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Wednesday, November 24, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Happy Thanksgiving!

In observance of Thanksgiving, the Austin Monitor will be taking Thursday and Friday off. We’ll resume our normal publishing schedule bright and early Monday morning. Joining us on the holiday weekend will be the bulk of the city’s offices and facilities, as outlined in this news release. Notably, trash and recycling pickups originally scheduled for Thursday will slide to Friday. Austin Public Health Covid testing and vaccine sites will be closed Nov. 25-28, and the Covid dashboard will not be updated until Monday. Questions about city services can be directed to 311, which will remain in operation. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021 by Tai Moses

Get smart, cities

Anyone with an interest in smart cities is welcome to attend the Texas Smart Cities Summit, a daylong conference assembling “leaders from local government, industry, academia, nonprofit organizations and more to share information on the leading practices in smart cities efforts, to share ideas and experiences, and to discuss and plan new efforts to accelerate smart cities development in Texas and across the world.” Participants in the summit will discuss successful solutions and “collaborate on how to improve and implement them into our communities.” This hybrid event takes place partly in-person at Austin Central Library at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. and partly online. Get tickets hereThursday, Dec. 2, 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021 by Tai Moses

Soccer players welcome new mini-pitch

An underused tennis court in a Montopolis park has been transformed into a state-of-the-art mini-pitch, thanks to a partnership between Austin FC and the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Parks and Recreation Department. The Civitan Neighborhood Park mini-pitch “will provide local families and residents with free and safe recreation space to gather, play soccer, and stay active and healthy,” according to a release from the city, which notes that the new facility joins two other mini-pitches in the greater Austin area installed by the 4ATX Foundation. Community members are invited to check out the brand-new mini-pitch at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 7, 2-3 p.m., at 513 Vargas Road.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Competition heats up for District 4 seat

Jose “Chito” Vela, who was the first to jump into the race to replace Council Member Greg Casar, who is running for Congress, now has some competition for the spot. Monica Guzmán, policy director for GO! Austin/VAMOS! Austin has designated Randy Teich as her campaign treasurer. Guzmán, who holds a BA in political science from St. Edward’s University, has several years of organizing experience. Also joining the race is Amanda Rios. Her treasurer is Natalie Cuccia, who is closely aligned with Save Austin Now, the group that sponsored last spring’s successful reinstatement of the anti-camping ordinance and this November’s failed attempt to force the city to spend many more millions of dollars to hire more police officers. Rios wrote on Facebook that “Austinites must stand up on a bipartisan basis and fight back for our beautiful city. That’s why Austinites formed Save Austin Now and that’s what we’re fighting for. And we’re just getting started.” The special election for District 4 is slated for Jan. 25. Whoever is elected will serve through the end of 2024.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Committee recommendation eliminates one judge

In accordance with recommendations from a committee of legal advisers, the City Council Public Safety Committee has recommended eight full-time judges for the Austin Municipal Court, not including Mitch Solomon, who has served on the bench for more than a quarter-century. It was not clear why the lawyers did not recommend him. However, Solomon took the unusual step of appearing at the committee meeting on Monday. He told Council members he would like to speak to them during executive session if they had any questions. No one took him up on the offer. When they came back from that session, committee Chair Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison read off a list of those being recommended to the full Council, including presiding Judge Sherry Statman; Michael Coffey, who serves as judge of the Downtown Austin Community Court; and associate judges Barbara Garcia, Alfred Jenkins, Patrick McNelis, George Thomas, Stephen Vigorito, and Tanisa Jeffers. The part-time or substitute judges include Ferdinand Clervi, Brian Guerra, Christyne Harris-Schultz, Belinda Herrera, Stanley Kerr, Ron Meyerson, Olga Seelig, Pamela Sigman, Ryan Turner, Kenneth Vitucci, and John Yeager. The full Council will vote on these recommendations this month for terms starting in January.

This whisper has been changed since publication to correct a typo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

BSEACD fills Precinct 3 seat

The Barton Springs/Edward Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors has appointed Lily Lucas to serve as an interim director for Precinct 3, filling a seat left empty after the resignation of Blake Dorsett in July. According to a press release from the conservation district, Lucas lives in Buda and has been a volunteer water quality tester with the San Marcos River Rangers following her graduation from Texas A&M. “Serving on the board allows me to be an active steward to the aquifers and springs that supply our rapidly growing communities,” Lucas said in a press statement. “My goal is to maintain our aquifers’ water quality and availability. We will achieve this by taking data-driven approaches and educating the residents within the district on the importance of their water source.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 by Tai Moses

MoPac South study launches virtual open house

We know you get a lot of invitations this time of year, but here’s one more: You’re invited to participate in the MoPac South Environmental Study, an in-depth look at a problematic eight-mile stretch of MoPac (Loop 1) Expressway. You can help by attending the virtual open house organized by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Texas Department of Transportation, and reviewing and commenting on the materials you see there. The team “is working to identify a solution that improves safety and mobility for drivers, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians in a manner that promotes environmental stewardship and sustainability.” The open house is available now through Jan. 7.

