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Whispers

Friday, November 17, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Annual Chuy’s parade on Saturday

The annual Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade takes place this Saturday, Nov. 18. The event starts at about 10:45 a.m. and lasts approximately an hour, but downtown street closures will start as early as 6 a.m. and continue until 2 p.m. The parade will start at the state Capitol, and head south down Congress Avenue, ending just before the bridge. Crosstown traffic is allowed on Fifth and Sixth streets until 9 a.m. and on Cesar Chavez Street until 10 a.m. In addition, drivers are advised to be extra cautious, since there will be a lot of children and pedestrian traffic. As in previous years, parade-goers are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy (for ages infant to 14 years old) to donate to the Austin Police Operation Blue Santa. There will be a designated time during the parade for toy collection. View the Chuy’s parade website here for more information.


Friday, November 17, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

CodeNEXT final draft pushed back to February

Two weeks before the original Nov. 28 release date, city staff officially announced yesterday that the final draft of CodeNEXT (the one produced by staff and consultants, at least) will not be published until Feb. 12 of next year. The news came in a memo put out in the morning by Interim Assistant City Manager Joe Pantalion, which said that in order for the drafters to meaningfully consider and incorporate feedback from draft two, they would need more time. The memo asserts that while this delay may change the near-future specifics of the review timeline, the drafters are confident that they will still be able to put a final product in front of City Council by the previously planned April deadline.


Friday, November 17, 2017 by Katy McElroy

AISD closed Thanksgiving week

All offices and schools in the Austin Independent School District will be closed next week, Nov. 20-24, for the Thanksgiving holiday. Because of this closure, signup for public comment for the Nov. 27 AISD board meeting will take place today, Nov. 17, 1-4:45 p.m., as well as from 7:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. the day of the meeting. For more information about participation in public hearings, visit the AISD website.


Friday, November 17, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Capital Metro still on the schneid

Ridership for Austin’s transit agency continued its downward trend in the most recent fiscal year. According to its own numbers, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority provided just under 30 million trips on its buses and trains in Fiscal Year 2016-17, a 1.7 percent drop compared to FY 2015-16 (which saw a 3.5 percent decline in rides compared to FY 2014-15). The downward trend was driven largely by the agency’s University of Texas shuttle service. In addition to reductions due to rising costs of the shuttle service, the creation of the Speedway pedestrian mall forced several routes to permanently detour off of 21st Street over to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. That change shut down what were, as of 2014, the two busiest bus stops in Capital Metro’s service area. Shuttle ridership in FY 2016-17 declined nearly a quarter to 2.5 million rides. If that loss were taken out of the equation, however, the agency would have seen a 1.1 percent growth in ridership among its combined fixed-route, express, rail, paratransit and other services. A significant factor of that growth is the 25 percent increase in MetroRapid rides. The Nos. 801 and 803 served a total of 3.4 million rides. The hike was largely due to the deletion of premium fares as well as increased frequencies introduced in August. Despite the increases, though, ridership on the No. 801 corridor  which is Capital Metro’s busiest and is also served by the non-frequent Nos. 1 and 275 is still significantly lower than it was before the MetroRapid service was introduced in 2014.


Thursday, November 16, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Take a digital Wander through downtown Austin

In December, the Art in Public Places Program will debut a choose-your-own-adventure interactive public artwork titled “Wander.” The project was created by artists Chris Gannon, Chadwick Wood and Brockett Davidson. To participate, download the mobile-optimized Wander app and head to the “Beacon” – a 9-foot-tall sculpture at the Second Street entrance of the Central Library. From there, your experience turns digital: When you open the app you will be presented with four story choices. Choose one, and let the adventure begin. At the end of each chapter, you will be faced with a choice, and your answer will determine what location you go to next. There are two kid-friendly stories and two that are more geared to adult audiences, the stories are available in English and Spanish, and the app is accessible to the blind and visually impaired community. Austin authors Lucas Schaefer, Jessica Topacio Long, Janalyn Guo and Fernando Flores were chosen by the artists to write the stories in a 2015 competition, and the stories are illustrated by Brockett Davidson, Matt Rebholz, Hallie Rose Taylor and Brian Maclaskey. A printed edition is planned to be released in public libraries throughout the city. “Wander” kicks off with a free event on Dec. 9 from 3-5 p.m. at the Central Library, which will include discussions with the artists, demonstrations and story readings.


