The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

The Calm After the Blowout

By Wells Dunbar, March 21, 2008, News

South by Southwest is over – and with Will Wynn giving props to local rock dudes and Mike Martinez high-fiving hipsters at day parties, you gotta be relieved that's the case. When our staunch, if not sober, public officials rub elbows and extremities with the hype-obsessed, Pitchfork Media-addled masses, it's always one free Dewar's away from ridiculousness.

What's next? Brewster McCracken in some DayGlo throwback Reeboks and stunna shades, jamming to blog rock and French filter-disco?

Mercifully no – but like the rest of Austin (to say precious little of the Chronicle offices) City Council is well worn out this week, as evidenced by its lackluster agenda. And now it appears the two items of interest – putting the switch to single-member districts on the ballot and action on the city's controversial Webberville tract – are dropped from the agenda like an Alka-Seltzer tab into a morning pick-me-up.

Early this week, City Hall chatter had it that at the behest of the mayor, single-member districts would be dead – for now at least. Tuesday, Mayor Wynn duly issued a statement saying: "Despite my general support for single-member districts, I believe it doesn't make sense to ask the voters to decide this just a year before a new census. I think we will learn that Austin in 2010 is a very different city than it was in 2000." As the public swing-vote, Wynn had volunteered to play peacemaker between district proponent Martinez and opponent Sheryl Cole (if not attack dog McCracken). With Wynn's declaration, the message is clear – the publicly bitter debate won't continue on his watch.

Back to work. Now ... which international band wants a hug?

"That's how we do business at City Hall, man. It's the will of the council," says Martinez, calling himself "totally fine" with the decision. "But for me, it doesn't make the issue a moot point or a dead point. ... I think you're going to see this issue continue to surface and be at the fore of any elected office at City Hall, because I think it is that important to many folks."

"We just had a policy difference," Cole says of the snowballing skirmish. "If I have a policy-difference with Brewster, nobody says it's a brown-black issue, but I can't have a policy-difference issue with Mike." (Well, that and the fact that McCracken's a shade paler than translucent.) Cole and Martinez agree their working relationship never suffered during the debate, but Martinez remains angered by the attacks he faced. "It really to me showed the true colors of the media and some of the folks in this community, that they can't articulate a defense for their position – so they have to resort to personal attacks, to fearmongering, and race-baiting. It is the oldest page in the book, and it's not one I'm willing to sit here and engage in."

With barely a year left on his term, it's not surprising the mayor didn't want to expend political capital refereeing a fight on the dais. Normally a preternaturally calm (some might say somnambulant) bunch, City Council really hates to see people unhappy.

Except Webberville. Screw them!

Alas, probably not this week. The sole other item of interest – a proclamation that the city's Webberville tract (just this side of the small town) shall include a power plant, a wastewater-treatment plant, and a (very eco-friendly, recycling-focused) landfill (with "community facilities!") – is looking like it'll be pulled from the agenda also. Blame it on the virulent outcry against the proposal in Thursday's Travis Co. Commissioners Court meeting, where Precinct 1 Commish Ron Davis trashed-talked the notion – although he couldn't get a second on a motion to try to outlaw it. But with Austin's ambitious zero-waste program rethinking refuse and unbounded growth buckling the city, Austin looks locked on an industrial use for its 2,800 acres on FM 969. How about setting up the Villa Muse pitchmen out there? They're full of enough methane and hot air for all of our future energy needs!

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