Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Street Event Closure Task Force

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

// Monday I attended the Austin City Councils’ Street Event Closure Task Force meeting. I wrote much of this post during the meeting, but decided that reflection was called for. It seems others would have done well to do the same.

I learned about the taskforce from a widely circulated email, that must have gone to almost every runner, cyclist and triathlete in Austin, and probably a lot wider afield. You can see a copy of the email here on Brandon Marshs’ Get out and do something blog. The problem is something near 100 people turned up to speak, and as per city rules, only the first 10 to register got to speak. The rest left frustrated, not understanding the process, and not understanding what to do next.

What’s clear is that the city is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to events. They need events, we need them. Events(not just races, triathlons and crits’) form a core than binds and attracts many people to downtown Austin. The current rules, and city staffs ability to implement them, is a wash. 60-days, 30-ways, waivers, Police costs, road closures, City council overrides – these are all a fact of life for the events than run downtown.

The city has a process for coming up with new rules and processes; the task force is part of that. However, mob rule doesn’t work, unless applied at the time a decision needs to be made. Monday’s performance wasted an opportunity to get some valuable input from the stakeholders, not just a reason for people to speak passionately about their introduction to running.

Lobbying works. You might not like it, but it does. Witness members of the task force, many are effectively lobbyists for special interests groups. Lobbying has only become a dirty word since the bribery and payola cases from the 80’s and 90’s. My fellow Austinites had better get used to this. If we waste the next 4-5 meetings of the task force, each arriving increasingly earlier to sign-up and speak for their allotted 3-minutes. We need to elect a spokesperson, we need to have solutions to offer, not just complaints, and opposition.

I attended with a tongue in both cheeks, a foot in each running shoe, and splitting my time between T1 in Bouldin Creeek, and T2, a downtown race course for an event I want to take part in. Having been an organizer of some 10-domestic events in the UK, and part of the team for two major international triathlons, I can assure the neighborhoods that a race organizer that doesn’t care about them won’t be a race organizer next year. I can tell the runners and triathletes the same.

All parties need to recognize that the only solution IS compromise. We have to work together. On Monday, there was much discussion about events clashing on the same w/e and the problem this causes, for example closing all possible roads leading to a Church or business. Nothing was said about the week-in, week-out closure of the same roads for different events.

One solution postured is having a set of graduation courses away from downtown. Imagine, for four of eight weekends in April/May next year, the city will grant permission to close the access road you need to drive down to Ladybird Lake for your run, or to go meet with your cycling group to ride. It’s disruptive, it effects your planning, it breaks your routine. That’s how the Churches, businesses and public feel about your events. No matter how much that downtown 5k changed your life, you had no more right to run in it downtown, than a business does to have it customers come and buy that life changing couch(ask me about mine from Your Living Room!)

Sports participants need to also accept that the neighborhoods and business suffer in non-obvious ways. You’d never consider urinating on someones lawn first thing on Sunday, yet it regularly happens; you’d never throw your used gel packets on the ground when you get back to the car, but it regularly happens; no one minds as you discard your old top on S1st during the marathon, but we do; you always go to downtown restaurants after the race to refuel, but in reality, it doesn’t happen much, everyone else gets in their car and goes home.

This years Bat Fest will go ahead, despite the protestation of my neighborhood. We got no notice that the Bat Fest would be moved from South Congress to South 1st for this year only. Nor did any of the businesses or others affected. How can you plan around that? It’s not unreasonable to ask what is going on down at City Hall and demand change.

A few of the speakers on Monday were excellent. But while others might have made you feel good, they didn’t contribute much to the hard job the task force has to do. The time for mob rule, if needed, is at the end of the process. Let’s let the Task Force make their recommendations to city council. Then, Task Force chair Paul Carrozza can get the public meeting that he desperately wanted to placate race organizer and fellow task force member John Connley, whose email drew in the mob.

At that time we will know what is proposed. Under city rules, everyone that signs-up, should get to speak. The best part, is that you can sign-up to speak and donate your minutes to a spokesperson. So, get your thinking caps on.

What good ideas could help the city run events, find ways to enable our fellow citizens go about their lives and routines without undue disruption from us. These are the ideas the task force needs. Next meeting should be August 25, location and time TBC. I’ll be the guy in the sleeping bag outside the day before. If you really have something to add, come along.

If mob rule is needed, then it will be when the time comes to vote. Your council member needs to know how you feel about the final recommendations, given the low voter turn out at city council elections, a decent size group against any specific city resolution or process change ought to be able to gain the support of the council member. This will be especially true when it comes to the council vote of the outcome of the task force.

Unforseen, the DVD

Being a “newbie” in town I was indeed impressed with the film the Unforseen about the specific conflict between developers and locals over development in Austin and the impact it could have on Barton Springs, one of the Austin treasures that had bought me here in the first place.

