Austin @ Large: Austin at Large

The new Green Knight: "Daryl Slusher' Is dead. You can stop yelling at him now.

Austin @ Large: Austin at Large
Illustration By Doug Potter

At 2:28am on Friday, July 12, 2002, "Daryl Slusher" died and Raul Alvarez took his place. Mark the occasion with appropriate ceremony.

I put "Slusher" in quotes to distinguish the flesh-and-blood Place 1 council member, who is at press time still very much alive, from the Green Knight who was supposed to oppose, or at least not support -- and certainly not champion -- deals like Stratus. We can argue amongst ourselves whether that "Slusher" ever really existed and, if so, what happened to him -- whether he's a villain or victim or sucker or saint. But he's gone now. Pretending he still exists, and hurling insults at him, is a waste of your time and my time and Austin's time. He's dead. He can't hear you.

Perhaps we should have a wake, but that requires the real-life Slusher to accept that his days as a leader of the environmental movement are over. Maybe Slusher's right, and he's doing all he can to protect Barton Springs. Or maybe he's the sellout and turncoat that many former core supporters -- enviros who worked on his campaigns and called him a friend -- have dubbed him. But either way, he need not pretend that his Stratus vote is consistent with his record of environmental activism, both here at the Chronicle and at the beginning of his career in politics. Many Austinites don't care if it is or not. Those that do care are not convinced.

Whether Slusher was supposed to do something else or not, what he and five of his colleagues did is disappointing enough. Only Alvarez was brave enough to question the group-think that has beset City Hall as it has grappled with Stratus. Perhaps "brave" is too strong a word, but his colleagues -- especially Will Wynn -- sure did get snippy when they realized Alvarez wasn't along for the $15-million-plus ride. Then again, it was 2:30 in the morning; maybe they all had a right to be irritable.

A Shell Game

If it wasn't clear before last week's meeting that, regardless of what rude noises Stratus threatened to make, the City Council did not have to approve the deal, it became clear right around 1am Friday morning. That's when city staff (precisely, watershed veteran Pat Murphy) told Alvarez that the city does not recognize the original Circle C MUD contracts, or land use plan, as creating any rights under Chapter 245, née HB 1704. (Stratus' purported rights, Murphy continued, were created -- if at all -- by the actual subdivision of the Bradley property, which should guarantee neither specific zoning nor a certain level of density.)

And thus flew out the window the little bird who told the City Council that, if they rejected this deal, they couldn't stop Stratus from building the 8 million square feet proposed in 1983 by Gary Bradley. (An aside: Wasn't one of Slusher's "10 ways to spot a boondoggle" something about "If we don't pass it, the alternative would be worse"?) Cutting a deal with Stratus to avoid a lawsuit is only defensible if we think Stratus has a case. To state flat-out that they don't, and then proceed with a deal that assumes that they do ... yes, we should be bummed. But why be more disappointed with Slusher than with the other five members of the City Council? Most all of them have, at one time or another, proclaimed themselves to be fiscally responsible supporters of Smart Growth. They have a funny way of showing it.

Yes, I know, I know, I was here and I worked with and for Slusher and I know how far he has traveled politically, but much has changed in Austin since then and nostalgia will get us nowhere. It means nothing to the thousands of Austinites who weren't here 10 years ago and don't know what they missed but still vote and pay taxes, and it means nothing to the good citizens for whom Barton Springs is not, in fact, the soul of the city.

Slusher has not just supported but championed the Stratus deal, so he deserves more criticism than his colleagues. Otherwise, he's just like the rest, and that is an unhappy enough place for Austin to be. Why pretend, as enviro-progressives did in the last election (we at the Chronicle heard it many times), that Slusher is a monster but (for example) Jackie Goodman is not? That may accurately reflect the personal pain and anger within the Tribe, but it seems to mean little inside City Hall. They both voted for the Stratus deal.

Push Came to Shove --

That, really, was the point of the Tribe talk, which so many of you have complained was unfair, and in one important sense it was. I don't feel, and didn't intend to argue, that the progressive-enviro movement, Austin's political left wing, is too marginal to deserve a leader to represent it at City Hall. (Remember, we endorsed Beverly Griffith, too.) That leader is, apparently, Raul Alvarez, though now that he's pulled the sword from the stone he, too, may find it too heavy to wield. But Alvarez did not need to wrest the Green-Knight title from Daryl Slusher; it was up for grabs. However committed Slusher is to protecting the environment, he's none too committed to the environmental movement, and during the Stratus struggle has, it seems to me, gone out of his way to prove it.

Trust me: I wish I didn't have to "focus on personalities" -- it would be wonderful if the issues proceeded to the dais and resolved themselves without human interaction. But the divide between Slusher and the Tribe is real, and it is personal, and it probably did matter on the Stratus deal, if only because it forced others at City Hall to take sides, and if I ignored it I wouldn't be doing my job. Perhaps Daryl Slusher deserves Bill Bunch -- the two of them locked in some Austin version of No Exit, set at Las Manitas. Perhaps they deserve each other. Either way, Austin deserves better.

Yes, Slusher, and five other council members, have fallen short of our endorsement dictum: "Spend money well, and manage growth wisely." The Stratus deal does neither. May they all suffer the consequences. And may Alvarez be spared them. n

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Daryl Slusher, Stratus Properties, city council, Barton Springs, Raul Alvarez, Will Wynn, Circle C MUD, Pat Murphy, Chapter 245, HB 1704, Gary Bradley, Smart Growth, Beverly Griffith, Bill Bunch

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