Homelessness is a social failure. When your fellow citizens have nowhere else to sleep and so sleep in the streets, this says more about you and the people with someplace to sleep than it does about the poor person who just couldn’t get it all together that month and lost their home. Debt snowballs fast when you live paycheck to paycheck. Before you know it they are putting your stuff in the street and changing the locks on the doors that used to be yours, and you wonder how all that debt piled up that quickly.
Just like that, you are homeless. You were a respectable upstanding citizen with an address before the eviction, and after the eviction you don’t exist. Maintaining an address is the baseline for receiving any assistance. If you don’t have an address, the government can’t and won’t help you. Those are just the facts, especially in Texas. Homeless people die every day on the streets of American cities and no one notices their deaths unless it’s a slow news day and so the homeless death notices reach the evening news. The poor, overworked cops who check the scene for evidence of wrongdoing, the workers at the city morgue who take possession of the remains when there is no known next of kin. They’ll notice, but there is little they can do all by themselves.
…and the only thing that separates you from those lowly, unmourned, unwashed street people is the ability to name your home address and prove that you live there. What would you do if you couldn’t go home to comfort every night? Scary to contemplate, isn’t it? That is life for a lot more Americans than most of us are willing to accept.
When I first listened to the On The Media series on eviction, The Scarlet E, I really couldn’t see myself needing to reference the series. I mean, I’ve never been evicted (knock on wood) I don’t have any first hand knowledge about the subject, it would be presumptuous of me to write anything of length about a subject that I hadn’t experienced personally or hadn’t researched thoroughly, and I wasn’t planning on doing either of those things anytime in the near future.
Then, as most things in life happen, I was reminded of design ideas that I have worked on since homelessness started to be a problem I noticed back in the 1990’s. The city of Austin is drowning in homeless people these days, people who were evicted from housing in Austin that now live on the streets of Austin. Any longtime resident that is paying attention to how housing prices have inflated over the last few decades should not be surprised by this. Housing prices have doubled and quadrupled while wages have remained essentially stagnant. This is a recipe for disaster, and that disaster is now sleeping on the streets of Austin.
What is needed is a countrywide if not continental or worldwide resolution to see that everyone has a home and a bed and decent food. Until we undertake that effort then we will continue to trip over the homeless in our streets. It is a mark of the failings of our economic system that they are in the street in the first place.
The place to start when addressing a homeless problem is to find the right sites to put transition shelters in. You can’t just hide these people and places away, put them out on the edges of society and shun them. We tried that with the State Schools in Texas that were disbanded during the Reagan administration. That was how we handled this problem before and it didn’t work then. I don’t see how doing it again will change the outcome.
The site(s) should be near where the homeless congregate already. Many of the overpasses they sleep under could easily be repurposed into transition shelters. These aren’t ideal locations; but in a crowded city they represent the scarcest commodity of all, under-utilized real estate; which is why the homeless congregate there in the first place. An ideal location would be a large open field near a river. Historically the kind of place that humans have been attracted to.
The transition shelters need to not look like or feel like prisons. No fencing, especially no chain link fencing. No visible guards or towers or patrols. A significant number of homeless people have mental illness problems that being out in nature soothes. The kinds of problems that feeling penned up just makes worse. So don’t pen them up.
The residents of the shelter should be entrusted to do most of the work required to run the shelter. Growing and cooking food, cleaning, etcetera. They are not children and should not be treated as children (children shouldn’t be treated as children either, but that is a different subject entirely) this part of the effort will require the input of metal health experts. These experts should be included in every part of the design process for the transition shelters if we want to avoid repeating previous failed attempts at dealing with homelessness.
The problem with homelessness goes deeper than this though. It goes to the heart of our own misconceptions about what an ideal home is. The single family residence is a pipe dream that has never been attainable for most people and would be catastrophic to the environment if we attempted to give every family their own residence with a landscaped yard and two cars in the driveway. We have to get away from these unattainable dreams and start dealing with concretes.
How much space does one person need?
How much confidence/comfort is required to make a person feel at home where they live?
Back at the beginning of January I noticed that I would go for a walk and then spend two days fighting to breath even with the allergy treatments I habitually take during heightened allergy periods. I could handle the difficulty breathing, I’ve dealt with allergies all my life and with the limited lung capacity that borderline asthma gifted me with at birth.
Then the two-day migraines started, and that was a deal breaker as far as outside exercise goes. I’ve been walking outside so often over the last few years that I have gotten out of the habit of using the treadmill; aside from which the dog sits on the floor next to the treadmill and glares at me while I walk on it, incensed that I would have the gall to exercise without him. So I’ve been cooling my heels indoors for a bit, avoiding the wrath of the dog. His plaintive looks when we don’t go outside and exercise are hard enough to bear.
I’ve been suspecting that I was becoming allergic to Juniper pollen for several years now. It never has come up as red flag allergy in previous skin tests that I’ve submitted to, but the lungs don’t lie. Juniper/Cedar pollen has been phenomenally high this year (Jan 10, Cedar 2,937 gr/m3) starting right about the time that I started having difficulty breathing and suffering from prolonged migraine headaches.
Austinites know what Cedar Fever is:
McGreevy said early Texas pioneers first called ashe juniper trees “cedar” because of its similarities to Eastern red cedar, but neither tree is truly a cedar tree. “When the Europeans first came here (to the New World) and they encountered our Eastern red cedar, they called it cedar because of its aroma.”
So I ordered some N95 masks that I really couldn’t afford to wear regularly and started wearing a mask while walking again just to see if that helped. The migraines did go away eventually, but the breathing hasn’t gotten much better. I need to talk to an allergist again just to see if there is anything else I can do aside from not go outside, but I have little doubt in my mind that it is the Ashe Juniper that is causing my symptoms. Why? Because I did a little impromptu experimentation yesterday.
I had to drive the Wife to get scoped at the hospital. Yes, the dreaded cameras plugged into every orifice routine that we older people seem to have to endure with ever-increasing frequency was her Monday appointment. With Austin still being on high COVID alert, the hospitals swamped, it was an all-day affair for me waiting on her to be done and driven back home. At least I didn’t have to endure the prep and the procedure. Small mercies.
