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Shudde Fath

LOCATION: Austin, Texas
REEL: 1009
NUMBER OF TAPES: two (audio copies)
TRANSCRIBER: Judy Holloway

Inserted comments refer to the analog audio tape copy of the interview.

[Tape 1 of two.]
DT: This is David Todd, and it is June 3rd, 1997. We are in Austin, Texas, and I am interviewing Shudde Fath about her many contributions to Texas conservation. She worked–as we’ll, I think, find out–in large part in Austin and has done a lot for the Utility for Water Quality, land use and many other things, and thanks for taking the time to talk and remember.
SF: Well, I hope I remember.
DT: [Laughs.] Well, I thought I might start with your parents, and I’m always curious what contribution they might’ve had to somebody’s love of the environment and …
SF: Yeah.
DT: … an interest in that kind of work.
SF: Well, I’m glad you asked about my parents. My joke is that I was raised wrong. They made me work, [laughs], ’cause–’cause they worked so hard. My parents were–my daddy was a family doctor in Bastrop and he practiced almost 40 years and started the first hospital there and–my mother was–got a degree here from U.T. in 19, I think, oh-six, and was awarded a scholarship to Galveston Medical School by a Colonel Brackenridge from San Antonio, without which she could not’ve gone, and her full maintenance for a year at Galveston Medical School–scholarship was $240. But anyway, she met my father down there and he was a year ahead of–a year ahead of her and they fell in love and she dropped out and they married. She finished two years down there and they married in his–Christmas of his senior year. And he’s–they were big civic workers and town boosters and he was real–he was president of the School Board and a big athletics fan and we’re–I’m–there were six children. I’m one of six children and–my mother used her medical background to give his anesthetics during surgery, and then when X-rays came into being, she took a course and learned how to be an X-ray technician and bought her own machine and that was her little business at the hospital. [Laughs.] And, one of my childhood memories is that any time of the day I could be outside playing and I’d look up and Mother would be walking out of the door in her white uniform and I knew she was headed to the hospital to do–she’d had a call to do something. And, I never have remembered how the child-care problem got solved, but I–you know, I–I ‘member she’d tell me–I was the–I was the third child of six and she’d say, well, you know, “Look after the little ones,” or something. [Laughs.] But I don’t know how they handled night calls. Anyway, they both grew up in rural backgrounds. Daddy was from Liberty Hill, up here in Williamson County, and Mother grew up on the banks of the Sabinal River in Uvalde County. And ‘course they–they worked the land, they knew how to live off the land. And, Daddy was a–well, they were both expert growers. Daddy raised all of our vegetables and a lot of fruit all the time we were growing–you know, all his life and Mother did the horticultural. We used to joke about–we had a big–we finally had a house on a big lot that was a third of a block that went all the way through right in downtown Bastrop, across the street from the school, and–and it used to be kind of a joke. They would fuss about where to draw the boundary between the–the food growing and the horticultural–[laughs]–beauty. But, anyway, I heard my mother talking about native plants 60 years before I ever heard the word xeriscape. I mean, she was into native plants and–one thing. Next door to our house during the CCC days, the Civilian Conservation Corps days in Bastrop–that would be in the early ’30’s, it was a New Deal program–and the CCC boys built the Bastrop State Park. And the landscape architect lived–lived in a rented house next door to our home, and Mother learned–says she learned a lot from him. She picked his brain about landscaping and, you know, plants but, you know, they were planted–the–out at the State Park they only used native plants and I’m sure they’re all still there, so …
DT: In the ’30’s.
SF: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
DT: Well, that must’ve been a good ways ahead of their time.
SF: Yeah, I think it was. They were smart people. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, do you remember what your mother’s garden looked like and what sort of species she used?
SF: Well, she just–it’s shrubbery–you know, mostly shrubbery and flowers and bulbs–and Daddy had a–a great big garden. During the Depression–the first money I ever earned, during the Depression and the drought–there was a–you know, there was a big drought in the early–what, in the 1920’s. When I was just a kid, I and my older brother peddled vegetables door to door out of Daddy’s garden. And, you know, Mother–in the morning they’d–we’d pick something or they’d pick something and we’d–they’d sort ’em out in little packages–and these are so many tomatoes and that’s, you know, 15 cents and that’s a quarter or whatever–and we went around town knocking on doors to peddle Daddy’s vegetables.
DT: That’s great.
SF: Entrepreneur. [Laughs.]
DT: Yeah. From the very beginning. Well, …
SF: But people were glad to have ’em because of the drought and, you know, my daddy always–never could understand why poor people didn’t have gardens, you know, their–and raise a lot of their own food. But see, he grew up–they both grew up doing that. But they both grew up in drier, poorer soil, and they just loved and appreciated the Bastrop and good ol’ river–flat, sandy loam and all the water–you know, plenty of water. Daddy served–he was elected Mayor twice. He was, you know, president of the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, and he was a great big football fan. I was going to U.T. football games with him when I was in high school. We’d drive up here–you know, the home games. We’d drive up here and watch football games and I was a rabid football fan. It took–I think–and, well, my husband and I–you know, I followed sport, specially football, all during my school years and after we finished U.T., we still had home–home season–home game season tickets, and I think what happened, after the Russians launched Sputnik something happened to me. It was like sports weren’t that important. We better get on the stick, you know. [Laughs.] Looking back, that’s–you know, that scared the world when the Russians were ahead of us in technology.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about your schooling?
SF: Well, I was–I think there were 18 in my graduating class and I was valedictorian. My–my sport was tennis. I won the county tennis tournament in singles and my partner and I won doubles, but I never got beyond that. I–we’d go to district and we would lose. But–but I did stay–I did stay with tennis during college. I got a B.B.A. degree from U.T. in 1937 with highest honors. I guess I can say that now. I used to be too embarrassed.
DT: Nothing to be ashamed of.
SF: And, I did–I did win some–we did win some intramural titles in tennis–my partner and I, and–and that–you know, that’s as far as women’s sports went then, which was probably a blessing for me.
DT: Well, did you have, during your childhood or in school, any–any mentors or friends who were interested in nature that–that might’ve contributed …
SF: We had a wonderful–we had a wonderful teacher, Esther Anderson, a single lady, and she was–she taught science, and–but a whole lot more, and also Spanish. And after I left home, she–at one time she rented a little house behind–you know, that belonged to my parents, a little–little house–it had been converted into a house during–during World War II when Camp Swift was there. There were as many as 40 to 60,000 soldiers stationed at Camp Swift, which was between Bastrop and Paige, on–you know, on the road to Elgin, during World War II, and–people in Bastrop–they converted anything in the world to housing for families of the soldiers and–and it was–they weren’t gouging. It was all rent-controlled and–but Mother had one Sergeant family that–he took our two-car garage that was on a side street, you know, facing away from the house, and converted it into a home for the–you know, put in the kitchen and the bathroom and everything and lived there. He’s–I think he–he stayed several years and he lived there several years. They were–became family friends, you know, for my parents’ lifetime. And then there was another one–we called it the chicken house but–[laughs]–that was converted into a–you know, one-bedroom thing, and that’s where the science teacher lived. But I had wonderful teachers. You have to remember that back–see, I graduated from high school in ’33, and women at that time had very few career choices. You could be a teacher, or a nurse, or a secretary, or a clerk. And, you know, that’s about all, and–Daddy was president of the School Board or in–on the School Board and president for a long time and I–I don’t know what the division of administrative authority was but I know he helped interview teacher prospects and we had, you know, top graduates out of–I ‘member my Latin–I took two years of Latin in Bastrop High School. [Laughs.] They–they recently reinstituted Latin and they said for the first time, and I wrote the Bastrop paper and I said, “No, it wasn’t the first time.” And I took–I took Algebra, trigonometry, geometry, chemistry, and Latin, and–two years of Latin. And–and that was when we only had 11 years of–you know, I–school is now 12 years but there was only 11 then. But my teachers were just wonderful, and they were top people. I can still see my seventh-grade teacher standing at the blackboard, diagramming sentences. And she made–you know, we learned–I mean, I’m just–I’m a stickler for grammar and I just get appalled at–everybody misuses words these days, and it just …
DT: Whose and who and whom and …
SF: Oh, and my–the one that kills me is myself. [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: Instead of saying, “me,” they say “myself.” But–and they–you know, they get all the pronouns wrong, the wrong–you know, when it’s supposed to be an object instead of the subject or whatever. But anyway, I did–I suffer silently. I call myself a compulsive editor. I–I can write–I can say what I want to writing if–but I do it–it takes me about five or six drafts but I’m a–when I’m reading something somebody else does I–I call myself a compulsive editor because I just keep fixing it, you know. They didn’t do this one the best way. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, was Ms. Anderson a compulsive editor, too, or …
SF: No, she …
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: … but she was a–she–she was into nature and food, nutrition and–you know–‘course we had no chemicals. You know, I was raised–there weren’t any chemicals in agriculture then, and so, you know, I wasn’t exposed to any pesticides and whatever’s–I don’t …
DT: Well, did Ms. Anderson take you on a field trip so …
SF: Yeah. We went on–we went–I wouldn’t call ’em field trips. Like, we’d go to the–she’d take a group to the state park. And–I know after I left home, she came–she had some family in the Rio Grande Valley and I have some photos of–after most of us had left home, well, my mother and Ms. Anderson took a car trip down to the Rio Grande Valley. They just wanted to see the winter garden, you know. And, it was–I had a younger brother and sister that were still at home. And she died too young. I don’t know what happened. I lost track of her, I don’t–after she retired she didn’t live too long, too many years.
DT: Well, I guess shortly after that you moved to Austin? Is that correct?
SF: Well, I came–when I–you know, I graduated and I came to U.T. and I got–you know, I lived at Littlefield dormitory two years and a sorority house three years.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: I actually stay–I went to school five years but the reason–I got my degree in four but I had fallen in love with my future husband, …
DT: Oh.
