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Whispers

Friday, August 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

HACA to take pre-applications for housing voucher program waitlist

For the first time in four years, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin is poised to open the waitlist for the Housing Choice Voucher program (formerly known as Section 8). Online pre-applications will be accepted from noon on Sept. 17 through 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 24. Free applications are at www.HACAapply.org and can be completed in about five to 10 minutes using any device with internet access – laptop, smartphone, etc. There are also public computers available at several HACA community partner locations. The application is only available at that website: HACA warns against using third parties that charge a fee to assist with applications. During the waitlist opening, people with disabilities can request application assistance at the toll-free helpline at 888-335-0350. At the close of the pre-application period, 2,000 fully complete and unduplicated applications will be selected via a computer-generated random lottery for inclusion in the waiting list. Applicants can check their status at www.hacanet.org/2018lottery, beginning about a month after the application deadline. “HACA’s Housing Choice Voucher program helps low-income Austin families who would otherwise struggle to afford rent,” said HACA president and CEO Michael Gerber in the press release. “Reopening the waiting list will allow us to offer much needed assistance to 2,000 more families, providing housing stability to families with children, seniors and persons with disabilities.” The voucher program currently serves about 6,000 residents. Almost 20,000 applications were submitted during the last waitlist opening.


Friday, August 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

PARD shares design for Festival Beach bathroom refresh

Planning for the Festival Beach bathroom upgrade project is in full swing. The Parks and Recreation Department and the Trail Foundation invite the community to join the second public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 22, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Community Health Center of Austin and Travis County, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St. Jobe Corral Architects will briefly present the project plans and newly created design and be available for any questions. A digital survey at www.festivalbeachrestroom.com will open immediately after the meeting, and it will remain open until Friday, Aug. 31 at 11:59 p.m. The bathroom improvement project is part of the Holly Shores Master Plan, and is 100 percent funded by bond money.


Friday, August 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

New floodgates on the way for Tom Miller Dam

The Lower Colorado River Authority will soon begin replacing the floodgates at Tom Miller Dam in Central Austin. Installed during construction of the dam in the 1930s, all nine floodgates are ready for an upgrade and will be replaced one at a time so that the dam can remain in service during the repair period. “The dam is in excellent condition, but it’s almost 80 years old,’’ said John Hofmann, LCRA executive vice president of Water, in the news release. “This project will replace the aging floodgates with new, custom-built floodgates that will help ensure the dam will continue to perform reliably and safely for generations to come.” The most floodgates that have been opened at one time is five, which has only happened twice: during Tropical Storm Hermine in 2010 and the Halloween flood in 2013. Each floodgate weighs 40,000 to 55,000 pounds, and the steel will be recycled. The $9.9 million project is expected to take 18 months to complete.


Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Free meals for all kids at some AISD schools this year

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a meal program to allow schools in low-income areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all their students. This school year, 43 schools in the Austin Independent School District will adopt the Community Eligibility Provision. They are:

  • Pre-K and Early Childhood Centers: Dobie Pre-K and Uphaus ECC
  • Elementary Schools: Allison, Andrews, Barrington, Brooke, Brown, Campbell, Cook, Galindo, Govalle, Guerrero Thompson, Harris, Hart, Houston, Jordan, Langford, Linder, McBee, Metz, Norman & Sims, Oak Springs, Ortega, Overton, Padron, Pecan Springs, Perez, Pickle, Pleasant Hill, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Walnut Creek, Webb Primary, Widén, Winn, Wooldridge, Wooten and Zavala
  • Middle Schools: Martin, Mendez, Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Webb

The district has expanded the CEP program to all schools where 62.25 percent of students are directly certified for free meals. “By providing complimentary breakfast and lunch to all students at eligible schools, we are ensuring that every child (gets) the opportunity to come to class well-nourished and ready to learn,” said AISD’s nutrition and food services director Anneliese Tanner in a district press release. “CEP also reduces burdens for both families and school administrators by streamlining paperwork and administrative requirements.”


Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Parks recycling report in

The report from the newly created Recycling Task Force is in, and the group has concluded that “full implementation of recycling in all Austin Parks and Recreation Facilities will have a meaningful impact on waste diversion, in support of the city’s Zero Waste goal,” according to an Aug. 15 memo. Currently, the city’s parks have about 100 trash and recycling receptacles, with about 800 more needed to fully implement recycling at all parks. That, according to the task force, will require a strategic plan. It will also require funding – $1,515,000 in the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget to do it all this year, or $802,500 a year in FY 2018-19 and FY 2019-20 to do it in two years, plus $210,000 a year after implementation. Details, including the divide in expenses between the General Fund, funds from the Clean Community Fee, and private donations, can be found in the report, here.


Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Katy McElroy

League of Women Voters finds room for improvement in high school voter registration

Texas statute requires all high schools to provide eligible students with the opportunity to register to vote twice a year, and every year, the League of Women Voters conducts a survey to check up on how high schools are complying with this law. According to a press release, this year’s survey found 73 percent of the schools that responded to the survey to be in compliance. Some schools offer voter registration opportunities once a year (16.4 percent), and only about 3 percent reported offering no voter registration opportunities to students at all. The league’s study results contrast with numbers recently released by the Texas Civil Rights Project that found only 34 percent of schools in compliance. The release does offer the caveat that the responses “included a high number of schools with a student population under 500”; therefore, the responses only provide a snapshot of schools’ voter registration efforts throughout the state. However, the release also notes that registration of high schoolers can be hard to track because sometimes schools don’t use the special high school voter registration form provided by the Texas Secretary of State, which makes the registration efforts not as readily visible. In fact, 37 percent of respondents to the league’s survey got their registration forms from their county voter registrar. Almost 60 percent of the schools that register students use a high school deputy registrar – usually the principal or a social studies/government teacher – and 33.9 percent of schools use county-certified staff as voluntary deputy registrars, the league found. Thirty-six percent rely on outside organizations, which is more common in larger schools. The league has requested for the SOS to coordinate with counties to track registration forms and also increase its communication with schools regarding important registration and election dates. Respondents had a number of suggestions to get the number of registered students up, including “offering voter registration in class with lessons and curriculum, providing online voter registration (not currently available in Texas), emphasizing the importance of voter registration and providing transportation to vote.” The league also has continued its outreach efforts by creating a six-module resource at BeATexasVoter.org to educate and inspire young would-be voters with information and activities to reinforce the instruction.


Thursday, August 16, 2018 by Katy McElroy

CTRMA builds new workforce support program

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has joined Austin Community College, the city of Austin, Goodwill, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Reentry and Integration, Travis County, and Workforce Solutions to create “a unique life skills program” for workers in the roadway construction and customer service fields. MoveFWD will provide career counseling, hands-on workforce training and job placement for candidates coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, including ex-offenders, veterans, individuals experiencing homelessness and near homelessness, and millennials. Underemployed residents, and those lacking necessary training, certification and education, are also part of the target population. “In order to deliver meaningful mobility solutions for the region, we must have qualified and trained job candidates to build our projects,” said CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein. “Equally important is providing high-quality customer service for the drivers using our roads every day. This program will expand the pool of qualified candidates to meet those needs while extending economic opportunities to those in need of job stability.” In addition, MoveFWD connects candidates with social services to support them in the workplace, providing assistance with essentials like housing, work clothes and transportation assistance. “We started with the belief that local bond dollars should help create local jobs,” said Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion. “I believe that Travis County residents can be better prepared for those local jobs when we provide a one-stop shop for learning career and life skills. Also critical to success is the provision of social services support. I want to commend the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority for bringing this initiative to fruition. Their MoveFWD program has the potential to be an important tool to fight poverty and help those in need.”


Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The Funky Crew?

And into the Austin/Columbus soccer fray enters … Marky Mark? Hollywood A-lister and recent entrepreneur Mark Wahlberg told the Last Word on Soccer website Monday that he’s interested in purchasing the Columbus Crew SC team, whose ownership group has spent the past 10 months pursuing a deal to relocate the team to Austin. Wahlberg was on the ground in Ohio to finalize his part in purchasing a local Chevrolet dealership and expressed interest in assembling a soccer ownership group when asked about the relocation issue by local media, with the implication being that Wahlberg would keep the team in Ohio. Proper notification of intent to relocate and making a good faith effort to let other interested parties purchase the club are the main points of contention in an ongoing legal case between Crew owners Precourt Sports Ventures, the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio, none of which are feeling many good vibrations related to the matter.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Jack Craver

Bunch and Levinski have very different takes on efficiency audit

On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to review an emergency motion filed by attorney Bill Aleshire that seeks to change the wording of a ballot initiative that voters will decide on in November. If approved, the initiative would require city government to submit to an “efficiency study” by an outside consultant. While the two groups that led the petition drive for the initiative were run by conservatives, the effort was also embraced by a number of prominent liberal activists who also played key roles in opposing CodeNEXT, such as attorney Fred Lewis and Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch. However, Bobby Levinski, a candidate for City Council District 8 and an attorney for Save Our Springs who worked closely with Bunch and Lewis to put CodeNEXT on the ballot, released a statement on Tuesday denouncing the efficiency study as “nothing more than a fishing expedition linked to radical Austin-bashing organizations.” In an email to the Austin Monitor, he said that he and his boss agreed to disagree on the issue. “Even the closest of friends won’t agree 100% of the time,” he added. While he still works for Save Our Springs, Levinski said he plans to step away soon to focus on his campaign.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Pool goes the distance

Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes the McKalla Place site proposed for a professional soccer stadium, created a more than minor fuss in local social media circles with the revelation Tuesday that she’d traveled to Columbus, Ohio. The trip was made to gather information on Precourt Sports Ventures and its stewardship of the Columbus Crew SC team that would be relocated to Austin if the stadium deal is approved. Pool met with longtime fans of the team, visited Mapfre Stadium where it plays and saw some of the area that could be used to build a new stadium if the team remains there. The visit drew a strong response from those for and against the team’s possible relocation to Austin. Pool responded with a brief “Was great!” response to a text inquiry about the visit. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she hopes Pool learned about the ownership group’s track record and how it might perform in Austin. “She always does her fair share of research, and I’m sure that’s what she felt she had to do to do the research she needs to arrive at a decision on this issue,” Tovo said. “It would seem to be that seeing the stadium and its operations firsthand would offer some value to this conversation.”


Wednesday, August 15, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Demo meeting #3 this weekend

The city is seeking public input on proposed changes to the process for issuing demolition permits. The process is going to be redesigned based on the findings in a 2017 report that found city departments weren’t properly working with residents to make sure that safety and other impact issues related to demolitions were being addressed. The third in a series of community meetings to discuss improvements for how demolitions are approved and managed will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. Feedback will also be accepted online at SpeakUpAustin.org from Aug. 18 through Sept. 2. The Development Services Department will use the combined feedback from all sessions to design a new application and approval process for demolitions, an effort that was expected to take place this fall. Those wishing to attend on Saturday who will need language or other accommodations can call 512-974-1575.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Auditor: Rodriguez broke city ethics rules

Frank Rodriguez, a former top aide to Mayor Steve Adler, violated city ethics regulations both before he went to work for Adler and during the time he was a city employee, according to a complaint filed by a top official in the Office of the City Auditor. Deputy City Auditor Jason Hadavi filed the complaint with the Ethics Review Commission last week. Rodriguez was the founder and executive director of the Latino HealthCare Forum, and according to the complaint, he improperly received $37,000 while serving as chair of the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission and as a senior adviser to Adler. The Austin American-Statesman, which had done an earlier investigation of Rodriguez, was first to report the complaint. The city hired an outside auditor, HSSK, to investigate conflict of interest allegations against Rodriguez, and the complaint filed by Hadavi was a result of that investigation. Adler told the Statesman he did not know about the payments.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin B-cycle hits the million mark

Area bike-share riders have taken 1 million trips on Austin B-cycle bikes, announced the company in a press release on Monday. Austin B-cycle is partnering with the Trail Foundation to celebrate with a social ride and afternoon party at Hops & Grain Brewery this Saturday, Aug. 18. In addition, this week the company is adding 13 new stations. The expansion, which is part of a Transportation Alternatives Program grant from the federal government, will grow the current system from 63 to 76 stations. B-cycle launched in December 2013 with 11 stations, and after this expansion the company will have over six times as many bikes on the road as it did when it started. “For the last four and a half years, Austin B-cycle has provided a fast, fun way to navigate downtown, avoiding traffic and making our community healthier,” said Elliott McFadden, Austin B-cycle’s executive director, in the release. “We are in awe of the community support and popularity of our program that has allowed us to hit 1 million trips!” Saturday’s free social ride will depart from Hops & Grain at 11 a.m., with bikes provided for all who want to participate, and will showcase three brand-new B-stations. Following the ride, from noon to 3 p.m., there will be live bluegrass music at the brewery. B-cycle and Trail Foundation members get their first beer for free, and new members to join the bike-sharing service get their first month free.

Download (PDF, 909KB)


Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Take back the streets on Park(ing) Day

This year, on Friday, Sept. 21, people all around the world will be transforming parking spaces into “parklets” to bring attention to the need for public, open space in urban areas. Park(ing) Day began in 2005, when a group of designers livened up a San Francisco street with a small parklet installation, and it soon mushroomed into an annual, worldwide event. Here in Austin, there are a few basic guidelines for the temporary, miniature parks: Parking spaces must be delineated with orange traffic cones between 28 and 48 inches in height that are not attached to each other with string or ribbon; vending, advertising and amplified sound are not allowed; and parklets cannot obstruct sidewalks or crosswalks. Those inspired to create a parklet should read the application packet for the complete guidelines and the steps for requesting a permit. Permits are $35 plus an additional $10-$16 usage fee, which is specified in the application packet. The deadline to request a permit is Monday, Sept. 17. The Eventbrite page also has information, and it will be updated with the list of participants and locations so that visitors can stop by the parklets on the day of. Follow #PARKingDayATX for updates as well.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Goodbye summer?

