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Whispers

Thursday, May 25, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Airport braces for potentially record-breaking summer

Summer being a busy time at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is nothing new. Predictably, in the coming months, terminals will be swarmed with tourists, vacationing families and Europe-bound college students lugging around travel packs. According to the airport, this year is likely to be even more crowded than usual. Traffic is already up 6.5 percent from last year, which is an indication the rest of the season will be unusually busy. To keep things running as smoothly as possible, the airport recommends budgeting extra time for ticketing and security checks. During peak times (like the very early morning), travelers should arrive at the terminal at least two hours before their departure time. Find more travel tips, as well as information on new flights, here.


Thursday, May 25, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

AISD program feeds kids in need through summer

The Austin Independent School District is bringing free meals to children at more than 50 campuses this year as part of the Summer Food Service Program. Though the program will be offered at schools where at least 50 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, all kids 18 and under – no matter their economic status – can show up for a meal. There’s no registration paperwork or ID card necessary. Visit the district’s website for a full list of participating schools. Run dates vary, but the program will run from early June until early August, at some campuses.


Thursday, May 25, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Hot Summer Nights, coming soon

Attentive listeners to the Austin Monitor‘s weekly radio show on KOOP FM (which is everyone reading this, riiiiiiiight?) got the drop early last week on a big summer blowout planned by the music venues in Austin’s Red River Cultural District. Details at the time were still being sussed out, but Stubb’s Bar-B-Que general manager Ryan Garrett said on the show that the districtwide festival was planned as the latest event to strengthen the recently politically active group of businesses that are also in the crosshairs of development pressure from every direction. Well, the cat is mostly out of the bag now thanks to an official announcement of the name – Hot Summer Nights – and the dates, July 13-16. The five days of free concerts at (deep breath) Barracuda, Beerland, Cheer Up Charlies, Elysium, Empire Control Room & Garage, Mohawk, Side Bar, Sidewinder, Stubb’s, Swan Dive and Waller Ballroom make the event sort of a summer counterpart to January’s Free Week, where clubs throughout the same district line up stacked bills with no cover to draw business during the post-holiday doldrums. Another factor that led to the festival’s creation is the just-underway pilot program to give later sound curfews to the outdoor venues in the area, which is intended to generate more alcohol sales revenue on busy weekend hours.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

AISD trustee appointment date will stay the same

Arguing that the empty Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees seat should be filled as quickly as possible to weigh in on important decisions like the upcoming bond election, Trustee Jayme Mathias suggested that the board appoint a District 6 trustee sooner than the current deadline of June 12. “We are also kicking off graduations next week,” Mathias said at Monday’s board meeting. “It would seem to be a tremendous gift for those school communities (to have their district trustee).” The board is scheduled to interview Alejandro Delgado, Geronimo Rodriguez Jr. and Glen Shield on May 30. Trustee Ann Teich disagreed with the suggestion, saying that it would be inappropriate to deny the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which had scheduled a candidate forum for June 1, a chance to interview the prospective trustees. “I would like to defer to that community’s wishes, and I would like to respect those wishes,” she said. After discussion, no motion was made, and so the calendar will remain as is.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Adler rallies for mental health care

Wondering what Mayor Steve Adler does on a City Council-meeting-less week? Well, it’s lots of things. Today, for example, Adler is joining mayors nationwide to recognize “the National Mayors’ Mental Health Day of Action,” which is an event intended to “raise awareness and spur action in support of better mental health treatment and access,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office. That statement continues, “Under the Affordable Care Act, mental health coverage is an essential benefit for the first time. Tomorrow, Mayors are calling on Congress to protect this progress. The repeal of the ACA, as currently proposed, will negatively impact individuals with mental health issues who will lose coverage and benefits. … Mayor Adler believes that our community is stronger when everyone has access to the tools they need to be healthy.”

