Now, I know this doesn’t affect 90% of my four readers, but I decided to throw it out there anyway because, seriously, what is wrong with people? Let me set it up for non-Austinites (and for the fact that you don’t live in Austin I am, as ever, truly sorry). Whatever you may have heard about Austin, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the “weird.” Most non-residents think that’s the New Collosus of Austin:
Give me your young, your liberal,
Your tattooed masses yearning to breathe weed,
The wretched refuse of your teeming school.
Send these, the wacky festival-goers to me,
I lift my hemp beside the golden door!
But it’s not. Or maybe it is, but there’s more to it than that. It’s really the battle cry of small business. Keep Austin weird means keep it local, different, non-homogonized. You get it. So, in their infinite weirdness, local running stores set up picnic tables with water coolers full of cool, clean water, a supply of paper cups, and several trash cans, free to all who pass. Not sure if you’ve seen the news lately, but Texas gets hot. So the ready availability of cool clean water is, like, a really great thing. And if you haven’t seen the news lately, you may have missed that Austin is this proudly athletic and outdoorsy city. I’m sure you heard about this guy, but you may not have caught the headlines about this guy, this guy, or this stud.
But then came the tape. The red tape. And permits. And fees.
Never one for red tape, this particular news item struck me as wildly over the top. The local running stores took away their water stations, and overworked under-hydrated blobs everywhere let out a collective wheezing gasp of indignation: “What gives?” To which the local running stores took to Facebook in their own defense. What once was just a cool community offering has since become a royal pain in the Asics since THE CITY has officially stepped in. And it got my button-making, money-raising, “Sugar High” wailing, seventh employee at Empire Records righteous indignation all in a twist. So I did the exact opposite of all those things: I wrote a letter.
And here it is:
Dear Mayor Leffingwell, Mayor Pro-Tem Martinez, and City Council Members:
I recently noticed that the water station formerly donated by RunTex under the MoPac bridge on the Ladybird Lake Hike and Bike Trail was missing, and assumed that this was due to the fact that Run Tex no longer maintains its location near there at Lake Austin Boulevard and the South MoPac access road. However, today I read the following statement from Rogue Running:
We did not remove our Town Lake water stop, instead the City of Austin and the Parks Department decided to charge for us donating our time, coolers, employee cost to provide cold, clean water on the trail. If you DON’T like this tell your council person but this should explains why RunTex & Rogue coolers are no longer on the trail.
“You will need to complete and submit should you ever decide to provide water coolers for public use on the running trails.
You will need – 1. the Permit to Operate a Food Enterprise ($310/yr). Renewable annually; 2. The “Change of Ownership” permit inspection, ($125) one time inspection to approve the application and issue permit; 3. Complete the Food Handler spreadsheet for the employees who will maintain these units.
The City of Austin’s vendor for Food Handler Registration is “www.statefoodsafety.com”. Using this vendor and choosing the City of Austin will get your staff registered with the City without having to register separately.
For each Mobile Unit/Water table set-up, you will need the Mobile Food Vending application ($90/yr) and need to bring the unit/set-up to the our location for permitting.
We will also need a copy of the signed agreement with PARD, and a detailed written procedure for sanitary operation of the water cooler set up.”
I am writing to request that the City Council reconsider these requirements for donated water on the Hike and Bike Trail. I appreciate the City’s need to control the operation of food enterprises, food handlers, food vending, and sanitation for the safety of its residents. It has been, rather cynically, suggested that the requirements communicated by the City to Rogue and RunTex also belie the City’s need for revenue, which I also do appreciate. But requiring fees on the order of $500.00 annually to donate water is elevating form over function.
The rules are not in themselves frivolous; they exist for the service of the Austin constituents, as do the water donation stations. In a case like this, I would respectfully request that you consider the competing interests of the City in collecting the fees and vendors like RunTex and Rogue in donating the water for publicity and community-building, as those interests affect Austin residents and visitors. Let’s keep in mind that the highest aim of both the City Council and the local vendors is community service. What best serves our community?
I am sure you are proud of the fact that Austin is among the fittest communities in our country. We are widely known and respected for being a community that not only accommodates outdoor athletics, but actively encourages them. I’m sure you are also proud of the fact that Austin residents have taken great pains to support and nurture the Hike and Bike Trail in particular as a public space for outdoor athletics and the fostering of families. Through the efforts of The Trail Foundation and voter propositions for public funding, this community has continually fostered the Hike and Bike Trail as the gem of our downtown landscape.
Many cities boast beautiful waterfront hike and bike areas, but I am sure you will agree that what makes Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail different and better are the Austinites who are on it. This includes our local vendors who generously support our community by providing free, clean, cold water for runners, children on long walks with parents, dogs on long runs with athletes, and visitors to our town who ceaselessly marvel and niceness, cleanness, and quirky generosity of the water donation stations.
Please consider my request to allow RunTex and Rogue to continue operating their water donation stations on the Hike and Bike Trail without paying the permitting fees referenced in their statement above. There are several solid arguments against requiring the permits and fees, not the least of which is the shaky connection between the unmanned donation of water and the City’s definitions of “vending” and “food handling,” as well as the virtually indistinguishable comparison of the water donation stations to the City’s (rarely working) water fountains. Those and other arguments aside, I appeal to the City Council to simply do what is right, and bogging down the friendly donation of water in expensive bureaucratic process simply isn’t it.
I can’t thank you enough for your time in reading this request, for considering my grievance to the City Council, and for your continued efforts to keep Austin not just weird but watered.
Just another thirsty Blob