Tag Archive: Austin


I’m sunburned and tired and it’s 10 PM on my Sunday (my Monday is Wednesday) and I have so few words and yet ALL OF THE WORDS for the things I have witnessed and participated in over the past 72 hours or so.

Sunday morning found me up and about at a relatively early hour. My goal was to find somewhere to hike between my house and the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. I found Walter E. Long Metropolitan park, paid the $10 entrance fee, and found a picnic table under a tree to enjoy my breakfast.

I’m usually fine with paying entrance fees for parks, because my unconfirmed hope is that the money is being used for preservation and/or providing employment. I’m not so sure what I was paying for with this park. It appears that the main draw for the park was fishing, but in general, there was a lot of trash in the park, the roads weren’t kept up, and there were no walking trails that I could see…at least not initially.

Undaunted, I decided to walk the length of the allotted shoreline & I managed to find some nice things to look at, as well as friendly people enjoying the day. Mostly fishing. Some playing in the water.

When I reached the end of the shore, there was an area that was chained off, but there were no “No Trespassing” signs, so I manouvered around the chain and walked a ways towards the dam, then back down a path that led to another, wider path. It wasn’t so much of a trail as a grassy road, but I intended to get my $10 worth of walking, so I persisted…

I saw some pretty wildflowers…and then I spied a little alcove, and beyond it was a little lake, surrounded by wildflowers, weeds, and trees.

And I sat down to write in my journal:

Tiny little oasis at Walter Long Metropolitan Park. Listening to birdsong & enjoying solitude after another week of overtime. I’m sweating, but it’s delightful to be here among the wildflowers. And the leaves and branches on the trees leave shimmering, swimming shadows on the page & a tiny bird lights on a tree, regards me with avian curiosity – head cocked, feathers ruffled, tail twitch…hop…hop…then flutters off, peeping the story of me to those too intimidated to venture nearer.

I imagine they are speaking to me. Or trying to. My mono-species-lingual ears are not responsive. But they are encouraged by my relative quietude & continue trying to get through – progressively louder & with increasingly more enthusiastic accompaniment.

And then the frogs start in with their clicking. And I should probably think about moving on, but I’m in love with this moment & in love with the solitude. So I hesitate. Linger. Drink until my eyes, my ears, & my nose are sated.

And then I progressed. Got up and made my way back to the car. I heard crows caw, which I don’t usually hear in town…and I saw a HUGE hawk flying overhead, and I decided it was worth my $10 to be there for those things. For all of the things. Though when I return it will be on a weekday so I won’t have to pay quite so much.

I had no idea what to expect at Hutto. I had received an invitation from a friend to join a concert outside of the Hutto Detention Center, and I’d heard of these events before – where people gather to provide audible support and solidarity to those who are housed inside, awaiting release or deportation or asylum. On the ride up, I was thinking about how birds fly back and forth over borders without any concern. And how we are all, really, just intruders on this land. How I just paid $10 to go to a park, where a good many of the people there were likely fishing for food – so that $10 is definitely a relative cost.

I arrived late. The last band, Sonoita, was freaking AMAZING. I was grinning so huge listening to their radical punk lyrics and music…and the simple beauty of the whole idea of putting musicians, poets, and speaker right outside the detention center – with the sounds echoing loudly against the walls so there was no doubt those inside could hear…it was amazing. Whole hearted. Wonderful. And even though I was only there for 20 minutes or so, it was well worth the trip. Next time (and there will be a next time sometime in October) I will plan better and get there early to help set up. And I will help promote it better, so more people can be there to witness this perfect little act of resistance. Because sound also travels over borders and fences…just like birds.

I came home feeling full of thoughts and ideas and inspiration…and crashed in bed, exhausted.

Monday was spent running errands in preparation for summer semester for Buddha the Grouch. So I got to spend the morning in the car with his holy grouchness. I had been in a running discussion with my nephew about increasing the minimum wage and why we should indeed provide food and shelter and medical assistance to those who are living in poverty. Buddha the Grouch is a great foil for these conversations, because we DON’T always agree, and he’s a good litmus test for me to tell how far out on the political spectrum I’m being. So I asked him “Why do we provide food stamps and housing vouchers for poor people?”

He responded: Uh…because it’s disadvantageous to our government for people to be dying in the street.

I countered: But what if there are some people take advantage of the system and are just lazy?

He responded: That’s not statistically significant, and it’s not worth making some people go hungry just to punish those few people who are taking advantage

*phew*

That night, I went to an Austin CAN Community Council forum on Disabilities, where a panel of experts explained the challenges people with disabilities face in our community.

With all due respect to the people on the panel I left the meeting feeling frustrated. First, we were pretty much outright told by the representative from Goodwill that there are no local issues that impact people with disabilities, and we should focus our attention on national issues. Which is all well and good, but I’m sure there are some local things we can focus on, and I intend to inform the rest of the council once I figure out what they are.

