Decaying Texas

It’s been an interesting month. I live in Austin Texas, boom town USA. Everything is happening in construction, although nothing much in transport. In many ways Austin reminds me of rapidly developing cities in China, India and other developing countries. I’ve travelled some inside Texas, but most on I10 and out East. I’ve tended to dismiss what I’ve seen in small towns, mostly because I figured they were unrepresentative.

Earlier this month I did my first real US roadtrip. I had my Mum with me for a month and figured a week or so out of the heat of Texas would be a good thing. We covered 2,500 miles, most up from North West Texas, also New Mexico, and Colorado. On the way back we went via Taos, Santa Fe, and Roswell and then back through West Texas.

There they were small town after small town, decaying. Every now and again you’d drive through a bigger town that wasn’t as bad, but overall massive decay, mostly in the commercial space. Companies had given up, gone bust, or got run out of town by a Walmart 30-50 files away. Even in the bigger ones, there was really no choice, there were Dollar Stores, Pizza Hut, McDonalds or Burger King, Sonic or Dairy Queen, and gas stations. Really not much else, except maybe a Mexican food stop.

It was only just before sunset on the drive back through West Texas, with my Mum asleep in the backseat, I worked out that my camera and telephoto lens rested perfectly between the steering wheel and the dashboard and I started taking pictures. These are totally representative with what I’ve seen all over Texas. Just like the small towns out near Crockett and Lufkin in East Texas; pretty similar to anything over near Midland; outside El Paso; down south towards Galveston.  Decaying Texas.

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What there were plenty of, in the miles and miles of flat straight roads, were oil derricks, and tankers, hundreds upon hundreds of them. It’s not clear to me what Governor Perry means when he talks about the Texas Miracle, but these small towns, and to some degree, smaller cities have more in common with the towns and cities in China and India, slowly being deserted, run down in the rush to the big cities.

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Interestingly, while writing and previewing this entry on wordpress, it suggested the mybigfatwesttexastrip, which ends with the following

The pictures above tell the story of a dying West Texas town and the changing landscape of population movement away from the agrarian society to the city.

Let’s Go do rail like Houston!

Mark Cathcart:

Fantastic write-up on the mechanics and rights and wrongs of Prop-1. Just vote NO. I can’t vote until 2016, make your vote count for both of us.

Originally posted on Keep Austin Wonky:

Advocates for this November’s ‘road and rail’ Proposition 1 would like the electorate to believe the proposed light rail segment will achieve success similar to Houston’s stellar Red Line. Here are the top 3 reasons why they are wrong and why it matters.

rail_opex_ntsd1

Source: National Transit Database. “UPT” means unlinked passenger trip (i.e. boarding). Median values for a category in bold.

 

View original 792 more words

Rail isn’t about Congestion

It's not going to fix congestion.

It’s not going to fix congestion.

Prop.1 on the Austin November ballot is an attempt to fund the largest single bond in Austin history, almost half the $1 billion going to the light rail proposal.

Finally people seem to be getting the fact that the light rail, if funded, won’t help with the existing traffic. KUT had a good review of this yesterday, the comments also some useful links. You can listen to the segment here: Is a Light Rail Line Going to Solve Austin’s Traffic Problems?

Jace Deloney, makes some good points, what no one is saying though, and what I believe is the real reason behind the current proposal. There is a real opportunity to develop a corridor of key central Austin and, some unused and many underused land, West of I35, and from Airport all the down to Riverside Dr.

This is hugely valuable land, but encouraging development would be a massive risk, purely because of existing congestion. Getting more people to/from buildings in that corridor, by car, or even bus, into more dense residential accommodation, a medical school, UT Expansion or re-site, more office, whatever, will be untenable in terms of both west/east and south/north congestion. So the only way this could really work, is to make a rail corridor, with stations adjacent the buildings.

The Guadalupe/Lamar route favored by myself and other rail advocates wouldn’t add almost any value to that new corridor. It’s debatable that it would eliminate congestion on the west side of town either. But with a rail transit priority system, the new toll lanes on Mopac, the ability to get around at peak times, and the elimination of a significant number of cars in the central west, and downtown areas would make it worth the investment.

