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Garden of Yes, Austin Community Foundation, Ambassador speak out, more

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

NATURE: Carolyn Long and the Garden of Yes. My story in today’s Statesman: “For many years, veteran volunteer Carolyn Long gave standard tours of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.“It struck me that we’re always saying to children: ‘Don’t get off the path, don’t walk on the grass, don’t climb the trees, don’t pick the flowers, don’t put your hands in the water, don’t throw a rock in the pond,” the Austinite says. “They leave thinking: ‘Nature is no,’ or ‘I’m in trouble,’ or ‘This is not much fun.’” So Long, 54, threw her energies behind a newly designed landscape that will open in early 2014: The Luci and Ian Family Garden, named after chief donors Luci Baines Johnson and her husband, Ian Turpin. The $10 million, four-acre project, the most ambitious addition to the center since its opening at its present location in 1995, invites adults, youths and children to interact directly with the nature around them.” http://shar.es/Ei7vt(Smart, classy lady.)

CHARITY: Shaking up an annual benefit. Wednesday, the Austin Community Foundation did not gather at the Four Seasons Hotel, as it had for years, and did not exhibit a biographical video of the honorees. Instead, we met at the Circuit of the Americas, where portions of the vast press hall were cordoned off for dinner guests. A goodly number had never visited the F1 site, and so toured the tower and a portion of the track. Inside, all sorts of longtime charity backers mingled then sat for a series of speeches, including an enlightening history lesson about the group’s founding in the 1970s (more on that later). All you need to know right now is that it started with a $30,000 gift and that ledd to $200 million in grants since then. Esther’s Follies provided the sprightly, timely and topical entertainment. The Austin Children’s Shelter, whose mission has changed radically in the past few years due to shifts in state policy, was honored, as were Central Texas royalty Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin. (Although a thankless job these days, Johnson would have made a fine U.S. Senator, don’t you think?)

SCHOOL: The ambassador speaks out. Reported by Ralph K.M. Haurwitz in today’s Statesman: “Pam Willeford, a former ambassador and former chairwoman of the state’s higher education agency, has accused four University of Texas System regents of an “all-out assault” against the Austin campus in coordination with Jeff Sandefer, a major donor and adviser to Gov. Rick Perry. In what she described as a mass email Wednesday, Willeford singled out Regents Gene Powell, Wallace Hall Jr., Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich for criticism. The four “have focused their sights on UT-Austin and its leadership and have engaged in an all-out assault on the flagship,” she wrote, adding that one goal has been to micromanage the campus and oust its president, Bill Powers. http://shar.es/Ei60u(For such a diplomatic person to go so public shows just how far things have gone.)

CITY: A legitimate concern about fees. Reported by Marty Toohey in today’s Statesman: “When the downtown Austonian condominium tower went up in 2010, the building’s developers paid the city $112 per unit to tap into Austin’s water and wastewater system. But that was only one-fifth of the actual cost of connecting to the lines, according to city estimates, with the rest of Austin’s homes and businesses picking up the other four-fifths. That’s been the city’s practice since the late 1990s, when the city decided to charge many developers significantly less than the cost of the water and wastewater lines they needed to make a subdivision or commercial property habitable. The policy was borne of smart-growth principles — discounts were a carrot offered to developers to lead them away from environmentally sensitive portions of South and Southwest Austin — but some city officials now say the discounts did little to influence growth patterns. They also came with a perverse side effect: shifting some of the cost of Austin’s growth onto people already living here. http://shar.es/EiGKC(Wow. Didn’t know any of this before Marty’s story.)

LAW: An arcane campaign. Reported by Jonathan Tilove in today’s Statesman: “On May 31, 1913, the 17th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution providing for the popular election of U.S. senators and doing away with the Founding Fathers’ design, which vested that power with state legislatures. It was, at the height of the Progressive Era, an overwhelmingly popular move toward purer democracy. One hundred years later, it has become an article of faith among many tea party activists that the 17th Amendment was a terrible mistake that undermined the federal system, reducing state power in relation to the federal government, and ought to be repealed. For most Americans it remains an arcane issue, with a radically retro sound to it, a throwback, perhaps, to an age when generally only white, male property owners could vote. But nowhere has repealing the 17th Amendment gained more traction from political heavyweights than in Texas.” http://shar.es/EiGp2(Thanks to Jonathan for explaining the reasons.)