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Mary Arnold

DATE: August 21,1997
REEL: 1012
TRANSCRIBER: Judy Holloway

[Tape 1 of 3, Side A.]
DT: This is David Todd. It’s August 21st,[1997] and we’re in Austin, Texas, and I’ve got the good opportunity to talk to Mary Arnold about many of her contributions to conservation in Texas, central Texas and Austin in particular, and I just want to take this chance to thank you for your time, and—and then to maybe launch into this. I’ve got a long laundry list of questions, and I just hope that they’re a launching pad for talking about things and not something that’ll confine what we have to say. I thought I’d begin in the early days and just talk a little bit about your parents and some of your childhood friends and about how they might’ve influenced your interest in conservation.
MA: My parents grew up in south Texas close to Corpus, and my father’s family was sort of a ranching family. One of his brothers went into farming, and we still have land down there that’s been in the family for over 120 years. So I think that just an appreciation for land was certainly part of my heritage. I didn’t get to go down there all that much, but during World War II my parents bought a little farm outside of Dallas, and we’d go out there on the weekends just to kind of get away and to have a sense of being on the land. So, I guess that’s a little bit of it. My father was the civil engineer and built bridges and power plants and things like that, so while he was changing the land to some extent, it was still very much tied to the out of doors, so to speak, in that sense, and—we didn’t really talk about conservation or things like that but certainly there was a love and appreciation for the land and a sense of the value of that land just to care for.
DT: Did your mother have much of an interest in conservation or…
MA: No, no, she was interested in music. And—but she had moved around with my father in the early years to the different areas where they were building bridges, and ‘course always loved the land in south Texas. And when they retired, they decided to retire to the Kerrville area, which is certainly part of the Hill Country, and our time in the Kerrville and Hunt area became very important to all of us. I was fortunate to go to camp over there, and my kids did as well, and I’m still going to camp over there, so the Hill Country atmosphere has certainly been one of our family loves.
DT: Well, did you have any friends when you were growing up who sort of shared your interest in the outdoors?
MA: No. No, not much at all.
DT: No?
MA: No. Um-umm.
DT: What about any teachers who might‘ve inspired a little spark of interest?
MA: I think that my experience at the university of Texas was more of a broad liberal-arts perspective, and I began to be interested in architecture and urban planning, and that’s I think where my interest began to focus a little bit, and to think of how green spaces worked into urban planning. You know, some of the modern architects—Frank Lloyd Wright, certainly—the way he built involved a lot of bringing nature in, as well as having the architecture feel that it was a part of and enhancing what was there naturally.
DT: Did you study any sort of local architects, like O. Neil Ford?
MA: Not specifically,…
DT: Uh-huh.
MA: …no. There was one fellow at the University named Harwell Hamilton Harris, who did some residential architecture. But—you know, no. Not—not really. But certainly, my idea of architecture involved more of the natural stone constructions and the—big open windows bringing the trees inside and—thinking about it in that way.
DT: Hmm. Sometimes people—have mentors that they never meet, people that they read about, some people who—who may not even be living any longer. Are there folks like that who you sort of draw some inspiration from?
MA: Well, another one that I might speak of would be William Morris in England, and the movement that he was a part of in the—what, late 19th century, mid—mid to late 19th century, with sort of the—what do I want to call it, the hand craft movement, weaving his own rugs, designing his own wallpapers, building his own houses. He was kind of a follower of John Ruskin. So it was a naturalist—well, and then there were the pre-Raphaelites, too, but anyway, William Morris was sort of a Renaissance man, so to speak, because he was a writer, an artist, and a craftsman, all– together. So that was—he’s always been an inspiration. I also was able to spend a year in London after I graduated from college, so I was able to observe how those wonderful green parks in London made such a difference to the fabric of the urban area there, and to hear some about the green belts around London and the ideas about planning for how growth would occur outside those green spaces–but the importance of the green space.
DT: [Pause.] Can you ever point to a—sort of a turning point, a watershed, your own little Waterloo, that—that decided…
MA: Right. Yes. [Laughs.]
DT: …your interest in conservation and…
MA: Yes, absolutely. The effort to save the municipal golf course. “Save Muni!” The Lyons Municipal Golf Course happens to be on land owned by the University of Texas. And in the early ‘70’s, when Frank Erwin was chairman of the U.T. Board of Regents, he was making all sorts of expansions in the University, both here in Austin and around the state. And as part of his expansion, he made some references to the fact that the University should sell the golf course and make some money off of it. And the city over the years had leased the land, and the golf course had been there since the late ‘20’s, I guess. But I had heard stories when I was a university student about George Brackenridge, who had made the gift to the University of that land. And one of the ladies that I had worked with as an art docent at UT lived in the Muni area and began to organize with the golfers opposition to the University’s plans to sell off the golf course and lose that green jewel in the middle of Austin. So I had great fun doing research on George Brackenridge and the Brackenridge Tract and all of the UT machinations to get around Brackenridge’s will, and all sorts of things. So that was the watershed event.
DT: Well, can you tell me a little bit about what it was in Brackenridge’s will that they…
MA: Got around?
DT: …were trying to avoid and…
MA: Right.
DT: …if he has stipulated the kind of use that he envisioned?
MA: He—his vision for the land was that the University should move the campus out there. But, he clashed with George Littlefield. Littlefield had fought for the Confederacy and Brackenridge had worn the Union uniform. Littlefield wanted the campus to stay where it was, and Brackenridge had offered 500 acres, at Muni and the surrounding area, to move the campus, and this was in the—about 1918-1919, I guess. Anyway, the—oil had not been discovered in west Texas, so they went to the Legislature and the Legislature wouldn’t give them the money to move the campus, plus Littlefield said, “I’ll give you a million dollars to stay.” Brackenridge finally died and didn’t have any money left in his estate to give any extra money to move the campus, so the campus stayed where it was. The Lions’ Club came to the University and said, “Well, you’ve got all this land. Would you mind if we built a golf course?” And they said, “Heck, that land’s worthless to us, go ahead.” Then during the Depression, the WPA [Works Progress Agency] was doing work in the area, so the city took over the golf course, used some WPA money to build it into 18 holes, and they got a 50-year lease with the University until 1987, ’37 to ’87. And here was good ol’ Frank Erwin saying, “No sirree, Bob.” There was a clause in the will that said if the University did anything that wasn’t educational with the land, then it would revert back to Brackenridge’s home county in the Edna Ganada area—I can’t remember the name of the county. Anyway, they had put somebody on the Board of Regents from that area and they’d made deals with the school district down there that was supposed to benefit from the land—this, that and the other—so anyway, they got around the will. But, we were lucky to have Ed Clark appointed to the Board of Regents during this controversy, and Ed Clark in an interview said that he felt that the University should not sell the Brackenridge Tract, and that the green space was important. So, the city and the University finally worked out a deal to at least let the lease run until 1987. And then, we negotiated with the University and made agreements whereby the University got certain development on the rest of the tract, and the city has a 30-year lease on the golf course and is paying about $250,000 a year rent out of our golf fees to the University for the use of that land. But where the conservation and environment part of it came was in trying to figure out and being made aware of laws that had been passed to say that you had to have a public hearing, if you were gonna take publicly owned green space and do something else with it. And that’s where we ran into Ned Fritz, who had been very much responsible for getting that legislation passed, and we began to meet others who had—were in the environmental movement, so to speak. But the idea was that keeping that green space was important for the urban dwellers, and that there were state laws that could help us, if we mobilized the public to oppose taking away that green space. It was part of an overall campaign to try to persuade the powers that be not to let it go. So that was a lot of fun, and that kind of launched me into working with the city of Austin. It was after that that I was appointed to the goals assembly and worked on the Bicentennial Committee and then went on the Parks Board. But that was the beginning, and with the Goals Assembly, I was assigned to the environmental subgroup. So through those discussions I learned so much more about the city of Austin and about the creeks and things like that, and through the Bicentennial effort, I was serving on the Horizons Committee, which was supposed to identify Austin’s gift to the nation in honor of the Bicentennial. And Beverly Sheffield was heading up the bicentennial effort as a city employee, and of course he was a very strong mentor in my work with the city of Austin because he had the wonderful stories of the past, and Andrew Zilker’s gift to the city of Austin and the importance of those green belts along the creek, and he had been there practically when they were established and knew the reason for them and was so committed to having those be part of the fabric for the recreation purposes and as part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s integration into the whole life of the city and the quality of life here. Sinclair Black was also in that group, and Tom Sheffelman, and so it became rather easy to come up with this idea that the preservation and enhancement of our creeks and waterways would be Austin’s gift to the nation. And there was a bond election coming up, and the bicentennial people spoke very much in favor of the bond money to begin to buy the Barton Creek green belt, and I guess the whole Barton Creek issue was something that I wasn’t that personally involved with, but in the early ‘70’s that was definitely in the works.
