Dear Austin

Dear Austin,

I’ve seen you in the news a lot lately, so I just wanted to check in and say how proud I am of you, little brother. It’s been a while.

You probably saw that “I love you tacos so much” mural goof I did in late 2015. Yeah, a lot of people liked that. God only knows how many have had their picture taken in front of that wall. Like I said, I did it as a goof, but also I meant it as a sign of respect for you and for tacos.Lil Bro

The other day I was trying to remember when the last time was that we really got together on something big. I think it was all the dreaming and planning we did for that commuter rail line that would’ve linked us together. Looking back on it, maybe I wanted it more than you did. But I could tell you wanted it too.

I hope I didn’t annoy you. If I did, I apologize.

Also, in case you heard about one or two news stories where it looked like I was bragging about poaching a couple of your tech companies — just so you know, the reporters took what I said way out of context. I called up them after the stories ran and gave them absolute hell. IT is really just a side hustle of mine. You obviously own that industry. You always had the head for that kind of thing, and the flagship university campus and the rest of the tech infrastructure.

Hey, along those lines, you’ve probably heard about the Adopt-a-City competition that Amazon announced a few weeks ago. Sounds like what they’re talking about is a complete makeover for the winner– a second corporate headquarters and 50,000 new jobs. I was like wow. But still, I didn’t think about it that much until the craziest thing started happening. Friends were coming to me and saying, “Hey, if you and your brother teamed up as a single contestant, you could win!” A couple of them said our pairing up would be “singularly disruptive.” They even came up with a name: San Austin.

Man, I laughed hard. So lame. But it kept coming up again and again and again, until finally I decided I should give it some thought. And you know what? It started making sense to me. Our populations are coming together along I-35 — fastest-growing corridor in the country! And our skills are complementary. I’m a back-office kind of guy — lots of call centers, plenty of high school graduates willing to do the work, lots of bilingual workers. I also have a bunch of server farms — always happy to build more! — and cheap electricity rates. And you — you’d be front-office all the way, the brains of the operation. You’d bring all that flashy IT talent and that cool urban thing you have down. (You know me — just beer and hanging out with friends and family.) The more I think about it, the more I think we’d be unbeatable.

And look, I know you wouldn’t really need me in order to compete. But, honestly, the money and exposure would help me out. You should know, though, I am doing better. I’m working on my weight problem. My high-school and college graduation rates still aren’t great but they’re heading in the right direction. Same with my teen pregnancy rates.  Still don’t really have a mass transit plan or housing policy, but I do have SA Tomorrow, so there’s that. I know what you’re thinking: Make the improvements I need to make, take care of the fundamentals, and the economic growth will come…. Or I could compete for HQ 2 with you now, win it, and let the Amazon magic do its thing. That’s my preference.

If you have time to come visit to talk it over,  I’ll take you to this place I’ve been dying for you to see — the Pearl. I think you’ll love it. Let me know!

In the meantime, keep thinking San Austin, San Austin, San Austin….

 

Love always bro,

San Antonio

 

 

 

A Plan to End VIA’s Pauper Status

As most of you know, VIA Metropolitan Transit is embarrassingly underfunded.

For riders, that means a lot of waiting around for too few buses and too many transfers. Thousands of their hours are wasted every day at VIA’s 7,193 bus stops.

That’s because VIA gets a sliver of the sales-tax dollars that public transit agencies in other major Texas cities receive – one-half cent for every $100 compared to a full cent in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston.VIA

Here’s how the tax works: the state of Texas imposes a sales tax of 6.25 percent; on top of that, cities, counties, transit authorities, and special-purpose districts are allowed to tack on another 2 percent.

Unfortunately, we are maxed out. The city of San Antonio receives 1 percent of the sales tax, VIA gets 0.5 percent, and the remaining 0.5 percent is split between aquifer protection and linear parks (0.125 percent), pre-kindergarten education (0.125 percent), and the Advanced Transportation District (0.25 percent) – for a grand total of 2 percent. The ATD sends half of its tax revenue to VIA, which is better than nothing, but not by a huge amount.

To raise VIA’s funding to where it should be, we’d need to let the other voter-approved uses expire and ask voters to OK giving VIA the combined 0.5 percent.

Which won’t happen because it would be a real pain in the ass. Pre-K, the ATD, and aquifer protection have ardent supporters who would raise hell. Besides, voters approved each of these initiatives. And I’m pretty sure zero is the number of officials willing to stand up and say, “Pre-K for SA is great, but mass transit is actually closer to a core function of local government.”

By the way, don’t even think about touching the city of San Antonio’s 1-percent slice.

But, look, we’re not about hard choices at SanAntoniomizer. We want you to be happy, your brow unclouded. So we’ve come up with a work-around.

Here’s what we’re proposing: Disguise VIA as something that we really care about and in which we are willing to invest significant public dollars.