The other thing that’s always frustrating when dealing with the non-profit industrial complex is…I just don’t think we’re getting all of the information. Granted, disabilities are not always visually evident, but I just didn’t get the sense that everyone on the panel was personally affected by the issues they were discussing. Not that you have to be in a certain demographic to advocate for the needs of that demographic, but in general I feel the social services crowd tends to invest a lot of time and money in developing people within their organizations to speak on behalf of the populations they serve, without taking the time to develop people in the communities they serve to do the same. Obviously, there are exceptions. But sometimes participating in these forums is like going to a badly-organized “community event to determine the needs of the community” where the only people present are those providing services to the community…which makes no sense to me, though I do understand the challenges in engaging people and encouraging participation.

Today, I woke up early and wrote letters…

And visited with some friends who are exploring an idea for a non-profit. I feel like I’m very blessed with people in my life who get excited about doing good things for others, and I’m especially happy when I can provide useful information and insight to help them help others. 🙂

I brought the Tao of Bird to his therapy appointment, where he spent yet another hour stonewalling his therapist and me, while we did our best to keep conversation going in order to make the environment more conducive to problem-solving. But that bird is a stubborn one! And so smart! And on to any tricks that would maybe encourage him to share his fears and possibly devise strategies for overcoming them.

And then I attended a forum on property taxes in Austin. I was blown away by the rage in the room. I mean, this crowd was one step away from pitchforks and torches. And for good reason. Did you know 90% of commercial building owners protest their property taxes annually, resulting in tax rates that are based on 60% of the value of the property? Meanwhile, I’m here in my home that’s falling apart because I’m spending all of the money I should be spending repairing it paying for the right to live here in the neighborhood I have lived in for 17 years…and the value of my home increases by 10% every year, in spite of the actual value of my home.

We were explained the weird formula they use to figure property taxes, and were told that, essentially, the tax assessor’s office can’t use actual home sales as a guide, since we’re a non-disclosure state. So, basically, we all get issued our ridiculous tax bills, and corporate entities spend a portion of the money they WOULD have spent on taxes paying lawyers to argue they’re property has been improperly valued until the tax assessor’s office has to cry uncle due to lack of resources for litigation and just settle.

Meanwhile, homeowners (and, likely, renters) are left bearing the burden of taxes. And this isn’t even addressing the tax breaks and incentives we give to businesses to move here. It’s freaking ridiculous. Here are some of my favorite quotes & notes of the evening:

-Large businesses employ lawyers to take advantage of the property tax appeals system. The appeals system can’t afford to litigate everyone, so they settle. Large businesses end up paying taxes on only 60% of the actual value of the property.

-The average home sale in my neighborhood is currently $347k

-The greatest increase in home value was in the downtown core, and East Austin <—

-The suggestion was made to advocate on a local/city level for a flat homestead exemption from the City of Austin

-Evidence that will help when filing a protest includes: Sales information, independent/certified appraisal, interior inspection, costs of repairs for large things like deadly mold and cracked slabs. (not sure if protesting will actually help me)

-Oh yay! Voting fixes EVERYTHING!

-Talk to taxing jurisdiction about services

-F1 is currently in litigation for property taxes

-Businesses filing appeals don’t have to show proof of revenue generation

-STATE INCOME TAX!!! (one of the audience members suggested this and everyone clapped…the presenter said that comment would have gotten him escorted out of the room in Houston)

-90% of county services are paid by property tax

-Robin Hood education taxes send 30% of Austin’s property taxes back to needier districts.

-Austin American Statesman has had 3 articles in the last few months about the commercial property tax loopholes.

-Research “Local Infrastructure Fee”

-Suggestions for improvement include: Close loopholes, end tax exemptions for commercial property, or sunset after 10 years.

-The City of Austin issued a senior citizen exemption & we should have fought for a homestead exemption.

-A suggestion that we end tax giveaways and subsidies for corporations garnered ROBUST applause

-Someone whose land value has TRIPLED in the last 6 years asked how land is being appraised and whether we aren’t just footing the bill for speculative development. (at no time during this forum was the possibility that this is all an issue of speculative development explicitly refuted)

-BANKS get 3% when you pay for your taxes online by credit card, get x% on interest when you have to take out a loan to pay the escrow increase, get $$$$$ when they foreclose on a home for failure to pay taxes.

-KEEPING APPRAISED VALUES STATIC ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO STAY IN THEIR HOMES AND NEIGHBORHOODS, RATHER THAN ENCOURAGING TRANSIENCE

-Voting is not enough – stop telling us to vote when those we vot for sell out to special interests.

-A lot of state, city, county properties are not on the tax rolls.

-NOT ALL HOMEOWNERS ARE EQUAL

-Organize the State now in preparation for the 2015 legislature

-Homeowners/Commercial buildings used to have a 42/20 percent split of the tax burden, now it’s more like 52/less than 20

-One guy said he measured his home with laser measuring devices, and that he discovered the square footage is rounded up. 300 additional squre feet resulted in $1200 more in property taxes.

