Budget speaker registration opens today
After wrestling a bit with state requirements, City Council will now hold an in-person public hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 12, at the Palmer Events Center, though Council members themselves will be participating remotely. Public testimony can be given remotely over the telephone, or in person. For those who opt to show up to the meeting, face coverings and temperature checks will be mandatory. Speaker registration opens today at 5 p.m. or when the agenda is posted, whichever comes last, and will be open through Monday, Aug. 10. If public testimony warrants it or Council has not reached a decision by the end of the 12th, the meeting may be continued on Aug. 14. Speaker registration and the agenda can be found here, and more information about the meeting and its requirements can be found here.
City relaunches musician relief fund
The Economic Development Department will be reopening the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund on Monday in an effort to reach more local musicians facing financial hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The $1.5 million fund provides $1,000 grants to musicians to cover emergency needs. Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the EDD, said in a news release announcing the reopening, “We have revised eligibility to ensure that grant guidelines accommodate more of our local musicians. The reopening of the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund will ensure that these recovery dollars serve immediate needs like rent and groceries for those musicians struggling since the pandemic hit Austin.” The application link will be live on Monday, Aug. 10, and will start accepting submissions through the MusiCares Foundation at 10 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. According to the EDD, “To be eligible for the program, applicants must reside in a City Council district and be able to document their participation as a professional Austin musician.” Financial statements are no longer required and questions about income have been simplified. Find more information about eligibility requirements here.
Big Bend reopens for day use
Big Bend National Park reopens for public use today, in a limited capacity. All paved roads in the park are now open with the exception of the roads leading to Rio Grande Village, Castolon and the Santa Elena Canyon areas. Trails off the paved roads are also available for day use. The kiosks at Panther Junction and Chisos Basin Visitor Center are staffed and the Panther Junction store and gas station are open. All campgrounds and campsites within the park remain closed. Also closed are Chisos Basin Lodge & Restaurant, areas for river use, backcountry trails, the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry, and all unpaved roads except the road to Dug Out Wells. Hotels, camping and RV sites are available in the nearby communities of Study Butte, Terlingua, Lajitas and Marathon. Brewster County, where Big Bend is located, is observing a mandatory mask order in public, along with a restriction on group size to five people or the size of your household, whichever is greater. On Aug. 6, Brewster County had less than 10 active Covid-19 cases.
Garza and partners passing out free PPE in South Austin
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Ann Kitchen are partnering with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, constables George Morales and Stacy Suits, and a roster of community sponsors to distribute free personal protective equipment to the Latino community in South Austin, in areas that are experiencing some of the highest Covid-19 positivity rates in the city. Families in need may pick up free face masks and hand sanitizer along with basic school supplies, and sponsor H-E-B may include a “little surprise giveaway” in the bags. Those living in ZIP code 78744 may pick up items at Mendez Middle School, 5106 Village Square Drive. Those in ZIP codes 78745/48 may come to Akins Early College High School, 10701 S. First St. Volunteers will be at the sites as long as supplies last on Saturday, Aug. 8, 9-11 a.m. Find more details about the event on Facebook.
Boggy Creek Trail getting an upgrade
Construction on Boggy Creek Trail is expected to begin the week of Aug. 17 and could take up to three months to complete, according to the Austin Transportation Department, which is partnering on the project with Public Works and PARD. The trail’s current concrete path will become a dual-track trail running between Rosewood Avenue and East 12th Street, allowing for cyclists to take one track and pedestrians the other. During construction, trail users will need to take a series of detours. See a map of the project here.
AISD to vote on delaying school start
As reported by KUT, the Austin Independent School District board will vote Thursday to delay the start of the school year from Aug. 18 to Sept. 8 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and threat to public health. In addition, the district is asking the Texas Education Agency for permission to extend remote learning for an additional four weeks. AISD trustees are scheduled to vote on the delay Thursday at 9 p.m.
Auction Oaks to get a boost
In a symbiotic bit of grant funding, the makers of Claritin have awarded $47,000 toward the preservation of the historic Auction Oaks at Republic Square. The money comes from the Clarity Parks Project and the Project for Public Spaces. The grant was announced by the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation, which maintains and operates the square. “The Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation is honored and grateful to Claritin, Clarity Parks Project and the Project for Public Spaces for granting us the funds and providing assistance as we intentionally design the area around the Auction Oaks to protect and enhance these 584-year-old trees,” Molly Alexander, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation, said. “Republic Square is considered the birthplace of Austin and also became the center of Austin’s Mexican and Tejano communities. The preservation and enhancement of this treasured public space is paramount.” The Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans, Louisiana, and H.A. Chapman Centennial Green in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were also chosen to be part of the Clarity Parks Project by the Project for Public Spaces.