Voters need to remember this when considering which way to vote in November. If the city, UT, and developers want to develop that corridor, they should find some way of funding rail from those that will directly benefit. City wide economic impact; new tax revenues, new jobs is a slight of hand, a misdirection.

It’s not acceptable to load the cost onto existing residents for little benefit, just so you can developers can have their way.

Power corrupts

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

Famously said by John Dalberg-Acton, the historian and moralist, first expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. I was reminded of it on Friday when it was announced that Governor Rick Perry of Texas had been indicted.

Abbott and PerryAlthough I’m clearly more of a social activist than Republican, Conservative, this post isn’t really about politics. It may or may not be that Perry has a case to answer. What is clear is that the lack of a term limit for the Governor of Texas has, as always, allowed the Governor to focus more on his succession, more on his politics, than the people that elected him and their needs.

I’m personally reminded of Margaret Thatcher, who enacted swathing changes in her time, but in her 3rd term, spent more time inward looking, in-fighting, that outward looking. More focused on those that would succeed her than what the country needed to succeed. Major, Howe, Heseltine, Lawson. et al.

jmmtThatcher these days is remembered mostly for consolidating her own power and the debacle that ended her reign rather than her true legacy, creating the housing crisis; and the banking crisis. Thatchers government started moving people to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment to hide the true state of the economy from the people. Blair, Brown, mostly the same, after a couple of years of shifting emphasis and politics it became the same farcical self protection.

And so it has become the same with Perry and his legacy. Irrespective of the merit of this indictment, what’s clear is that Perrys normal has changed to defending his legacy and Abbott. Abbott meanwhile moves to make as much as possible secret about Perrys activities. This includes the detail of Governor Perrys’ expense claims, sensitive, secret but not limited to that. Abbot also feels the location of chemical storage is also a threat to our liberty, and not to be easily publicly accessible. Redaction it would appear, is a lost art.

For the layman it is impossible to understand how/who/what of CPRIT affair is real. Was Abotts oversight of CPRIT politically motivated? Did Abbott really turn a blind eye to the goings on at CPRIT and did Perry and his staff know about and approve this?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) anIf they did, then their pursuit of Lehmberg is bogus, their attempts to stop the Public Integrity Unit(PIU), self serving, And there is the rub, it really doesn’t matter if it was legal or not. Perry needs to go, term limits should mandate not more than two sessions, and Abbott should be seriously questioned about his motivation, otherwise as Thatcher goes, Major goes; as Blair goes, so Brown goes; As Perry goes, so Abbott goes, and the result of too much power be shared out as a grace and favor does no one, not least the local tax payers any good at all.

And for the record, Lehmbergs arrest for drink driving was shameful, and yes she should of resigned. But because she didn’t doesn’t make it OK for the Governor to abuse his power to try to remove her. Don’t let the Lehmberg arrest though distract from the real issue, abuse of power and term limits.

Dishwasher Trouble

PhotoGrid_1406940761841This post if for all those people that came to my house for dinner over the last 8-years, especially the epic Of By For movie premier. Many times friends have followed my lead and we’ve cleared up and washed and dried dishes by hand.

I’m OK with that, I don’t make much mess, so rather than waste water and electric, I do them by hand. At least at the Of By For dinner, which was a mammoth day and a half prep and cooking extravaganza. A number of the guests, Kelley, Tammy, Bree, Bekah, Maria and others tidied up, loaded up the dishwasher and we switched it on and grrrrrrrr. Nothing.

PhotoGrid_1389587276525I’ve never used it since I bought the house. It may have never been used. So, it’s been months, and I can whole hardheartedly recommend Mr Appliance for the repair. for $89 the repair guy came to the house this afternoon, switched on the washer, listened, reached under the sink and switched on the water and the dishwasher worked great. D’oh…

Oh yeah, Of By For? I was a kickstarter backer.

Austin, divided by roads

Austin Business Journal Editor Colin Pope published an op-ed on the future of I35 through downtown Austin. In the op-ed he was basically saying that any attempt to sink and cover I35 was a waste of money, and they should just add lanes.