There is an excellent exercise trail that runs next to the hospital so I put on my walking shoes and set out for a 2 mile aimless ramble just to kill some time and get out of the car. As I was admiring the landscape and inspecting the visible architecture I noticed a smell. What was that smell? Like a cleaning solution. Pinesol? I looked up and there was an Ashe Juniper right over my head, dusting the trail with its spores, and I didn’t have my mask on.
I hurriedly slipped on the mask cursing myself for not having thought to put it on previously, but I knew that I would have a result to the question of Cedar Fever or not very soon. Today, with my lungs filled with sandpaper once again I can say emphatically, it’s definitely Cedar Fever.
My chest was congested through the beginning of May. As I found out later in the year, I’m not allergic to any of the pollens that are related to seasonal allergies, not even the dreaded cedar/juniper. Which is a surprise, considering how seasonal all my breathing and vertigo issues are. I’ve had the allergies tested many times by many doctors and it simply isn’t the case that I am allergic to any of the pollens that are known to be produced on a seasonal basis.
My latest allergist has a theory, and I think he may be onto something. He suggests that the elevation of particulate matter that I am breathing simply makes my lungs have to work that much harder, which is why I am hit with allergy-like symptoms on a seasonal basis. The other year-round allergens that I am affected by start the process, and the added particulate makes it more pronounced.
If you are already nauseous before getting on the roller coaster, the chances of you making everyone around you wear what you had for lunch is that much more more likely. Best to not get on the roller coaster in the first place. In my case, it’s best to act proactively and do things like mask up before exposing myself to high particulate air. Which I’ve started doing with limited success.
I started the year 2023 with a bad Winter cold. It wasn’t COVID because we checked. I was sick through all of the Christmas holiday and into the first week of the new year. The cough from the cold simply wouldn’t let up and would lead to headaches by the end of the day for weeks at a time. In desperation I started wearing a mask indoors as well as outdoors in an attempt to keep my lungs from being irritated.
That worked within minutes and I’ve started putting a mask on when the compulsive urge to cough comes on me. It took almost a week for me to realize that we’d started this year’s Cedar Fever season. This chart explains everything:
Cedar is on the rise again after three days of respite. Damn. Time to put the mask back on.
Migraines are kicking my ass. Have been kicking my ass for all of January so far. At least it’s not rotational vertigo, that is even harder to manage. I’ve gone through this sort of thing several times since 2003. I think I’ve got the pattern down and then, Wham! It hits me again. Migraines. Tinnitus. Vertigo. Then I reassess and I get back up and try again. Get back up and try again as soon as you are able. That is the hard part.
I’ve been puttering around the house for the last month. Every time I go out for a walk I get a migraine. I’m pretty sure it’s Austin’s notorious cedar fever that is getting me now, which is weird since I didn’t have a cedar allergy last time I checked. I got new masks to see if it filtered enough of the pollen, but no. So I’m stuck cooling my heels indoors for the duration. I’m about to start chewing on the furniture.
The belief that you have found the pattern is where the error lies. That you were actually symptom free for the span between attacks. Little things pop up, but they are little things, things you can cope with. You can cope with them until you can’t, and then you start trying to see what you did wrong. You didn’t do anything wrong, you have a chronic illness.
It isn’t karma or luck or moxie or mojo or any other version of magical thinking. Your physical form torments you because it is flawed in some undefinable way and it’s not your fault it’s just how you were made. This is categorically unfair and it is proof that the universe and unjust and unfair. That there is no god and if there is one he is a sadistic bastard.
Got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God… And I absolutely hate the fucker.
I was retained by one of the tenants of the Crestview Shopping Center for the purpose of exploring the advisability of allowing the Violet Crown Clubhouse (VCC) to continue exercising their permit issued under the Shop the Block provisions passed by Austin City Council during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020. I have a lengthy resume and history in Austin and Texas, especially when the subject at hand is the design and construction of retail space. My professional history includes both documentation and construction supervision of countless retail finish-outs as well as original shells and renovations of the shells of shopping centers around the country. I am also well-versed in assessing whether a designed space is accessible to the differently abled and have offered my services as a consultant on questions of accessibility several times over the years.
These simple declarations should demonstrate that I have the expertise necessary to offer an opinion on the issue of a usage permit like this one, in a commercial space like the one that Violet Crown Clubhouse currently occupies.
The CrestviewShopping Center was originally constructed in 1952. It contained the two wings of shops that are still largely the same today, with a grassy mall area between the two wings and parking at either end of the center.
The grassy area was filled in with additional parking at some point in the long history of the center and there is a related filling station that occupies the same physical property as the shopping center itself. The filling station / repair shop / auto storage lot is at most a tangential issue to the problems that I have been asked to weigh in on; however, the state of that section of the property is nonetheless troubling and illustrates one of the many problems that the center has, problems that the twice weekly outdoor concerts under the Shop the Block permit make substantially worse.
I have walked the site several times personally, both in relation to this current predicament and earlier when I was simply indulging my innate curiosity for all things architectural. The center is reasonably typical for the time period that it was constructed in. A mixture of clay and concrete block support structure with steel roof members supporting a metal roof deck and a modified bitumen roof. Blond face brick adorns the exterior, with exterior doors and an aluminum storefront system that positively reek with nostalgia.
The center’s retro charm is also one of its greatest liabilities. The materials themselves are poor insulators against sound intrusion. The roof and windows leak thermally as well, making the structure harder to heat or cool cheaply than a more modern structure would be. Modifications made over the course of almost 70 years of use have also had their toll. HVAC ductwork penetrates tenant separation walls and roofs in ways that are contrary to current building and fire code requirements. In many ways, the center is a fire tragedy waiting to happen. This has only been averted or minimized by the relatively small number of people who have been in and around the buildings on a regular basis, historically.