DT: Can you mention some of these early environmentalists that you got in touch with in—I guess it’d be the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s?
MA: Ned…
DT: You’ve mentioned Beverly Sheffield and Sinclair Black?
MA: Right.
DT: What were they like?
MA: Well, you know Beverly, don’t you?
DT: No, no.
MA: You don’t know Beverly Sheffield?
DT: Don’t.
MA: Beverly was head of our Parks and Recreation Department for, oh, 30 or 40 years, and swims daily at Barton Springs. He’s a charmer. He’s retired, but still very, very active. After he did the bicentennial, he started the Austin Community Foundation and was the executive director for a number of years until he retired from that job, and he has lots of wonderful stories to tell. He definitely does.
DT: I’m sure. What about Sinclair Black?
MA: Sinclair Black is a—he was a young architect here at UT at that time and he’s still around and has been very much involved in a lot of different projects, over the years.
DT: Well, so a lot of these people were trained or it was part of their job to protect some of these green spaces. I’m curious if you could tell me a little bit about the Citizens Groups that were I guess more lay people, folks that were doing this as a hobby or…
MA: Um-hmm. Right. One of the—I mean, I really didn’t know Jeanette and Russell Fish that well, but Jeanette Fish and her husband, Russell, were sort of responsible for the first hike and bike trail in Pease Park, and her father had been head of the Chamber of Commerce here—I think her father was Walter Long, and that the lake out at Decker is named Walter E. Long Lake, in honor of her father. So they were long-time people but she and others began the idea of the hike and bike trail in Pease Park, and that of course became very important as a model for Town Lake, and the hike and bike trail around Town Lake. And of course I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Roberta Crenshaw over the years, and she certainly has wonderful stories to tell, and served as chair of the Parks Board for a number of years and of course worked with Beverly Sheffield for a number of years, and she’s the one—one of the ones that’s extremely responsible for the Town Lake area being redone as green space and a park area, because of course the Colorado River didn’t always have a dam at both ends. When they built the dam at the end to do the power plant, then that created the lake. And when Roberta heard that there was gonna be a dam at both ends and that there was gonna be a lake,…
DT: Oh, you mean, at Longhorn Dam and then at Tom Miller Dam.
MA: Right. I mean, Tom Miller Dam had been there for many, many years, but Longhorn Dam was not put in until the ‘60’s, I don’t think. So when she found that out, then she went to work on getting the area cleaned up and having more green space down there. And of course, it would take a whole—another day to talk about the sand beach reserve and our struggles to maintain that land that was granted to us by the state of Texas. And this is an area on the north side of Town Lake that was granted to the city in about 1945 by the state, with the idea at that point that the citizens wanted to use it for public purposes. But that’s—that’s a whole—another story.
DT: Well, maybe a story that ties together a lot of this is that you seem to be trying to work towards the future and plan for and accommodate it, and retain some of the things that attracted a lot of the growth and people…
MA: Um-hmm.
DT: …and industry to Austin…
MA: Right.
DT: …as—with its Green Belts and so on, and I was curious if you could talk a little bit about what the vision for the city was and the compact city and why people thought that was so important.
MA: The—well, one of the things that had happened, it—I mean, it all kind of came together with Austin Tomorrow and the Goals Assembly and the Austin Tomorrow Plan, which was, you know, funded by a federal planning grant but it just happened to come at the right time. For instance, I think it was–the Sierra Club or the Audubon Group had done an inventory in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s of the natural places in Austin that were left and were undeveloped, but important places that they felt should be preserved. So, when we came together for the Austin Tomorrow Plan in 1975, you were beginning to get the pressures of the growth in the Barton Creek watershed south of the city, south of the river. And with the information that we were getting, I guess it was also about that time that there were growth pressures in the Lake Austin watershed, and Lowell Leberman was a member of the City Council—arranged for the city to hire Ian McHarg’s company from Philadelphia. And Ian McHarg was—had the idea of building with the environment, rather than against it, and his group came in and analyzed the Lake Austin watershed and said, “O.K., you know, you shouldn’t build close to these steep slopes, you should protect the slopes. You’ve got to protect your water quality in the lake. It’s drinking water. You’ve got to control the storm water runoff. You can do that by limiting your density and really being careful and setting up formulas for how you can build with the environment, etc.” So, that all was bubbling up in the community as well as the people in south Austin who got upset when they were gonna build an office building across a creek. And that’s when we finally got a creek ordinance in the early ‘70’s that said you’ve got to preserve the natural character of the waterway. If you’re going to destroy the natural character of the waterway, show us why it has to be and try as much as possible to preserve that natural character. So I think there’s—there’s pretty much always been an appreciation of the natural beauties that we’re blessed with here in the Austin area, and so there’ve always been people willing to try to protect them, but trying to do that in the midst of the growth pressures in the ‘70’s, the growth pressures in the ‘80’s—we’ve lost some things but we haven’t lost everything yet. And so the work that was done for the Goals Assembly and the Austin Tomorrow Plan took what was going on that they knew of around the country, and talked about how the–the western part of Travis County was the Balcones Escarpment and the Hill Country and could be destroyed if you didn’t develop it in the right way, or it would be better not to encourage development out there. They also felt that we had good rich blackland soil to the east–farm land, cotton land–and at that point they were saying, better preserve that, too. Use your growth area along the I-35 corridor because it comes in between these two natural geographies. So you can protect the land on the west and protect the land on the east, for geographic and environmental reasons—I mean, geologic–different geologies, etc. So that’s kind of how the Corridor Plan worked–and the talk about clustering your development, which then led to talk about compact development. And I guess Boulder was beginning to experiment back in the ‘70’s with trying to keep their development within a certain area and not let it spill out. But that was always—at that time there was still the conflict with the normal—what America was experiencing in the urban sprawl after World War II. And you had land masses that the developers got their hands on and kind of leap-frogged over the city of Austin, and then that’s where you got into the MUDS.