SF: … and he was in school and I didn’t want to get out in the cold, cruel world. So, I stayed another year and took some–I didn’t get a Master’s but I took some courses.
DT: ***.
SF: I even took cooking, thinking I’d learn how to cook but I–it wasn’t much of a success.
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: I knew I was gonna get married and–but …
DT: Well, I guess your husband was Creekmore Fath.
SF: No, Conrad.
DT: Conrad.
SF: Conrad Fath.
DT: I’m sorry.
SF: They’re brothers, uh-huh.
DT: O.K.
SF: And he was–we were …
DT: Could you tell a little bit about him?
SF: Oh, yeah. I’ll have to give you his–his obituary, which I wrote, but he was a–a real outdoors person. He was a fisherman and a hunter and a–he had a–had an Evinrude Marine dealership, you know, he knew–and he was big in the United States Power Squadron. He learned all about boating safety and education, he believed in education. He was a musician, he was a fencer, he was a singer. You know, he was the most diverse person–and besides that he was a lot of fun. [Laughs.] Had a great sense of humor. He was the kind that his–he had all these wide interests and he’d get interested in–I mean, looking back–he’d get interested in a subject and he would stay and study that subject till he mastered it, you know. And then, a few years later he’d be off on something else. But he–he always–he could–he could do trick casting–you know, trick casting with a rod and reel. He’d put on exhibitions, he’d–he could do the funniest things you ever saw. You know, flick the ashes off your cigarette or bounce a practice lure–you know, one with–a practice plug without hooks and bounce it up–I don’t know, how’d it do? Somebody’d hold a plate–tin plate down here in front of ’em and he’d go over their head and around ’em and come out and bong that plate in front of ’em where he couldn’t even see it.
DT: ***.
SF: I don’t know how he did it all.
DT: Well, he–did he spend a lot of time outdoors?
SF: Oh, yeah. We both did.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: We–I like to swim, and that’s how I got hung up with Barton Springs ’cause–all the time I was in U.T. and then for years thereafter, I’d–every time I got a chance I went swimming at Barton Springs. And I have a dark skin, and ‘course that was in the days before ultra–what is it, the rays that–you know, you’re not supposed to do that. Anyway, I used to proudly get the blackest suntan in town. [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: I worked on it. And, my dermatologist profits from it. About twice a year I have to go to the dermatologist and get something burned off my face, …
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: … or my back or whatever. Don’t do it, young people. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, when …
SF: Anyway, then he was into fishing and he made a fisherman out of me. I’d go with–we had a canoe. He fished out of a canoe. We had lots of canoes, one after another. And I’d go along and paddle for him, you know, just to get the sun and be on the water, and–and he’d–he’d gently–he’d hand me a rod and reel and gently encourage me to–you know, well, cast it out there, and–so anyway, after you catch a few fish you’re hooked, and so I became a pretty good fisherman. I never could catch as many as he could–he did, but I knew how to do it. And I–my–my comment is the difference–it’s–a lot of it, in my view, seriously, is attitude. He expected to catch a fish every time he cast.
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: If–you know, think positive. [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: And I was surprised if I ever got a fish. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, did you have some favorite spots that you would go to?
SF: Oh, we went everywhere. My–you know, mostly–well, just mostly day trips, although we did–we did camp. We didn’t have camping equipment, but we did occasionally spend the night out. This–I guess I shouldn’t even tell this, but I–in today’s world it doesn’t matter but I used to silently laugh to myself about the night I spent the–the night I spent the night with five men, [laughs], …
DT: Ugh!
SF: … because we had–Connie and I’d gone up with our canoe on top of the car, and he had buddies–I guess it was either three or four of ’em–who had a–one of those fold-out camp trailers? And we were just gonna sleep with a tarp off the side of our car and this–the–we were upon Lake Travis. And this terrible storm came up–rain storm and ‘course we crawled in the back of the car, and one of his friends–there’s Ralph Campbell and Taylor Glass and somebody named [Raymond] Picot and I think Walter Guttman. He wrote some stories about them that I need to–that I need to get printed and distributed. Wonderful tales, ’cause they used to play jokes on each other. Anyway, they called–they came over and said–told Connie–said, “Why don’t y’all come over and get in our tent?” What he had was one of these fold-out things and there was a–there was a platform here and then you step down and, see, there were two sleeping over here and two sleeping over here so we put our–quilt or whatever we were sleeping on, down in the walking space, and spent the rest of the night–and this was in the 19–let’s see, we married in ’38. This was in the late ’30’s or early ’40’s, and I was so embarrassed. Taylor Glass was Mayor of Austin, and I said, you know, “The night I slept with the Mayor and five other men.” [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.] Well, said there were–there were a whole group of people who were interested in going out and camping and enjoying the outdoors and …
SF: Yeah, yeah. And I didn’t–my husband made lots of trips with them. They would take–they would do expeditions. They–they would–they did a lot of fishing in Mexico. Tampico, San Blas–San Blas was one of their favorite places, and–some of the lakes closer here. I did fish one time at my–oh, shoot, I can’t remember the name of it–one popular lake. One time we made a trip–let’s see, to Monterrey, and on the way back we stopped at this lake. We were with another couple. This was actually during the end of World War II. But he–he made lots of fishing trips and hunting trips.
DT: And he was–he was pretty active in political life in Austin, wasn’t he and …?
SF: Yeah. We–well, we kind of both are. I worked at Texas Employment Commission for 42 and a half years. [Laughs.] And because–because the money that paid unemployment compensation benefits–the money was–you know, it was taxes from employers but it went up to Washington. Some of it went up to Washington and came back and because of that federal connection, we were under the Hatch Act, the–against political activity, and most of the years I worked it was very severe. They finally relaxed it a little bit where you could–you could put a bumper sticker on your car and you could be a delegate to a precinct convention or a county convention or something but you couldn’t do anything to–try to influence other people or to–certainly not to solicit money or–you know, contributions, anything like that. So, my activity–I was always interested in it but mine was pretty quiet but Connie was the elected Democratic Precinct Chair from our home precinct, Zilker–where we vote at Zilker School, close in southwest. It–well, in fact, it’s right–it adjoins Barton Springs and Barton Creek. And he was the elected precinct–Democratic Precinct judge for either 10 or 12 years, and I always took a day off from work and worked as an election clerk when–when he was doing elections.
XX: [Unidentified]: Hi, can I interrupt you for a second?
SF: Sure.
SF: This is gonna go on a long time. We haven’t gotten very far in my life. [Laughs.]
DT: We’re moving right along, and resuming.
SF: All right.
DT: We were talking about Conrad Fath’s work in politics before.
SF: Yeah. And so–and see, he was a small businessman. He had a marine dealership. First he started out with custom–he built custom fishing rods and–and sold bait. He had an interest in a minnow-raising farm at one time and then he got into–right after World War II, Martin Motors came out, and he was a Martin dealer, and then he switched over to Evinrude, which of course was a bigger plum. The–they decided to let a second Evinrude dealer do business in Austin. The first dealer was–was named Billy Disch, and he was the son of the legendary U.T. baseball coach, Billy Disch. But–and they were friendly competitors. One of ’em was north and one was south.
DT: What were his interests in politics, in this area?
SF: Well, we just were always active, you know, we–we always went to the Precinct Convention. He wanted–I was a delegate to the county convention once and he went once to the state convention. This was back in the Democrat–you know, when everything was so–everybody supposedly was a Democrat, only there were two kinds, you know, [laughs], the conservatives and the progressives, and–they had this terrible thing called the Unit Rule. They didn’t have proportional voting, and if the precinct–I’ve got a paper that we–that–in my files, which are in storage, that my daughter wrote when she was in high school about early Democratic politics, and it was–it was brutal. You had the Unit Rule, and so whichever side won–the conservatives versus us–got all the votes. In other words, they got all the votes to the county convention and from the county to the state and everything. And it was so bad, I–this Eric Mitchell race that just ended? He just doesn’t know how bad it used to be. One time we had a county convention, and there were some blacks from East Austin who were actually threatened with their jobs and their bank notes and things like that if they didn’t go along. I–these–our opponents–we called ’em Shivercrats, their–after Allen Shivers, you know. He finally–you know, he–he supported Eisenhower, I think, during that election, and–anyway, you had to kowtow to the power structure, on economic grounds, and it was true. [Laughs.] So they finally–John Henry Faulk was also in our precinct and he was finally the leader–I’m trying to think–the first County Chair that was gonna let the minority speak. I don’t mean minority race, I mean minority–the people that were in the minority position by voting strength–and they let John Henry make a speech. Everybody knew that his side didn’t have the votes to win the county but they actually let him speak, and this was considered a supreme victory. [Laughs.] ‘Course now we have proportional representation, and, you know, everybody can do their thing, and then ‘course finally the majority wins but you–you send proportional or representative delegates to the county and to the state and to the national, I guess. Connie went one time to the State Convention, in Dallas, and he came home pretty disgusted. That was back under the Unit Rule days, and–at the–he was pretty disgusted. My daddy was active–my parents always voted. I went to a Senate–Paul Sadler’s Taxing Committee hearings. I went early this year in March and shot my–shot off my mouth about something, and–remembered that my daddy was a delegate to the State Convention–now this would be from Bastrop, when–in Fort Worth. It was a infamous convention when they actually locked out the legal Travis County delegates, and Daddy was legal from Bastrop County, but this was when it was Ralph Yarborough versus L.B.J. You know, L.B.J. switched positions. [Laughs.] He always found out where the crowd was going and got around in front of ’em. We’re way off on the subject, aren’t we? [Laughs.]
DT: No, this is all interesting and real valuable and …
SF: But I have–I have a–I’m a paper pack rat and–all these files I have, and I’ve told my daughter, you know, they go either to the Bastrop library or the Austin History Center, but I’ve got all kind of papers about a lot of this stuff.
