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Whispers

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

All in all it’s just … another memo about the wall

An April 20 memo to the mayor and City Council from Capital Contracting Officer Rolando Fernandez shows that city staff is hard at work implementing a Council resolution that took aim at the border wall along the United States/Mexico border. Council approved the resolution in February, asking the city manager to investigate the economic impact of the proposed wall and require companies that have economic ties to the wall’s construction to disclose those ties with an eye toward using that information to make decisions. It will probably come as no surprise that a task force has been formed to explore the issue, and an initial report will be back at Council by August 7.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Local elections early voting this week

Today was the first day of early voting for the Travis County Joint General and Special Election on May 5, and a smattering of residents showed up to mark the occasion. As of press time, the unofficial tally showed a total of 392 voters, 8 of whom voted at the Harbor at Lakeway mobile voting location. There were also 870 mail ballots received, for a grand total of 1,262 voters. The last day of early voting is Tuesday, May 1. The County Clerk’s Office has sample ballots here, which cover these local races in Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Lakeway, Bee Cave, Briarcliff, Lake Travis Independent School District, and several municipal utility districts.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin art lovers go WEST

Big Medium’s annual West Austin Studio Tour is happening May 12-13 and 19-20 this year. During WEST, studios within the boundaries west of I-35, east of MoPac Expressway, south of U.S. Highway 183, and North of William Cannon open their doors from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and members of the public are invited to visit with artists and learn about their works and creative process. Various “Pit Stops” – neighborhood businesses that have pledged a percentage of their profits to the the tour – provide chances for rest and refreshment along the way, and a party at the Lawn at Seaholm on May 10 from 7 to 10 p.m. will kick the whole thing off. View the participant list on Big Medium’s website here and volunteer openings here.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

More committee talk on the way

Missing the days of City Council committee overhauls? They may be upon us once again, according to this week’s Council agenda, but discussing the changes will most likely be put off until Thursday. That’s because Mayor Steve Adler will not be at today’s work session, and we assume his request to hold off will be honored. Adler also promises to post language that more clearly articulates Council’s intent in amending the city code concerning Council committees. Our understanding is that Council is looking for a little more flexibility in committee makeup after paring back the committee system that they expanded. Needless to say, we will tune in Thursday for all of the nitty-gritty details.


Monday, April 23, 2018 by Katy McElroy

How to give feedback on CodeNEXT

It’s crunch time for CodeNEXT, the proposed rewrite of the city’s Land Development Code. The city has mailed notification postcards inviting all residents to the public hearings that represent the last stage in the process before City Council votes on adoption of the proposed code rewrite. There will be two hearings that are run jointly by the Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission followed by two Council hearings. Not sure what the dickens this is all about? The city’s CodeNEXT website and the Draft 3 Guide are great places to start. There are bike racks and free parking at all meeting locations, and all locations are served by public transit. An overview of the hearing schedule is as follows, but there is more detailed information on the postcard page:

  • Joint Land Use Commissions Meeting #1: Saturday, April 28, 10 a.m., Dove Springs Recreation Center, 5801 Ainez Drive
  • Joint Land Use Commissions Meeting #2: Tuesday, May 1, 4 p.m., Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road
  • City Council Meeting #1: Tuesday, May 29, 10 a.m., City Hall, 301 W. Second St.
  • City Council Meeting #2: Saturday, June 2, 10 a.m., City Hall, 301 W. Second St.

Monday, April 23, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

You, too, can be a registrar

Readers interested in increasing voter turnout (or potential voter turnout) in Travis County can train to be volunteer deputy registrars next week. Registrars can register people to vote and promote voter registration after a free one-hour training session at the Travis County Tax Office (5501 Airport Blvd.). No reservations are needed, and the next sessions take place on Tuesday, May 1, at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. or Saturday, May 5, at 10:30 a.m. The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 6 midterm election is Tuesday, Oct. 9.


