Whispers

Friday, June 14, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Many City Council meetings next week

Gear up, Council watchers! Since next week’s Council meeting will be the final one before the traditional July break, we will be treated to the usual Tuesday work session, plus a special called meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the regularly scheduled Thursday Council meeting, and possibly an additional meeting on Friday. Mayor Steve Adler posted a notice on the City Council Message Board to let everyone know what to expect next week. On Wednesday afternoon, Council will take up all the consent items as well as non-consent items not specifically set on Thursday. On Thursday, Council will take up zoning and public hearings, as well as the six purchasing items specifically postponed from the June 6 meeting, and the proposal to start charging property taxes to homeowners living along Lake Austin. Those property owners have not been charged with taxes paid by everyone else in the city because of a 1986 ordinance exempting them. At the time, those properties got little in the way of city services. But that has changed, and the city says it needs the money. On Thursday, Council will also consider an item directing the city manager “to provide options regarding use of city property taxes to fund initiatives regarding homelessness,” and similar initiatives. Also Thursday, Council will consider the controversial Butler Pitch & Putt golf course contract. If they don’t get done on Thursday, there is, according to the mayor’s memo, the possibility that they will return Friday to finish the agenda. Stay tuned to find out plans for the agenda addendum.


Friday, June 14, 2019 by Tai Moses

AISD announces pay hike for all employees

With the passage of House Bill 3, the state public school finance reform bill, AISD has announced a pay increase for all employees that the district says is one of the highest in its history. On Wednesday, Superintendent Paul Cruz announced the 7 percent salary increase for teachers and staff with more than five years of experience, and a 6 percent increase for all other staff. Special ed teachers will get a $500 stipend increase while bilingual teachers will get a $1,000 stipend increase. All increases go into effect on July 1. Funding from HB 3 will also give some much-needed help to AISD’s budget deficit, reducing it from $60 million down to about $5 million.


Friday, June 14, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Committee picks Eisenbrey for Civil Service Commission

The Council Audit & Finance Committee on Thursday recommended Rebecca Eisenbrey, staff attorney at the Equal Justice Center, for a seat on the Municipal Civil Service Commission. Eisenbrey has considerable experience in labor law, including serving as co-chair for the State Bar of Texas’ Employment Law Task Force. Members of the committee went into executive session to interview Eisenbrey and two other applicants, John Lawrence and Paul Hafner, before voting unanimously to recommend Eisenbrey. Eisenbrey will take the seat previously held by Michael Murphy, who resigned March 8. Committee Chair Alison Alter thanked all the other applicants for their willingness to serve.


Friday, June 14, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Talking regional roads with CAMPO

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is holding a series of open house public outreach meetings over the coming week. The meetings will be presenting ideas generated by the recently compiled Regional Arterials Study, the MoKan/Northeast Subregional Plan, and the region’s plan for transportation demand management. The Transportation Policy Board discussed the arterials study Monday with explicit trepidation that the public would mistake the proposed roadways and transportation projects as set in stone. To the contrary, CAMPO staff clarified that the study is simply a collection of ideas gathered from leaders and stakeholders throughout the region and do not reflect current plans or available funding. With that made known, CAMPO is asking for feedback on those proposed arterials in order to begin the process of deleting the bad ideas and refining the good ones. Austin and Travis County residents are invited to view that study along with the MoKan/Northeast plan this morning, Friday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Project Connect Office at 607 Congress Ave. Other meeting times and locations can be found at the CAMPO website where you may also view study drafts and submit feedback through a survey.


Thursday, June 13, 2019 by Tai Moses

Parade and park festival celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day, is the annual holiday that celebrates the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Austin Independent School District is marking the occasion by participating in a day of revelry that includes the annual Juneteenth Historical Parade, a 2K Freedom Run/Walk, a float contest, a marching band, and an all-day festival in the park with lots of family-friendly activities. The 1.4-mile parade route starts at 10 a.m. at Comal Street and East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and proceeds down Chicon Street and Rosewood Avenue to Rosewood Park. All events take place Saturday, June 15. Find the entire schedule of events here. Interested in volunteering to help decorate vehicles? Call (512) 414-9955.