There are other problems with the center. There are asbestos-containing materials visible on floors and roof members, unabated, as well as street damage along one side of the complex and what can only be assessed as wholly inadequate maintenance of the sanitation facilities along the same side of the building as the apparently abandoned loading and unloading docks on Arroyo Seco. Several parts of the structure are open directly to the elements, allowing for rodent and pest infestations in both buildings and requiring the tenants to spend precious time and resources just to keep their interior spaces up to health codes when it should be the owner of the property footing that bill.
The site’s location further complicates the problem. Single family residences face all sides of the complex itself, the code-required buffer zones between single family and local retail having not been instated until long after the center was constructed. This fact makes it difficult to do anything to the shopping center without getting usage waivers for any changes, changes that are essential to bringing the site up to modern standards and into compliance with current city codes.
The continued use of the facilities in their current state is, of course, grandfathered in. Historical uses may continue without generating code violations and I’m sure nearly every reader of this report knows and understands the necessity of this. The problem presented by VCC and its Shop the Block permit is that this is a departure from previously grandfathered uses of the center and its retail space.
The location where VCC resides was permitted as a pharmacy, not a food retailer, a bar, a pub or a nightclub. If you look at the usage that VCC originally offered, that of an Ice Cream Shop, it is easy to grandfather that in as just an extension of the soda fountain in an old-style pharmacy. However, the application for and subsequent granting of a beer and wine servers license to VCC alters the grandfathered usage into something that hasn’t historically been present in the center before.
Children are ever-present at VCC. This has probably always been true of the Crestview center itself. The mall area that has been paved over as additional parking would have attracted children like a magnet, historically. However, there is little to no adult supervision provided for these children by their parents or by the center itself on a day-to-day basis. Children that are now present at an establishment that serves alcohol.
The children being unsupervised onsite is troublesome enough. Adding in the Shop the Block permit, the crowds that live music draws, the alcohol being served and consumed in the parking lot as was observed by several passers-by at a recent event held at VCC; putting that all together you not only have a business that has probably already provided alcohol to underaged children, but you have crowds milling around outside of buildings that are unsafe from a fire perspective under current code, with crowds and tables blocking required fire exits if the unthinkable fire incident were to occur.
This subject is worth taking a little longer to break down so that it is not misunderstood. The covered sidewalk along the fronts of both sides of the center is there for many reasons, not just for pedestrians to stroll past display windows. The width of the walkway must also provide for emergency egress and for ADA accessibility as well as for shoppers browsing business fronts. A clear 36 inches of width is required just for wheelchair access, and this doesn’t factor into required exit width in excess of the 36 inch minimum. This means that the picnic tables on both sides of the center are probably present in direct violation of applicable safety codes, not to mention the days when VCC sets up the sound equipment and uses the sidewalk on their side of the center as a stage. This usage removes the exit corridor from that side of the center, requiring anyone who isn’t fully abled to be assisted off the walkway just to leave the area.
If you look at this situation from the perspective of a tenant of the center, it is hard not to imagine yourself being outraged at these recent developments. VCC has established a near-permanent use of the common space of the center by occupying the parking lot on event nights. What’s worse, the noise created by VCC’s entertainment and customers invades your leased premises, depriving you of the use of your rightful property.
Violet Crown Clubhouse has taken advantage of lax City enforcement during this pandemic at the potential risk to your life and the future existence of your business just so that they can create what is essentially a music venue in the middle of what was once a quiet neighborhood.
There is now ample evidence that a traffic impact study should be conducted just based on the traffic snarls that have occurred in the area concurrent with the last few scheduled VCC events. With parking lots overflowing onto side streets due to the influx of traffic, there is little room for the city to argue that what has been created is a destination, a music venue where one did not exist before.
This brings us to the subject of the noise intrusion itself, the most egregious part of the Shop the Block permit. The sound impact plan that is attached to the Shop the Block permit attempts to turn the entirety of the Crestview center into a sound buffer zone for VCC. This approach to mitigation of the sound created by VCC’s parking lot concerts isn’t compliant with established law or applicable building codes. The sound inside of the center that is above allowable limits goes into spaces that VCC does not have the right to invade, and yet isn’t factored into the sound impact plan.
The premises not leased to VCC directly are private property that has been leased to other paying tenants and their paying customers for the purpose of furthering those businesses, not the VCC. The common areas of the center are private property for the non-exclusive use of all the tenants and their invitees. The City cannot compel other tenants to allow their property to be used as part of a buffer zone. In addition, Texas law designates the common area of shops as a public place, which is incompatible with a buffer zone. With no buffer zone, VCC cannot have musical performances outdoors without the permission of the tenants whose space their noise will invade.
I am saddened by the state that the Crestview center is currently in. It pains me to see any structure misused and abused. I personally would love to see the entire center renovated, the mall restored and more trees planted where cars are currently parking. Adding the mall space back into the center would create a place where live music could be performed without blocking required access to and from the shops along the edges of the newly created public place. Hedges along the outside of the walkways could help muffle the sound from the mall. Baffles could be added in the ceiling of the covered walkway to redirect noise away from the shops. The storefronts could be upgraded to double glazing to further reduce sound impact inside the shops. Walls could be insulated and a sprinkler system could be installed, lessening the potential fire hazard. Making these kinds of changes would turn the center back into the kind of local retail center that the location lends itself to as well as an accommodating host for special entertainment events like the ones that were historically held there.
I think that there is an amicable solution that could be arranged, one that would satisfy all concerned here, but that solution will not be cheap. The lack of maintenance on Crestview center’s facilities leads me to think that the owner will not be willing to make the kinds of investment that will be necessary to bring the site into compliance with city code, even without VCC and its Shop the Block permit and the problems that they both create. Problems that are created not just for the other tenants, but for the surrounding neighborhood as well.
Without a commitment by the owners to invest sufficient funds into the complex so as to bring down noise levels in adjacent tenant spaces, above and beyond reducing sound in the neighborhood around the complex; to provide supervision for the children that the center already draws to the location, like any other child-oriented facility is required to provide; and without a traffic impact study that demonstrates that the additional traffic created by VCC’s Shop the Block music venue can be accommodated on existing surrounding roadways, I must regretfully side with the most outspoken of the nay-sayers on this subject.