-“Responsible people who bought responsibly are now being priced out of their homes.”

-Legislators have not gotten a lot of heat about this.

-F1 stats:

  • $250 million tax break
  • Annual tax protest reductions that have amounted to about $250 million again
  • $14 million electricity plant that the taxpayers are paying for
  • $13 million water plant that the taxpayers are paying for
  • $16 million new entrance that the taxpayers are paying for
  • WTF1?

-Hyatt

  • Sold for $87 million
  • Appraised at $37 million when it was time to set the taxes.
  • Because lawyers….?

-Appraisal district budgets are being cut, so they have even fewer resources to litigate.

-Someone asked “Can I change my home from residential to commercial?”

-Many of these businesses were provided tax incentives because they were going to “widen the tax base” but we’re seeing lower services, higher taxes, and more traffic

-UNCONTROLLED GROWTH

-CITIZENS VS. DEVELOPERS

-How is growth being paid for & who is paying for it?

-90% of all commercial property taxes are appealed

-26% of residential property taxes are appealed

-Commercial property owners are writing non-disclosure riders in contracts for buyers AND sellers – because Texas is a non-disclosure state, the tax appraiser can’t get that information unless it’s provided, so there’s no way to value property according to actual market demand.

-Someone asked if we could support an appeal by putting our houses on the market at the price they are appraised at and proving they won’t sell.

-Some of the questions about how to cap increases were met with an accusation that just “shifts the tax burden” – so one guy responded “If you’ve lived here 20-30 years, why SHOULDN’T you shift the tax burden to the person who moved here 3 weeks ago & paid $750 k in cash for their house?”

-CAP EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION

-Some people were talking about organizing several people to hire a lawyer to appeal

-One guy was all “If we could only go to the state house with badly spelled signs like the tea party…you have to make them FEAR you!” (I was thinking “Uh…where the fuck were you when we actually DID that, only with perfectly-spelled signs – FOR YEARS!”)

-Someone mentioned that the 10% cap on increases is the MAXIMUM, but the taxing entities COULD choose to lower the percentage.

-Another person asserted that developers are buying properties, razing the houses on them, and rebuilding duplexes and triplexes that are then sold to rental agencies who make a huge profit and don’t pay as much in property taxes – she seemed to be saying that there’s some sort of loophole that causes the tax rate on duplexes/triplexes to be lower, and that non owner-occupied houses are taxed at a LOWER rate than owner-occupied houses.

-Two good resources: Austinaffordability.com and Realvaluesfortexas.org

It was an AMAZING meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing where all of this goes. In the meantime, I’m going to file my protest, even though I don’t feel very encouraged that it will get anywhere…

***

Phew! That was a very full weekend.

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Lazy Sunday, Lainie Style:

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Asparagus, Pea, and Smoked Gouda Frittata…

First…I like to eat a good breakfast, and feed my mind. Sometimes that means fancy egg dishes and non-fiction…sometimes it means donuts and comic books…or any combination. Usually I cook breakfast for the kids when they’re both here. Sometimes I go out and get something.

It’s still mild enough to sit on the front porch and listen to the birdsong. They’re all going at it out there. It feels perverse to eavesdrop on their mating rituals, but it sure sounds pretty.

Usually one or more of the cats come to visit me while I’m on the porch. One of our cats likes to have her belly rubbed, so if she visits me, she’ll usually flop over on her back and wait for me to do my duty. Another cat likes to approach in friendliness or recline as though inviting you to scratch her belly, but she’s like the venus peopletrap of cats and will clamp down on you HARD if you take her up on her faux offer of belly rub-ness. The last cat…the male cat…just kind of meanders up like, as my son says, the guy whose just crashing on your couch, and says “‘sup?” Whenever that cat comes home, we all say “Cheezee is here!” like it’s some great celebration. Or like the folks at the bar on Cheers greeted Norm. We all kind of speculate Cheezee has another family who he lives with, though he’s been our cat since we rescued him from a foster situation, and is the brother of the tiny cat who loves belly rubs. He’s just that casual. But that’s another story…

Obligatory bluebonnet selfie

Obligatory bluebonnet selfie

On this particular Sunday, after breakfast, I drove my eldest son (aka buddha the grouch) up to a friend’s house in Round Rock and took myself out for a hike. I wanted to go to the Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Preserve, but the GPS led me on some wild adventure through some backroad skirting the park, but not actually at a place where I could enter. Still, it was lovely. I saw hawks circling. It smelled awesome outside and, though hot, it was lush and green in a way I will be missing mid-summer. And I thought a lot about land “ownership” as I passed miles and miles of PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING NO HIKING KEEP OUT signs in front of some of the most beautiful land in Texas. And it pisses me off that people can own property and disallow people from entering…not even to hike or just have a picnic…and yet we continue to also cede our public land to private use. In other words – it was really sad to me that I had to drive for over 20 minutes or so actively seeking somewhere that I could just walk around in nature without trespassing.

