Fairness Comes in on a Breeze

Sometimes fairness comes floating in like a cool breeze on an August morning in Austin.

Thank you, this morning to Bob at the Travis Central Appraisal District for lowering my property taxes by 26%.

I learned a lot from Bob during the hour of my informal hearing.  My protest was based on holding the City true to its mission to provide affordable housing — I live in a house built by the Blackshear Neighborhood Development Corporation.  Even if you don’t live in a house purchased from a nonprofit affordable housing provider, you might benefit from my experience.  At the end of this post, I promise I’ll tell you the technical way that it happened.

At first, Bob and I talked about the fact that the State sets what property taxes can be based upon — he didn’t think there was anything he could do.  I felt my hopes fade for just a moment.  Then I decided to not let that dissuade me.  I appealed to Bob’s true heart of civic duty and invoked the good faith of all the public servants at the city departments who administer the affordable housing programs for the City we want to live in.  They want to be true to the mission.  So does Bob.

Beside the Homestead Exemption, could the County provide an Affordable Housing Exemption?  Not just for the development of it, but for the sustaining of it over time?  To keep it as part of the affordable housing available in Austin.

We talked about the commercial real estate companies.  As a professional Realtor himself, Bob knows that they don’t have to fully disclose the sales prices of commercial properties, so valuing them accurately is harder.  Could they contribute more to Austin?  A fairer share if they were assessed and taxed more accurately?

Could City of Austin ask the Endeavors and other large developers to pay more of their share to keep Austin an affordable place to live and to pay for more of the services they benefit from?

The City apparently is also the only one of the Travis Central Appraisal District taxing entities that doesn’t provide a discount on our taxes.  At the same time that we ask City Council to hold the developers accountable, we can also ask for a tax discount.

Bob pointed out that there is no State Income Tax.  Most people are scared of it.  What if it were done in the same way its done in Denmark for example?  So everyone would benefit?  Would it then be more possible for everyone to live well?  Bob knew about their example from his travel with the Navy during the Carter Administration.

I agreed with Bob that I would ask both City Council and the Texas Legislature to make some changes.  That’s what Bob actually wants from us.  As an employee of the Central Appraisal District, he can’t go there.

So here’s where he could go —

The proposed 2014 tax on my home of $5,170 — whoa! — was based on a property value of more than double what I paid for the house.  I paid $127,000 for it in 2005.  It was now being appraised at over $303,000.  Bob took a closer look and was able to change the market value to a more accurate assessment.

Usually the Appraisal District looks at a mass comparison of housing all around your property.  The houses in the comparison could be much larger and built more recently — in other words, apples to pomegranates.   Bob did a more accurate comparison of houses in this area that are of more equal square footage to mine and that were sold within ~5 years of when I purchased my home. He found that those houses were actually valued at ~$215,000.  This makes a lot more sense.  It’s fair.

Thanks, Bob.

And thanks, Mark Rogers for the encouragement.

So remember — when you go to your informal hearing at the Travis Central Appraisal District, make sure to ask your representative to do a close comparison to homes in your grid that are close in size to your home and that were sold around the time that yours was.  Ask her or him to change the value based on that comparison.

Thanks.  Love and peace, Donna



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This Winter

BlackShearRainbow first logoIt is wonderful to feel the community come together to practice sustainability with the students at Blackshear Elementary School and Huston-Tillotson University.

Check out the Blackshear Bridge website, and the children’s winter harvest!


Winter Vege Garden

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Lime Crop is In!

Lime CropThese limes wanted to be harvested when I was at the Climate Reality training last month.  They are powerfully good medicine.

What I’ve been doing with them is throwing them whole in morning smoothies.  They add a nice flavor kick and some powerful vitamins!

I’m thinking about slurrying them with filtered City of Austin water and freezing them in an ice cube tray for smoothies through the mostly mild winter.

Love and green peace, Donna

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Bling Saves!

Got Jesus

Today I had my first ever cycling collision.  I collided into the ‘Got Jesus?’ bumper sticker of a car parked near the cul de sac just outside my house.  There’s a church nearby and there usually aren’t cars in that spot but this is Sunday.

So.  I was listening to ’30’s Lament’ by Laura Freeman on my iTunes mix…about not wanting things, just to sit around and sing… when BAM!  I hit the bumper hard and fell to the street.  I hit my head on the back of the holy stealth sedan and the top of my arm on the asphalt.  Amazingly there was no blood!  Not even road rash.  It doesn’t feel like a concussion.  And there’s nary a bruise or the perversely wished-for black eye.  I was lucky.

I must have been squinting in the Texas sun.  I was definitely not looking in front of me.

Rhymanese-Twins-examine-eggOuch.  Not too clever.

Thankfully, I was wearing a bike helmet.

Now I feel even happier about having preached the lesson in this video I made last year for BikeTexas with John Clawson and the  Rhymanese Twins — Noah Tabakin and Jon Steinmeier.

I got my bling on!

Bling saves!

Praise Safety Bling!

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Climate Reality: the Take-away

Texans Listening to Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project Chicago Leadership Corps Training, July 31, 2013

Texans Listening to Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project Chicago Leadership Corps Training, July 31, 2013

My friend Bruce with Sierra Club and This Land is Your Land asked me today… What’d you learn?  What was the take-away?  He was referring to my recent attendance at the Climate Reality Project  Leadership Corps Training in Chicago.

High school student Alice and her father Jin from South Lake, Texas

High school student Alice Liu and her father Jin Liu from South Lake, Texas

Here’s what I understand and agree with:

Climate change is happening now — the violent weather events are indeed wrecking havoc.

