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Whispers

Friday, September 22, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Fath recovering, will return to EUC

Anyone watching this week’s Electric Utility Commission meeting would have missed the face and sage advice of its longest-serving member, Shudde Fath. Fath, 101, was unable to attend the meeting because she had a mini-stroke following the August meeting. Fath said although she spent a week in the hospital she has been following all the goings-on at City Hall, including the entire three days of budget deliberations, on TV. Fath is at home with her daughter, Betsy, who makes sure that her mother does exercises twice a day. After this Monday’s meeting, she noted that Karen Hadden, who chairs the EUC, came by with a beautiful bouquet of red roses and a card from all the other commissioners and some members of the Austin Energy staff. Fath said she was very grateful and she plans to be back at the October meeting of the EUC. In the meantime, she is still pushing City Council to amend the city budget to give small business customers a break on their electric bills.


Friday, September 22, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

Arts Commission approves final design for convention center garage

Austin is getting a new public art piece on the corner of Second and Brazos streets. Artist Josef Kristofoletti has been approved by the Austin Arts Commission to begin his $74,000 mural that is intended to conceptually represent unity and diversity in the city. Kristofoletti’s color gradation mural will reach from the bottom to the top of the Second Street parking garage and will slowly shift hues to encompass the color spectrum in an effort to embody the vibrant spectrum of ideas and culture exhibited in the Austin Convention Center. What makes this art piece particularly intriguing is the different experiences that one has depending on the speed at which they pass by. Furthermore, as Commissioner Amy Mok noted, due to the reflection of the JW Marriott at certain times of the day, “on a flat surface, this looks like a sculpture.” Commissioner Brett Barnes said that this multifaceted viewer experience is what really impressed the board of Art in Public Places. However, he said, “There were lots of questions about the durability of paint and graffiti, but he addressed it by having a solid color up to 10 feet.” Art in Public Places has already approved the project unanimously according to Barnes. Susan Lambe, the Art in Public Places administrator, said that now the project is approved, “His intention is to start work in November.”

This whisper has been corrected to reflect the correct location of the garage.


Friday, September 22, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Renteria weighs in on Montopolis School

Yesterday, Council Member Pio Renteria addressed his constituents’ questions and concerns about the Montopolis Negro School. In a letter, he explained that while next week’s City Council agenda includes the proposed rezoning of the school, that item will be postponed and will not be moving forward. Instead, Item 56, which proposes buying the school, will be up for a vote. Renteria writes, “Item 56 is a resolution introduced by Mayor Adler, which I co-sponsored – along with Council Member Houston and Mayor Pro Tem Tovo – that authorizes the City Manager to negotiate the acquisition of this property for public use through funds from the Hotel Occupancy Tax that are reserved for Historical Preservation or by any other possible means. Beyond that, it includes direction to prepare a plan for restoration, management, and funding of the property as a historic asset and museum through a robust stakeholder process. … I look forward to implementing a community supported solution that will help us preserve this site of immeasurable historical and cultural significance.”


Friday, September 22, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

O. Henry Museum closed for AC repair

The O. Henry Museum on Fifth Street is closed indefinitely due to a broken air conditioning unit. The Parks and Recreation Department assures us all the artifacts have been moved to avoid any damage, and there will be an announcement when the museum reopens to visitors. Learn more about the museum’s mission and regular operating hours here.


Thursday, September 21, 2017 by Jack Craver

Julie Oliver running for Congress

Julie Oliver, the executive at St. David’s HealthCare who was controversially appointed by City Council to the Central Health Board of Directors in June, is gearing up a run for Congress against incumbent Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican who is in the middle of his third term representing the 25th Congressional District. The 25th district, which stretches from just north of San Marcos to just south of Fort Worth and snakes through parts of Austin, is heavily Republican and is unlikely to be a competitive race. Granted, Oliver’s website makes the case that no challenge is too big for the health care executive: “Born and raised in Texas, Julie is a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of gal. Her story is one of comebacks.”


