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Whispers

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

On civil courthouse location, Commissioners Court votes for … something

More mystery is surrounding Travis County’s search for a new civil courthouse site following cryptic action taken by the Commissioners Court on Tuesday. On the agenda was the long-awaited consideration of properties proposed by the community advisory committee that had been vetting a string of candidates since early last year. Several members of that now-folded committee addressed the court on Tuesday, testifying that the body had conducted rigorous evaluations in good faith to not only find appropriate locations but also to drive down costs of the final design. Scott Dukette explained that in the wake of the 2014 election – when voters shot down the idea of building the courthouse in the heart of downtown – he and others at first pressed for less central locations. “And I think we saw some reasons why some of those sites didn’t fare as well as our initial guess would’ve said they would have,” Dukette said. The committee, staff and the county’s consultants handed off to the court the final four sites that made it through the winnowing. One is the court’s headquarters at 700 Lavaca St., while the other three are privately owned. In order to protect the county’s bargaining position, the exact addresses of those properties have been withheld. Nor were they revealed when the court came out of an extended executive session Tuesday afternoon to vote on County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s motion “to accept staff recommendation and proceed with negotiations.” Seconded by Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, that motion received unanimous approval, but zero elaboration. After the meeting, Eckhardt stayed mum when pressed for more information, but she did allow that tangible developments could be made public sometime in March.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Public Works raises awareness for Neighborhood Partnering Program

The city program that works with neighborhoods across Austin on small-to-medium revitalization projects wants to raise its profile in the community. To achieve this, the Neighborhood Partnering Program will spend the rest of this month and most of March infiltrating Austin Public Library branches and recreation centers throughout the city to spread more information on how neighborhoods can apply. These “Office Hours” sessions started yesterday and will continue through March 19. Visit the city’s website for a full schedule of events.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Queer Dance Freakout at the Governor’s Mansion

There’s going to be a dance party at the Governor’s Mansion. A group protesting anti-LGBT legislation is planning to take over Gov. Greg Abbott’s space with as many swaying bodies as possible. Meet up on Thursday, Feb. 23, between 10th and 11th streets, at 6 p.m., and don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes. “We say NO to anti-transgender bathroom bills. We say NO to marriage equality limitations. We say NO to old men saying what we can and cannot do,” the group said on Facebook. “We say YES to the freedoms of the body. We say YES to sweating in the streets while we ride the beat.”


Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Campaign tackles littering in San Marcos River

With more people than ever flooding into Central Texas, our rivers are experiencing higher numbers of visitors. And with that comes all the usual problems: littering, trespassing, noise violations, underage drinking and public intoxication. In an effort to combat that, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has named the Lower San Marcos River as a national hot spot to raise “awareness about outdoor recreation ethics” in our open spaces. Next month, the group, in conjunction with state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), will host a week of events that will include a river tour, training sessions and outreach events. Find out more, plus a full schedule of the events, on the group’s website.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Spring is coming

We mentioned it in Monday’s story about departing Music and Entertainment Division head Don Pitts’ departure, but for those who didn’t bother to click on the link, the city is updating its Spring Festival (normal people usually call this “South by Southwest”) events, online, here. Use it as you will.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

This week in CodeNEXT

Though there isn’t a City Council meeting this week, there is a City Council meeting. Council members will convene Wednesday morning to talk about CodeNEXT, and the “optional” meeting will feature a presentation on “the new zoning districts [transect and nontransect (use based) districts] and how they will work with the zoning map, the administration and procedures of the Conditional Use Permit process and the new Minor Use Permits, and zoning variances, and the expanded use Special Exceptions. The briefing will also overlay zones and regulations specific to specific land uses, connectivity, open space and parkland, parking and landscaping,” according to a very helpful post on the City Council Message Board from Mayor Steve Adler. Those who are unable to attend the meeting in person can, of course, watch the meeting on ATXN or stay tuned to the Austin Monitor for ongoing CodeNEXT coverage.


Monday, February 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Let’s talk

We might be taking it easy today, but the truth is that no one really knows how to celebrate Presidents Day. Taking advantage of that fact today is Conversation Corps, which will be using the day to host a series of conversations across the city. Today’s “Day of Dialogue” will take place from 7 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. and cover such things as transportation, CodeNEXT, journalism and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Project Connect. Check out the map below for a conversation nearby, or head over to the Conversation Corps website for more details.


Monday, February 20, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Presidents Day closures

City of Austin offices including City Council, City Hall, Vital Records, the Austin Public Library, non-district rec centers, arts and cultural centers, and museums and senior centers are closed today to observe Presidents Day. Austin Independent School District students get the day off. The Entrepreneurial Center in Brodie Oaks Shopping Center and One Texas Center are both closed. Austin Resource Recovery maintains its normal schedule, as will the Recycle and Reuse Drop-Off Center (open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.). The Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Austin Nature and Science Center, Stacey and Deep Eddy pools, city-operated golf courses and the Austin Animal Center are among the facilities open. Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority offices are closed, as is the transit store, but buses are running on a normal schedule.


