Whispers

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Update on waste disposal question

Last week, after hearing from angry neighbors of the Austin Community Landfill, which is owned by Waste Management, Council unanimously rejected a proposed emergency contract with the company for the pickup, transport and disposal of materials from city facilities to that landfill and told Austin Resource Recovery to figure out another solution. The current contract, which is with Waste Management, expires on Saturday. Responding to a request for information from the Austin Monitor about how ARR is going to deal with the city waste stream, a city spokesperson sent the following statement: “The city is working to provide comprehensive cost-efficient waste disposal and recycling services to all city of Austin departments. The current contract for these services expires at the end of February and a solicitation for a replacement contract is being finalized and will be published soon.” Attorney Michael Whellan, who represents Texas Disposal Systems, said Tuesday that his client “is prepared to provide the same level of services currently provided and at the same rates … until the city puts the city facilities contract out for formal bid. And TDS knows others may be offering the very same thing … it doesn’t matter … the city has options to bridge this period between the formal termination of a contract that disposed of city waste at the Austin Community Landfill and the start of a new contract that has gone through an open bidding process.” Whellan said TDS would allow other haulers to bring city waste material to its landfill at the going rate even if TDS is not picking up the waste.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Broken links at county elections page

One week before the Texas primary voting day, the Travis County Clerk’s elections website is riddled with broken links and outdated voting information. Speaking to the Commissioners Court during public comment Tuesday, Arthur Graves said the site’s various flaws could have an impact on the voting process. For starters, Graves said the site features countless links all indicating that the previous Hart eSlate voting machines are still in use. Typing eSlate into the search bar on the clerk’s website produces tons of relevant results. On the other hand, searching for the current voting system, ExpressVote by Election Systems and Software, produces only one page about senior voters and voters with special needs. “Mind you,” Graves said, “Tuesday isn’t the first election that we’ve had (the new system).” Other website issues include broken links on the Misdemeanor Records Division and Civil Division pages that Graves said have “been broken for months, if not years.” Downloading the page of elected officials from the elections page sidebar, he noted that links to positions such as county attorney and county clerk are also broken, “along with dozens of others.” According to Graves, this is all following a very long period where the only active link on the site’s Candidate and Political Party Information page was that of the Democratic Party. Finally, he said, after calling party chairs directly, the issue was immediately resolved. “I think we can do better.”


Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Tai Moses

City takes requests for free bike parking

As more Austinites use their bicycles to get around town and avoid traffic snarls, the Austin Transportation Department has recognized the importance of providing secure, convenient bicycle parking. Now the Active Transportation and Street Design Division of the department is offering to install free bike parking – racks or corrals – in selected public rights of way in order to “free up valuable sidewalk space, enhance the visibility and attractiveness of storefronts and provide an amenity to customers and tenants,” according to a city news release. Businesses, residents, and property owners and managers are invited to obtain an application online (PDF) and the requested locations “will be evaluated based upon available right of way space, bicycle parking demand and availability of nearby bicycle parking.”


Wednesday, February 26, 2020 by Tai Moses

Historic gazebo listed in National Register

Photo from the Austin History Center, PICA 09283

The Fannie Davis Gazebo at Vic Mathias Shores at Town Lake Metro Park has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic gazebo exists thanks to the efforts of a group of visionary women – the Austin Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, an advocacy group for women working in the construction industry. The project was organized and funded in the mid-1960s by Austin NAWIC and designed in 1969 by the architect husband of an Austin NAWIC member. According to Austin Parks and Recreation, “Almost 100 contractors and suppliers enthusiastically supported the gazebo project with donations of materials and labor” to create the first public structure on the south shore of what was then known as Town Lake. In 1984, the structure was named for Fannie Davis, a founding member of Austin NAWIC. Gregory W. Smith, National Register coordinator with the Texas Historical Commission, called the gazebo “one of Austin’s modern architectural gems, hidden in plain sight.”

