Archive for the ‘Jane Public’ Category

Dreams of a life (SXSW)

So, I’ve never formally attended SXSW, and always wondered how I’d justify buying a wristband with so much free stuff already happening. Of course, I’ve never taken a week off work to attend either. This year see’s the normal chaotic schedule but one item is a standout for me.

British film, Dreams of a Life is scheduled for four showings between the 10th and 17th of March, starting on the 10th at 4:45pm at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. The Director Carol Morely will be on hand on Saturday to answer questions about the film, the background to the film and, inevitably the real life of Joyce Vincent and implications for a society which increasingly is moving from real to virtual, and online “friendships”.

The film explores how a young, popular party girl could disappear effectively without anyone noticing, only to be found 3-years later in her own apartment, dead, in front of the TV which was still turned-on. It’s part dramatic recreation, part documentary, part forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology. Director Morely(1) handles the topic inquisitively and sensitively, walking a fine line between being sensationalist or depressing. I left thinking about “lost” friends and actually did get in touch with a number of people in my immediate past, but also reached out to a number from a more distant past and was delighted to learn that someone I’d “heard” was dead, was in fact alive and well touring with musicians.

Dreams of a Life will make you wonder, who you are, and what happened to that friend, you know, the one you have not heard from for a while, go ahead, get in touch now, don’t wait until you’ve seen the film.

(1) Carol Morley received the Best Documentary Award at Melbourne International Film Festival for “The Alcohol Years”. In 2001 she was nominated for a BAFTA and received a special Grierson Award. Her first feature film “Edge” has been officially selected for the BFI London and Shanghai International Film Festivals.

Outdoor Patio for dinner?

Picture Some rights reserved by gak on

Except, and perhaps even in the sweltering 100f+ days in Austin, eating outdoors can be a really pleasant experience and a real money maker for restaurants. You only need to go out and see what has happened at the Oasis over the last 3-years to see how true that is. Admittedly the Oasis has a unique position but the number of restaurants offering outdoor seating is exploding, that comes at a price, or should and not just for the customers and the city,

Vivo’s on Manor Rd is apparently, according to their Facebook campaign to write-in to Councillors and the mayor, in court today for non-compliance with the City’s restaurant parking requirements. Vivo’s campaign is the first I’m aware of that is actively using social media to “lobby”, a.k.a bully, coerce, or shame Councillors and the mayor into doing something so that the restaurant can “stay in East Austin”. According to Vivo’s, if the city forces them to close their outdoor patios because they don’t have the appropriate number of parking spaces, they’ll close. Since the case was already on the court docket, I’m at a loss to see what the point of writing to elected officials is at this point though, apart from to create and unfair, biased view of the process. It’s not clear why else they’d be asking people to email now.

It’s a common tale, a restaurant buys a lot, as part of their opening they have to get an approved site plan from the city which makes sure that they are in compliance with the rules. Everything from electrical, drainage, access, parking are checked. It’s one way the city makes it fair for businesses, they all get to adhere to the same set of rules; it’s also how the city attempts to make restaurants safe for the customers, both from a hygiene, access and fire perspective. At least in the urban parts of the city, regulations are also there to try to limit the impact on direct neighbors.

Yet all the time, we hear the of the “battles” between the restaurants and the city over parking. The neighborhoods and residents hit back with the only tool they have, first complaining to 311, then eventually given no respite, Residential Parking Permits[RPP]. But mostly, it isn’t about the parking, except in one or two specific cases.

What often happens is this, after the restaurant opens, and we’ve all been there, in it’s first few months it is the “hot” place to go. This either persists or not. When it persists, the owner looks for ways to capitalize on the success, since building a bigger building or extension to the existing building would both incur cost and impact their compliance, they start by putting a few extra seats outside. Wahoo’s on South Congress is a prime example of this. Personally their additional seating out on the sidewalk has made the place look a mess, if they continue to get away with it, in compliance or not, other restaurants will want to follow and over time the wide sidewalk that has made SoCo a fun place to “parade” will become littered with obstacles and difficult for pedestrians to pass.

By Vivo’s own admission, they were told by the city they couldn’t use part of their land for parking, hey so why not use it for extra seating then? Causing a non-compliance problem to get worse. The same scene is also playing out at Polvos on South 1st right now, they have half their outdoor seating not in use while they try to get special treatment from the city for the unpermitted, unzoned changes they’ve already made. Back in the 2002 Bouldin Creek Neighborhood plan the junction of S 1st and W Johanna was called out as a problem, but apparently according to the restaurants attorney at a meeting at City Hall last week, they were in non-compliance with the outdoor seating when they bought the restaurant years before that.

Lets be clear, there are a set of rules, the City Councillors approve the rules, created by City staff, with a LOT of input/lobbying from the commercial sector and variable input from the citizens; when city staff, usually years after the fact, become aware that a business is potentially breaking the rules, usually because of citizens complaint(s) they investigate; the City gives the business ample opportunity to come into compliance(often years) and when they don’t, staff reluctantly take zoning, fire and safety violations to municipal court.

