Driving around Austin in the winter, I normally focus more on getting where I need to go safely than anything else. The potholes in the streets are causing many of us to drive in a zigzag pattern. If there is snow, we still have folks putting junk in the street to preserve a parking spot as if we have had a blizzard rather than a normal snowfall. Those distractions can make for dangerous driving conditions.

But even as I try to drive safely, there is one distraction I hope everyone in this community will notice now and work to address before summer returns. That is the number of boarded-up houses appearing more and more each day. A while back, I wrote about the number of boarded-up houses just in the 800 block of Laramie. Now on some blocks, I am seeing two or three boarded-up homes. Add to that the number of houses up for sale, and you realize the situation must be addressed before the summer arrives and those houses become the hangout spot for young people-or for those with criminal intentions.

Housing issues have been important to me since I first began writing for this newspaper. Every homeowner should check to make sure they are qualifying for every available tax exemption when it comes to their homes. But as more and more houses are sitting vacant, those vacant houses affect the property value of the surrounding homes. We have constantly watched our property taxes go up in response to the increased value of the property. Yet over the past year, I have watched houses sell for less than they were initially priced, and I wonder if we’ll see our property taxes decrease in response to the falling housing market?

And speaking of driving around, I drove past Washington Square Mall the other day and was pleasantly surprised to see a sign of good things to come. The sign for Grand Mart International Food has been removed and replaced with a Food for Less sign. That means we will get a grocery store that will cater to this community. Hopefully that store will reach out to many of the employees who had successfully run the former Cub Foods. I should also note that, in the same mall, the Staples store has closed.

Let me add one additional driving story: A while back, I wrote a column about getting a ticket for a red light violation. The violation notice showed three photos that, based on the violation cited, made me question the accuracy of the city’s red light system. When the time finally came for me to have a hearing, I was prepared to argue that the violation notice didn’t show any violation had occurred.

But before I could speak, the city got to present its case. The hearing officer’s first question to me was, “Do you want to see the videotape?” I said yes and the hearing officer had me take a seat next to his computer. In a few moments my SUV appeared on camera with my son driving. The light was red and my son made a right turn on red without coming to a complete stop. Guess who won’t be driving my truck ever again?

Needless to say, because it was my vehicle, I had to pay the fine for the violation. I understand that now the city has put those violation videos on the Internet so before you even contest the ticket, you can see it online and not waste your time or theirs by trying to contest it. My only hope now is that those red light camera locations will soon add a countdown clock so drivers traveling at the speed limit will know how much time they have before the light changes.

CONTACT westside2day@yahoo.com