I added a biting comment pretty quickly on the dependency on cars, the division of the downtown area. Later in the morning, ABJ added a poll to the article, and in the process, my comment disappeared. I re-wrote a comment and posted it last night. Just in case it vanishes again…

You want growth in downtown, but don’t appear to care how that growth occurs, or what the cost is in terms of noise, dirt or visual impact. You’ve suggested the socioeconomic barrier is being addressed by the private sector, but it really isn’t. Where are the big impact developments, east/west transportation initiatives?

There no real towers on the east side of I35? They are all small scale developments because, I would suggest, developers know [they can't] there is a real future risk because of the separation I35 creates.

While it wouldn’t be my choice, cut-and-cover would allow buildings to be built right over the Interstate, thats one kind of growth. You though seem to prefer to just add lanes, if your objective is just to move traffic through downtown Austin, then lets stop people exiting from I35 between say Oltorf and maybe Airport. Most of the delays are created by people trying to get on/off I35, and people shortcutting driving through the city by getting on and jumping off. Seem draconian ? Not if your objective is just to move traffic through downtown Austin?

Is the downtown future really linked to cars? A 10-lane highway/frontage makes a pretty formidable barrier for anything except cars/buses. IF you live on East-anything except Riverside, you can forget rail, walking and or biking under a 10-lane highway?

How do you see the two cities of Austin developing? Again your passionate plea to just build lanes offers no view on how the increasingly segregated city would develop?

That’s the difference, the cut-n-cover advocates actually have a view of re-uniting the city, instead you are proposing that in 2020 we are still slaves to the car.

 

I must admit, 24-hours on, I’m left wondering if Colin was just acting as a troll to get opinions for follow-up articles; or worse still, a shill for the Texas roads, car and gas companies.

Property Tax, Travis county, Austin

There are a number of threads running through the posts on this blog about Austin and Texas. One key aspect of them is how things get paid for, and what gets paid for. Since Texas(bigger than Germany, approx. 7/8 the Population of Germany) has no income tax, as boasts about it’s low corporate taxes, apart from the 6.25% sales tax, property tax is key.

Property tax, the valuation and assessment of properties has become both increasingly complex, and for many long term residents, unaffordable. Among those arguing for greater density in Austin, there are calls for better transportation, more affordable rents etc.

The fact that Caesar Chavez currently has more high rise development than any other street in America, added to all the stories and blatant self promotion that Austin in #1 in this, no.1 in that, highest ranked for everything has lead to a typical Texas business friendly “gold rush” over the last 10-years, eight of which have been presided over by rail-or-fail Mayor Leffingwell.

All this has lead to massive gentrification of the core and central neighborhoods. Development and re-development in itself isn’t evil, it’s the nature of the development and the context it’s done in. However, when that development is done by forcing people who’ve spent their adult lives in a neighborhood out, because they can no longer afford among other things, the property taxes, thats just plain wrong and bordering on financial exploitation.

Imagine, you were a hard working manual worker, domestic, construction, yard, office, transportation, etc. in the late 1970’s in Austin. A very different place. South of the river was mostly for the working poor, as a legacy of the cities 1920’s policies, east of I35 for the racially segregated families. You’ve struggled in the heat with no central a/c, poor transport options, typical inner city problems. Your do what you can to plan for your retirement, depend on federally provided health programs and finally you get to retire in your late 60’s.

Then along comes the modern, gold rush Austin. A few people, often like me, move into your neighborhood because we want something authentic, real rather than remote, urban sprawl neighborhoods. Sooner or later, business spots the opportunity to take advantage of the low property prices, the neighborhood starts to pick-up and before you know it, your meager retirement can’t afford the property taxes that are now annually more than the price of your house from 40-years ago.

Few people seem to understand the emotional, and stressful impact of having to even consider moving, let alone being financially relocated in your reclining years. It changes virtually every aspect of your life. One possible solution to this, and some of Austins other problems is the “accessory dwelling”. I’ll return to ADU’s in a subsequent post, it isn’t a simple as just making then easier to get permitted an built though.

With the City of Austin, typically for Texas, siding with business and refusing to challenge commercial property tax appraisals, the burden falls on private homes. That’s why it is important for everyone to protest their appraisals until the existing system changes.

If you don’t understand how the system works, and more importantly, why you need to protest, the Austin Monitor has a great discussion on soundcloud.