DT: Well, did any of this political activity lead to interest in environmental things, or was that much earlier?
SF: The environment–we were always–no, what I say about–our environmental problems today are the fault of my generation. We–you know, there weren’t many people here and Connie and I went outdoors every weekend, you know, the weather permitted, doing something, and you were free to go almost anywhere. And he was–he also liked to hunt birds, and back then–I guess I’m ashamed–I ought to be ashamed to say that now but–you know, Russell Lee was one of his buddies, his buddy for 40 years, and they liked to hunt doves, and you could–back in those days, you could go knock on the door at a farmer’s house and ask him if he’d mind if you hunted. See, doves are migratory. They didn’t belong–it’s not like quail, where they’d stay on the land and–and the hunters didn’t abuse the privileges and the hunters brought this–all these restrictions on themselves by, you know, shooting cows and thinking they were deer and leaving the gates open so the cattle got out and–and, you know, leaving messes on the ground and everything. But, anyway, the land in the Barton Creek watershed was nothing but cedar choppers and–and stone masons and bootleggers, very sparsely settled, and it sold for $4 and five–four to $5 an acre. And if my generation had been far-sighted, the city of Austin could’ve floated a bond issue and bought, you know, tons of watershed. And it just never occurred to us that it wasn’t always gonna be this way, …
[Tape 1, Side B.]
SF: … you know, where you could go anywhere and there wasn’t–see, when we were fishing, there wasn’t–when I was fishing actively, there wasn’t any water-skiing. There were hardly any boats on Lake–we fished in Lake Austin a whole lot. You couldn’t do that now unless you got up at four A.M., you know, to beat the jet skis and the water skis and whatever–all they have. And–just–well, we fished a lot at Lake Travis, sometimes at Buchanan. And you–his–one of his complaints was there weren’t enough public docks, there weren’t enough–you know, the Colorado lakes were all these miles and miles of lakes, but there were not too many places where the public had access. It was privately owned land. Well, now that has been corrected to a large extent. You know, the city has bought some–has put in some docks, the L.C.R.A.–and the county has put in some, and the L.C.R.A. has done a good job of giving public access to the water. You know, the people own the water. The people of Texas own the water. But when all the land was privately owned, we couldn’t drive down and dump our canoe off the car and–one of our favorite places to go fishing was 35th Street, you know, right by Laguna Gloria? Thirty-fifth Street went right to the edge of Lake Austin, and there was a little–board–I would guess you’d call ’em, like landscape timbers or something. There was a little wooden edge to the water–to the edge of the water there, and we could drive right up to that, take our canoe off the car and slide it in, and–and go fishing, you know, ten minutes after we left work. [Laughs.] We carried our canoe on top of the car, and we lived in apartments right near the University, and that road is blocked now. You can’t drive to the–out–you can’t drive to the water’s edge at the end of 35th Street, and I don’t know when and how that happened. But that was one of–our favorite place. That was good fishing water all along there. The edges of the–of the lake and you can get up into–what is it, Taylor Slough I think is up in there. And he had a–finally a two-and-a-half horse–it was a two-and-a-half horse motor that he put on a side-mounted bracket on the back of the canoe–that was before you had square-sterned canoes–and he rigged up–he rigged up foot pedals to it. He worked–he was 4-F with asthma. He wasn’t in military service, you know, during the–World War II, because of asthma, but he worked at Bergstrom field during the war. And–[pause]–you know, I guess what I really am is–I think a populist is probably the best definition of what I really am. And the way I got interested in the electric utility–see, I got a B.B.A. Degree, and so I–when Connie had his business–you know, the marine dealership and everything, boats and whatever–I always kept the books and, you know, wrote the checks and did our tax returns and everything. And when–when air-conditioning came in–his store was where Eats Cafe is now, on Barton Springs Road, and that was in–started in 1951. And when air-conditioning came in in the middle ’50’s, businesses–you know, you had to put in air-conditioning to be competitive because people weren’t gonna go in a hot store if there was a cool one, so–and ‘course the first units were big and inefficient and expensive and blah blah blah–and so I was writing the checks. Our utility bills just started going–sky-rocketing, which was–to me sky-rocketing. I can’t remember, probably went from 20 to 50 or something. But, I began another–paying these–writing checks for these high bills and so one time I called the city and I wanted to ask–and I asked about rates. You know, what is this rate? And what are the classes and so forth, and what so offended me–I found out that–that bigger users in town were in something called the industrial class–and it wasn’t industry. It was things like Scarbrough’s department store and the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. It wasn’t what they did, it was just how much they used, and they named ’em the industrial class. And ‘course we were a small business, and the–you know, I said, “Well, Lord, the same wires go by our shop that go on down there, and they pay–get a cheaper rate.” And they even had–way back until the energy crisis they had what they call promotional rates. The cheaper you–the more you used, the cheaper it got. You know, they had declining rate blocks. Well, that got me interested in electric rates, and I got just–I just sort of went off on a tangent, and back then all I could think about was, well, we ought to have a flat rate. It ought to be the same rate for everybody, and that was our big kick for a long time. That was before our–we got sophisticated enough to know about inverted rates, which gives–you know, what we have now in Austin, things that, you know, my people worked on. The first 500 kilowatt/hours are cheaper, for residentials.
DT: So that’s like a lifeline rate.
SF: It’s a lifeline, but we’ve got the best one in the state. And it’s–and if–so if you don’t use–you know, in–in the summer we also have this summer surcharge. The people that use air-conditioning–in other words, if you have high consumption–say, above–about, say, a thousand kilowatt/hours, you get into a–you’re paying higher, and the theory behind–that’s good economic theory. The people that create the summer peak pay for it, in–and, you know, including me, when I use air-conditioning in my home. But anyway–so we started talking–and there’s an ACORN organization. It’s active now and–then it kind of dwindled away but it–back then it was active. ACORN–it’s a national organization, and there was an active legal aid office here, and we got on this kick of electric rates, and it all started from way back. This was in the–the late ’70’s and the early ’80’s, but it all started–with me it all started back from the 1950’s, when I found out that–what I called unfair rates, that if you were big you got a cheaper rate than Connie did at his store. [Laughs.] And we …
DT: Well, can you explain a little bit–I was poking around and found that, in Texas, industry rates are the 37th highest in the U.S., but residential rates are the 22nd highest, so industry gets a much better deal.
SF: Yeah. Right here in Austin, …
DT: Yet there still seems to be this industry pressure for …
SF: Oh, yeah. Well, …
DT: … discounts firmly in Austin. Can you explain some of the politics?
SF: … they’re not–just take it from–take it from me, they’ll never be satisfied.
DT: Oh.
SF: No matter what you–right now, before they did these industrial rate contracts that I’ve opposed and that–that the council passed, you know, in February, I think? Industry here in town–and now industrial really is industrial. They call it “Large Primary Service” but they really are–you know, it’s the high-tech companies, mostly. They were paying four and a half cents a kilowatt/hour on the average and you and I were paying seven and a half cents a kilowatt/hour, so it’s still way out of line. And the only thing–the only thing we’ve–probably accomplished for residentials is getting that inverted block rate, where the first–the lifeline–the first 500, which will supply the–the needs of a–of a typical home without air-conditioning and without an electric water heater. If you have either one of those, it’s gonna get higher. Now I haven’t–I’ve lost more than I’ve won, in the electric utility area, but I console myself–if we hadn’t been fighting it would’ve been worse.
DT: Well, can you tell us a little bit about some of the victories that you think were important and some of the things that were frustrating?
SF: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing–it was probably one of the best political campaigns that ever went on in Austin and nobody knows it. In 1980, we got on this kick for a flat rate. And it was ACORN and–Teresa Reel out of Legal Aid, a man named Jack Jackson out of ACORN, and some more people, and my husband and I and Larry Deuser. Do you know who he is? He’s with Tracor, but he was–he eventually became a city council member and he’s been on the Water and Waste Water Commission, he’s been on the Electric Utility Commission–and Peck Young–Peck Young, the political consultant. And we would meet–that’s when Carole McClellan was Mayor and we knew we did not have the votes on the Council to win, but the–and I wasn’t the brains of this. This was the–some of those other people. But the idea was to make electric rates a political issue, and so in summer and fall of 1980, we met every Sunday. We sat around a little metal table in the ACORN office on West Mary in south Austin, and they plotted things. And we would have–they would have press conferences, and we’d–we finally got a public hearing under the McClellan council. It was in the fall of ’80, and I took two weeks vacation–late summer, early fall. And we got–because of the Electric Utility Commission, we–we asked for these different studies by the staff. We had Proposal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 A, B, and C, and things like that–and finally the one that we liked was Proposal 7. And I can’t now tell you what it was, but it was the most–we thought it was the most fair rate, and so we began this–to develop a groundswell for Proposal 7. and we’d have press conferences and finally we had this big public hearing, and I got–I think it was sixty-something organizations to endorse Proposal 7, and my husband was Chair. We called ourselves the RATERS Coalition. RATERS means Reform Austin’s Terrible Electric Rate Structure. And this RATERS Coalition got endorsements–I’ve got all these papers in my file but I think it was 60–50 or 60 something organizations, and my husband was Chair of the RATERS Coalition. He was a good speaker and had a sense of humor and a lot of presence and he never got rattled and he didn’t get nervous, you know. And so they had this big public hearing and they even hired buses to bring in people from east Austin and the Council chambers were filled to the brim, and all of these people were speaking and we knew we were gonna lose. When they voted, we knew we were gonna lose, four to three. And, so finally it was Connie’s turn to speak, and he got up and was telling–he was reading the names, one by one, of all these organizations that had endorsed Proposal 7, and every time he read a name, everybody would clap and holler, and McClellan was just having a hissy fit and–couldn’t do anything about it and–you know, it was a show ’cause we knew we were gonna lose when they voted. But the crowd was on our side, and one of my favorite stories–Frank McBee–do you know who he is? He was one of the founders of Tracor, and he’s a native Austinite. His daddy was Justice of Peace south of the river. They–we live on Bluebonnet, and they used to live a block south of us and he was a big boater–a sailboater, and he was a friend of Connie’s. He would drop in just–Connie always kept a pot of coffee going at the shop, and if the football games were on he’d have a TV on and so he had these drop-in friends, and Frank would drop by there and they’d talk boating or whatever, and–so they were not close friends but friend friends, and–long-time friends and neighbors. And Frank McBee was head–I think he was head but he was on AARO, which is that big–it’s an existing corporation in–not–organization in Austin, Austin Area Research Organization. It’s the umbrella group for the business community here in Austin. Always the publisher of the American-Statesman’s on it, the bankers and so forth, and Frank McBee was on it because of Tracor. And he was at this public hearing, and see, they were speaking–they were all speaking, too, and the business community was against Proposal 7 and the people were for it. And Connie said–you know, the labyrinth at City Hall, all those little–you go down those corridors and you wind around–where the Council is now, and after Connie’s speech–and I guess they didn’t enforce the Three-Minute Rule efficiently then because–like I said, Connie read all of these names and there was always this applause. And Connie said after that, he was walking down this hall and he came face to face with Frank McBee and Frank looked at him and he said, “I wish to hell you’d stick to fishin’.”
