Californian who wrote viral op-ed attacking Austin life tells Austonia he 'didn't include the positive stuff'
The California exodus has made headlines for several years now, and even more recently, with thousands of West Coasters seeking tax relief, less-expensive real estate and a simpler lifestyle in Texas' capital city.
However, a California man's scathing review of Austin, which was published in Business Insider on Wednesday, reveals that some are less than satisfied with their move.
In Brett Alder's piece, the sales executive cites "punitive, militaristic" public schools, "oppressive" heat, "reptilian brain terrible" Austin drivers, and a "monoculture" as some of the reasons he moved from California to Texas—and back again.
The one similarity? Alder said that the only thing Austin had in common with California was the one he tried to escape: a high cost of living.
Alder wrote his op-ed as a warning to Californians like himself who had visited the city but found it wasn't the right fit.
"I had visited Austin several times, and everyone was super cool," Alder told Austonia. "I attended great restaurants in Austin, I experienced generally good weather, so I guess I was surprised at some the things I didn't expect before going there."
In the op-ed, Alder admits that he upgraded his home in the move, doubling his square-footage and adding in a pool for relatively the same price. However, cheap housing was unable to mitigate sky-high living expenses. With a $400 monthly power fee, Alder said his family was still "uncomfortable" and that San Diego's water charges were "cheaper during a drought... from two states away."
Despite coming from sunny California, Adler also complained about Austin's heat and humidity.
And the "annoying cold." While Austin's rain makes the "greenery look great," Adler said it did not make up for allergies, mosquitoes and quickly spoiling food.
To add to the heat problem, Alder said that lack of public land made the bunch feel even more "cramped and cooped up." Even Enchanted Rock was not immune to the family's distaste and was dubbed "Disenchanted Rock" after a weekend misadventure. Travel was also a no-go, as getting "anywhere interesting" involved flying expenses or several hours of driving.
Finally, Alder's general dislike of the people and culture was enough to drive the family back to the Golden State. Although he ran into Matthew McConaughey at a flag football game and met some "very wonderful, friendly people," many others he was less impressed with. Alder found service to be worse than anywhere he's been and said even the "car washes were lame."
Austin's general culture, according to Alder, was a "monoculture that doesn't even seem to be aware of its own blandness." Older, native Texans tended to fit seemingly negative stereotypes, and networking by "attending the local high school football game with the guys" was not his cup of tea. He disapproved of the area's public schooling as well and compared the school his three children attended to a "micro-managed military academy."
The post was actually posted to a medium blog by Alder in 2016 as a way of venting about his complaints and giving Californians advice.
Five years later, the piece was tweeted out and later picked up by Business Insider. Texans across the state were up in arms about the op-ed, with Austin Instagram account 365thingsaustin posting, "Headline should read: Culturally Unaware Douchebag Doesn't Make Friends in Austin, Blames City."
Alder said in his interview with us, he actually has enjoyed some of the jabs Texans have given him.
"A lot of people have blown me up in very clever, witty fashion, which I greatly appreciate," Alder said.
Alder said that the post was more of a reminder to himself to not move back to Austin than a diss at the city itself and that he would have included the positives if he knew it would get traction.
"I never knew that that piece was going to blow up, that it would be read by people all over Texas," Alder said. "I didn't include the positive stuff, like how our neighbors left us brownies or invited us to New Year's parties, or things like that."
Although Alder was ultimately against the Californian Texodus, many Californians have stated that the opposite is true.
Austonia spoke with multiple newer Austinites this month that said they really enjoyed their new way of life in Austin. California native Adam Prishtina said he was surprised at the upgrade in the quality of life his family was able to afford upon moving to Austin.
"We said, 'this is crazy,'" Prishtina said. "We should look at an opportunity to be able to live in a house with a front yard and a back yard, to just have room for the family to grow and expand."
Technical writer Joyce Fee said that her new Austin neighbors were both friendly and accepting to her and her partner.
"We were afraid because we are a gay couple and we thought, 'Oh, man, are we going to go to Texas and get murdered or something like that,'" Fee said. "I remember those first few months, the neighbors were so warm and welcoming, (asking), 'How y'all doing.'"
In hindsight, Adler said he understands some criticisms he is receiving and that ultimately his personal values may have gotten in the way of the best experience.
"Some of the criticism I'm getting is that, 'How could Californians have not known this about Texas before you moved here,' and that's totally legitimate criticism," Alder said. "I think Texans understand their state and the advantages of their state much better than Californians do. I think that's a big part of it, and I think another part of it was a lack of fit."
Whether Alder's experience truly was shaped by Austin's flaws or was just not the best match, the Californian's views on Texas' capital city are certainly not universal.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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