It’s that time of year again – it feels like summer will never end, and the pools are beginning to close. In fact, some of Austin’s city pools have already closed. Civitan, Gillis, Metz, Parque Zaragoza, Kennemer, Stacy Wading and West Austin pools closed Sunday (Aug. 12). This Saturday, Aug. 18, Dottie Jordan, Givens, Rosewood, Dittmar, Dove Springs, Martin, Montopolis, Canyon Vista, Balcones, Brentwood, Dick Nichols, Patterson, Murchison, Ramsey, Reed and Westenfield pools will close. Then, on Sunday, Sept. 23, a host of splash pads will close: Chestnut Splash Pad, Lott Splash Pad, Rosewood Splash Pad, Metz Splash Pad, Bartholomew Splash Pad, Clarksville Splash Pad, Eastwoods Splash Pad, Pease Splash Pad, Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad and Bailey Splash Pad. Then, finally, Mabel Davis, Garrison, Northwest and Walnut Creek pools will close on Sunday, Sept. 30.


Monday, August 13, 2018 by Katy McElroy

School zone beacon tests start this week

The impending start of school means it’s time for the Austin Transportation Department to test the flashing school zone beacons to make sure they’re ready for service. The seven school districts in the Austin area comprise 165 school zones, which contain a total of 571 flashing beacons. Testing is happening today through Wednesday, Aug. 13-15, for the beacons in the Round Rock and Leander independent school districts, before school starts on Thursday, Aug. 16. The testing in the rest of the districts’ zones will occur on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 15-17, before school starts in those districts on Aug. 20. Tests correspond with the each school’s regular school zone signal schedule, which can vary by school but is usually between about 6:45 and 8 a.m. and 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Drivers are still expected to follow the school zone speed limit and all applicable traffic laws during testing times.


Monday, August 13, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council OKs variances for Honda site

It looks like the old Honda dealership at 1301 W. Koenig Lane is headed for redevelopment. City Council approved flood plain variances Thursday that will allow for the construction of a multifamily building (and parking) within the 25- and 100-year flood plains of the Grover Tributary of Shoal Creek. It was the second time the matter was before Council. A previous vote was only enough to pass the variances on first reading, but after a 7-4 vote from Council with Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Alison Alter and Ora Houston voting against, developers can move ahead with plans to construct a four-story multifamily building with 383 residential units.


Monday, August 13, 2018 by Katy McElroy

City down a splash zone

After an electrical failure occurred on Thursday afternoon, the city has closed the Liz Carpenter Fountain on Barton Springs Road until further notice. Replacement parts are being procured, and the fountain will be fixed as soon as they are in hand. In the meantime, the city suggests the Ricky Guerrero, Chestnut, Lott and Pease splash pads as alternative cool-off options.


Friday, August 10, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council sets maximum tax rate increase at 6 percent

City Council bound itself to not increasing property tax revenue by more than 6 percent when it approves the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget next month. That means the maximum city tax rate this year will be 44.2 cents per $100 of property valuation. State law requires local governments to adopt a maximum increase before beginning budget deliberations. The budget proposed by city staff would raise the revenue limit by 4.9 percent. While nobody on the dais said they anticipated raising the rate all the way up to the maximum rate of 8 percent (raising it higher requires voter approval), some suggested that they set 8 percent as the maximum in order to allow as much flexibility as necessary during budget deliberations. Only four members of the dais supported that: Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria. Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Alison Alter and Ann Kitchen thought that 6 percent was a reasonable way to grant some flexibility while showing support for fiscal restraint. Council Member Ora Houston proposed 5.5 percent, but the motion failed, with only Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Leslie Pool and Ellen Troxclair in support. Afterward, the 6 percent rate was approved unanimously.


Friday, August 10, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Mark your calendars for the Springs

It wasn’t just all about soccer at the City Council meeting yesterday – our city representatives also found the time to declare Sept. 25 Barton Springs University Day. Produced by the Save Our Springs Alliance, the event, which the website shares is “designed primarily for high school students but includes college students and the general public,” features a community fair as well as a jam-packed schedule of learning sessions led by expert speakers. A quick perusal of the lecture titles shows topics related to the area’s unique ecosystem, such as “Salamanders and Their Habitats” and “Meeting Austin’s Water Needs for the Next 100 Years,” as well as sustainable living and conservation interests in general, such as “Careers in Conservation” and “Waste in Our Community: Recycling & Composting.” Participants can also join hands-on activities throughout the day like water quality testing, macroinvertebrate collection, and more.


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