Trail getting new exercise equipment
The Trail Foundation and Austin Parks and Recreation Department are partnering on a project to replace and improve the exercise equipment just off the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, near PARD headquarters on West Riverside Drive. According to TTF, the project will include the following:
- Exercise equipment offering a well-rounded variety of workouts
- Visual guides showing exercises for each piece of equipment
- Natural hardscape materials
- New native plants and shade trees
- Engineered wood fiber surfacing
- Concrete ribbon curb to separate the trail from the fitness zone
- Limestone block seat wall
- New drinking fountain, bike racks, trash and recycling receptacles
The project team is asking the public to weigh in with feedback and opinions in two community engagement sessions. The first session is ongoing throughout August, ending on Sept. 1., with a survey available in English and Spanish online. The second community engagement session “will include an online video meeting in the fall, where a summary of community input and the selected equipment design will be presented.” The project is scheduled to be completed in 2022. Check out the site photos and more details about the project online.
Summer watering restrictions are in effect
With the heat of summer comes conservation stage watering restrictions. That means Austin Water is restricting watering gardens and lawns to two days a week at assigned times. Any waste of water is prohibited during this time, and water hogs may be fined up to $500. Type in your address to find your assigned watering days here. There are some exemptions to the water restrictions; the following preferred methods are allowed on any day of the week:
Watering with drip irrigation, a hand-held hose or a refillable container
Watering trees with a Treegator, soaker hose or automatic tree bubbler
Watering vegetable gardens with a soaker hose
Pressure washing sidewalk/driveway/deck/patio/paved areas/home siding/fence
Last year, according to Austin Water, Austinites “achieved their lowest water use rate ever at 120 gallons per person per day.” This year the water utility hopes to break that record. Read the utility’s FAQ about conservation stage watering restrictions.
Public Safety Commission gets some new faces
After coming back from summer recess in July, the Public Safety Commission began its August meeting with no chair and a new face on the dais. Former commission Chair Meghan Hollis resigned due to a new position she took working for the state Legislature. “I was so honored to serve as chair of this body,” she said in a statement read by Rebecca Webber. To replace Hollis, the commission unanimously voted to have Rebecca Gonzales step into the role of commission chair beginning at the September meeting. In addition to a new chair, the commission also welcomed Rocky Lane to its ranks. Lane comes from a background as a paramedic in Austin and is the current board chair for the Transgender Education Network of Texas, where he told commissioners he has gained experience working and negotiating with the city.
DAA launches Project H2O
The Downtown Austin Alliance and the Downtown Ambassadors have partnered with various community organizations to launch Project H2O to provide water, face masks and other resources to those experiencing homelessness in the downtown core. The program is intended to offer some basic essentials while also gathering information about what kinds of medical and behavioral services are needed by the city’s homeless population. The main Project H2O team will operate weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the ambassadors and Austin Police Department officers handling additional hours. Each week the program will aim to distribute 700 water bottles, masks and pamphlets offering recipients information on the services available to them. Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the DAA, said the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and summer heat created the need to reduce potential public health risks for the homeless population downtown.
Construction begins on Anderson Mill Road project
The Austin Transportation Department has kicked off construction on a project funded by the 2016 mobility bond, on Anderson Mill Road between U.S. Highway 183 and Spicewood Parkway. The $8 million Regional Mobility project is “designed to reduce congestion and enhance safety for all road users, including people riding bikes, walking, driving cars, and accessing transit in the area. The project began as a grassroots, community-led effort to address safety and mobility issues along Anderson Mill Road,” according to a news release from Transportation. The road will be getting a new center left-turn lane, a raised median near U.S. 183 and shared-use paths on both sides of the road for pedestrians and cyclists. Get more details on the project fact sheet.
Barton and Bull Creek greenbelts to reopen
Barton Creek and Bull Creek greenbelts will once again be open starting next Saturday, Aug. 8. That’s welcome news for those feeling the lack of swimming options in the dead of summer. However, those hoping to hit the greenbelt should be aware of the new process for accessing Barton Creek. As part of a five-month pilot program from the Parks and Recreation Department, Barton Creek Greenbelt will require advance reservations for Thursday through Sunday visits. Those reservations can be made online or by leaving a voicemail at 512-974-6797. A news release from the parks department explains the reason for the pilot, which will be used to determine future management strategies and funding needs for the park. “As one of the formally recognized 2020 Leave No Trace Hot Spots, environmental impacts at Barton Creek Greenbelt have reached a critical level and continue to worsen. With increased traffic to the greenbelt, litter (including pet waste), erosion, trail damage, water quality issues, and injuries continue to rise,” reads the release. “Neighborhoods surrounding the residential entrances are particularly impacted by heavy traffic, public intoxication and trash.”
Two temporary testing locations open
Austin Public Health has partnered with the Texas Military Department and Texas Division of Emergency Management to open a free walk-up Covid-19 testing site at Del Valle Middle School at 5500 Ross Drive, operating for two weeks from Aug. 3-16, 10 a.m-4 p.m. every day. The site will have the capacity to test 800 people a day, first come, first served. Del Valle residents do not need an appointment or referral. TDEM and APH have also partnered with the city of Pflugerville to open a walk-up testing site at The Pfield in Pflugerville, 1440 W. Pecan St., Monday, Aug. 3, to Saturday, Aug. 8., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. The Pfield site can test 300 people a day on a first-come, first-served basis. APH reminds the community, “People who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, who have symptoms of Covid-19, or are an older adult or a person of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, including chronic diseases, an immunocompromised state, or obesity should get a Covid-19 test.”
