Whispers

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 by Tai Moses

Study links Covid to food insecurity

Researchers at Dell Medical School have found that Covid-19 surges are linked to food insecurity in Austin, particularly among children. A Dell Med Department of Pediatrics research team partnered with CommUnityCare Health Centers to conduct a study of 645 Austin-area families from April to August 2020. “The study showed food insecurity affected families surveyed 33% to 70% during this time, with an average of 47%. The fluctuations corresponded to Travis County Covid-19 rates and hospitalizations, and with changes in the labor market,” according to the news release. “In May, when steps were taken to reopen the Texas economy, food insecurity flexed downward, only to peak at 70% of families during July, when local Covid rates worsened,” said Dr. Megan Gray, an assistant professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Population Health at Dell Med. “While these numbers of increased or decreased percentages of food insecurity give us a snapshot of what our community is facing, the reality of food insecurity goes beyond just having enough money to buy food. It’s about the chronic stress and mental health impact of families who are worried about not being able to meet their children’s needs,” she added. “And looking at these numbers, it’s very concerning that Covid-19 has erased decades of progress in food access and food equity, which will likely get worse this winter as Covid-19 rates rise in our community.” Read more about the study here.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020 by Tai Moses

HCC’s Cofer handing the reins to new leader

As Hill Country Conservancy prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a virtual party on Dec. 5, changes are brewing at the leadership level of the conservation nonprofit. Founding Executive Director George Cofer will be handing the reins to Dan Eck, formerly the executive director of the Museum of the Southwest in Midland. According to the news release, HCC Board Chair Pat Fox noted that the search committee was impressed with Eck’s varied background in art, science and education. “His nonprofit passion and leadership has resulted in significant growth for the organizations he’s served, building both financial stability and community goodwill. We are thrilled to have him in this role, taking us into the future,” Fox said. Departing CEO Cofer, who founded the conservancy in 1999, had planned to retire in April, but postponed the move due to the pandemic. In his retirement announcement he said, “When I helped found Hill Country Conservancy, I had high hopes for what we could accomplish as a community, but never did I imagine the immense impact we would have across the region.” Eck was voted in by the board on Nov. 10 and will begin his new role as CEO next month, taking the organization into its third decade.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020 by Tai Moses

As temps drop, cold weather shelter opens

With temperatures predicted to drop below freezing tonight, LifeWorks has activated its emergency cold weather shelter with the aim of getting homeless youth and young adults off the streets and into a warm safe space for the night. The shelter, at 835 N. Pleasant Valley Road, is available only on the coldest nights of the year and donations are urgently needed to help the organization provide blankets, clothing, food and other basic needs. For information on cold weather shelters throughout Austin, call (512) 305-4233.


Monday, November 30, 2020 by Tai Moses

AISD switches to remote learning for a week

All students in the Austin Independent School District will be moving to 100 percent remote learning for the week of Nov. 30 -Dec. 4 in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The decision was made by Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde following a meeting with city and county officials and Austin Public Health. In a letter to parents and staff, Elizalde explained that by going to remote instruction for the week following the Thanksgiving break, “the incubation period will have the opportunity to run its course and positive cases can be identified while safely at home.” On-campus instruction will resume on Monday, Dec. 7. Read the entire letter.


Monday, November 30, 2020 by Tai Moses

City encourages Austinites to ‘gift differently’

Austin Resource Recovery has launched a new campaign this holiday season aimed at encouraging Austinites to change their shopping habits and generate less waste. The Give a Great Story campaign asks people to rethink the way they gift and offer friends and family gifts that are DIY, repaired, thrifted or reused. “Instead of buying the newest gadget or toy (which may end up in the landfill), Austinites should consider spending time with friends and family in new ways, learning a new skill online with your loved ones or giving a pre-loved gift this year,” says the news release, adding, “Giving zero waste gifts over newly purchased or produced items also benefits the local economy, keeps valuable items out of the landfill, and avoids spending the energy and resources required to manufacture new products.” Here are a few zero-waste gift ideas from ARR to help get you started:

  • Purchase an online, skill-development class (cooking, music lessons, painting)
  • Support Austin’s art scene virtually (online theater performances, art galleries/exhibits, concerts)
  • Turn a teacup or basket from a local thrift store into a planter
  • Resole and polish a favorite pair of boots

Monday, November 30, 2020 by Tai Moses

LBJ park launches virtual tour

The first floor of what is commonly known as the Texas White House is the focal point of a new, interactive virtual tour from Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The majority of rooms in the former home of President and Lady Bird Johnson have been restored to their appearance during Johnson’s term as president. The virtual tour, the product of a collaboration between the NPS and Austin 360 Photography, allows visitors to tour the home via the National Park Service website or a virtual reality headset. The park has also unveiled its new official app, which puts the entire Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park at users’ fingertips.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s been a long year, and the holidays are here. Like many offices around town, the Monitor will be taking a few days to enjoy the season, such as it is this year. To all our readers: Stay safe, follow local guidelines, and we’ll see you again on Monday morning.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020 by Jo Clifton

