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Whispers

Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Happy Austin Oaks Day!

After a late-night postponement at their last meeting, Austin Oaks planned unit development neighbors are jazzed that the proposed development is up, once again, today. This time around, City Council has promised to take up the case as soon as it can in the meeting – probably around 2 p.m. – and it will extend the hearing past the 5:30 p.m. dinner break if necessary. Meanwhile, NW Austin neighbors are promising a “pop up party out front of City Hall if things drag on.” Whoop.


Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Earn rebates for saving water this summer

Austin Water uses its Landscape Survival Tools Rebate to encourage lawn care practices that conserve water. Pay upfront for the mulch, compost and core aeration. Once the work is completed, you’ll take pictures, and send them to the city along with your receipts and application. Two cubic yards (or 54 feet) of compost will earn you a $50 rebate, 2 cubic yards of mulch is worth $40 and the core aeration service rebate is worth a cool $30. Email the materials to watercon@austintexas.gov, or send them by mail to Austin Water Conservation, P.O. Box 1088 Austin, TX 78767. And learn a whole lot more about the program at waterwiseaustin.org. You can also fax it to them at 512-974-3504.


Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Emergency services chief appointed to national panel

Yesterday, the city announced that Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Chief Ernesto Rodriguez will serve on the National Agenda 2050 Panel, a collaborative effort on the part of 10 members to craft an outline of the field’s 30-year-plan. Rodriguez and the other members will work with people in the EMS, health care and public safety communities to “create a path for a comprehensive system of emergency care integrated with the broader healthcare continuum.” The chief has worked more than two decades in EMS, including 10 years as a paramedic and firefighter.


Thursday, March 23, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Clean old town

The date is set for this year’s Keep Austin Beautiful Clean Sweep, which will take place on Saturday, April 8. The event, which will feature about 4,000 volunteers working on more than 130 clean-up projects across the city will take place from 9 until 11 a.m. More information about the program, and information on how to volunteer is available online here.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

After county action, DNA lab agreement is in Council’s hands

In the latest step forward from the collapse of the Austin Police Department DNA forensics lab, the Travis County Commissioners Court approved a two-pronged agreement with the city of Austin on Tuesday. The framework provides for cost-sharing when it comes to hiring a consultant to closely examine exactly what caused the lab to flunk a state audit last year. The results of that audit forced the closure of the lab and called into question thousands of its forensic findings dating back to its opening in 2004. The agreement with the city would also split the tab to hire the Capital Area Private Defender Service to comb through at least 1,400 cases that may have been impacted by improper procedures at the lab. District Attorney Margaret Moore personally appeared before the court to urge them to support the agreement, which she said was borne out of a collaborative effort among stakeholders. “And I think what is before you today is eminently supportable. And it’s the most efficient and the most meaningful way to get to a good result as quickly as we can,” Moore said. The court voted 4-0 to approve the agreement. Commissioner Margaret Gómez was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. City Council is set to put its imprimatur on the agreement at its meeting this Thursday.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Adler among mayors to meet with Homeland chief

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is among mayors invited by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly next Wednesday in Washington, D.C. At the top of that agenda will be a discussion about what a sanctuary city is and is not. Austin and Travis County have been accused of being sanctuary jurisdictions because Sheriff Sally Hernandez has refused to honor federal detainers of unauthorized immigrants except for those accused of specific major crimes, such as murder and aggravated sexual assault. Though a magistrate judge has said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, targeted Travis County for immigration raids as retaliation for Hernandez’ announced policy, ICE denied that was the case Tuesday. Adler took part in the U.S. Conference of Mayors telephone briefing Tuesday, which was proclaimed a Day of Action in support of immigrants and immigration reform. At that group’s winter meeting, the mayors adopted a resolution calling for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform and a recognition of the economic, social and cultural contributions immigrants make to communities throughout the country. Among those leading the charge Tuesday were Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle. The city of San Francisco has filed suit against the federal government to stop future enforcement of an executive order to take federal funding away from sanctuary cities. Although the federal government has taken no such action so far, the judge in the case has scheduled an April 5 hearing on a request for an injunction. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco claims that it could lose $1.2 billion in federal funds, mostly for entitlement programs for the poor.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

New cameras installed on I-35

Yesterday, Mayor Steve Adler announced the installation of 11 new cameras along I-35 between 51st and Woodward streets. The technology gives the city a real-time view of traffic and other incidents along the infamously congested highway. Now that these are in place, we’ve got more than 40 cameras working throughout the region that supply the information – like travel times – for the message signs that keeps drivers informed about upcoming detours, lane conditions and delays.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

What’s the beep?