 


Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Salvation Army’s new shelter about to open

Tomorrow the Salvation Army is expected to open the doors of the Rathgeber Center for families in Austin who are experiencing homelessness. The $12 million shelter, which is located in East Austin, will offer 212 beds and was created to help a portion of the city’s homeless community that frequently has few options at shelters that don’t allow both men and women on-site. Last year the city worked to find $1 million in funding to help open the center and pay for some if its estimated $4.9 million in annual operating costs, though Council members have said the city is unlikely to make additional contributions. The Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation donated $100,000 and helped raise another $300,000 toward the center’s operating budget.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Murals celebrate centennial of 19th Amendment

Next week the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation will unveil its new Writing on the Walls art installation featuring two permanent downtown murals. On March 4, internationally renowned artists Sandra Chevrier and Shepard Fairey will create a 12-story mural on the west side of the Line hotel downtown, while Austin artist Sadé Lawson will work on the northbound wall of South Lamar Boulevard near Sandra Muraida Way. The murals, which will take inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, are expected to be completed by March 11. Writing on the Walls will also feature community events throughout the week including a “meet the artists” session at the Line on March 6, the Murals and Mentors program setting up in Republic Square Park on March 7, and a paint party later that night at the Line with a DJ set by Fairey.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by Tai Moses

City and county debut new census website

Screenshot from atxcensus2020.com.

“Everybody Counts” is both the motto and the mission of the city of Austin and Travis County’s new website, atxcensus2020.com, dedicated to the upcoming U.S. census. This chance to count every person living in the country comes only once every 10 years, and as the site says, if our community is not completely and accurately counted, “schools, neighborhoods, and vulnerable residents will lose funding.” Even an undercount as small as 1 percent could result in a loss of an estimated $300 million in federal funding in the state. The website spells out clearly and concisely why the census matters, how to accurately fill out the survey, and how to help spread the word in your neighborhood – or even work part-time as a census-taker – to ensure that everyone in Central Texas is counted.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by Tai Moses

When one pool closes, another opens

Everything benefits from a thorough spring cleaning, and swimming pools are no exception. Parks and Recreation will be closing Barton Springs Pool from Feb. 29 to March 13 for its annual spring cleaning. The pool is scheduled to reopen on March 14. Workers plan to remove some gravel from the bottom of the pool in order to restore its natural depth. Access to the dog beach will be limited during this procedure to make room for the equipment. For early birds who simply must get in the water before starting their day, Deep Eddy Pool will open at 6 a.m. while Barton Springs Pool is closed.


Monday, February 24, 2020 by Tai Moses

Advance Austin looks at 2020’s big decisions

Between local and national elections, 2020 is shaping up to be a big year, but there are lots of other important decisions coming up too. Join the Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy in the next event in our Advance Austin series – the 2020 civic forecast event. Learn more about the big topics ahead that will affect our city, from Project Connect and the Land Development Code to all the local and state elections, and how you can participate and have an impact. Guest speakers include Sharmila Mukherjee, Capital Metro’s vice president of planning, and Jessica Foreman, advocacy director for the League of Women Voters. Light refreshments provided by Tiff’s Treats and Waterloo Sparkling Water. Tuesday, March 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Capital Factory, 701 Brazos St., ACL, 16th floor. RSVP here.


Monday, February 24, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

AFD working to reduce wildfire risk and protect endangered songbird

The Austin metro area is one of the regions in the country most vulnerable to wildfire. Although there are many areas at risk, the environmentally sensitive Balcones Canyonlands Preserve is right smack in the middle of wildfire territory. Historically, the cedar-oak woodlands that dominate the preserve have not been susceptible to frequent fires and under most conditions do not burn readily. Nevertheless, the Austin Fire Department is concerned about the potential of a wildfire destroying sensitive habitat. To help reduce the risk of fire and protect the homes in the area as well the endangered golden-cheeked warblers who nest here, the department’s Wildfire Division is partnering with Travis Country and Travis Audubon to carve out a shaded fuel break along the preserve land. Already, the managing partners of the preserve have completed 12.6 miles of shaded fuel break, and this spring, another 0.45 miles will be added behind the Westminster Glen neighborhood. In these fuel breaks, which extend 60 feet into the preserve from property boundaries, the trees have been pruned and thinned to lessen the chance of a wildfire reaching the tree canopy. The project began Feb. 6 and is scheduled to finish this fall.


