Lots of local political content in this week's issue, but in particular, two surprisingly good articles from Katherine Gregor.
First up, a good run-down of the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance notable for not giving Jeff Jack's crowd the uncritical reception which has been their unearned right in past pieces. It gives the minority report adequate shrift and lists the membership of the task force so people can see who was involved with this (guess what consituency is over-represented?). On this issue, also see Austin Contrarian's take for some good thoughts.
Second, this piece on affordable housing which at least makes the distinction between "single-family house" and "housing" which so many people fail to understand. My comment to that piece:
Once a city grows beyond a certain point, you have to be realistic that the core of the city probably isn't going to remain affordable, as long as you only define housing as single-family detached houses.
How many cities that aren't dying burgs or a sprawling hellholes have affordable single-family detached housing in their cores? I can't think of any; people grow up and realize that if you want to live central and don't have a lot of money, you live in a condo, a duplex, an apartment, a townhouse, a co-op, whatever.
At least Gregor pointed out condos here - that's a start. Mentioning that the McMansion Ordinance severely disincents existing and future duplexes and garage apartments would have been a welcome addition as well, though.
Good show, Chronicle. Also, folks should be sure to check out City Hall Hustle for Wells Dunbar's continuing series of in-depth interviews of mayoral candidates (well, he spends 10-20 minutes with them, which isn't THAT deep, but compared to the alternatives is practically BBC-like). Turns caricatures into characters.
Cross-posted from the twitter which is about all I have time for right now:
This happened, in short, because Capital Metro pursued a cheap rail plan that was so cheap the Feds didn't want any part of it (45M originally promised to voters from Feds now spent out of reserves) - then, a combination of typical overruns and not-so-typical incompetence (and a bit of overruns caused by under-engineering) led to even more spending out of reserves. When they say they have enough money to pay Austin the commitments they made in the past, they are lying. They clearly don't have the money; didn't back then; and Ben Wear deserves some apologies from some Capital Metro employees at this point.
An IM conversation with my gracious host, just a moment ago:
[12:33] (gracious host): After a lifetime of working, paying taxes and raising three children on her own, Wilder is struggling. She said she retired on disability from M&T Bank three years ago after undergoing knee replacement and back surgeries. She lives on her Social Security and disability benefits. Last year, she petitioned the bankruptcy court for protection from creditors. She said she did not have to pay federal income taxes last year because her income was too low. "I don't want to see this country turn into a welfare, nanny state, where we stand in line for groceries, and we're in welfare lines, and in socialized medicine lines," Wilder said.
[12:33] (gracious host): http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html
[12:33] mdahmus: fuh guh buh
[12:35] (gracious host): with appologies to the Princess Bride.... socialism... You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
[12:35] mdahmus: my favorite comment so far: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html#3333987
Please help me fill in the ?????. Thanks in advance.
Those of you who actually believed the nonsense about the live music task force regulations being the result of condo dwellers who didn't like loud music ought to think long and hard about the fact that the first apparent casualty of the ordinance isn't downtown; it's in the area covered by Jack's neighborhood associations, just like I told you.
Excerpt from the post:
On Saturday, April 10, 2009, an APD officer arrived at Freddie’s at 7:15 pm and told us that he was there to check our decibel readings. Our ambient sound level (with no music playing) was 67 db. Our sound level with the band playing ranged from 74 db to 80 db. The officer explained that the 1st time out (this time), he would issue a warning. The next time we would receive a citation which would result in a $500 fine. He stated that the 3rd time they come out, they would take someone to jail.
This was "the day the music died" at Freddie’s. We immediately stopped the band and have subsequently cancelled 83 bookings which were already on the cards for 2009. The 83 bookings represent over 200 Austin area musicians who no longer have a gig at Freddie’s.
So after reading a long set of complaints on the hydeparkaustin yahoo group(*) about the city not adequately enforcing code regarding to unrelated occupants in 'McMansions' in Hyde Park, I posted the following to their group, which was bland enough to make it through the moderator gauntlet:
I would suggest that if you want to be taken more seriously on this issue that you show the city where you WILL accept more housing units - such as the attempt by some on city council to make a 'deal' for VMU in place of McMansion development.
If, as has happened with Hyde Park and CANPAC, your VMU application was nothing but "no thanks" and, after the first shot was rejected, some desultory last-minute additions with plenty of conditions, don't expect to be taken seriously.
And I got the following, in my email, this morning:
Mike, no one takes you seriously. You don't speak for anyone but yourself and your constant criticisms of everyone who doesn't buy into your fake "new urbanism" has alienated all but a few weak minded individuals like yourself. Frankly, nobody wants you on the Hyde Park listserve. Get a life loser!
In case anybody was wondering how Hyde Park stands. I hope you guys don't blame me for your weak-mindedness!
(* - not technically my neighborhood but I'm one block away).
Update: Weak-minded commenter DSK unintentionally performs a great service. Sure, he gave away the method...
BUT BUT BUT! Now I know that there is a site called walterkoenig.com thanks to a surprisingly difficult effort to locate a picture of the method in question. I think we're all richer for the experience.
As Chris at the Austin Contrarian has already pointed out, Chris Riley is the urban candidate. I'm not going to address that end of the equation, since the other Chris pretty much nailed my feelings on the matter.
I'm going to talk about transportation.
Today, I think it's fair to say that every city council member is a driver. While a few of them indicated they may ride bikes for fun, none of them regularly ride for transportation; and only one regularly walks for transportation (Mayor Wynn, about to leave). None of the rest appear to be Capital Metro users either. While they usually say things that support those modes of transportation, their actions quite often don't live up to their words. I don't think all or even most of this discrepancy is the result of anything other than a lack of working familiarity with the issues those modes of transportation face - in other words, they may want to do the right thing, but often don't know what that is in a way that might be obvious to those of us with more experience.
