MNA General Meeting Minutes, May 19, 2018

MNA Secretary Meeting Minutes, Mueller Neighborhood Association

Mueller Neighborhood Association General Meeting

Location: Seton Administrative Offices Building Date: Saturday, May 19, 2018

Time: 10AM to 11:15AM

  • Greetings and pleasantries, call meeting to order [Lila Valencia] (2mins)
    1. Welcome new members and visitors
  • Transit update [David Neider] (5 mins) – On June 3, Cap Metro is launching a significant service change, Cap Remap. The MNA Transit Committee has done a lot of advocacy work trying to improve bus service for Mueller and surrounding areas, with a 20-page report with recommendations.  The first step of the 10-year plan is the June 3 service changes.  Recent events included an information session at Wildflower with 70 neighbors attending, a reduced-fare registration for people over 50, and a Transit Adventure to Fareground with 45 people.

June 3 changes:

  • The #37 route will be replaced by the #10. It will be good for going to UT, downtown and Southpark Meadows.
  • The #20 goes down Manor to UT, downtown, the Capitol, the airport. Both routes will now come every 15 minutes (v. 22 and 20 minutes before) during peak times. In the long term this will become a Metro Rapid bus, #820, but the date is not yet set.
  • The #335 is a new route – the “Central Market Express” as Dave dubs it. It goes along Berkman, to Central Market, past Seton to Exposition, every 15 minutes.
  • The #300 goes along 51st Street to Springdale and across Longhorn Dam, every 15 minutes.
  • E-Cab will launch in early June, a little electric cab cruising the neighborhood and can take you to/from a bus stop. This replaces Pickup which is being phased out.
  • The #350 will go to ACC Highland and ACC Riverside (no longer goes to the airport – take the #20).
  • Nightowl 12-4 a.m., from 6th and Congress to the Traffic Circle.
  • The #429 from Chipotle/Home Depot to Hancock and Walmart.

For more information, please visit https://goo.gl/4q4gK3.

  • Building bridges through neighbor-to-neighbor conversations (40 minutes) – Lila reminded attendees about the bombings in March 2018 and the loss of two lives, with four others injured. The initial victims were people of color which has, positively, sparked an interest in more proactive conversations with and about communities of color, and building bridges between neighborhoods.  James Nortey earlier organized a series of conversations about race that aired on NPR, and many have noted interest in reviving these conversations since there is a need for ongoing dialogue.  Last week the Honest Conversations discussion was co-hosted by some of our Mueller neighbors, and we continue to today with Mayor Adler and others.
    1. Address by Mayor Steve Adler: Always gets a good feeling being in Mueller and appreciates the opportunity to talk with us.  The neighbors can honor the memories of the two bombing victims’ lives, those of Mr. House and Mr. Mason, by having discussions.  The whole period of the bombings was somewhat surreal.  Unfortunately the sight of a mayor facing a slew of media cameras is all too common. At the peak there were 500 federal agents in town, and the professionalism, coordination and organization were amazing.  Making the decision to approach the suspect was very delicate because of the likelihood of him blowing up the car.  Indeed the explosion blew the approaching officer back, but fortunately he was not hit by shrapnel.  The community really pulled together, maintained calm despite the fact that the attacks continued and became more random.  Together we need to be observant, and there were tens of thousands of 911 calls, which is a good sign of neighborhood engagement.  Law enforcement agents followed up on 4000 of those calls, and some of these contributed to being able to identify the bomber as quickly as we did.  We also learned that often we don’t know our neighbors as well as in earlier times.  If you know your neighbors, chances are you will help each other out when needed, know who may need support, etc.  If we can take the experience and use it to grow as a city, that’s a great opportunity and a wake-up call.  We can use it as a legacy to Mr. House and Mr. Mason.  The mayor has seen a response city-wide as he goes to neighborhood events.  Mueller is closer than many neighborhoods but there are opportunities to know each other better still.

Q:  How can we help with the issue of affordability in housing and diversity more broadly?

Mayor Adler:  The city, like many Southern cities and beyond, in the 1920s experienced the resurgence of the Klan, and in Austin the Land Plan segregated people by race to different parts of the city and then zoned and planned to institutionalize segregation by color.  While this was 90 years ago, it arose again in the 1950s, when the city doubled down on the Land Plan.  Now we have the opportunity to institutionalize diversity, which benefits everyone – diversity of income, of ethnicity, of backgrounds and experiences.  When someone is bombed on their own porch, it is experienced differently by people with certain kinds of backgrounds than others, and the result provoked lots of healthy conversation and some increased awareness.  Mueller is designed in part around affordable housing values.  Property taxes have gone up dramatically, and in the last 5 years the median home property taxes have gone up over $1400/year (valued at $280,000).   More than $1000 of that is not the city or county or school district or hospital district, but is the state-required Robin Hood tax that the school district must collect and send to other districts in Texas.  The state’s share 5 years ago was $355, and now is over $1370 – 288% increase.  It’s a huge contributor to causing financial hardship for people of limited means trying to stay in their homes.  As property tax valuations have gone up, the city has decreased its rates.  But the school district is not allowed to do that because of the state mandates.  Today the state doesn’t send all of that to schools elsewhere but is diverting it to the general fund.  The state used to fund 60% of public education, and now funds only 30+%.  Collectively we should be demanding state reform of school finance.  Don’t forget that the runoff election date is Tuesday May 22.