Thursday, September 21, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

About those Givens Park rumors

Taking matters into her own hands, Council Member Ora Houston has issued an alert notifying her District 1 residents that Givens Park Recreation Center will not be transformed into a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, nor will Givens Park be turned into a dog park. While the rec center was identified as a city-owned property that could be used as a shelter, Houston said it is not under consideration to be used that way in an email from her office. As for the dog park, Houston clarified that Givens Park will be undergoing a master planning process over the next few months and she encouraged residents to participate in that process. As for her own position on the matters, Houston wrote, “I do not support Givens Recreation Center being used as temporary housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, nor do I support Givens Park becoming a dog park. In addition, I do not support any recreation centers located in neighborhoods being used for temporary shelter.”


Thursday, September 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City music division interviews Scoremore founder

Next week, the city’s Music and Entertainment Division hosts a free interview with the founder of Scoremore Shows, Sascha Stone Guttfreund. It’s part of a series of panels the city is working on with the local music promoter to link those entering the music industry so they can “network, develop professional development skills, and balance goals.” Guttfreund co-founded Scoremore back in 2009, and the company now puts on around 150 club shows a year. The conversation takes place on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Austin School of Film. RSVP here.


Thursday, September 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Kitchen has a new name for Robert E. Lee

Just a month after the violence in Charlottesville sparked conversations about race and the Confederate monuments dotting the South, Council Member Ann Kitchen has put forward a new name for Robert E. Lee Road in her district. After concerns about honoring Confederates reached a fever pitch in mid-August, Council members voted to move forward with renaming that road as well as Jeff Davis Avenue in North Austin. This week, Kitchen suggested renaming the road after Azie Taylor Morton. Morton, who died in 2003, was a longtime teacher, civil servant and the first African-American to become U.S. Treasurer. She was appointed to the post by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. In the announcement, Kitchen said, “After reviewing ideas brought forward by our community, and after discussions with several neighbors and community members, I am proposing this change because I believe the City should consider honoring a strong woman with roots in our local community who dedicated her life to civil service. Changing this street name is an important step for healing our community given the injustices of the past. While history itself will never change, nor do we forget the lessons of our history, we must ensure that those we memorialize reflect and honor our own values.” Learn more about Morton here, and learn more about the street renaming process here.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Montopolis Negro School case gets plot twist

A plan to preserve the Montopolis Negro School and a surrounding 25-foot buffer was soundly rejected at a heated Planning Commission meeting earlier this month. Now the case is headed to City Council, and it does not look like the heat around it is dying down. Mayor Steve Adler has sponsored a resolution that would authorize the city to buy and restore the school for use as a museum using (what else?) hotel occupancy taxes. That item is on the Sept. 28 agenda along with the original rezoning case, which is now scheduled for “indefinite postponement.”


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Evolve weighs in on CodeNEXT

Though it featured prominently in Community Not Commodity’s reactions to Draft 2 of CodeNEXT, Evolve Austin did not release a statement on the draft until recently. The full letter is embedded below but reads, in part: “While the first two drafts of CodeNEXT have been compared to Frankenstein, it’s important to recognize that Austin’s real monster is the current Land Development Code and the sprawling, economically segregated city it is encouraging. The reality is that the Community Not Commodity-backed policies of the past 30 years have propagated the exact opposite of what they claim to stand for – making housing a commodity too few in the community can afford. … CodeNEXT remains a work in progress, and Evolve will continue to work diligently to help bring about the changes needed to solve Austin’s most pressing problems. Change is never easy, but the status quo is untenable. Continuing the same policies that got us here will only continue to make housing a commodity that few can afford, and our communities will be worse off as a result.”

Download (DOC, 140KB)


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

After contentious discussion, Arts Commission approves community initiative applications

