• Council should vote no on TNC proposal

    Cris Nevares, math and actuarial sciences senior, has been a Lyft driver since July 4. For Nevares, being a Lyft driver allows him to connect with interesting passengers while scheduling his own hours.
    Cris Nevares, math and actuarial sciences senior, has been a Lyft driver since July 4. For Nevares, being a Lyft driver allows him to connect with interesting passengers while scheduling his own hours.

    Editor's Note: As previously mentioned, Horwitz previously contracted work for the Clifford Group, a Houston firm that lobbied on behalf of Yellow Cab over the summer. He left the Clifford Group Aug. 22.

    This evening, the Austin City Council will vote on a proposal by City Council Member Chris Riley to legalize so-called Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Simply put, given the realities of the current proposal, the Council should vote no.

    Uber and Lyft, app-based companies that serve as a decentralized sort of taxi option, first showed up here in May. At that time, they began operating in defiance of the city's local ordinances, which require strict safety regulations such as 24/7 insurance and metered fares. Originally, Mayor Lee Leffingwell set up a task force full of some of the most capable stakeholders in the community, charged with spending 180 days coming up with a good-hearted piece of legalization that would welcome the TNCs but still protect competition and safety.  

    Facing an uphill battle for the newly crafted District 9, Riley has tried to abruptly force this issue for a vote, ignoring the valuable work the task force is doing. In a last-ditch effort to attract the student vote, he merely talks in broad platitudes about "transportation options" without actually addressing any of the real problems or details.

    Austin obviously has a taxi problem. There are far too few cabs on the road, leaving many people stranded or having to wait for excessive periods. But the number of taxis are capped by the city, and when a proposal was recently floated to raise the cap, Riley voted against it.

    We should not be in such a rush to increase transportation options that we damage the livelihood of the average consumer. Last week, the editorial board of this paper expressed its desire for 24/7 insurance requirements for TNCs. Representatives from Uber soon met with us, and expressed their opposition to this and other taxi-centric requirements, proudly exclaiming not only that they are not cabs, but that they do not even compete with cabs. I have trouble agreeing.

    If you are an on-demand vehicle for hire, be that a taxi or a TNC, you should carry 24/7 insurance that protects pedestrians and other cars from being trapped in a donut hole of non-coverage. Uber whined about the price tag involved, but a company that might be worth as much as $18 billion and hires some of the most expensive lobbyists in Texas should be able to pony up with relative ease.

    Furthermore, Uber desperately defended its so-called "surge pricing," where they charge multitudes of their regular fares — often with little or no warning — just because. Recently, a short trip in Denver cost a local passenger $443. Call it "supply and demand" if you want; it sure sounds like price gouging to me.

    I want Uber and Lyft in Austin, but they need to follow some rules first. Riley's proposal takes care of many of these, including background checks, vehicle inspection and customer service support. But commercial insurance and price stability are absolutely necessary before the green light can be given. Ideally, this should come from the capable task force, not a rushed gimmick by an out-of-options politician.

    Horwitz is an associate editor.

  • Austin should consider its residents when setting zoning requirements

    Students dance to to the Yin Yang Twins during Roundup at ZBTahiti in March of 2013. 
    Students dance to to the Yin Yang Twins during Roundup at ZBTahiti in March of 2013. 

    Beginning Oct. 1, because of a plan the city of Austin announced earlier this month to change event regulations in West Campus, people planning to host a large event must apply for a permit through the Austin Center for Events at least 21 days beforehand. Austin Police Department Sergeant Alfred Trejo said in an interview that the 21-day requirement is because the city needed to streamline the permitting process, since some city departments weren't as involved as they should have been. According to an article in The Odyssey, APD cited an increasing number of complaints from the "older residents" of West Campus as another reason for its plan to further enforce these regulations.

    The city zones West Campus as a residential area, so although only 12 percent of households in the 78705 zip code area — which encompasses West Campus as well as parts of North Campus — are "family households," the city's rules for these neighborhoods of college students are the same as its rules for family neighborhoods. While I understand that the people complaining to the city are justified in doing so under the law, there's no reason for anyone who moves to an area near a college campus as large at UT to expect a quiet, peaceful neighborhood.

    Currently, the city doesn't issue sound permits for sound equipment located within 100 feet of residential zoning (Trejo said live music acts during events such as Round Up have often been illegal). This rule makes sense for most of Austin, but for West Campus, it seems a bit unreasonable. Instead of fighting the inevitability of West Campus residents continuing to host huge, loud parties, I'd like to see the city of Austin look at its zoning requirements and consider making some exceptions for areas, like West Campus, where large events are frequent and expected. I'm definitely not suggesting that Austin should do away with its permitting process and noise regulations, but I do think if the process were less strict and took into account who the residents in each neighborhood are, that would make the process easier on both the students and the city.

    Voeller is an associate editor.