But I found a place. Meager though it was, it allowed me the exact experience I needed. I don’t even remember the name of the “Recreational Area” I ended up at, but it had a boat launch and a picnic area, and it was LCRA land right alongside the Colorado River. So, I parked, I threw on my backpack, I put on my headphones, and I started walking. Then I took off my headphones, because I realized it was absolutely silent, save for the birds and the chirruping grasshoppers. Also because it was really fucking hot and my ears were sweating.

I had no idea what to expect. I just wandered around until I found something that looked like it might possibly be a trail. Encouraged by a lack of “No Trespassing” signs, I meandered off for awhile until I found the shoreline and, surprise! Beautiful wildflowers everywhere.

I was vaguely amused by the fact that someone in one of the gigantic houses across the water was blasting Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on their no doubt multi-thousands of dollar sound system loud enough for me to hear it crystal clear across the water. I never understood why people build such huge houses so close together. I would want to build a tiny house on a large plot of land.

I hope his neighbors like the devil rock!

I hope his neighbors like the devil rock!

About 3/4 of the way back in what I hoped would be a loop (I wasn’t even really sure if I could get all the way through the way I was going without encountering some impassable obstacle) I found a shady tree under which to sit and write a few things down and just catch my breath and enjoy the sounds and the stillnesses. But I knew if I sat too long, it would be difficult to get moving again. I made a mental note to bring a blanket next time. A nap would have been really nice there. Out in the open with air warm enough to feel like a hug from a good friend.

I decided to “traipse through the woods” to get back to my car the more direct way. So I picked my way through the underbrush, up and down a few little hills on either side of what was apparently once a pretty major waterway, judging from the abundance of shells.

Back to the car – and home. I picked up my younger son (aka The Tao of Bird) and took him out to dinner at his favorite chinese buffet place. I had to stop after one plate, but he ate an astonishing amount of food by any standards, even more by his…as he’s never had a very large appetite.

And home again, where I took a refreshing shockingly-cold shower & stretched out for a nap, feeling sated and pleasantly exhausted…

How was your Sunday?

 

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Me: The birds look like apostrophes

Him: What are the words if the birds are apostrophes?

Several of us gathered today to say goodbye to a friend who passed away. We met at City Hall, where most of us originally entered one another’s lives. And we walked together to the tree on the other side of the river on which little medallions were pinned to mark the deaths of  others who, like our friend Chris, were houseless but not without friends in life or in death.

Several people told stories of their friendship with Chris. Universally, we agreed he was a gentle man. A quiet man. A man who forced us to slow down and think. And rethink. And as I listened, I realized I was not only mourning the loss of Chris, but also the loss of that time. That time when we all gathered several times a week to slow down, sit down…and talk. And listen. And plan together. And just to gather with a group of people from disparate backgrounds and experiences – a group of people who, under normal circumstances, might never get a chance to meet – and become aware of each other as fellow humans…and struggle together. And learn from each other. And totally fuck up in the presence of each other. And forgive each other. And try again.

I didn’t tell any stories today. Today, I listened. The truth is, I didn’t have a lot of stories to tell about Chris. I cared about him. I tried to look out for him the best I could. I respected his growth and his journey. I remember him.  I will miss him. But it’s not enough to miss someone like Chris. It’s not enough to mourn and be sad and go on living and forgetting all that I have learned through my friendship with Chris, and through all of the other unlikely companions I’ve been blessed to come to know over the past few years. There were so many lessons learned. So many I forgot. It’s time to remember them now. It’s time to come out of hibernation and be present in the world again, and open to listening and sharing and relating.

The things I have learned as an occupier are lessons I have needed to learn my whole life. And I’m not merely talking about social and economic justice. I’m talking about taking the time to really see people. To see AND hear them. Taking the time to be present in public spaces and share with people. I don’t think I’m done learning those lessons yet. I don’t think I’ve learned them well enough, and I think they are too easily forgotten. I still have a too-frequent tendency to hide myself away. To hurry from one thing to the next without stopping and giving time to appreciate the unexpected. I still frequently neglect the things that are most important while freely frittering time on things that have no soul-nutritional value.

This is how I know that Occupy is not dead. Because we haven’t learned these lessons yet. We are too easily distracted and divided. And until we can learn to come together and be present, we will continue to Occupy where we should be Living.

Rest in Peace, dear Chris. I hardly knew you, but I certainly loved you. In honor of your memory, I plan to spend at least an hour every Sunday occupying the steps of City Hall with my sketchbook and journal. People watching, and hopefully conversing. Maybe I’ll bring a sign…maybe I’ll go incognito. It’s not 3 General Assemblies a day, every day…but it’s something. Maybe I’ll see you there.