DT: Well, when McHarg came and talked to you, is—I guess he gave you some guidelines on how he thought growth would happen, and how it maybe should be guided to occur, and I’m curious if—how close his predictions were to what actually happened.
MA: ‘Course he was just looking at the Lake Austin watershed,…
DT: Right.
MA: …which was kind of the northwest area,…
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: …and—at least we had a Lake Austin ordinance early on that did speak to not building on the slopes, and staying away from the creeks, so to speak. But as it went on into the 1980’s, the problem was that if it were an area outside the city limits, you had no zoning, so that while you could partially control the way the development happened, a massive amount of development has been approved in that northwest quadrant. And…
DT: Outside of city limits.
MA: Yeah.
DT: Maybe that would be a good reason to talk a little bit about MUDS, Municipal Utility Districts.
MA: Um-hmm.
DT: I understood that in the early ‘80’s, from ’83 to ’86, you worked hard to persuade the City Council…
MA: Certainly did.
DT: …not to approve the creation of these MUDS,…
MA: Right.
DT: …and that you’re still active trying to…
MA: Yes.
DT: …to persuade them to be more careful about…
MA: Yes.
DT: …how they regulate these MUDS. I wonder if you could just give us a little bit of background as to what a MUD is and how it’s created.
MA: I wish I had…
[Tape 1, Side B.]
MA: I wish I had had time to do more research into other states and how they handle this, but—in Texas these seem to have developed first of all in the Houston area, and the idea was that you needed water and sewer to have a development, and in the Houston area you could dig water wells and you could put in small package waste-water treatment plants. All right, so that served the new growth outside the city limits. The Municipal Utility District was organized under the State Constitution guidelines for a water district. So in other words, it provided a legal mechanism to issue tax-exempt bonds to pay for the water wells, the water lines, the sewer plant, and the sewer lines in this new development, so that they could, instead of going to a bank and borrowing all the money to pay for these improvements, they could issue bonds, and then over the years the residents in the district would pay taxes to the water district to pay off those bonds that had been used to build their water and waste-water facilities. The way it was different in Austin was that the developers and development lawyers figured out that they could get commitments from the city of Austin to provide water and sewer service, and then if big improvements were needed to get that city water and sewer out to the new development, they could issue contract revenue bonds. the MUDS would contract with the city and issue bonds for these large water and waste-water lines or projects, and then the city would pay the debt service on those contract bonds for these facilities to serve the new areas. The concept was sold to the city as a way of providing planning outside the city limits that they wouldn’t get otherwise, with the ultimate carrot of, “Well, once we get developed, you can annex us.” And of course, that hasn’t happened. The city has only been able to annex one municipal utility district so far. And yet, it has been city water and sewer that have made it possible to develop in these little areas around town.
DT: Well, let’s see if I have this straight. In Houston, it was the residents of each of these little water districts that paid the debt service, but in Austin, it was the population as a whole, not—outside of the utility district that took on the debt service?
MA: Right. We took on the debt service for the large water and waste-water facilities to serve that district. The district itself would pay debt service on their internal water and waste-water lines.
DT: But the equivalent of the water well or the sewage treatment plant in Houston…
MA: Uh-huh. Right. It…
DT: …was actually being funded by the city of Austin’s…
MA: They were—the facilities were oversized. In other words, the districts would pay for their small little part of these over-sized facilities.
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: And then the city—you know, the water and waste-water rate payers are paying the debt service for these over-sized lines. It was not a fair deal for our rate payers, plus, it got around the City Charter that required the citizens to approve bonds for water and waste-water facilities. By issuing the contract revenue bonds, they could avoid having to get city voter approval for those bonds. So it was very slick and neat. The City Finance Department issued a scathing report, saying, if you—if the City Council approves all the MUDS that are being proposed right now, all the new growth is gonna go to those areas and not inside the city limits, and the tax base of the city is going to suffer. And that is what has happened.
DT: And what year was this that the City Council finally approved this kind of financing?
MA: They started out on a small scale in the ‘70’s with places like Anderson Mill and Lost Creek, where the city provided the water and those MUDS built their own small package treatment plant. Then, there were a few more, and finally in the early ‘80’s you began to get Wells Branch, and the north-central Austin Growth Corridor MUD, which were also sold because they were in the Growth Corridor. We’ve annexed the north-central MUD, but we have not annexed Wells Branch. But the voters had turned down bonds to extend the city’s water and sewer lines, until there was an agreement from the developers to pay capital recovery fees for new hookups, so that the new growth would pay its fair share of buying into our system. And so, creating those MUDS then allowed big projects to be built without voter approval. And then–then you got the rush of the southwest MUDS, and then there was a rush of MUDS in the northwest. Most of the northwest MUDS did not ultimately get approvals. But unfortunately those southwest MUDS were approved in about ‘84—’84, ’85–Circle C, Southland Oaks, NPC had their MUDS, Milburn had its MUDS and Gary Bradley had his MUDS. So everybody got a little piece of the action. It’s a mess.
DT: Can you explain a little bit about—beyond sort of the democratic issues at heart and the economic problems of exporting tax base, can you explain what the environmental problem is for MUDS?
MA: They were able to retain exemptions from updates in our water quality ordinances, until SOS. The southwest MUDS—some of them are on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, and they did come in under the Lower Watersheds Ordinance or the Williamson Creek Ordinance. But, as we began to study and monitor our water quality controls and realized that they weren’t as strong as they needed to be, you came along with changes in 1986 to have a comprehensive watershed ordinance. The MUDS managed to persuade the City Council that they didn’t have to comply with the updated ordinances, and that was part of our strong effort to get a new ordinance that would do away with those exemptions and would go back to the language in the MUD Consent Agreement that said that the MUD’s agreed to comply with the city’s water quality ordinances as those ordinances were amended from time to time. The MUD’s have a higher density than the land can really carry down there because of its environmental sensitivity.
DT: So it’s not just the fact that it’s enabling sprawl, but it’s also where the sprawl’s happening, that those are especially sensitive places? Can you describe a little bit about Barton Creek Basin, because they—I imagine a lot of people don’t appreciate—never understand it as well as you do.
MA: The Barton Springs pool is fed by Barton Springs, which is–what, one of the three or four largest springs in the whole state of Texas. It sort of pumps out somewhere between 30 to 90 million gallons of water per day—of cool, clean–so far–water. The aquifer that bubbles out at the springs is a coursed aquifer, which means that as storm water or water seeps down into the aquifer, it doesn’t get much filtration because the limestone rocks have holes in them, so that the areas where there are holes in the ground where the water goes down into the aquifer take whatever water comes down the creek and it then goes into the aquifer because 80% I think of the recharge for our little portion of that Edwards aquifer that comes out at Barton Springs—80% of that recharge takes place on the creek–bottoms of the creeks that run over the recharge zone. The area—the recharge zone is the area where there are the holes in the creek that go down into the aquiver. The watersheds of those streams that eventually come to the recharge zone in essence contribute water to the streams, and then the water hits the recharge zone and goes down into the aquifer. So the quality of the water that comes from the contributing zone in that creek also becomes important to the quality of the water in the aquifer. Well, right now, as you get more and more development in the recharge zone and in those contributing zones, you’re gonna have less clean, clear, crystal water from the undeveloped areas unless you’re very, very careful, so what we’re trying to do is to limit the water quality impact on the waters that get into the recharge zone, and part of the way that you do that is to limit your urban development in those sensitive areas.