What often then happens is the businesses get fined such small amounts that it doesn’t cover the cost of the citys code compliance and legal work. Austin and by association its tax payers, depend of businesses to keep in compliance voluntarily, when they don’t it’s often because the business has decided it can make more money by not being in compliance, which in the end hurts everyone, not just the restaurant.

Contrary to the popular portrayal of the City code enforcement, there are not legions of inspectors combing neighborhoods and visiting business looking for the slightest problem. Most businesses who operate within reasonable limits and don’t unduly impact their commercial and residential neighbors are unlikely to ever see code compliance inspector. It’s only when they expand beyond that, AND someone or organization complains, that code compliance will be sent out.

The city doesn’t single out a restaurant, they don’t change the rules(well rarely), the restaurant is often just taking commercial advantage of Austins voluntary compliance and slack enforcement to do business on the cheap, expanding a lot beyond what is reasonable, and legal, and impacting neighbors. When the city does get involved it is costing each and everyone of us money that could get better used elsewhere.

Just because a restaurant you visit has outdoor seating doesn’t mean it is legal and permitted; just because you can park on city[public] streets to go to the restaurant, doesn’t make it OK. As few as 20 extra seats can bring-in $250,000 per year on a modest tab per diner, that shouldn’t allow the restaurant to become a burden on neighbors, and the tax payer and give them the right to complain about rules that were in existence, when they opened up.

[Update: According to Vivo’s facebook campaign page, they’ve been given 6-months to come into compliance and get an approved site plan.]

Something stirring in Bouldin?

Saturday saw the streets blocked, not by parking for Polvos, or South Congress, but for the Austin Home tour. Ok, that wasn’t A change; but it at least it was at least different from the normal clogged streets, if you live in close proximity.

Change is in the air though. Turns out that iconic Bouldin Creek coffee shop will be moving sometime over the summer. According to the latest Bouldin bulletin, the newsletter of the neighborhood that proudly claims “weird starts here”, Bouldin Creek Coffee is moving to the long vacant Big G tire store location on the corner of S 1st and W Mary. Just up the street really, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the move.

Real change though is at Becker Elementary school on W Milton. Long a neighborhood corner stone, the small South Austin public elementary school is going dual language. What this means is that on top of the already excellent classes provided at the school, now the children will work together in English and Spanish. As someone who has long admired the ability of the Dutch to speak better English than many Brits and Americans, they do exactly this in their elementary schools. This is a massive opportunity for elementary age school kids.

Becker is having an open evening on Tuesday 2nd between 5-6:30pm, open to kids and parents. Come see what the school can offer your family. Becker is one of four AISD elementary schools chosen to pilot this program.

Next change for Bouldin Creek neighborhood, is that its’ neighborhood associations Annual General Meeting is moving to Austin City Hall on the 9th at 6:45pm. All residents from the West side of Congress to the East side of S Lamar, from Barton Springs to Oltorf are welcome and encouraged.

In fact, if you’ve ever been to a Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan Contact Team (BCNPCT) meeting before, at least one, then you are strongly encouraged to come to their meeting on Wednesday 3rd from 6-7pm at Morning Star on South 1st. BCNPT will be discussing and voting on two key ordinances, front and side parking, and Mobile Food vending. Arguably, the neighborhood has more mobile food vending than any other neighborhood in Austin.

They will also be electing officers, in order to vote on either of the ordinances or the elections, you need to have attended at least one prior meeting on the BCNAPT according to its’ rules. Even if you’ve not previously attended, this could be your first, and you’ll be able to vote at a future meeting.

TWC vs FOX – The faux Fighters

So, a mock battle blew into town today with the latest war of words between 21st century robber barons Time Warner Cable and Fox TV. TWC have an almost total lock on Cable TV here in Austin, as well as commensurate hold on wired broadband. Fox, who are part of the Murdoch News Corporation media empire, whose influence, especially in a waining market for traditional news and entertainment, continues to grow. They both have ads in todays Statesman, whose Brian Gaar has been covering the squabble since back before Thanksgiving.

It’s a virtuous circle, Statesman cover the “faux fight”, TWC and News Corp aka Fox buy space in the Statesman; TWC charges us for cable, Fox charges TWC for their coverage; Fox sells advertising space during and between it’s coverage, and when they can, they charge directly for the product; the advertisers put up their price to cover their additional cost. The common theme here… we get charged more for what is little more than a fake fight. In the end we know the corporations will settle, it’s in all their best interests. They just want to obfuscate the issues so much that in the end we will just accept what ever we are told. The “opposing” sides have already launched web sites with their own version of the truth.

TWC would have it that FOX are demanding a 300% rate hike in order to carry their programming. According to the Statesman, Time Warner’s current deal with FOX in Austin, and several other markets (like Dallas, LA, Detroit, Orlando, and Tampa) expires at midnight Dec. 31st. We’ve seen this before with TWC, and the same “play” is also running between Comcast and Directv over teh Versus network. At the heart of the issue is the same seen in previous other disputes between cable network providers and the cable company: Money.

