Whispers

Friday, January 22, 2021 by Jo Clifton

New group fights to protect APD changes

A coalition of groups favoring City Council’s decision to reallocate money from the Austin Police Department budget is gathering signatures on a petition to show support for actions such as delaying police cadet classes and eliminating vacant police officer positions. The coalition, operating under the name Austin Is Safer When, is also planning to oppose reinstatement of the ordinance prohibiting camping in public places. Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition told the Austin Monitor the coalition plans to campaign against the Save Austin Now effort. Save Austin Now turned in more than 20,000 signatures to City Clerk Jannette Goodall this week to place the issue on the May ballot. Groups opposing that effort include the Texas Fair Defense Project, Austin Justice Coalition, Just Liberty, Texas Appleseed, the Survivor Justice Project, the Workers Defense Project and Measure, working under the auspices of the Action Network to defend decisions made by Council last summer under the umbrella of Reimagining Public Safety. According to the Austin Is Safer When website, “I know that Austin is already one of the safest cities in America, but #AustinIsSaferWhen we respect all our communities and address each crisis with an appropriate solution. I know that, despite persistent misinformation, Austin didn’t cut $150 million from the budget or layoff officers. The Austin City Council launched a #ReimagineATX public safety process and took a good first step by moving $21 million from the police budget to fund alternative first responders and services for people in need. If city officials hold to their commitments, #ReimagineATX will make us even safer with each step forward.”


Friday, January 22, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Redistricting panel gets first members this weekend

This Saturday, Austin will be one step closer to its new City Council districts. This is the first time the city’s districts have been changed since they were established by the 2012 City Charter amendment that created single-member districts. City Auditor Corrie Stokes will conduct a random drawing to select the first eight members of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Stokes will be selecting from a pool of 60 determined by a (‘nother randomly selected) three-member Applicant Review Panel. The remaining six members of the redistricting commission will be selected by the eight commissioners established Saturday. A list of the possible members, the demographic breakdown of applicants and all sorts of other information can be found at redistrictatx.org. Saturday’s drawing can be viewed on ATXN or Facebook Live.


Friday, January 22, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Chop chopped

The saga of the Morrow Pork Chop has officially come to an end. On Thursday, the city demolished the chop, which has stood in the way of traffic from east of Lamar on Morrow for three decades and was a source of neighborhood tension almost as long. Originally, the traffic-calming device was installed during construction of U.S. Highway 183 to deter people from cutting through the neighborhood in an effort to avoid the construction. When it remained in place, however, some saw it as physical confirmation of the economic segregation between neighborhoods. This reading was particularly apt in that, while the pork chop prevented traffic coming from the east, it did not similarly impede traffic from the west. A press release from District 4 Council Member Greg Casar celebrated the demise of the chop. “It’s time that our city be connected from east to west,” said Casar. “This barrier has served as a symbol of a more segregated past. Even though this is just a piece of concrete, demolishing it sends a message that Austin can be committed to being more inclusive moving forward.”


Friday, January 22, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Name change unlikely for airport advisers

The City Council Audit and Finance Committee decided at Wednesday’s meeting not to recommend a name change for the city’s Airport Advisory Commission on the recommendation of city staffers. The commission had asked to change the group’s name to Austin Airport Advisory Board, but City Clerk Jannette Goodall told committee members that changing the name in a multitude of city documents would be a considerable amount of work and she could not recommend it. She did, however, recommend some other changes to the ordinance governing the commission’s duties. Commission Chair Eugene Sepulveda appeared before the committee at its virtual meeting to explain the request. He said when commissioners attend national meetings of airport advisory boards, people who serve in that capacity from other cities question whether Austin’s airport commissioners are actually peers. Council Member Kathie Tovo said she didn’t know commissioners were attending such meetings and listed a number of other cities that have airport advisory commissions, including San Francisco. Sepulveda later told the Austin Monitor that the important part of the commission’s request was for changes in the bylaws because the group is operating on outdated language. “What we most wanted to do was update and have Council consensus about what we see as our jobs,” he said. Council Member Alison Alter, who chairs the committee, said Austin uses the word “board” to describe sovereign bodies, such as the Board of Adjustment, and said she would oppose changing the name. The committee voted unanimously to send the requests to the full Council without a recommendation.


Thursday, January 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

ACS patients added to Covid dashboard

Austin Public Health’s Covid-19 surveillance dashboard has been modified to display daily updates on the number of patients admitted to the alternate care site established at the Austin Convention Center. According to a news release from APH, “Patients currently admitted to the ACS are also included in the total number hospitalized and the daily number of admissions. Similar to patients admitted to the ICU and those on a ventilator, ACS patients will be a subset of the total population that is hospitalized. Patients arriving at the ACS will be counted as discharged from a hospital, which will have little impact on our daily admission numbers.” The ACS is intended for Covid-19 patients who require a “lower level of care.” Very sick patients are still being cared for at area hospitals. The dashboard is updated each day at 6 p.m.