DT: [Laughs.] Well, …
SF: [Laughs.] And–but anyway, what happened, we had another organization going called the River City Coordinating Council that met at our house once a month, and it was representatives from organizations in–in all different areas–energy, social services, growth, you know, plan–development–real active for several years, and–for the spring Council elections in spring of ’81, all the candidates that endorsed Proposal 7 won, except we didn’t defeat Carole McClellan. She beat Bob Binder. But we elected six out of seven Council members in the spring of ’81, one of whom was Larry Deuser, one of whom was Roger Duncan, and John–yeah, Roger Duncan used to be on the Council. John Trevinio was, I believe, the first Hispanic–you know, the so-called gentleman’s agreement which we never were any part of. [Laughs.] And–but anyway, he and Dr. Charles Urdy both endorsed Proposal 7. And let’s see, who would the other one have been? There was somebody else. Anyway, that was–and I remember one time, during this–1980’s and early ’81 before the Council election when we were still trying to build Proposal 7 as an issue–my cousin is married to an economics–who was then an economics professor at U.T., Dr. Forest Hill. He’s retired now, and they’re both still here. But, we got him involved in this Proposal 7 on the grounds of economic theory and he got two colleagues involved, and they had–the three economics professors had a press conference supporting Proposal 7. And I remember going to–I was–we were sitting at the press conference and after it was over–these young reporters were there, and one of ’em said, “Gosh, even the U.T. professors are endorsing it,” and nobody ever knew that all of this came out of that little group that sat around a table at the ACORN office on Sunday afternoons. [Laughs.] It was–to my knowledge is the best–except for SOS, it was the best campaign that–that I was ever involved in in Austin. And nobody ever knew where it–where it all came from. See, Peck Young–you know, he’s kind of–he’s controversial now but he was–he was on the Electric Utility Commission with me and was Chair of it and we–we mostly agreed. They’ve kind of gone off into–you know, he and–it’s Emory and Young Political Consultants. And–well, he worked for–who, Manny Zuniga this last election, but he–they got the–he came on board late. I’m glad–he’s good. I’m glad he didn’t come on board early. But Peck was good on–on building political awareness and–you know, we had smart people that were good on the technicals–technicalities of it. They even one time–Betty Himmelblau was on the Council, and try to–to try to divert us, they–she proposed some special rates for senior citizens. And I remember we had a press conference–I’ve got the thing. It was–back then we didn’t know how to do sound bites and we’d have too many lines–too many single-spaced lines on too much pages but we just demolished her theory and I remember–we were having this press conference in one of the rooms at City Hall, and her aide was standing in the door shaking her head at us, you know. [Laughs.] Anyway, we had fun.
DT: Well, can you talk a little bit about the–this whole issue of …
SF: Conservation?
DT: … equity and …
SF: Well, it …
DT: … and efficiency because it seems like …
SF: Yeah.
DT: … there’s a big debate right now between how do you–you know, protect the senior citizens or …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … protect the low income or invest in low-income weatherization or–or …
SF: When we’ve done a …
DT: … how do you provide the Lifeline rates and …
SF: Yeah.
DT: … then on the other hand, I guess there’re all the folks who’re pushing for efficiency and market solutions.
SF: Yeah. And I must–I must admit that–that this last year–the last time we voted on rates, Neal Kocurek, who’s my–he and I both on–on the Electric Utility Commission since the beginning. He was pro-nuke, I was anti-nuke. He was against Proposal 7 and I was for it and everything. And this last time, he voted–much to my surprise, he voted for that inverted rate. And then I found out later–well, he was smarter than I was because they have watered it down to where it’s not–it’s not as good as it used to be. And they did it by putting in–they’ve–there’s a customer charge on your bill that used to be, I think, $3 and then it went to four and now it’s up to six. And when they increased the customer charge, which you have to pay regardless of whether you have any consumption, it makes–it makes those average cents per kilowatt/hour in that first block higher.
DT: Oh, I see.
SF: And it’s just–it’s just not as good as it used to be. And it–the staff–and it kind of slipped by me. You know, we fought–Merle Moden was my best friend on the Electric Utility Commission. He could do costs of service studies on his own computer. I can only talk about–but we opposed increasing the customer charge but we lost. And so, I was so shocked when Neal voted with us, all–you know, a unanimous vote in favor of the inverted rate block and I–when I looked at the schedules later, I saw why it’s not as good as it used to be, [laughs], see. And this thing about the industrials, you know–they just never quit. You–you can’t give them enough to–for them to ever say, “We’re O.K.” I was opposed to these long-term contracts, you know, that they’ve just done. And, you know, what–all we ever–all we ever said was, “Wait until the Legislature goes home and find out whether they did anything about deregulation, and then you’ll know more what you’re talking about.” You know, this–they’re making a long-term commitment but they’re getting a lower rate. So–and, you know, I opposed my friend, Jackie Goodman, on that. She was a swing vote, and what I tell people is that six years from now–about six years from now, people will know which one of us was right, ’cause you don’t–you don’t know what’s gonna happen. The Federals could deregulate it–and this bill they finally–that finally died in the Legislature wasn’t gonna hurt Austin. It exempted municipally owned utilities. The big issue in utility deregulation is what are they gonna do about stranded investment. And stranded investment is–is unpaid bond debt for things–mostly generators, mostly generation plants–that are no longer efficient because, you know, there’s–natural gas is not as high as everybody thought it was gonna be, and in Austin, our whole stranded investment is a big part of the South Texas Nuclear Project. And if this–and that bill that died even said that the investor-owned utilities could recover their stranded investment. So, see, what that would mean, if that ever becomes law and–say, I.B.M. or Texas Instruments or Motorola or Advanced Micro Devices–decided to leave our system, they would have to pay their share of–well, however they define stranded investment. It has to be defined, and then it has to be granted, you know, in whole or in part. And so it’s–nobody knows what’s gonna–what the raw–the utility’s doing a good job now. They’ve–they’ve hired this consultant, and that’s–I have to admit to making errors sometimes. [Laughs.] We all do. But I voted against that Metzler contract, thinking that we can be more efficient our–do it ourselves by hiring a facilitator and, you know, let the employees themselves have a voice in–in how–how they shape up, and just guarantee that none of ’em will lose out but–you know, if they–and my favorite was a Wall Street Journal article that–some business that–they guaranteed nobody would lose their job. And this woman worked out a deal where she eliminated her job, and so they gave her another one and she worked out a process to eliminate that job, so they promoted her into management, and I thought, the utility could do that. I now believe–and I’ve heard Beverly Griffith say the same thing–as expensive as this Metzler contract is, I think it was necessary. I voted against it, the Council voted for it and they were right. They’re doing–they’re good and they’re–they’re going in and they’re–it’s gonna be a two-year contract. They haven’t voted a second year but–they not only design the ideas but they stay for the implementation. And, like, I’ve heard ’em talk about they’re gonna do customer service better, the billing better. The purchasing deal–they’ve reduced it down from–I don’t know, 60 days to a 30-day process and so forth. And so the–you tell the …
DT: This is where the city is farming out some of their retailing services?
SF: They’ve hired these consultants to–and by the way, some of ’em are–I think they’re all living here in this building. [Laughs.] They’re from Chicago.
DT: I see.
SF: And they’re–they come down here–they’re gonna shape up the utility competitively in all areas–from generation to billing to, you know, purchasing to whatever–and I think they’re doing a good job. And I thought it was gonna be highly political and I was wrong about that, so …
DT: Well, can we go back a ways? You mentioned the South Texas Nuclear Project as …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … being one of the–the large stranded costs for Austin.