DT: So you think that it’s probably more productive to reduce the amount of impervious cover and reduce the density rather than to build structures on the—like, retention ponds, detention ponds.
MA: The structural—right, the structural controls—the studies that have been done show that the pollutant removal efficiencies of the structural controls go down dramatically as the impervious cover increases. In other words, the more impervious cover you have, the more runoff you have when it rains. And trying to treat that much more runoff would take a huge pond and a lot of space, so what you get is—you at least try to get the first half-inch to an inch of runoff and treat it, but the rains here in central Texas can create a whole lot more water than that. So, what the studies are showing is that that increased runoff—that increased volume of runoff–begins to erode your stream banks, and your stream banks then crumble and become sediments that are washed on down into the aquifer, as well. And it just—there are some wonderful studies and slide shows that have been prepared from different parts of the country even, to show those impacts on creeks of the increased runoff from development. So the structural controls can’t do the whole job, if you’ve got a whole bunch of impervious cover.
DT: One of the things that you have done is serve on the Impact Fee Advisory Board, and—which I understand is part of the city’s Water and Waste-water Commission, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how the city—at least the Board has tried to bring some equity to how development is paid for and how development is subsidized less, through some of those fees.
MA: The idea of a capital recovery fee or an impact fee certainly did not originate in Austin but other places that were experiencing heavy growth, particularly in Florida, I think, and in California as well. The idea was that growth should pay more of the cost of its impact on a number of different things. In Austin, the only impact fees that have been instituted are the ones related to water and waste-water infrastructure, so that you—anyway, we set some capital recovery fees, and other cities in Texas began doing the same thing. Some people went to the Legislature and complained, and so they passed a state law dealing with how you regulate impact fees. And so the Impact Fee Advisory Committee is mandated by state law, and the state law sets out a very rigorous formula for how those impact fees can be calculated. While it’s a rigorous formula, it has a lot of flexibility in it in terms of—as long as you can defend a maximum fee under this formula, the city can charge whatever it wants to as long as it doesn’t go over that maximum. And of course the city had approved something like a billion dollars worth of water and sewer projects. So the city had already—the water and waste-water department had already issued bonds for millions and–hundreds of millions of dollars worth of improvements, so that the capital recovery fees and impact fees that we collect are simply going off to pay debt service on bonds and projects that have already been billed.
DT: So the fees were assessed sort of after the fact, rather than as a just–sort of discouragement to those projects occurring in the first place.
MA: Right. Right. One of the ways that we have tried to use the impact fees in terms of growth management is that you can have lower fees inside the city limits and higher fees outside the city limits. And the City Council did accept that formula from the beginning, so that that’s one way that you can encourage growth inside the city limits is to say you won’t have to pay as high a capital recovery fee inside the city limits.
DT: While we’re talking about planning and development, I was curious if you could talk a little bit about your view of development inside the city in places—well, you mentioned the lines, of course, but also I guess the triangles is a pretty controversial area now, where many of the people who I guess have been trying to argue for a compact city are caught in a odd sort of catch-22 where, you know, they value this green space inside the city and they don’t want to see it develop haphazardly. Where do you fall in that sort of controversy?
MA: One of the things that Andy Sansom with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been saying for the last four or five years is—ever since he’s been in that office, he’s been spreading the word all over the state that—what, over 90% of the land in the large state of Texas is privately owned. We have very little public land left, and it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever to take publicly owned land for private development. It seems that that is—we’re losing that public land for the future, and we’re also letting the state compete with the private sector. If you look at the Triangle development, you don’t have to go but five or six blocks and you find the North Loop-Burnett Road shopping center area that has been partially abandoned for years. What a wonderful opportunity for redevelopment, where there’s already 100% impervious cover! Why take green space, when there are many areas in that geographic area near the Triangle that could be redeveloped and at higher densities? That’s my viewpoint on the Triangle.
DT: So, I mean, in your view it’s not that it’s an inner city compact site, but that it’s a public site.
MA: It’s public land.
DT: I see.
MA: Why does it make sense for the state of Texas to insist upon setting aside 200 acres at Mueller Airport for the state to use to build buildings, and then to have the state say, “We don’t need the Triangle area to build offices.”? I mean, that’s contradictory, it’s—that’s a farce.
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: If the state needs airport land to build buildings, they could use the Triangle land to build buildings.
DT: O.K. [Pause.] I notice that you served on the Barton Creek Task Force in 1993 as part of the SOS team that was…
MA: Yes.
DT: …negotiating with Freeport-MacMoran over their development, and I’m curious how you managed to bring Freeport-MacMoran to the table.
MA: Oh, they wanted to be there. They wanted city sewer service.
DT: So that was the carrot.
MA: That was the carrot. Plus, they were threatening to go to the Legislature, to attack the SOS Ordinance. So, it was in their best interest to try to get city sewer service. But, they were not really willing to give up any development. [Laughs.] In fact, they ended up wanting more, more square footage and more buildings than was reasonable.
DT: I remember a little bit from that time that there were some in the environmental community that felt like a strategy of engagement and a sort of entente was good, and…
MA: One of the reasons…
DT: …other people felt like it was—you’re dealing with the devil.
MA: Right.
DT: What did you think about that?
MA: That there was a real problem that was created out there, as one of these special districts. It was the Southwest Travis County Road District, which issued bonds to build the Southwest Parkway, and the idea was that the landowners in that district would do development, the development would pay off the debt service on the bonds that had been issued. But the development didn’t happen, and the debt service kept piling up. A big chunk of that district was called the Uplands and Sweetwater Tract. It was taken over by the RTC [Resolution Trust Corporation], as was Lantana, and several of the properties in that road district ended up in the hands of the RTC. The Nature Conservancy had worked on a deal to get some RTC lands for the Balcones Habitat Plan, and the city had passed bonds and were willing to buy those RTC lands from the—I mean, buy them from the Nature Conservancy. However, Travis County is the one that had approved the Road District. They were the Board of Directors of the Road District, and they didn’t want to threaten Travis County’s bond rating or something. Anyway, they said the city can’t have the uplands and Sweetwater land until the Road District’s dissolved, and something’s done about all these bonds. So the environmentalists were saying, “We’ve got to save uplands and Sweetwater for the habitat for the birds.” And that’s—that group wanted us to be at the table, in order to try to save uplands and Sweetwater. What ultimately happened was that Freeport-McMoRan bought the bonds for the whole Road District, and ended up using Uplands and Sweetwater as their mitigation for the habitat destruction that they’re planning to do in the Barton Creek Properties area, so that the city was cut out of having Uplands and Sweetwater as part of the city’s preserve, and having Barton Creek Properties preserve part of their own land as mitigation for their destruction. So, while Uplands and Sweetwater were ultimately saved even though we didn’t do the development deal with Freeport-McMoRan, you still have lost some control over the Freeport-McMoRan development but they probably will not be able to develop as much without city sewer service because they will have to set aside areas for spray irrigation of their effluent, their waste-water effluent.
DT: Can you talk a little bit more about this—the idea of mitigation and the idea that impacts in one area can be offset by saving another area? I mean, some people think it’s a very practical way. Other people feel like it’s somewhat cynical, and, you know, that each acre of land’s unique and you—they’re not fungible. What do you think?