If the above described conditions aren’t agreed to by VCC and the Crestview center’s owners, or if the Shop the Block permit for Violet Crown Clubhouse is not revoked, then it is my professional opinion that the entire Crestview Shopping Center should be shut down until it can be brought into compliance with city code. I do understand that closing the center could well mean that it may never reopen. I also understand that this course would remove a vital piece of neighborhood infrastructure and would make the neighborhood poorer for it. However, the risks involved in allowing these events to continue to occur as they have already been established are too high. One mistake at any one of these events could cost lives and also impact the entire neighborhood. It would be better to err on the side of caution than to be responsible for the resultant loss of life.
I understand that the Violet Crown Clubhouse in the Crestview center is hardly the most egregious example of impermissible commercial usage in the city. There are any number of other establishments out there that I will not do business at because I consider their continued existence a potential health hazard, places that are in worse physical shape than the Crestview center. You may well challenge my conclusions on those grounds. “If we aren’t shutting those places down, then why should we shut the Violet Crown Clubhouse down?” If you would like a list of those places I allude to, I would be happy to help you compile it at some future date so that they could be investigated and shut down as well, if warranted.
The reason I think that this action is warranted in this specific instance is that the Violet Crown Clubhouse, its Shop the Block permit and attached sound impact plan set a precedent that should not be allowed to stand. Allows a use that should never have been permitted in the first place. The permit allows the exclusive private usage of space dedicated to other essential public uses, health and safety, in direct contradiction of established commercial code. If the codes aren’t there to be enforced; if the most essential parts of the codes, health and safety, are subject to arbitrary reversal for private gain, then why have codes at all? What business are we really engaged in if health and safety are things we can just set aside for personal gain?
I thank you for the time you spent reading this and look forward to your prompt response to the concerns I have raised here.
Someone that I was chatting with used the phrase pain god to describe the supreme deity that dealt out his pain to him. I was not sure whether to laugh or cry at the phrase pain god. That god? That God you can prove exists, unlike all the other gods people talk about and believe in.
There was this time I was arrested:
I was out late, it was a busy night, the inspection sticker was a year out of date and the cop thought I was giving him sass when he flagged me down. It was two Austin bicycle cops in their ridiculous spandex outfits talking to two or three other cops that they’d just quelled a riot with, just standing on the side of the road. It’s dark, it’s just after midnight on a Friday in downtown Austin.
The Austin Film Festival is going on all over the city. These police were hyped up on adrenaline because of the riot they just broke up and the massive traffic snarls from the city-wide event. One cop spots the out of date sticker as he is scanning vehicles, joking about breaking heads with his buddies. He pulls out his flashlight, walks over to were I’m sitting in traffic and proceeds to harass me about the sticker.
It’s a rural Texas tradition to ignore your state inspection sticker. Who cares? Only the state cares, and rural Texas sneers at Austin and state government in general. Texas government has to enforce the safety laws they enact, and they did this by creating an inspection sticker that you had to jump through separate hoops to get in addition to the hoops you jump through to get your state tags.
When you are driving around on your own ranch or in the small towns that dot the wide expanse of Texas, you never see state actors that can give you crap about the sticker on your windshield. You just see local cops that you probably know by name, and they give you a warning and you go get your stupid sticker that doesn’t take into account the quality of the roads (or lack of roads) that you drive on in your daily life.
Then you move to the big city and suddenly being a scofflaw like everyone else out in the countryside is a problem that could cost you your life. The harassing police officer and three of his buddies pulled me out of the car and proceeded to sit on my back while they cuffed my hands. Then they arrested me and hauled me off to the drunk tank to spend some quality time negotiating with my Pain God.
Piriformis Syndrome causes me to be in constant pain while sitting; and being yanked out of my car and sat on aggravated that little problem. Have you ever seen a drunk tank at a city or county lockup? The one in Austin has concrete floors and baby-blue colored foam benches facing a TV covered in mesh that obscures the screen. The volume is so low on the TV that it is an annoying almost-audible whisper, not unlike the whispering among your fellow prisoners in the drunk tank.
You have to sit there until they process you and you can be released. Sometimes the sitting lasts for days. Sitting, not standing, not moving around at all. Without moving except to go in to the provided toilet room, also painted baby blue like the other walls in the tank. A baby blue that was probably calming some twenty or so years ago when the walls were painted, long before the accumulated puke and other bodily fluids mottled the color into something approaching a childhood nightmare. The toilet was a room that you’d rather not go into in the first place.
So I sat there. I sat unmoving in that one place for about 14 hours, in excruciating pain the entire time I was there. No one in authority was even the slightest bit interested in my pain or helping me with it. In extremis, I decided to take a crash course on meditating. I would meditate on the qualia of my pain all through those long hours of torture.
Staring at the floor through my tented fingers, elbows braced on knees, I contemplated the pain. I didn’t drink anything, didn’t use the restroom. I couldn’t have used the restroom even if I had needed to go desperately. It would have taken a catheter to get any body fluids out of me, I was that paranoid of being ambushed. Of being watched. I just sat and focused on the pain. I traced it up my leg to my lower back and then I became one with the agony. I inflicted my pain and endured my pain and I was my pain.
When The Wife figured out I had been arrested… As I mention in the linked article, I was where I was with a car in the state that one was in because I needed to pick her up and would never have been downtown in the first place without her need to be rescued. She was never rescued because the police decided she didn’t need rescuing. It was more important to punish the scofflaw for his out of date inspection sticker.
That one phone call thing? It’s complete bullshit in most of Texas. You can call if you’re calling a landline. If you’re calling a cellphone you have to give the private contractor that provides phone service to the jail a credit card number to charge for the call, and you better have that number memorized because you don’t have your wallet in jail to get access to the card itself. If you’ve done that homework ahead of time, you can call. If you haven’t done that homework you don’t get to make your one phone call.
