Reflections on the death of the Zilker Vision Plan

Now that another era of silly Austin politics is in the rearview mirror I wanted to take a moment for some reflection on the Zilker Vision Plan and how it spiraled into an abrupt end.

First, I want to state unequivocally that no person, including myself, or anyone that I’ve spoken to wants anything other than a pristine spring-fed pool, clean water, and a gorgeous natural setting to enjoy. It is disheartening that once again what should be an informed discussion of how best to achieve that turns into name-calling, threats, and is distilled into black-and-white narratives of amusement parks or wrecking balls (code next reference). More than being for or against the Zilker Vision Plan, I am staunchly against this type of politics that opposed it - it is destructive and obstructionist and in the end, achieves nothing but the worst of all worlds.

The Zilker Vision Plan was a comprehensive 200+ page document that mentions all sorts of ideas for improvements to Zilker Park for all sorts of reasons. Anyone who says they are 100% categorically against or for this vision plan is probably not being honest or doesn’t know what is in it. Personally, there were things about the plan that I liked (a pedestrian bridge over the water located between Barton Springs road and Barton Springs pool) and there were things I did not like (an amphitheater in the great lawn). But, like all things comprehensive it was easy for those that did not like it to cherry-pick a few things and use them to distill the plan into a few words to turn those that don’t have time to digest it, against it, to serve their own goals.

Upon reflection, I think a core reason why those that launched efforts to destroy the vision plan were so against it comes down to approach. Like wanting the park to be environmentally sound, I think we can all agree that in its current state, the park is hurting. This comes down to the harsh reality that humans are bad for nature. With Austin’s ongoing growth and more and more people enjoying Zilker Park on the regular, you have a deteriorating situation. So what is to be done? On, let’s just call it the anti-VisionPlan side, the objective seems to be to keep as many people away from the park as possible. This leads to the re-wilding campaign. On the, let’s call it the pro-VisionPlan side, the objective is to build infrastructure to manage the people and protect the environment of the park.

Now let’s just be clear one more time, both sides want the same thing. It is how we get there where there are differences. And honestly, there is a place for both approaches. The answer, in my opinion, lies in a hybrid approach where areas can be re-wilded and protected from humans. Whereas, other areas that are enjoyed by many, many people need to be protected by infrastructure to manage those people getting to the park, enjoying the park, and most importantly protecting the natural features of the park that makes it the gem that it is. What is clear though is the politics attacking the vision plan has accomplished neither and simply leaves us more divided than ever with the status quo slowly taking its toll on the park.

I will acknowledge my part in this. My reaction to the hyperbole spun up, falsely calling it a plan for an amusement park or that corporations will own the park, was one of flippant disregard. The parody Instagram account (since removed, example post above) provided comic relief to these extremely false claims being parroted by so many. These MAGAesue platitudes were unbelievable, and yet familiar, in a town of such intelligent and insightful people. As a native and near lifetime resident of Austin, this has all happened before and it will unfortunately likely all happen again. In 1999 the big black signs with white letters reading “costs too much, does too little” opposing the light rail initiative. One that if we’d started then, just imagine where we’d be now in our transit system. In the 2010’s the wrecking balls depicting code next - much of which would have helped drastically with the housing crisis we are currently in. All the same politics. All the same result.

I do believe, despite all the evidence before us, that we are better than that. It is one of the reasons I helped start the Friends of Zilker neighborhood association. A place where true discussion can be had and granular real feedback can be provided to our elected officials for what the people - at least in this neighborhood - want. It was a start. And one which we should re-energize in light of everything that has happened. Perhaps it could have done some good in cutting through the binary polarization and giving some substantial feedback on the Zilker Vision Plan.

Those of you who live in the Zilker neighborhood, if you’re interested in helping Friends of Zilker become more active and providing a counter-voice to these types of attacks, please send me a message and let’s enact some positive change. Peace, love, and Zilker forever :grinning:

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Really really appreciate this post. I agree that a lot of the dialogue on topics such as the Vision Plan and single family zoning have been completely toxic as of late so I appreciate your nuance and level headedness.

Thanks again for the post!

Hard disagree on perspective here JP. What you highlight throughout your post is a politics of cynicism.

If people don’t agree with your position they must be doing so out of selfishness and ulterior motives.

Facts and opinions don’t matter or are simply a matter of perception bias.

I don’t agree with your presumption that the park is “hurting” or is being “loved to death” as we heard
so frequently this year.

I don’t believe that building three parking garages in the park is a responsible or necessary way of managing

park usage.

