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Reporter’s Notebook: Once upon a time … and other stories

Monday, May 13, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Renteria remembers… Texas Health and Human Services, the city of Austin and several area nonprofits, including Age Well Live Well, are collaborating to record and exhibit the stories of longtime East Austin inhabitants for a new storytelling project. Beyond preserving the oral history of Austin’s east side, the project intends to serve as a link between Austin’s newer residents east of Interstate 35 and those who remember when Congress Avenue denoted the dividing line between east and west. One of those who had his story recorded was Council Member Pio Renteria. In his narrative, Renteria recounts his path toward civic service and how as a young man with small children, long, loud nights on the east side motivated him to work to change the character of his District 3 neighborhood for the better. While just a single story, Renteria’s memories are a vibrant depiction of East Austin in the 20th century. Likewise, other older residents share their colorful memories of a time when Spanish was not allowed to be spoken at Zavala Elementary and roads were not paved. The entire repertoire of stories is still being edited and posted online. This summer, the stories will be exhibited at various East Austin senior centers where those who told them will be present to interact with attendees and elaborate on their slice-of-life vignettes.

Reuse, recycle, rename… A random Facebook thread from the good folks at the Austin Digital Jobs group reminded us of a bit of digital vandalism that resulted in giving one city facility a somewhat eye-catching name on Google. It all stems from a 2011 online poll created by the city to rename the Solid Waste Services Department, which might have seemed like a good idea at the time but quickly went awry (as those invested in the naming of underwater research vessels can sympathize with). When all was said and done, the facility’s winning name was … the Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts, a not-so-subtle dig at the singer of once-platinum-selling metal band Limp Bizkit. While the facility is currently known as the Austin Recycle & Reuse Dropoff Center, as far as Google Maps is concerned we’re still living with the 2011 results. A query to the city’s public information office about the curiosity and the probability of getting it corrected is still pending.

The Daugherty transit reality show… Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty took advantage of yet another opportunity to voice opposition to the region’s long-term transit dreams on Monday. Just when CAMPO board members thought they might be ready to move on from a Project Connect update, Daugherty interjected with a sinister preface: “Now for the reality part of the show.” The commissioner went on to again lay out the framework supporting his cynical view on transit, citing the observation that few people in the region are willing to use public transit given the option to drive. He called it “folly” to expect the kind of mass behavioral change necessary to provide the ridership that would support a serious regional transit investment. “You’re in the South; you’re in Texas,” he told Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke, reminding him and the board that historic land use decisions made in the region cannot simply be undone to support Europe’s or New England’s levels of transit ridership. Daugherty admitted his hope that Capital Metro would come up with cost-effective transit plans in the future, but decried proposals like the Green Line commuter rail route as enormous wastes of public money. The proposals in Project Connect with such high anticipated costs, he said, are likely to have the same fate at the ballot as Austin’s previous high-capacity transit bonds.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns, Chad Swiatecki and Ryan Thornton.

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