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Whispers

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 by Tai Moses

We heart public transit

Honestly, is there anything better than public transit? We don’t think so. Everyone in the community gets to share this sustainable method of transportation that reduces nasty pollution and traffic congestion, relieves us of the need to find a parking space and takes us nearly anywhere we want to go. You can show your affection for buses, trains and light rail this Thursday, April 25, for Get on Board Day. Use the Transit app to plan a trip. Take a selfie on Capital Metro and share it on social media using the #GetOnBoard hashtag. Tweet your transit love and ask your friends and family to use public transit and to share their photos, too.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019 by Tai Moses

Get ready for detours and lane closures on Nueces Street

Austin Water is slated to begin work on the Nueces Street Wastewater Rehabilitation Project this Saturday, April 27. The project will take place on Nueces Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to Eighth Street and will take about eight months to complete, so lane closures and detours are a given. Workers plan to do small sections of the street at a time so the lane closures will be staggered. The project “will extend the service life of the wastewater mains and provide a more reliable wastewater service in the area,” says the utility. Minimal digging will be required and water and wastewater service will not be affected. The first leg of the project, from April 27 to the end of May, is depicted on the map below.


Monday, April 22, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Moody Foundation chips in for bathhouse upgrade

The Moody Foundation has given the Barton Springs Conservancy a $2.1 million donation that will help pay for the rehabilitation of the bathhouse facility at Barton Springs. The donation puts the conservancy past its $8 million goal for the project, though ongoing contributions are being accepted to pay for ecological features and outreach programs. Previous funding for the bathhouse project included city bonds approved by voters in 2012, $3 million from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax and a total of $3 million in private philanthropic donations. The renovation, which is expected to begin next year, is needed to address ongoing maintenance and accessibility issues while preserving the bathhouse’s historic character. Among the planned improvements: reopening the original men’s and women’s entrances at the central rotunda locations, restoring and improving the women’s dressing area, modernizing restroom facilities and enhancing educational components throughout the space. The conservancy will celebrate the Moody Foundation donation at a VIP event on May 9.


Monday, April 22, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

PAZ goes international

Next month, Austin will host a group of urban planners from the city of Jinan in the Shandong province of China, on a visit to learn about best practices of urban planning policies in U.S. cities. The trip is being arranged by the International City/County Management Association, which has organized delegates’ visits in cities in Texas and California that began in March and run through mid-May. City departments including Austin Water, Public Works, Watershed Protection and Planning and Zoning will show off various projects during the May 1 visit. Among the Planning and Zoning efforts will be a session on the future of the city’s One Texas Center property, which is slated to add a large volume of office space or affordable housing in the future as the city moves forward with the South Central Waterfront Initiative.


Monday, April 22, 2019 by Tai Moses

Open house for Holly Point project

The Trail Foundation and Austin Parks and Recreation are holding a public open house to kick off the planning process for the Holly Point project. Neighbors, hikers, community rec groups and all other interested parties are invited to come and help design a vision for the site. The plan is to transition the decommissioned Holly Power Plant into parkland that will enhance existing open space, expand the view and use of the waterfront for fishing or recreation, restore the shoreline wetland habitat, place decking under the heritage oaks, and make other improvements that will benefit the entire community. Coffee and breakfast tacos (while they last) will be served and the event is kid-friendly, with some fun activities planned for the little ones. The Trail Foundation will give a short presentation explaining the process and inviting the community’s vision for the site plan. Saturday, May 18, 9 a.m.-noon, Loraine Camacho Activity Center, 35 Robert T. Martinez Jr. St. Can’t make it? Fill out a short survey online.


Friday, April 19, 2019 by Tai Moses

Get rid of your old tires (and your prescription medications)

Mosquitoes love tires – not to put on their tiny mosquito-mobiles, but because they love to breed in the water that collects inside discarded tires. A single waterlogged tire can produce more than 10,000 mosquitos, all whining and droning and trying to suck your blood and carry nasty diseases. That’s why Austin Public Health is holding a Tire Take Back Day on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are two drop-off locations – Austin Resource Recovery at 2514 Business Center Dr. and Great Hills Baptist Church at 10500 Jollyville Rd. – and both will take your tires free of charge. No rims, please, and only tires from passenger cars. While you’re at it, since you’ll be in a Marie Kondo tidying-up kind of mood, bring along all of your expired prescription medications, because April 27 also happens to be National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. APH is combining the two events to help the community safely discard two potentially dangerous items: old tires and surplus prescription drugs.


