Fair Play passes
The Fair Play Austin political action committee announced Monday that it would not be supporting Proposition A as it is written. The PAC, which was funded by Bobby Epstein, the chairman of Circuit of the Americas, circulated a petition calling for voter approval of the McKalla Place deal. City Council approved the ballot language for that validated petition at its last meeting, prompting Fair Play’s statement. It reads, “In its current condition, passing Proposition A would do more harm than the good intended when we initially supported it. Given how far the ballot language has drifted from its original intent to give voters a say on whether the City should give away valuable land and waive property taxes, Fair Play Austin PAC will not undertake any effort to support the passage of Proposition A.”
The ballot language approved by Council reads:
Shall a city ordinance be adopted that requires that a sale, lease,
conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for any existing or
future youth, recreational, or professional sports facility or any existing or future
entertainment facility be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11
members) and also be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must
pay; requires that any site development permits and variances related thereto be
approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members); requires that site
development permits and variances related thereto be approved by the voters at an
election for which the City must pay, if the sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or
other alienation of City-owned land for the facility has not already obtained voter
approval; requires that the facility post payment and performance bonds and pay ad
valorem taxes, or payments equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes; and requires
that all information concerning such sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other
alienation shall be disclosed to the public.
Four AISD campuses debut new names
After much thought and deliberation, the Austin Independent School District has renamed four campuses that were previously named after people associated with the Confederacy. When school starts on Aug. 20, the four campuses will be identified by their new names. The John T. Allan Facility is now the Anita Ferrales Coy Facility, named after an educator and former principal. Zachary T. Fulmore Middle School is now Sarah B. Lively Middle School, named after a popular social studies teacher. Sidney Lanier Early College High School is now Juan Navarro Early College High School, in honor of a U.S. Army sergeant and former student who died in action in 2012. And John H. Reagan Early College High School is now Northeast Early College High School, in recognition of its deep ties to the community.
Turn a parking space into a parklet
For everyone who’s ever gazed at a parking lot and wished it were a park, here comes PARK(ing) Day, an international event that celebrates the universal desire for more open green space in cities and towns. This year’s PARK(ing) Day falls on Friday, Sept. 20, and the Austin Transportation Department invites the entire community to get in on the action. Basically, you work to temporarily transform a parking space into a tiny public space, or parklet. The sky – or your imagination – is the limit. There are, of course, lots of rules and requirements and applications, and all of that can be found in its entirety in the PARKing Day permit packet along with photographs of parklets past. Have a pleasant PARKing Day.
Photo courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department, from PARKing Day 2017.
Buses get new red lanes, out of red lights
The Capital Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority started running its northbound routes through the city’s new “contraflow” bus-only lane Sunday, giving customers a glimpse of a possible future of greater collaboration between the transit agency and the Austin Transportation Department. In addition to the bright-red, bus-only lanes, the project features new traffic and transit signals and a new shared path for pedestrians, cyclists, and scooters. The purpose of the project is to bypass the heavily congested intersection of Lavaca Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by giving buses a new transit-only path westbound on 18th Street and then northbound against traffic (hence, contraflow) on Guadalupe Street to cross Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The project also gives northbound pedestrians and cyclists a shared path route with a painted stripe separating users. By making more efficient use of existing right of way, Capital Metro expects the changes to decrease trip time by 65 seconds per bus during afternoon peak travel time and improve the customer experience enough to attract 7-10 percent more transit customers. Many of Capital Metro’s high-frequency and local routes, including MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, are using the new configuration. Eastbound buses, however, are keeping their same routes, sharing the right-turn lane on Lavaca Street with private vehicles. The project was funded with approximately $19.8 million from the city’s 2016 Mobility Bond.
AUS at your fingertips
AUS – for those of you who don’t know, that’s the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – is getting smarter. A free, interactive, mobile-friendly platform called Experience AUS now helps travelers explore the airport before they even arrive. By texting “Austin” to 56512, travelers and locals alike can have the airport at their fingertips: maps, parking info, concert and performance schedules, art tours, airport games and activities, links to social media, travel rewards, info about offsetting one’s carbon footprint, and more. As AUS spokesman Cory Hurless said in a press release, “Some of the goals for the Experience AUS platform are to increase engagement with the traveling public and to make it easier and more fun to get up and experience the Austin flavor throughout our amazing local art and music programs.”