I feel fine

Image stolen from Strike Debt UK –  http://www.strikedebtuk.com/

My son likes to argue with me that Occupy didn’t achieve anything. That it failed. I try not to engage with him, because who really wins an argument with a 16-year old who has a very black-and-white way of seeing the world? But, really, it seems like everywhere I turn I see ways in which the politics and tactics of the Occupy movement are being carried out in to do good in the world. Partially because Occupy brought so many good-hearted people together, and now we kind of all know each other and know who to call when something needs to get done. But also because the politics and tactics of the Occupy movement were just another iteration of politics and tactics that have been evident in activist/social justice movements forever, and in some ways they are becoming more and more refined.

This weekend in Austin, amidst the ridiculous conspicuous consumption of the F-1 spectacle, a representative of Strike Debt New York paid a visit to help facilitate a Debtor’s Assembly and participate in a Debtor’s Carnival. Both events were aimed at destigmatizing debt and bringing people together to discuss the effects of debt on their lives and what might be done about it. I was unable to attend the assembly, but did attend the carnival today, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to talk about this project with one of its organizers. In addition to the Rolling Jubilee – which raised money in order to buy huge amounts of debt for pennies on the dollar and forgive the holders of the debt that was bought, the organizers of Strike Debt are trying to find ways to form Debtor’s Unions and some are holding Debt Clinics to empower people who are in debt to get out of debt and/or deal with debt collectors in an informed manner. It’s an amazing movement, and just one of many examples of how the tactic of gathering random people together in a park for weeks on end spawned ambitious ideas and action. I’m really looking forward to working with my activist community to hold debt clinics and work with people on fighting back against debt collectors.

Image Courtesy of Austin Common Ground Relief – https://www.facebook.com/atxcommongroundrelief?directed_target_id=0

I also continue to be impressed with the hard work of the Austin Common Ground Relief. After floods hit the Dove Springs area in Austin, hundreds of people were left homeless, and it took several days/weeks for significant help to arrive. Now, two weeks after the flooding, the agencies that were helping are packing up and leaving. With F-1 racing happening in the city, hotels that were housing displaced residents are putting people back out on the street so they can accommodate wealthy tourists, and the shelter is closing down. Meanwhile, members of Austin Common Ground Relief are still preparing daily meals and distributing them to people who were impacted by the flooding (which is really just a symptom of climate change and environmental racism.) While distributing meals, they are also having people fill out intake applications listing their needs and desires, and providing assistance with cleanup and whatever else the residents are looking for. Because of the work activists have done in Austin to create an infrastructure of support, the infrastructure of information sharing and organizing was quickly put into place. Decentralized planning, volunteer-based assistance, and ubiquitous social media presence enable the Common Ground organizers and participants to be flexible and respond immediately to the needs of the community. The hope is that once there are a sufficient number of community members who are out of crisis, those tools can be provided to the community so they are able to provide mutual aid for their neighbors, and call upon the larger group when necessary. It’s truly a beautiful thing, and another example of the influence of Occupy on local organizing. I couldn’t be more proud of the folks who are doing the really hard work. While I can only spare a couple of hours a week towards the effort, it feels so much better to know that the time I do volunteer is having a direct, positive impact on those who need the help, rather than being filtered through the ranks and red-tape of a large organization like Red Cross.

These are the things that sustain me and help me get through my own struggles. I’m really proud to be part of a community that is invested in doing good things for other people and actively working towards making the world a better place.

Just one more favor…

Cleanenergyforaustin.org

Cleanenergyforaustin.org

Join: https://www.facebook.com/events/379023058879040/

Your action is needed right away and your presence will help! The fate of Austin Energy, our $3.8 billion asset, is soon to be decided. Our award-winning public utility also funds our parks, streets, libraries and public safety. With City Council at the helm, we’ve had an opportunity to hold Austin Energy Accountable, by electing Council Members and sometimes taking them out of office. We need everyone to speak out… and now. 

We say NO to the un-democratic change that is proposed. The Mayor and a majority of City Council members favor creating a un-elected board, with appointees that we don’t get to vote on. Appointees would be insulated from public accountability. Expensive and dirty projects could get fast-tracked. We could lose our green energy and low-income programs, and our City Budget could suffer. Our utility belongs to US, and shouldn’t be handed over to energy insiders and corporate interests, especially with no public VOTE. 

Who wants our utility? CCARE is the only group that testified in favor of the governance change for Austin Energy. This group of large industrial users list their address as the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Large companies now benefit to the tune of $20 million from special contracts for low electric rates, but the special deals expire in 2015. This appears to be the real CCARE concern. Their special deals would come on the backs of the majority of ratepayers, and hit especially hard on low-income people. *(more about CCARE below)

Many citizens and organizations are working together to keep control in the hands of those whom we elect. A subcommittee could be set up if that allows more focused time by Council members, and a representative for ratepayers outside the City Limits could be included, but control of the utility should rest in the hands of people that we elect. 

More info is online at www.CleanEnergyforAustin.org

PLEASE COME OUT! 