Monday, April 23, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Parks get cash

St. David’s Foundation has announced a series of more than $1 million in grants to encourage access and health activities in Austin’s parks. In a partnership with the Austin Parks Foundation and the Trust for Public Land, the grants will pay for improvements at a variety of Austin parks locations, with individual projects coordinated through recipient nonprofits or community organizations. Among them:

  • Austin Parks Foundation will make improvements at Butler Park, Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach, Martin Neighborhood Pool and Parque Zaragoza
  • Barton Springs Conservancy will renovate the bathhouse at Barton Springs Pool
  • Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Parks Foundation will begin programming events at Republic Square Park
  • Pease District Conservancy will install equipment at Pease Park
  • Shoal Creek Conservancy will implement a connectivity plan for Shoal Creek Trail
  • Trail Foundation will install bilingual signage and maps on Butler Trail
  • Waller Creek Conservancy will create physical activity training at Palm Park
  • Keep Austin Beautiful will create recreation space at LBJ High School
  • The Trust for Public Land will implement the Health Parks Plan for Travis, Bastrop and Caldwell counties

Monday, April 23, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Red River hours to become permanent?

With a whole four days to spare, City Council will decide Thursday on a measure to make later weekend noise curfews in the Red River Cultural District a permanent feature of city code. Thursday’s agenda item comes barely ahead of the April 30 sunset of the second six-month pilot program for the district, which was created to increase the revenue of the five nightclubs in the district with outdoor stages. Merchants in the area began campaigning for the later hours in late 2016 because existing noise curfews there prevented those businesses from capitalizing on the tendencies of weekend bargoers to drink late into the night, i.e., after concerts had to be completed. The first pilot program went into effect last spring and was extended in the fall, and studies throughout the 12 months have shown increases in revenue, employee pay, and money and bookings made by local musicians. It is expected that making the later noise limits permanent will have an even greater long-term effect for local music because clubs will be able to program their calendars several months ahead with the later hours in mind. Noise studies performed by the city’s Music and Entertainment Division found no measurable increase in noise disturbances or crime increase relevant to later hours. The Austin Music Commission voted this month to recommend Council make the later noise curfews permanent.


Friday, April 20, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Share your Central Texas housing story

The city is conducting a fair housing assessment to find out residents’ thoughts about and priorities for housing in the Central Texas region. Questions explore factors such as how people feel about access to schools and employment as well as challenges or discrimination they’ve faced when procuring housing. The survey should take around 15 minutes, and upon completion, participants can enter to win a $100 Visa gift card. Find out more information about the survey at www.centraltexasfairhousing.org, or follow these links to dive in:

English: https://www.research.net/r/CentralTXAI

Español: https://es.research.net/r/CentralTXs

中文:https://www.research.net/r/CentralTXc

Tiếng Việt: https://www.research.net/r/CentralTXv

한국어: https://ko.research.net/r/CentralTXk

عربى: https://www.research.net/r/CentralTXa

The survey will be available until May 31. Contact Jen Garner at jgarner@bbcresearch.com or 800-748-3222 ext. 236 to request an alternative format, or contact Matthew Ramirez at matthew.ramirez@austintexas.gov with questions about the study.


Friday, April 20, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Shoal Creek Restoration project complete

Begun in 2014, the Shoal Creek Restoration (15th-18th Streets) project is now finished. Everyone is invited to Pease Park at 10:30 a.m. today to celebrate the completion along with the partner organizations who made the project happen and special guest Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.


Friday, April 20, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Precourt legal battles continue in Ohio

Precourt Sports Ventures, owner of the Columbus Crew soccer club that is seeking to relocate to Austin from Ohio, is mounting a legal battle to throw out a lawsuit intended to prevent the team from moving. The company and Major League Soccer have teamed up to file a motion to throw out a lawsuit based on Ohio’s so-called “Art Modell Law” that was created in 1996 to prevent teams from abruptly moving if they’ve utilized tax-supported facilities. The motion claims the law, which requires six months’ notice of intention to move unless approved by state and local governments and requires interested buyers be given a chance to preserve the team, is unconstitutional. The lawsuit filed by the city of Columbus and state of Ohio in March seeks a permanent injunction that would prevent the team from moving while the lawsuit plays out. PSV had hoped the team would play its 2019 season in a temporary facility in Austin, and it is awaiting a city study on possibly using the city-owned McKalla Place parcel in North Central Austin as the site for a permanent 20,000-seat stadium.