Monday, February 20, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Open meeting on Austin Convention Center expansion

One of the options for expanding the Austin Convention Center would incorporate the old Palm School campus into the project. The convention center is 25 years old and has been in need of more square footage for some time. The Palm School was an elementary and high school from 1902 to 1980, and before that, in the Republic of Texas days, served as an armory and military base. On Saturday, the city and Travis County will host an open meeting to get public feedback on that specific proposal and the expansion plans in general. The meeting will take place on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 10 a.m. in the Austin Convention Center (500 East Cesar Chavez, Room 9ab).


Monday, February 20, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Watch the skies!

Add another festival to the list of spring festival season. On March 18, night sky advocates will gather in Dripping Springs for the Texas Night Sky Festival. According to a press release, “All attendees will join in fun citizen science activities, learn from engaging speakers and exhibits, see examples of good lighting for their home or business, view school projects and competition entries focused on protecting the night sky, feast at the food trucks, take home a book or work of art inspired by the night sky, earn a related scouting badge, or explore the stars” in an effort aimed at increasing appreciation of night skies and increasing awareness about their preservation. The next day, March 19, will feature discussions about preserving dark skies with speakers from the McDonald Observatory, the Texas Astronomical Society, the Texas Night Sky Coalition and the Hill Country Dark Sky Reserve. Tickets, information and a chance to reserve breakfast are available online.


Friday, February 17, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Richard Moya, trailblazer

Austin native Richard Moya, a trailblazer in local politics, died Thursday at the age of 84. Moya was the first Mexican-American to serve on the Travis County Commissioners Court. He was elected to represent Precinct 4 in 1970 and served continuously in that job until 1986. His protégé, Margaret Gómez, is currently serving as commissioner for Precinct 4. After leaving the Commissioners Court, Moya served as one of three deputy chiefs of staff for former Gov. Ann Richards. He attended Austin High School and graduated in 1950. According to records at the University of Texas, Moya was trained as a printer and worked in that profession for 15 years. After that, he took a job with the Travis County Legal Aid Society, where he developed an interest in politics and government. Moya was one of four Mexican-Americans to change the face of Austin politics. The others are former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, former Mayor Gus Garcia and former City Council Member John Trevino.


Friday, February 17, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin Oaks PUD delayed again

City Council postponed the Austin Oaks planned unit development once again at its most recent meeting and is now planning to hear the case on March 2. Council Member Alison Alter, whose district includes the proposed development, explained that last-minute changes and “a lot of moving parts” made both sides amendable to the two-week postponement (though the developer’s representative, attorney Michael Whellan, explained that they were “grudgingly” supporting the latest postponement). Not supporting the postponement was Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who cast the lone vote against the delay. “What’s our end game here?” he asked. “What’s the target here?”


Friday, February 17, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Pitts sticks with city beyond SXSW

Don Pitts will stay on as leader of Austin’s Music and Entertainment Division through the end of April. The city announced the consulting agreement late on Thursday, two days after Pitts submitted his letter resigning from his director position following a monthlong paid administrative leave and investigation into a staff disciplinary issue. Pitts had intended to vacate the job immediately upon his letter’s submission, and in interviews said he was looking forward to returning to the private sector after seven years with the city. Now he will remain in place through April 29, which will provide the city with much-needed expertise during South by Southwest events that will stretch from March 10-19.


Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Euphoria loses appeal in lawsuit against Travis County

More than a year after a district judge shot down an outdoor music festival’s lawsuit against Travis County, an appeals court has upheld that decision. After a fashion. The organizers of Euphoria Music and Camping Festival sued the county in 2015 over the new mass gathering permit guidelines the Commissioners Court had just approved. On Dec. 2, 2015, Judge Tim Sulak tossed out the suit, ruling that his court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. In a 17-page decision issued on Wednesday, Justice Scott Field of the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals determined that the lawsuit was invalid in part because it alleged that members of the Commissioners Court acted ultra vires, or without legal authority, by attempting to enforce the new guidelines. “Suits alleging ultra vires acts cannot be brought against the state or its political subdivisions, which retain immunity, but must be brought against the state actors in their official capacity,” Field wrote. Both County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and representatives of Euphoria declined to comment on the decision.

Download (PDF, 117KB)


Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council to vote on emergency immigrant legal service funds today

Today, City Council will vote to approve emergency funding for immigrant legal services in the midst of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests and Texas becoming the first state in the union to signal its official support of President Donald Trump’s so-called “travel ban.” The measure would allocate an increase of $200,000 to Catholic Charities of Central Texas for things like family immigration legal services, asylum assistance and deportation defense. A press release from Council Member Greg Casar’s office read, in part, “Due to harshening federal immigration policy, there is an urgent need for legal services for immigrants and refugees in the Austin community,” and continued with Casar’s own words: “The federal government attacked Austin’s immigrant families last week. Now, it’s up to the City to step up and take care of the families that our federal leaders are targeting for political gain. … Austin will not back down on our principles of justice, public safety, and constitutional rights. We want everyone who comes to the US to be protected to the fullest extent of the law.”


Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City marks a decade of work on climate change

Today, City Council marks the 10-year anniversary of the Climate Protection Resolution, which solidified Austin’s commitment to fighting climate change. Since then, the city has reduced its municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent. Austin Energy’s supply came from a measly 4 percent renewables. Currently that number is 31 percent, and it’s on the way up. During today’s meeting, Council will present a proclamation to former Mayor Will Wynn, who called Austin “indispensable” in combating the issue. “Some of the things that give us an edge include the fact that Austin owns our own electric utility, is a significant technology hub focused on innovation, and has a citizenry that recognizes the problem and demands we do something about it,” he said in a press release on Thursday. The city is also premiering a three-minute video on what residents can do to reduce their environmental impact. That, and a whole lot more information, can be found on the city’s website.


Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Lifeguard job fair today

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is already preparing for the summer swim season by hosting a lifeguard job fair today from 4-8 p.m. at the Virginia L. Brown Recreation Center, 7500 Blessing Ave. PARD’s Aquatic & Nature Based Programs Division has 650 lifeguard slots to fill each year, and Thursday’s hiring day is already the third of the season. Bring valid ID and a Social Security card to apply for lifeguard, cashier, swim instructor or swim coach positions. The pay starts at $13.50 an hour. Find more information at www.lifeguardaustin.com.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Memo rattles AISD schools

On Tuesday, an Austin Independent School District memo had district principals scrambling, with some warning their teachers not to hand out Immigration and Customs Enforcement fliers, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Today, the AISD board of trustees is expected to tackle the issue head-on at its Board Operations Committee meeting, in an attempt to get a clearer read on official policy. Trustees, who have a separate legal counsel than the district, were not informed about the memo in advance. Trustee Paul Saldaña told the Austin Monitor that he was “surprised” by its content and noted that it seemed counter to an Education Austin ICE training for teachers held last week, for example. He expressed hope that today’s meeting would help forward a clearer, more consistent policy for everyone.

“A lot of people forget that in 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for states to deny access to public education to students or families based on immigration status,” he said. “That means, as a district, we are legally required to educate and support every child that walks into our school.” Saldaña also told the Monitor that he plans to bring forward a resolution supporting the inclusive community of AISD with co-sponsors Jayme Mathias and Ann Teich and hopes it will be on the board’s Feb. 27 agenda.

A spokesperson for the district explained that the memo was “just something that goes out once in while” to “update staff on information they need to know.” That memo, embedded below, includes the statement that “employee, staff member, teacher, or administrator may not speak to political affiliation, views, protests, advocacy, or other controversial issues or topics that may arise while on District property, whether that is in a classroom or in an Administrative building, working as a District employee, or using District resources. The very narrow but permissible exception is recognized in the event that the discussion of these issues is necessary for the complete education of our students so long as the information is presented in a non-partisan and neutral manner.” It also asks staff to refrain from reproducing and distributing third-party resources in class.

Download (DOC, 127KB)


Wednesday, February 15, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Halley joining Austin Water, Rusthoven promoted

Jerry Rusthoven, who has served as acting assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department since last summer, found out Tuesday that he is now officially an assistant director. Congratulations to him! In addition, the Austin Monitor learned Tuesday that Shannon Halley, who has been on Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo’s staff since August 2011, has accepted a position with Austin Water. Her new title will be environmental program coordinator and she will report to Assistant Director Daryl Slusher. Tovo said that since Halley joined her staff, “she has helped develop important initiatives related to homelessness, energy efficiency, parks and so many other diverse issues. She has been a valued member of my District 9 staff. She will be missed, but we wish her well in her new role.”


Wednesday, February 15, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Commissioners Court greenlights sprawling Hill Country development

The population of far western Travis County could soon get a significant boost. On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court gave the go-ahead to a 2,200-acre master development near State Highway 71 and Paleface Ranch Road. The project, known as Thomas Ranch, also partially dips into Burnet County and will include offices, restaurants, retail shops, a resort hotel and approximately 3,300 housing units (including both single- and multifamily). A press release sent on behalf of the developer notes that the project, whose nearest boundary is a 30-mile drive from downtown Austin, “will feature an ideal balance between the Texas Hill Country and Austin city life.” The release also quotes Commissioner Gerald Daugherty in whose Precinct 3 Thomas Ranch is located: “As Western Travis County continues to grow, it’s important we welcome developers who can provide infrastructure for thoughtfully planned communities. Thomas Ranch is a community that the Spicewood area will benefit from, providing economic opportunity as well as improvements to existing streets off Paleface Ranch Road.” Other developments in the portfolio of the project’s lead developer, Tom D’Alesandro of Blakefield LLC, include The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio and The Woodlands outside of Houston.


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