SF: That’s exactly …
DT: Can you tell a little bit about the story of how Austin got involved in that and …
SF: Well, now, you know, I–one of my favorite sayings when–I want to say something like “I told you so.” If the city of Austin had listened–if the voters of Austin had listened to people like my husband and myself–and me, …
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: … and-and our little group, this city would be–what is it, two billion or something better off, because, see, we–the anti-nukes won the first election. In the early years–let’s see, it started in, what, ’70–in the ’70’s. It started when the OPEC oil embargo came on in the early seven–no, first it started with Oscar Wyatt abrogating his natural gas contract with the city of Austin, and he just kept charging us more. He’d promised to sell it for 18 cents for X number of years and he just said, “King’s X, I’m not gonna do it.” And so he–the price just kept going up and up and up. And then, along about that time, the OPEC oil embargo hit, when cars were lined up at filling stations trying to get a tank of gas, and so they called this election on getting in the nuke, and–and it barely lost. And the–probably the biggest reason it lost was ’cause L.C.R.A. dropped out of being a partner about a week before. They decided it was gonna be too long and too costly, mainly too long, to build. And so, then, I guess about a year later they brought it back up for a vote, and–I was wrong. They brought it back up right after the OPEC Oil Embargo. And, you know, they were talking about, “Oh, we gotta have fuel diversity,” and blah blah blah and “It’ll be too cheap to meter,” and “It’s only $160 million,” and–[laughs]–and it just barely passed. Just by a few–you know, a small percent, and then we had, I think, a couple of elections trying to get authorization to sell. Roger Duncan led–he was a staffer for Margret Hofmann before he became our City Council member, and he led one of these election efforts trying to vote to sell our interest, and it failed, and we finally won the election–that 1981 watershed City Council election I was talking about? The first thing they did–I think–the first two things they did–and I can’t remember which was first and second–they–instituted Proposal 7 electric rates, and then they called another election to authorize the sale of the nuke. And that was a–well, that was probably one of the best political campaigns. I wasn’t big-time involved in it but–who’s the guy that raises money for Bruce Todd and Kirk Watson? Well, anyway, that’s the first time I met him. He was anti-nuke. I’ll think of his name in a minute [Alfred Stanley]. Anyway, he headed up this thing and we raised a–he raised a big 60-something thousand dollars, which was a lot of money in 1981, to put on this campaign to authorize sale of the nuke. And–Connie always took the Wall Street Journal and I still take it and–the funny thing is the first signs of anti-nuke on economic grounds were in the Wall Street Journal, and they used some of my clippings. We had a good PR guy named Gary Witt, who was also head of that River City Coordinating Council, and he used some of my Wall Street Journal clippings to get the voters to vote to sell the nuke. Well, of course what happened was that we got–finally got authorization to sell, in the–probably October of–sometime of ’81, late ’81–and by that time nobody wanted to buy it. [Laughs.] If we had won an election–there was another earlier election. It was just a few days after the Three Mile Island thing, and if we had won that, I think we could have sold it. I think Houston might’ve bought us out to shut us …
[Tape 2 of two, Side A.]
SF: … I think Houston might’ve bought us out to shut us up. That–of course that’s my opinion, and we lost that election because of my dear friend, Carole McClellan, you know, who’s now Rylander. She got on TV–and I even have a copy of the ad. The–“I’m a mother,” and–you know, the–but her ad says, “The only way–I repeat, the only way you’ll have cheaper electric rates is to vote to stay in the South Texas Nuclear Project,” and they just barely won that election in ’79. And, ‘course now, at least 40 cents out of every dollar you pay on an electric bill is due to the South Texas Nuclear Project, even though it’s a much smaller percentage of our total generating capacity. So this is one of those big “I told you so’s.” [Laughs.] “You should’ve listened.” But, living–see, I’m 81 years old, and the–if you live as long as I do, you see–you see where fringe or minority groups surface with an idea that loses, and–but as it gradually gets more into the public approval area, it gets adopted by the–the group that’s in power because they want to stay in power. And that’s things like–I guess Social Security is one of the big ones, you know, and–you know, and probably Medicare and–I don’t know, different–you know, now Proposal 7 even, although like I say, they’ve watered it down. But–so you should–people that are–have minority opinions, you know, I–I say power to ’em and keep it up, because that’s how you progress.
DT: Tell me something about some of the other alternative fuel sources that I think would have been promoted and–pretty successfully in Austin, some of the …
SF: Yeah. We–at …
DT: … waste-to-energy and solar and …
SF: Well, not waste-to-energy. I–I–that’s another one of my mistakes. I voted–I supported that and it failed and I’m glad it failed, because those plants are not proving to be economical. And, you know, boy, we talked–we beat that around for several years, and on paper it looked so good, but it is not good, it’s not a good thing. I’ll take my hats off to the people that beat us on it. You know, they were talking about–was it PCB’s? Not that, it was something else. What’s the thing that comes out of the smoke?
DT: Furans and dioxins?
SF: Dioxins. Yeah. And they were right and I was wrong. But–no, we nearly got into that, and it would’ve been a disaster.
DT: What about the solar program ***?
SF: Well, we have a good solar program, but it’s–you know, it’s too small. Except last–last night at our Electric Utility Commission, there’s a–there’s a new solar program coming on by the city. They’ve got a grant–it’s small. But what they’re gonna do, they’re gonna build–eventually build 10 solar panels on different–you know, different–scattered around town. Now remember, the kilowatts and the dollars are small. But it’s gonna be–they got a grant from the Department of Energy, 700 and something thousand dollars, and they’re gonna raise the rest of the money, a couple of million, by volunteers who will let $7 be added to their monthly electric bill to pay their share of one–of these ten solar–it’s photovoltaics. It’s–you know, it’s not solar. It’s photovoltaics. And–well, that’s solar, too, but–and they say that they need, I don’t know, 200 or something–no, let’s see, how many do they need? Anyway, they already have 50 people that have told ’em, “You–sure, you put $7 on my monthly electric bill,” and your bill won’t go down. That–you’re paying a $7 surcharge but you’re helping pay for part of these solar panels that’re gonna be scattered around town that’ll just go into our grid and it’ll–you know, that’ll be that much so-called free electricity ’cause there’s–you know, there’s no energy charge. The sun’s free. But that–so that’s a small–and we also have an interest in some wind generators in–with L.C.R.A. in west Texas, and what else do we have? I guess our conservation programs are the things we can be proudest of because, you know, we’re way in the forefront of that, and I don’t know how much of that’s gonna survive in this coming era of competition. Roger Duncan is in charge of that now, you know, the former City Council member. He’s head of that–used to be E.C.S.D., and now it’s–has–Planning. Now it’s Planning and E.C.S.D. But anyway, working with Metzler, they’re gonna try to make–they’re gonna try to make that where it’s loans–let’s see, what do they call it? Shared savings. They go into a business and do energy conservation measures, and–the business will have lower future bills, and part of that lower bill becomes a repayment to the city, and so it’ll end up being kind of a revolving–instead of, you know, 15 million or so just grants every year, which we may not can afford to do with competition, who knows? I know–I know I’ve got some good friends that think we–that we must continue it and I don’t know how the finances are gonna work out. But if they can get into this shared savings where–and there–there are–now today there are private businesses that do that in the business world. You know, they’ll make a contract with a company to–to finance these energy conservation measures and then, it–they get repaid out of shared savings.
DT: Well, what do you think of the sharing, through public investments in private equipment and service, and whereas you’re …
SF: Well, that’s kind of the …
DT: … taking public dollars and in a–in a sense investing in a private corporation?
SF: Well, that’s–see, that’s what we’ve essentially been doing …
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: … in these past years. We’ve been giving rebates to people for, you know, installing higher-efficiency things and, you know, more lighting. Believe it or not, in the business world, lighting is one of the big areas where you can save because lights produce heat, and the–and then you have to have air-conditioning to overcome that heat. And so if they can put in efficient lighting, and, you know, higher-efficiency air conditioners and everything, they can save a lot of money. But, the business world, it–you know, it’s–that’s another one of those things where minority people have to promote it. The business world is–has become a whole lot more aware of that just on economic grounds, that–you know, they can afford to invest in something and save money on utility bills from here on.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: So a lot of ’em–a lot of ’em are doing it more voluntarily, on economic grounds.
DT: Well, looking down the road, whether it’s solar energy or wind energy or conservation investments, how do you think the city of Austin’s gonna manage to promote these green sources of power when, from what I’ve heard, there’s about 30% surplus power in the state grid?
SF: Um-hmm. Um-hmm. It’s gonna be hard. And, you know, what they hope–the people that are working on that are people like Public Citizen’s Tom Smith, and Jim Marston with the Environmental Defense Fund, and what’s his buddy’s name that used to be on the PUC?
DT: Karl? Karl Robago?
SF: Yeah, Karl Robago. The saving way to do that was–would be for it to be mandated in the legislation, whatever legislation brings about deregulation. That’s the most hopeful way to do it, if–legislatively–legally they’re mandated to do some certain amount. And it–you know, I hope that’s the way it is because there’s a long-term payback on it. And ‘course even photovoltaics–they’re getting more competitive all the time, and the more people that buy ’em–you know, like these ten things I talked about the city’s gonna be putting in? The more people that buy ’em, well, the cheaper it’ll–they’ll finally get because of mass production–you know, economies of scale. So I think the best hope is to include it in the legislation and that’s not gonna be easy, ’cause you know what kind of lobby you’re up against. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, speaking of lobbies, I’m–I guess Austin has one of the smaller utilities in the state, and I’m curious how you see Austin’s niche being played out, where I think it’s the–the three largest utilities control about three-quarters of the power …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … in the state. Is there a niche for a smaller utility?
SF: My–my hope and prayer is that we can remain publicly owned. I wouldn’t object to a partnership with, you know, other publicly owned–we–and I’ve written about this and–I probably should’ve brought it. We enjoy tax exemptions that are just incredible, and I should give you a paper that I just recently wrote. Robena Jackson of the Chamber of Commerce–they’re doing an issues paper on the electric utility, and the Electric Utility Department is doing an issues paper. And we’re–we’re going out into–talking to organizations about various options, but here’s what-all we don’t have to pay, as publicly owned: we don’t have to pay sales taxes, federal income taxes, state franchise taxes, local gross receipts taxes which are about–you know, the phone company and the gas company pays the city. There’s a state gross receipts tax that I think helps finance PUC, I’m kind of unclear about that. As I said, federal income taxes–and then our bonds are tax-exempt municipal bonds and we pay lower interest rates–and I think I’ve left out something. But, what I say–you know, when the Mayor was trying to put out RFP-I’m talking about Mayor Todd, [laughs], not the Mayor-elect – put out the RFPs last year to–to get proposals to sell? I just don’t think they realized the advantages in–but–of our tax exemptions, and what I say is–‘course they’re worried about the general fund transfer. You know, the utility’s gonna have to cut it down, and taxes may go up or our government services go down. But, if somebody that was wanting to buy us–if they paid enough money to pay off all our utility debt and then set up this great big trust fund from which–the revenues from which would replace the general fund transfer–if they–if we sold it for enough money, I think the city of Austin could come out all right financially. But see, my bottom line is, whoever buys us–I’m talking about investor-owned utilities–has to charge rates high enough to pay all those taxes that Austin doesn’t–doesn’t now pay. And I just don’t think we’re–you know, we may’ve been inefficient but we really have a well-run utility. And it may’ve been inefficient to some extent–maybe two layers of management–and this Metzler consultant is gonna take care of, I think, nearly all of that. And so, we got a well-run, publicly-owned utility with–that enjoys all these tax exemptions, and we should be able to compete against anybody. Now I don’t think we’ll ever build another generator–another power plant, because, with the new technologies–you know, the–what do they call it where they produce industrial heat and …
DT: Co-generation?