This whisper has been corrected to note that Adler is speaking today, not tomorrow, as originally reported.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Airport to help Keep Austin Fed

Rather than sending unsold, packaged food to the landfill, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport now funnels those items into a Food Rescue Program that distributes them to people in need. The program started in March, and has so far diverted 3,500 products including sandwiches, salads and snack boxes. It’s the result of a collaboration between the airport, the businesses that inhabit it and local nonprofit Keep Austin Fed, which connects surplus food with the hungriest in our community. “While working on the composting and recycling initiatives, we realized there was a perfect opportunity to implement a food rescue program,” said B.J. Carpenter, the airport’s sustainability program coordinator. “As part of our overall waste program and sustainability goals, we look for new ways to reduce waste and keep things out of the landfill.”


Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Capital Metro announces Memorial Day schedule

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will run on a modified, Sunday-level schedule to observe Memorial Day on Monday, May 29. That means MetroRail, UT Shuttle and E-Bus service will all be suspended for the day. Capital Metro offices, as well as the Transit Store, will also be closed. Those in need of assistance can still call the Customer Service GO Line at 512-474-1200 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The agency also recommends travelers use the online trip planner for additional help. Finally, all MetroAccess subscription trips will be canceled for that day, though those who need to can call 512-852-7272 to reschedule them.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Opponents start to line up against Lamar Smith

Democrats are hoping 2018 will be the year they can finally defeat one of Congress’ most persistent climate change deniers, Congressman Lamar Smith, who represents District 21, which includes parts of Austin and San Antonio as well as part of the Hill Country. Entrepreneur and engineer Joseph Kopser is set to announce his candidacy Tuesday night after 6 p.m. at the Broken Spoke, 3201 S. Lamar Blvd. Kopser promises on his website, “to help move this country forward, which means supporting science and business while taking climate change seriously.” He served for 20 years in the U.S. Army and is currently president of Grayline. He is also a founder and former CEO of RideScout. Elliott McFadden, a well-known name in Austin political circles, has also indicated that he will be running for Smith’s seat. He has a list of well-known supporters from Austin, including Council members Leslie Pool and Pio Renteria and former Council members Bill Spelman, Jackie Goodman and Jennifer Kim. McFadden, who has served as a political consultant to numerous public officials, has most recently been the executive director of the bike-sharing company Austin B-cycle. McFadden plans to announce on June 5. A third likely candidate is Derrick Crowe. He is a founder and former co-owner of Mothership Books and Games and has the most experience in Washington. According to his website, Crowe has worked for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm and Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state. He has also worked for a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The Austin Monitor has heard that other Democrats are also considering taking on Smith. Please feel free to email us with their names.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

New sculpture installed at Waller Delta

Two sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will be unveiled next month at a public opening and family day. The free event, to be held on Saturday, June 3, at the Waller Delta, 74 Trinity St., is hosted by the Contemporary Austin museum and Waller Creek Conservancy as part of the Museum Without Walls program – an effort to engage the community with art outside the traditional museum facility. Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles (which represent freedom and status) will be on display near the boathouse. Open to families, the event will include free refreshments and art activities. Iron Tree Trunk, another Weiwei piece, can be found at the Contemporary Austin’s Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria, 3806 W. 35th St. Admission there will also be free.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Meet the new consultant…

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is selecting a familiar firm to be its latest general planning consultant. On Monday, the board of directors voted 7-0 with Council Member Delia Garza absent to approve a contract with HNTB worth $3.5 million over three years, with two optional one-year extensions worth $1 million each. The firm will provide planning and engineering services for Capital Metro on a variety of initiatives including Project Connect and Connections 2025. Astute readers will recognize HNTB as the lead consultant on the original iteration of Project Connect that delivered the doomed urban rail proposal of 2014.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Social Innovation gets new east side home

Austin nonprofit groups, social enterprises and capital providers have a bit of a welcome mat in East Austin with the announcement of a campus that is intended to become a home for the city’s social innovation ecosystem. The Center for Social Innovation, a 50,000-square-foot complex located within the Springdale General development on Springdale Road near Airport Boulevard, is seeking tenants that can potentially collaborate and partner on new projects together, utilizing 10,000 of common co-working space located on-site. The center is one of several nonprofit, socially focused efforts launched by Notley Ventures, a venture capital fund co-founded by former BuildASign.com CEO Dan Graham. Available spaces range from a single desk to an entire stand-alone building with 10,000 square feet of space. “I really think that in 10 years what we’ll have is an entrepreneurial area, or district, that’s centered in East Austin as a hub for socially-minded businesses in every stage of development,” Graham said in a prepared statement. “I really believe that with its booming tech industry, growing population and the giving nature of its residents, Austin is a well-positioned city to leverage its capital, wealth of nonprofits and the entrepreneurial nature of the city to become a global leader in the field of social innovation.”