  • Subtle immigration rhetoric can be offensive

    U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
    U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)

    This weekend, at the Texas Tribune Festival, the subject of immigration was unavoidable. Panelists and speakers addressed the issue directly, sideways and backward, and of the multitude of immigration subtopics, the question of rhetoric often took center stage. Interestingly, a matter that has no bearing on policy worked its way into most immigration discussions. Viewers saw state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, criticize her gubernatorial opponent for his denigration of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, was also quick to point out her opponent’s use of the word “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. But when it comes to rhetoric, the worst offenders at the festival were Latino members of the GOP.

    George Rodriguez, San Antonio Tea Party president, is the most obvious example, as the incendiary political figure is enamored with the word “illegal.” But less evident forms of what could be considered dangerous rhetoric were also prevalent. During the panel entitled “Latinos and the GOP,” Latino Republicans examined many reasons as to why the values important to the Latino community align with conservative values, and when the issue of immigration arose, many members of the panel expressed support for “The Texas Solution” — a GOP-supported measure that would create a guest worker program for citizens of other nations to come to Texas and work without being a United States citizen.

    The problem with “The Texas Solution” is the rhetoric, which reduces human beings to a problem that needs solving. Also, unlike the in-state tuition bill, which would facilitate undocumented students’ receiving a college degree, the Texas Solution relegates undocumented immigrants to low-wage jobs often stereotypically associated with the Latino community. This facet, which  admittedly has no effect on policy, should be included in the discussion on rhetoric.

    Latino members of the GOP, just as black members, are often perceived as Uncle Tom characters exploited by the Republican Party to attract minority votes. Though often erroneous, this preconceived notion places Latino Republicans in a precarious situation when it comes to rhetoric. If the problem is significant, Latino Republicans should take the initiative and pay attention to their rhetoric not only when it’s outright defamatory but also when the effects of rhetoric are subtle.

    Davis is an associate editor.


  • Baylor gun proposal offers lesson for legislators in Austin

    Last Thursday, the Baylor University Student Senate in Waco passed a resolution calling for students to be able to bring their licensed concealed handguns on campus. In a closed session of the assembly, Baylor students voted — with objection — to allow students to bring firearms onto campus, citing recent school shootings. The bill must still be signed or vetoed by Dominic Edwards, the Baylor student body president, and eventually approved by the Baylor Board of Regents. However, even if Edwards signs it, or the Senate overrides his veto, the administration must still assent to the measure. Thus far, administrators have been tepid, citing their own security concerns.

    The proposal largely mirrors one the State Legislature came perilously close to passing last year, which would have only affected public universities (Baylor is private), including UT-Austin. That bill stalled in committee, but with a new crop of increasingly conservative leaders at the Capitol, it will likely be brought up again — and passed — next session.

    Like any other contentious flashpoint issue, the "guns on campus" debate (or, more broadly, any type of gun control), does not have many unbiased studies that can prove whether allowing guns on campus makes students safer. Critics point out that no one's concealed handgun has ever stopped an infamous school shooter, while proponents point out not only that the scheme has not been implemented extensively enough, but that Good Samaritans have stopped some would-be mass murderers; it just doesn't get put in print.

    Among the myriad proposals on this topic considered by the Legislature last session, there was one that appeared to be a novel compromise. The public university's administration, not the State Legislature, would have the final say over whether to allow guns on campus, much like the laws currently governing Baylor. Thus, universities in communities amenable to such a scheme, like Texas A&M University, would likely implement it. But at universities such as this one, where communities are largely opposed to guns on campus, the status quo could remain.

    Baylor will end up doing what is best for its specific community and students. Instead of implementing a blanket policy, perhaps legislators should entrust public universities with the same responsibility.

    Horwitz is an associate editor.

  • Peterson illustrates why cycle of violence needs to end

    I don't think I was ever spanked as a child, certainly never with a belt or some type of external object. I think my parents would make grandiose threats in which they would brandish their open hand, but these were typically to no avail. When my father once resorted to taking away my playthings, my retort —so they tell me— was asking why, if I had been bad, my toys should be the ones getting punished?

    If you are confused as to why, exactly, this should be relevant, you are not alone. Last week, Adrian Peterson, a native of eastern Texas and running back for the Minnesota Vickings football team, was arrested for causing harm to a child, after it came to light that he mercilessly beat his toddler with a tree branch (switch) as a form of discipline. Commentators and pundits galore came to his defense, or at least to the defense of physical discipline against children, with tales of their own light beatings at a young age.

    Former NBA player Charles Barkley particularly got in hot water when he insinuated that the form of tough love, involving tree branches applied to bare bottoms, was inherently linked to African-American upbringings. Others have, neutral of race, tried to ascribe the behavior to traditional Eastern Texas values.

    The trouble with these types of overgeneralizations is that the insinuation is not necessarily that being beaten as a child prompts a more moral or better-rounded adult. Rather, it is merely to justify the continuation of a cycle of violence. Peterson's grandpa hit his dad, so his dad hit him, etc. One does not have to think about this argument very long to see the inherent flaws in its logic.

    Adrian Peterson's son is four years old. Perhaps I'm an exception to the rule, but I do not remember a single thing about that early stage of my life. I certainly do not remember any arguments I had with my parents or errors on my part that would prompt punishment. I doubt Peterson's son with either. What he, sadly, likely will remember is pain and suffering and anger.

    Horwitz is an associate editor.