Tuesday morning’s broadcast on ATXN or Channel 6 carried an annoying beeping sound, in addition to City Council comments. We asked, What’s the beep? “We’re working on it,” said Keith Reeves, who is in charge of the municipal station. “We’re kind of in a pickle,” he said, because the station’s usual response to a problem like the beeping is to reboot. But when there’s a Council meeting, they of course can’t do that. He said they had two different technicians working to figure out the problem. Perhaps its related to the interface with cable companies, Reeves said.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City releases spring no refusal statistics

South by Southwest 2017 is in the books, and with it the Austin Police Department’s traditional extended no-refusal period. This year the initiative lasted from March 3-20. Every evening from 9 p.m.-5 a.m., officers search for drivers under the influence and seek court orders for those suspected of DWI who refuse field sobriety tests. Over that stretch, APD secured 100 blood search warrants and ultimately arrested 202 people for DWI. Of those arrests, five involved a child passenger, which is, of course, a felony.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Parks department teams up with JetBlue for volunteer day

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is partnering with JetBlue Airlines for a day of volunteering at the Zilker Botanical Gardens. On Wednesday, March 22, JetBlue will bring together volunteers from Austin and across the country to work on the garden grounds. The partnership came about as a result of Austin’s victory in the “One Thing That’s Green Initiative,” a contest JetBlue uses to help offset its carbon footprint. The day begins at 9 a.m. at the Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

APD sets deadline for applications

Yesterday, the Austin Police Department tweeted that, due to the number of applications it had already received, the deadline to apply for the next regular police academy will now be 5 p.m. on Friday, March 24. The next regular police academy is expected to take place this summer. If that’s too far away, the department is still accepting applications for the upcoming modified/lateral academy, which takes half the time of a regular course.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

CodeNEXT open house this weekend

The city is hosting a two-hour public meeting this weekend, for those of us who are still trying to make sense of the CodeNEXT draft. Weeks removed from the release, Mayor Steve Adler has called for patience and optimism from all sides as the process continues. Part of that process is public input, and residents from all City Council districts are welcomed at Stephen F. Austin High School, 1715 Cesar Chavez, beginning at noon on Saturday, March 25, for an open house. Bring all your questions, concerns and patience. Learn more about CodeNEXT on the city’s website, where you can find a copy of the draft text, answers to frequently asked questions and much more.


Monday, March 20, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Minimum wage bills hit the legislature

The current minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour (except for tipped workers, of course, who earn may earn as little as $2.13 an hour). Today group of legislators and advocates aim to bring the issue to the forefront in a session that has mostly been dominated by budget woes, school finance and “sanctuary cities.” At 9:30 a.m., the authors of a host of different minimum wage bills gathered at the Capitol, along with workers’ groups, to explain their different proposals that would change the lives of many low-wage workers in the state. Those ideas include provisions raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour (house bills 285, 475 and 992 and House Joint Resolution 57), raising it to $10.10 per hour (house bills 924, 937 and HJR 56), restoring cities’ ability to raise the rate (house bills 840 and 954) and ending the practice of employers taking a portion of their employees tips (HB 326).


Monday, March 20, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City hopes to ignite a network of possibilities

Later this week, the city of Austin is hosting its annual career expo where community members get an opportunity to talk with representatives from public agencies, private employers and temporary staffing companies about jobs. Last year, more than 1,400 area job seekers attended. This year, 85 different entities are registered to attend the expo, which begins at noon on Wednesday, March 29, at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road. Visit www.austintexas.gov/careerexpo for more information. Interpreters for both Spanish and sign language will be on-hand.


Friday, March 17, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Airport hosts art installation for SXSW travelers

Being at the airport is rough anytime, really, but that’s particularly true for the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport during South by Southwest – which just happens to coincide with spring break. Thanks to a partnership between the consul general of Mexico in Austin and the Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City, South by Southwest travelers will be treated to an exhibit of “fantastical hand-made creatures” made by artists from our neighbor to the south. Find the exhibit between gates 7 and 11. Those who aren’t leaving the city anytime soon can find an example, “Lobo del aire” by Ricardo Linares Garcia, in the city’s announcement from yesterday afternoon.


Friday, March 17, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Austin Animal Center takes part in nationwide adoption event

This week, the Austin Animal Center announced it would be taking part in the North Shore Animal League America’s nationwide adoption event, Tour for Life 2017. The effort, which is sponsored by Purina and visits Austin at noon on March 18, is being billed as the “largest cooperative life-saving” event of its kind. The Austin stop is Birds Barbershop on South Congress, but we’re just one of 54 cities the mobile adoption center is hitting on its 20,000-mile road trip, offering free adoptions to raise awareness about its no-kill mission.


Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Kopser could make a run for Congress

Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is close to drawing what could be his most substantial challenger in recent history. Austin entrepreneur Joseph Kopser is now openly considering a run against the Kerrville congressman whose oddly shaped District 21 includes much of the Hill Country, northern San Antonio and parts of south, west and downtown Austin. Smith has been in Congress for three decades and won re-election in 2016 with 57 percent of the vote. However, Kopser, who co-founded transportation tech firm RideScout before selling it to Daimler AG, is not cut of the same cloth as the more conventional Democratic, Libertarian and Green Party opponents Smith has repeatedly vanquished. The West Point graduate has an extensive background in business and also enjoys a relatively prominent public profile after years of engaging both the private and public sectors on mobility policy. On a fundraising site announcing his interest in running, Kopser starts off with a strong swipe against Smith and his approach to climate change. “Rep. Lamar Smith has represented Texas since 1986 and built a reputation as Congress’s most persistent climate change denier – a fact that is even more disturbing considering he is the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Rep. Smith doesn’t believe in facts, and he doesn’t want them reported. Instead, he believes it’s ‘better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.’ We can do better,” Kopser wrote. As of Wednesday evening, he had raised more than $12,000 toward a $25,000 goal.


Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

AURA has CodeNEXT concerns

Urbanist group AURA has written an open letter to Mayor Steve Adler detailing some of its concerns about the CodeNEXT Land Development Code rewrite. Mainly, the group is concerned that despite hours upon hours of planned and completed public outreach, no one is listening. “We’re eager to work with City staff, your office, and all of City Council to align the CodeNEXT process with established community priorities for compact and connected growth, but if we’re going to succeed in getting the code Austin needs, Austinites must have confidence that your office, and all of Austin’s leaders, are listening. Is the CodeNEXT outcome a foregone conclusion inside your office—an outcome that will change nothing and help no one? Or do we want a city that prioritizes household affordability and remedying Austin’s staggering walkability, connectivity and traffic problems?” AURA asks. “Mayor Adler, do you think community input on CodeNEXT is a waste of time, since 97% of the city will be exactly the same?”


Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Aleshire questions public information rules

When the city’s public information manager sent out a press release detailing procedures for requesting public information, she probably thought her intentions were clear. That was not the case, however. The update to the public information request procedure gives two email addresses for requests seeking records from the city. There is the standard request, which is to go to public.information@austintexas.gov, and there is the request for Austin Police Department records, which is to go to management.records@austintexas.gov. The press release says, “Requests sent to any other email at the city of Austin will not constitute an official records request. All city staff have been instructed to respond to requests and direct people to the proper email addresses.” Truly, those are fighting words to attorney and Texas Public Information Act expert Bill Aleshire. Aleshire, on behalf of his client the Austin Bulldog, sent a letter to City Attorney Anne Morgan explaining that City Council had not adopted such a procedure and that only Council could do so. Further, he interpreted the press release to mean that only requests sent to the appropriate email address would be considered “official” requests. But that is not what the city meant at all, according to public information spokesperson Alicia Dean. She said, “Nothing has changed in the PIR process.” But the city is trying to streamline its process to expedite responses. According to Dean, the city receives about 30,000 requests each year for information about APD and only about 6,000 requests for nonpolice matters. She said some people submit as many as 20 identical requests to different people in the city, instead of sending the request to the appropriate email address. That just slows down the process, because city employees have to sift through each one of those to make sure that they are not the same. Dean assured the Austin Monitor that city employees have been advised to pass on any public information requests they receive to the correct email address and to inform the requester about their actions. However, it should be noted that the press release does not say that.


Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Adler reiterates city’s opposition to ‘sanctuary city’ bill

As Senate Bill 4 was on its way to a hearing at the Senate Affairs Committee yesterday, Mayor Steve Adler released a statement reiterating that the city of Austin opposes the proposal and fears what effect it would have in our streets. Adler said Austin is one of the safest communities in the country but that designation will be put at risk by the legislation, which would punish “sanctuary cities” like Austin that limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. “If our local law enforcement is required to participate in voluntary programs that create the perception that they are also performing the functions of federal immigration agents, they will lose the trust relationship that keeps us all safe,” Adler wrote. “I stand with our public safety professionals in opposing a bill that will make our communities less safe by sowing the seeds of distrust.”


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