While I can see my obvious bias, as I said in my July 4th post, I for one would rather opt for a state income tax, even if that meant I would end up paying more tax. That though is very unlikely to ever happen in Texas, and so until then we have to push back and get to a point where businesses and commercial property owners pay their fair share.

Why bias? Well, I’m in my 50’s, I won’t be working for ever, and my income will then drop off sharply. At least as it currently stands, I plan to stay were I am.

Internet security < Whose risk?

In my professional life I’m acutely aware of the demands of computer and software security, see this post from yesterday on my tech blog cathcam.wordpress.com as an example of things I’m currently involved in. This post though is prep for my call tomorrow with my UK Bank, FirstDirect, a division of global banking conglomerate HSBC. It made me wonder, who are they protecting, me or them?

The answer is obviously them…

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Happy 4th to all my US Readers…

My yearly token protest

My yearly token protest

Happy 4th of July. This was my token yearly protest at 6:30am this morning, throwing a tea bag into Lake Austin from the Congress (bat) bridge. No taxation without representation!

The reality is I pay little tax in Texas, not counting what the State takes from the federal government. However, I for one would be willing to pay state income tax if it helped fix the deep inequalities in the property tax, which have arisen from people like me moving to Austin, and driving huge increases in property taxes. The state of Travis county property taxes is in itself deeply unjust for those that have lived through the lat 30-years in their same houses and now find assessments leaping up yearly by the maximum allowed. My property tax appeal will be heard in August.

Not withstanding my complaints and attempts here to understand the massive bias to big business in Texas, and the unjust social impact that regulation has on minorities, and more recently, women. I really like it here. Happy 4th!

Abbotts Texas Miracle

This week Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott continued to demonstrate that the Texas Miracle is based only on smoke and mirrors.

Zap, Pow, Sock it to 'em Abbott

Zap, Pow, Sock it to ‘em Abbott

First up, Abbott claimed victory over the evil empire, the Federal Governments’ Environmental Protection Agency. Abbott has time and time again sued the EPA to try to get relief for Texas based businesses, claiming almost everything except the dog ate their homework. The only thing Abbott hasn’t denied is that Texas is the worst state when it comes to air pollution, and given it’s size and position, that pollution is a major contributor to US pollution and to pollution in other states. But, hey, apparently that’s too bad as the regulations would be too costly for Texas businesses to implement.

The truth is that Abbott won a battle to save small businesses from implementing these regulations, but lost the war, the coal plants and other major facilities will have to implement them. The EDF has a different perspective but comes to the same conclusion.

Meanwhile, Abbott(“What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration.”) has been explaining the unexplainable, back-peddling on his order to restrict access to the hazardous Chemicals list. As posted last week “The Texas Freedom Illusion“, Abbott confirmed the ban of releasing information to the public as Tier II reports in the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

Well it turns out, he’s explained his position. You, yes, you the people, have not lost your right to know under the EPCRA. If you want to know, apparently all you have to do is visit the plants or write them, and ask. Instead of letting concerned citizens check the state database, where businesses are required to register, the State is pushing handling costs on the business. The Daily KOS has a great piece on this, describing Abbotts remarks as “jaw dropping”. < Zap pow!

It can’t be because it’s more secure that way.because it sure isn’t anymore secure. I’m sure the terrorists would never think of that, after all, they didn’t think of taking private flying lessons pre-9/11… when they couldn’t get trained by the Government.

Meanwhile, Abbott has also been re-confirming that the Texas Miracle doesn’t come with workers compensation insurance, the only state in America to do so. The Texas Tribune this week published a damning report into the cost and effect of this on workers. For as little as $1.38, businesses could provide workers comp. but like that EPA cost, thats too much of a burden. The downside of this, i workers getting hurt, seriously hurt often have no medical coverage, that means you are and I are picking up the tab.

So, lets summarize. Abbott is running for Governor. He is

  • Not prepared to require businesses meet the same emissions standards they are elsewhere in the USA
  • Not prepared to require Workers Comp. insurance
  • Not prepared to provide citizens access to data the State has on dangerous chemical storage
  • Continues to sue the Presidents Administration, costing hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars, for no real purpose and little result

I’ll be protesting in the morning, Taxation with no representation, I can’t even vote for someone else, let alone against him. Zap Pow – Robin’ the people to pay for business.