MA: Well, the–mitigation is certainly called for in the Endangered Species Act, and—I think there—that we were talking about this this morning in another context but there was an effort by some landowners to say, “Well, we’ll buy land for the birds way out in Val Verde County. And that didn’t seem right, because the mitigation ought to be in more or less the same area where you’re gonna be destroying habitat. So I can’t—I think there are boundaries and bounds that make more sense than others. With the Barton Springs salamander and the watershed issues, a point was being made this morning that the creek areas are different than the bird habitat. And if you’re developing in one part of the Barton Springs zone, as long as you stay in the Barton Springs zone, you might be able to work out a reasonable mitigation scheme by acquiring land along some of the creeks further out in the watershed. But that—that, yes, it didn’t make sense to get bird mitigation 300–200 miles away for destruction of bird habitat in this area.
DT: O.K. I have one more question about this—the whole Freeport McMoRan, and I guess the whole idea of suburban development. How much efffect do you think the regulations had on Freeport McMoRan, versus the peer pressure and the citizen outcry, on their willingness to make concessions?
MA: They were not willing to make…
[Tape 2 of 3, Side A.]
MA: They were not willing to make concessions. [Laughs.] They—decided that—and I think it was a pattern of how the company had operated with the Legislature in Louisiana. When they put in their headquarters in New Orleans, apparently they got special bills passed by the Louisiana Legislature. So, I don’t think they were really serious about making enough changes in their project, and the way the legal regulations are done in the state of Texas, unless we annex the land, the city really cannot control the land use there, and counties have very little authority in Texas to regulate development.
DT: Well, do you find that any developers besides Freeport-McMoRan are going beyond what is required because they feel like it’s (a) the right thing to do, or (b) is the popular thing to do, or it’s the low-liability thing to do?
MA: I think there are some examples where that has happened or is happening. We like to point to the Temple Inland building there on MoPac that has been built according to SOS, and I think that there are several other developments that have been—I wouldn’t say negotiating but have certainly been working with environmental groups and have been trying to make adjustments to their developments, in order to better comply with our environmental ordinances.
DT: And when they explain why they’ve done that, what do they say? I mean, is it because that’s what’s required, or is it anything internal on their part?
MA: Well, for instance, I think Whole Foods moved out of the Barton Creek watershed when they built their store on Sixth Street as sort of a statement that they were gonna stay out of the watershed, and they were willing to put in on-site water quality controls at their new location, even though it was in an urban area. They were willing to support with money some of the SOS efforts, and they were attacked by Gary Bradley when they went through the process to get their approvals for their building on Sixth and Lamar. Mr. Bradley came down personally to the Planning Commission and to the City Council to attack their project and to complain.
DT: Complained that they were doing too much. And why did he find that offensive?
MA: And that—that they were spoiling water quality in Town Lake, you know. Gary always likes to argue that why should he be held to such high standards when urban development doesn’t have to do that much. And the answer would be, we’re sorry, [laughs], we’ve already spoiled Town Lake. It’s hard to get it back, but why should we spoil the Edwards Aquifer when we know more now than we did—why let water become polluted if you can prevent it in the first place?
DT: Sure. Speaking of hearings, I notice that you’ve been at many hearings besides those for the City Council. I think you worked as a volunteer for the city’s ad hoc committees that developed a number of the ordinances that we now rely on—the Landscape Ordinance back in the ‘80’s, the Tree Protection Ordinance, park land dedication ordinances, and I’m sure there are others. I’m curious about something related to that. I remember hearing that Louise Epstein, who was a Councilman a few years back, was critical of some of these committees, feeling that they took too much time, money, and they were unaccountable, and that some of these same issues should be dealt with more directly within the city or on the *** Council. What do you feel about that?
MA: I think one of the joys that I’ve had in living in Austin has been the very strong citizen participation with the neighborhood groups and the willingness of citizens to get involved in trying to help make this a better place to live. And I think—it’s just part of my political philosophy that having the citizen participation is very valuable to the general outcome, and that while many of the staff are very committed and do a good job, I think that they’re able to do a better job because of getting to hear the opinions of the citizens, ‘cause I think the citizens in neighborhood situations are able to make suggestions and to point out things that the staff, not living there, would not be aware of unless the citizens were there to point it out. So I think that Austin has benefited greatly from the very active citizen groups and citizens that it’s had over the years. And that’s of course been one of the wonderful things about the League of Women Voters is its strong stand on the importance of public participation, and we’re really fighting on this overall. There have been efforts at the congressional level, and certainly efforts at the state level, to limit citizens’ participation in the governmental processes, and that has really been a big issue on the state level the last couple of years. And, you know, I have personally been involved in several lawsuits where as a citizen I have complained about a governmental action, and it’s very discouraging to hear courts say, “Well, you have no right to be here, you have no right to bring up this issue. You’re just a citizen, you’re not specifically affected by this action.” You know, “You don’t have a right to be here.” So a lot of the efforts of environmental lobbyists at the state level have been to try to keep a place for citizen voices on governmental issues, even in the courts.
DT: And what is the argument that people use against citizen involvement? Why do they say these citizens should not have standing?
MA: Because they are not personally adversely affected by—I mean, unless they live right next door to the hog farm, [laughs],…
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: …and are smelling it every day, the courts—I mean, in some instances, and in some ways–that the laws are being drawn to limit the citizen’s right to sue. They are limiting it by saying you have to be personally affected by the bad smell, by the water, on your property before you have a right to sue. So that it—it makes it so hard for citizens to join together in non-profit groups that can work together to try to address some of the wrongs, some of the impacts of things on the environment, if they’re not allowed to be in the courts about it.
DT: Um-hmm. You mentioned the League of Women Voters earlier, and I know that they’ve had this very strong ethic and passion for citizen involvement, and I’m curious about other sort of obstacles to citizens becoming more involved, such as just the low voter turnout and the high campaign funding from special interests, and I’m curious if you think that those are sort of inseparable things or that there are ways around it. I mean, how do you cope with those two problems if you’re a citizen who wants to be involved?
MA: Well, the League, both locally and nationally, has certainly been very much involved. I personally have not been that involved, but the Motor Voter Registration activities were supported and pushed—instituted—instigated by the League of Women Voters, and the League here at the state level and locally—at the state level worked very hard in the Legislature this time for campaign finance reform, along with a coalition of other groups, but as I understand it, it didn’t get anywhere. So those are still really big problems, and I don’t have a solution yet. It’s just amazing to watch the elections in Great Britain, where it—‘course Great Britain isn’t as big as Texas. But you’ve got your one, two or three times when they appear and make their presentations on the TV and that’s it. The rest of the time they’re out shaking hands, but it’s within a very confined time frame. I happened to be in El Paso this May right before the May elections, and a friend out there commented that the Mayor had released his campaign contributions, and he had—this was a week before the election and he had collected about $8,000. And apparently in El Paso, they have their municipal elections that don’t involve these huge campaign contributions, but I guess maybe there’s less development in the El Paso area or less moneyed interests that are directly affected by the actions of the City Council, I don’t know. But it’s—it was an eye-opener. [Laughs.]
DT: Gosh, 8,000! I understand that you were involved in a—another way that citizens can get into participating in City government with the SOS [Save Our Springs] petition, and then later on the referendum, and I imagine the defense of it,…
MA: Yes.
