All posts by tim

Butler Trail South East Shore Planning

I attended the Butler Trail (otherwise known as the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail) planning meeting. This was for public input and nothing is even remotely set in stone yet. Here are my notes:

  • New (much larger) restrooms and a water fountain are currently being built where the boardwalk ends where the old restroom hut was. These are happening.
  • A lot of support for having as much peaceful, natural area as possible.
  • There was not support for having concessions or amplified concerts.
  • Trail and bridge in front of the hostel building is coming soon. Trail Foundation already has funds.
  • As part of new Holly Shores park there was discussion of a pedestrian bridge connecting Holly Park on the North with the peninsula. There was a small, but very vocal contingent from the Holly neighborhood opposed to this.
  • Propose expanding the pedestrian tunnel under Pleasant Valley 4 to 5 times its current size and adding lighting.
  • A native orchard was proposed at the corner of Pleasant Valley and Lakeshore. A green classroom, natural children’s play area (think more the hill in Butler park/a labyrinth; not a playscape) was also proposed for that area.
  • There is a proposal for a new dam. The current path over the dam was pretty much everyone’s top priority (as well as at the Holly Park planning meeting), but unfortunately is not in the scope of this project. It has to be part of the new dam. If anyone has more info on that planning process or kickstarting it I think there would be massive community interest in getting the ball rolling on that.
  • February 25th there will be boards at city hall. They’re going to try to get them there by lunch time, so you can drop by during the day, view the proposals, and put post it notes on them with your opinions.

Those are my bullet points. A weird point happened that seemed especially pertinent relative to the current Mabel Davis/Winnebago Lane dog park situation. The top two comment getters were the bridges. The third was around dog parks. When asked to summarize the helper said that the comments were for no dog park. Thankfully a woman stepped up and pointed out that there were quite a few post-its in favor of a dog park. The facilitator was somewhat dismissive (in my opinion) and said they’d count them.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it makes me realize that people who want things are going to start having to be assertive. We think following directions and putting down that we’re in favor of them will be enough. That someone will tally the votes and the majority will have their say. But it really highlighted to me tonight that the people who’d come up to the facilitator and talked her ear off about how much they didn’t want a dog park had clearly made a much bigger impression than the 10+ politely written post-it notes in favor of one.

A little sad that arts people weren’t out to support replacing the Dougherty Arts Center functions moving to the hostel.

If we want to have nice things we have to use the tactics of the bullies who continually seem to get their way.

  • We need multiple people there. Even just two. The Holly Street group only had about 4, but they made an impact.
  • We need to have an organized message before hand. And potentially regroup and craft a custom message there.
  • We need to raise our voices. Facilitators allow people who sound passionate or angry to talk (there was a long diatribe about rowing programs getting kids into college). They tend to cut off or redirect people who are talking politely.
  • We need to not be afraid to speak.

Otherwise we’re going to keep questioning why we get amenities that you can’t walk to, that are poorly planned, and that don’t accommodate the things we want to do there. If you’d like dog parks in the area and would like to work on that cause please do drop me a line.

Letter to the Statesman on the Winnebago Lane Dog Park Article

Article is here. My comments:

Could you please print which neighborhood groups opposed the park? I’m technically the president of the Burleson Parker Neighborhood Association and we did not take a stance on the park. We border Mabel Davis on the entire eastern side. It’s incredibly frustrating to keep hearing there was “overwhelming opposition”, but there are no numbers and I personally saw what looked like 25 people in opposition to the parks at meetings (with similar numbers in favor). 25 people should not be able to stop a park approved in bonds by tens of thousands of Austinites.

The proposed Winnebago Lane park is a horrible project. It’s in an industrial zone bordered by a lumber yard, train tracks, and downwind from a automotive paint shop that can make breathing hard when the wind is right. I jog around the area, but haven’t jogged down there again due to the lack of sidewalks and connectivity.

I think it will be successful, not because it’s a good project, but because we have so much demand for dog parks in Austin. Kensington Park may border the park, but council member Riley confirmed with the parks department that they’ll need to drive nearly 2 miles to actually get into the only entrance to the park. This park will increase congestion during rush hour.

As a city we need to rise up and stop the tiny minority who keep stopping the projects we want. Call or send an email to council and tell them to put the park in Mabel Davis. Lets actually make the walk-able Austin with nice parks that we all desire a reality.

Missing the Middle on Purpose

So Chris Bradford wrote an interesting article on the missing middle in Austin’s housing market. I live in a neighborhood with all of these types of housing just around the corner (as well as large apartment complexes). And they’re a huge source of two of the things Austinites say they desire most – affordable housing and students for urban public schools.

But our current code doesn’t support building these sort of buildings, and we have ordinances like McMansion that makes it harder to build them. McMansion was extended to my area so many of the homes could not be replaced with what is currently on the property or what is across the street.

