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Friday, February 22, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Planning appointments move forward
Council moved forward with appointments to the Planning Commission Thursday, asserting that District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison made a good selection when she chose Patrick Howard to serve on the commission, despite the possibility that some would see him as working in a field related to real estate. Howard is the executive director of the Travis County Housing Authority. Harper-Madison said, “I am so grateful to be in a position to nominate a qualified candidate to serve on the Planning Commission on behalf of District 1.” She noted that Howard holds a certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners and has an extensive background in planning. However, his job is not related to real estate or land development, she said. Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Greg Casar and Jimmy Flannigan both said they agreed that Howard is not in the development business and is fully qualified to serve. Casar referred to the Austin Monitor story on the subject, saying he is in complete agreement with former County Judge Bill Aleshire who said when voters approved an amendment to the city charter limiting the number of real estate professionals who could serve on the commission they were not thinking about people from the Housing Authority. The appointment comes none too soon for the commission. According to Jerry Rusthoven of the Planning and Zoning Department, a number of zoning cases had to be postponed Thursday because when the commission met they did not have a quorum. Harper-Madison removed Tracy Witte from the commission a few weeks ago. Council Member Ann Kitchen’s appointment to the commission, Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols, resigned last year at about the same time that Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his suit. Also on Thursday Kitchen appointed Rob Schneider, saying his job at the AARP has nothing to do with real estate or development.
Friday, February 22, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
Open and paper free
The Austin Tech Alliance is planning a big push on two of its principal municipal goals – open data and paper-free government – for the worldwide audience traveling to Austin for South by Southwest. The March 12 panel “OPEN Data Government Act” will see the group partner with the Data Coalition, the city of Austin and Open Austin in a discussion featuring former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and other advocates in favor of citizens accessing open data to solve civic problems. And the March 10 session “Can Emerging Tech Make a City 100% Paperless?” looks to follow on from the initiative started more than a year ago that, with ATA members’ help, looks to transform city operations to greatly reduce and eventually eliminate paper.
Friday, February 22, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Austin Energy Regional Science Festival back for 63rd year
For 63 years, Austin Energy has hosted the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival, which is the largest city-sponsored science fair in the country. With more than 3,000 students from 23 school districts in 12 surrounding counties competing, this four-day competition encourages the foundations of experimentation, presentation, and knowledge pursuit in students. This year, the 1,800 participating projects fit into 17 scientific categories, ranging from animal sciences to robotics and intelligent machines. Those who win the Junior/Senior division will advance to the Texas Science and Engineering Fair in College Station March 29-30. Best of Fair Senior Division projects will advance directly to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The fair began Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 3 pm and will continue through Saturday, Feb. 23. Junior and Senior awards will be announced February 21 and the Elementary Awards ceremony will be on February 23. “The Austin economy attracts the top minds from around the world,” said Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent. “These students reflect both the ingenuity and the diversity that makes our community a destination for the world’s premier scientific talent.”
Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Historical house gets new home in East Austin
There has been one less casualty in the race to preserve historic homes in Austin. The East Austin home of the first African-American disc jockey, Albert Lavada Durst, also known as “Dr. Hepcat,” was at risk of becoming lost in the sea of redevelopment on East Fourth Street. In order to preserve the home, Cielo Property Group donated the structure to an East Austin resident who was left homeless after a fire. Mary Clark, the recipient of the home, lost her home to a fire in 2011 and, since then, “has been moving around and making do the best she can,” Cielo co-founder Bobby Dillard told the Austin Monitor in an email. When Council Member Greg Casar heard that Cielo was looking into the relocation and reuse possibilities for the property, he put the property group in touch with Clark. “She was a great recipient as she has lived in the neighborhood for a long time and owned property in the neighborhood to which the house could be moved,” said Dillard. The new location of the historic home is 1906 E. 21st St., which Clark has owned for 50 years. Although not yet in place, Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission unanimously approved the relocation in December. Cielo has since been working with the city and Texas Gas Service to secure the permits and complete the work necessary to relocate the house. “This is a tremendous example of the power of collaboration,” said District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison in a press release. “Thanks to open minds and open dialogue, we have an outcome that helps a resident in need, preserves a piece of our cultural heritage, provides needed office space, and significantly contributed to affordable housing. There are lessons here all of us can learn from.”
Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Tai Moses
Cronk narrows search for assistant city managers
City Manager Spencer Cronk has announced the finalists for the second group of assistant city manager positions. The two new hires will oversee programs concerning safety and mobility, two of the strategic outcomes from the city’s Strategic Direction 2023, the visioning guide for the next three to five years that was adopted in March 2018. Said Cronk in the announcement, “I am excited to continue filling my executive team with individuals that will champion the City’s Strategic Direction and work closely with our community.” The safety assistant city manager finalists are Rey Arellano, assistant city manager for the city of Austin; Genaro “Chip” Iglesias, managing partner and chair of Ballard Partners’ local government practice in Miami; Gina Montes, assistant city manager for operations for the city of Avondale, Arizona; and Ronnelle Paulsen, assistant director of the Austin Fire Department. The mobility assistant city manager finalists are Greg Canally, deputy chief financial officer for the city of Austin; Chris Chen, assistant director of engineering services at Austin Water; Gina N. Fiandaca, commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department; Richard Mendoza, public works director for the city of Austin; Michael Rogers, Dallas transportation director; and Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department. Read their full bios here.
Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
SXSW … begins?
Spring festival season is upon us. This week, the city released a list of pending 2019 permits that features old standbys and new events alike. Those looking to get a start on their party planning can join those hoping to avoid traffic in reading the list, embedded below. (This year will be the first in recollection that does not coincide with UT-Austin’s spring break, which should be interesting.)
Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Pease Park Conservancy expands team
Pease Park Conservancy has expanded its executive team as the group heads into implementation of its new master plan. The new members are Chuck Smith, former CEO of Equality Texas, who will serve as director of projects and programming, and Meredith Thomas, former executive director of the Great Springs Project and now the conservancy’s director of development and communications. The two were chosen because of their deep background in nonprofit causes and fundraising for various LGBTQ advocacy causes, Conspirare Austin and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group’s primary focus is improving the park located along the Shoal Creek greenbelt. City Council approved the park’s new master plan in late 2014.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
ABIA’s next top exec
The city is on the lookout for its next executive director of aviation – that’s city hiring speak for the top executive at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The job posting went live last week, which should give the city plenty of time to make a hire in time for a smooth transition from current Executive Director Jim Smith, who intends to retire but hasn’t set a firm final date yet. The Austin Business Journal reports application reviews will begin on March 8, with the next director coming into a growing airport that could grow beyond 66 gates in the near future. The job posting lists the position’s compensation as “commensurate” but for comparison purposes, The Texas Tribune reported that as of March 2018, Smith received $324,480.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association is seeking applicants interested in joining its board of directors. A post on the group’s Twitter account said new members with experience in communications and website design and maintenance are needed. The 10-member board meets monthly, with members serving two-year terms. Membership to the group is open to anyone but hopeful board members must live in downtown Austin to be eligible. DANA’s stated goals include providing a range of downtown housing options, improving public spaces and historical assets, supporting pedestrian-oriented transit policies, and addressing safety and quality-of-life issues. Those interested in serving are asked to complete a short survey here.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Austin’s paid sick leave, continued?
While Texas legislators take aim at the paid sick leave policy passed by Austin City Council last year, Council Member Greg Casar – who led the policy effort – has been vocal on the topic. Last Wednesday his office released the following statement on the House and Senate bills that would nullify the sick leave policies passed in Austin and San Antonio: “The United States is the only advanced economy on earth that doesn’t have a national paid leave law. In a state as prosperous as Texas, no one should be faced with the impossible decision between taking care of a sick loved one and paying the rent. That’s why everyday people successfully pushed the Austin and San Antonio city councils to take a stand for paid sick days. It is unconscionable that legislators are filing bills that not only double down on the ban to increasing the minimum wage, but also take away people’s rights to better benefits in general. If either the governor or these legislators at the Capitol don’t want to offer solutions on how to solve real problems around economic inequality of our residents, then they should stay out of the way of people who do.” And on Twitter, Casar juxtaposed Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent “Austin is bad for business” claims with the boosterism Abbott showed in 2016, circulating data that found Austin is the No. 1 city in the U.S. for small business.