Thursday, November 16, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Take a deep breath

The hectic holiday travel days are upon us, and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport wants to make sure all Austinites are prepared. The airport is adding several new flights for the season, so expect a crowd.  All passengers are advised to be in the terminal at least two hours before departure for all flights. You are also advised to check the status of your flight here to avoid surprises, and call 512-530-3300 (available 24/7) for airport parking updates. You can also check security line speeds at the Barbara Jordan Terminal from the “Travel Tips” tab at www.abia.org, or here. This tool shows speeds at three different checkpoints: Checkpoint 1 is on the east end of ticketing and enters the concourse at Gate 6, Checkpoint 2 is located in the center of the terminal and enters the concourse at Gate 11, and Checkpoint 3 is on the west end of ticketing and enters the concourse at Gate 14. However, all gates are accessible through all checkpoints. Finally, a special note if you’re flying Allegiant, Sun Country or ViaAir: These airlines now arrive and depart from the South Terminal. You can access parking for this terminal from the south entrance of the airport at U.S. Highway 183 South and Burleson Road. More information about the South Terminal here.


Thursday, November 16, 2017 by Katy McElroy

How to support your Monitor

As you think about your end-of-year giving, please consider nonprofit news. The Austin Monitor is where you go to get the latest updates about the city, and your subscriptions and donations are what allow us to keep providing that coverage. Right now, we are participating in News Match 2017 a program that will match every donation you make (up to $1,000) through the end of this year, so your gift will have double the impact. You can donate here.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping us deliver the daily news that helps keep Austinites engaged and informed!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

School name changes … more to come?

The Austin Independent School District recently announced that it was exploring the renaming of five of its facilities that bear titles of former Confederate officers and soldiers: the John T. Allan Facility, Zachary Taylor Fulmore Middle School, Sidney Lanier High School, John H. Reagan High School, and Eastside Memorial High School (at the Johnston Campus). At the Nov. 13 AISD board of trustees meeting, however, Trustee Amber Elenz questioned why the district was drawing the line at military personnel, when there were many names in the district that hearkened back to a Confederate heritage and perpetuated the memory of immoral institutions of the past like slavery. Trustee Edmund Gordon clarified that, to him, what was important about the current schools being considered was the fact that many were given their names during the Jim Crow era. “(Reagan) wasn’t named back in 1901. It was named in the 1960s when it opened,” Gordon said. “I think there are some specific reasons why it was named that.” AISD staff is expected to report back to the board in January on the results of community meetings, which will be held until the end of this year.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Bond town halls underway

The Bond Election Advisory Task Force is seeking community input on a potential 2018 bond. City departments provided their needs requests to the Bond Review Team, which was composed of a cross-section of city staff, including staff from the Equity Office, Office of Performance Management, Imagine Austin and Finance. This team developed a $640 million recommended starting point, which was presented to the task force as a launch pad for it to begin its work. The task force would now like to get feedback from residents about their city infrastructure priorities in a series of town halls. The task force will then take its recommendation to City Council in early 2018, where Council will finalize a bond package to go before voters. The next town hall is tomorrow, Nov. 16, at Little Walnut Creek Library, 835 W. Rundberg Lane, from 6:30-8 p.m. There are currently six town halls scheduled after that one: View the 2018 bond website for up-to-date meeting times and locations.

This whisper has been updated to correct and clarify details about the bond creation process, as well as include more up-to-date information about meeting times and locations. 


Wednesday, November 15, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Colony Park searching for a master developer

The Economic Development Department has been looking for a master development partner for Colony Park, and all interested parties are invited to a pre-offer site conference and site visit tomorrow. Colony Park is on 208 acres of publicly owned land near Loyola and Decker lanes, on which the city envisions a “vibrant, sustainable, and mixed-use neighborhood.” The meeting will include a presentation and work overview, as well as resources for a self-guided tour of the site. Offerors will learn about “submittal requirements, evaluation factors, and deadlines for the Colony Park Sustainable Community Request for Qualifications (RFQS). All information covered during the meeting will be posted as an addendum to the solicitation materials. Interested Offerors are encouraged to register as a vendor through the City of Austin Vendor Connection to receive updates on posted addendum and to access the RFQS documents,” according to the city press release. The conference is on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center Multipurpose Building, 7201 Colony Loop Drive. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. and the self-guided site tour will run from 11 a.m. to noon.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Second time’s the charm