Central Health holds 2020 budget talk
Travis County residents fund health care with their tax dollars for more than one out of every seven residents. That gives everyone in the county a fair shot at staying healthy. Central Health is inviting the community to participate in a public conversation on its 2020 proposed budget. Join in if you’d like to have a say in how your health care tax dollars are spent. Spanish interpreters will be available. Monday, Aug. 26, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Central Health Board Room, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Join the board of Sobriety Center’s local government corporation
City Council is looking for qualified candidates to serve on the Sobriety Center Local Government Corporation Board of Directors. The term of service will run through Sept. 30, 2022. According to the city’s announcement, the Sobriety Center LGC “is incorporated to aid and to act on behalf of the city and the county to accomplish their governmental purpose; namely to staff, manage, and operate a sobriety center for the safe short-term treatment and management of persons under the influence of alcohol, and to provide those persons with information on and referrals to community-based outpatient services, for the purposes of preservation of law enforcement, judicial, and medical resources in the jurisdictional limits of the city and the county.” Qualified candidates must be 1) at least 18; 2) a resident of the city of Austin and Travis County and a citizen of Texas; and 3) have some expertise in “fields such as legal, medical, behavioral and mental health, public health, chemical dependency and addiction, as well as business, philanthropy, and fundraising.” If that sounds like you, apply online here and submit a resume as well a statement of intent. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13.
New process for public information requests
Thanks to a new state law intended to increase transparency in government, there is a new process for requesting public records from the city of Austin. Effective Sept. 1, all emailed public information requests, including requests for the Austin Police Department, must be sent to email@example.com. Faxed requests will no longer be accepted. Members of the public may request information electronically through the city’s Public Information Request Portal. One may also hand-deliver a request for information to Austin Police Department Headquarters or to City Hall, 4th floor, or mail it to Austin Police Department Central Records/Open Records, PO Box 689001, Austin, Texas, 78768-9001.
Algae tests find increased neurotoxins in more locations
Testing has shown “increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations,” according to a city press release issued Wednesday. Samples taken Monday at Auditorium Shores, Red Bud Isle and below the Butler Hike and Bike Trail pedestrian bridge at Barton Creek contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than were present in previous tests. The city has maintained the closure of Red Bud Isle and is advising the public not to allow dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake, or in Barton Creek where algae is present. The press release explains, “In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.” The city has reiterated that drinking water is not impacted by the algae, and in a bit of good news, believes that Barking Springs remains safe. Though the situation is evolving, the algae will die when cooler temperatures return. Until then, questions can be answered at 311 or 512-974-2000 and information and updates continue to be posted at austintexas.gov/algae.
AUS buys 999 metric tons of carbon offsets
Reaffirming its “commitment to sustainability,” Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – now super-officially known as AUS – announced the purchase of 999 metric tons of carbon offsets Wednesday. According to a press release about the purchase, that “equates to about one third of the airport’s total carbon footprint for the year. According to the program, that’s roughly the equivalent CO2 emissions of 6.4 million passenger miles or the annual electricity use of 150 homes. These particular credits will help fund the use of waste gas and the capturing of methane at the Rio Grande Valley Landfill Gas Project.” The airport has used 100 percent renewable electricity since 2012, employing electrical power generated by wind turbines in its buildings and to power airport support vehicles. Those inspired by AUS’ choices are invited to participate in the Good Traveler program, in which travelers can purchase their very own carbon offsets.
The end of an era
Goodbye ABIA; hello AUS. The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has announced that it no longer wants to be known by the nickname ABIA but would prefer to be called AUS. After all, AUS is the correct three-letter airport code for, uh, the airport formerly known as ABIA. For Austinites who have been calling their airport ATX – sorry, no. Just no.
City to test school zone beacons
You may have noticed flashing beacons when you’re driving through a school zone in the morning or afternoon when kids are present. The beacons are designed to alert drivers (that’s you) to be cautious, drive slowly and obey the school zone speed limit. According to the Austin Transportation Department, there are 560 of these nifty flashing beacons spread across 330 school zones in seven school districts in Austin. School starts Tuesday, Aug. 20, so in order to ensure that all of the beacons are in good working order, ATD will be conducting testing in the mornings and afternoons of Thursday, Aug. 15; Friday, Aug. 16; and Monday, Aug. 19. For beacons in the Round Rock and Leander school districts, testing takes place Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 12, 13 and 14, before school starts on Thursday, Aug. 15. Sensibly enough, ATD crews will conduct tests at the times the beacons would normally operate: 6:45-8 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m., though these times may vary depending on each school’s schedule.
Lookin’ at you, Barbecue Joe
It’s hot as blazes in Central Texas right now, so the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has wisely banned blazes in city parks, preserves and greenbelts, at least until the danger of wildfire decreases. Open fires and grilling, including “the use of wood or charcoal BBQ pits/grills/smokers” are prohibited, effective immediately. Propane stoves may be used only in designated picnic areas. The city is not fooling around: park police and rangers will be enforcing the burn ban and any violation could result in a fine of $300-$500. So put the briquettes down, slowly, and enjoy your gazpacho.