DT: …the SOS Legal Defense Fund—and I was wondering if you would comment a little bit about the whole petition referendum process because I think a lot of folks struggle with the—the power that it gives citizens to directly affect not only the issues that are discussed but the decisions that are made. But on the other hand, that oftentimes the—after the petition is passed, the signatures are collected–the referendum passes, then it’s often turned over in court as not accommodating to democratic processes, and I was wondering, how do you balance those things? I…
MA: Well, I’m—I certainly am not in favor of adding initiative and referendum to our state Constitution. However, at the local level, it seems to make more sense, and it—I don’t know how long it’s been a part of our City Charter. And, it is a difficult process, but it provided a really important way to bring the issues before the public in a way that we had not been able to do. We had been unsuccessful at the ballot box in getting a majority on the City Council. But from the very grass-roots approach of getting signatures and from the way that–Freeport had come to town as an outsider to try to work in this community and had in essence ignored the concerns of the environmental community with their proposed development, it made it easier to gain grass-roots support against this outside intruder, so to speak. But the way the campaign was run, I think that there was an amazing amount of education that went on about the aquifer—how it works, water quality, how do you protect water quality, what do we know about the pollution that’s happening—it all kind of came together. The city was completing a number of different monitoring studies at that particular time. The USGS [US Geologic Survey] issued a very strong report in 1990 on the effects of urbanization on creeks in the Austin area, and that was kind of a warning of what was gonna happen in the Barton Springs zone if we didn’t do something. So it just kind of all came together, and when—the all-night hearing of the City Council in 1990 was an outcry, an expression that then was ignored by the City Council in terms of the Water Quality Ordinance that they ultimately adopted in response to that all-night public hearing. That was in June of 1990, and we did get an interim ordinance in February of ’91 that was a good, strong ordinance. But the new City Council elected in the spring said, “Well, we really haven’t had time to look at this. Let’s don’t adopt it until we’ve had time to take a look at it,” blah, blah, blah. So the Council voted four to three to adopt an ordinance in October of ’91 that carried forward the same exemptions that we had been fighting all—for four or five years, and it just was not an adequate ordinance to respond to the problems that had been identified in 1990. So, that was—the referendum then was simply the next step. But because of the all-night public hearing, there was a great stirring of interest on the part of people all over the city that were not normally political people. But I can remember going to that all-night public hearing and sitting next to two members of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. So it wasn’t just the rag-tag people who didn’t get off their job at the bar until two A.M. that came down. But it was also people from very much the mainstream who were concerned about the quality of life in our community. So when you had the City Council ignoring concerns from those kinds of people, it just made sense to go ahead and try for the referendum.
DT: Well, let’s resume. We were talking earlier about the referendum as one way that Mary Arnold’s been involved in influencing city government and conservation efforts here in Austin. But I was thinking that one of the most direct ways is when she ran for City Council, and I was curious if you could tell us a little bit about the campaign in—I believe it was in—was it Council 94?
MA: Yes.
DT: And first of all, why did you decide to run?
MA: I wanted to be able to participate in a different way in the decisions. I wanted to be one of the decision-makers. And I also felt that perhaps I could help in kind of coordinating communications between several Council members so that we could kind of work together and divide up, so to speak, and have one person work on a certain item and get support from others, and then just kind of make better use of our time and efforts.
DT: Well, did you see yourself as sort of a fence mender between different parts of the Council or—what did you see your role as possible…
MA: Yes. I think because of the number of years that I had worked with the city staff in various departments, I felt that I had developed a knowledge about how the city worked and things like that, that would be useful in trying to get things done because so often we’ve seen our councils elected and wanting to do good things, and yet being stymied because of the way the city staff continued to operate. So, I felt that my previous experiences would kind of help me to cut through to the quick, so to speak, in terms of getting some things accomplished.
DT: Well, you just touched on something, and I’m curious if you—sometimes it’s seen where a City Council wants to go to the left and the staff wants to go to the right or keep going straight ahead. Can you tell us some sort of instances of that or why it happens?
MA: It’s—I guess part of it is just the general bureaucratic maze there of people working in their own little area and being reluctant to cross departmental lines and to work with people in other departments, so that they look at things with blinders on, and it makes it difficult for them to coordinate their efforts with other departments and—then I think that the—certainly some of the city staff that we have worked with that have been sympathetic have not—well, if you don’t have a strong majority on the City Council to give the word to the City Manager, and the City Manager strongly giving the word to the city staff, then it’s very difficult, and over the years, one of the examples I use is Beverly Sheffield and the Parks Department. He had a wonderful relationship with the Parks Board over the years and kind of used them as an advocacy group with the City Council to advocate for parks budget, parks programs, etc. When Beverly left the Department, it wasn’t too long before the City Manager brought in a department head from another city to serve as head of the Parks Department, and it became very clear that that man was an employee of the City Manager. That’s who he was working for, so that the Parks Board began to get cut out of the loop. Several years later, we got a man come in as head of the Parks Board who developed a very strong relationship with the Parks Board, and I think that made the City Manager jealous, and that man got fired. So, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens with this City Council and the city staff. The City Manager has already made some changes that have been sort of indicative of trying to make a shift toward where the new Council is versus where the old Council was. And I guess another thing that we have felt over the years is that the development community has the money to pay lobbyists to be there all the time, and we don’t have the luxury of being able to pay somebody to be there all the time. One of the things I suggested to the new Mayor was that he ought to ask his city manager and his top staff, “Who do you have meetings with on a regular basis? Are you meeting with a group from the Chamber of Commerce, the”—let’s see, you know, “the Association of General Contractors, the Contractors and Engineers Association, the people from the development community? Do you ever meet with representatives of the neighborhood associations? Just where are you spending your time, who are you listening to in the community,” just as a way of finding out. So, that was kind of my reason for entering the race, and in that particular race, that was a Council member who had tried in every way to sabotage the SOS efforts and there was not a strong candidate running in that place against that incumbent. So I thought, well, I’ll give it a try.
DT: And who was—whose seat were you trying to take and…
MA: Ronnie Reynolds.
DT: And what was his sort of approach to government, the—I mean, beyond just the development issues, what was his world view that sort of—differed from yours, like…
MA: I guess he was more on—government must be efficient. As an accountant, he kept talking about cutting taxes and efficiency and all this, that and the other, and I guess pushing economic development and pushing growth was part of his world view of what’s important for the community’s future, and of course, my experience is that growth is very, very expensive for the citizens. And, so we had differing viewpoints on a number of things.
DT: Can you recall some of your experiences with Ronnie Reynolds and with the media and with the public and–I guess all the different aspects of the race?
MA: I’m not sure I can say that much. It was a very rewarding experience. I really enjoyed meeting the people in the different parts of town, and the representatives from Austin Interfaith, from the health care community, the neighborhood people—the commitment that some of them had to their volunteer time for my candidacy was very special, and I appreciated it very much. It ultimately came down to the fact that there were 12,000 people who voted in that election who had never voted—[laughs]—in a City Council election, and most of them came out to vote for the City Charter Amendment against domestic partners, which was not an issue that I had been involved in, whereas Mr. Reynolds had voted against domestic partners as a member of the City Council. I certainly felt that it was a benefit to expand the health care for members of the Austin community and I did not oppose the domestic partners action by the City Council, and I certainly did not support adding it to the City Charter because I felt that that was an inappropriate thing for a City Charter to deal with. And the Charter Amendment sort of defined family in such a way…
[Tape 2 of 3, Side B.]