SF: Yeah, co-generation. There–there’s a lot of co-generation on the Gulf, especially–the Gulf Coast and the power’s available–and then these new gas plants. What do they call ’em, combined cycle? Something.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: These are more efficient natural gas plants, and–I think any time we begin to need more power than we have, we can–we can buy power. We can buy electricity from general–independent power producers. We’re not gonna have to build another power plant.
DT: Well, mentioning all these–the co-generators and the big investor-owned utilities, and I guess there are other independent …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … producers and large consumers and–where do you think the citizens fit into this whole …
SF: Well, …
DT: … play, especially once the regulators become less important in the market? And so, …
SF: Yeah. Well, to me, we have to become preachers. We have to educate the people of Austin on the benefits of supporting our local utility, and we have not done that job at all, and that’s part of what these efforts are. The Chamber of Commerce is studying it, but the electric utility–I’m on a subcommittee–we’ve been working on our materials. I know we’re–and actually–Jim O’Connell and I actually appeared before the–[pause]–Austin Neighborhoods Council last week to lay out–not with an advocacy air but the pros and cons of different kind of ownership and–you know, public or–you can sell it, you can partner with another publicly owned utility. You can have–in governance, we can have a partial powers governing board like San Antonio has or we can go to the Legislature and try to get permission to have a totally independent governing board. You know, a lot of people think that the City Council has so many things on its plate, with all the different issues they have to deal with, that they’re not able to give enough attention to the electric utility. And I–I tend to agree with that, even though some of my friends on the Council don’t agree with it, because, oh–see, I’ve been on the Electric Utility Commission since 1977, and there are high-profile times, where the Council–their attention is high-profile, devoted to, you know, say, a rate change, or a bond election on–back when we used to have bond elections on the nuke and–and other electric utility revenue bonds. And–and like this industrial electric rate that was high-profile–see, when it’s a high-profile issue, they pay big attention to that, but what I want is something that can get in there more on a day-to-day basis, like a–more like a–investor-owned utility–I mean, an investor-owned corporation board. And, see, the Electric Utility Commission that I’m on, we’re strictly advisory. We don’t have any sovereign powers, and all we get is–when the Department proposes something to the Council, it goes through us on the way, and we can just make a recommendation. And what I think they need is to get an outside group–kind of like the Electric Utility Commission but probably broader based with different requirements of different backgrounds–you know, get some university people involved. That’s one of the reasons I was so thrilled about Bill Spelman winning, because all my years, I’ve thought that the city of Austin doesn’t get the benefit of the knowledge that’s out at U.T., because it’s kind of like a–two separate domains and it doesn’t–the twain don’t meet very often. And–but anyway, if we had an independent board that got involved with the utility prior to their staff proposals–in other words, into their decision-making process–and that’ll probably never happen. But I–that’s what I think would help, and send–the only kind of board we can have now is the–that existing state law allows, something like San Antonio has–they call it a partial powers board. They cannot do rates or debt or eminent domain but they do all the rest of it. And if we wanted a truly independent board–and see, the bottom line is, who’s gonna select those people and who’re they gonna be, and if it turns out to be just a bunch of industrial–you know, pro-industrial customers, it would be terrible. And the little the Electric Utility Commission has done all these years–you know, we’ve at least served to air some issues before the Council gets to vote on ’em. So–I don’t know what I think about that, and it–like I keep saying, it depends on who the people are.
DT: Well, I guess it’s hard to say and it’s things yet to come. But …
SF: Yeah.
DT: I was wondering if we could look back just briefly–I had two questions about how we got to this point. One has to do with the whole legacy of electric co-ops–the rural co-ops and L.B.J.’s contribution, …
SF: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.
DT: … and why does Austin have a municipally owned utility?
SF: it’s …
DT: And, you know, what is this–is there some populist sort of ground to that or …
SF: No, I don’t think so. The utility celebrated its hundredth anniversary–I believe it was last year. IT was founded in the late 1890’s, 1896 or somewhere along in there–really by default, because this town was so small that no utility, you know, wanted to–they didn’t–they didn’t think they could make any money off of serving it, and so the city–I don’t know who the people were. But the city forefathers did it themselves, and ‘course they were producing hydroelectricity, you know. We had a dam on Lake Austin, and then the powerhouse was down there. So–Walter Richter’s the one that knows a lot about the rural electric co-ops, because that was an L.B.J. program, and ‘course I’m old enough–I remember when you’d go visit my grandma–my grandparents on the Sabinal River in–11 miles out from Sabinal in Uvalde County. You know, they had oil lamps–I mean, they had lamps at night–there wasn’t any electricity. So I don’t know who was smart enough–but I think Austin, on the whole, has had progressive civic leaders apparently forever. I don’t know, I mean, it ebbs and flows, obviously, but–that they–they were–and ‘course the first thing–the main thing back then was for lighting. You know, they didn’t have–I guess they had someone–eventually–I don’t know when electric motors started but mainly it was for lighting homes and the streets and everything. Well, you know, our moonlight towers came from that.
DT: I had a question about things–less on the municipal level and also more on the state level. I read once that Texas was the last state to create a Public Utility Commission, in 1975, …
SF: Um-hmm. That’s right.
DT: … and I’m wondering if you know some of the history of why things took so long to happen here.
SF: Well, the big boys didn’t want a PUC. And once they got one–and I can’t keep up with the ebbs and flows on the state level, but once they got one, they’ve worked real hard to be sure they dominated it through appointments. But, you know, it–it is better. We do have some general laws that protect the public. I don’t–the thing that troubles me about what I call the big boys in the business community–it’s like these industrial electric rate payers. They’ve been paying four and a half cents and you and I’ve been paying seven and a half and that’s not good enough. And so they want these long-term contracts at a discounted rate, which will cost the city about $21 million loss of revenue over the years that it’s in effect and I can’t remember exactly when it–when it ends. And it–it worries me that there’re so many–that apparently the majority of the people never think they have enough. [Laughs.] They’re not satisfied. Don’t stop to–in the–what is it, stop and smell the roses?
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: It becomes a game–you know, acquiring wealth.
DT: Well, …
SF: But they don’t have much social conscience, and the social conscience has to come from legislation. And that’s–you know, that’s why you hope that some progressive legislation happens every once in a while at any level–city, state, county, national. But …
DT: But you’ve made an effort to inject a little social conscience over the years, …
SF: [Laughs.]
DT: … from the River City Coordinating Council.
SF: Yeah. That thing kind of …
DT: Uh-huh.
SF: … dwindled away. That’s so funny. You see thing–we were–we were kind of a powerhouse. We’d–we–the people that met–and I’ve got a folder on that–they couldn’t commit their organization. It was a–basically a communication vehicle but we would come together and have speakers and talk about our different areas and it was so they could take messages–they could take information back to their organization. And I don’t know, there were–there was a whole page full of organizations that sent representatives, and we took what we called straw votes, which didn’t mind an organization. But Gary Witt–this is back, you know, in those ’81 and so forth days. Gary Witt was so good–he doesn’t live in Austin anymore and that was a big loss. He was a Ph.D. in some kind of communications and he was connected with A.C.C., I think. But he knew–he had a way of going down–we’d take a straw vote on some hot issue, and he had a way of going down and letting our Council members know what the RC–the RC3, we called it–RC3, River City Coordinating Council–how they had voted, and it–it had some influence. We actually held a bond issue hostage one time. Capital recovery fees? Way back before I ever got involved in local politics–way back, the city used to pay developers to put in infrastructure. They–what did they call it? Refunding bonds or something–and they finally quit doing that. But we were always providing utility infrastructure free, and so, what we were saying is growth ought to at least partially pay for itself, and so we were advocating capital recovery fees. And they were having–this was back in the early ’80’s. There was gonna be a bond issue, something about water and wastewater, and Gary Witt put out the word that none of us were gonna vote for it unless they’ve–unless they instituted capital recovery fees, and they did. Now I think they’ve been dwindled down to some extent since then. [Laughs.] And we even had–in the utility area we had hookup fees that were–they were not–that’s all right. And, we’ve had to abandon those because of forthcoming competition because no other utility has–we–they just abandoned those early this year, and as much as I worked to get ’em passed, I have to agree that–that we–you know. We’ve got Texas utilities and the co-ops and everything surrounding us, and if somebody’s gonna build in a place where there’s–electricity competition is allowed, they’re not gonna take it from somebody that says you gotta pay $400 for a–to get a meter, you know, when the others would put it up free. So–and my–one of my favorite stories about subsidizing growth–when Connie and I first married in 1938 we lived in a garage apartment, and–I think I’m right about this–our total utility bills were about $12 a month. That was water, wastewater–well, there wasn’t a wastewater charge. It was water, gas, and–and telephone. I think the telephone was about two and a half. So, you know, if we were paying $12 and a half–$12.50 or something on the average in 1938 and ’39 and ’40, and now our bills are, you know, just through the roof. How much growth have we subsidized, beyond inflation?
