Yes To Office Towers At Old Whole Foods

My old neighborhood has really gone downhill since I left. Now many of them* are vehemently opposing infill at the Old Whole Foods on the grounds that it’ll create too much automobile traffic.

What a load of garbage. The SAME folks who signed the Move AMD petition with me are apparently ALSO against developing high-density office and retail ON TOP OF A PARKING LOT IN THE URBAN CORE. This is exactly why I can’t hold my nose and vote for Margot Clarke. Hint: SOMETIMES THE NEIGHBORHOODS ARE WRONG.

And too much automobile traffic? Here’s a clue: At some point, you have to accept that TRAFFIC IN THE URBAN CENTER ISN’T GOING TO FLOW SMOOTHLY, PERIOD. If you want to live in OWANA and expect free-flowing traffic on neighboring arterials, you’re insane. The whole POINT of living there is that you don’t HAVE to drive (or not as often). Embrace it and get out of your car like I did when I lived there.

You can’t get any more wrong than this unless you opposed student housing on Guadalupe at 27th. Oops.

Pros for this PUD: A lot of these office workers would otherwise work in the suburbs, which creates more traffic overall, since you mostly can’t carpool, bike, walk, or take the bus to jobs out here (and believe me, I try). It doesn’t use up any more pervious cover. It doesn’t wreck the aquifer. Some of these office workers will no doubt ‘commute’ from nearby high-density residential development already completed or planned; and the presence of more offices downtown will encourage even more residential development.

In short: this project would fuel a virtuous cycle of urban development instead of the vicious circle of suburban sprawl. I don’t see how any responsible Austinite can be against it.

(* – updated to reflect supportive offline and online comments at the OWANA group, and my own lack of surety on whether opposing the PUD is an official position of the neighborhood association or not – although I still suspect it is)

AMD’s move and the 10-mile commute

AMD’s been claiming that their upcoming move to environmentally-sensitive land in southwest Austin is a net-positive since ‘most of [their] employees live within 10 miles of the new location’.

austinaction.org has shown how ridiculous this claim is (not untrue, but ridiculous as a supporting argument).

Note that EITHER location captures almost all of the current residential development south of the river. 10 miles turns out to be so generous a claim as to be ridiculous – it’s like me saying that 100% of my stepson’s fifth-grade classmates read at at least a first-grade level.

No, this move is about one thing and one thing only: getting AMD closer to the CEO’s house in the Barton Creek subdivision. Don’t be fooled; if AMD wanted to reduce employees’ commuting distances, they’d move DOWNTOWN. A 10-mile circle around downtown would capture nearly all of the existing residential development south of the river PLUS most of the east-side (neighborhoods around 290) and a healthy chunk of the north-side.

The Statesman Loves New Construction

The Statesman has long been reviled by environmentalists as the RealEstatesman, with an apparent bias towards new greenfield construction (whose purveyors consume a substantial majority of the advertising space in the paper). This weekend’s fluff piece on the AMD development is no exception.

As SOS points out in an email today:

Then there’s the classic error by omission: the Statesman has been pathological in failing to report opposition to AMD’s move by Austin Sierra Club, Save Barton Creek Association, Liveable City, and Texas Clean Water Action. Instead, their reporting has only listed SOS Alliance as opposing.

This is extra special since the Statesman has been giving Livable City plenty of coverage over the last year or two.
also:

AMD’s proposed move would increase traffic over the Barton Springs watershed, as over 60% of AMD’s employees here don’t live in Southwest Austin. If AMD moves to Stratus’ land, 100% of AMD’s employees would be commuting over the Barton Springs watershed.

Personally, I think both SOS and the Statesman have dropped the ball on the transportation analysis – it’s fairly likely that a site downtown would reduce employees’ commutes even more, since it’s at dead-center for the region. IE, if 58% of AMD’s employees live within 10 miles of the Southwest Parkway site, it’s hard to imagine that a smaller proportion live within 10 miles of downtown, given the geography of the area. There simply isn’t enough residential development farther south of AMD to account for enough trips to make that true. All of the employees who live southeast, central, east, west-central, and especially north and northwest would be closer to work downtown. And employers who locate downtown put far less of a burden on the infrastructure than employers in the suburbs — more people bike, ride the bus, walk to lunch, etc.

So it’s crystal-clear to me at least that reducing EMPLOYEE commutes has nothing to do with AMD’s decision. Reducing the CEO’S commute, on the other hand, is likely part of the reason for AMD’s site selection…

AMD does Austin wrong

I’ve always rooted for AMD over Intel, but they’re now moving to a spot on top of the most critical land in Austin for the health of Barton Springs.

AMD’s PR people have claimed that this will reduce employee driving by 10,000 miles a day (I doubt it), but even if true, it doesn’t make things better, since employees will now have to drive further for lunch, and the incentive for additional development around their new site will overwhelm any small gains from slightly shorter commutes. I wrote a note reminding them that if they were truly serious about reducing their impact on the environment, they’d move downtown (like Intel almost did) so that their employees had more options than the single-occupant-vehicle (carpooling, transit, and bicycling all work far better when your office is downtown, even without the HOV lanes that we all know are coming soon). Plus, their employees could walk to lunch.

This also is another piece of supporting evidence that company moves are almost always due to a desire to move the office closer to the boss’s house, with disastrous results. Note from the page above that the boss’s address is in the Barton Creek Country Club. Hmmm. What a coincidence.

Because the state legislature is so hostile to Austin, even (especially?) when the will of the citizenry is written into law, public pressure ends up being the only weapon committed citizens can bring to bear on companies that are thinking about a move like this. Please go to the site and ask AMD to reconsider.