Son of the late Robert Barnstone, City Council 1988 to 1991
“Speaker after speaker for more than 15 hours has come here and said to us that this is where we draw the line. That we’ll go to the wall or we’ll go to hill and if we were to deny this motion and this PUD, we could go to the hill and we would go to the devil himself to protect Barton Springs.”
- Robert Barnstone, Austin City Hall, June 8 th , 1990
My father, Robert Barnstone, though socially a liberal, was elected to Council as a fiscal conservative on a platform of affordability. “Ya Basta!” (enough!) was his campaign slogan, a reference, to the thicket of regulatory burdens, taxes, and other fees straining tax payers and small businesses.
While he was a businessman and a developer, he was definitely a cat of a different color. The Austin my parents discovered in 1968 was not like other places in Texas. It was a place where cosmic cowboys, hippies, ‘bubbas’ and entrepreneurs, academics and hippies, musicians and creatives, writers, and bureaucrats mixed with more ease than in most places. My parents had found in Austin an oasis, culturally and physically, complete with its own shimmering pool – the life giving waters of Barton Springs.
It is not an exaggeration to state we spent most of our summer weekends at Barton Springs. My father had a favorite spot, underneath a Live Oak on a little flat about midway on the pool, just across from the dive board. Getting to the pool early was the key. There, he would set up with a book, hold court with friends and colleagues, and keep half an eye on us kids by the dive board and cliffs. Rituals for getting in (diving in - none of this messing around with walking-in-to-get- used-to-the cold nonsense) were rigidly enforced by my father.
I recount this because he knew Barton Springs’ value to the community. He understood that the soul of this city was wedded to it and that if the city cherished and protected it – we would be rewarded in countless ways for as long as we did. He referred to Barton Springs as the crown jewel of Austin. While he was no enemy of business interests or real estate development the exploitation of the creek and the springs, and the failure to recognize it as a treasured resource of the city to be jealously guarded offended his sensibilities. As a council member, he deplored the forces that would trade what made Austin special for an easy buck by turning cheap dirt on the edges of town into cheap housing.
It was his substitute motion to deny the PUD and the variances that prevailed that morning. I’m proud of many of the things my parents did for this city – leading the fight to prevent a cross town freeway on town lake, preventing a disastrous plan to move the Airport to Manor, and the legacy left in downtown - but nothing makes me more proud than my father’s standing up to the babbitry that would have traded our legacy for a conventional suburb named for the resource it destroyed.
I don’t think my father was ever more proud of this city and the community than on that night. Witnessing speaker after speaker give personal, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, sometimes expert, and always heartfelt testimony about the value of the creek and the springs to Austin was one of the most powerful things he had ever witnessed in politics. He spoke about it often and he believed that testimony, those 15 hours of speakers lasting all night who poured their hearts out moved the votes - votes that would otherwise have sold Austin’s crown jewel - and saved the day.