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Reporter’s Notebook: Dark Skies over ZAP

Monday, March 18, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Doggone open data… During last week’s SXSW-adjacent session at Capital Factory about the value of open data provided by governmental entities, the city of Austin got an unexpected plaudit that also offered a not-unexpected snapshot into the city’s priorities. Panelist Susan Alzner, co-founder and chief of strategy and operations for the research group shift7, was praising the city’s data portal and its insights into what people most often search for. “I love the Austin Open Data portal, in particular because it let me see a chart with the top 10 searches on what people are looking for,” she said, noting that the No. 1 result of city job openings wasn’t surprising. But the second result, “dogs” – because the city’s mapping and imaging technology assists people who are searching for lost pets – proved a point of amusement for Alzner. “Austin seems to have an absolutely extraordinary, exemplary way to reveal that you’ve found a lost dog and how people find it, which seems to have been built off of an open data set. I wish I had this in my community. It’s a lot easier than hanging a sign in your town.”

Howard is running… Ann Howard, executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, has announced her plan to run for the Precinct 3 seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court. The announcement comes roughly a year ahead of the 2020 primary contest for the seat held by Gerald Daugherty, whose office spokesperson said Friday is undecided about another run for the seat next year but will likely decide by this summer. Howard will hold a campaign launch at 3 p.m. on March 24 at the Barn Bar & Grill on Brodie Lane. In a statement announcing her candidacy, Howard said homelessness, transportation and affordability will be among her biggest priorities. “I’ve decided to run for county commissioner because I know we can make local government work better for more people,” said Howard. “I want to use my experience working with diverse coalitions to help take on our community’s biggest challenges. I’m ready to get to work to help fix our transportation problems, protect our environment, preserve affordability, ensure criminal justice reform – and end homelessness.”

Dark Skies Ordinance opens up a can of worms… When the Zoning and Platting Commission learned that the Environmental Commission had added the Dark Skies ordinance to its recommendation regarding the proposed Junction Athletic Complex at 8921 West U.S. Highway 290, ZAP Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said she feared the Environmental Commission had “opened up a can of worms.” She said that adding the ordinance would require light to be directed downward into the adjacent properties surrounding the facility. “These people get to get up and down all the time,” a neighbor said from her seat, referring to staff members and the applicant, “but can we talk about Dark Skies?” Kiolbassa said she wished she had had the opportunity to weigh in on Dark Skies, saying she would have asked for shielding and placement so that the lights would not affect neighbors. However, environmental officer Chris Herrington told the Monitor that shielding is included in the ordinance and would in all likelihood minimize light pollution in any direction.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki and Alyx Wilson.

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