Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

You never miss the water…

until the well runs dry, or the aquifer does. It turns out that there is an application into the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District for a private owner to drill a well into the Trinity aquifer and extract 1-million gallons of water per year for “domestic irrigation needs”.

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

Err, run that by me again. Yes, a property owner in Rollingwood, 8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 to be precise, and if Google Streetview is accurate, the property seen in the picture, wants to drill right through the Edwards Aquifer into the underlying one, and pump out 23x per month than I use, and use it for irrigation.

Now, I guess you might argue that for a farm this would be a small quantity. But this isn’t a farm, it’s a house+land situated between Bee Caves Rd and Lake Austin. While I’m sure the owners may feel they are putting the water to good use, at a time when we are all being asked to cut back and save on water consumption, this is the equivalent of 3x the water consumption that Lance Armstrong used and caused him such embarressment(thanks to Steve for his comment correcting my understanding and math) This request is approximately half the annual amount that embarrassed Lance Armstrong, and for which he took immediate steps to rectify.

Let’s remember, there is a water shortage. Water isn’t man made, it’s part of the commons. It “belongs” to all of us. It’s unclear to me that this won’t affect the Edwards Aquifer, as we all know that water finds it’s own level. There is apparently a chance that the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will approve this free extraction and use of OUR water.

Now, remember this isn’t about cost, it’s about supply. Seems to me that if this passes, now might be a good idea for us all to start plans to build our own wells to water our own lawns, after all we can all be selfish.

Alternatively, if you feel that the commons right to water is the responsibility of all of us, you might want to call BSEACD on (512) 282-8441 in the next 3-days and tell them, and indirectly tell James David and Gary Peese, the property owners, that you do not feel this is an appropriate action, period, and especially in the current drought conditions.

To “Potect and Serve” or to raise revenue?

33081[1]If you drive north on Mopac daily from downtown in the morning, you’ll have no doubt noticed the Starship troopers hiding out on your journey. Recently they’ve been spotted in numerous places, more often up under the Parmer Lane Bridge, Monday there were three clustered together, their broad shouldered appearance in the shadows, standing next to their Star Wars like speeder bikes; Full facemask on, sometimes reflecting the sun and glinting in your eyes as you speed past. Only at the last minute do you spot them holding their radar speed guns rather than litesabers. Sometimes though they are easier to spot, they sit in Texas DPS Cars and are dressed like regular cops

It’s the reality of the daily north bound commute on Mopac, north of the 183 section, up onto the toll road section. Yes, while all you out of towners are sitting in slow moving traffic heading south, it’s perfectly possible to travel at, or greater than the speed limit going north. Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting that you should exceed the speed limit on any road in Austin or elsewhere. For the sake of transparency, I’ve been stopped and ticketed twice this year and realise I’m in the wrong. While I’ve breezed past the speed cops recently, with the cruise control set to 60MPH to accomodate the sometimes confusing, variable speed limit on sections of Mopac, many others have not been so lucky. The question is though, is this really the best use of the cops time ?

I’m not trying to get them off my back so I can speed and break the law with impunity, it just occurs to me that following another death in an Austin neighborhood, sitting on Mopac and picking off north bound drivers really does little good, except raise revenue. It’s an alternative, progressive form of tax, levied and paid unevenly, and avoided by most. If you really wanted to tax speeding drivers on the toll roads, just charge based on the time taken to pass through/between toll booths and be done with it. At least that’s open and transparent. The current system is akin to using the cops as tax/toll collectors.

While from time to time I assume there must be crashes on that section of Mopac, I’d guess they involve few cars, when speeding is possible. Maybe, more when the roads are busy like the evenings heading North on Mopac, but then speeding isn’t so much an issue, just dangerous and careless driving that causes accidents.

So, assuming we are not about to see a big influx of new law enforcement officers and enough to patrol everywhere, then perhaps the cops could be put to use patrolling those neighborhood roads where cars still speed, often with impunity, and when there is an accident with serious and deadly consequences. [Like this one from earlier this month]. To my memory, speed has been cited in at least 5 neighborhood deaths where pedestrians have been killed by motorists this year, have there been any on that section of Mopac in the morning commute?