Monday, February 24, 2020 by Tai Moses

City offers civil rights workshops

Imagine Austin envisions Austin as “a beacon of sustainability, social equity and economic opportunity; where diversity and creativity are celebrated; where community needs and values are recognized; where leadership comes from its citizens and where the necessities of life are affordable and accessible to all.” The city would like community members to help it realize this lofty vision by asking for their input at a series of workshops aimed at protecting the civil rights of all Austinites. All workshops are at 6:30 p.m. on the following days and locations:

  • Wednesday, March 4, Austin Public Library Ruiz Branch, 1600 Grove Blvd.
  • Friday, March 6, Turner Roberts Rec Center, 7201 Colony Loop Drive
  • Wednesday, March 11, Carver Library, 1161 Angelina St.

If you’d like to weigh in on this important issue but can’t attend a workshop, complete the online survey. Find more information at SpeakUpAustin.org.


Friday, February 21, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Council rejects Waste Management contract

After hearing impassioned pleas from residents of Northeast Austin and arguments from several Council members against granting Waste Management an emergency contract to transport and dispose of refuse, recycling materials, brush and compostable materials generated by city facilities, Council voted 10-0 to reject the proposed contract. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza was off the dais. Council members Natasha Harper-Madison and Leslie Pool were particularly forceful in their arguments against using Waste Management. As Pool explained, Council members have told staff they do not want to do business with any company using Waste Management’s landfill in Northeast Austin. Several neighbors and environmentalists spoke against giving the $1 million contract to Waste Management, and no one showed up to defend the company. Two commissions voted against the contract, and one commission voted in favor. When staffers had difficulty explaining exactly what they would do without Waste Management when the current contract expires on Feb. 28, Mayor Steve Adler was concerned enough that he said Council might have to have an emergency meeting on that date.


Friday, February 21, 2020 by Jo Clifton

DeBeauvoir urges voters to head to the polls

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir reports that early voting is off to a good start, with a total of 15,625 ballots received as of Wednesday night, the second day of early voting. On Tuesday, 7,034 voters cast ballots, an increase from 5,014 early voters in 2016 and 4,388 early voters in 2018. As expected, Democrats were voting in significantly higher numbers than Republicans, with 9,779 Democrats casting ballots and 3,268 Republicans voting as of Wednesday night. More voters cast ballots at the Randalls at Research and Braker and the Randalls at South MoPac and William Cannon than other locations. DeBeauvoir noted that Travis County voters can use any of 34 early voting locations, including four mega-centers, to beat the election day rush on March 3. For more information on early voting locations, wait times and other election details, go to the Travis County Clerk’s website or VoteTravis.com.


Friday, February 21, 2020 by Tai Moses

Become a volunteer deputy registrar

The Travis County Tax Office is welcoming help from any county resident over 18 who would like to learn how to register voters in a nonpartisan manner. The free, one-hour training course – required by state law – concludes with “the swearing in of participants as volunteer deputy registrars, the designation required to register voters.” To ensure there are enough training manuals for all, the tax office requests that interested residents sign up in advance for their training. Here is the schedule of March trainings:

  • Saturday, March 7, 10:30 a.m., Travis County Tax Office, 5501 Airport Blvd.
  • Thursday, March 19, 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and  6:30 p.m., Travis County Precinct 1, 4717 Heflin Lane
  • Saturday, March 21, 10:30 a.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, 4700 Grover Ave.
  • Saturday, March 28, 10:30 a.m., Central Texas Food Bank, 6500 Metropolis Drive

Friday, February 21, 2020 by Tai Moses

Enjoy Zilker Botanical Garden for free

The Parks and Recreation Department has decided to make Zilker Botanical Garden more accessible to all Austinites by providing a series of admission-free days this year. The free days will allow “more opportunities for Austinites and visitors to enjoy holidays, spring days, special exhibits, and school breaks” at the garden, says the parks department. Mark your calendar: The upcoming free days are March 17, March 28, May 30, June 11, July 9, Aug. 8, and Aug. 13.