I think that’s somewhat intentional. Look at the following points:

  • I hear again and again that we need to make urban areas more attractive for families so they don’t move out to the suburbs.
  • The majority of kids in urban schools come from multi-family housing.
  • Areas with underpopulated urban schools frequently fight new apartment complexes, duplexes, and fourplexes.

When I look at this I can’t help but think that these neighborhoods are fighting to try to bring suburban kids back. You know, the kind of kids who make a school into a “good school”. I think a lot of our zoning has to do with this perception that allowing lower-income residents a foothold in our neighborhoods will make the changes permanenent.

But the changes are permanent. Affluent white parents are never going to have the approximately 4 kids that each single-family home needs to have in these areas to make up for all the singles. Aging suburbs will never again reach the concentration of kids they had when they were brand new. That’s the nature of suburbs (and almost all of Austin’s urban neighborhoods began their lives as suburbs).

Perhaps we need a new slogan. How about:

“Multi-Family is Family Housing”

You got something better?

AISD and Absences

Been brainstorming ways to improve attendance. We lose funding every day a kid doesn’t show up and it also negatively affects our test scores. Even if all the kids do fantastically if enough days are missed we could lose our top ranking. And according to the Attend-o-Meter we could add $50-60 million in funding if we improved attendance 1% district-wide. That would claw back half of what we send the state in recapture each year. And Becker (where Stella goes) is one of the worst attended schools in the district.

It’s funny because they’ve been using perfect attendance rankings forever. But perfect attendance is not really feasible. Kids get sick.

Once you’ve missed one day perfect attendance awards provide zero incentive for kids and parents to miss 2 days rather than 20. Even though that means a loss of $90 vs. a loss of $900.

I think sending home “what your kids absences cost the school” in the report card might be a start. Maybe that auto-dialer could call people and tell them their kid missed school and that they cost the school district $45, k thx bye.

Anyone else got thoughts?

How to make some money off this?

I was a little shocked to read this on Mark Cuban’s blog.

I truly believe that supporters of Romney that watched Fox News thought it was a no brainer and that Gov Romney would win. Living in Texas I was around a lot of Romney supporters on Tuesday night who had no doubt that Gov Romney would win. None.

I think I always believe these business leaders were just being cynical and letting all those poor white men watch their Fox News while they picked their pocket. It hadn’t really occurred to me that our business leaders actually watched Fox News.

So now it occurs to me that there are more than likely other disconnects where business leaders are betting on what Fox News says and not reality. I could probably make a lot of money on this…

Is political opposition the most expensive tax?

I was discussing Travis County Proposition 1 at lunch today with a co-worker whose house is worth about double what mine is. The proposition will increase Travis County taxes by 5 cents per 100 dollars of value. Now whether you think that’s a big tax increase may have a lot to do with how the county appraises your homes value. In my case it’s some money, but not big money. For people whose houses are worth twice as much as mine it’s a big deal.

But I think we’re arguing about the wrong thing. In Texas, the value of your house is a much bigger issue than your tax rate. We could cut the tax rate in half, but if my co-worker’s house doubles in value again in 5 years he still has the same exact problem. And if my house doubles in 5 years (which it easily could), I’ll start having my co-worker’s problem.

So the question about preserving affordable housing in Austin has jack to do with tax rates. It has to do with slowing real estate appreciation. No one wants that. But they also don’t want huge tax bills. So lets call it managing our real estate appreciation.

Ultimately we need more supply in Austin. Pretty much everyone would love to live in the central city, which is why the prices are so high. So we need to focus on building more housing in the central city. And, frankly everywhere.

Neighborhoods fight the city all the time on a number of issues. We tend to think about those issues as having no cost. But think about 10 people moving to Austin. A builder is planning on building a 100 unit housing complex in your neighborhood and there are 2 homes for sale. If the neighborhood allows the housing complex and its built in time all those people will be able to find a house without making the price of homes in your neighborhood rise. But if there is a fight and the new housing is delayed all 10 people will be competing for those 2 houses. And they’ll almost certainly pay more for the house raising the value of your house. Which raises the value of your tax bill.

Now I think there are reasonable reasons to fight development. But being reflexively anti-development is very, very bad for your tax bill. And the tax rate has little to do with it.

Prop 3 and Prop 4 funding.

The Austin Bulldog has an article on fundraising for Prop 3 and 4. Perhaps most interesting is parsing what corporations think will happen versus what the campaigns are saying. Prop 4 is primarily funded by lawyers, the builders of Circle C (and longstanding foe of Save our Springs), and Austin Cab Company.

Prop 3 is primarily funded by home builders and out-of-state commercial/residential property owners (home away style??). As well as libertarian groups.

Still somewhat puzzled by what the libertarian groups hope to get out of this? There is no geographic region of libertarians in this town whose voices are being blotted out by all those voters in central Austin.

I’m assuming the cab company wants to ensure that it continues to be easy to lobby for their monopoly of permits. 10-1 seems like it could easily lead to 10 geographic cab companies.