Friday, April 19, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Soccer 4ATX

The professional soccer team that will play in a new stadium built on city property in North Austin has created a philanthropic organization that will fund charitable efforts in the Austin area. 4ATX Foundation was launched with a $1 million grant from the family of Anthony Precourt, chairman and CEO of the Austin FC soccer team that will begin play as a Major League Soccer franchise in 2021. The foundation’s area of focus will include youth health and wellness and efforts that support “the cultural and lifestyle vibrancy of Austin.” Local business and community leaders are currently being sought and screened for membership on the foundation’s board of directors. 4ATX is among the groups that have contributed to Waterloo Terrace, the affordable housing project from Foundation Communities located off Mopac Expressway near St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. That project is scheduled to break ground on April 24.


Friday, April 19, 2019 by Jo Clifton

City, police pension funding could be better

The city of Austin’s Employees Retirement System will be fully funded in about 30 years, which is longer than experts recommend. Nevertheless, actuaries with Bolton, the company that analyzed the data for all three of the city’s retirement systems, concluded that the systems are basically sound. According to a report given to the Council Audit & Finance Committee on Wednesday, in addition to the length of time for fully funding pensions, the ERS’s payroll growth assumption of 4 percent “is relatively high. Thus, adverse economic events such as an economic downturn are likely to have a greater effect on” the Employees Retirement System “than a better funded plan.” The report covered 2013-2017 and suggested that the next report include information on potential financial risks. The committee also heard a report on funding for the Austin Police Retirement System, which also assumes payroll growth of 4 percent and a fixed-rate contribution rate of about 21.3 percent. Actuaries said that means the unfunded accrued liability will be paid off in 35-37 years “if all goes as assumed.” But if the police pension payroll were to grow more slowly, actuaries noted, “for example at 3 percent (the current inflation assumption) or 3.5 percent (the current pay increase assumption), then the period necessary to pay off” the unfunded liability would increase to about 50 years. “Both of these periods are longer than the period over which we believe it is generally reasonable to fund a pension plan,” the actuaries said. They noted that the pension’s funding level “will likely be subject to substantial risk from adverse events, such as large drops in the investment markets” or recessions. The actuaries suggested that the situation be monitored closely and that serious consideration be given to increasing the contribution level.


Friday, April 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

More sellers complying with Austin Energy audits

When the city passed the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure Ordinance in 2008, Austin became the first city in the United States to require the seller of a home older than 10 years within the Austin Energy service area to disclose the energy consumption of the structure to potential buyers. Seeing it as a useful step toward conservation, plenty of other cities have begun to require a similar energy audit, but in Austin, Debbie Swank with Austin Energy explained that there are still issues with compliance. Chair Leo Dielmann of the Resource Management Commission lamented at the April 16 meeting, “We have no teeth when it comes to enforcement.” On the books, noncompliance with ECAD is a class C misdemeanor with fines of $500-$2,000. However, he added, “this is much greater (compliance) than any time we’ve seen in the past.” Single-family home compliance is at 60 percent, multifamily is at 78 percent and commercial is at 83 percent. Besides ensuring that sellers respect the ordinance, Swank said that the department has seen issues with quality inspections from auditors. She explained that “some of them find it as a box-checking exercise.” She noted that the department is working to be more diligent in its reviews of auditors’ work. As to whether the ordinance is making a difference in the city’s energy consumption, Denise Kuehn, director of energy efficiency services at Austin Energy, said that indeed it is. According to her, “It’s making a difference across the sectors.”