This past Thursday, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir once again issued a request for proposal for a new voting system for Travis County. If you recall, the last attempt, which would have been open source, was thwarted by the marketplace. A press release from the County Clerk’s Office explains, “The initial goal for Travis County was to build a customized voting system (STAR-Vote) that included highly-specialized security and accessibility features not currently available in the marketplace, coupled with off-the-shelf hardware to realize cost savings. Unfortunately, we were unable to advance that model. The RFP released on November 9 is the logical next step… The County Clerk and her team engaged in a considerable study of election security methods while developing the requirements for the STAR-Vote system. That work is reflected in this RFP. The Clerk’s Office has identified the must-have security and accessibility features, and have included them, with the goal of acquiring an election system that maximizes the best in current technology. In spite of the fact that the next election system used in Travis County will likely come from the traditional proprietary model, the Clerk feels she has challenged the vendor community with this procurement. ‘The election marketplace is on notice that we will accept nothing less than a state-of-the-art, secure, accessible election system for Travis County voters,’ said County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.” Responses to the new RFP are due Dec. 19, with the expectation that a new system will be in place for the 2020 presidential election.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Faths produce new Russell Lee photo book

Shudde Fath and her daughter, Betsy Fath Hiller, have published an enlightening new book of color photographs by renowned photographer Russell Lee, called “Russell Lee in Color.” Most people who know Electric Utility Commissioner Shudde Fath recognize that at 101 she is the embodiment of public service, the only member of any city commission who has served on a commission since its inception. But not everyone knows that her late husband, Conrad Fath, was best friends and fishing buddies with Lee. Lee shot the 162 previously unpublished color photographs while he and Fath piloted a yacht from Mamaroneck, New York, to Port Aransas in the summer of 1963. The book includes iconic photos of New York City, its bridges, its tugboats, electric power plants and fishermen, and then moves on to New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. Some of the Austin Monitor‘s favorites include a derelict tugboat along the shoreline of North Carolina and a series of photos of a sponge fisherman and his boat at Cedar Key, Florida. Fath credited the folks at Holland Photo Imaging for their expertise in restoring old photos and their help with the book. Lee, who founded the photography program at the University of Texas’ Fine Arts Department, was best known for his depression-era photos. In 1936, Lee was hired by the Farm Security Administration and began roaming the country to take photos of life in the United States. Lee moved to Austin with his wife in 1947, where he began his longtime fishing hobby with Conrad Fath. He died in Austin in 1986. In 2016, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to Russell Lee Elementary. Fath and her daughter are selling their book on Amazon.com. They plan to autograph their book at Threadgill’s, 301 W. Riverside Dr., on Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 from 4 to 5 p.m. However, be advised that you must come with your own book because they will not be selling it at the restaurant.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Save water now, save money later

Time to turn off those irrigation systems! Mid-November to mid-March is the water conservation period for the city of Austin. That means that the average of the water you use during this time will determine your wastewater charge for the rest of the year. The city chose these months because most residents aren’t doing much outside watering. In addition to turning off your irrigation systems, it’s a good idea to check them for leaks as well. Other ways you can conserve water and get those bills down include fixing leaky toilets and faucets, only running dishwashers and washing machines with a full load and taking shorter showers. You can also download the free Dropcountr app, which provides you with your home’s water use reports. Head over to the Austin Water Utility website for more water-saving tips and information.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Red River rumblings

With an eye toward the future, the Austin Music Commission has asked city staff to identify portions of the city that could eventually become music hotbeds similar to downtown’s Red River Cultural District. That directive came at the most recent Music Commission meeting while Brian Block, entertainment services manager for the Music and Entertainment Division, was giving a report on the renewal of a pilot program extending outdoor noise curfews for clubs in the district. After hearing about improved communication and cooperation between music venues and nearby neighbors as a result of the program, several commissioners put forward the idea of examining how the city could get ahead of future growth and the CodeNEXT process by determining where clusters of clubs are most likely to emerge as Austin grows in the next decade-plus and begin building stronger relationships with surrounding residents and stakeholders. Commissioner Oren Rosenthal went as far as suggesting music office staff identify at least one potential entertainment zone in each council district, but there was concern that some parts of the city might never be an ideal habitat for supporting multiple music- or creative-focused businesses. Block said he and city staff will examine the issue and possibly bring recommendations to the commission at its December meeting.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Vision Zero day of remembrance

This Sunday, Vision Zero ATX will be holding the third Day of Remembrance Vigil. The event is an opportunity to remember those killed or injured in traffic incidents. It will take place from 5 until 7 p.m. at Austin City Hall Plaza and will feature a walk, speakers from Bike Austin and Families for Safe Streets, and a performance by Ballet Austin. The event will also introduce a new policy proposal presumably aimed at safer streets.