Greg Abbott: Austin is killing small business and turning Texas into a socialist hellscape with freedom-killing policies like paid sick days and water breaks for workers, and we must stop them at all costs!
Also Greg Abbott: pic.twitter.com/SSL85i2UxL
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 14, 2019
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Ethics commission due to get fresh blood come March
With a legislative session about to go into full swing and Council on the verge of appointing commission members, the Ethics Review Commission is preparing to see numerous changes in the upcoming months. Just prior to adjourning on Wednesday night, Chair Ben Stratmann voiced his concerns about making the quorum at the March and April meetings. Both he and Commissioner Luis Soberon work around the Texas Legislature and are anticipating their schedules to fill up as the 140 days of the session tick by. Additionally, Vice Chair Dennis Speight tendered his resignation and will not return in March. Commissioner J. Michael Ohueri similarly said that he may not show up in March either; he has not officially resigned. A replacement for Speight has not yet been appointed, nor did the commission elect a new vice chair.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Tai Moses
Stolen phones on their way home, thanks to Austin PD
The Austin Police Department has recovered a number of phones that were stolen during the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October. The case broke when the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department intercepted a package containing a large number of cell phones that had been shipped from Austin to Florida. The discovery resulted in the arrest of three Colombian nationals who were charged by the FBI for trafficking in stolen property across state lines and then deported back to Colombia for immigration offenses. Austin PD and ACL Fest are now partnering with Crowdfind.com in an effort to reunite the recovered phones with their rightful owners. If you attended ACL Fest Oct. 4-6 and lost your phone or reported it stolen, visit Crowdfind. Austin PD investigators say this is the “largest item reunification effort” the department has ever undertaken.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Tai Moses
AISD budget meetings this month
The Austin Independent School District will be holding a series of public town hall meetings to share information about the district’s academic investments and austerity planning. District leaders seek feedback and ideas from community members as they develop the preliminary 2019-20 budget. Spanish interpreters and child care will be provided. For more information, contact Ali Ghilarducci at 512-414-4487.
The meetings will take place on the following dates at three locations:
- Travis Early College High School Cafeteria, 1211 E. Oltorf St., Tuesday, Feb. 19, 6-7:30 p.m.
- Reagan Early College High School Cafeteria, 7104 Berkman Drive, Thursday, Feb. 21, 6-7:30 p.m.
- Austin High School Cafeteria, 1715 Cesar Chavez St., Saturday, Feb. 23, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Friday, February 15, 2019 by Tai Moses
Park it in a box!
Getting tired of seeing scooters tossed across the sidewalk, perched on flower beds or blocking doorways? The city’s Transportation Department has come up with a solution – parking boxes for dockless mobility devices like bicycles and scooters. The city hopes the boxes will encourage riders to be more mindful about where they leave their scooters and bicycles. Early birds can watch Transportation staff install a parking box Friday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m. at 221 W. Sixth St. Off-street parking boxes can be found in the following locations:
- Third Street between Nueces Street and San Antonio Street
- Fourth Street at San Jacinto Boulevard
- San Jacinto Boulevard between Fifth Street and Sixth Street
- Third Street at Trinity Street
- Fourth Street at Red River Street
- Fifth Street at Pleasant Valley
Friday, February 15, 2019 by Tai Moses
Spinning vinyl at the Carver
As turntable enthusiasts may already know, the Carver, at 1161 Angelina St., is the only branch of the Austin Public Library to boast a record collection. Naturally it wasn’t long before all that luscious vinyl attracted some DJs, like bees to blossoms. On Friday, Feb. 15, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., the city’s Music & Entertainment Division is partnering with the library to present “Vinyl Night at the Carver,” a dual celebration of Love Austin Music Month and Black History Month featuring Austin musicians Mélat and DJ Raquiqui. The DJs will play selections from the Carver Library collection along with some of their own personal faves. The event is free and light refreshments will be served.