I assume cops themselves are the only ones at risk of being hit on Mopac, rather than pedestrians, and sadly, it does happen, so another reason not to put them at risk just to raise revenue.  What should we expect from our law officers, to protect and serve, or to raise revenue? Isn’t that a reasonable question ?

Before you vent, again, I’m not saying cops are bad, I’m not saying that speeding is justifiable, or that I or any others breaking the law are in any way safe drivers. The question I’m asking, is, given the choice should the cops be sitting on Mopac and picking off easy hits on variously empty roadway, or actually patrolling and stopping drivers in the neighborhood arterial roads and shortcuts where speeding is just as common but more dangerous?

Don’t hold your breath though for changes, a recent study from researchers at the University of North Carolina suggests that a weak economy will mean more traffic tickets. Net, net: every one percent (1%) loss of local government revenue leads to a .32 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets.

Street and Event Closures III

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the street!

Yep, the next round of this increasingly confusing topic is due on the agenda of Thursday April 30th council meeting as item #25. For those of you not paying attention, that means today, unless you are reading this before midnight, by which time I’ll have hopefully finished writing it…

You can find the full agenda here. I’m not a specialist on city council meetings/processes, but as far as I can tell, this is open to the public, but possibly only to listen. So far in the City Council meetings it has been heard in the afternoon or evening, in the Public Hearing section. As I read it, this time it’s being heard in normal council business, where no separate discussion is necessary unless desired by a Council Member. Unless you know better!

It would seem that since the last meeting, city staff have been busy. There is a comeback on the taskforce recommendations, which seemingly pretty much explains why they are not really implementing any of there major points. This can be read here.

Instead of a separate office for events, staff is recommending folding the responsibilities into the Urban Transportation Commission (UTC). This may be prudent, but it’s not at all clear its right. Prudent because at a time of trimming city budgets, declining tax revenues etc. the last thing the city could probably afford, was a new department. However, adding the “special events” to the UTC will double the number of monthly meetings and “require additional support staff” – which probably just means saving headed notepaper then, and then a potential new head of department on the city “shilling”.

Depending on which side you take, events, churches/business(not claiming they are the same, just lumping their objections together), residents or Task Force members, you can be sure that the final recommendations don’t add up. There seems to be a new 30-day Rules Posting Process, according to Jason Redfern, Right-of-Way Management Division Manager, Transportation Department – “that has not started yet, which will provide stakeholders the opportunity to make suggestions”.

Joey Trmyer of Conely Sports, isn’t pleased with what he’s seen far and wrote this blog post and this letter to the council. I have to say, and I’m taking Joeys “council” on this, a number of the plans might work for static events like the Art Fest, but they introduce significant safety questions for sports events of all sizes. Kathie Tovo, ex-Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association prez. is also concerned with a number of the proposals too. So far two out of four.

News reaches me though that Council Member of Mayoral candidate Leffingwell is this evening proposing his own set of changes which reach a more effective compromise. Hey Larry, why didn’t I hear about this from you?

So, who knows which way this will go, if you are at all interested, and able, head down to city hall in the morning but be prepared to be confused and delayed as the agenda, ordinances and time keeping get shifted around to suit the political time table. I won’t be there this time, please post comments and let me know how it goes.

Time Warner Cable, Tiers and tears

Over on austin360.com, Omar Gallaga is reporting that Time Warner Cable have annolunced the tiers they are going to use for capping and overage-charging for their broadband cable offering. For the last couple of weeks this has been a hot topic on the interweb thingy, and has generated piles of bile, some useful analysis but much of it missing the point.

There is no doubt, there are out there amongst us interweb users, some leaches and obsessive, compulsive overachievers. In opposition to the TWC changes people are marching out all sorts of claims and justifications for being big-data users, why they are the “bleeding edge”. What they do today, will be the norm’ in a few years time. Well, that maybe, but probably not.