Chris Riley is a cyclist and a pedestrian and a transit user. He doesn't own a car now, but helped found Austin CarShare. He rides his bike everywhere, but isn't against motorists; he just wants to make sure that we make things easier for those who don't want to (or even more importantly can't) drive. He understands the role of transportation in supporting sustainable land use in a way that some current city council members might claim to do, but has a commitment to the issue which far surpasses what I've seen from those folks. He co-founded the Alliance for Public Transportation; a group which is trying to push the rail conversation in the right direction.
Unlike some past city council candidates who have identified with bicyclists, Chris is realistic - he does not seek to eliminate cars, or punish drivers. He wants to make things better by moves that I think most motorists are even willing to accept. He's a guy who's been working in the private sector, so can speak to issues that regular citizens face every day, but has dedicated countless hours to the public to try to make things better for everybody.
I am not exaggerating when I say that on the issue of transportation, Chris is the strongest candidate for any city office, including mayor, that I have seen in the 13 years I've lived here in Austin.
I trust Chris implicitly to do as much as is realistically possible to improve transportation in our city in a sustainable forward-looking direction. I urge every reader of this blog to vote early for Chris, and tell your friends to do the same.
Chris Riley is the transportation candidate.
(PS: My readers are invited to meet Chris next Sunday. I don't know if we'll be able to make it due to ongoing pregnancy concerns, but I hope to be there).
Also see: Burnt Orange Report.
Allow me to present the SNAustin.org mayoral forum, with these humdingers:
1. This video shows you successful VMU projects and how nice their open spaces are and then says we need rules to make sure VMU developments provide enough open space. Wouldn't it be smarter to show some that didn't provide enough open space, if any such existed? Maybe they couldn't find any, because I can't think of any that do that bad a job.
Huh. So the VMU developers are already doing a good job providing a lot more public open space than, let's say, the typical residential or commercial areas in this part of town have done (where 'open space' is comprised of surface parking lots, driveways, swales, and huge front setbacks of St. Augustine grass - precisely none of it 'public'). Is it possible, just possible, that these folks aren't really "advocates for new urbanism", like the almost-all-the-same-folks-but-really-quite-different-no-trust-us RG4N? You know, the same folks who claimed to want a VMU development at Northcross but now say they're thrilled with a single-story Wal-Mart surrounded by acres of surface parking,
The neighborhoods - Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, Highland, North Shoal Creek, and Wooten - have identified three priorities for discussion at the forum: code enforcement, minimum public open space in mixed use districts, and transportation policy with an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle and transit connectivity.
Oh, so NOW they're concerned with "bicycle connectivity"?. That's swell. Allow me to suggest it's difficult to take you seriously given your failure to even address obliquely what happened the last time a clear and compelling interest in bicycle transportation conflicted with the desire of a few old coots to park their overflow cars on their side of the street. Resulting in some real cool "bicycle connectivity". As in, one of these days a bicyclist is going to end up connected with an automobile because you guys couldn't walk across the street to get to your fourth and fifth cars.
Or do your old pal M1EK a favor and just go ahead and ask them about Shoal Creek at the forum. That ought to be some fun.
Update: How could I have forgotten their other priority?
3. Code enforcement. Yes, now, only now, do these folks want to make the city respect the integrity of the city code. You know, the same code that clearly stated that Lincoln and Wal-Mart had the legal authority to build exactly what they wanted to build at Northcross? The code that so clearly stated those development rights that not one but two judges sent RG4N and ANA home crying with their tails between their legs? The code that was so obvious that the judge nearly made ANA pay Lincoln's legal bills when ANA foolishly tried to appeal? That code, the one you made the city waste a million or more dollars defending?
Oh yeah, that code. Well, now that Wal-Mart scaled back due to economics, I guess we can return to insisting that it must be defended at all costs, right?
1. On the twitter at mdahmus; some jackanape out there already took "m1ek".
2. Updates less and less frequent as the impending baby makes our life very nervous. I have a post half-formed in my head for "Mueller Myths Part One" and an endorsement for Chris Riley I need to get out, but it's going to be hard to find the time.
Had this article been dated today rather than yesterday, it would have made more sense. Alas, they're really serious: they're honestly making the point that it doesn't matter that they don't have any reserves left to pay back the City of Austin.
CM employees all over the place have been ticked at what they claim is unfair press coverage of this issue -- but as both myself and a colleague from UTC days of yore have concluded, they have yet to directly address the claims made in Ben Wear's article that launched all this kerfluffle. Nor should you ignore the fact that Mike Martinez, who even when I disagree with him is always on top of the ball, is still apparently pissed.
Well, here's some charts-and-graphs that might help put this into perspective.
First of all, one 'rebuttal' CM employees and board have been making is that commuter rail was always supposed to spend down some of their reserves. This is even actually true!. The problem is this: The plan was sold to Austin based on federal participation, which was since abandoned (in my opinion because the Feds would likely have passed on a plan with such little bang-for-the-buck). Add in the typical (being fair here) overruns on any rail project, and you end up with this:
Key: Original budget was $90M; Federal spending was supposed to provide half. Estimates provided from Statesman and myself, and then two different estimates from the folks who I believe to be the bus riders' union from this posting of supposed rail expenses.
Is that enough to account for the difficulty meeting commitments to Austin? Well, let's put that into perspective, shall we?
Since at the end of the day, the reserves are, as pointed out by Wear and not challenged by CM, near their effective minimum right now, it is abundantly clear that Capital Metro is willfully misleading the public when they try to claim that commuter rail spending will not prevent them from meeting their agreed commitments to the city of Austin.
Nice try, guys.