east of I-35, is de facto economic segregation."

The vote allowed the council the chance to prove once again that what's good for the east is good for the west, and vice versa. Members were no doubt haunted by the Regency Village debate, which simmered before the council for months as neighbors vainly raised one objection after another. Much was made of the damage that would be done to the southeast Austin neighborhood by the mobile homes, and more specifically, the potentially unsavory types who lived in them. Neighbors were chastened when, at the end of the debate, Councilmember Goodman leaned toward her microphone and allowed as how she had grown up in a mobile home, and disagreed with their characterizations.

That deal got the green light from the council, and some neighborhood residents, after the project's developer, Summit Properties, donated 10 acres of the land to AISD for an elementary school, and agreed to a restrictive covenant with the neighborhood, ensuring that the development would be a good one. Spelman said that the southwest neighbors should get as good a deal as the southeast neighbors did with the Regency Village covenant.Hisoffice is working with neighbors and the developer on a similar agreement, which would allow him to support the project. Slusher seemed a little anxious that the vote would open old wounds, or at least be misunderstood by the press. As the council moved on to other business, the councilmember stepped off the dais and worked the reporters' table, explaining the reasoning for his decision, which went like this: The project, which is subject to S.O.S. regulations, is a sound urban development, and would prevent the area from becoming an exclusive wealthy enclave. Councilmember Garcia said his experience bears out the principle that schools with only upper-middle class students miss out on the benefits that diversity brings. "They don't get a chance to see how the rest of the world lives," he said. In Garcia's elementary school, "of 60 kids, 55 were migrant children. I learned a lot from them about survival, about lots of things. While I might not have learned as much math, I learned something about how to live."

This Week in Council: A managed care contract worth $9 million will be considered in which Austin Regional Independent Associates would provide health care to low-income residents. Council is also expected to move toward the creation of a trust fund dedicated to affordable housing.

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