Celebrate Austin’s tiny winged celebs at Bat Fest
Some come for the music; some come for the bats. The 15th annual Austin Bat Fest boasts two stages with live music, dozens of arts and crafts booths, copious amounts of food and drink, kids’ activities, costume contests – oh, and did we mention the largest urban bat colony in the country? About a million and a half Mexican free-tailed bats are slated to leave their cozy roosts under the bridge just after sundown, to the delight of festival-goers. (The bat emergence happens almost every evening between March and October, but it’s not usually set to music.) More details and tickets are available online. Friday, Aug. 24, 4 p.m.-midnight, 100 South Congress Ave.
How kids can eat for free at AISD
Families with students in the Austin Independent School District will be receiving letters, sent out starting Aug. 20, informing them about eligibility benefits for the district’s free and reduced-price meal program. All households are encouraged to complete the meal benefits application to determine whether their child is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, based on household income. The district also uses the information collected to help determine each school’s funding needs. If you do not receive a letter, you can pick up an application from Austin ISD Nutrition and Food Services at 3701 Woodbury Dr. or at any school office. Applications can also be complete electronically here. Find details about the income eligibility guidelines here.
Toxic algae restricted to Red Bud Isle – for now
The city says samples of algae taken near Red Bud Isle show low levels of a harmful neurotoxin that may be responsible for the deaths of three dogs in recent weeks. However, samples taken from more than half a dozen other locations in Lady Bird Lake found no toxins in the algae. The city added in a press release that additional sampling has found “much of the algae in other parts of Lady Bird Lake are presently harmless varieties.” Signs warning pet owners to keep their dogs out of the lake were posted on Red Bud Isle on Sunday. Despite the optimistic test results, the city warns residents that “algae can move and because there may be potentially harmful algae in other areas of the lake, people should continue to minimize their exposure to the water and avoid all contact with algae. Pet owners should continue to keep their dogs out of Lady Bird Lake.” Staff from the Watershed Protection Department will continue to test the water in various locations and monitor the situation. For more details, visit the city’s algae page at austintexas.gov/Algae.
Council awards $15M for affordable housing
Council has approved $15 million in funding for eight new housing developments that will contain about 300 affordable units. A variety of local and federal sources contributed to the funding of the developments. More than $5.8 million came from the 2018 Affordable Housing Bond; $7 million from fees collected from developer incentive programs; and $2.2 million was federal grant funding from HUD. Rosie Truelove, the director of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, said in a city news release, “Council’s approval demonstrates a continued commitment to addressing the issues of affordable housing in Austin. By leveraging the city’s resources in collaboration with community nonprofit and for-profit developers, community advocates, and service providers, we continue to make progress.” The eight projects are:
Walsh Boat Landing to close for improvements
Starting in mid-September, the Parks & Recreation Department will be closing Walsh Boat Landing at 1600 Scenic Drive in order to begin planned improvements to the facility. Improvements will include making upgrades so the facility and the parking area comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and restoring the bulkhead with more sustainable materials in order to conform to city lakefront codes on shoreline erosion. The parks department asks that residents find other access points to Lake Austin during the project, which is expected to take about six months to complete, weather permitting.
Testing confirms presence of toxins in lake algae
With the testing of lake water samples, the city of Austin has confirmed that the blue-green algae present in Lady Bird Lake does indeed contain neurotoxins that are harmful both to animals and to humans. Signs have been posted around the lake warning of the dangers and advising pet owners to keep their dogs out of the lake. Three dogs died last week shortly after swimming in Lady Bird Lake. City officials say dogs should not be allowed to drink the lake water or have any contact with the algae and that “everyone should minimize their exposure to Lady Bird Lake water.” Red Bud Isle, where up to 40 percent of the water surface is covered with clumps of the algae, has been closed.
This whisper has been corrected. We originally reported that the algae was “releasing” neurotoxins, which is incorrect.
82 AISD schools will give kids free breakfast and lunch
For the 2019-20 school year, the Austin school district is bumping up the number of schools participating in the national school lunch and breakfast program from 43 to 82 campuses. The free meals are given at no cost to qualifying students. All families at the participating schools will be encouraged to complete a meal benefits application to determine if their kids are eligible for the program. “By providing complimentary breakfast and lunch to all students at eligible schools, we are ensuring that every child has the opportunity to come to class well-nourished and ready to learn,” AISD Food Services and Warehouse Operations Executive Director Anneliese Tanner said in a press release. More information about the meals program can be found here.