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Monday, December 2, 2002 by

Betty Edgemond, talks

About fighting for South Austin

By Keith Sennikoff

“I have to listen to Miss Edgemond because she’s the mayor of South Austin!” Mayor Gus Garcia once said during a City Council zoning hearing. Betty Edgemond, member of the Board of Adjustment (BOA), has lived in South Austin for over 30 years and has been a colorful, passionate and outspoken resident the entire time.

Born and raised in England, Edgemond moved to Austin because, she said, “I was married to a GI, and when he came back from Vietnam he came to Bergstrom Air Force Base. And then we divorced.”

Edgemond began her community involvement early on. “In 1971, I think it was—could have been 1970— Nash Philips Copus, now defunct, was building properties further out on South First and they wanted to dig a trench and burn trash every night from (that site), and they also wanted to bring it in from other places. They wanted to make a huge trench burn. They wanted to burn asbestos, and that was when asbestos was just coming to where people knew that it wasn’t good for them. And so we—actually the person that was the most active in that was Ken Burks—went through the state and everything and shut them down. We were so involved, and we formed a neighborhood group (the Far South Austin Community Association, which) we kept so we could get community schools.” This was at a time when South Austin barely reached past Stassney Lane, when there were only cows on Slaughter Lane. “There was nobody out here.” That’s how she met Jack and Jackie Goodman and many other longtime Austin political hands. She’s been connected ever since.

“We were involved in Williamson Creek when Nash Philips Copus again was building over there off William Cannon . . . They were coming in throwing up houses and got all the water taps, and we had no sewage plant. They actually trucked sewage at midnight down I-35 because the plant was overflowing . . . After that we had Onion Creek . . . The city was rubber-stamping everything, (such as) the taps, knowing full well there was nothing to take care of the sewage, no water lines, no nothing.”

“We got involved in the zoning case on William Cannon, what we call the Dinerstin Apartments—it’s Summer Valley. That was our big zoning case against apartments. That was when we learned ‘good developer/bad developer.’” One developer told us, “Hey, I can put in whatever I want.” But Dinerstin, who was from Houston, had heard that Austin was “a bit more radical. So he called a neighborhood meeting and had donuts and coffee for everybody. He told us what he wanted to do,” and the neighbors worked with him to lower the density.

As a single parent raising two children, she earned a living through the Austin Independent School District. “I used to be a bus driver, for 24 1/2 years. I actually was a road supervisor, but I always say proudly that I was a school bus driver. I was an accident investigator, defensive driving instructor, I did everything.”

Edgemond’s path to the BOA began inadvertently when she decided to add a back porch to her house. She thought while she was adding one thing she might as well do it all, so had a new bathroom put in at the same time. She told the contractor a little way into the job, “You know what, the city inspectors are going to give you a hard time because they’re going to know the name Betty Edgemond. And he said, ‘No, we never have a hard time.’ They put in the bathroom, they put in the framing, the city inspector came and said they could not go any further with it because the nails weren’t the correct length—they had to be four-inch nails. I called (City Council Member) Jackie (Goodman) and said, ‘this is stupid. I can’t get anyone to move trash out of the neighborhood, but city inspectors come . . .’” It turned out it wasn’t the length of the nail but the way it was hammered in. “And then there was something wrong with the electric . . . so that was a two-day wait . . . Jackie was tired of me calling her complaining about these city inspectors—I wish I had copied all the stuff they wrote down then—anyway, about the third time I called she said, ‘How would you like to be on the Board of Adjustment?’ I said, ‘What do they do?’ She said, ‘They give variances for remodeling.’ And so I said, ‘That’s my place!’”

Some members of the Board of Adjustment also serve on the Sign Review Board. Edgemond says BOA meetings “begin as Sign Review, take a five-minute break while some people clear out, then we reconvene as the Board of Adjustment.” The BOA reviews variance requests and other aspects of residential and commercial zoning, but in doing so differs from the Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission in several important ways. The primary one is that the BOA is a quasi-judicial body and as such has the power of subpoena. Also, all applicants’ presentation materials must be kept on file for ten days, in case any board decision is appealed. “On the Sign Review Board (applicants) can appeal our decision to the City Council,” which has the final word. “But appeals of BOA decisions go to court.” And, uniquely, the BOA cannot be lobbied.