Time Warner Cables business model is under attack on all fronts. They are doing what all nascent monopolies do when under attack, they push the boundaries of what can get away with. This usually more broad in America than in Europe, because America is the great defender of free enterprise, freedom of choice, and commercial innovation. No amount of facebook pages is going to change that.

Only, we just don’t have any of those things really when it comes to digital communication. Cellphones here in the US are restrictive, expensive, fragmented and fine examples of monopolistic practices. Some of the best cellphones in the world are now crippled when sold outside the US, so that when they are used in the US, they don’t get full network, 3G speeds, meaning the “network” operators can charge and tie you to multi-year contracts, oh and it’s OK coz we get “free” phones.

Cable TV here in the US has hardly changed in 30-years. The addition of HD has been done in a haphazard, fragmented way with no real innovation. Unlike Europe where broadcast, often free to air, HD offers many more channels and multi-screen viewing, interactive services etc. See for example what Sky and the BBC have done with that little red-button in the UK. Why is it for example, that when watching a “home shopping channel” you have to dial 1-800 and wait, press buttons and speak to a person? Broadband, is bi-directional you know…

When the cutover to broadcast HDTV happens here in the US, it will be a pure swap, no new advance services, just the same old channels, mostly showing repeat programs(not in HD) and thats about it. What most Americans will find is that the signal will break up frequently during rain storms and other bad weather thats affects b roadcast quality. Unlike conventional TV(non-digital) though, you won’t get a degraded picture, you’ll get nothing at all.

And so, back to Time Warner Cable. I’m a triple play subscriber. I don’t watch much TV, mostly I record a few shows per week and only watch them on Sunday evenings. I have my home phone service through TWC, although heaven knows why. No one has the number, and I don’t use it for outgoing calls, especially now I don’t work from home. Many people don’t have “home” phones now, they use their Cellphones, I should join them, except my cellphone has no docking station and really isn’t suitable for a 2-hour conference call using any kind of headset.

Here is another example of lack of innovation in the US. When was the last time you saw a phone in the US that was your cellphone when outside the home, and when inside the home, used the broadband service to connect rather than wireless, and allowed you to switch seamlessly between the two as you walk out of the house, without dropping the call?

I think that in the 2.5 years I’ve had my TWC service, I’ve watched maybe 5 on-demand movies. This is an area that most people focus on when analyzing the effects of broadand usage capping by TWC. It’s clear, isn’t it?

TWC have every reason to stop you downloading legally or otherwise, movies from the Internet or watching them online. If they can stop or price that to discourage, THEY can charge you for the same movies, either through subscription channels, or on-demand.

So, lets recap. TWC offers four services:

– Basic cable inc. subscription channels
– Basic internet cable broadband connectivity, soon to be tiered by usage
– Landline telephone service(wired)
– On-demand movies(chargeable)

The threats to their business are:
– Declining use of basic cable, subscription channels and on-demand movies because people get their entertainment elsewhere.
– Telephone service is under attack from cellphones and VOIP, Vonage, Skype etc.
– Basic broadband is underattack from “unlimited” subscription and pre-pay cellphone data plans, 802.11 wireles in coffee shops, down at Austin City hall etc.
– Basic cable is stagnent, uninteresting, overloaded with cheap promotional shows and home shopping networks and 24-hour news channels that basically make the news up as they go along.
– Consumers are also increasingly savy, well you’d hope so. What many realize is that it’s all data. The cable you watch, the telephone calls you make, the on-demand movies, even if you do everything the TWC way, it all arrives and leaves your house as data.

So, here we have a high-noon showdown. The customers don’t understand why part of their data service should be metered and priced seperately from the other parts of the same data connection. The cable company, in this case, TWC, is playing the typical, dumb, fat and happy monopoly that can and will charge as it sees fit, easy things first and trying to paint a small section of their customers as the problem.