DT: Well, speaking of growth and its effect on Austin, can you talk a little bit about the role of developers in city government here?
SF: Yeah. What’s the word, nefarious? [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: They’re some more of these selfish people, and–I’m not a no-growther. I mean, I know we’re gonna have to have growth, but we should have responsible growth, you know, with environmental–I mean, now they say, “Oh, we can build anywhere because technology’ll let us protect the water quality,” and, you know, that’s hogwash. I think even the Texas Highway Department–I don’t know the details, but I’ve heard about it at Save Barton Creek Association. They–they’ve built different kind of detention ponds and so forth up and down the roads here in Austin, and I think they all admit they don’t work. And is–have you ever heard anything–something like that, that they–they don’t know how to build anything that works. And yet, you hear people like–well, Eric Mitchell is one, that–“You can build anything anywhere, and we have the technology to prevent pollution,” and that’s just not true, as far as I’ve heard.
DT: I’ve also seen over recent years that it’s becoming–more complicated to be an environmentalist and there are environmentalists of different stripes, …
SF: Oh, yeah, yeah.
DT: … and I’m curious if you can comment a little bit about some of the painful schisms between environmentalists–for example, the one–I guess a number of years ago, ’91 I think it was, between Jackie Goodman and Mark Tschurr.
SF: Yeah, that was–that was sad. That was–I don’t know that that was so much on an environment–‘course I’m sure Mark Tschurr, being coached by Helen Ballew and Bill Bunch, probably would’ve been a more purist environmentalist. But my part in that was Jackie was so far ahead, and she’d been endorsed by Jim Steed, who was the second runner. My–my involvement was based on the grounds that she was almost guaranteed to win, and why go through this expensive campaign, splitting the environmental community? In other words, if–if Mark Tschurr had done a Ronnie Reynolds, it would’ve been a benevolent thing for the environmentalists. And–‘course I know Jackie didn’t–you know, she’s voted some–she’s cast some votes that, you know, we didn’t agree with, environmentally, on developments and everything. But then on the other hand–now I don’t even know Mark Tschurr when I see him. I guess he’s still around but he’s–to my knowledge, he’s not involved in local issues, is he?
DT: He moved out of state.
SF: Oh, I didn’t know that.
DT: Yeah.
SF: What–when did he leave?
DT: Oh, about nine months ago?
SF: I didn’t know that.
DT: Yeah.
SF: But you know, he was a–he had wonderful TV commercials in that race, and–very attractive. But I never had seen him at City Council before that, and I hadn’t seen him–didn’t see him afterwards, so I–I know he would’ve been a good Council member ’cause he had the advisors that would’ve, you know, educated him on …
[Tape 2, Side B.]
SF: … ’cause he had the advisers that would’ve, you know, educated him on the issues. And, …
DT: Well, …
SF: … it was one of those old things. Jackie had the–you–the term is, she’s paid her dues? Jackie had paid her dues through voluntary work in different neighborhood and environmental organizations. And–‘course I think Mary Arnold paid her dues, too, and she got beat. But it wasn’t on account of–it was on account of Prop 22.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: Just think, if she’d won that, we wouldn’t’ve had Ronnie Reynolds for what, four years?
DT: Well, speaking of these campaigns, do you have any thoughts about city campaign finances and how …
SF: Oh, yeah.
DT: … those are run and how they should be run?
SF: It’s–it’s terrible. You know, we–this thing about single-member districts, I’ve–I laughed about that. My people–my kind of people have supported single-member districts forever, to–for one thing, to reduce the cost of a campaign, and to get it more back to grassroots, and it was always opposed by the business community, and I–I even left a message on Susan Richards’ phone–answering machine yesterday. You know, she’s–editorializes about–you know who I’m talking about? And I said–I said, “My files’re in storage, but go back and look. The paper is now saying they’re in favor of single-member districts.” We’ve had at least four elections on that issue and we’ve always lost big-time and the paper editorialized against it–I think every time, and it’s possible I’m wrong about the last election but I don’t think I am. And, you know, they–we all gripe about the paper but they never admit they changed their mind or they made an error. [Laughs.] But see, what has happened–and I heard one of the–our modern political consultants say that–see, back in the early days we were for single-member districts–one reason, we couldn’t beat the money on a city-wide basis. Now I think our former opponents are for single-member districts, ’cause they can’t beat our person power on a city-wide basis. You know, we can turn–we’ve turned out the votes. The percentage–you know, the percentage turnout’s bad but we’ve been able to get our–ever since SOS. SOS election politicized a lot of people, and Kirk Mitchell–I told him this recent–last time I saw him. I give Kirk Mitchell credit for reviving and maintaining the SOS name in the political arena, ’cause when Bruce Todd beat Darrell Slusher for Mayor–would that be three years ago?–the old SOS coalition split on that race, and the SOS coalition kind of dwindled away. And–I mean, I supported–I never did vote for Bruce Todd, and he knows it. [Laughs.] But, I–I voted for Barnstone and Slusher. But–the SOS coalition kind of dwindled away and then there wasn’t any big issue going but Kirk Mitchell–and I give him full credit–was–he just said, “That’s too valuable a logo and has too much name ID to lose, and he just kind of single-handedly said, “We gotta keep a political action committee, you know, that’s–that’s SOS.” And he just kind of took it over and formed his own board, and I’m on it and I hardly ever get to go to the meetings, and then for this election he formed that temporary–what did we call ourselves? SOS PAC. And we just sort of made up a list and people added to it. There were about 50 people that screened–that joined with Save Austin Neighborhoods and Environment, the SANE group, and we had all-day screenings of candidates at the County Commissioner’s courtroom, which SANE has done for years. I’m a member of SANE, too, but–has done for years but it was joined by all these SOS people–and it was very successful. We had a good turnout of audience and voters and everything, and, you know, we made endorsements under the name SOS PAC, and Kirk deserves a lot of credit for that.
DT: Well, this might be a good segue then to the whole role of volunteer groups in …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … in the public interest, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about group efforts for a moment, like, Save Barton Creek Association.
SF: Yeah.
DT: What do you think their role has been and …
SF: Well, see, it’s–groups have a hard time. Like, SOS Alliance is a nonprofit tax-exempt. Save Barton Creek Association is a nonprofit tax-exempt, and we can’t get involved in political issues, you know, because of our–but–so what happens is, different members of those groups, you know, get involved in these other–now Sierra Club–they lost their tax exemption a long time ago. And, you know, I guess that’s good, ’cause they can make endorsements and SANE can make endorsements and now we have SOS PAC that can make endorsement. So it’s–the people overlap to a great big extent, but it can’t be done in the name of, Savef Barton Creek Association or–Hill Country Foundation is another one–tax-exempt–or SOS Alliance. But, it’s–you know, it’s–to a large extent it’s more or less the same people but you give contributions individually and–and you make your endorsements through these PAC’s, and you can’t do it through the tax-exempt nonprofits.
DT: I’ve read that you were involved in some individual work going and–removing graffiti, I think with your daughter.
SF: [Laughs.] Yeah.
DT: What do you think about those sort of lone ranger efforts?
SF: Oh, we had–we had fun. I just–it’s not just–no, it wasn’t graffiti. It was pole signs, it’s utility pole signs.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: And, I guess for either two or three years–we just did that. We finally cleaned off 10 miles and policed–and patrolled ’em–of central city. See, we both lived close in south. She lives out in the rural area now but we both lived close in south. That was before my husband got sick, and–we’d do this on weekends. I would drive–well, we’d park and–and we had all this–little buckets full of stuff. I’ve got a–there’s a clipping about us in the paper. We had a–we knew how to–what you needed for what kind of problem, you know, and we kept ten miles of the central city clean. And then they were–the city was revising its sign ordinance, and we started patrolling or monitoring that, going through different commissions to be sure they kept a–a good restriction on people putting things on utility posts. See, it’s illegal under state law to–you can’t put things on utility stuff but it never has been enforced, and, you know, they–they staple things and tape ’em and glue ’em and everything. And–but anyway, they passed a good law–city ordinance, and it says you can put up garage sale signs on private property and they have to have a date on ’em and they can stay up X number of days. You can put up Lost and Found pet signs, with a date on ’em on private property and they can stay up X number of days. But the enforcement has not been too good, except I did realize this–this last–they no longer put political signs on utility poles. They used to put bumper stickers and–and stapled signs and everything, and it dawned on me that, well, we got through at least to the political campaigns, and the realtors are now the worst offenders. You know, they put these signs along the road–but I’ll tell you what I did. Anyway, Betsy and I–my husband got sick. HE was sick a year and a half before he died, and–after they passed that good ordinance we kind of retired, thinking, well, they’re gonna take care of it, and they really didn’t. They enforce it strictly on a complaint basis. And one thing–back then, we wanted to be a citizen posse or whatever you call it. We wanted to be able to get evidence that–my daughter has a photojournalism degree from U.T., and we–we wanted to be able to take photographs, and file–you know, take it to the city to file charges. Well, they wouldn’t let any private citizens do things like that. There’s something about city liability. Now I find that they’re letting citizens patrol and issue tickets on these disabled parking spaces? You know, that’s the first thing the city has let private citizens enforce. And, I think there’re some more things coming up, so they–you know, they probably could. But the utility poles aren’t as bad as they were, but I’ll tell you what I did after this last election. All the political signs now are put up on stakes. And, the election was Saturday, and Sunday I went by–we went to a family reunion kind of thing up at Liberty Hill and–I came back to town, I went by Spelman’s headquarters, I–see if I could get somebody to–help me, and the–and there was–office was locked, which wasn’t surprising, and so I went around south Austin by myself on Sunday afternoon and filled the back end of my station wagon with pole signs–I mean, with–with stake signs.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: And, somebody had picked up the–the biggest amount. Where there’d be ten in a row they’d picked those up, but I got the scattered ones on Barton Springs Road and South Lamar and Riverside and South Congress and so forth, not all the way down. And, then I wondered, well, what am I gonna do with ’em? And Monday morning I went over to Spelman’s office, and an old friend of mine, Mel Jordan, was outside, disassembling signs, and I said–I told–and he said, “I’ll do ’em.” And so he helped me unload all these signs. He was gonna take ’em apart and recycle the cardboard, and ‘course they always want the stakes again. So some of–anyway, the political signs no longer get on utility poles but the poles don’t stay as clean as they ought to, and we just kind of gave up. If the city had a good law and wasn’t gonna enforce–they–there’s a penalty, there’s a–I don’t know, $500 or something, and the ordinance says that they don’t have to know who put it up. It’s–whosever name or phone number is on there is legally responsible for it, and that as far as I know, they’ve never filed a single fine against anybody. So, you know, that’s–you can’t fight that. [Laughs.]