Edgemond takes it personally when her part of town is misrepresented or simply ignored. “Whenever the Statesman does an article on Congress (Ave) they do it so glowingly, but they never cross over Ben White (Blvd). It’s like everything stops at Ben White. And we’ve got the junkyards; we’ve got the pawnshops; we’ve got trash; we’ve got no curbs or gutters. We have a lot of people. We have a mobile home section . . . it looks like one of those colonias—I mean—it looks worse. But again, we’re very tolerant, because we say people have to live somewhere. But I really think it’s time the Health Department closed it down. People don’t have a vision for that part of Congress. If they ran light rail down Congress Avenue starting at Slaughter Lane, that would be wonderful. But I have to support my friends further down that don’t want it. But I think it would change what we have there now. People would want to live close to the area. I think the major stores would want to be close to the area. I think it could be absolutely wonderful. I have a vision for it! But they want to run light rail up north.”

Despite having openly voted against the referendum on light rail, Edgemond is certainly for it in principle. “I’m really rethinking the light rail . . . But I don’t want Capital Metro running it,” she said. “I just want something that will bring a change to the economy in this area.”

“I was on a citizen’s planning committee for a long time; we would meet every week just about and we had a vision for this city. And part of our vision is coming true. It just took so long. One of the things was to make it easier to get around. We didn’t outright endorse light rail, but we suggested a lot of things, a lot of ways the city could make things better. And one suggestion was, in subdivisions, no cul-de-sacs. Have the streets join, make the blocks shorter, so people could walk.”

Edgemond is as proud to live in the capital of Texas as any native and would like to see the city show its pride more brightly. “I’m a great believer in lights,” she says. The Capitol should be lit up at night like you wouldn’t believe so the world could see it . . . We should glorify it. I remember when I first came over here (to the USA) I lived in Columbus, Ohio, and never in my life had I seen so many lights. I would take the bus downtown on Thursday nights ‘cause that’s when Lazarus and all the big stores stayed open. And I would just walk around and look at the lights. Of course, my then husband was in Strategic Air Command and they were on total alert all the time he was there, so I had a lot of free time. And I spent it riding the bus looking at the lights! I know people thought I was crazy—for one thing, they thought I was crazy to ride the bus. But that’s all I ever knew in England: riding the bus.”

Her children William and Christina have long since left home, but Edgemond keeps busy playing mom to her dogs Bailey and Princely, cat Stormy and 23-year-old Burt the Turtle.


© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Travis Commissioners pick RMA interviewees . . . A subcommittee of commissioners picked eight applicants who will be interviewed for the Travis-Williamson Regional Mobility Authority: Michael Bomba, Rebecca Bronson, Henry Gilmore, Lowell Lebermann, John Lewis, Margaret Moore, Mark Stine and Johanna Zmud. Bomba, Gilmore, Lebermann and Stine are City of Austin residents. Williamson County is accepting applications through Tuesday. The Governor’s Appointments Office has reportedly asked Rep. Mike Krusee to help by providing a short list of candidates for the Governor to consider . . . City Council lunch with legislators . . . Members of the Austin City Council and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a luncheon for new members of the Legislature at noon today at the Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel on 15th Street. A quorum may be present so the matter is posted . . . Design Commission meets tonight . . . The commission’s agenda includes a presentation by Z Development on El Mercado, as well as presentations on Republic Square and the Smart Growth Matrix. . . Off the salamander beat . . . Since Federal Judge Sam Sparks ruled that the EPA and Fish & Wildlife Service were not in violation of the law when they changed a biological opinion regarding protection for the Barton Springs Salamander during construction, biologist Matthew Lechner, who penned the original opinion, has been reassigned to other duties. Lechner, however, remains in Austin, unlike his former boss, David Frederick. Frederick, who was transferred to Albuquerque in what many regarded as political payback, urged higher-ups not to “take a step backward” in protection for the salamander . . .’Tis the season . . . Now that Thanksgiving is over, folks are getting ready for the next holiday. Christmas party invitations have already begun arriving. RECA is inviting members and guests to a “very special evening awards ceremony” on Thursday, Dec. 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel. Call 684-5793 for more information . . . Boycott called off . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance had asked members to demonstrate against Foley’s on Friday, believing that the company had plans to open a store in the proposed Hill Country Galleria. But the group received a message that the May Company does not plan to participate, leading SOS spokesman Colin Clark to thank the company for its decision . . . Angel tree dedications . . . The Sun City RN Club and St. Alban’s Volunteers craft angels each year in honor of loved ones and to support the efforts of Hospice Austin. One angel tree dedication is planned for today at 4pm at the Meeting Place in Sun City. Another angel tree will be dedicated at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House on December 9 at 3pm. Angels may be purchased at the dedications, the Village Store in Sun City, Hospice Austin’s Christopher House or its administrative offices at 4107 Spicewood Springs Road. Hospice Austin, one of the oldest and largest non-profit hospice programs in the nation, offers compassionate medical care and emotional support for terminally ill patients and their families.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.


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