So when The Wife finally got home and found I wasn’t there, when she figured out that my cellphone still working meant I probably wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. When she remembered that there had been a riot downtown that night and wondered if I had been caught up in that, she came down to the jail and rescued me before I died of renal failure. That is, she came to rescue me after she had gotten a ride back downtown to get her car the next day, there being no way to get anywhere or do anything until morning the next day.
I think I was probably more glad to see her that morning than I had ever been before or since. So yeah. I’ve met the Pain God. I was him for a day. I would prefer not to be him again.
if you are not worthy of trust as police, as leaders, as the press, then you must be held to account by those whose confidence you have betrayed.
This is the way I saw this structure when I first noticed it under construction two decades ago. I was driving through one of the many new power centers that were popping up at the edges of Austin. Here was the new Austin Fry’s being built, and this is the way I saw it. I didn’t see it as the empty shell that would soon be filled with consumer goods that the average tech junkie would be clamoring for. I saw it as it sits now, a building that was aged and worn from twenty years of hard use, cast aside like an empty cardboard container that only existed to hold a transitory meal of convenience. A tribute to the vanity of consumer culture, unloved and abandoned.
As expected, the passengers in the car at the time did not appreciate my insights into the vagaries of commercial construction. They just couldn’t wait to buy more stuff in this new place. How dare I rain on their dreams like that?
This is life in the city. The structures that seem to erupt suddenly out of the landscape and briefly exist as bustling hives of industry that are almost as suddenly vacant and decaying, a blight on the landscape that was perfectly fine the way it was before the bulldozers showed up to turn a farmer’s field into a parking lot. What, exactly, did this structure offer that wasn’t available at the local mall? The local mall that is now also abandoned or repurposed into something else?
Now the power centers sit just as idle as the malls started doing a decade and more ago, and the real estate developers are looking for the next big thing that they can get us all to go to and spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same behavioral patterns that hollowed out the centers of our cities back in the sixties and seventies. Maybe it is time to stop seeking the next new, shiny thing and take a look around at what already exists that we can make suit the needs of the moment. Let the corporations and the land developers starve. The people don’t need them if they can’t serve the needs of today.
“This is Bonnie and Clyde,” said Will Whisennand, who oversees care of the mammals at the Austin Aquarium, as he walked into the otter exhibit. “They squeak when they’re happy. They squeak when they’re sad, when they’re excited, when they’re hungry. They’re always squeaking.”
I haven’t been able to hug friends and family for over a year now. When I finally get to hug them again, I’ll be making noises much like that otter is making in the video. There will probably be tears, too.
The power went off about 2am while I was having a soak in the tub before heading to bed. I grumbled and then rinsed and dried myself off in the dark and climbed up out of the tub to get dressed again so that I could go find the flashlights and the hurricane candles and make sure the house was set up for several hours of life without electricity in the middle of a nearly unprecedented winter storm.
This is the second time in a month that the power has gone off here at the house. It’s off at the school across the street too which has never happened before, and that bothers me. The school is on a seperate grid set aside for essential services. Most Texas schools were built to be shelters for harsh weather as well as their main purpose as schools, and they are largely self-sufficient architecture if properly maintained. The power being out there was a signal that this was not the ordinary squirrel chewing on transformer wires kind of problem.
The power stayed off until 4:38am. It came back on while I was washing dishes by candlelight. Weirdly that is the same thing I was doing the last time there was a power outage. The power stayed on for ten whole minutes and then it went back off again. I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace soon and start cleaning the shotgun in preparation for the zombie hordes that should be milling about by the time everything thaws in a week. I hope all of you have your zombie plans ready.
This is getting to be a too frequent problem. If I wanted to be on my own for power I would live out in the country. I don’t live in the country because I want services from the city to work when I need them too. I’d like to not have to buy solar cells, a battery backup and a generator just because I as a homeowner can’t rely on the city to keep the power on. This is why we pay taxes. We pay through the nose so that the services we need are there when we need them.
Yes, this is unprecedented weather, a never-before seen type of winter storm for this area. I get that. But this is the second time in a month, and that time the weather was normal and the power was still off all day. The city needs to start making sure that basic services stay on all the time, and just FYI that also includes the internet in this day and age. It’s time for a rethink, as the saying goes. Let’s start getting the city to pay attention to what is really important to us as citizens. What is that?
Shelter for everyone.
Clean water for everyone.
Food for everyone.
Electricity for everyone.
Healthcare for everyone.
Information services for everyone.
When it became clear to me that climate change was a thing some time around 2010, I started thinking that the municipalities and states needed to start making plans to deal with unexpected weather conditions in the future, because we really don’t know what will happen as the planet warms up. Winter storms stalling out in the Southern regions of the United States are perhaps a completely unlikely event to contemplate, but that is what the word unexpected means, and that is also why they changed the nomenclature from global warming to climate change, because the net effect may have been hotter temperatures worldwide, but the individual weather patterns will include things like what we are seeing right now. We need to be planning for this kind of event in the future, and we should have started these plans twenty years ago or even earlier.
We’ve waited too long and now it is time to play catch up, and we’d better start doing the planning in earnest or we’ll be seeing rolling blackouts all summer and winter in the years to come. People dying to unforeseen climate events is something that we should not just be accepting blythely like we are doing right now. How many homeless will freeze to death tonight? How many of them have died so far this year?
In a year marred by uncertainty and loss, homeless Austinites and advocates gathered Sunday morning to remember and read the names of the 256 homeless Austinites who died in 2020 – an increase of more than 70 deaths compared to last year.
Along Auditorium Shores, dog tags representing each life lost were nailed to a memorial live oak on the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The silver tags fluttered and jangled with each gust of wind on the blustery morning, while Austinites on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail went about their Sunday exercises largely unphased.
Will it top 400 in 2021? 500? When will we say enough?