Thursday, April 18, 2019 by Tai Moses

Community conversation: The 2020 budget

Central Health invites Travis County residents to participate in a conversation about health care and the 2020 budget. The more people who have access to quality health care, the healthier the community will be. Central Health points out that in Travis County, “your tax dollars fund health care for more than one out of every seven residents, giving everyone a fair chance at better health.” The community conversation will take place Monday, April 29, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Central Health Board Room, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019 by Tai Moses

Keeping Rundberg healthy

Austin Public Health is hiring a new community development specialist who will focus specifically on promoting health and well-being in the neighborhood of Rundberg. Rundberg residents are invited to attend a candidate forum to meet the top candidates vying for the job. Residents will have an opportunity to submit written questions to the facilitator at the start of the event, so get there early. If you’d like to submit a question in advance, email Darrell Barnett, Health Equity program manager. The forum is scheduled for Friday, April 26, 6-7:45 p.m. at the YMCA North, 1000 W. Rundberg Lane, Room #1.

 

 


Wednesday, April 17, 2019 by Tai Moses

Kids’ block party at the Austin library

The Austin Public Library and the Library Foundation are throwing a block party – planned especially for kids. This free event celebrates literacy and learning through play and is intended for children ages 0-12 and their families. There’s so much fun stuff packed into this event that we don’t have room to list it all, but yoga at 10 a.m.; a scavenger hunt from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; a nature walk along Shoal Creek from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; capoeira at noon; and break dancing at 1:30 p.m. are just a few of the many activities planned. There will also be children’s book authors (Rosemary Wells!), crafts, musical performances, technology and creative play groups, and a family resource fair to round out the day. You’ll find the full schedule on the library’s website. The kids’ block party is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Texas Senate passes property tax bill

An altered Senate Bill 2 advanced through the Texas Senate Monday with a slightly higher election trigger than originally proposed. The bill now would allow municipalities to increase property taxes by 3.5 percent, instead of 2.5 percent, before voter approval is required. In the current version of the bill, school districts would be held to the more severe 2.5 percent standard. That’s still far lower than the 8 percent increase currently allowed. SB 2 passed in an 18-12 vote and will now move on to the House for further debate. Meanwhile, the House has modified its version of property tax reform by exempting school districts, community colleges, emergency service districts and hospital districts from the new trigger, though discussion of that bill is now on hold until next week.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Hearing on anti-Precourt bill set for today

The Senate Committee on Property Tax is set to consider legislation this afternoon that could seriously impact Precourt Sports Ventures’ plan to build a new soccer stadium on city-owned property at McKalla Place. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, is the author of the bill and chair of the committee. Former Travis County Auditor Susan Spataro asked Bettencourt to carry the legislation and former County Judge Bill Aleshire helped her write it. Aleshire and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty have both indicated that they will testify in favor of the bill. Aleshire, Daugherty and Spataro object to the deal between the city of Austin and Precourt because it does not allow the county or other taxing jurisdictions to collect property taxes from the stadium property and because these entities did not give their permission for the deal. Precourt intends to build a 20,000-seat stadium for Austin FC, a Major League Soccer franchise. One of the major opponents of the deal is Bobby Epstein, owner of Austin Bold FC, which plays in a 5,000-seat stadium at Circuit of the Americas and belongs to a smaller league.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

Making Drake

The Trail Foundation and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are throwing a pop-up community engagement event to solicit input on Drake Bridge Commons. Right now, there’s not much of a there there, and it’s kind of dark and dank under the bridge. That’s why the Trail Foundation hired top-notch Austin designers Rios Clementi Hale Studios to bring some light and beauty to the space and the water’s edge beneath the bridge. But they also want the community’s input to help envision the future of Drake Bridge Commons. So drop by Butler Trail at Drake Bridge – under the First Street Bridge, north shore of Lady Bird Lake – and share your thoughts and ideas on Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you can’t make it, visit drakebridge.org to take a survey or check in about upcoming meetings.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

Project Connect Open House is still open

If you’re anything like us, you just can’t get enough of Project Connect. Perhaps you were one of the 165-plus community members who participated in Capital Metro’s Orange Line Open House last week, where the agency shared its transit proposal for the Orange Line, the north/south transit line that will travel to, from and within Central Austin. But if you missed the workshop, it’s still not too late to leave a comment, ask a question or simply learn more about the project. You can visit Capital Metro’s virtual open house any time between now and Wednesday, April 24, and leave your feedback on any of the different aspects of the project. You’ll find all of the open house materials there, including the Orange Line fact sheet, project schedule and map.