MA: …The Charter Amendment sort of defined family in such a way as to exclude domestic partners, and it didn’t seem to me that it was necessary to put a definition of the family in the City Charter. I guess one of the negative pieces that came out from the Reynolds campaign—well, a couple of things. They tried to attack me on my financial disclosure form. My husband’s mother had died and had left him stock in an oil company. His father had worked for an oil company all his adult life, so they tried to say that—how could I be an environmentalist and own all that stock in an oil company. [Laughs.] And then, they went back in my Planning Commission service and found a vote where I had voted for a particular commercial development. And they said, oh, that this means, you know, she was not an environmentalist because she’d voted for this commercial development in an environmentally sensitive area. Well, as it happened, there was an old residential preliminary plat, and the neighborhood had been persuaded that the new office development would have less impervious cover than the residential. And the neighborhood was supporting this office-type development because of concessions that they had gotten, etc., plus the fact that the development had never happened, and the land went to the RTC and had been purchased by the city as habitat land, so—[laughs]—but it was all—it just showed what a horrible person I was, not to support the environment on that particular vote.
DT: I guess you become very vulnerable when you put yourself in the public light and…
MA: Yes. Yes.
DT: …and things get misinterpreted and…
MA: Um-hmm.
DT: …the gloves really come off then. I was curious if you could talk a little bit about another aspect of the Money For campaign. There were a number of candidates from the environmental community, and–I think there was some split in the environmental community between…
MA: I thought that was in ’93.
DT: I’m sorry, ’93.
MA: Uh-huh.
DT: And I was—I think it involved Jackie Goodman and one of the other candidates.
MA: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about your memory of that and how that showed fault lines in—sort of the environmental sentiment or groups here?
MA: Well, I—I’m not a person who deals in political intricacies. I’m a lot more interested in the issues and the governmental structure and the—things like that. So, trying to play the games of if we do this, if we forward this candidate we’ll get these voters behind us and if we do this it could hurt, blah blah blah—that isn’t kind of the mindset that I work in. So I was kind of feeling that if somebody wants to run for the City Council, you know, that’s that person’s decision.
DT: This is Mark Tschurr.
MA: Right. I don’t see how you tell somebody, “No, you shouldn’t run for the City Council.” I mean, obviously–you ought to know that it’s gonna be a very difficult thing to do, yes, but you ought to make up your own mind whether you do it or not.
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: And if you feel that you’ve got something to say and you want to say it in the realm of the political race, you know, I can’t fault anybody for that and I was certainly not interested in saying, “Oh, this is a terrible thing, you shouldn’t do this.” And I guess I—it’s a shame that that seemed to get people’s hackles up, so to speak, because I don’t think—I don’t think it should have. But again, I just don’t—don’t think in those kinds of terms and…
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: …and—in one sense, if the different environmental interests wanted to come together and choose candidates or ask people to run for different places, that would be one thing. Jackie had made up her mind early on that that’s what she was gonna do, and she announced her decision to run and was off and running without really having been recruited by the environmental community. So, I don’t—I think everybody ought to be willing to take their chances and I don’t think they ought to hold grudges…
DT: Sure.
MA: …for people’s different decisions.
DT: Yeah, and I–maybe I wasn’t clear about this. I didn’t mean to focus so much on Jackie’s decision to run or Mark Tschurr’s decision to run or, you know, certain environmental leaders to sort of bless one candidacy or the other but rather, it seems like the environmental movement is becoming enough of a mainstream large group of people that it’s—it oftentimes breaks into separate factions over certain issues, and that’s what interests me is that, you know, are there different parts of the environmental movement, or is it a pretty well integrated group of people.
MA: Oh, I would say there are certainly very, very different parts.
DT: Uh-huh.
MA: We were successful in pulling enough together on a Barton Springs position paper in the spring and summer of ’91 that that became kind of the core of the SOS coalition. And Helen Ballew is the one that really developed the position paper draft and then went around to the different groups, explained it, and asked them to support it, and they looked it over, made some changes, and she’d take the different changes back. But it took her individual efforts to pull that position paper together. And so that was a real coalition effort that was then continued on into the SOS fight. But, the Save Barton Creek Association did not sign the position paper, or at first did not sign the position paper. So, you know, they—there were just different groups looking at things in different ways, and no, they didn’t always agree. So we’ve tried to maintain good communications among the different groups, and we’ve tried since ’92 to kind of keep things together. But there are different ones that are working on different issues, and as citizen volunteers we don’t have, or have not developed, the financial resources to have the full-time coordination that might be helpful in keeping things together.
DT: Can you give me an example, with the Barton Creek Position Paper–and I—it probably won’t apply to a lot of other environmental issues but at least it would maybe indicate, well, why didn’t Save Barton Creek feel that they could sign on and, on the other hand, why didn’t Earth First feel that they could endorse that Position Paper?
MA: Well, I think Earth First had sort of a—you know, from their organization, just—the parameters that their organization worked within, were such that they felt they had to maintain complete independence to do what they felt needed to be done. There were certainly representatives of Earth First at the various news—press conferences that we had and everything else, but just part of their wanting to be able to go off and act on their own as they saw fit was just part of the way they operated. In the case of the Save Barton Creek Association, they had many, many long meetings and discussions about the position paper, and it just—they just could not bring themselves to have enough people agree that they were willing to join these other groups. Again, they, too, felt that they needed to maintain some sort of independence, and—you know, we finally couldn’t wait any longer, and went ahead and had a press conference in support of the position paper without them. But they certainly did participate in the SOS coalition.
DT: Well, so in a sense, do you think that both groups were reluctant to join in sort of as an institutional thing rather than a particular policy or issue-oriented follow-up?
MA: Well, there may have been some words in there that they disagreed with or that they thought went too far. In the case of, say, Barton Creek, I imagine, well, they’d say, “This goes a little bit far.” In the case of Earth First, they would’ve said, “This doesn’t go far enough.”
DT: Yeah. Yeah. [Pause.] Another sort of—I guess fault line through environmental groups and movements that I’ve been interested in–and there’s been, ‘course, tons of talk about it in the media–is the whole environmental justice effort and critique, and I’m curious if you can explain how that’s played out here in Austin between some of the environmental groups that have been working hard on west Austin or southwest Austin and issues such as Barton Creek, and those that have been involved in sort of East Austin issues, like the tank farms and other problems on that side of town, and, you know, the west Austin folks being white folks and the East Austin tending to be black and brown. And, you know, can you explain sort of how they—the two mesh and where they fall apart?
MA: Again, I don’t think it’s a question of lack of interest or lack of concern, but, partially, not having enough resources to do everything, and not having enough manpower to do everything. Back during the SOS fight, the SOS campaign made great efforts to also support some of the issues on the same ballot that were supported by the East Austin groups, and they did joint statements and joint mailers and joint campaigning to support some of the things that the East Austin people were supporting on the ballot, as well as supporting SOS. So the SOS group certainly made strong efforts to have involvement by people all over the city, and also to be concerned about and aware of the environmental problems that were being faced over there. In fact, a part of the SOS ordinance talks about a risk assessment for the entire city of Austin with regard to hazardous materials that might have the potential of getting into the water, no matter what part of the city it’s in. So, there were people from the Save Barton Creek Association who participated in the tank farm demonstrations and tank farm efforts, and the Sierra Club has had outings for disadvantaged kids for a number of years. So I think there’s been a lot of contact from environmental groups and individuals about the concerns–all over, not just Barton Creek and Barton Springs. [Pause.] And a lot of the—I mean, one little effort to try to create the division between the East Austin concerns and the environmental concerns was, we think, funded by Gary Bradley. There was a group formed called Save Our Neighborhoods. And again, it was Gary Bradley making the argument, why should we be required to keep all these environmental restrictions when you’ve got all these other environmental problems in Austin and you don’t protect your urban creeks and this, that and the other. And, so he has definitely supported trying to say that the west Austin environmental interests have been ignoring the East Austin environmental problems. So, we don’t…
DT: I guess some of it’s natural and some of it’s manipulative?