Given the channel bundles that are forced on us on all the TV providers, not just TWC, a 300% rise isn’t really such a big deal, TWC carry hundreds of channels, and charge a bundle for anything over the legal minimum channel bundle. Fox on the other hand have dozens of channels. which I for one never watch. Ok, I do record games off the Fox Soccer Channel, check the result and if it looks like a good game, put it on one evening. Fox would have it that TWC has a license to print money, and what it is asking compared to what it provides, the additional charge is easily justified. TWC on the other hand is raking money in from both charging for basic programming, and cable bundles, as well as from video/movies on demand and profits and revenue is up…. Fox looks on admiringly and wonders, “how can we get a piece of that action?”

The real issue here is the lack of transparency and obfuscation. TWC should be subject to two rules in any market where they provide cable. ONE. They should allow customers to select their own cable channels and channel bundles. Trust me, I wouldn’t want any of the News Corp. aka Fox channels, and given the quality of most of the non-HD channels on TWC, I’d even pass up on the Fox Soccer Channel, as you really can’t tell who has the ball during a long shot. That would allow TWC to defray the charge demanded by Fox, since the Fox signal actually isn’t being broadcast to however-many-million viewers. TWO. On their web site, TWC should be be REQUIRED to list the constituent rebroadcast costs for each channel and for the services that TWC provide.

Of course, neither TWC or News Corp. would want that. It allows customers to have a real choice, which they don’t have now. It also effectively eliminates these faux battles that get drummed up as negotiating tactics by marketing departments every time a deal is up for renewal. 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on TWC’s side. They provide a service which is barely out of the 1990’s, and their DVR/Cable box and remote, barely out of the 1980’s. I’m certainly not on FOX’s side, since I really don’t watch any of their coverage and mostly the only time I see any of their “news” its when it is being lampooned by Jon Stewart, which interestingly, I watch on the Internet for free…

[TIA: I updated a number of minor typos in this post, my apologies]

KUT and the President, words matter

[An open letter to the Regents at the University of Texas, and the KUT Board]

I was a big supporter of NPR when I lived in New York, not only was WNYC informative, it was educational. When I moved to Austin, before I even got here, I paid to join two organizations, Austin Triathletes, and KUT. Both have been a disappointment.

After two years of membership of KUT, despite numerous written requests from KUT and especially new station general manager Stewart Vanderwilt, the seemingly endless bi-annual membership drives, this year I figured I wouldn’t just pay, I’d make a conscious decision about membership. A couple of close friends had raised their concerns about KUT membership with me, despite as far as I’m aware, having never discussed it with them before.

A quick perusal of the Internet, letters in the Austin Statesman, The Chronicle, etc. reveals I’m not alone in being uncomfortable with the recent changes at KUT.

Tonights coverage of the Presidents speech summed it up for me though. At 7:18, some 15-minutes into live coverage, KUT cut away to “commercial endorsement” from a number of commercial organizations, fronted by none other than Station General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt. Ok, so maybe the first incident was an accident, some pre-programmed error. Then around 7:29, the same thing.

Stewart, words matter, the fact you ran commercials over two key sections of the Presidents speech is not only disrespectful, it illustrates for me all thats wrong at KUT. And let’s remember, I’m not a US Citizen, wasn’t born in the US, yet I still can’t understand how this happended.

Thought for the day #3: It’s called leash free for a reason

Photo by Arbitrary.Marks on Flickr - Some rights reserved

Photo by Arbitrary.Marks on Flickr - Some rights reserved

because the rest of it isn’t.

The recent fuss over the leash free area at Auditorium shores caused almost as much uproar as the potential desctruction of the trees at Barton Springs, or building yet another sprawling development over the Edwards Aquifer, I guess it’s easy to why when you see how people treat their dogs as four-legged people and invite them into their familes.

I guess like familes, some are disfunctional, and a disfunctional family often also have a disfunctional dog. One of the reasons for the push back over auditorium shores was the occaisional agressive dog and uncaring owner, dog attacks dog, scare child, owner does little or nothing. Dog owners have to police themselves. Out on the rest of the trail the rules are different, you can’t complain if the dog is on a 10ft leash and spread across the trail, but you can complain if that same dog is leash free, don’t feel bad about it.

Read leash free thoughts here and here.

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.

Thought for the day #2: Trust me on the sports bra!

Town lake is an amazing place to run at the weekends, there are often more people out running, than most cities can muster to participate in a 5k. You can’t really “see the wood for the trees” though, people flash by in all directions.

It’s not the same on weekday mornings though. Sure, there are still a lot of folks out, but the numbers are down and so you actually notice individuals. This post is for the late-20’s girl, blonde, red t-shirt, black shorts, with her hair held back with a white band, running on the trail this morning.

Running without a decent sports bra doesn’t do you any favors. Yes, it’s distracting, no they won’t get any bigger in any meaningful way, the skins just stretches. When you get older you’ll regret that. If you had a sports bra on this morning, you need a new one, it’s lost it’s support.

Me, I always run in spandex/lycra shorts, same reason, well thats my excuse and I’m sticking to it. As Baz Luhrman might have sung, “but trust me on the sports bra”.

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