TWC should be forced to compete for my business, not get it on a plate. After all, if I don’t subscribe, I can’t get anything back for the ugly, 1920’s style cabling and poles that litter my street, having to have the trees cut back to protect their golden-egg.

First, TWC should be forced to unbundle it’s TV service. The cable channel selections should be offered in more flexible groupings or by individual channels. It is simply way past time this should have been done. I’d pay a premium for about 8-channels total and would prefer more bandwidth than more channels.

Second, the broadband service offered by TWC should be split into two. A bulk data backbone service and a last-mile service. The bulk data backbone service has to be sold, on a tiered/metered service to companies that handle the last-mile service. TWC is more than welcome to compete as a last-mile provider. Yep, this is effectively turning TWC backbone into a “utility” by the back door.

Third, irrespective of the first two, the home telephone service offered by TWC should be unbunlded. If the first two recommendations are adopted, this becomes largely irrelevant as the last-mile providers will need to provide advanced services, or just compete in race-to-the-bottom cheap pricing. If race-to-the-bottom pricing is the only innovation, then overtime TWC will just rebuild it’s monopoly through acquisition. This is exactly what allowed AT&T to come back from near death to semi-monopolist(and yes, I know it’s not the same AT&T and it didn’t really come back, it’s just branding, but the point remains.)

Fourth, again irrespective of the first three, TWC needs to design, develop and deliver REAL digital cable offerings. This isn’t just the same old channels and a 1980’s style programming guide sent down a digital channel. It’s interactive TV; it’s online HD games delivered without a PC or gaming system; it’s an interactive YouTube channel; it’s interactive news; it’s bidirectional video calling; it’s something that America and especially here in Austin we could be proud of.

Arguing about broadband caps/tiering, overage pricing is just missing the point, and will end up in tears in 10-years time, TWC will be the next GM looking for bailouts to subsidize it’s “essential” services. And please Omar, suggesting stimulus money now for TWC is just rubbing salt in.

Street Closures, City Staff, and council – Process over people

It’s strange to see democracy in action, or rather process over people. In a response to one person who asked me before the meeting what they had to do to ensure the “event” community won the current battle, I replied, the city process isn’t set up to create winners, it’s there just to make sure there are no losers!

And so it was tonight, at the City Council meeting where the staff recommendations for implementation of the Downtown Street Closure Task Force recommendations were heard. It was public hearing and a large number of people from 4-sides showed up, with a few others including marginalized neighborhood associations.

The Churches were well represented, as were the Race and Event organizers, and the task force members. In addition there were a large number of runners and event participants, but they had been effectively neutered by the race organizers through their emergent AREA organization. The Austin Races and Events Alliance (AREA), had appealed for people to attend but not speak until they’d spoken, probably fearing a backlash similar to the earlier one at the early taskforce meeting.

In the end the meeting was conducted in a relatively orderly and positive fashion, with Mayor Wynn and a number of the speakers enjoying entertaining interaction. After some 2-hours 30-minutes, most of it hearing public testimony, what became clear is that the City staff had turned months of work from the taskforce into a lose-lose-lose situation and wasn’t clear why this was.

The staff recommendations introduced rules like ensuring that Caesar Chavez was ALWAYS open, which the task force had never considered, as far as I know. That, had the Art Austin, 1st Night Austin and many other event promoters and producers losing out. The recommendations did not institute the Special Events office that the Task Force had recommended, thus they were losers. The Churches didn’t get their access needs met and they lost out, and well, the race organizers didn’t get it their way either, so they lost out too.

After the meeting I was asked “did we win?” My answer was, no, but you got what you wanted. What did they want? Well almost no one it seemed wanted it to go ahead as prescribed, and that’s what they got.

What happened was Council Member Leffingwell proposed to adjourn the public hearing and pass the staff proposal on the caveat that the letter submitted by the Task Force would considered and the proposal amended to accommodate. After a small amount of discussion and clarification from council members and Mayor Wynn, thats what they got, approved on first reading with the Leffingwell compromise. 2nd reading with be on either the 23rd or 30th of April, based on City Staff’s ability to meet with Task Force members and incorporate the changes.