Thursday, June 13, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Capital Metro and Austin Transportation explore traffic-relieving synergies

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority started sharing real-time bus location information with its customers earlier this year, but the agency recently brought that data to the Austin Transportation Department to help solve a traffic congestion issue at Zilker Park. According to Jared Wall, one of five traffic signal engineers at ATD, Capital Metro gave the department access to its minute-by-minute bus delay information hoping the department could come up with a solution to keep its buses from getting behind schedule. Wall said the department had also been hearing about traffic issues heading eastbound through Zilker Park on weekends and was able to use the data to identify the “chokepoint” at the intersection of Barton Springs Road and Azie Morton Road. The department found that the issue was happening primarily within the hours of noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and was able to relieve the problem by engineering longer green lights headed eastbound on Barton Springs Road during those hours. Wall said since then, there have already been more conversations with the transit agency about opening up a data-sharing partnership to solve similar cases around the city. In the meantime, he said, the No. 1 way the department learns about signal timing issues is through individual citizen reports to 311.


Thursday, June 13, 2019 by Tai Moses

Arkansas Bend Park gets a makeover

The renovations at Arkansas Bend Park are finally complete, and Travis County Parks is throwing a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the park’s official reopening. The 323-acre park on the north shore of Lake Travis boasts two new boat ramps, improved campsites, trails and an updated day use area with a playground for the kids, picnic tables, barbecue grills and restrooms. Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty will be at the ceremony to make some brief remarks and welcome community members back to their park. Saturday, June 15, 10 a.m., 16900 Cherry Lane, Lago Vista.


Thursday, June 13, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Environmental Commission considers Permian Highway Pipeline

On June 5, Sean Haynes, with the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition, came to the Environmental Commission to bring the commission’s attention to the Permian Highway Pipeline that is planned to run from the Permian Basin to the coast of Texas and pass over the Edwards Aquifer in Kyle. “Generally pipelines have gone south of San Antonio or north of Georgetown,” Haynes noted. However, that convention is just a custom, as there is neither a state policy nor a process for routing pipelines. Instead of taking the conventional pathways, the Permian Highway Pipeline will go through more than 8,000 acres of planned development on its way to the coast, which Haynes said will not be a problem “until they blow up or leak, which is almost weekly.” In an effort to spark change in the process, TREAD, along with Hays County, the city of Kyle and three private landowners, filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, which is designing the 430-mile-long, 42-inch-diameter pipeline route. The idea is to start requiring an approval process for oil and gas pipeline routes similar to the one used by the Public Utility Commission for energy transmission lines. The commissioners were divided on how to take action. “It’s pretty obvious there’s a real problem here,” said Commissioner Mary Ann Neely. “It would not be right for us not to get involved.” However, Commissioner Wendy Gordon said, “City Council can weigh in on this themselves.” Council has taken no public action on the matter. Since the subject was posted on the Environmental Commission’s agenda as an education topic, the commission decided to postpone action and instead formed a working group. They plan to deliver a resolution to City Council by the end of the month.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by Tai Moses

Some Cap Metro bus stops to get digital displays

Austin bus stops are about to move into the 21st century. Capital Metro has teamed up with Connectpoint to provide solar-powered, real-time digital information displays at selected high-volume bus stops throughout the city. The interactive, eco-friendly devices feature crisp, ePaper displays that are easy on the eyes. In a press release, Connectpoint CEO Rick Wood said, “We are elated to provide Capital Metro with environmental, dynamic, transit solutions. With its network redesign and service changes, and now deployments in the digital space, Capital Metro continues to transform the lives of Central Texans by implementing a sustainable passenger information network.”


Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Five ways to make Pleasant Valley river crossing more pleasant

Austin Transportation is collecting feedback on options to help pedestrians and bicyclists cross Lady Bird Lake at Longhorn Dam in East Austin. With the current bridge serving as a subpar north-south connection of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, public feedback so far suggests trail connectivity is a top priority for any new bike and pedestrian bridge. Having introduced the project in a public meeting in November 2018, ATD hosted its second public meeting on Monday evening at Edward Rendon Sr. Park. The public was presented with five alternatives for the new connection, all drafted by local design firm McCann Adams Studio. The five projects range in estimated cost from $10.6 to $14.5 million and each provides a shared-use connection between the south shore and the intersection at North Pleasant Valley Road and Canterbury Street. With project funding still an open question, ATD also presented several short-term safety improvements to the existing bridge with funding available from the 2016 Mobility Bond Bikeways program. The public can submit feedback on the alternatives in an online survey through July 10. Find the survey, the proposed alternatives and more information at the city’s website.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by Tai Moses

Traffic signal boxes get colorful new coats

Austin Transportation has contracted with Houston-based UP Art Studio to create the Artbox Program and bring color and design to Austin’s intersections. Four participating neighborhoods voted for a local artist to design a traffic signal box in a major intersection. As Christina Willingham, Austin Transportation’s Smart Mobility division manager, said, “Streets are not just spaces we travel through, but places woven into the fabric of communities.” With input from the communities, the artists helped each neighborhood “express its special character.” Check out the results at these four intersections:

  • Rundberg Lane at Little Walnut Creek Library, by Bydee
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, by Emily Ding
  • East Stassney Lane and Jacaranda Drive, by Niz
  • Arroyo Seco and West Koenig Lane, by Helena Martin

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 by Tai Moses

Graduates get diplomas – and voter registration cards

According to the Texas Observer, nearly two-thirds of high schools in Texas ignore a 30-year-old state law mandating that high school seniors who are 18 years old be given the opportunity to register to vote. That makes AISD’s partnership with the Travis County Tax Office even more laudable. On Graduation Night, district seniors were offered voter registration applications while they waited to walk the stage to receive their diplomas. In a record for the three-year-old program, 591 seniors from 14 schools registered to vote. Said AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz in a press release, “We are proud to offer our graduates an opportunity to continue engaging in our community after they graduate. Part of preparing students for college, career and life includes being active participants in our local community.” Travis County Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant weighed in, saying, “We are so proud of the graduates who registered to vote, of our great partnership with Austin ISD and of our volunteer deputy registrars who gave their free time to register the graduates. We know students who register and vote when they turn 18 are much more likely to become lifelong voters.”


Tuesday, June 11, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Temporary shelters to treat symptoms of city’s lack of housing

City Council passed a resolution Thursday directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to identify land and materials in coming weeks for a temporary, housing-focused shelter project to yield between 50 and 100 beds while the city is securing more beds in permanent shelters as well as more affordable and supportive housing supply. The 2019 count by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition found that the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Austin is higher than it’s been in nearly a decade and that there are now almost as many people sleeping on the streets as sleeping in shelters. Volunteers counted 1,169 individuals sleeping in shelters and another 1,086 sleeping on the streets in the early hours of Jan. 26. The city is awaiting the opening of the Salvation Army’s $12 million Rathgeber Center in East Austin later this summer to open up 212 beds to Austin’s homeless. At the same time, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless downtown is in the process of reducing its total beds from 190 to 130 by the end of the year. Thursday’s resolution directs Cronk to propose a land parcel for the pilot to Council no later than June 20.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019 by Tai Moses

Airport opens outdoor patio for passengers

Travelers passing through the Austin airport can now enjoy some fresh air and sunlight even after going through the security checkpoint. A new outdoor patio has just opened and is available to ticketed passengers who want to escape the relentless air conditioning and boarding announcements. With a view of the 9,000-foot east runway, the nonsmoking patio has covered seating and is a prime spot for watching flights arrive and depart. The patio, which is on the mezzanine level between gates 1 and 2, can be accessed via two staircases or an elevator and is open 24 hours.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019 by Tai Moses

Tovo holds Scooter Summit

We know what you’re thinking: Where can I go on a Saturday to eat tacos, drink coffee and test out some scooters? Since this is Austin, we have the answer: The 2019 Scooter Summit, sponsored by District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, with the help of the Austin Transportation Department. The event is a chance to learn a bit about scooter safety bring your own helmet. Tacos and coffee are complimentary; scooters may not be. (This event is not for kids: You have to be over 18 to ride a scooter.) Saturday, June 22, 10 a.m.-noon, Electric Drive, 111 Sandra Muraida Way.