Austin’s birthday bash goes virtual
Austin’s birthday party – a commemoration of the 181st year since the Republic of Texas auctioned the first lots in Austin – has taken place at Republic Square for the last two years. This year, the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation is moving the free event online while endeavoring to keep it as interactive and festive as possible. Community members are invited to submit a video of their birthday wishes to the city that “should be as creative as possible while keeping to the family-friendly tone of the event.” Partygoers have the option to purchase a curated picnic lunch from Republic Square’s new Salt & Time cafe or a “birthday party kit” from Toy Joy. The highlight of the event is a livestreamed concert featuring a lineup of local artists curated by Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone of Riders Against the Storm. For more details visit RepublicSquare.org. Saturday, Aug. 15, 6-8 p.m.
Rainey Street Bungalow to be demolished
Two popular Rainey Street bars – Bungalow and Container Bar – will be demolished after having their fate delayed by months of postponements from the Historic Landmark Commission, which was reluctant to replace the old neighborhood homes with a 53-floor high-rise. At its July 27 meeting, the commission released a permit for demolition along with a request for a documentation package. Although the commission had little choice, as the property didn’t meet the threshold required for historic designation, the vote tally was 8-2 in support of demolition, with commissioners Mathew Jacob and Beth Valenzuela opposing the motion. Even without the vote, Historic Preservation Officer Kalan Contreras told commissioners that staff would have been obliged to release a demolition permit the following day. City timelines dictate how long a decision may be withheld on an application for demolition; the timeline for the two Rainey Street properties was set to expire the day of the commission meeting.
AISD asks parents to take summer survey
AISD has launched the second short survey of the summer to find out how families feel about physically sending their kids back to school for face-to-face instruction. As the district endeavors to keep parents informed about what’s involved in the school reopening process, “answering this survey will assist that effort by helping us understand what you think is best for your child.” Each student requires a separate survey and the survey closes Monday, Aug. 3. If you received the survey in an email, use that link; if not, start the survey here. To give families the best possible information about the reopening process, AISD has also begun livestreaming interviews (in English and Spanish) between Superintendent Paul Cruz and different subject matter experts. The videos may be viewed on Facebook or YouTube.
‘Blue Trees’ coming to Pease Park
To celebrate the grand reopening of Kingsbury Commons next year, the Pease Park Conservancy is working to bring a renowned art installation to the park. The Blue Trees, by Konstantin Dimopoulos, “highlights ecological issues, while also transforming the environment and trees into a magical piece of art that people experience.” The installation is planned for spring 2021 as a highlight of the celebration, which will include ongoing educational opportunities and a family day. The Blue Trees has appeared all over the world, from California and Tennessee to Canada and Germany. The colorant that turns the trees such an otherworldly shade of blue is a natural pigment that fades over time and is not harmful to the trees or wildlife. The conservancy is asking community members to fill out a quick questionnaire (with only one question) asking if they support efforts to bring The Blue Trees to Austin.
Today in Council meetings
Today City Council will meet for the fourth time this week. The meeting, which will cover zoning and public hearings (including the hearing on this year’s budget) promises to be a long one, with 591 people signed up to speak. In an effort to organize the meeting, Mayor Steve Adler has posted a schedule on the City Council Message Board. For those who don’t feel like clicking through, here is that schedule:
10 a.m.-noon: Batch 1: Public Hearing Speakers, beginning with Speakers on #70; then discussion and vote on #70.
Noon-1 p.m.: Lunch
1-2 p.m.: Exec Session (Nov. 2020 election)
2-3 p.m.: Batch 2: Zoning speakers
3-5 p.m.: Batch 3: Public Hearing speakers
5-6 p.m.: Dinner
6-8 p.m.: Batch 4: Public Hearing speakers
8-10 p.m.: Batch 5: Public Hearing speakers
Commissioners approve net-zero carbon emissions plan
On July 28, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a resolution for county operations to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 and for the community to reach the same goal by 2050. “This is an action many local governments have already taken,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, who sponsored the resolution. Indeed, the city of Austin has a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In order to shave two decades off of Austin’s timeline, Shea suggested that county staff investigate hiring an outside consultant to guide the county in its greenhouse gas reduction efforts, which, she emphasized, is the only portion of the resolution with a fiscal impact. Prior to engaging the consultant, the commission tasked the Travis County Green Steering Committee with developing community-level emissions goals, milestones and strategies and returning this list to the Commissioners Court in April 2021. This resolution comes on the heels of the commissioners approving the county’s first climate action plan. Commissioner Jeff Travillion commended his colleagues on making combating climate change a priority, saying this is a significant step toward improving the county’s ecological footprint. “These things don’t happen organically,” he said.