Thursday, January 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

City begins second phase of MACC makeover

The Parks and Recreation Department is starting the next phase of the expansion plan for the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The funding includes “general renovations to the existing building, as well as building out the original crescent design to provide additional amenities. Phase 2 also addresses numerous site improvements, most notably the Gran Entrada, which provides a park-like entry from Rainey Street to the ESB-MACC.” The project team is reaching out to the community in a bid for feedback “to identify the most pressing needs that can be achieved with the available funds.” Leave your two cents on the SpeakUp Austin ESB-MACC page through Feb. 7. Check out the project website for more details about the makeover and the design process.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Save Austin Now files anti-camping petitions

Save Austin Now, the group collecting signatures to put a camping ban on the May ballot, announced Tuesday that it had collected more than 30,000 signed petitions and submitted more than 24,000 valid signatures to City Clerk Jannette Goodall. Petitioners need at least 20,000 valid signatures in order to place the item on the May ballot. According to a news release from the group, City Council has a Feb. 12 deadline to approve the ballot language. The group is seeking to reinstate city ordinances that make it a misdemeanor to sit, lie down or camp in downtown Austin or the UT area. It also would ban panhandling citywide from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In July, the group, led by Travis County Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, turned in what it thought was a sufficient number of signatures to get the item on the November ballot. However, Goodall said there were not enough valid signatures. The group has since filed suit over the matter. In addition to the Save Austin Now petition, the clerk’s office is counting signatures on petitions from Austinites for Progressive Reform. That group is seeking a May ballot item to replace Austin’s current Council-city manager form of government with a strong-mayor form of government, among other things.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021 by Tai Moses

Webinar unveils TCM redesign

Several city departments, outside agencies and design professionals have been working with Austin Transportation staff for the last couple of years on updates to the city’s Transportation Criteria Manual. The TCM, as it’s known, is an important document that “defines the rules, requirements and technical guidelines for building mobility infrastructure in Austin.” At the initial public comment period in November/December 2020, staffers received over 1,200 public comments on a draft of the TCM. They are now working on incorporating some of that public feedback into the next draft. Interested Austinites may attend a public webinar where a panel of city experts will discuss the redesign process and what’s next for the TCM. Thursday, Jan. 28, noon-1 p.m. Register in advance or watch the livestream on Facebook.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021 by Tai Moses

Join the community conversation

If you haven’t had a chance to add your two cents to the ongoing city conversation known as reimagining public safety, there are still many ways to participate. Share your thoughts on police reform in Austin this Saturday, Jan. 23, from 11 a.m-1 p.m. at a public meeting open to all. RSVP here.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021 by Tai Moses

Explore fungi with BCP

The last installment in Balcones Canyonlands Preserve’s Forest Restoration Series delves into the fascinating world of fungi and the critical role these organisms play in keeping natural systems in balance. This exploratory class led by Louis San Miguel “will cover what fungi are, their classifications, and how we can use them in our restoration efforts.” Monday, Jan. 25, 6-7:30 p.m. Register in advance here. Catch up on past episodes of BCP’s Forest Restoration Series on YouTube.


Friday, January 15, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Stokes to draw names for redistricting commission

Austin City Auditor Corrie Stokes will conduct a random drawing at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Jan. 23 to select the first eight members of the city’s new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. The drawing will be livestreamed on various devices, including Spectrum Cable channel 6 and Facebook. Stokes conducted a random drawing last October to select the three-member Applicant Review Panel – Abigael McClean, William Cooper and James Christianson – whose job it was to select the 60 most qualified applicants for the redistricting commission. Stokes said in a prepared statement, “I commend the excellent work of the Applicant Review Panel. Not only did they select a list of applicants that represent the diversity of Austin, but they also provided an equal representation from each of the city’s 10 Council districts.” Before the random drawing, Stokes will send a list of applicants to Mayor Steve Adler and City Council and give each Council member the opportunity to strike up to one person from the list. Stokes will select the first eight members of the commission and those commissioners will select the remaining six members for a total of 14. It will be their job to redraw the boundaries of the 10 current Council districts. They are expected to finish the job by the end of November so the districts are in place for an election in November 2022. All of this assumes that there are no radical changes to the city’s system of government, such as putting a strong mayor system in place and adding an 11th district.


Friday, January 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Virtual event encourages ‘happy habits’

The whimsically named nonprofit Hi, How Are You Project is teaming up with American Campus Communities to host a multi-day online fundraiser to encourage people to establish “happy habits” that promote mental wellness in their daily lives. Tom Gimbel, co-founder of the project, said in an announcement, “It’s so exciting to see that we already have participants from more than 20 countries registered to participate in this year’s alternative online event to help raise funds for and awareness of the importance of mental health. It takes courage to break down the stigma around mental health issues, so we hope that by sharing easy-to-follow activities and helpful tips, Happy-Habit-a-Thon participants will be inspired to live healthy, balanced lives and also regularly check in on others.” Register here to participate in the Happy Habit-a-Thon, which kicks off on Friday, Jan. 22, and runs until Saturday, Jan. 31.