MA: Yes. Yeah.
DT: Over the long haul I think there’re some folks that are concerned that as American society, and certainly Austin as well, gets to be more Hispanic and more—made up of the minority communities that are part of it now but–that as the white portion becomes smaller and smaller, that the environmental groups, which are largely white—that’s the mainstream groups—that they’ll be marginalized, and I’m curious if you think (a) is that gonna happen? Then—will they be marginalized, and (b) if they will, you know, how do you make sure that they don’t get shunted to the side, that they become sort of a footnote?
MA: Well, overall, what a lot of people say is that our future, in terms of the environment, is going to be in the hands of our children, and our children are getting an environmental education, from grade school on up. They’re learning the problems of the environment at a very early age, and we have to think of them as our future, and our hope for a better environmental future. They’re learning better environmental habits than we learned when we grew up, and I think that crosses over into all parts of our society. I don’t think you can say, “Well, this ethnic group is not as concerned about the environment.” It just may take a different form.
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: I’ve enjoyed watching the city drainage utility, environmental conservation and services groups, as they have tried to work on an East Austin Initiative over the past three years, where they’ve done public education and held community meetings. They’ve worked with the residents to make them aware of where some of the environmental problems are, to show them where they can go for help. The number of complaints that have come in has increased because people are more aware of, if I see a problem this is a problem, and this is what I do about it. I make a call and somebody comes out and—and, you know, helps. If somebody’s pouring their crank case oil into the creek, we know that’s not supposed to be done, and we know this is where we call and we’re gonna get it stopped. So I think efforts like that are gonna help, and again, I think that the education of the young people is gonna work out.
DT: Well, that’s good. Another sort of faction within the environmental community that I wanted to ask you about is women. I notice that you had worked with the League of Women Voters and a group called We Care Austin–I think that was a creature of the Women’s Environmental Coalition,…
MA: Um-hmm.
DT: …and I’m curious if you could give me some perspective on why women have been so significant in the environmental movement everywhere but the—Austin as well.
MA: I don’t know. But, I suppose if you go to the very philosophical realm, women have been associated over the years—over the eons—with the Earth Mother.
DT: Um-hmm.
MA: So in a sense, it has been a natural role of women over many, many cultures to be concerned about the natural environment, and there are feminine aspects to Nature that we hear about. So maybe there’s a natural convergence there of—the way women look at the world is perhaps a little bit different to the way men look at the world. So I don’t know. In my own case, my experience at the University of Texas, and becoming more of an adult in that environment—women were encouraged to play a part and to have a role, not particularly as women but just as a member of society, and—that we were never daunted, and felt we had a right to speak up and to be a part. And if there was a group there or a women’s group, it became a natural thing to be interested in—a natural way to do it was with a women’s group. And perhaps women’s groups in some instances have taken advantage of being able to go to businessmen, or men in general, and say, with very sweet voices, “Don’t you see that this is the way things should be? How can you object to something as reasonable as this?” So, perhaps that has also played a role.
DT: Well, that’s a nice segue into another thing I was curious about. You simultaneously—or I think, at least in the—and a couple of years ago—have worked for the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution at the University of Texas, and also served on the board of the Save Our Springs Legal Defense Fund, which has since changed its name but still has litigation as one of the tools that it uses to protect water quality and habitat in the area, and I was wondering if you can give some insight into whether you think the future is with more sort of accommodating stance towards development in trying to find middle road, or more—I don’t know if this is the correct way to put it—more combative…
MA: Adversarial. [Laughs.]
DT: …adversarial approach.
MA: I certainly hope that it’s more toward being able to work things out, public policy dispute resolution, versus the courts and the adversarial thing. And of course I think you have to have both. But, I’m pleased to’ve been invited to participate at the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution, and I think the courses that they provided for us and the experience that they brought forward has been very, very helpful in looking at different ways of trying to get at solutions, of trying to manufacture new solutions that may not have existed before. Right now, the City Waste Water Department has decided to use a process that involves people from the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. In gathering together citizens of Austin and representatives from West Lake Hills, Rolling Wood, the Lost Creek MUD, the West Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Council, just—it’s an interesting conglomeration—to try to decide to what extent the city should be involved with the provision of central sewer service to the west, toward Rolling Wood and West Lake Hills. And, there are some very creative solutions that are being discussed, and by being able to sit down at the table with the city administrator of West Lake Hills, with a Council member from Rolling Wood, with the Chamber of Commerce representative–we’ve had conversations that we wouldn’t’ve had otherwise, and I think that’s very useful in trying to work out a solution that I may not have thought I would’ve approved when we first got started. But working through the problem, we’re trying to find things that can accommodate the—what West Lake Hills and Rolling Wood seem to need, or say they need, and yet don’t impinge on the environmental things that we’re concerned about or provide ways in which to help what we’re trying to protect. And I guess that’s been also one of my complaints about the city in its relationships with the Municipal Utility Districts, because over the past five or six years, I guess, they have kept the citizens out of it, and have had city staff meeting with the MUD representatives on various issues. But they haven’t allowed representatives of the general public to be involved in those discussions, and I think that’s very important, so that you can have sort of a people-to-people discussion of the issues, because city staff is not the same thing—not that the city staff shouldn’t be at the table, but they shouldn’t be the ones that are entirely representing the city viewpoint.
DT: Well said. I see that we’re sort of drawing down to a close, and I was curious if you could just give me some parting words before we run out of tape. We have about a minute left, I think.
MA: You had asked a question I think about the city relationships with the state, etc., and one of the books I read on my vacation was called Not Between Brothers, and it was a sort of a fictionalized history of Texas from 1816 to 1861. And, as we read about the history of Texas and the frontier spirit, what we always come up against is this spirit of independence, and the way this state was developed and settled with that independence and not wanting the private property owner to have to answer to the government or to this, that and the other. And, I’m a Texan born and bred, but,…
[Tape 3 of 3, Side A.]
MA: And, I’m a Texan born and bred, but that frontier spirit is going to have to change a little bit as the state continues to have more an more people. I was very pleased to hear a representative of the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association answer a question to the Legislature this time that, yes, some of his members had been having their water go down because somebody next door was drawing out too much water, so—in terms of the city of Austin and the state of Texas, it’s a case of hubris as far as I’m concerned. Austin is very proud of what it is and its role, and its particular environment. I think the rest of the legislators want to knock us off our seat because of our pride. [Laughs.] And so that’s been difficult because, you know, Amarillo is not the same as Austin and La Mesa is not the same as Austin, and we have a lot to be proud of and I hope we can continue to protect what we have and to be a pride and joy to everyone in Texas.
DT: Well said. Thank you very much.
MA: You’re welcome.
DT: We appreciate your time.
MA: O.K.
End of reel 1012
End of interview with Mary Arnold