  1. Panel conversation with Mayor Adler and fellow Mueller neighbors:
    1. Dusty Harshman – in Mueller 10 years. As a pioneer, understood that there was a hopeful spirit to build on the great heritages of the nearby neighborhoods.  Had series of events in local churches, at Central Market to meet each other before moving in.  There was excitement about ideals and strong bonds formed.  Message board groups formed, and as small as it was at first made it easy to know all your neighbors. In no time personally knew 400-500 people which didn’t happen in other neighborhoods. Bobby and Diane Gierisch were early neighbors, and Bobby, a longtime state of Texas political figure, including assistant to House Speaker Pete Laney, was on the first Steering Committee. Diane serves on the Property Owners Association. Bobby passed away last week and we want to honor his memory.  As we’ve grown from a few hundred people to a few thousand we must challenge ourselves to sustain the community spirit and our values, including diversity.
    2. Veronica Castro Barrera – a Mexican citizen who immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago, to Austin 20 years ago, and a Mueller resident for 9 years. There are now 8000 people in Mueller. Together we’ve been through health and loss, illness and struggles and reconciliation.  Veronica loves Mueller’s nurturing spirit and its status as a living laboratory; she is so enthusiastic that she considers herself a Mueller ambassador and has brought many Mexican traditions to the neighborhood, which have been welcomed enthusiastically. Her informal online census shows neighbors from 45 countries with 40 languages.  As an architect, Veronica sees the convergence of theory and practice in Mueller – the importance of front porches, shaded sidewalks, bike lanes in creating organic connections.  It’s transformative as Veronica raises her children with a sense of community, nurtured by wise elders and in turn they babysit toddlers, and invest the money earned in a cello lesson from a neighboring teacher – classic Microeconomics 101.  Veronica’s daughter recently selected American University in Washington D.C., in part because of that city’s public transit and walkability.  We have some hard experiences and we don’t pretend to be perfect and can have difficult conversations about the challenges.
  • Daniel Colimon – in Mueller 8 years – also a Mueller fan. Appreciates the community’s vision and values, part of why he and his family selected Mueller on moving here from California.  We need to push ourselves to achieve the full potential of the vision of an inclusive neighborhood and society.  Disturbing to see disparagement of people who “look like they don’t live here” or when black or brown people doing innocuous things are objects of suspicion.  Many neighbors are quick to call 911 when they see a person of color in the area.  People of color bear much of the burden of racism whether conscious or not.  Daniel is committed to staying engaged and striving to make us inclusive and to address the hard conversations.
  1. Jasmin Patel – 2 years in Mueller. As an apartment dweller has a different way of engaging than a home-dweller with a porch.  Via online engagement have connected with other South Asians, and joined the MNA and block-walked for candidates, which has helped her get engaged.  It’s great to see neighbors of all races enjoying our parks, including neighbors from Windsor Park and Cherrywood, so we should all accept the challenge of getting to know neighbors from nearby communities and help reduce the kneejerk suspicion of brown or black people.
  2. Michael Yates – unfortunately unable to attend today
  3. Mayor Adler – This is his first opportunity to hear a neighborhood conversation in Mueller and it’s a good one. But we’re also part of the larger neighborhood.  Although we weren’t personally responsible for the institutionalized segregation of the 1920s and 1950s, we must today address the legacy – different levels of access to healthcare, transit, etc.  Even today, life expectancy is 10 years greater on the West side of town than on the East.
  • Veronica – Code Next is a key issue right now, and our codes and laws to encourage mixed use, granny flats, smaller lots that foster inclusiveness and affordability. Public spaces are very important, and Mueller’s public parts have proven that they attract diverse activities and people enjoying them.  Our streets are public spaces as well, and we need champions for all these causes.
  • Dusty – Built environment fosters human response and reaction, and as humanity becomes more urbanized this is a very real issue. We come from an era of intense racial and economic segregation, and as we work to become more integrated, we must mindfully focus on diversity and multiculturalism. Dusty has a personal motto to respect others around him and earn their respect through his actions.
  1. Daniel – This is not just a challenge but an opportunity to get to know about each other, each other’s cultures, our heritage and our aspirations.
  2. Mayor Adler – While we didn’t set up the systems we inherited, we’re responsible for taking them forward and evolving them to overcome systemic racism and inequities. We created a Task Force on Institutional Racism, the Spirit of East Austin, budget for affordable housing and healthcare access, working toward living wages and access to healthcare for all.  Agree with Veronica that Code Next can and should move us forward together as a community and overcome the divisiveness.   Accept people where they are and be open about who we are.  We can help each other grow.