Friday, January 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

AUS shares traffic stats

A dispatch from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, or AUS, reveals that passenger traffic continues to remain lower than normal, thanks to the seemingly endless Covid-19 pandemic. The airport’s public information office reports, “November passenger traffic decreased by 65% compared to November 2019 with 509,400 passengers flying during the month.” Air cargo numbers, however, are doing better, “up 26.9% compared to November 2019.”


Thursday, January 14, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

APH launches vaccine pre-registration site

Austin Public Health has opened a pre-registration system designed to distribute its allocation of Covid-19 vaccines. Though the site immediately had technical issues upon launching, it will allow residents without other means of obtaining the vaccine to pre-register this week for the state allocation, which stands at 12,000 (less than 1 percent of the area’s population). Pre-registration for the vaccine is taking place for those in groups 1A (front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities) and 1B (those 65 and older or people with a chronic health condition that puts them at high risk of illness from Covid). If individuals are registered, meet the criteria and there are appointments available, they can then move on to making an appointment. If there are no appointments available or they don’t meet the requirements, they will be put on a waitlist. Appointments are required to receive the vaccine. Residents with private insurance are encouraged to call their pharmacy or primary care physician about obtaining the vaccine.


Thursday, January 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

New podcast spotlights Austin’s Black community

A new livestream video podcast puts the spotlight on the African American experience in Austin. The Pivot, hosted by T.J. Owens, who manages the Economic Development Department’s African American Cultural and Heritage Facility, will offer a “virtual conversation space” as well as highlight “the ways that local businesses, the creative community and Austin culture can be collaborative.” Each episode also features a musical performance. Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the EDD, said in a news release, “We are excited to add this new dimension in our efforts to continue to tell the story of the African American experience in Austin. These are critical times for communicating and storytelling. Adding this opportunity to tune in virtually continues our efforts to share vital information with residents and receive community feedback about city programs and services.” Owens adds, “With the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility inoperable for most of 2020 due to the pandemic, our team sought a way to still serve the community who needs it the most. The Pivot ensures we stay connected to our East Austin neighbors and provides useful information to the community as the pandemic continues.” Catch The Pivot the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 7 p.m., starting in February, on Facebook.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

ECHO cancels homelessness count

Austin’s Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness will not take place this year due to concerns about Covid-19. The PIT count is a federally required count necessary for obtaining federal funds to fight homelessness. This year, ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, asked for and received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development “due to safety concerns around the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” Instead of sending volunteers out on Jan. 28 to count the number of unsheltered people living on the streets, ECHO plans to use data from the Homeless Management Information System to estimate and measure the number of unsheltered individuals in the community. Read more about the change at AustinECHO.org.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

DSD updates enviro manual

The Development Services Department has proposed several amendments to the section of the Environmental Criteria Manual that deals with trees and the preservation of natural areas. The proposed amendments, according to the DSD, “clarify existing rules, strike content that does not further code implementation, and update department and procedural terms.” While all that may sound rather dry and dull, we say if it’s good for the trees, it’s good for everyone. As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged. You may review the proposed updates on SpeakUp Austin and provide input and suggestions or ask questions.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

City tests new bus platform design

Passengers wait to board a bus from a ZICLA platform in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Charlotte DOT)

Capital Metro is teaming up with Austin Transportation to test a new “curb extension device” intended to enhance bus riders’ experience at one of the city’s busiest bus stops on Guadalupe Street. The green-and-white striped platform, made of recycled rubber by the Spanish company ZICLA, “will enable Capital Metro buses to meet the sidewalk and curb without pulling out of a travel lane, as well as provide separation from the roadway for people walking, biking and boarding transit at the intersection,” according to the news release from ATD. The platform will be installed this month and the pilot program will run for six months as the agencies decide whether to make the change permanent.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Shannon Jones appointed interim ACM

Former Austin Public Health director and “Health Talk” host Shannon Jones will be serving as Austin’s interim assistant city manager. A news release about the appointment explains that Jones’ purview will include homelessness, some elements of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and steering the city’s work on health and environment and culture and lifelong learning in a number of city departments, including Animal Services, Austin Public Health, Austin Public Library, Austin Resource Recovery and the Parks and Recreation Department. Jones said in the statement, “They say that nobody really leaves the city of Austin. Having already spent a significant portion of my career serving the community here I am excited to return once again and contribute to the great work city employees are doing, particularly around minimizing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Jones will be filling in for former Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter, who is relocating to Baltimore to serve as the city administrator. Recruitment to permanently fill the assistant city manager slot will begin this week.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

City hosts vaccine town halls

The public health officials at Austin Public Health are hosting a town hall to answer every question you may have about the Covid vaccines. Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority; Stephanie Hayden, director of APH; Dr. Charles Bell, vice chair of Central Health Board of Managers; and Dr. Jason Reichenberg, president of Ascension Medical Group Texas, will all be on hand “to discuss Covid-19 vaccine safety, efficacy and distribution.” The town hall is this Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m, followed by a town hall in Spanish the following day, Thursday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. Watch live on ATXN or Facebook.com/AustinPublicHealth.


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