Monday, May 22, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Anti-linkage fee bill wins final passage

House Bill 1449, which prohibits cities, such as Austin, from enacting “linkage fees” on builders to finance affordable housing, won final passage in the Texas House of Representatives on Saturday. The Texas Senate approved the bill with some minor amendments on Thursday, and the House adopted those amendments on Saturday. The bill leaves intact Austin’s current density bonus program, which allows builders to pay a fee to the political subdivision in exchange for exceeding standard height and square footage regulations. Under the bill, cities would still be able to exchange greater density on commercial and multifamily structures for affordable housing money, but they may not be able to adopt any new affordable housing fees. Builders came out in force to testify in favor of the bill by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton). Austin Sen. Kirk Watson and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), who represents part of Austin, voted against the bill in the Senate. When the bill came through the House initially, all of Austin’s Democratic representatives voted against it, but Austin Republican Rep. Paul Workman voted in favor. When the bill came back to the House on Saturday, only state Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Eddie Rodriguez voted no. State Rep. Dawnna Dukes was absent, but state Reps. Donna Howard and Celia Israel agreed to the amendments. The bill will next go to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

This whisper has been corrected. It originally stated that the bill concerns impact fees when, in fact, it would affect cities’ ability to impose linkage fees.


Monday, May 22, 2017 by Jack Craver

Staff floats new budget reserve policy

City Council may want to adopt a new budget reserve policy, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told Council members during a Wednesday work session. The current policy states that Council should put aside money equaling 6 percent of its General Fund requirements into its Emergency Reserve Fund, which is intended for “unanticipated or extraordinary needs of an emergency nature,” such as a natural disaster. It similarly states that Council should set aside the same amount of money for the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund, which is intended to provide the city a cushion in years when tax receipts are lower than usual due to an economic downturn. The combined 12 percent reserves are recommended, but not mandated, noted Van Eenoo. It would be wise, he suggested, for Council to put aside even more in times of economic prosperity. The policy revision language that staff is submitting for Council’s consideration during the upcoming budget will call for the city to put aside 15 percent in reserves in years in which sales tax revenue grows by more than 5 percent.


Monday, May 22, 2017 by Jack Craver

Staff warns Council that certain initiatives will be tough to fund

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told City Council members that the city likely does not have the money to fund a number of initiatives that Council has stated it hopes to implement in the near future. Following through on its goals of hiring more police officers, setting up a community policing initiative, putting more money toward social service contracts and setting aside money for the Housing Trust Fund will cost roughly $20 million. And that’s despite the fact that the city is projected to fall about $2 million short of being able to fund its existing programs. Van Eenoo urged Council to offer guidance on which initiatives it would like to prioritize as staff crafts its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18.


Monday, May 22, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Kealing School Park wins big

The Kealing School Park improvement project will get a $20,000 boost from the “Meet Me at the Park” campaign, the city announced last week. Kealing is just one of 16 projects across the country chosen to receive the grants, which are sponsored by the National Recreation and Park Association and the Walt Disney Company. In celebration of Earth Month in April, the group asked the public to weigh in on which revitalization proposals should get a jump-start. The Kealing project will take stormwater currently running toward a playground and, according to a Friday press release, “steer it into a pollinator meadow to encourage infiltration and provide a nearby nature play opportunity.” The play area will also be expanded to include an outdoor classroom and amphitheater. Acting Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley noted the positive effects parks have on children and adults. “Providing people of all ages, and in all areas of the city, nature-based programs and a hands-on chance to explore nature, encourages appreciation and environmental stewardship – both of which are imperative to the future of our green spaces,” she said. Houston is the other Texas city to secure one of the grants.