However, quite why and how we got to where we did is beyond me? Why would staff come forward with these recommendations that were so out of line with a process that had taken months of compromise? Given that it’s been three of four months for staff to come forward with that, how likely is it that they’ll come back in as little as two weeks with the update thats acceptable to the task force and everyone else?

I found it personally interesting that none of the Mayoral candidates publicly took a stance on this and push it through one way or the other. One can only wonder if they really hope they’ll get the election over and done with before the Street and Event Closure really does claim a loser, the mayoral candidate that backs the wrong horse.

And so it was, process over people. – Oh yeah, before anyone suggests I’m a conspiracy theorist, I’m not. I also know that things don’t happen by accident.

City Staff talk back on Street closure task force

Mark your diaries, I hear that City staff will brief to Council and taskforce members today at 2:00pm (time varies) at City Hall Council Chambers. The brief will cover the progress on the Taskforce recommendations.

April 2nd at 6pm, a public hearing will be held with possible action by Council for amending City Ordinances related to Street Events Closures and review of the new Right-of-Way Closure Rules. Citizens may provide comment to Council at this hearing.

I’ve reported on this twice, and posted a summary on the difficulties faced and reasonable progress made taskforce. If you remember, one of the early meetings was attended “mob-handed” by the athletes community, and most never got the chance to speak. This is your/their chance.

I’ll find out where the documents can be obtained, and update this post.
[Update: 3/30/09 The documents covering the current state are all now posted on the city website http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/dsectf.htm – Thanks to Taskforce member Kathie Tovo for the links and work on the taskforce.[/update]

The best results from public participation at city hall meetings is garnered by actually having a considered, factual input based on what is being discussed. An emotional rant might make you fell better, but they rarely “move the ball forward”, but hey, feel free to do either :-)

Mayoral candidates in bed together?

Chronicle cover for the Feb 13th issueThe Chronicle has a good summary of the Austin mayoral candidates and their cover pitches it as a “Municipal Death Match”.

However, last Thursdays council meeting where the Wildflower Commons PUD was up for discussion, debate and possibly vote, rather than it being a death match with Leffingwell taking one position, and McCracken taking the opposite, it was more like John and Yokos love-in, except the protest was from the public, not the lovers.

I arrived at City Hall around 4pm, listened to some of the heated discussion on the East Austin Solar farm, then the Town Lake trail extension and boardwalk. After 2-hours I left, there were a large number of people milling around, more than 90-had signed up to speak on the PUD. I got back later, but no debate, no discussion, just a postponment, apperently with the prior agreement of the developers lobbyist.

Rather than either McCraken or Leffingwell “grasping the nettle” and one or both of them taking an environmental stand, they both ducked the issue. Worse they moved the issue until after the Mayoral election, ducking the issue completely and allowing both of them to claim the anti-developer, pro-environment, which are likely to be vote winners.

Laura Morrison was the only dissenting voice in the 6-1 approval to postpone. I’d guess that both Leffingwell and McCraken would claim the revised conditions that have been placed on the developer before they come back to council in August over the 100,000 sq. foot supermarket, retail, restaurants, and 550 condos in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone, however, since neither spoke during the process we don’t have a clue what they really think. Give peace a chance?

The Save Our Springs Alliance has numerous documents explaining the Wildflower Commons PUD.

Changing Places on South 1st

Yep, it’s gripping, even I can’t wait for the result. But despite that I took a walk around the neighborhood earlier this evening and spotted two changes. First the much lauded Mercury Clothing on the corner of W Mary and South 1st. A purveyor of fine, aka expensive, modern mens clothes, seems to have closed it’s doors. There’s a FOR RENT sign up in the window, and it hasn’t been open for a while.

I have to admit, the minimalist stock never worked for me, and the somewhat disengaged location for the South Congress strip, didn’t bode well. While they had some quality and interesting lines, there just were not enough to make it a favorite of mine.