 

 

 


Monday, April 15, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Adler and Flannigan endorse Buttigieg

When Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced his candidacy on Sunday, two Austin City Council members were on hand to endorse the bid. Mayor Steve Adler introduced Buttigieg in South Bend, Indiana, as “my friend, my colleague as a mayor, and my mentor.” He continued, “In a day where government is so dysfunctional at a national level, so polarized in too many states, like my own state of Texas, it is local government where government works best.” Adler noted that “Mayor Pete” was a standout at the Conference of Mayors. “The irony was not lost on me that I was looking up to someone that was shorter than I was, that was younger than me, a mayor from a smaller city than mine and from a different part of the country …. Mayor Pete is a mayor’s mayor, he is a mayor among mayors.” City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan was also in attendance at the announcement, and threw his support behind Buttigieg as well.


Monday, April 15, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

LDC and me, and you

Last week, City Council officially dove back into the rewrite of the city’s Land Development Code. Though no longer called CodeNEXT, the rewrite is a restart of that failed effort, being executed in the hope that this time around, the outcome might be different. To that end, those hoping to follow along should keep their eyes on the City Council Message Board, where Council members will be suggesting amendments to a working “LDC Policy Direction Documentposted to the message board over the weekend by Mayor Steve Adler. Council held a public hearing on the rewrite at its most recent meeting, concentrating on gathering public input for the time being.


Monday, April 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Board of Adjustment recommends new, reduced fees

After more than two years of discussion and drafting, the Board of Adjustment has officially recommended a new set of application fees for families in the Austin area. When fees to bring a variance before the board nearly doubled from 2017, board members took it into their own hands to make sure that families were not “priced out of the ability to have their due process rights met at our Board,” according to their resolution. The most significant reduction was for residential zoning variances. This past fiscal year, the Development Services Department approved a fee schedule in which a residential zoning variance cost $3,230.24 per case; the board recommended that the fee be lowered to $500 in its resolution. Similarly, board members recommended that Council lower residential special exception variances from $2,459.60 to $500. Commercial zoning and sign variances retained their $3,230.24 price tag. The rationale for this reduction was based in part on a comparison to neighboring metro areas like San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, where Board of Adjustment fees for residents range from $400 to $1,200. The board’s resolution specified that the reduction in fees should not result in changes to staffing because “the staff provide a public good that should be provided by and supported with tax dollars collected by the city, rather than wholly paid for by applicants.”


Monday, April 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Planning commissioners focus on Dougherty Center’s parking plans

The city is deep into developing the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which calls for limiting parking, encouraging alternative forms of transportation and reducing the number of Austinites driving solo in their vehicles from 74 percent to 50 percent by 2039. So commissioners at the April 8 meeting of the Planning Commission were hyper-aware of the consequences of constructing a two-story parking garage smack dab along the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake. The Dougherty Arts Center redevelopment plan features a two-story, 200-space parking structure that slightly exceeds the parking requirements for the 80,000-square-foot space. While the Parks and Rec Board already noted its disapproval of the gargantuan structure and its pollution potential, the Planning Commission expressed other reasons for not liking the idea. “It’s just interesting that there was a stadium proposed here that wasn’t going to have parking,” said Commissioner Greg Anderson. “I hate to see this thing celebrating this central spot with a parking structure,” noted Chair James Shieh. Although Kevin Johnson, the project manager for the DAC redesign, assured commissioners that some thought had gone into removing current ZACH Theatre parking and relocating it to the parking garage, the commissioners said that should be done on a larger scale and that local arts centers in the immediate area should consider sharing parking. However, they warned not to make parking free. “That’s just a better incentive for folks to show up on foot and enjoy the space. Because it’s a park, not a parking lot,” Anderson said. Commissioner Todd Shaw cautioned that parking shouldn’t be so severely limited that parents who drive their children to activities at the DAC struggle to find parking. Parking for parents at drop-off, he said, is “a really big deal.”


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