It’s us causing it.

There is hope.

We have to adapt to things that are already happening.  Nobody can solve this alone, but together we can take action to prevent additional problems.

Here are the top three actions you can take plus some other great ideas:

#1 ACTION.  Tell Your Story.  Here’s my friend Forrest Wilder telling our Texas story.  Yikes.

People respond to stories.  Hone your own personal climate change story and…Tell it!  What’s your story?

The Texas Delegation -- We're already telling our stories.

The Texas Delegation — We’re already telling our stories.

Everyone at the Chicago Leadership Corps Training — 1,250 people from 70 countries, all continents, all 50 US states, 100 from Canada, many from Mexico, committed to taking 10 leadership actions in 2013-2014.

#2 ACTION.  Put Heat on Denial — you can counter climate deniers in comments online, at dinner, on the bus.  Want some help?

Ok.  Here ya’ go.  You can use these ‘Reality Drop’ statements to respond to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, legislators, legislative aides — whoever you want to love up with a good healthy dose of reality.  This groovy Reality Drop app that the Climate Reality Project’s media team put together makes it easy to paste and drop the statements in articles online.  Find some hogwash?  Wash it here —https://realitydrop.org/#

Al Gore spoke much of the day Thursday.  What a great teacher!  He said, "We can transcend our habits. "

Al Gore spoke much of the day Thursday. What a great teacher! He said, “We can transcend our habits. “

#3 ACTION.  Take it to the policy makers!  You can write a handwritten letter, email, or phone, or best yet, visit your Legislators.  Consider doing it at least four times this year.  Once per season.  Yeah!

Ask them to:

Eliminate all incentives for oil, gas, and carbon (Ok, that can be a tricky ask in Texas.  But someones’s gotta do it.  Right?)   And finally, let them know they can butter the bread better –Implement energy efficiency and clean renewable power — in particular, rooftop solar.

Its my same ol’ golden oldie, the mantra that serves —

Solar power along the train route.

Solar power along the train route.

We can transition in a fair way now off of fossil fuels, by implementing clean energy solutions — energy efficiency measures across all sectors of our society and by installing and plugging in clean renewable power — particularly rooftop solar.

So.  That was my take away, Bruce!  ~ Donna

PS  Save the DATE — Oct 23-24  24 Hours of Reality  

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Gleaning Figs

Figs are coming ripe around Austin!

Julia picking figs

Julia and Claudette picking figs at Mueller.

Having trouble with your digestion?  Apanasa, the wind eliminator pose in yoga, just isn’t working this time?  Need some fiber?  Fresh figs are definitely your friend.

Once that problem’s solved by picking, washing, and eating a few from the fig tree, then you might like to use the colander-full that’s left over to make a delicious figgy pecan tart.

Your body will thank you.  Figs are considered one of the world’s healthiest foods.  Check out this long list of health benefits.

Austin’s bird population knows the time is now for figs.  I never feel like I’m denying them their fill — at 5’2″, I can only reach the lower limbs, leaving the fruit at the top half of the tree for my fine feathered friends.

City worker Davy Chapman checks on fig trees in Mueller Park.

If you don’t have your own fig tree, you might spot a neighborhood fig tree that isn’t being harvested.  That’s where the fine art of gleaning comes in.

Gleaning is the practice of collecting leftover crops — or harvesting from entirely ignored crops.  Beside figs, loquats are another great urban crop ignored all over Austin that are perfectly ready to be gleaned.  They become ripe  during the middle to end of winter, the opposite time of year from figs, so they don’t pose a time management complication for gleaners.

Gleaning requires attention to notice the crops that aren’t being used.  On neighborhood walks, they practically cry out to you.  If you don’t notice the beautiful invitation of their color, the squawking of happy, intelligent birds feasting to their delight could also serve as your signal to investigate further.

Next, gain permission.  If the tree is overhanging a public sidewalk or passage, I would say, forego this step.  I don’t want to get you in trouble though with the law or an angry neighbor.  So, you should probably ask each time.


Figs I Gleaned in another central Austin neighborhood this week.

Most people who are ignoring their fruit happily allow you to glean from their trees.

If you are able and wish to, you could offer them a small cash Thank you.

If not, no worries.  Glean away!

These are the figs I gleaned this past week.  I’ve washed them thoroughly and today they become a figgy pecan tart.

Love and health to you and yours, my friends!   Donna

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Living, learning, and teaching with exuberance!

The past few days, I’ve watched three great films.  Recommended highly! —

Dave  with actor Kevin Kline was assigned viewing for my Screenplay Workshop class.  This fun movie has some important political messages — have fun and sing out loud without a care;  believe in your own heart’s concerns and decide to try; act with the belief that you are powerful;  demonstrate integrity; act on behalf of those less fortunate; full employment is a good thing for our communities.

Mary, Andrew, Jan, Don Felipe and I watched Part One of the Ken Burns’ PBS National Parks series.  Part One covers the first National Park designation — Yellowstone;  and the second, Yosemite.  And it introduces us to the beautiful life and writing of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.  Watch this on the largest screen possible.  Its mighty scenery!

Finally, today, I took the third grade classes from Blackshear Elementary School to see Flight of the Butterflies in 3D at the Bullock IMAX.  The kids agreed that it has the best 3D effect ever.  And they loved the story of how scientist Fred Urquhart and his partner Nora Patterson discovered the amazing migration and destination of the monarch butterflies.

I’m inspired by it all to share this Muir quote and my recent photo of Texas’ Gorman Falls with you —

Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood…in nature’s warm heart.

My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 10, John Muir


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