Nor do I think that the vision plan was crafted in good faith. One example: You mention not loving a new amphitheater
on the Great Lawn – the plan’s own survey’s found this idea was wildly unpopular, then chose to ignore it.
It called the amphitheater a “refurbished” Hillside Theater, which is like calling the Moody Center a “refurbished”
Frank Erwin Center. There are plenty of other examples here. Like the plan’s phony C02 climate numbers, or
the Design Workshop’s obfuscation of their communications with C3 Presents.

Facts matter. Opinions matter. This plan stunk. Good riddance.


Facts do matter.

Here are some facts.

The trail foundation, Barton Springs Conservancy, and Austin Parks Foundation were in support.
There was a 2 year process with massive amounts of public input.
The public input is publicly available and the plan was representative of the public input.
The plan would have resulted in a net decrease of impervious cover.
The plan would have made the car more accessible to families and people with limited mobility.
The survey cited by savezilker was a push poll with very specifically phrased questions (read into that what you will)

You seem sensitive about people’s motivations being called out. SOS/SaveZilker/ReWild (which is just ZNA) accused the above mentioned organizations who supported the plan of “doing so out of selfishness and ulterior motives” to use your words (i.e. they were in c3s pocket). Does that bother you, or does it only bother you when the accusations are against people you agree with?

You say the plan was made in bad faith. Are you suggesting that when they reached their final proposal, the were “doing so out of selfishness and ulterior motives” (once again, your words). What exactly are you accusing PARD staff and the Parks board of. You realize that if these individuals act against the interest of the city for personal gain, they are committing a crime. If they parks board had meetings and made decisions outside of public view, with some very limited exceptions, they are committing a crime. Are you sitting here confidently accusing city officials of being criminals as you wag your finger about bad faith? Do you have proof or is it just a hunch that you arrived at when you didn’t like their plan?

Now for some opinions you presented as fact. You bring up C02 climate numbers. Heres the funny thing about those, you can’t calculate them without precise construction plans, material lists, and information about the sourcing of the materials. Im not sure what plan you saw, but the one I saw did not have construction plans. It did not call out specific materials. It did not identify vendors. Did you know that there are lots of different kinds of concrete with varying levels of C02? Did you know that there are lots of construction techniques that can drastically change a materials list and yet achieve structures that in the end are largely equivalent? Forgive me if Im being naive here, but isn’t it kind of obvious that the actual C02 calculation would be a guess at best? Now bear with me. If you start with a vague plan with some pretty pictures, and then some engineer pulls a number they think feels realistic out of their ass, so in response someone at SOS pulls a different number out of their ass, what has actually been proven? And final question if you are still with me, is it safe to assume that SOS would pull a worse case scenario number out of their ass just to prove a point, but primarily in bad faith because they didn’t like the plan?

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While I disagree with most everything you wrote on substance, you actually satisfied my main
objections to the framing of JP’s post.

You didn’t assume we all come from the same starting point on the plan, you didn’t elevate approach
or orientation above positions and rationale, you didn’t cite some get-cute nihilistic instagram account
that reduced all of the dialogue about the plan to a level of broad relativism or a joke.

So, agree to disagree! Not a fan of the vision plan or the vision plan process. Glad its gone.


The fact that the trail foundation, Barton Springs Conservancy, and Austin Parks Foundation all agree, doesn’t / shouldn’t mean as much as it is being touted. This is a bit like saying one political party’s stance is the correct one.

If that’s what you took away, then I either didn’t articulate myself well enough or you didn’t understand what I was saying. To be a bit more blunt. What I disagree with is a politics of emotional manipulation using falsehoods and lies. What I’m advocating for is informed public discourse without these emotionally manipulative puppet strings.

You’re entitled to your beliefs. I simply said that because it was an area of common ground I heard between those advocating for re-wilding and those advocating for more infrastructure being built in the park.

I did try to leave most details of the vision plan out of my post - especially the triggering ones like parking garages - as I wanted to focus on how it was killed and how killing it doesn’t serve the greater good.

Regarding parking garages it is a good example of where informed discourse could’ve served everyone. Parking garages have a strong visual punch. The idea of parking garages and green space does not intuitively go together and plays into a narrative of commercializing the park. In my utopian world we would have no parking and the only access to the park would be through trains, bikes, and pedestrian trails. That, unfortunately, is not very realistic. So in lieu of that parking garages underneath Mopac (already a bit of an eyesore) and elimination of surface level parking freeing up all that asphalt to become green space and reduce impervious cover - does start to make a bit of sense. And it is certainly better than what is happening right now:

So they listened to public input?

In any event, everyone is entitled to their opinion and if you didn’t like the vision plan then I’m happy for you that it didn’t get adopted.

If I could leave you with one thing it comes back to the idea of ending emotionally manipulative politics in favor of informed public discourse.

This was a core value proposition of Friends of Zilker when it was formed and if you agree with me I encourage you to come out and let’s get some new blood to help carry this idea forward.