Thursday, April 19, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Blockchain initiative moves forward

The city’s push to utilize blockchain technology as a way to assist the local homeless population takes its next step today with the new MyPass Initiative. As an incentive to encourage homeless residents to provide their vital personal information for storage on a blockchain platform, the city and other community organizations created a pop-up resource clinic at Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center, on Gonzales Street near Pedernales Street in East Austin. Representatives from Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, the city’s Innovation Office and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services will be on hand to assist visitors and explain the process, which is intended to make it easier to compile and track health and other information so people have better access to housing, health, employment and other resources for the homeless. Austin is funding the program using some of the $100,000 it received as one of 35 Champion Cities in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2018 Mayors Challenge to create new solutions for civic problems. One grand-prize winner will receive $5 million in October, with four runner-up cities receiving $1 million each, to fully develop their solutions.


Thursday, April 19, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Office of Sustainability: ‘Green business is good business’

Many businesses are realizing that supporting a healthy community and promoting green initiatives, such as reducing waste and conserving water and energy, is beneficial not just for the environment but also for reducing costs and attracting like-minded customers. Every year, Austin Green Business Leaders recognizes those businesses, large and small, in the local community who are leading the pack in their commitment to sustainability. This year, just in time for Earth Day, the group is welcoming 33 businesses to join its ranks, bringing the total membership of the group up to 228. View the city’s press release for a complete list of the new members.


Thursday, April 19, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Ball leaves Austin Energy for El Paso Electric

Elaina Ball, who served as Austin Energy’s deputy general manager and chief operating officer starting in October 2016, has become chief administrative officer for El Paso Electric. With Ball’s departure, AE General Manager Jackie Sargent appointed Mark Dombroski as acting chief operating officer. Dombroski has been serving as deputy general manager and chief financial and risk officer at AE. El Paso Electric, an investor-owned utility, has been in business since 1901. According to the company’s website, El Paso Electric serves about 417,000 customers spread out over a 10,000-square-mile area from Van Horn, Texas, to Hatch, New Mexico. Austin Energy has about 448,000 customers, but they are confined to a much smaller geographic area. “It was really tough to leave Jackie and the Austin Energy team, but this is going to move me closer to family and will give me new experience,” Ball told the Austin Monitor. She said she is “thrilled and excited” to be in her new job, which started this week, although she will miss Austin. Before arriving at Austin Energy in 2012, Ball worked at CPS Energy in San Antonio.


Thursday, April 19, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Smarter and smarter

The Austin Tech Alliance and Capital Factory have partnered to launch a competition for startup companies interested in improving city operations in areas such as service delivery, transportation, clean energy and affordable housing. Competing companies will vie for a $100,000 investment and assistance launching in Austin, with the winner announced at the pitch and funding day on July 27. Any tech or consumer-focused startup focused on creating a smart city can apply on AngelList and will be judged based on company mission, approach for changing the city, display of abilities, and resourcefulness and ability to learn from mistakes. The winning company will receive the full investment amount, access to “A-list” entrepreneur advisers from Texas, one year of unlimited space at Capital Factory and access to its mentor network, legal company formation services, and an assortment of complimentary resources from companies affiliated with Capital Factory.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Health department shares Travis County opioid overdose statistics

Travis County residents have not escaped the opioid epidemic that is ravaging the United States, and  Austin Public Health broke down the numbers this month in an article published in the Travis County Medical Society Journal. The article shares that the total amount of drug-related deaths has been rising since 2006, including deaths from opioid overdoses. From 2006 to 2016, 1,398 residents died from drug overdoses in general, which works out to an average of 127 a year, and 42 percent of those deaths were due to opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl. Males have an opioid overdose death rate that is twice that of females, the article says, and the data show the death rate of whites is more than twice that of African-Americans and two and a half times that of Latinos. While overdoses happen from both prescription and illegal opioids in Travis County, the article does point out that the county’s prescription rate of 51.2 per 100 persons is much lower than the national and state rates of 66.5 and 57.6, respectively. “Based on the data, Austin Public Health recommends expanding access to evidence-based substance abuse treatment, expanding access and use of naloxone, a safe antidote to reverse opioid overdoses, and improving prescription drug monitoring to improve patient safety and prevent abuse,” said Dr. Philip Huang, medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Should Austin continue to have old clothes picked up curbside?