Monday, November 13, 2017 by Jo Clifton

And the news is … we can’t tell you yet

At last Thursday’s meeting, Steve Newton of Russell Reynolds Associates told City Council and the public that he recommended that the names of the finalists be released either Friday or Monday. But after 10 p.m. on Sunday, Mayor Steve Adler posted a message on the City Council Message Board from Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and himself to the rest of the Council members beginning with the following: “Our search firm reiterates that we should be honored to have a very impressive group of candidates.” But the news was not all good, because he had to add that a candidate had withdrawn, “and the search firm recommends we spend 1 or 2 additional weeks reviewing other potential candidates to ensure that we have the finest and most diverse candidate pool. As such, the search firm also recommends we not release candidate names until sometime later this month.” Last week, Newton predicted that up to five finalists would meet with Council and the City Manager Search Advisory Task Force in early December and “then a later date would be set for that third round.” He promised that the third round would include introduction of the finalists to the community. So if the names are not released for two more weeks, that would put the release of the names on Nov. 27, making it difficult for Council to select a new manager before mid-January. Then that person would have to quit his or her current position and move to Austin.


Monday, November 13, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

ZWAC considers adding food donation ordinance to master plan

Requiring businesses to divert their food rather than simply compost or recycle is a progressive idea even among those at the Zero Waste Advisory Commission. However, Allen Schroeder, the food donation specialist for Break It Down and the driving force behind the Save the Food Coalition, thinks that Austin should be the first city to require a portion of usable foodstuffs to be donated rather than simply disposed of. “We have 25 percent food insecurity in Austin. Why are we throwing food away? Why are we composting it?” he asked rhetorically at the Nov. 8 commission meeting. According to him, in order to help reduce food insecurity in our city, City Council needs to amend the Universal Recycling Ordinance to require businesses to submit a separate food diversion plan to the city in addition to their recycling and organic waste diversion plans. Currently, food diversion through donation is one of eight optional, equally weighted organics diversion choices for food-permitted businesses. To change this, Schroeder says that a brand-new ordinance must be written because “changing the existing ordinance would be cumbersome.” Commissioner Joshua Blaine expressed his support for the idea. Commission Chair Gerry Acuna said, “In the master plan, there are references to what you are trying to accomplish. I think that would be something that would fit right in with the goals of the master plan.” The commission decided to revisit the idea when it revises its master plan in 2018.


Monday, November 13, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Cantu evolves

Former Evolve Austin Executive Director Andy Cantu has taken a new job. Cantu will be working as a land use and policy manager with the Drenner Group PC, so chances are you will still be able to catch him at City Hall during upcoming (and, presumably, endless) CodeNEXT discussions. Cantu previously worked as the director of regional mobility for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.


Monday, November 13, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Omnibus II: Electric boogaloo

With pieces of 2016’s music omnibus policy package rounding into being, work on a second batch of city policies for bolstering Austin’s music economy is well underway. At Monday’s meeting of the Austin Music Commission, musician and Commissioner Graham Reynolds said the five working groups charged with addressing issues related to the music community’s well-being will deliver reports and recommendations by the end of the year. Those groups are looking at: equity, diversity and inclusion; affordable live/work space; safety-net issues; revenue development; and finance tools and incentives. The first omnibus was paid for by tapping unused funds from the city’s Music Venue Assistance Program, but there’s not yet an identified funding source for the policies that will come with the second omnibus package. Reynolds told the Austin Monitor that Mayor Steve Adler’s proposed “downtown puzzle” plan would create a consistent funding source for efforts related to commercial music, but “that is some time away. In the meantime, we need ideas and actions that will move these issues and their solutions forward.” He said the new omnibus package will be broken into short-, medium- and long-range measures and include a range of funding needs, including some that could have little or no cost.


Friday, November 10, 2017 by Katy McElroy

Austin remembers beloved activist, city employee

This weekend, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan invite the public to City Hall to celebrate the life of Ceci Gratias, District 6 constituent relations director and community activist. Gratias passed away on Sunday, Nov. 5., at the age of 53. An unwavering advocate for the LGBTQ community, Gratias served on the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce for nearly 20 years. She helped launch that group’s scholarship foundation, and was its first president and CEO. She volunteered and worked tirelessly advocating for LGBTQ rights and social justice, including in Pride festivals and parades, Queerbomb, Out Youth, Allgo, HRC-Austin, Lifeworks’ homeless youth program, MLK Day of Service, Hate Crimes Task Force and Austin Lyric Opera’s Triangle on Stage. This year, Gratias received the prestigious Bettie Naylor Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign Texas, and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce plans to commemorate her life and legacy in Washington, D.C., at its annual National Dinner. From a 2015 Austin Chronicle profile: “We challenge any local activist to match that range.” Gratias was a longtime friend of Flannigan’s, and upon his election to Council, he hired her to the position of constituent relations director. The Nov. 12 memorial will begin at 4 p.m. in the City Hall Plaza, with music by the Capital City Men’s Chorus. After the memorial, all are invited to join the procession down Congress Avenue to Oilcan Harry’s. Attendees are requested to wear purple, Gratias’ favorite color.


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