Another thing to consider is who benefits from this controversy? What organizations do you think got massive donations as a result? Zilker park is close to many peoples hearts and being told it is going to be turned into an amusement park or sold to corporate interests is infuriating. I would write any check I could afford to stop that. Only problem, it wasn’t and isn’t true.

Take a look back at the campaigns that these tactics have been used against. They have one common denominator.

  • Light Rail transit circa 1999 - bring people into the neighborhood - result of failure intense congestion
  • Land Code Reform - Code Next 2010’s - allow more people to live in the neighborhood result of failure skyrocketing housing costs
  • Zilker Park Improvements - Zilker Vision Plan 2020’s - bring more people into Zilker park result of failure we’ll see

It is emotionally charged obstructionism against more people coming here with similar tactics used against denser or commercial development.

Now this is not to say I’m for letting development and/or people flood into the neighborhood, but what I am for is informed public discourse and not being manipulated by those who think they wear the golden ring. I’m for managed growth - smart growth even as it was once referred to. And over all betterment for us who live in the neighborhood and those wishing to come to the neighborhood or neighboring parks.

Some facts.

A 501c3 cannot participate in politics without breaking the law.

The trail conservancy (apparently they renamed)is a 501c3.
As such they have to publicly post their financials as you can see below

They actually use money to build and maintain the trail

The austin parks foundation is also a 501c3 and is also disallowed from political activity. financials below.

They use their money to actually build and maintain parks.

The Barton Springs conservancy is similarly a 501c3, same political restrictions, financials below

If you look closely, you may notice that their board doesnt collect salaries.
They primarily raise money to fund projects at Barton Springs but leave the operational aspects to PARD.

Now lets look at Bill Bunch’s enterprise

First SOS

It is notably also a 501c3, so they cannot participate in politics.
They paid Bill Bunch 100k last year.
In fact, 41% of their contributions went to salaries last year.

Now community not commodity, Bill Bunch’s PAC (That’s political action committee if the term is new to you).
This legal approach to fund raising is what is typical called Dark Money.
You will notice the mention of lobbying in the form below.
Here is the disclosure for their lobbying activity with the city of Austin

Save Zilker does not request money and is just a random website put up in the name of free speech, but it’s funding is not disclosed.

Rewild Zilker does not request money is just another random website put in the name of free speech, but its funding sources are also not disclosed.

Finally, Bill Bunch is president of the ZNA.

Just putting out out there, which of these feels more like a political party, inquiring minds want to know.

Facts definitely matter, as Isaac said. ZNA, SOS, etc… have shown time and again that they’re willing to go with hyperbole and outright lies first in order to get what they want. Have a look at this bit from Dave’s recent Op-Ed in the Chronicle:

"One can only imagine the caste parking system that would be implemented for events like the ACL Festival. Got a $5,500 Platinum Badge? Well shucks, we’ve got a parking garage spot for your Hummer right across the street from the festival entrance. Yuck.”

Literally just made up scare tactics. Or this "The beloved and heavily used Frisbee golf course would be razed”

A half truth at best. The Vision Plan proposed to move the disc golf course and improve it.

Dave & friends will feed you all kinds of falsehoods in order to bend things to the whims of the ZNA. And what does the ZNA want more than anything? Single Family Homes, no riff raff, no bars, no change. Things are just fine the way they are because they have theirs.

All you need to do is read Dave’s byline to know where is motivations lie. He and Bill Bunch are paid to sway public opinion and they’re terribly good at it.

“David Weinberg is a political consultant who lives in Barton Hills.”

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Thanks @isaac very notable - it was always a “head scratcher” how C3 was accused of influencing the plan because they gave money to the Austin Parks Foundation. My understanding is a huge reason for the foundation and why they give money to a 501c3 is to prevent PARD from feeling pressured to do anything specific with that money. So instead the nonprofit non political foundation is the arm for using that money to improve the parks system as a whole. Yet some how this dishonest flex was used very effectively against the vision plan.

The campaigns you provide as a complete failure because they weren’t passed due to polar-politics isn’t exactly accurate. The problem isn’t the polar politics. It’s the city that creates the ripe environment for polar politics with their heavy-handedness and secret agendas.

The light rail was going to serve UT and the Dell medical center where there is virtually no congestion, but it was gonna cost us all billions.

Code next was a complete boondoggle as well. Wildly inconsistent rezoning’s from an absurdly complex code amounted to takings of peoples property interests led to that failure.

And obviously, the Zilker vision plan was corrupted from the start when they closed the doors to the creation of it, but invited Ticketmaster and C3 for their “input.” The intermediary entity proposed to be created for the management of the park is also troubling for those who think corporations involved weren’t actually going to take control of the park for their benefit. Let’s face it they already have. C3 has somehow managed to take over the park during the nicest months of the fall for preparation, the event, then restoration time for the park because the event is too damn huge.