DT: Well, going on from the sort of group work you’ve done and the individual stuff, I’m curious about some of the volunteer commissions you served on and–the whole–I think that Council person Louise Epstein brought this up at one point, you know. I think she was disturbed by the number of commissions and whether they should be Sunsetted or …
SF: Yeah, yeah.
DT: … you know, if the tasks should be set more clearly, and I–I wonder how you feel. You know, whether this is just grousing on the part of an elected official at the power that active citizens have …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … or do you think there was a real issue there? What do you think?
SF: Oh, I–sometimes I get cynical and I say, “Well, volunteer work you get what you pay for, which is nothing,” but what I really deep down believe–volunteer groups waste a lot of time and energy. There’s no doubt about it, and–’cause you’re not dealing with the bottom line. But–but my rationale is that whatever we do is something that probably wouldn’t get done otherwise, even though it’s, you know, not real efficient sometimes and–I don’t know. I’ve noticed, especially since I lost my husband, which I’ll never get over, and–I mean, we had the best marriage that I know of of anybody. We–we did different things but we supported each other. My daughter swears that she never heard us argue about anything. We were married 52 years. And we did disagree but we didn’t holler at each other or throw things or–you know, we just talked, and–but any–what I–looking back–he died in 1990 and–and I keep myself busy and ‘course I’m not as productive as I used to be, I can’t do things as fast. But what I’ve looked back at, I keep myself busy doing things that I didn’t share with him. And I think that’s my–in other words, I won’t go do something that he and I did together and enjoy it, and that’s–that’s my pain, I guess is what you’d say.
DT: Uh-huh.
SF: He always supported what I did but he didn’t–you know, he wasn’t a member of Save Barton Creek Association and he wasn’t a member of the Electric Utility Commission and–he never did much actual volunteer work. Well, he had–he had terrible arthritis and bursitis. He was pretty well crippled up and it hurt him to do things and–but that–this wasn’t–that wasn’t–that just kind of wasn’t his nature anyway. Betsy and I–our daughter and I were the ones that–we were always out, you know, leafleting something or putting up–doing something active.
DT: Well, speaking of your daughter, Betsy, I’m curious what you think–oh, about two things. One, about the role of women in pro bono work and, …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … you know, public office and public interest work in general. And I had another question afterwards but what do you think? I mean, there–many of your friends, Mary Arnold, and Bridget Shea, …
SF: Um-hmm.
DT: … have been very active and–and more so than some–some men, I’d imagine, and I’m curious what you think about that.
SF: I don’t know. Some of it–some of it is–it’s amazing how many environmentalists don’t have children, or they have grown children. And I think it’s–it’s one thing that–but if you’re not–if you’re not raising children, you–actually I didn’t do any of this until my daughter was grown and basically I–see, I retired in ’81. And–I was on the Electric Utility Commission before I retired but that’s all I did, and–until I retired in ’81 and then I just started–I started going to–I’d been a member of Save Barton Creek but I started going to the meetings, and–that fall of ’81 they had lost their treasurer, and–trying to find out who in the world would be willing to serve as treasurer, and I thought, well, I got a B.B.A. Degree, I guess I can keep their books, and …
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: … I said, “Well, I believe I can do that,” and so I’m still the treasurer of Save Barton Creek Association. [Laughs.]
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: What, for–how long is that, 16 years. And we have a bingo operation now and I don’t do that.
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: That’s–that’s a separate bookkeeping deal. And–I don’t know, the–my friends that don’t do this, they do–they play bridge or they play golf, or they do artist–you know, art things.
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: And, I just think–I just think most people want to be off–well, I feel sorry for people that aren’t involved in something. I think–yeah, whatever you care about, you know, and are interested in, I think you ought to work at it. You ought to–ought to, you know, do what you can.
DT: Speaking again about your daughter and I guess the next generation, what do you think is the most critical environmental problem that’s–floating out there?
SF: I think–well, I think it’s gonna be water.
DT: Water?
SF: ‘Course air is important, too, but–with the population growth and specially, you know–you realize what caused the economic boom in Texas, don’t you? It was the invention of air-conditioning. See, I lived almost half my life without air-conditioning. And nobody moved to the South because our summers are so hot, and, you know, we lived with it and didn’t know any different. But you spent a lot of time going swimming or playing with the garden hose and running around barefooted or–or taking a shower just before you went to bed so you’d be–you know, you kind of have this evaporation, …
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: … what–till you got to sleep.
DT: Right.
SF: But, the–air-conditioning is the sole reason for the economic boom in the South. I mean, these high-tech companies, they can’t–they couldn’t have a clean room and manufacture microchips, you know, without air-conditioning. Some people–some people blame television for our lack of neighborliness and everything but I think it’s air-conditioning. And that was–I don’t know when it actually first was invented but it kind of hit Austin in the early ’50’s. And–like I say, Connie got it at his shop probably in the mid ’50’s and we didn’t get it at our house for several more years, and–toughed it out, you know, and now I–now I can’t–and then when–we built our home in 1965–the one I’m not living in ’cause the slab’s broken and the insurance company’s fixing it but–‘course we built a central system, and I still wasn’t gonna–I still wasn’t–didn’t realize I was gonna live in a closed house. You know, Connie loved air-conditioning. He had a–he could stand cold better than heat, and he–he enjoyed, you know, being in the constant temperature. And I still was convinced we were gonna open and shut the windows, you know, in the spring and the fall and everything and it didn’t take me but–and I even–we even put in at my insistence a–like a big attic fan, …
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: … only it’s an exhaust fan–in a back bedroom window so you could pull cool air through at night. And it didn’t take me but two or three years to just leave the windows alone and the–if–and we–inside is closed up, and if you want–if you want air you go outside. I like to do yard work. I’ve done–I’m not a gardener or a cultivator, but I like to putter around in the yard.
DT: I have another question.
SF: All right.
DT: Two more. When is the–do you have a favorite spot? A–you know, a place …
SF: A place?
DT: … in the outdoors, you know–yeah.
SF: A lot–next door to my house on Bluebonnet is a 90-foot lot that we owned until I sold it last fall. And I called it my golf course ’cause it–that was my place to go out and kind of unwind when I was working and everything. And it had native–it had native bluebonnets, and it had–we planted–it had redbud trees, lowquats, crepe myrtle, wild verbena, bluebonnets. And we did plant centipede grass on the front half, and that’s–but that’s been just kind of my plaything, and after last year’s drought, I tried to keep the grass alive in the front. And I put it on the market and sold it, and I asked the new owner if he was interested in knowing, you know, about the–what was there, and–interested in trying to save any of the lands where he was gonna build a house and he said no, and so I have given away–and the neighbors–‘course you can’t dig up bluebonnets much but there–the National Wildflower Research Center came and got a lot of–some pigeon berry, some–not loquat, what’s the other thing?–and a whole bunch of wild verbena. And the neighbors transplanted some bluebonnets. He hadn’t built his house yet, and I’ve got one neighbor that’s just praying that the–he get bluebonnet seeds before he’s–comes in and bulldozes. But, see, we built our house in ’65 and bought that lot just a few years later, so I’ve played in that all these–and it’s been beautiful. It has loquats all around the side and the–and redbuds in the spring and crepe myrtle all summer, and then the wild flowers. And the neighbors are just all sick. In fact, there’s a woman that keeps some kids just about a block from me, and she found–they–she takes ’em walking in good weather. And they play on that lot and go play around in the bushes and–and she told ’em not long ago–I was out there working and she told ’em that they’ve sold it and that one of the little girls started crying. She said, well–they call it the woods. [Laughs.]
DT: Um-hmm.
SF: It’s gonna have a house on it soon.
DT: It’s changing.
SF: Well, my–‘course my old favorite spot was Barton Springs, you know, when I–when I swam–which I did for a lot of years.
DT: Why did you like it?
SF: Well, I just loved the water and the sun and the grass and the trees and everything, and here’s the–here’s another thing, how dumb I was. Connie and I were going out there, swimming–well, like I say, back before the air-conditioning, our favorite thing to do in the summer was get off work and go swimming, and then you stay cool. Your body stays cool till about bedtime, and you know, you don’t suffer from the heat, ’cause all we had was fans, in those old squirrel-cage things.
DT: Well, I have one more question, and I–I sure would hope that you’d make any comments you want but I–the question I had was that, you know, once this tape shows up at the archive, there’s no telling who might see it or what they might want to make of it, and I’m curious–if you treat this as sort of a message in a bottle, what would you put in there, what sort of–comment would you send out there?
SF: Well, I’d just say, hang in there. [Laughs.]
DT: [Laughs.]
SF: You know, I don’t–you can get discouraged about a lot of things but if you keep on–keep on trying, well, good things happen. And be an optimist.
DT: All righty.
SF: You know, don’t write off the world. [Laughs.]
DT: Well said.
End of reel 1009.
End of interview with Shudde Fath.