On Monday, Sept. 18, the Austin Arts Commission worked its way through a list of 14 Community Initiative applications that were submitted in August for approval. The overall monetary value of these grant requests totaled $43,250. Out of the 14 applications, half were pulled out of the vote for further discussion. Applications submitted by the Austin Creative Alliance (Keep Composers), Vortex Repertory Co., Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel, Liz Santamaria, Big Medium (Hyperreal Film Club, Anthony Maddaloni) and Luis Ordaz Gutierrez were unanimously approved without discussion. The applications pulled for further discussion were those made by the Texas Book Festival, Big Medium (ARTiculation event), Capitol View Arts, the Trail Foundation, American Short Fiction, Juan Izaguirre and the Austin Creative Alliance (Stand-Up Empire). Of those pulled for discussion, all were approved for funding except for one made by Juan Izaguirre, who requested funds to screen a nine-minute film. Commissioner Bears Fonte, who pulled Izaguirre’s application, said, “This sounds to me like a filmmaker who has not had all his friends see his film.” Commissioner Krissi Reeves also opposed funding the film screening saying, “It seems like $3,750 dollars is excessive to screen a nine-minute film in the park.” While the majority of commissioners agreed that the requested amount seemed excessive with respect to the activity, commission Chair Lulu Flores said, “(Izaguirre) wants to raise awareness at a Chicano park and preserve cultural awareness of the Latino community.” Despite her arguments, this application remained the only one unapproved for the evening.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Austin included in regional fair housing assessment

Beginning next year, Austin will join nine other nearby municipalities and regional housing authorities to do a comprehensive fair housing assessment of Central Texas. It’s part of the fulfillment of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development policy that requires these entities that receive federal funding to study their fair housing climates and make plans for improving them. Georgetown, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Travis County are among the other entities participating. In a press release dated Sept. 20, Rosie Truelove, the interim director of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said, “This is a unique partnership among cities and counties in Central Texas, because fair housing issues and affordability challenges do not stop at city or county boundaries. Conducting this Assessment of Fair Housing on a regional scale means that we will be able to identify barriers to fair housing more holistically across the Austin area and hopefully be able to address related contributing factors.”


Tuesday, September 19, 2017 by Jack Craver

Casar remains unconvinced by Trump

Political observers are having a hard time explaining President Donald Trump’s recent overtures to Congressional Democrats, first on a short-term increase in the debt limit and most recently on immigration. Trump’s announcement that he wants to make a deal with Democrats to allow more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to stay in exchange for unspecified border security measures came only weeks after the president ended the Obama-era executive order that shielded the immigrants from deportation. Council Member Greg Casar, one of the city’s most outspoken advocates for undocumented immigrants, isn’t buying the change of face, however. He said the following in a statement to the Austin Monitor: “Trump and other anti-immigrant leaders are morally bankrupt for holding hostage the fates of hundreds of thousands of young Americans. I’ll be working closely alongside my constituents and Austin DREAMers to evaluate whatever compromise plan comes out of Washington. We may have to make very difficult decisions about whether to ultimately support or oppose what is presented in Congress, if a plan makes it that far. I am working on a resolution, alongside community groups, to add support for DREAMers to our federal legislative agenda, along with opposition to the border wall and continued militarization of the border.”


Tuesday, September 19, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Time to talk CodeNEXT (for real)

If you don’t count social media and press conferences, tonight will be the first official opportunity for Austinites to hear – and speak – about Draft 2 of CodeNEXT. The draft, of course, was released on Friday. Tonight, the Planning and Zoning and Platting commissions combine to form one land use commission that will hear a presentation on the new draft and, presumably, the concerns of Austinites on all sides of all the issues. The fun starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall. To those attending: pack a snack. Those unable to attend can still comment on the code online or catch the fun on ATXN.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Learn more about the city’s corridor program

A key piece of last year’s massive mobility bond is the chunk of funds set aside for the Corridor Mobility Program, which is made up of a series of plans to improve the city’s major thoroughfares including North Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road, East Riverside Drive and Slaughter Lane. With nearly $500 million set aside for the effort, it’s an understandably complex issue with a lot of moving parts. Luckily, the city continues its outreach effort with a series of what it’s calling “pop-in meetings” that continue into next month. There’ll be staff on hand to answer questions and take in feedback. Today’s event is on the Burnet Road Corridor from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Walmart on Anderson Lane. “Community feedback plays an important role in helping shape Austin’s mobility future,” the city said in a Monday press release. “Thousands of people have provided feedback that is being considered as we develop the proposed Corridor Construction Program. We want to keep the conversation going, so please stop by to see us and pick up a cool treat or two!”