The following are the steps VIA’s board of trustees need to take:

  1. Hire an expensive brand consultant to come up with a new name that totally obscures what the bus agency does. Maybe something like VeloCity or, even better, VeloCity Human. By making the name incomprehensible, you’ll give people the impression that this is a company on the move, with big, undefined changes afoot. Who knows? Maybe it’ll even move its headquarters.
  2. Work out a deal with developers to build a breathtaking new office building at the Pearl, preferably a structure so green the walls will actually be fashioned out of native grasses. Think about it. How many millions of public dollars, through incentives and bond financing, have flowed into the Broadway corridor over the Decade of Downtown so far? It’s VeloCity Human’s turn to scoop up some of that beautiful money with a Pearl HQ.
  3. This is probably the most crucial step: VeloCity Human’s trustees must convince one of the suburban cities in which the company operates – say, Elmendorf – to put together a relocation package for its headquarters, which is currently located on San Pedro Avenue. Suddenly it’s a competition! What are you going to offer, San Antonio and Bexar County peeps? After all, you surely don’t want to be the ones accused of “losing” VeloCity Human to Elmendorf. It’s true that such a move would have no impact on the regional economy. Economics aren’t that parochial. But good news for VeloCity Human – relocation politics are.
  4. Work out a hefty package of giveaways to secure your move to the Pearl. This will be tricky. Because VeloCity Human is a public-owned entity, it doesn’t pay property taxes. So no tax abatements or tax rebates. Instead, the company will have to negotiate a bunch of big grants and zero-interest loans.
  5. Once the deal is done, and VeloCity Human has settled into its new home at the Pearl, trustees will be in an excellent position to go to the city and county, and say: “As you know, what we do is very important to the community. It must be because we’re headquartered at the Pearl, and you spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars to help us get there. Also, as our new name hints, we’re changing our business model. Just consider these nine words: Technology platform, multi-modal things, disruption, millennials, and driverless stuff. We’ll leave these duffel bags on your desk. Please pack them with tax revenue, and we’ll drop by tomorrow to pick them up. Thank you.”

There’s no reason to think this scheme won’t work. It’s certainly more compelling than blathering on about making life better for people who have to take buses to get to work, school, or the doctor.

You’re Better Than the President. Act Like It.

Dear Progressive Social-Media Friends,

I say this out of love: The overwhelming majority of you have not had a single original thought about Trump or his particular brand of evil.

Which is fine. How often does anybody have an original thought about anything? The problem here is that hasn’t stopped you from taking insights you must know have been expressed a gazillion times already, and running with them as if what you’re saying will blow minds.

Donald-Trump-laughing-200x200
The president gloating over how progressives are reacting to his awfulness

You seem to regard this as your sacred duty. If you do not personally “call out” Trump for whatever vile thing he tweeted at 4 a.m. over his crumpled Hustler and empty Old-Fashioned Vanilla quart container, you will have let him carry the day and push us a little closer to Nazism or Ayn Rand’s raunchiest sex dream or whatever.

If I’m wrong and you have thought something new about the guy, maybe you smudged up its finer points in your online outrage. Same difference.

Friends, you are not freedom fighters. Your cleverly-worded tweets aren’t pretty much the same thing as well-aimed bricks. Don’t think of your Facebook posts as IEDs.

Also, expressing something that nearly everyone you’re addressing already agrees with, but expressing it emphatically, with a hard defensive edge — that’s just bad writing.

Finally, not contributing to the angry noise on the left isn’t the same as giving in to despair. And it’s not the same as looking away when they come for your co-worker, then your grocer, then your neighbor.

You’re allowing Trump to drive you crazy the way so many of our conservative friends lost it over President Obama. Just seven months into this nightmare, you and your politics are already turning shrill and reflexive.

At every level of government, progressive politicans are at their most creative and passionate when they’re hammering out statements of outrage and condemnation. How much longer before, like the GOP, they give up on the idea of governing, by which I mean enacting policies that benefit large numbers of people? How much longer before fights over symbols, gestures, and process are more important than substance?

Their tweets and yours are getting to be as bad as his.

Pull yourselves together, and clean yourselves up.

You’re better than the president of the United States. Act like it.

 

A Gallon to Kill For

You are not in good shape, pal.

You’ve been trolling for gasoline for your Jeep Patriot for five days without luck. You poured the last of your lawnmower gas into your tank this morning. You remember stirring some kind of oil into the lawnmower gas because that’s what Snapper ordered you to do in the owner’s manual. At first, you try not to think about what kind of mischief the oily gas is getting into in the engine. Then you realize you don’t really care as long as the Patriot starts.

If worse comes to worse — and worse is already within earshot of worse — you have a plan to beat your neighbor to death with a baseball bat, siphon the gas from his huge SUV, and steal his lawnmower gas. It’s a riding lawnmower. Yes, of course you know you could siphon his SUV gas and steal his lawnmower gas in the middle of the night without killing him. But the plan as originally envisioned just feels right. It would be both a statement and a way to get the gas you need to go on living the life you’re entitled to.

What’s the statement?

It is this: You would rather kill your neighbor with a baseball bat than ride a VIA bus.