We oppose this bill that was filed by Sen. Watson and is being carried by Rep. Paul Workman in the House. Come sign up and speak if you can – for three minutes, or sign in to show your opposition and speak by your presence. The John H Reagan State Office Building address is 105 West 15th Street. It’s just north of the main Capitol Building, on the West half of the Capitol Complex. 

Thursday, May 9th – YOUR PRESENCE NEEDED! City Council will vote on 2nd and 3rd readings on an Ordinance to give control of OUR utility to an un-elected, appointed Austin Energy Board.

It’s agenda Item 14. The ordinance and back up material is online at 

http://austin.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=414&doctype=agenda.

Rally at 6 PM. Food will be provided, but please bring more if you can.

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TAKE ACTION NOW! #1 – PLEASE CALL OR EMAIL STATE AFFAIRS COMMITTEE MEMBERS NOW to urge a NO vote on SB 410! 

WORKMAN’S BILL ON AUSTIN ENERGY GOVERNANCE is UNDEMOCRATIC: 

We oppose this bill that lets Austin City Council transfer management and control of Austin Energy, our city’s largest asset, to a Board of Trustees appointed by City Council — without a Charter Amendment, and the public VOTE that would be required. 

State Affairs Committee Emails: Byron.Cook@house.state.tx.us, Helen.Giddings@house.state.tx.us, Tom.Craddick@house.state.tx.us, Jessica.Farrar@house.state.tx.us, John.Frullo@house.state.tx.us, Charlie.Geren@house.state.tx.us, Charlie.Geren@house.state.tx.us, Harvey.Hilderbran@house.state.tx.us, Dan.Huberty@house.state.tx.us, Jose.Menendez@house.state.tx.us, Rene.Oliveira@house.state.tx.us, John.Smithee@house.state.tx.us, Sylvester.Turner@house.state.tx.us On Turner’s staff: Alison.Brock@house.state.tx.us

State Affairs Committee Phone Numbers: Rep. Byron Cook 463-0730, Rep. Helen Giddings 463-0953, Rep. Tom Craddick 463-0500, Rep. Jessica Farrar 463-0620, Rep. John Frullo 463-0676, Rep. Charlie Geren 463-0610, Rep. Patricia Harless 463-0496, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran 463-0536, Rep. Dan Huberty 463-0520 , Rep. José Menéndez 463-0634, Rep. René Oliveira 463-0640, Rep. John T. Smithee 463-0702, Rep. Sylvester Turner 463-0554

Here’s what the bill says: From Watson S.B. No. 410, which passed in the Senate, and is now in the House State Affairs Committee. (c) Notwithstanding any other law, including a municipal ordinance or provision of a municipal charter, a municipality with a population of less than 850,000 that is served by a municipally owned electric utility system with 400,000 or more customers may transfer management and control of the municipality’s electric utility system to a board of trustees appointed by the municipality’s governing body. SECTION 2. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2013.
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TAKE ACTION NOW! #2 – PLEASE CALL AND EMAIL CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS to urge them to OPPOSE the ORDINANCE. 
We don’t think a separate board is needed, but at minimum, City Council should call for a Charter Amendment election if they want such drastic change. It’s OUR utility, not theirs to give away to corporate interests. Mayor Leffingwell and Bill Spelman have been pushing the governance change. 

Mail the Mayor and Council members at once with this link: http://www.austintexas.gov/mail/all-council-members

E-mail Addresses:

Lee.Leffingwell@austintexas.gov
Sheryl.Cole@austintexas.gov
Chris.Riley@austintexas.gov
Mike.Martinez@austintexas.gov
Kathie.Tovo@austintexas.gov
Mike.Martinez@austintexas.gov
Laura.Morrison@austintexas.gov
Bill.Spelman@austintexas.gov

Phone Numbers:
City Clerk phone number – 512-974-2210, Lee Leffingwell 974-2250, Sheryl Cole 974-2266, Chris Riley 974-2260. Mike Martinez 974-2264, Kathie Tovo 974-2255, Laura Morrison 974-2258, Bill Spelman 974-2256

——————————————————————————————————————————–
Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition
1303 San Antonio, #100, Austin, Texas 78701
512-797-8481 karen@seedcoalition.org

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Some Background on CCARE

About

The Coalition for Clean Affordable Reliable Energy (CCARE) was originally created by a firm called 3 Point Partners in response to proposed rate increases in Austin Energy. 3 Point Partners met with many of the city’s largest businesses and coordinated the formation of CCARE as a 501(c)6. They crafted the coalition’s mission and core principle statements, helped define the organization’s goals and message and oversaw the media rollout. 3 Point Partners coordinated CCARE’s political strategy and met frequently with city staff, city council and the leadership of Austin Energy.