February 18, 2021 – I wrote the original portion of this article Sunday night, early Monday morning, by copying parts of text that I had written on Facebook and Nextdoor earlier in the day Sunday. I was using my phone as a hotspot while typing on my laptop and it was the only connection to the outside world that we had in the house at that time. Not too long after my 5 am post, the phone and then the laptop went dead, and I had no power to charge either of them (other than sitting out in the SUV we borrowed from a friend due to the terrorist squirrels attack on our car) until Wednesday afternoon when we were woken up from the pretty poor sleep we were getting without our cpap machines, woken up by the sound of the high temp alarm going off on the chest freezer that sits just the other side of the wall from our bedroom. So that makes just under four full days without power for us here in Austin.
Most of the food in the chest freezer will be of questionable safety and will have to be thrown out, and that goes double for the contents of the refrigerator. We moved most items that we needed to keep edible to the porch, which remains colder than the refrigerator even today, Thursday the 18th.
That is 59 hours without power thanks to the Texas electric grid manager’s (ERCOT) unwillingness to provide or find additional power to keep the electricity on for most Texans. The death toll from freezing will not be known for some time (90 days per the Statesman article quoted further down. -ed.) and the cost of life among the homeless population may never be known. Nor is this winter storm over. I noticed flakes of snow falling again today as I washed dishes in my freshly boiled tap water this morning.
Boiled tap water? The boil water notice was instituted yesterday as the assessments of the damage that the lack of electricity for four days has had on our local infrastructure revealed that the power had been turned off at Austin’s largest water treatment plant, and that water pressure remains under low pressure conditions. Low water pressure means that contaminants can be siphoned off of toilet tanks or leaks in cracked water lines, rendering the once potable water in the lines potentially life-threatening. The boil water notice will probably remain in effect here for several days.
I’m still no more confident the power will stay on than I was when it came back on the last time. It may be still on now, but how long will it be before ERCOT or the PUC once again screw up and Texas is subjected to blackouts because of it? This has happened several times, pretty much every time that the weather goes below freezing for long enough for the non weatherized portions of the electricity grid to freeze and then fail to provide power.
When I wrote about this issue on Nextdoor several people displayed a complete lack of knowledge about the subject of the electric power grid in Texas. People like this guy:
So you’d like Texas to invest hundreds of millions (or possibly billions?) of taxpayer dollars to expand capacity to meet the power needs created by a single day of once in a century weather?
The problem is not capacity that needs to be built into the system. The problem is weatherization. Weatherization that has been pointed out as being needed before, but that Texas’ electricity council has never done anything to address:
So this is a very frustrating narrative, and largely because it is true that some of the solar and wind farms were producing less than you might have expected because of the extreme cold, but a lot of them were actually overperforming expectations as well. Simultaneously, almost an order of magnitude or almost 10 times as much of the thermal system – so coal, gas and nuclear – actually shut down because of the extreme cold, due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling. And as the governor mentions, renewables being about 10% of the grid, the other 90% of the grid was not available in the way that we expected to, either, and in a way that was very, very far outside of what we expected to see fail.
The weatherization issue is a known problem and it is an old problem. In 1989 Texas faced power outages due to freezing weather impairing the electrical grid. It happened once again in the 1990’s and in 2011. Now it is happening again because ERCOT and it’s member corporations have still not complied with suggestions made by the national electrical regulating body more than a decade ago.
Millions lost power. Hundreds died. How did this happen? KUT’s Mose Buchele explores what happened during the worst blackout in Texas history, how we got the electric grid we have today and what could be done to fix it.
As another commenter pointed out on that thread on Nextdoor, this is because ERCOT was set up specifically to allow Texas to avoid federal regulation. This is possible because all of ERCOT’s activities are inside Texas, which means its activities are not interstate commerce and thusly cannot be regulated by federal authorities. ERCOT passed on the recommendations from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to their participating electrical power generators, but few if any of them were followed:
Moreover, some of the same equipment, the report noted, had failed during previous cold snaps. One in December 1989 prompted the state’s grid operator to resort to system-wide rolling blackouts for the first time.
“Many generators failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment,” the 2011 report said.
The failures have already spurred a tangle of finger-pointing, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling on leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign.
The wikipedia page I linked under the acronym ERCOT above appears to have been written from press releases and from ERCOT’s own website. It is pretty hard to find any information on this obscure agency that isn’t filtered through their own internal lens. A local news station has just recently published a story that claims that several board members don’t live in Texas and one board member purportedly lives in Canada:
A KXAN analysis of ERCOT’s board revealed a total of five members do not live in Texas. Along with Telberg and Cramton, board members Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper do not appear to live in the Lone Star State.
Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media account shows her location as Canada, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists his home as Wheaton, Illinois and a University of Pennsylvania law school biography shows Hepper calls Maine home.
What is clear is that ERCOT has proven that it can’t manage Texas’s electrical generating grid with any reliability and needs to be scrapped and replaced with another organization that is mandated with ensuring that power stays on for the average Texan even when inclement weather is affecting the region.
This is not a big ask. This is not asking the government to invest billions of dollars providing excess capacity, although re-investing the millions of dollars of profit that these corporations have taken out of Texas in the future of Texas and in Texas’ ability to sustain the necessary systems for power generation and delivery would be a completely justifiable demand.
I’ll start simple. I’d like the state to stop denying that climate change is real. It’s all around us and affecting us more and more each day. Stop pretending that science is political. Science is real and climate change is real and we are just going to have to learn how to deal with this new reality that we have created. I would like a task force to be set up to spitball and then solve similar issues to this one we are living through now, and then they need to set up preparations to deal with similar crisis in the future.
There will be another crisis this summer from the heat and there will likely be one next winter from the cold. Once in a century storms seem to happen every other season these days. It is time to get off of our collective asses and go about setting up the systems we will need to survive this new and rapidly changing climate we find ourselves in. Austin should probably increase their investment in the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, and possibly start backing current plans to expand that station to generate more power. That would be a good place to start. On the other end of the spectrum Austin and Texas should allow and/or encourage households and businesses to install battery backup systems for their solar power systems, so that households and businesses can draw on their own power during peak demand cycles. Completely the opposite direction from where Governor Abbott is currently agitating energy to go, demanding a reinvestment in oil and natural gas:
In the meantime we still don’t have running water. Luckily we started having drinking water delivered a few years ago because Austin tap water had started tasting weird and didn’t look to be improving anytime soon. At least I could still wash dishes and clothes in it, as well as cook with it, while it was running. I really miss water at the taps that we could drink as well as do all those other things we need water to do in the average human home. Looking forward to the time when we can once again take basic necessities for granted as being guaranteed by the governments we elect to make sure we have what we need to survive.