Q:  Ani Colt – For building a community center at 51st Street, would love the city’s support and help attract people from surrounding neighborhoods.  Average age of the working group is over 70.

Q: Helen Walker – During the bombings, heard a radio commentary on Austin’s response and that we still think of ourselves as a small town.  Yet we’re the 11th largest city in the U.S. and we need to grapple with our new identity as a big city.  Go to https://www.npr.org/2015/02/13/385495327/a-community-takes-on-racial-tensions-once-hidden-under-the-surface to hear the NPR commentary.

A:  Mayor Adler – And we’re the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. for the last 7 years.  Everyone thinks Austin peaked the day they arrived in Austin.  The city overall does change well, even with astronomical rates of growth – which have been high for 160 years.  We do change well, we grow and evolve and still hold on to what makes us special.  We’re friendly, creative, entrepreneurial – we should celebrate that.

Q: Sara – We say we like to get to know neighbors but a lot of the new gentrification construction has exclusionary architecture, like high walls along their property lines.

A: Lila – We will continue these conversations and think about what MNA can do to build bridges.

On the topic of building bridges – panelists suggested:  not being in denial about shortcomings, speak thoughtfully, reflect diversity in our MNA leadership and try to recruit more diversity in age and color in membership and in leadership.  MNA hosts community events -come to those. People should volunteer for the kids’ events in the neighborhood. Think before you call 911 – are you reacting out of proportion?

  • Jennifer Potter-Miller from Friends of Patterson Park (friendsofpattersonpark.org)– Chair for the last two years; the organization goes back 17 years. The park was established in the 1950s and is showing some signs of age.  The recently opened Community Garden took 8 years to make happen.  All 5 neighborhoods – Schieffer, Mueller, Delwood II, Wilshire Wood, Cherrywood   (other?) – use the park and we look for their input in the Friends’ priorities. Emulating Ramsay Park’s mini-amphitheater and hope to install it this fall.  In the near term will be updating furnishings and adding some trail markers and signage. Visit https://friendsofpattersonpark.org/parkplan/
  • Intro to Spark! for Humanity card game – The game was created by Mueller neighbor Rachel Rosen, and she encourages neighbors to attend the meetup on 6/7 at Kick Butt Coffee near ACC Highland. Rachel is gay and her partner is biracial, and she is excited to encourage authentic conversations.  Learn about the card game at spark4community.com. Info at //drive.google.com/open?id=1G9DgEQATITYNIfYVD_DlroffbnYuxW12
  • Mueller Commission Update [Chairman Michael Jones] (5 mins) – The Mueller Control Tower was approved as a historic landmark at last month’s city council meeting. The Mueller Foundation presented on the first independent audit results – operations fell with scope of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  There are now 392 homes in the affordability program in Mueller. The 133 bought before 2012 are unfortunately taxed at market rates and the group is working to try to address this. At the next 6/12 will cover annual report and next year’s top issues.  Greg Weaver from Catellus estimates finishing their work in about 5 years.
  • MNA Directions Survey Summary [Lila] (5 mins) – will cover at next month’s meeting due to time constraints
  • Local Business Spotlight: Lettuce Networks [Claudia Nieman] (5 mins) – a local sustainable urban farming and meal kit company. CEO Yogesh Sharma thought about how underutilized lawn space could be used for organic fruit and vegetable mini-gardens.  Cofounder Hal Roberts had spent time in Hawaii’s farming culture. Founded 2 years ago, it’s an urban farming/meal kit company, with farms at schools, businesses, churches, residences, backyards to supply vegetables in the meal kits.  What Lettuce doesn’t grow, they source from local farmers. Meal kits include vegetables, fruit, nuts, bread, cheeses in reusable materials including an insulated cooler bag with reusable icepacks and reusable plastic and glass packaging.  Collect the materials each week and sterilize them for reuse, and also collect scraps and compost them. Also committed to affordability – quality healthy food should be accessible to everyone. You can get omnivore or vegetarian meals, testing kids’ choice option. Another option is Base Meal Kit – produce and sauces/spice mixes plus a small grocery list to complete the meal, the most affordable option.  Farmer’s Choice Box is whatever seasonal vegetables are available, with eat-local add-on items like seasonal fruit or eggs.  Also provide Mini-farms to help anyone grow local – experts build the bed, test and amend the soil, install drip irrigation, counsel you to grow successfully and have plots that fit Mueller yard sizes.  The anchor farms are within the area farms, churches, AISD schools. Currently <1% of food eaten in Austin is grown here, which causes an unnecessarily large carbon footprint.  See //drive.google.com/open?id=1_HcXDjrvJFhOtr8lmvF7X4eoIGnojRJL
  • Adjourn