CCARE includes companies such as AMD, Dell, Data Foundry, Freescale, CBRE, Brandywine, Spansion, Highland Mall, IBM, National Instru­ments, Samsung, Seton Hospit­als, St. David’s, and the Building Owners and Managers Association, Home Builders Association

3 Point Partners client list includes a similar list with a few additions.
AMD, Circuit of the Americas, CCARE, Clear Channel, car2go, Dell, Ferrari, Samsung, Wal-Mart, Tokyo Electron America

More Background…

Coal Patrol – CCARE
http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2009-11-06/904864/

(from 2009)
In Texas, 11 new coal plants are in progress – by far the most of any state in the U.S. The Sierra Club is calling for the Texas Commis­sion on Environmental Quality to enforce the federal Clean Air Act (as is the Environmental Protection Agency) and for Austin Energy to close its Fayette coal plant by 2020. Meanwhile, an Austin business coalition is arguing the opposite case. Calling themselves the Coalition for Clean Afford­able Reliable Energy, large electricity-users have organized to fight Austin Energy’s proposed new generation plan, which would replace coal-fueled electricity generation with renewable energy – and could raise electricity rates in the short term, CCARE says. (Long term, an increase is likely without a shift to renewables, too.) While CCARE supports “carbon-reducing initiatives,” it seeks special consideration for its members, which include AMD, Dell, Freescale, Spansion, Highland Mall, IBM, National Instru­ments, Samsung, Seton Hospit­als, St. David’s, and the Building Owners and Managers Association.

Main Web Presence

http://ccarenergy.org/
https://twitter.com/CCAREnergy
https://www.facebook.com/pages/CCARE-The-Coalition-for-Clean-Affordable-Reliable-Energy/301820579717
http://3pointpartners.com/

CCARE Key People

Trey Salinas – (Founder), 3 Point Partners
Ward Tisdale – (Chair), AMD
John Sutton, BOMA
Don Weekly, Brandywine
Andrew Mcfarlane, Data Foundry
Roger Wood, Freescale
Lynda Rife, professional consultant

Trey Salinas is a registered lobbyist who’s clients include Circuit of the Americas, Wal-Mart, The Data Foundry, AMD and more.

Ward Tisdale is Director of AMD’s Global Community Affairs Department.

John Sutton is Assistant Vice President of the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation and is the energy representative for the Building Owners and Managers Association. He served as a member of Austin’s Generation Resource Planning Task Force in 2009 and is a board member of the Austin-based Coalition for Clean Affordable and Reliable Energy (Ccare).

More Links

Then There’s This: Surrendering Power
http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2013-04-12/then-theres-this-surrendering-power/

FAQ – CCARE
http://documents.clubexpress.com/documents.ashx?key=W99XGGrjyYItbMFrzCJijQPHTAuOF%2FIf8l0wEF%2BPgFg%3D

Press Release – CCARE
http://ccarenergy.webs.com/Press%20Release.pdf

Letter to Mayor/City Council – CCARE
http://www.powersmack.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/CCARE-letter-Feb-7.pdf

Wood: It is time for a governance change at Austin Energy
http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/wood-it-is-time-for-a-governance-change-at-austin-/nTmNp/

State report: Austin Energy rate increase too high
http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-report-austin-energy-rate-increase-too-high/nWPw8/

The Rich, the Poor, and the AE Generation Plan – CCARE
http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2009-12-25/931594/

Clarifying CCARE’s Membership and Mission
http://www.austinchronicle.com/postmarks/2009-11-11/907584/

Coal Patrol – CCARE
http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2009-11-06/904864/

Austin Energy Rate Case Request for Proposal – CCARE
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/86302290/Austin-Energy-Rate-Case-Request-for-Proposal—CCARE

Energy bills to increase – CCARE
http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/print-edition/2012/02/24/energy-bills-to-increase.html?page=all

It’s not spring until I listen to Key Lime Pie by Camper Van Beethoven. I was holding out in hopes of…but, no. It’s time for spring to begin.

Camper Van Beethoven - June

…and I wrote you this letter…

Weekends are sort of redundant when one is unemployed. Regardless, I had a relaxing one.

Saturday began with Bitch Magazine, coffee, and raisin bran…

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

A trip to Vegfest, to help serve food for Unity Vegan Kitchen.

Unity Vegan Kitchen at Vegfest 2013

Unity Vegan Kitchen at Vegfest 2013

Though they didn’t need help, I was thankful for the excuse to make it out to the festival, and enjoyed some yummy food.

Chole Samosa

Chole Samosa

Accompanied a friend to The Great Outdoors, where we gawked at greenhouse flowers before he bought bags of soil for his garden.

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant 2

Pitcher Plant 2

Bougainvillea galore!

Bougainvillea galore!

Nerded out at the opening of the Hats off to Dr. Seuss exhibition with one of my very favorite superheroes…followed by dinner and giggles at surreal-0-vision.

I think this one was called

I think this one was called “Ejecting a Surly Cat.”

Sunday was about much needed solitude.

Abundance

Abundance

Manifesting the inspiration from the preceding day into art.