If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you get bad government.
Bad government has consequences. Bad government can’t handle a crisis, won’t help its citizens (not can’t help its citizens, won’t), and can only blame others for its endless failure.
And you don’t have to look any further than what’s happening in Texas right now to see it.
We made the Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word on MSNBC Feb. 18th & 19th . A clip from Rachel’s show is the featured image. Here are some links to the screenshots (Instagram link 1 and link 2) I took from the Thursday Feb. 18, 2021 show.
The last commenter on the Nextdoor post I cribbed a portion of the text for this article from kept passively/aggressively implying that we had better shut up about wanting the power to stay on if we didn’t want to pay more for our electricity here in Texas. After about the fifth version of this reply being posted in the thread, I asked her to answer the question “is it a prosecutable crime to allow someone to freeze to death in their house by turning off the electricity? Yes or no?” She never responded to the question.
The state’s tally currently stands at 151 deaths. But by looking at how many more people died during and immediately after the storm than would have been expected — an established method that has been used to count the full toll of other disasters — we estimate that 700 people were killed by the storm during the week with the worst power outages. This astonishing toll exposes the full consequence of officials’ neglect in preventing the power grid’s collapse despite repeated warnings of its vulnerability to cold weather, as well as the state’s failure to reckon with the magnitude of the crisis that followed.
The official tally is up to 210, but I have to agree with Buzzfeed here. The graveyard doesn’t lie. The death toll during the storm was the number of people who died during the storm, less the average number of deaths for that month historically.
Do you want to know why the Texas power grid sucks as bad as it does today?
Austin remains largely under lockdown other than the parts of the economy that Greg Abbott has foolishly insisted on controlling at the state level. Austinites are starting to go out and party now. It is summer (or feels like it) and you really can’t keep people cooped up for months on end when the weather is beautiful. This is especially true when the President and the Governor tell you it is OK to go out and socialize.
The Wife was telling me about an impromptu party that sprang up next door to the worst violator of Texas drinking laws (not to mention fire codes) in our neighborhood. A building that was a Pizza Inn in a previous life but is now an Elk’s lodge, right on the highway that leads out of town to Houston. Every weekend they packed the building to the seams with drunken buffoons, and the drunken buffoons don’t know where else to go other than the neighboring parking lot to get drunk these days.
There is little that can be done to curb these yahoos without the threat of force and that threat of force has to come from the Federal or State governments, neither of which are willing to take a stand against the drive to let off the pressure that most people feel at being told to slowly starve to death in their homes while they simultaneously go broke. Most people in Texas live from paycheck to paycheck, a fact that is even more true in the big cities than it is in the country and towns.
We are locked in the no win scenario here in Texas and across the heartland of the United States. We are playing chicken with a train locomotive on an overpass. We could swerve and take the resulting personal damage on ourselves but Governor Abbott has the steering wheel, and he’s convinced the COVID train is going to swerve first. The resultant trainwreck will be amusing for the outside observer to witness. There isn’t going to be much to recommend living through it.
Editor’s note: July 4, 2020. Governor Abbott swerved to miss the oncoming train today. He has reinstated the statewide requirement for masks, with several very large exceptions. Too large, according to Mayor Adler. Weirdly, I never stopped wearing a mask outdoors even though I didn’t have to wear one and still don’t have to since I won’t go into a crowded public space so long as the pandemic rages. Hopefully I will get my ballots by mail as I requested. Hopefully there will be people present at the vote counting that will ensure that mail-in ballots are not simply thrown in the trash. There are some very thin shoe-strings of hope weaving the future of the country together. That is not a reassuring thought.
I resisted wearing face covering for as long as I could. I did this not just because I have a hard time reading faces and so want to make myself more easily read by people I might talk to, but also because I have a hard enough time breathing while out on a walk or doing any strenuous activity without having a barrier between me and the air I so desperately need. Austin made face covering mandatory, so I finally gave in and started wearing something to cover my mouth and nose.
I wear a bandanna tied in the classic bandit style to go along with my straw hat and tinted prescription glasses. I’m sure I strike a menacing appearance in this getup, or would if it wasn’t for the bright blue sweatpants and bright yellow walking shoes. The bandanna does seem to reduce the amount of pollen that I am exposed to, even if it doesn’t remove all of it, so I may have to keep wearing the damn thing on high allergy days even after all this coronavirus madness is nothing more than an almost forgotten nightmare.
I don’t care what Governor Abbott or his lunatic Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, think about anything. They are taking marching orders from the madman in the White House, and so consequently what they might say or do is pretty much irrelevant if not downright harmful or possibly fatal in the long run. Don’t listen to the madman in the White House. That is the best advice I can offer to anyone. I have no idea why anyone does listen to him anymore.
I’ll continue wearing my bandit mask for as long as it suits me. If they make me go physically to the polls during the runoffs and then in November, I will go there wearing the thing as well. I will wear the mask and vote all of them out of office. This is proof positive that real criminals don’t wear bandannas and straw hats. Real criminals wear business suits and ties and they lie right to your face with not a hint of insincerity. “I have a great deal for you!” Sure you do.
I have been experiencing some deep depression lately. It came to me last night what this depression probably stems from. I don’t know what to write about in this time of coronavirus that isn’t somehow related to the coronavirus. All of my podcasts are going full-on coverage of the subject, and most of the news is also about it.