It also gave me a valuable insight into the minds and outlook of the various factions, I know sweeping generalization, but seems true. An email arrived over the July 4th weekend from the Films Director, Laura Dunn, that the production company Two Birds Film, was taking pre-orders for the Unforseen DVD release on September 18th, 2008.

As a teaser to sign-up, anyone pre-ordering will also get a copy Laura’s earlier work GREEN on DVD at no additional charge. GREEN documents pollution along the Mississippi River Petrochemical Corridor. It won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Student Documentary, Hollywood, CA; Global Vision Grand Prize for World Population Film Festival; Best Documentary at the Making Waves National Student Film Festival, NYC; Gecko Award at Cinematexas, Austin; Honorable Mention at Flicker Film Festival, Chicago, IL; and played at SXSW, Doubletake Documentary, and Great Plains Film Festivals.

The GREEN DVD itself contains Dunns 1998 experimental population-oriented short film Baby, all in all a great value package. If you order direct from the Two Birds online web store, the package comes in at $39.71. You can save a few bucks by pre-ordering from behemoth,, you can get the DVD for just $26.99.

To be fair the amazon web page blurb doesn’t say it includes the GREEN DVD, doesn’t include sales tax and comes with free 5-9 shipping, where as the TWO Birds version is with UPS Ground shipping. A veritable cornucopia of choice. Sadly, Two Birds saw fit to release the DVD as Region-1 only, so that means no DVD for my parents back in Europe.

Dunn is a Master of Fine Arts, Film/Video Production, from UT, Austin.

Lauratex original Austin metroblog on the Unforseen is here, and my review, here.

You want to do what in the park?

I’m conflicted over this report in the Statesman about the City’s project to levy a business fee from personal trainers and businesses using the parks and trails for coaching, training etc. Thanks to @mizmizuno for the heads-up and for Sarah Coppola at the Statesman for the original story.

As a typical Type-A over-achiever, I can see the benefits of understanding who’s doing it, getting the data, licensing them, making sure they have insurance etc. But on the other hand it seems like such a “dumb” idea for a city who wants to be a leader in fitness.

I’m conflicted not for the fee, but for the bureaucracy and practicality that comes with this type of project. It’s really not the Austin way it would seem, and comes from the same sort of obsessive, compulsive minds that want to track and regulate every aspect of our lives from traffic and speed cameras, to registration and ID cards, to snooping into what goes on in your own property.

So assuming the fee isn’t the issue, although clearly it is for the trainers and businesses, how would you administer this? So the Yoga teacher who runs classes on the Pier at the new pond in the park west of the Palmer Events center has to pay the fee. The classes are three times a week, 5-9 people, completely quiet, non-intrusive.

Compare that to the big coached run groups who meet at RunTex and then set off around the trail. Are they being coached, are they not? Are they using the park, are they not? Do the pay the fee do they not ?

The easy answer is to have Parks inspectors, or park Police patrol around on Segways or bicycles, with digital cameras, with wifi uplinks, taking pictures of anyone who looks like they might be a group, might be being trained. Issue compliance notices for those who can’t show their license, and on a 2nd or 3rd offense, taking DNA samples and issuing prosecution orders or fines.

Sound ridiculous ? Check out this BBC report on London Parks Police and the fears about their powers and scope. See also this piece on Newham Parks Police, as well as many others.

Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, and it’s not about the money.

The parks should be open to all comers, only if they want to reserve or restrict the rights of normal users should businesses and trainers pay a fee. If the Yoga group doesn’t want me on the pier, or the RunTex run group object to me following along behind them, or with them, then they pay. I know from experience that neither is true!

Anything generally open to the public should be free.

Barton Springs Relief

When I last passed by Barton Springs Pool, I also checked out Eliza Springs, the Researchers at Eliza Springscool amphitheater-type pool next to the playscape, to see if there were any alligators in it.  I don’t know if I really ever saw an alligator living there or if it’s just one of those thing I remember because I was told as a kid and believed it… but the sign at Eliza says that no alligators live there.  Much to my surprise, there was a lot of activity in the pool.  People were acting as much like alligators as they could, except instead of trying to eat the salamanders that live there, which are protected species, they were simply “researching” them. 

As you hopefully know, the water at Barton Springs and the adjacent springs comes from the highly porous Edwards Aquifer.  Anything that gets dumped over the ground – motor oil, fertilizer for grass, diazonon to kill ants – eventually makes its way into the aquifer and then to the Springs and some people’s drinking water.

You may have read my post earlier this week about Oak Hill’s neighborhood plan.  Well, what happens in Oak Hill and Southwest Austin affects the treasure that is the aquifer and Barton Springs.  And now, dear citizens, you have an opportunity to comment on the plans for that area, without leaving the comfort of your desk.  Nope, no all-night council meeting required (yet).  Just go to the city’s survey about the Oak Hill plan and fill it out. You know the friends of developers will.