What each of these plans have in common is the city disregarding the people and common sense, coming up with a plan, then ramming it down the throats of those who live in the spaces and pay for it all. The people saw an arrogant lack of representation of their interests, and got pissed off enough to get out into the streets.

Regarding taking only the best bits, we’ve seen up and down the political ladder from Fed to State to City, once a plan gets momentum, no matter how terrible it is, and how many hidden agendas there are, it can become extremely difficult, if not impossible to stop. The amphitheater, grass bridge and parking garage is where the biggest most expensive, most exciting parts for many who stood to profit from them all. The city is going about all of these plans in the exact opposite way they should: hiding information and vested interests, ignoring the people until it gets critical, and then nothing can happen.

And regarding loving Zilker to death, the statistics show the commercialization of the park accounts for over 2/3 of the use of the park. So the fix is to move the huge events (and profit) out of the park so that people not mostly corporations, benefit from the park. COTA has plenty of parking, no limit on people, no acquifer,…


Ahhh - I didn’t remember the name. According to this article:

" In this FOX 7 Focus, FOX 7 Austin’s John Krinjak sits down with David Weinberg, the leader of the newly-formed Save Zilker Park PAC which aims to kill the Zilker Park Vision Plan."

So I guess you’re one of the people behind the messaging that killed the vision plan. Makes sense, would be more honest if you’d disclosed that up front.

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There is actually a video of Claire, the CEO of design company mentioning they met with C3 several times. So they did actually influence the process, it’s disingenuous to say otherwise in light of the facts. C3 needs to get out of the park.

You are conflating things. I do not know the video you speak of, but I have no doubt they met with C3 - as they should’ve. They met with everyone who would meet with them. Including numerous public meetings.

“Influence” is a charged word and the campaigns I saw either directly said or insinuated that the influence came from the money. Which is much different than meeting with the people who put together the Vision plan - who, as I said, met with everyone they could to ingest all input.

Finally, if you believe ACL should be in Zilker or not is a different issue and really has nothing to do with the vision plan or how it was killed other than those that wanted it killed drawing some false correlation to killing the vision plan might get ACL to leave the park (I highly doubt it will).

Kind of makes you wonder…

Ooops! We’ve moved away from conversations about fact and opinions and into sour grapes ad hominem attacks!

I have not made a dime off of my work on the Zilker Park Vision Plan.

I did it as a labor of love.

I think the plan stinks. I also participated in the “public input” process with a bunch of other folks … we asked for
some very modest stuff, like keeping the Azie Morton fields intact. Didn’t get anything.

I might suggest trying more than calling people names in your approach to politics and public policy.


It’s funny too because Jack doesn’t seem to have any trouble profiting off of ACL. Were you worried the parking garages might cut into your pay for parking business?

UT alumnus Jack Armstrong is a real estate broker who has lived in Austin for over 20 years. When ACL started, he saw the demand for parking spaces. Since then, he has been renting out his backyard and driveway for people to park in.

“I’m usually filled, but I probably won’t try to max it out this year,” Armstrong said. “I get people from years past that find me, and they come back. [They] always email me like a week or two before.”

Armstrong said about 12 cars can fit in his backyard and driveway, and he gives everyone a reserved spot.

“I print the people’s names, and they have their own spots,” Armstrong said. “They can come and go, and their spot will be there the next day.”

As far as pricing goes, Armstrong will charge $40 or $45 per day if a person decides to rent a spot for two or more days.

“It is hard for people to get access to my house because roads are shut down, so that’s always the hard part,” Armstrong said.

The light rail I speak of in 1999 was before the Dell medical center existed.

Code Next had issues - as does any comprehensive plan - but what led to its failure was a messaging campaign of wrecking balls coming into your neighborhood. Which was never the case. Up zoning yes. Wrecking balls no. And that up zoning would’ve helped prevent or at the very least mitigate the housing crisis we are currently in.

This is just false. There was a ton of public input and opportunities for such throughout the entire process.

Also completely false - tons of public input opportunities for all of these. I went to several preliminary code next meetings. If you didn’t get involved until the emotinoal manipulation campaigns started then maybe I can see how you’d think that.

This is the other thing - the vision plan isn’t set in stone. It’s a vision. Debate over placement of the parking garages - should they even be affordable - would come. The idea is where there is currently a massive choke point with cars and parking. That was one of them. But there is good reason to also not put a parking garage there… I personally wouldn’t support it. But instead of taking it in stride and working with the plan you get your feelings hurt and kill the entire thing.

" Political Advertising Paid For By Save Zilker Park PAC"