Second, big yellow building at 2009 S 1st St., formerly home to La Luz, is no longer yellow. The windows are covered, the building has been painted a gentle shade of beige or should that be coffee? The permit notice in the windows signals a new entry into the coffee hot-spots for the South Congress/South 1st corridor. The project name on the application says “Once Over Coffee Bar” and the application is to convert from personal services to a restaurant, putting it squarely in the same space as Green Muse on Oltorf, allegedly recently sold, Fair Bean coffee, just up the street, who’ve recently been offering an increasing amount of food. The building could be an interesting space, it has a decent number of its own parking spaces. It will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Meanwhile down at 1708 South 1st, it looks like the Calavera Skate Shop will be open shortly, the web site is there already.

And thats a wrap. The BBC has just declared Obama for President, I guess as the next few days play out, we’ll see what that really means. G’nite all.

The American Future: A History, by Simon Schama

Working into the nightIt’s been a big evening of blogging for me, three posts on my personal blog, one on my professional blog and now a 3rd one here on Austin metro blogs. I wasn’t sure if should post this one here, or on my personal blog. As time passed though, I was more convinced I should post here.

Why? A few reasons. First up, while I don’t know too much American history, I found the first episode of the BBC’s “The American Future: A History, by Simon Schama” absolutely fascinating. Since Schama is a historian, I’m sure everything is historically accurate, if not perhaps a little biased in presentation, maybe. Why doesn’t BBC America have the balls to show this here before the election? For the intelligentry it raises some more interesting questions on their voting choices for November, in this episode, mostly about water.

Second, Schama’s “history” is running on the external display on my laptop, full screen in great quality. When the USA goes digital in February 2009, you might ask, where are the US offerings that are anything in comparison with the UK’s broadcast digital Service. not to mention the BBC iPlayer. I was lucky enough to be able to download this episode while in the UK last week, it cannot be accessed online from the US, so don’t bother trying. Here though is a small clip from the BBC YouTube channel.

Third, was doesn’t the BBC, and likewise it’s erstwhile real partner here in the USA, PBS and WGBS Boston, figure out some way of making BBCi programs available for a charge online here in the USA? I’d certainly pay more for BBC shows especially news and documentaries than I would for online music and books.

Fourth, the first episode of the series includes a piece on President Carter, where he says “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns” and “if we succumb to a dream world, then we will wake-up to a nightmare”. Oh the ring of truth for this today. There is though a salutary lesson for the next President of the USA, if he wants to get elected for a second term. The circumstances of Carters second term election will almost certainly be the same, if not worse by then.

Scharma book on American plenty, that spawned the series is available from amazon.co.uk now and for pre-order for amazon.com if you are prepared to wait until May 2009.

Railroad Commission of Texas – who’da thought?

As a non-voter, ad nauseam(1), I was astonished to listen to a News-8 piece this morning on the elections of the Railroad Commission of Texas.

While its been encouraging to read/listen to the discussions on Prop 2., it seems to me that there should also have been some useful pointers to this VERY IMPORTANT commission. Maybe as a newcomer maybe I’m just the only one that didn’t know?

As you show up to vote, please take time to familiarize yourself with the relevant positions wrt this board. They literally hold some of the most important controls for energy pricing and production for the future, especially in wind, solar and gas.

I know that many may opposed to wind and solar farms for their looks and their environmental impact, they are likely to happen any way. Yesterday the UK officially opened one of the biggest wind farms off the east coast of England to become the world’s biggest offshore wind generator.

Wind farms need investment to build. They also need investment to connect to the grid, however, given proper design and build they are not difficult or expensive to run and maintain. The same can be said for solar power.

Texas has both the size and conditions to run large wind and solar farms, the question is who should end up owning these? Large multi-nationals, billionaires or state or local cooperatives.

Here are three resources to help you get started:

(1) Despite paying a bunch of money in income tax, and ever increasing property tax(although I guess not next year because of the drop in the property market, as a non-citizen I can’t vote. I would otherwise, do you have any reason not to vote?

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