Yertle the Tortuga, Pt. 1

Yertle the Tortuga, Pt. 1

They Obeyed

They Obeyed

Contemplating…

Journaling…

Maintaining…

When I was working, this time of night on a Sunday was a time of mourning for the lost weekend hours. Now, I celebrate the time spent in pursuit of more esoteric goals. I am memorizing the contours of a simpler life-measuring the hours of the days and comparing them to the important things that need to fit within them. I am taking time to listen to birdsong and track the daily growth of the leaves on trees. I am paying close attention to my kinder instincts and (internally, silently) admonishing those who would wish me to be more cruel because that is what they would do. I am appreciating the fact that my child quotes Neitzsche when confronted with my angst (specifically, though paraphrased: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”)

I am listening to Camper Van Beethoven, and welcoming spring.

And now…the news:

Troubling reports continue to come in from the Pegasus Tarsands Pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas about the apparent control of the proverbial chicken coop by the foxes:

Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department. http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/04/04/is-exxon-trying-to-hide-the-damage-from-their-tar-sands-pipeline-spill/

On Friday morning, Inside Climate Newsreported that an Exxon spokesperson told reporter Lisa Song that she could be “arrested for criminal trespass” when she went to the command center to try to find representatives from the EPA and the Department of Transportation. On Friday afternoon, I spoke to the news director from the local NPR affiliate who said he, too, had been threatened with arrest while trying to cover the spill. http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/04/reporters-say-exxon-impeding-spill-coverage-arkansas

Thankfully, the residents of Mayflower are fighting back:

On Friday, homeowners filed a civil lawsuit against Exxon in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Arkansas Western Division. In the class action suit, homeowners said the pipeline was unsafe and its rupture hurt property values. http://thecabin.net/latest-news/2013-04-06-1#.UWJPgpPvuSr

And there are superheroes on the ground, gathering information:

Elsewhere, “an activist indy news team” duo called JNL, has been using Ustream and Twitter to report from Mayflower and interview local residents. Yesterday, they were detained by police and forced to leave private property where they were reporting from, despite having permission to be there. http://www.treehugger.com/energy-disasters/mayflower-arkansas-lockdown-following-exxon-oil-spill.html

(sample of the coverage JNL is providing: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/30996411. You can find them here: https://twitter.com/jak_nlauren)

We have reports that because Exxon had already partially destroyed this wetland, they pumped diluted bitumen spilled in other areas here to get it all in one place and keep it out of sight of the media. We went in anyway.

This is how we comfort ourselves when we feel helpless:

An Exxon parody Twitter account is tweeting fake public relations updates about the oil company’s ruptured Pegasus pipeline, which spilled at least 84,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into residential streets in Mayflower, Ark., last week. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/exxon-fake-twitter-account_n_3024663.html

And I did a little studying up on the history of May Day, in preparation for the planning of picnic/potluckness:

Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.

In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had, in the words of the prosecution put “Anarchy is on trial” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea. http://libcom.org/history/1886-haymarket-martyrs-mayday

The farmers, workers, and child-bearers (laborers) of the Middle Ages had hundreds of holy days which preserved the May Green, despite the attack on peasants and witches. Despite the complexities, whether May Day was observed by sacred or profane ritual, by pagan or Christian, by magic or not, by straights or gays, by gentle or calloused hands, it was always a celebration of all that is free and life-giving in the world. That is the Green side of the story. Whatever else it was, it was not a time to work.

Therefore, it was attacked by the authorities. http://libcom.org/history/incomplete-true-authentic-wonderful-history-may-day-peter-linebaugh

And I’m still listening to Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie. As per tradition. ❤

It’s really my favorite thing in the world. Tonight, I listened to punk rock & the rain & wrote in my journal. All in my freshly. made. bed.

I also had this conversation with Cole:

Me (taking a picture of my food): I’m blogging again, which means every moment of my life is way more interesting than it actually is.

Cole: yeah, that’s pretty much blogging on a nutshell.

Image

And read several items on the internet through the day:

Time Budgeting: https://medium.com/products-i-wish-existed/4f631ebb9b80 (I’ve written about this very topic here: http://choredork.blogspot.com/ and probably other places I cannot currently find. I’ll probably write more about it in the coming weeks, as I’m earnestly looking for someone(s) to help create the product that Ev is wishing existed.)

Watching Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon do Barry and Andy Gibb, and cracking the fuck up: http://youtu.be/E7c44rtpzPg

Dreaming about a positive outcome for this lawsuit against the EPA being brought by beekeepers, environmentalists, and consumer groups.

Looking at pictures of yesterday’s Tent City Action taken by John Jack Anderson of the Chronicle.

Finally putting some information up on the Education Never Ends Facebook page.

Reliving Nick Cave.

Reading this article comparing Online learning to University, which I will probably opine about later, when I’ve set up the Education Never Ends blog. (Also, really guys? MOOCS of Hazard?)

…and the day began with a confirmed appointment with a mentor at SCORE.

Which really just proves that the following also applies to jobs:

Image