City utilities, Texas Gas Service help customers

Travis County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to accept $100,000 from Texas Gas Service to help low-income county residents pay their gas bills. Commissioners did not discuss the donation, but a memo describing the program notes that TGS has provided funding every year since 2012. Spokesperson Larry Graham told the Austin Monitor that in past years the company has collected donations and matched those donations. Last year, he said customers donated about $37,000 and Texas Gas Service matched that amount. This year, the company is putting $100,000 into the fund. He said that donation was agreed to as part of the rate case that was concluded in August. Customers who need assistance paying their gas bills can sign up at one of Travis County’s Health and Human Services offices. The city is still helping low-income customers with their Austin Energy and Austin Water bills, with 14,000 customers receiving $7.4 million in utility bill relief in Fiscal Year 2020, according to Austin Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Herber. In FY 2019, the city’s utilities provided $2.3 million to 5,230 customers who participated in the program, she said. This spring, the energy and water utilities each added $5 million to help Covid-impacted customers, in addition to the $2.3 million already budgeted. Austinites may choose to donate to the Customer Assistance Program when they pay their utility bill.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020 by Tai Moses

City offices close for Thanksgiving

City facilities and public services will be closed or operating on modified schedules over the Thanksgiving holiday. Most Parks and Recreation facilities remain closed due to the pandemic, with a few exceptions (e.g., golf courses and tennis centers). Hours vary based on facility, so call ahead or visit austintexas.gov/parks to see modified hours. All city pools will be closed on Thanksgiving. Trash, recycling and compost collections will slide forward one day on Thanksgiving. Only customers whose regular collection day is Thursday or Friday will be affected. Check your personalized curbside services calendar and set up reminders for your collections. The Recycle and Reuse Drop-Off Center will be closed Thursday and open by appointment only Friday and Saturday. All Austin Public Health Covid-19 testing sites will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The only site open on Friday, Nov. 27, will be the Ana Lark Center test site, 1400 Tillery St., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Find more info about Covid testing here. The Austin Animal Center will close at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, and will remain closed Thursday and Friday with regular hours resuming Saturday and Sunday. Austin Public Library branches, Recycled Reads Bookstore and Austin History Center will close at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and remain closed Thursday and Friday.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020 by Tai Moses

Learn about the Colony Loop Drive project

The Economic Development Department and the Corridor Mobility Program are partnering up to host a virtual public meeting to describe the city’s plan for Colony Loop Drive, which includes connecting the missing portion and upgrading existing sections of Colony Loop Drive between Loyola Lane and Decker Lane. Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the EDD, said in a city announcement, “Connecting the two existing portions of Colony Loop Drive will significantly improve Colony Park residents’ ability to access community resources like the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center and the Colony Park District Park. This project is also significant for the planned 208-acre Colony Park Sustainable Community, which will bring affordable workforce housing and improve access to food and health care services to this Northeast Austin neighborhood.” The meeting will stream live on the Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative Facebook and the Colony Park YouTube channel on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 5:30 p.m.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020 by Tai Moses

City launches public safety listening session

When do we need the police to respond? What kinds of incidents merit a non-police response? What other resources does the community need to ensure public safety for all? To answer these questions and others, city leaders have launched an online listening session to encourage Austinites to share their thoughts and opinions on reimagining public safety. The session, which is intended for individuals, offers half a dozen real-life public safety scenarios followed by two sets of questions. The first set of questions encourages respondents to think about the issues; the second set of questions asks for feedback. The session raises thoughtful questions about police response, the definition of public safety and the need for alternative community resources. Start the listening session here.


Monday, November 23, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Save Austin Now sues city over petition drive

In case you missed the weekend news, Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek have sued the city, alleging the city threw out “hundreds” of signed petitions in favor of a new ordinance that would reinstate the city’s camping ban. In August, the city rejected the petition, saying the odds that there were enough signatures to put it on the ballot in November were “less than 3 in one billion.” Now, Mackowiak, who is the Travis County GOP chair, and Petricek say a public information request shows “several ways that the right to petition was inappropriately infringed by the City Clerk’s office.” Mackowiak explained in a press release, “All we want is for this to appear on the ballot at the next opportunity, which would be May 2021. We believe as many as five justifications used to throw out signatures were inappropriate. The threshold for infringing on the right to petition your government should be very high. We will relentlessly fight this battle in the courts, and we believe we will prevail.” The city stands behind the process followed by the city clerk, pointing out that the signature validation process ended more than 15 weeks ago.