Then, to reward yourself for your participation, go on down to Barton Springs this Saturday for Free Swim Day (according to an email newsletter from the Save Our Springs Alliance, whose web site seems to be hosed at the moment)!

Oak Hill whiners FLUMmoxed

So if you bother to move to the outskirts of Austin, you must be doing so to get a big house on a big lot on a quiet street, close to “good” schools, for much cheaper than Central Austin. If you do so, you have no right to complain that you can’t walk to the store.

Well, people in Oak Hill and Southwest Austin apparently want their cake and to eat it too. As much as I am an avid proponent of denser development and public transit, I find it disingenuous of the community leaders in that area to now start blaming the Save Our Springs ordinance for the fact that their neighborhoods aren’t (and may never be) more pedestrian friendly and dense.

Tomorrow night, the city’s planning staff will present the tentative Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and plan documents to stakeholders for one last discussion before the planning commission and city council vote on it. David Richardson, who lead the effort at the neighborhood level, complains to Community Impact that the SOS ordinance blocks any and every kind of good development because

landowners cannot develop or put impervious cover, which is anything from rooftops to parking lots, over more than 25 percent of an individual landowner’s property, in the area called the contributing zone.

Mr. Richardson complains that you can’t put in denser muliple-use development that would make walking and biking more appealing because of the “roadblocks” like this.

The SOS ordinance *should* be a roadblock. Its intent is to discourage development, which causes water pollution in the sensitive contributing zone and the more sensitive recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. If you want to live in a densely developed area, move to Central Austin!

Local daily looks again: whirlybird department

Someone besides me (and the people who made all those printed copies disappear) has read the recent audit report that took an in-depth look at operations of the police department. As I did, reporter Tony Plohetsky paid particular attention to the fascinating section that recommends abolition of the APD aviation unit. When I wrote about this before, I noted that the daily’s report was brief.

Today’s analysis goes quite a way toward remedying the oversight. The on-line version lacks some of the accompanying sidebar material that enriches the print feature: “Police Department defends helicopter program as audit suggests cost-cutting measures: Some say Air 1 too costly to stay airborne” is the on-line title; the print version headings are different and include this language: “Helicopter unit is under scrutiny” and “Department, auditor disagree over cost-effectiveness.”

There’s a big opportunity cost involved. How many staffed patrol cars would be available on the ground for the amount invested in this aviation unit? Without the night-time disruption caused by noise 500 feet above and the lurid beam of the searchlight sweeping yards and rooms, how much better would we all sleep? My disposition would certainly improve. The reporter does not mention or analyze the factor of rising fuel costs. I wish that somebody would.

Demotivators and motivators

It was the day that I saw one too many “Teamwork” posters that I was happy to discover Austin’s own Despair, Inc. Perhaps teamwork is falling out of favor as a workplace theme, because once-ubiquitous saturated photos of a crew on the water from a low overhead perspective, or even any parodies of that sort of poster, are less often to be found in those places where people earn their daily bread, if anecdotal evidence beyond my own experience is to be trusted. Even the Despair people have just one teamwork image that I can find, and the locale is not near the water. The current NYT Sunday magazine calls national attention to the Despair people, focusing on the “Worth” concept (“Empowering by Disempowerment,” byline Rob Walker, 4/27/08).

There are those who still believe in self-improvement as a personal conscious endeavor and, if the account in the local daily (byline Sarah Coppola; see links under photograph for itemized lists) is to be believed, one of our council incumbents is among them. An opponent made a public information request and now has used the results in an amusing four-page full-color mailer that displays images of selected invoices discovered among materials elicited following the PIR. I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet, but I’m not overjoyed to know that taxpayer dollars went to buy 20 copies of “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” And fish food?

Thanks to a new initiative by the Despair people, while feigning to look deeply engaged in the proceedings of meetings that are boring in the extreme, you can occupy yourself by mentally designing your own demotivational poster (which image should be accompanied by which heading and which “inspirational” language?).

Public safety public information request

There will be a candidate forum on Thursday, May 1, from 6:30 to 8 pm at the city council chambers (301 West Second). Those running for seats on the city council have been invited. Major issues are disparities in patrols and other APD staff coverage. Based on City response to a public information (what we once knew as “open records”) request, a presentation (by public-spirited citizens Linda Yeatts and Lori Renteria) is available analyzing assignment of police officers and concluding that APD staffing is not adequate and is not distributed proportionately and fairly in accordance with such factors as population density, volume of calls to the dispatchers, or per-capita incidence of violent crime. Another conclusion that some have drawn is that police coverage (along with proposed alterations in public transportation coverage) is biased toward downtown business and tourism interests. Early voting has begun, but there’s still plenty of time to mull things over before the May 10 election. The League of Women Voters non-partisan guide is now available, but this forum on public safety is especially important for decision-making since we have a new police chief in town. If you want to know exactly what areas are covered by which of the area commands, good luck! The most recent on-line information about district or area commands does not appear to have been updated. If you find current information on the APD site, please do let the rest of know.