I’ve been deleting most news podcasts for weeks months. Over the last week I have finished two books on tape rather than listen to any of the podcasts that I usually spend time listening to. I have no use for more news about this disease. I know what I need to know to stay healthy, and most of what is being said is correction of the misinformation that the President has been spreading about the disease on a nightly basis, with the help of the media that can’t seem to stop spreading his lies for him. The WaPo ran a piece today title Trump has played the media like a puppet.Ya think? I’ve only been trying to say this for four years now. Nice that you’ve finally noticed that you are being used. Maybe you should fix that problem before it gets out of hand.
The Wife came to me today and said she had a revelation. “The blame game is about to start.” I tried to be patient with her, but this really isn’t a revelation to me. Donald Trump has been engaging in the blame game for four years now. He and his cronies are clearly gearing up to start blaming the Democrats for cracking down on the populations under their control, imposing restrictions that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Covid-19) did not require. They’ll say people aren’t dying at greater rates than previously. The cities and states will point to the elevated numbers of deaths. Trump will say those aren’t coronavirus deaths. The cities and states will say they were coronavirus deaths. Trump will say they weren’t because they weren’t tested for coronavirus. The cities and states will object and point out that there aren’t enough tests to test all the dead people. Trump will shrug and go back to golfing. Just like he has always done.
It’s important to remember that this guy complained bitterly about all the time that Barack Obama spent on the golf course. What he hates most about Barack Obama on the golf course (other than he is a black man on a golf course that isn’t a caddy) is that Obama is a better golfer than he is, and Barack Obama spent less time getting there than Caudito Trump has already spent on the golf course during his joke of a presidency.
Donald Trump wants to open the country back up so he can get back to golfing and get back to charging people to golf with him. It hasn’t got anything to do with the deaths and the suffering, or how much worse it will all be after we end social distancing. He just wants to keep doing what he has always done. Screw people and steal their money.
This is par for the course. This is how every single embarrassing event has been played since Trump blundered onto the political stage and demonstrated that he has no capacity to feel shame for his shameful behavior. There is a fly in this ointment though. There are records of his malfeasance.
For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.
But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience even for the oral summary he now takes two or three times per week, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.
The advisories being relayed by U.S. spy agencies were part of a broader collection of worrisome signals that came during a period now regarded by many public health officials and other experts as a squandered opportunity to contain the outbreak.
Trump was ignoring the signs that COVID-19 was going to be a problem until he couldn’t ignore them anymore. Then he blamed the CDC, the WHO and the Chinese government for the things he had every right to have known months previously if he had only bothered to pay attention.
He tried to blame the Democrats for not giving him the funds that he needed to combat the disease until Nancy Pelosi handed him a check for two trillion dollars. A check that Caudito Trump then promptly put in his and his closest buddies pockets. That bit of malfeasance will be coming back to bite him right about the time elections roll around in November.
Texas may open back up on Friday or Monday. Austin won’t be following the governor’s direction. Neither will Houston, Dallas or any other city that understands what the real problem is here. The real problem is that these Republican morons think they can bluff a virus. That they can lie to mother nature and she won’t punish them for it.
I feel bad for those people who can’t afford to stay home any longer. Those people who have purposely been kept poor by the system they are part of in some ill-gotten belief that you have to keep people hungry, homeless or on the edge of homelessness, in order to get them to work. We have all be stolen from over the course of our lives by these people in suits and ties who think they are better than we are because they have money and we don’t. They don’t understand, any more than the poor do, that they are rich because the system allows them to be rich.
So instead of making sure that no one has to work that isn’t constitutionally set up for the kind of risky work that is required right now, instead of making sure that no Americans are homeless and have enough food to eat, we’ve given billionaires even more money to play around with. Now the poor feel compelled to return to work having burned through the $1200.00 pittance that was allowed to them.
People are going to die. Most likely a lot of people are going to die. I’m going to do my best to not be one of them. I’m not planning on going anywhere (other than to vote as I noted previously) until right about January the 20th of 2021. I might not even go out then other than to abandon this hellhole that we’ve made, heading for greener pastures if there are any of those left by then. We’ll just have to see whether the tide turns or not.
July 4, 2020. Governor Abbott swerved to miss the oncoming train today. He has reinstated the statewide requirement for masks, with several very large exceptions. Too large, according to Mayor Adler. Weirdly, I never stopped wearing a mask outdoors even though I didn’t have to wear one and still don’t have to since I won’t go into a crowded public space so long as the pandemic rages. Hopefully I will get my ballots by mail as I requested. Hopefully there will be people present at the vote counting that will ensure that mail-in ballots are not simply thrown in the trash. There are some very thin shoe-strings of hope weaving the future of the country together. That is not a reassuring thought.
October 29, 2020. I’m still wearing a mask outdoors to walk. I have made a total of three forays outside the house that were more than just taking a walk, all of those were to go to a doctor’s visit or to get my flu shot (Get your flu shots) I have worn a mask every time I have met anyone at a distance of less than six feet anywhere that I meet people who are not my immediate family. My ballot did show up early, and it was mailed back early. Fingers crossed that they clerk has it already and that it avoided being delayed by Donald Trump’s perversion of the Post Office. Just another impeachable act in a near-infinite list of impeachable acts committed by Donald Trump while in office.
Mayor Adler has become my own personal Mr. Rogers. I listen to him whenever I feel stressed and need to calm down. He is the spiritual opposite of the poisonous snake that currently inhabits 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Despite Mayor Adler’s best efforts, Austin has never gotten a low enough case count for life here to return to something akin to normal. This is the new normal. Hiding in our houses. Wearing masks when we go out. No bars or clubs (not that I went to those anymore anyway) Restaurants all but completely closed, takeout the normal way that you get food you don’t prepare yourself now.
Wearing a burqa seems sane now. Biometric identification seems necessary now. How can you trust a photo ID when you can’t see someone’s whole face? The backlash against even the minimal health requirements that have been put in place says to me that there will be blood spilled over the subject of complying with health standards soon. There will be blood spilled because we’re going to have to get serious to beat this bug and the other bugs that we have been ignoring at our own peril for decades. Don’t get me started on the subject of Antimicrobial resistance. Solving that medical problem is going to also take the kinds of controls that Americans in general will not be ready to embrace.