Monday, June 10, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Distributing affordability in the decade to come

City Council approved a resolution at Thursday’s meeting setting its geographical targets for the 60,000 income-restricted units (households earning 80 percent of median family area income and below) written into the 2017 Strategic Housing Blueprint. The plan sets a goal of adding at least 135,000 new residential units to the city by 2027, with a quarter of the affordable units built within a quarter-mile of high-frequency transit. Thursday’s geographic goals lay out the location of those income-restricted units both by corridor and by Council district. City staffers predict that only 17,654 of the 60,000 units will be built along the 17 major corridors identified in the resolution. The corridors set to receive the most units are William Cannon Drive and Slaughter Lane, with Guadalupe Street and South Lamar Boulevard getting far fewer than any of the other 15 corridors. By Council district, West Austin’s districts 6 and 10 combined will get just under 30 percent of the total affordable units with districts 1 and 8 not far behind. At the other end of the spectrum, District 9, whose representative Council Member Kathie Tovo has long held is already burdened with density, shall see only 3,635 of those units while District 4, also relatively small and central, will hold only 3,105 new affordable units.


Monday, June 10, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Awards honor excellence in health care

Sen. Kirk Watson was among the honorees recognized last Thursday at the inaugural Health Leadership Awards presented by Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Watson received the Public Service Health Leader award for his work in supporting the redesign of brain health initiatives at Austin State Hospital. His 10 Goals in 10 Years plan to improve health care in the Austin area was key in building support for the creation of the school. In addition to honoring local secondary students and teachers, the awards recognized Dana Saltalamachia, a health practitioner for Integral Care, for her work in increasing HIV and AIDS treatment for the area’s homeless population. Rhonda Mudhenk, chief operations officer for Lone Star Circle of Care, received the Transformational Health Leader award for promoting collaboration in improving care across the community. Susan Dawson, executive director of the E3 Alliance educational nonprofit, received the Community Volunteer Health Leader award for helping uninsured breast cancer patients receive access to treatment.


Monday, June 10, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin housing prices continue to climb

Austin is no stranger to the top spots of national lists of major cities in recent years, but a new analysis of overheated housing markets across the country puts the Austin/Round Rock area as fourth most likely to experience a housing crisis. The report from 24/7 Wall St. found that local home prices are 62 percent higher now compared to pre-recession peaks nearly 12 years ago. In raw numbers, the report found the current median home price is $302,000, compared to $186,250 in the third quarter of 2007. Those price increases are fueled in no small part by a 32.8 percent population growth, with concerns that the local median household income of $73,800 isn’t keeping pace with housing costs. As a state, Colorado looks most prone for a crisis. Greeley, Colorado, took the survey’s top spot, followed by the Denver/Aurora/Lakewood area in second place and Fort Collins coming in third.


Monday, June 10, 2019 by Tai Moses

Two town halls to discuss needs of veterans

Service members, veterans, family members and those who work with veterans are invited to attend one of two town halls to discuss the Veteran Community Needs Assessment. The town halls are hosted by the city’s Human Resources Department, which hopes to gather community input that will aid in creation of the city’s future Veteran Resource Center. The first town hall is Tuesday, June 11, 5:30-7 p.m. at Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. The second town hall is Wednesday, June 12, 6-8 p.m. at the Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive.


Friday, June 7, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

City prepares to assess Austin’s creative class

Included in the 15 action steps in this week’s plan for the city to address sound compatibility issues was the news that there could soon be an update to 2014’s Austin Music Census, which showed the creative community is under increasing economic pressure due to affordability issues. The Economic Development Department is preparing a request for proposals for what’s being called a “music and entertainment industry assessment” that will gather data about a broader array of creative industry workers. Goals for the study include assessing the current state of Austin’s music industry, while learning more about job opportunities and experience requirements for musicians in other creative industries in Austin. The 2014 census helped to shape a number of policies contained in the Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus and other efforts to improve the economic stability of local artists and musicians.


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