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Reporter’s Notebook: We have questions

Monday, July 31, 2017 by Austin Monitor

Not a priority… When it comes to more transit priority lanes, Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar is not running any red lights. At the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Traffic Jam last week, Spillar talked about the tricky nature of dedicating right of way to buses and trains. “There’s four ways I know how to do it,” Spillar told the crowd at Huston-Tillotson University. “You can put it up in the air, or you can tunnel it. Those are typically expensive and also have some long-term security issues that have to be dealt with. You can buy right of way, so you can pick a side of the street and move houses and businesses. Or you can convert lanes.” Spillar had to wait out a round of applause for that fourth option before he could expound upon its inherent difficulties, which come down to a matter of government picking winners and losers. “When you take a lane or convert a lane, there are people who will lose mobility compared to those who will gain,” said Spillar. Both the Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metro are currently working on a Transit Priority Policy that will include direction on when and where to deploy dedicated bus lanes, but that won’t be finalized until the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan gets City Council approval next year, approximately the same time the bus you’re riding will finally get to the other side of the Drag.

You can’t be progressive without pools… As the Parks and Recreation Department pushes for the city to invest tens of millions of dollars into its aging pools, it’s getting some artistic assistance from Forklift Danceworks, a local company that makes elaborate dance productions that highlight and celebrate the work behind oft-overlooked features of the community, from sanitation services to the electric utility. Forklift’s performers are those who actually work in the trades that are being showcased, such as city of Austin sanitation employees, Austin Energy utility linemen or others who are not (traditionally) expected to dance during work hours. The company’s most recent project, “My Park, My Pool, My City,” is described as a “multi-year collaboration between Forklift Danceworks, the City of Austin’s Parks & Recreation Department, and East Austin neighborhoods about the future of our city pools.” The first installment of the production, “Bartholomew Swims,” took place at Bartholomew Pool during the last two weekends of July. It was performed by lifeguards, pool maintenance staff and other area residents. During a July 25 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, Allison Orr, the founder of Forklift, had evidence that the performance had helped the audience appreciate the importance of investing in aquatics. Those who’d seen the event had left comments on their way out, including, “I understand how beloved pools are but they need a lot of love to keep running.” And another one: “The pools require a lot of care but they are necessary to building and maintaining a socially progressive community.”

Budget question questions? Go here… As City Council dusts off the dais soon following the July recess, the Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget looms ahead, with budget work sessions aplenty in the coming months. Council and city staff have been prepping for what’s expected to be a tight budget next year, and anyone curious as to what fiscal concerns and questions Council members have had should hop over to the city’s Council Budget Questions page online. The page preserves the questions submitted to various city departments since February, as well as the response documents from city staff. There’s a lot of inquiry regarding the overtime costs accruing in the Austin Fire Department, and lots of attention to the three public safety departments in general, which is to be expected since they account for roughly two-thirds of General Fund expenditures. Council Member Alison Alter has tallied 17 questions of the 55 recorded so far, with Council Member Ora Houston a distant second with nine budget questions logged. And the least-inquiring minds? So far it’s a three-way tie between Ann Kitchen, Greg Casar and Pio Renteria, with no questions posed as of the start of the July recess. As a reminder, budget season starts in earnest this week, with a work session on Wednesday.

Three strikes and you’re out… The LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Commission has only held three meetings since it was formally created in March, yet Commissioner Tim Altanero has missed every single one. According to the commission’s bylaws, a commissioner who misses three consecutive meetings without an excused absence vacates their seat. Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who appointed Altanero, is aware of the absences and must decide next what to do with the empty position. Update: Altanero contacted the Monitor to explain he had resigned from the commission on July 7, via email, and Troxclair told the Monitor she just hasn’t appointed a replacement yet.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Jack Craver, Chad Swiatecki and Lisa Dreher.

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