Friday, May 19, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

District Attorney’s office looking out for undocumented crime victims

Yesterday, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore released a statement announcing that her office would begin to send out letters to victims and witnesses in criminal cases who are in danger of being deported due to their immigration status. The office hopes it will help victims and witnesses continue to appear and cooperate. In the brief statement, Moore said the letters tell immigration officials that the person in question is a victim or witness in a pending criminal case, and requests that they notify the office in the case that the witness is caught up in deportation proceedings. “The office will follow a strict internal protocol to maintain a database of issued letters and security measures to verify the identity of the person presenting the letter to law enforcement,” Moore said in the statement.


Friday, May 19, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Council OKs $3.5 million for firefighter OT

After numerous arguments on the subject, City Council finally approved transferring $3.5 million from the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund into the General Fund in order to pay for the cost of firefighters’ overtime Thursday. The high number of vacancies in the department coupled with a longtime commitment to make sure that there are four firefighters on each fire truck and the difficulties in recruiting because of a U.S. Justice Department consent decree have resulted in more overtime pay than expected. Not paying the firefighters through the end of the current fiscal year was never an option. But Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Ora Houston, Alison Alter and Ellen Troxclair voted no. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo told the Austin Monitor, “If we didn’t fund it the only thing that could happen at this point in time is for the Fire Department to go over budget. The amount of time it would take to retrain 900 firefighters to operate under a different model – that can’t be done this year. So, there was no option this year. The Council members that supported this vote pretty much said they had reservations but there’s no other options to us at this point in time.” Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, provided this written analysis to Council and gave them the same explanation at the Council meeting: “To fully understand the effect that rising staff vacancies have on the overall AFD budget, we need to calculate the difference between the increasing overtime costs and the decreasing salary and benefit costs. In other words; when vacancies go up, OT goes up but salary and benefits go down.” For example, he said, an optimally staffed fire department operations division would cost more than $116 million. “In 2016 at 106 vacancies, AFD total costs were $4.3 million over optimal and in 2017 at 154 vacancies the total cost over optimal is $6.1 million,” Nicks said.


Friday, May 19, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

City hosts Grove at Shoal Creek parks meeting

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is working with the developers of the Grove at Shoal Creek, the West Austin planned unit development passed in December, to create the Public Parks Master Plan for the site. Certain community benefits are required in exchange for the planned unit development zoning, and the developer has pledged to set aside around 20 acres of parkland on the property. The public – which has more than enough experience engaging the city and developer on the subject – can learn more about the 16.25-acre Signature Park and other proposed amenities at the final community input meeting on May 30. It will be held at Bryker Woods Elementary School, 3309 Kerbey Lane, beginning at 7 p.m. Those in attendance can give feedback on a draft plan, which will then need approval from the director of the Parks and Recreation Department.


Friday, May 19, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

That was quick!

As we noted yesterday, the Chestnut Splash Pad was briefly closed due to a mechanical problem on Wednesday, just days after it reopened for the summer. Thankfully, today there is better news to report. As of Thursday, the splash pad was fully operational and running on its regular, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. schedule. Learn more about pool and splash pad schedules on the city’s website.


Thursday, May 18, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Casar pens op-ed on Senate Bill 4

Yesterday, The New York Times published an opinion piece by City Council Member Greg Casar on Texas’ freshly signed Senate Bill 4 — the “sanctuary cities” law. In the piece, Casar details his recent arrest protesting the bill and the effect the new law will have on immigrant communities across Texas, whose local jurisdictions are now bound to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Casar also noted that the law seeks to punish local officials who don’t follow those requests. “The assaults on our community that this law encourages are unacceptable. That’s why, alongside clergy members and community leaders, I participated in last week’s sit-in to send a message to Mr. Abbott,” Casar wrote. He also noted the resolution he sponsored that will come before Council today directing the city manager to look into legal action in response to the law.


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