Obviously the biggest group are home-builders who see both plans as a boon to making it easier to build in Austin. Especially West Austin over the aquifer. Far-west Austin does not have a strong history of voting in elections, and this could make it easier to outvote the environmental voting block (which after this will more than likely be concentrated in one or two districts).

I think I’m going to vote no on Prop 3 and 4. They both seem like a bad idea. Do you have any thoughts on what you think the source of this money means?

Condensed the Flaws I See in Geographic Representation

I don’t completely understand geographic representation. Why are we giving so much credence to where people live? Most of us spend almost as much time where we work as where we live.

I don’t live, work, and shop entirely in SE Austin never crossing IH-35. I commute to NW Austin, I create theater in North East Austin, I visit my mom in South Central Austin, and I shop in South West Austin. Why is it more fair for me to have a huge say in the neighborhood where I own a home, and little say in other areas of town?

The municipal park 1/4 mile from my home has a skate park. Why does where my house is located mean that I’ll have more say over skateboarding related issues? I know NOTHING about skateboarding. That seems somewhat silly to me.

The Rent Is Already Too Damn High

If you haven’t been following the news two apartment complexes in my neighborhood have been literally falling down. They are the Las Palmas and Wood Ridge apartment complexes. I haven’t met anyone who lives in the area who was surprised by this. Most just thought it would have happened to some of the complexes that appear to be in worse condition (Canyon Oaks I’m looking at you).

Thankfully no one has been hurt yet, but these complexes allow for an illustration in how housing prices work in Austin. A lot of people in Austin seem to think building new expensive condos raise housing prices. But these complexes show that isn’t the case.

The estimated monthly rent for Las Palmas is between $600-700/month. Wood Ridge is $680-860/month. Think about that. These are places that are literally falling down, and yet they can still charge 40% of the cost of one of those luxury rentals on Rainey Street. Even though the buildings are falling apart.

That says to me that Las Palmas and Wood Ridge cost the same as the luxury rentals. Once they rebuild the building they will be able to charge a 60% premium for a building that isn’t falling down. Not because they’re luxury condos. Because they’re not falling down.

They’re already priced as structurally unsound luxury condos.

Austin Theater Voting Endorsements

So the Austin Chronicle came out with their voting endorsements and they’re good. I’d suggest printing them out and taking them with you to the voting booth.

But I wanted to take a minute and point out two issues that are particularly important to the performing arts.

Theater is a Special Interest Group

Special Interest Groups have a bad rap right now. It’s very easy to get voters riled up against them. But let’s face it, we are they. We advocate for and receive money from the city. There’s a tax that exists specifically to fund grants we receive (the Hotel Tax).

Single Member Districts

I bring this up because Single Member Districts were proposed specifically to suppress the influence of Special Interest Groups and have closer alignment between geographic areas and a single city council member. The city will be carved up into districts each represented by a single council member. Since all theater practitioners don’t live in the same geographic area we potentially would have a harder time garnering support for theater related legislation.

Four Choices

So there are really 4 choices on the ballot with regards to single member districts:

  1. Vote no to single member districts (No on Prop 3 and Prop 4)
  2. Vote yes for only geographic representation (Yes on Prop 3)
  3. Vote yes for a hybrid of geographic and at-large representation (Yes on Prop 4)
  4. Vote yes for any form of geographic representation (Yes on Prop 3 and Prop 4)

I can see why people would chose to go with voting no to both. As theater artists we stand to lose our collective power under a geographic representation system, but geographic representation has the potential to provide more engagement between city council and some of the less represented parts of town. So I’m a bit torn on this issue.

I cannot advocate for voting yes on Prop 3. Prop 3 carves Austin up into 10 districts, each of which votes for 1 council member. There is only one council member we’d all vote for – the Mayor. While this is being sold as a populist solution it would make mobilizing theater advocacy very difficult and we’d potentially have to have 10 advocacy groups in each geographic region (or more likely we’d need 5 and then work to get the mayor on our side).

I think ultimately if you’re going to vote for geographic representation, I’d recommend Prop 4. Prop 4 is a hybrid system with 8-2-1. That is 8 geographic representatives, 2 at-large representatives, and the mayor. We’d all vote for the 2 at-large council members and the mayor, plus our geographic representative. That would mean that it would be fairly easy to get a coalition of at least the 2 at-large council members, the mayor and we’d only need to get 3 geographic regions on board.

Voting Yes on Prop 3 and Prop 4 will mean your vote will count towards both, and whichever gets the most votes will be implemented.

I’d love to hear your comments and reasoning. This issue is complex and I can’t say my mind is solidly made up.

Prop 18

Prop 18 potentially includes money to replace the Daugherty Arts Center. So this one is very important for all theater artists to get out and vote for. In pretty much every survey they do The Creative Alliance gets lack of rehearsal space as one of the biggest challenges for theater companies in town. Very rarely do we get the chance to vote on something that so directly addresses our pain point as artists.

So get out and vote!