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Reporter’s Notebook: Reasons for beauty

Monday, February 26, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Where the sidewalk bends… Austin badly needs to fill in the large gap of missing sidewalks across the city, but simply making each stretch of sidewalk longer than it has to be probably isn’t the most efficient solution. On Saturday, a loyal Austin Monitor reader surfaced on Twitter a photograph of a new zigzagging sidewalk on West Seventh Street just near West Avenue. The walkway jerks side to side, slaloming around no obstacles in particular, in front of a new surface parking lot paved by Cirrus Logic, whose office and attached parking garage are across the street. The reaction on Reddit has been predictably ruthless, though one user has suggested the possibility that the design is related to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements due to a gradient. But rather than rely on internet speculation, the Monitor put in a call to the city seeking more information. Understandably, no one was available for comment on Sunday.

Order in the courts… Could the battle to preserve/redevelop East Austin’s Rosewood Courts get any more complicated? Sure! The case is scheduled to go before the Historic Landmark Commission tonight, but Preserve Rosewood founder and director Fred McGhee has warned commissioners that the process may be in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. That act requires a specific stakeholder process that McGhee says did not include all interested parties (including Preserve Rosewood). In fact, McGhee is looking for proof that the project complies with the act, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has now joined his hunt for evidence. (In the meantime, the city has sought an opinion from the state attorney general about whether they need to release said evidence.) The proposal to redevelop part of the housing project – which was the first African-American public housing project in the United States – has been in and out of City Hall for some time, as has a bid for historic zoning on the property, which is operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. Most recently, it was at the Historic Landmark Commission, where commissioners rejected the plan for redevelopment and partial preservation and instead took the first steps toward preserving the entire property. Should they continue that push, the change to historic zoning would ultimately have to be approved by City Council.

Our shifting landscape… Local media sewing circles being the gossipy animals that they are, it’s been pretty hard to avoid hearing some iteration of the phrase “… after GateHouse buys us” coming from employees of the Austin American-Statesman for at least the last month or so. That is a reference to the apparently pending sale – according to this Nieman Foundation for Journalism story – of Austin’s daily newspaper to the expansive company that has gone on a print and digital buying spree in recent years. The Austin Business Journal has a pretty expansive piece that does quite a bit of informed tea leaf reading on the matter, including the insight that Austin-based Community Impact Newspapers and its new(ish) $10 million printing facility could offer an attractive option to bring the printing of the Statesman back from its current arrangement of printing in San Antonio. The sale by Cox Media Group Inc. of the Statesman‘s newspaper business could also create momentum for the separate sale of its riverfront downtown property. That parcel is a key piece of a long-brewing South Central Waterfront Initiative that hugs both sides of South Congress Avenue along Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road.

Adding color to a budget meeting… Council Member Pio Renteria took a break during the budget work session last Wednesday, only to stride back into the room several minutes later donning a vivacious Mexican poncho that he’d picked up during a 2016 trip to Saltillo, Mexico, one of Austin’s sister cities, with Mayor Steve Adler. Asked if there was an occasion for the wardrobe change, Renteria aide Nic Solorzano replied in an email: “You don’t need a special occasion to wear a poncho that beautiful,” before adding, “The true and uninteresting answer is that he was just cold.”

Can they do it?… Until 2010, city staff would present the city’s annual budget in four different documents. Since then, the budget has consisted of only two massive volumes. However, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo announced last week that as part of a “major overhaul” of the budget process, staff is aiming to reduce it further, to just one volume. “It’s somewhat of an ambitious goal,” said Van Eenoo, who nevertheless said that Austin is the only city he knew of that presented its budget in multiple volumes.

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

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