 

 


Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin renters working fingers to the bone, study finds

A new study finds that the average Austin renter has to work more than 57 hours a month to afford their monthly rent, a figure that ranks 10th highest among the nation’s major cities. The financial planning website SmartAsset found with Austin’s median hourly wage of $22.92 per hour and a median monthly rent of $1,314, that 57.3 hours of work per month are needed to cover rent expenses. That hours-worked figure puts Austin in a tie with Nashville, which had a lower median rent ($1,117) and lower median wage ($19.48). San Jose, Calif., took the top spot with 76 hours per month while four other Texas cities – Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio – clustered together in the 15 through 18 spots. El Paso’s residents require a relatively lax 47.6 hours per month to cover their typical rental expenses, good enough to put the West Texas city in the 23rd spot. Rising rental costs throughout Austin are one component of the affordability crisis that city leaders and members of the real estate and other business sectors are looking to solve through a combination of bond-funded affordable housing and investing in multifamily apartment complexes to support workforce housing.


Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Learn to spot disinformation

Think you can tell fact from fiction in political messaging? With the approach of the March primaries and the November general election, the public is being bombarded by a blitz of emails, opinions, articles, tweets, editorials, and even bumper stickers. Journalism professor Dr. Sharon Strover, UT Center for Media Engagement’s Jessica Collier, and Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin President Kevin Welch will discuss the timely topic of disinformation in a panel sponsored by Common Ground for Texans. You’ll learn to spot disinformation, share responsibly on social media and identify “alternative facts” disseminated by a bot or foreign agent. Saturday, Feb. 22, noon-2 p.m., Old Quarry Branch Library, 7051 Village Center.

 

 


Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Sánchez Elementary breaks ground today

Austin ISD and the communities of Metz and Sánchez elementary schools will celebrate the groundbreaking of the new Sánchez campus today, Feb. 20. The new, modernized Sánchez, which is expected to take two years to build and is funded through the 2017 AISD bond, will have a capacity of 580. During construction, Sánchez students will be co-located with Metz Elementary students at the Metz campus. There will be a parade starting at 12:30 p.m. from Metz Elementary at 84 Robert T. Martinez Jr. St. The groundbreaking ceremony begins at 1 p.m. at Sánchez Elementary, 73 San Marcos St.

 


Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Tai Moses

Vote by mail deadline is tomorrow

If you are registered to vote, over 65, sick or disabled, out of the county on election day and during early voting, or in jail but otherwise eligible to vote, you may vote by mail. Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, wants Texan voters who vote by mail to remember to mail their applications to their county elections office before Friday. She says, “The application needs to arrive by Feb. 21 – if the application is postmarked Feb. 20, but arrives Feb. 22, you will not be able to vote by mail.” Voting by mail is simple. Just follow these steps, courtesy of the League:

  1. Print an application: Check the Democratic Primary or the Republican Primary to receive the correct ballot.
  2. Fill out and mail it to your early voting clerk in the county that you are registered to vote in.
  3. Voters should sign their application to vote by mail the same way they will sign their ballot.

For more information about voting by mail and to see a nonpartisan voter guide, visit LWVTexas.org or at VOTE411.org.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020 by Tai Moses

We’re throwing a civics party

Curious about the folks who are running to represent you? Why not get to know them over a happy hour drink? The Austin Monitor, GoodPolitics, KUT Austin, USTomorrow and MOVETexas have invited all local candidates running in March 2020’s Texas primary, from Travis County commissioner to U.S. Congress, to come and hoist a Lone Star with community members. Each candidate will have a table for you to visit and job descriptions for each office will be posted. RSVP on Eventbrite. Thursday, Feb. 20, 6-8 p.m., Native Hostel and Bar & Kitchen, 807 E. Fourth St.


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