Monday, September 18, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City conducts survey on small business needs

The city’s Small Business Program wants to know what it can do to better serve the community. It is therefore asking small to medium-sized businesses to participate in a survey that will determine what kind of services the program will offer in the future. “The input collected will refine the usefulness of future training and develop a roadmap for small business service delivery over the next 3-5 years,” according to Vicky Valdez, the program’s manager. Take the five-minute survey online here or call 512-974-7800 for more information.


Monday, September 18, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Smart-ish City

To many of us, the wacky world of traffic counters is understandably obscure. Well, no more! Last week, the Austin Transportation Department released something of a Traffic Counter 101 for our reading pleasure. It explains that the department uses a variety of devices to count not only the number of cars on the road but also the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists. That helps staff know where best to place things like pedestrian signals and crosswalks. The release also comes with the helpful reminder that sabotaging any of the street tube, Bluetooth or video counters is a crime. “In fact, intentionally damaging the expensive computer systems attached to traffic counters could be a felony offense,” it reads. “In addition to being a crime, damaging traffic counters can delay much-needed safety projects such as school zones or stop signs because more staff time is spent revisiting the same street.” Traffic counter vandals should be reported via 311.


Friday, September 15, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

About that Central Health budget

Now that we’ve recovered from the city budget process, our eyes turn to Central Health. On Wednesday, the Central Health Board of Managers voted to pass its budget and tax rate, which will increase its total tax revenue by 4.5 percent. Board members approved a tax rate of 10.7 cents per $100 of property value, which is actually a decrease from the Fiscal Year 2017 rate of 11.1 cents. However, rising home values mean that the average Central Health taxpayer will see an annual increase of $12.50 in health district taxes. According to a press release, “Central Health expects to receive $181.8 million in property tax revenue in FY 2018, of which 96 percent will be used for health care delivery for low-income and uninsured Travis County residents.” More information about the Central Health budget can be found online – study up before the Travis County Commissioners Court votes on the final approval of the budget and tax rate on Sept. 19.


Friday, September 15, 2017 by Jack Craver

Anti-density org calls pro-CodeNEXT coalition a real estate ‘front group’

Community Not Commodity, a group that describes itself as advocating to protect Austin neighborhoods from changes that may come due to CodeNEXT (particularly more density), sent a message to supporters on Wednesday warning them of recent activity by activists associated with Evolve Austin, a group campaigning to develop a code that promotes a denser and more transit-oriented city. In the message, longtime activists Mary Sanger and Linda Bailey referred to Evolve as a “front group” for the Real Estate Council of Austin, the Austin Board of Realtors, the Austin Chamber of Commerce “and several other growth-regardless-of-consequences allies of the real estate industry.” Evolve’s mission, they asserted, was to influence nonprofit groups and City Council “to use CodeNEXT to increase real estate industry profits.” While RECA, the Austin Board of Realtors and other industry trade groups are among the supporters listed on Evolve’s website, the group also touts the support of dozens of groups that are not part of the real estate industry, notably environmental groups and anti-poverty organizations, such as Ecology Action, Environment Texas, the Austin Justice Coalition, One Voice Central Texas, TexPIRG, Bike Austin, Walk Austin and the Alliance for Public Transportation. Asked to respond to its characterization as a real estate front, Evolve directed the Austin Monitor to Austin Habitat for Humanity, one of its partners. “Many nonprofits in town want to see the same thing – a healthier, more affordable, inclusive and connected Austin – and it is empowering to know we can all work together with a collective voice to build a better Austin,” said Wayne Gerami, vice president of client services for Austin Habitat, in an email. “We are a part of Evolve Austin because we believe CodeNEXT is the biggest opportunity to create and see that vision become a reality.”


Friday, September 15, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Pop-up clothing store for the homeless

Today, the Central Presbyterian Church sidewalk (200 E. 8th St.) will be the home of the Street Store, a “free open-air clothing ‘store’ for members of the Austin homeless community.” From when the store opens at 9 a.m., volunteers will help shoppers pick up to five clothing items. The first 200 lucky shoppers get care packages that contain warm winter accessories. The effort is put on by local storage container company SpareFoot, which started the Street Store in 2015. Mitscoots Outfitters, another Austin company, is supplying the care packages.


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