Venom, Not Water, Flowing at Northridge Acres

Northridge Acres resident Nettie Brown and the fire hydrant from which her neighborhood gets its water.
Northridge Acres resident Nettie Brown and the fire hydrant from which her neighborhood gets its water. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

For people trying to get expensive help with a serious problem, the Northridge Acres Homeowners Association seems determined to bite the hand that feeds them, but before it has a chance to feed them.

The tough-luck subdivision stuck between Austin and Round Rock has fought unsuccessfully for years to acquire what most people take for granted: reliable water and sewer services. The community currently gets water through an antiquated system from a single city of Round Rock fireplug. In November 2002, Northridge caught the attention of the Texas Water Development Board, including Executive Administrator Mark Hall and Ignacio Madera Jr. of the board's Office of Project Finance and Construction. Madera was willing to say for the record that the community can be defined as a colonia and is in need of help. (See "Between Round Rock and a Hard Place," Nov. 15 and "A Drip of Progress for Northridge Acres," Dec. 6.)

Barely two months later, residents have decided to criticize Hall, personally attack Madera, and sweep the TWDB into the same old government conspiracy they believe they have been fighting for years. The group sent a letter dated Jan. 6 and headed "Ignacio Madera's Deceitful Tactics" to TWDB members, with a copy to Gov. Rick Perry. It was signed by the association's board of directors. Northridge activist Nettie Brown, president of the association, doesn't see attacking Madera and name-calling as a risky tactic at all. "We decided to take the tactic that was telling the truth," she said hotly on Monday in defense of the letter. And she said the truth, as far as she is concerned, is that Madera and the TWDB have nothing to offer but decades of paying off an "illegally submitted" loan the community doesn't want and never approved.

At issue is the application for a $390,000 TWDB loan that would provide a way to hook the Northridge water system to city of Austin water, but seemingly would do little else to alleviate problems with old and inadequate water lines, some of which pass through septic-tank runoff fields. The loan would add additional payments to the community's already high water bills.

In their letter, the Northridge homeowners accuse Madera and Hall of helping Patrick King, who holds the Northridge community water system in court-ordered temporary receivership and is seeking the loan. The TWDB sent a letter to King in December 2002 raising a variety of tough questions about the loan application and asking for clarifications, explanations, and additional materials. The letter is a standard procedure, but the homeowners' group sees this as an effort by TWDB employees to "collaborate and grant favoritism" to King, and they argue that the loan should simply be dumped.

Madera and Ward also instigated a survey to gather a profile of the community and determine whether or not a loan requiring community repayment was a feasible solution to the water problems. They originally had requested that King provide the survey, but undertook it themselves because of a history of mistrust between King and the community. The homeowners construe this as another example of the TWDB doing King's work for him. They also contend that the survey was "underhanded" because it did not mention the loan or its repayment. They accuse Madera of "shameful and disgraceful" activities and claim that the UT students who were recruited to help with the survey "were made part of the corrupt and deceitful scheme ... to trick the colonia residents ... into agreeing to this loan."

The memo goes on to accuse Madera of trying to circumvent the homeowners association and appoint a new community spokesman. It closes with a claim that the "letter is to inform each of you of the plight of the colonia families of Northridge Acres and show how Ignacio Madera Jr. has added to the plight through his disgraceful acts."

Madera on Tuesday defended the actions of the TWDB and said no one is in cahoots with King. He said the survey is a device that will provide concrete details on the economic status of the community and on whether or not community members might be willing to support a loan, even though Brown says the community is impoverished and there's no support for a loan. "We need to get the truth of what the community wants," he said. He also said such figures would be necessary if an attempt is made to acquire a foundation grant to help the community. He also said the TWDB is "trying to assess the validity of [Brown's] claim to be president of the homeowners association" and has asked Brown to provide proof of how she was elected. Madera also wants to meet with the entire association membership, not simply with Brown and the board. "I am going to continue to do what I think needs to be done to help Northridge," Madera said.

Brown remains obstinate and driven by her thirst to defeat King, whose name appears at least 11 times in the brief letter. "There is nothing the TWDB can do for us. They have nothing to offer us but debt service," she said.

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