Friday, February 15, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Soccer referendum questions headed to agenda
City staffers are preparing two agenda items for next Thursday’s City Council meeting related to Precourt Sports Ventures’ planned Major League Soccer stadium at McKalla Place. One of those items gives Council the option to adopt an ordinance requiring voter approval of any agreement allowing a professional sports team to use city-owned land without paying property taxes. That was the gist of the petition signed by more than 26,000 voters and backed by Precourt’s opponents, including the political action committee Fair Play Austin and the other group pushing for the election, Friends of McKalla Place. The second item on the addendum gives Council the choice of calling an election so voters can weigh in on whether the ordinance should be adopted. However, the city and Precourt have already signed the lease agreement for McKalla Place. The real argument may revolve around whether the city should schedule the election for May, as the proponents want, or November. The city’s legal department has said that if an election is held on any referendum it should be in November, in accordance with state law. Precourt’s attorney, Richard Suttle, told the Austin Monitor, “The community is solidly behind Austin FC (the team). Our city has enthusiastically embraced Austin FC and its proposed stadium. There is evidence that some of the signatures on the petitions were secured under false pretenses by the folks paid to gather the signatures. While it doesn’t appear the proposed ordinance would affect Austin FC if that passes, it could affect other organizations and events that partner with the city. Our city has a history of rejecting corporate-initiated ordinances.”
Friday, February 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Ethics commission dismisses another case surrounding PAC expenditures
In a case that seems eerily similar to one that appeared before the Ethics Review Commission in January, Kathie Tovo’s former campaign manager, Michael J. Gaudini, filed a complaint against the Center for Austin’s Future PAC for improperly filing the required appointment of campaign treasurer. According to city law, an appointment for campaign treasurer must be made at least 60 days prior to making a contribution or expenditure in connection with a city election in order to make expenditures of greater than $2,500. The GPAC, a general purpose political action committee, spent a total of $67,000 for the race, more than $2,500 of which was spent prior to the 60-day mark. Gaudini told the commission that it’s crucial to enforce this regulation because it “sets an important standard for a fair election and fair play.” GPAC counsel Andrew Cates referenced the U.S. Court of Appeals 5th Circuit ruling and the Catholic Leadership Coalition of Texas case from 2014 to argue “that (the case) rules these 60-day layout periods as unconstitutional.” He did say that while the state forms and city forms a PAC is required to fill out are marginally different from each other, since the primary reporting obligation is to the state, the assumption is that the precedent from that case would be considered and any future complaints on that issue would be dismissed outright. As they did in January, the commissioners voted to dismiss the complaint. Commissioner Brian Thompson abstained from the vote.
Rally for a renewable university
UT students, faculty and staff will hold a rally today at 1 p.m. at the corner of Robert Dedman Drive and Red River Street to urge the university to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. UT campus activists plan to conduct a press conference where they will release a letter signed by nearly 1,000 faculty and staff members from campuses around the country supporting the shift to 100 percent renewables and urging the nation’s institutions of higher learning to lead the way. Dozens of UT faculty and staff have signed the letter. A recent United Nations report suggests we have just 12 years to modify our energy infrastructure in an effort to limit catastrophic global warming.
More space for art at Austin airport
With the addition of nine new gates, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s Barbara Jordan Terminal will expand its space to display art by 657.5 cubic feet and ticketed passengers will soon be able to enjoy double the exhibition space. An expanding airport means more ways for local artists to display their work in the airport’s Changing Exhibits program, including three wall galleries and four art kiosks in the middle of the concourse. The galleries, which are named for Austin neighborhoods, can house large paintings or sculptures. See the airport’s current art exhibits here.
Prescribed burning at Pace Bend Park
Pace Bend Park, at 2805 Pace Bend Road North, will be the site of a controlled burn that will take place on either Thursday or Friday this week. Some portions of the park such as the mountain biking and multi-use trails, Collier Boat Ramp, the coves on the west side, and sections of Pace Bend Road will be closed while the burn is being conducted. Prescribed burning reduces the danger of uncontrolled wildfires, removes invasive plants and enhances the health of native plant species. Since southwest winds are anticipated, northeast communities may experience some smoke drifting across the park and the lake.