Monday, November 23, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

LCRA skips 2021 drawdown

The Lower Colorado River Authority announced Friday that it will not draw down Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls or Austin lakes in 2021. “With dry weather upon us and the fact we’ve drawn down all the lakes within the last four years, we’ve decided not to lower any of the lakes in 2021,” Phil Wilson, LCRA general manager, said in a statement to the press. “We’ll consider another drawdown next year about this time, for a potential lowering in early 2022.” In general, LCRA will draw down lakes around the beginning of the year to allow homeowners along the four pass-through lakes to make repairs on docks, retaining walls and the like. According to a press release from the river authority, “Lakes Inks, LBJ and Marble Falls generally are considered for a drawdown once every four years, unless an additional lowering is necessary because of a flood or other significant event. Lakes Inks and LBJ were last lowered in 2020, and Lake Marble Falls was last lowered in 2019 … Lake Austin, which is owned by the city of Austin, was last lowered in 2017, at the request of the city.”


Monday, November 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

Kingsbury Commons nears completion

To the delight of area residents, Kingsbury Commons is just a few months away from completing construction. A 30-foot-tall treehouse designed to mimic a giant seedpod, a shingle-roofed Tudor Cottage and an interactive water play feature are just a few of the exciting new elements waiting to be explored. Read the entire fall update, with photos.


Friday, November 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Meet D2 Council Member-elect Fuentes

District 2 Council Member-elect Vanessa Fuentes will participate in a livestreamed Q&A session with ATXelerator Executive Director Ward Tisdale. Fuentes, who was in the ATXelerator class of 2020, is a newcomer to local politics who will be taking the reins from Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who is the new Travis County attorney. The online event is Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m. RSVP and find more details on Facebook.


Friday, November 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Renters get a helping hand

Fourteen local organizations have contracted with the city to help Austin renters with the application process for the city’s RENT (Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants) program. AGE of Central Texas, Austin Apartment Association, Austin Area Urban League, Austin Voices for Education & Youth, BookSpring, Dove Springs Proud, Economic Growth Business Incubator, El Buen Samaritano, Family Eldercare, Foundation Communities, Goodwill Central Texas, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Youth & Family Alliance, and YWCA will receive grants of up to $50,000 to help with program outreach. The grants will “expand outreach to vulnerable populations facing ongoing financial hardship due to Covid-19 by supporting community-based organizations that have a demonstrated record of success reaching out to the focus populations,” according to a city announcement.


Friday, November 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Travis County Parks enter Stage 4

As the community enters Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines for the coronavirus, some Travis County Parks amenities are closing and others will have limited access. Sandy Creek and Tom Hughes parks have both closed to the public until further notice. Also closed are county athletic fields, group shelters, picnic tables, and BBQ grills. Camping by reservation, boat ramps, playgrounds and trails will remain open. Find an updated list of county park amenities here.


Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Music community, mayor ask for release of SAVES funds

Austin Texas Musicians and the Amplified Sound Coalition will gather at City Hall today to urge city leaders to distribute the SAVES funding that was promised to venues. The effort has the support of Mayor Steve Adler, who wrote in a press release, “City Council enacted the SAVES initiative which provided funding and support to preserve viable, legacy venues jeopardized by the pandemic. More state and federal support is sorely needed, but we urge the city manager to immediately connect with targeted venues and provide a timeline and application for city support. The city needs to act quickly.” The city has not acted quickly in releasing the funds, which were promised in an Oct. 1 vote. A press release about the rally notes that no money has been issued to venues, and organizers are wary that a city memo “suggests that funds may not be available until 2021.” The release continues, “While we agree that careful consideration be made in the creation of program requirements, we ask our city leaders to make $2 million of the $5 million available for immediate aid, as many venues are at risk of closing their doors within the next months.”


Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Tai Moses

Meals on Wheels in urgent need of volunteers

Meals on Wheels Central Texas urgently needs new volunteers to help deliver meals to homebound seniors. During the pandemic, Meals on Wheels has modified its schedule so it delivers two weeks’ worth of meals every other Friday. The agency is preparing to resume regular daily meal deliveries in January and has dozens of open meal routes across the city – but not enough drivers to fill the slots. If you’re interested in becoming a Meals on Wheels volunteer, fill out this interest form. A staff member will reach out to schedule an online volunteer orientation, which is held via Zoom on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, 11-11:30 a.m. Adam Hauser, president and CEO of MOWCTX, told Fox 7 last year that without volunteers, the agency “would be unable to provide nutritious meals to the thousands of homebound older adults we serve in Central Texas. We encourage folks to consider donating some of their time to deliver hot lunches, warm smiles and valuable safety checks to our neighbors in need.”


Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Tai Moses

Families eat for free over holiday break

The Austin Independent School District is partnering with the Central Texas Food Bank to provide free, healthy meals over the Thanksgiving break. AISD’s curbside meal sites will be distributing free seven-day meal packs before the school break on Thursday, Nov. 19. Families may pick up an additional seven days’ worth of meals at the Food Bank’s mass distribution event on Monday, Nov. 23, 9 a.m.-noon, at Toney Burger Stadium, 3200 Jones Road. In addition to the seven-day meal packs, the food bank will have an assortment of food on hand for distribution. The school district will resume its weekly seven-day meal pack distribution on Thursday, Dec. 3.


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