After a tumultuous debate last year as to whether or not Simple Recycling would continue their curbside pickup of textiles, Austin Resource Recovery is now considering extending their contract past next year. Although the Zero Waste Advisory Commission did not make any recommendations at its April 11 meeting, it asked Austin Resource Recovery to continue the discussion at a future meeting. Commissioner Kaiba White noted that the contract was important because “obviously there are a lot of people who are not going to take their items to be donated, sadly.”

In 2017, there were significant concerns from local nonprofits that this recycling service would divert clothing donations from being taken to nonprofit centers. Although Austin Resource Recovery requested data on the impacts nonprofits have seen since Simple Recycling began operating in December 2016, it never received any. Despite the lack of information from the charities, however, in order to allow the company to continue with as little adverse effect as possible to local donation centers, the original contract was amended to include a provision that states that 40 percent of materials collected by Simple Recycling will be sold to local markets by June 2018.

Austin Resource Recovery shows that 14 percent of its customers are currently participating in the program and 590,273 pounds of materials have been collected since December 2016. Simple Recycling does not pick up at multifamily units. Recently, Simple Recycling submitted data to Austin Resource Recovery indicating that Austin ranked 112 out of 113 cities around the country with the service in terms of pounds of recycled textiles per households. “I’m hoping the reason is we’re 112 is because people are still utilizing Salvation Army (and) Goodwill,” noted Chair Gerry Acuna.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Commissioners Court recognizes firefighters after close call

Two Travis County first responders owe their lives to a little help from above. The first responders from Emergency Services District 1 were part of the wider response effort to a wildfire last week in the northwestern section of the county. According to ESD 1 Fire Chief Donnie Norman, both firefighters found themselves trapped in a pocket of the burning brush. Norman said a STAR Flight crew was able to locate the pair and lead them out to safety. “ESD 1 and all of Travis County owes a debt of gratitude to STAR Flight. Without their life-saving services, ESD 1 would be mourning the loss of two firefighters,” Norman said. Before digging into its regular voting session agenda on Tuesday, the Commissioners Court took time to recognize the efforts of the STAR Flight crew and the other first responders who successfully extinguished the wildfire.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Where is the renewable energy study?

In August 2017, City Council passed Resolution 61, which requires Austin Energy to push to have 65 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2027. This resolution contained an amendment by Council Member Leslie Pool that gave Austin Energy a parallel goal to create models that would show what 75 and 80 percent renewable energy by 2027 would require and what achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 would look like. These studies are on the calendar to be finished by September 2019. So far, none of the studies have commenced.

In response to the slow start, members of 350 Austin showed up to the April 16 Electric Utility Commission meeting to remind the commissioners that there was no reason to wait to start the study. Beki Halpin, an Austin resident, also came to the commission to say that “Having a well-thought-out study means we would need to start now.” She came bearing a goodie bag full of symbolic gifts. When Commissioner Stefan Wray asked hopefully if it was snacks, she had to disappoint him to explain that each gift was a physical object to represent the complexity of the situation. “That’s what your gift represents. (The situation) is not naughty, but k-n-o-t-t-y.”

Travis Duncan, a mayoral candidate for the 2018 election, also arrived to show his support for beginning the study now – his platform focuses on providing access to free, equitable energy for all Austinites. When looking through Austin Energy’s budget, he found there was $189 million spent toward the Fayette coal plant. “Why are we investing a single penny in that plant given that we’re going to close it in the near future,” he said. Instead, he suggested repurposing the funds to alleviate some of the financial risk associated with building more solar plants in the city to provide energy locally. “I don’t think we necessarily need a study to know what we need to do,” he said.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Metz-Sánchez-Zavala project seeks input

The 2017 Austin Independent School District bond provided funding for the Metz-Sánchez-Zavala Modernization Project, which aims to construct a single, modernized elementary school at the Metz, Sánchez or Zavala campus. Work on the project has been in progress since November 2017 by the community planning team. Families with an interest in the project are invited to a meeting on Tuesday, April 17, 6-7:30 p.m., at Martin Middle School, to hear an update from the planning team, receive answers to any questions, and provide public comment on the project. Dinner will be provided, as well as child care and Spanish interpretation. Transportation from Metz, Sánchez or Zavala will be available at approximately 5 and 5:30 p.m. Call the Austin ISD Community Engagement office at 512-414-9761 for more information.


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