Beside the Point

Tragic Kingdom

Beside the Point
Photo by Wells Dunbar

I know what you're thinking: Coming off a two-week absence, doesn't the voice of "BTP" owe his dozens of readers an explanation?

Well, in a sterling example of just how ahead of the curve my City Council coverage is, I was in San Diego, where, among other errands, I scouted America's Finest City in advance of council's own "InterCity Visit" there – where they would presumably receive tips on turning Downtown Austin into a giant open-air T.G.I. Friday's like San Diego's "historic" Gaslamp Quarter (think Warehouse District on steroids) or building a rail system no one in their car-choked culture rides, except for intoxicated trips to and from Chargers games. Noble endeavors, all.

Granted, both out-trips were planned long before California became a wind-swept tinderbox, which altered plans a bit. (Merciful­ly, I returned last Tuesday; a day or two of that air was more than enough.) As the enfant terrible of the Austin blogosphere, www.austinpoliticalreport.com, put it, in a post titled "More Despair for San Diego?," "A nightmarish inferno, families who have lost everything, and now this: the Austin City Council isn't coming." The woe was a little premature; noting that everything was already paid for, Will Wynn made the trek west, along with Brewster McCracken and Mike Martinez.

While San Diego's a fine city, there's a true exemplar of urbanity just to its north, the ultimate American ideation of New Urban­ism, deftly blending density and mixed-use with an impeccable sense of design – one where everything looks like itself, only more so. I'm talking, of course, about "the Happiest Place on Earth" (after 301 W. Second): Disneyland. Think about it – they've got a rail system that spans the entire park and other innovative transportation solutions (some, like Splash Mountain, even on the water!). Main Street is second to none, with few of the public-safety and property-crime woes affecting us of late. And did I mention the booming tourism industry? While lacking Austin's sales-tax wealth, Disney's surmounted that problem with an innovative "ticketing" system. While a $66 day-pass may seem a little steep, I can see it becoming de rigueur for parking and shopping privileges at, say, the Domain, SoCo, or the 2nd Street District. It's something to put on council's radar; I get the sense the members would be right at home there. At the entrance, I even noticed a plaque perfect for City Hall: "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy."

Return to the Frying Pan

One downside to my California adventures, aside from returning with a healthy appreciation for local condo prices, was missing all the fun stuff here. Recovering Briton Richard Whittaker did a fine job in this space covering the Town Lake Animal Center and panhandling debacles (so good, I sicced him on immigration; we can't have foreigners taking American jobs!). As he noted, while Jennifer Kim's anti-solicitation proposal is pulled, public hearings are still scheduled for Nov. 29; she tells BTP she hasn't abandoned solicitation limits around schools but that staff will revise it to encompass "the paths children take to and from school" instead of a possibly unconstitutional 1,000-foot ban. Since drawing an election challenger, Kim's been everywhere, leading opposition to everything from new Texas nuclear plants, to Marriott incentives, to plowing under Lions Municipal Golf Course.

In that vein, there's more action off than on the dais this week. Aside from humdingers like setting the 2008 meeting calendar, there's a couple of interesting items on today's agenda (Thursday, Nov. 1). One is the "Open Government Online" ordinance redesigning the city website "with a goal of significantly increasing the number of online services available to the public." So-named for the failed 2006 charter amendment, this step's already a day late; hopefully it's not too many dollars short. Another item codifies a four-firefighters-per-engine policy, along with future staffing levels. Lastly, council sets public hearing on Lee Leffing­well's beleaguered SOS Ordinance revisions for next week's meeting, Nov. 8.

Looks like I left one firestorm for another.

E-mail BTP at wdunbar@austinchronicle.com. Why? Because we like you!

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, San Diego, Open Government, SOS amendment, SOS Ordinance

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