Monday, November 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

Austin Water battens down the hatches

Austin Water isn’t leaving anything to chance this winter. The utility is being proactive in its efforts to protect the city’s three water treatment plants from potential freezing temperatures in case of another extreme weather event like … well, you know. Austin Water’s Winter Storm Uri After Action Report contained several recommendations for critical “resilience enhancements,” and staffers have already completed many of them. Storm damage from last February’s winter storm has been repaired and exposed pipes have been insulated; all three plants have stockpiled winter weather supplies such as heaters, sand and deicing fluid as well as emergency supplies for staff such as meals and cots; and the maintenance schedule at the plants has been modified to accommodate the need for increased water production in case of burst pipes. The utility’s operations manager, Stephanie Sue, explained that crews “have worked diligently to repair damage at our water treatment plants and strengthen our readiness for the winter season. These efforts began immediately following Winter Storm Uri and continue to be prioritized. We have learned from this year’s event and have taken action to be ready for future extreme weather.” If you’d like to see for yourself, check out this video of winterization efforts at the Ullrich water treatment plant.

Monday, November 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

No-refusal program targets DUI

Drunk drivers are a consistent cause of fatal traffic collisions in Austin, according to the Austin Police Department. So police are always seeking strategies to prevent impaired driving, especially around the holidays, when people tend to imbibe more than usual and then get in their cars to go imbibe more than usual at other places. In an effort to keep a lid on the terrible human cost of driving while intoxicated, APD is conducting a round of no-refusal, an enforcement strategy that allows police to obtain blood search warrants from suspected drunk drivers who refuse breath or blood tests. Police hope this will encourage those who are planning on drinking to find safe options for getting to and from wherever they’re going that doesn’t involve getting behind the wheel of a car (or bicycle or scooter). Austinites have more travel options than ever before, so it shouldn’t be hard to find an alternative to driving. The no-refusal program will be in effect through Nov. 28, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day.

Friday, November 19, 2021 by Kali Bramble

Council clarifies details of January special election

As Council Member Greg Casar sets his sights on Congress, the city is gearing up to organize his replacement. City Council began yesterday’s meeting with a handful of public speakers acknowledging Casar’s accomplishments for District 4, followed by a wave of questions regarding the special election to fill his seat. Because state law dictates an election must take place within 120 days of an official’s announced resignation, Council cannot wait until the May election to find Casar’s replacement. The special election will take place Jan. 25, with only those registered in District 4 eligible to participate. Early voting begins Jan. 10. Staff explained that today’s passage of the ordinance announcing the election will initiate the filing period for candidates, which will run until Dec. 16. Candidate packets are available at the city clerk’s websiteThe city clerk’s office clarified that Casar will continue to serve as Council member until a replacement is sworn in on the day of the election’s canvassing – likely around Feb. 4 – ensuring there is no vacancy during the transition. The elected representative will serve the rest of Casar’s four-year term, which ends in January 2025. A calendar of special election dates can be found here

Friday, November 19, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Rios appointed interim city clerk

City Council said goodbye Thursday to City Clerk Jannette Goodall, who is moving to Fort Worth to become city secretary there. A few minutes later, Council appointed Myrna Rios, who has served as deputy city clerk since August 2012, as interim city clerk effective Dec. 1. She will receive a 12 percent pay raise. Prior to becoming deputy, Rios served as Council agenda process manager for five years. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes was particularly pleased with Rios’ appointment, citing her many years of service to the city. “Myrna oversees the most vital operations of our city’s democratic processes, including 70 boards and commissions, as well as City Council, and has made all of the necessary adjustments for Council to be accessible to our community throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Thursday, November 18, 2021 by Tai Moses

Join the Vaccine Partner Program

Local nonprofits and faith-based organizations are invited to apply for Travis County’s Vaccine Partner Program, which aims to “provide Covid-19 vaccines in familiar spaces with familiar faces.” The program offers financial support for community organizations hosting vaccine events in communities that have lower vaccine rates, especially among adults. Approved partners will plan and host vaccination events. “They can earn $50 per person given a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at their event. A group can receive a total of $5,000. The Travis County Vaccine Collaborative would provide vaccines, supplies and clinical staff.” Find more info and eligibility requirements here and apply here.

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