Cycle month starts Friday

One thing I learned last year is that May is a big month for cycling in and around Austin, this year won’t be any different.

Events start out on Friday with the Civic Bicycle Cruise/Political Pedal. Meet up at Meet at City Hall Plaza, 4.45pm. for the 5pm to 6pm ride, this isn’t just for just dedicated road bikers, anyone with two or even three wheels, fat tire, mountain bike, or a commuter bike should come along. It’s a chance to join your elected officials and community leaders in this convergence of politics and the joy of cycling!

Plan on staying downtown after the ride for the Bicyclists’ Happy Hour – from 6:00pm – 7:30pm at The Rio Grande Restaurant, 301 San Jacinto Blvd. (on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway no less). Snacks, drinks and meeting of minds! I’m told there will be valet bike parking available, something I for one have never seen before and live Austin music by Jim Keaveny and Shand Walton. The Happy hour is put together by the Austin Cycling Association, the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant and the Rio Grande cycling team along with sponsors Bicycle Sport Shop, the Austin Yellow Bike Project, the Texas Bicycle Coalition, the League of Bicycling Voters and REI.

For some of us, Friday is a warm-up for Saturdays Austin to Shiner GASP ride. The 2008 edition celebrates the Spoetzl Brewery’s 99th anniversary and for those volunteering or riding the 90-miles from Austin to Shiner, there will be a party with BQ dinner with brisket, sausage, vegetarian options, Live Texas Country Music as well as Miles From Nowhere, Eric Middleton, as well other bands. One of the big attractions is the FREE Shiner Beer. Makes cycling sound fun doesn’t it ;-)

I’ve no idea what effect Shiner beer is going to have on me after cycling 90-miles, but either way I guess I’ll end up “legless”. Fortunately @cruisergirl has agreed to give me and my trusty aluminum steed a ride back to Austin. If you are riding, do yourself a favor and do packet picket either Thursday or Friday at Jack and Adams on Barton Springs, then Saturday morning you’ll be ready to ride. If you want to ride and raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, registration is still open, you can even register on the morning of the ride. You’ll need to figure out how to get back though.

For other Bike Month activities, the Austin Cycling Association has an excellent online calendar. If you spot someone walking around like John Wayne, that will be me, not that I becoming localized, but 6-hours on a bike saddle… as John Wayne famously said “It’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s America’s most extreme sport.”

the Unforeseen – Seen

At the risk of just seeming like another Cheerleader, or a bore, I thought I’d follow-up on Lauratex Metblog Austin post about the Unforeseen movie.

I’d seen a trailer for the film at a previous visit to the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, I hadn’t actually got around to going to see it, you know, busy life and all that!

the Unforseen movie poster imageLauratex said “it should be required viewing in Austin”. I say, if you moved to Austin after 1995, or were not old enough to remember the Circle C/Barton Springs fight, maybe like me you thought George Bush only started to mess up when he got to the White House, this is the best use of 90-minutes of your time this week!

I know I don’t really know much about Austin, I know “keep Austin weird” isn’t just a bumper sticker but really I had no idea.

While I can see that there are many people who wouldn’t agree with the main message and direction the film takes, as someone that swims a Barton Springs two or three times a week, I found this film really profound and found myself weeping twice during the film. I won’t pretend to do a balanced review of the film, I don’t think I could.

The main thrust of the film is about the development of the Circle-C ranch, apparently a sub-division(another good reasons why I couldn’t turn in a balanced view of the film, I don’t understand much of the terminology used) and the impact it could have on Barton Springs. While the film could have demonised developers, it didn’t for me. It did fairly show that the balance is out of kilter when it comes to developing new, green field sites.

The film is a thought provoking cross over between documentary, story telling and historical record. I suspect that editorial changes made some of the things the people interviewed seem even more prophetic, the small boy who liked living in the new house but was concerned they’d finish the rest of the houses, as he’d have no space to play; the couple who were complaining about their inability to water their new lawn, but “people come first”; the old farmer who seemed wise well beyond his education, if not beyond his years.

The best speaker for me wasn’t Robert Redford, erudite though he was, journalist and author William Greider summed it up best for me, “Growth itself is not the enemy, it is the nature of that growth—the quality within.”

the Unforseen is still showing at the Alamo Drafthouse South, although screenings are getting fewer and fewer as the weeks go by. The current screening list is here. Yes, and that means you ttrentham.

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