Whispers

Friday, September 17, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD needs more picnic tables

Austin Independent School District is looking for a few handy people to help build picnic tables for AISD students. Volunteers should have experience using cordless drills, screwdrivers and measuring tape. Not very handy? The district would be happy to accept donations of assembled picnic tables. The table-building event will take place Saturday, Oct. 2, from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. or 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Austin ISD Service Center, 5101 E. 51st St. Any questions? E-mail Darien Clary.


Friday, September 17, 2021 by Tai Moses

Horned lizard hatchlings go forth and (hopefully) multiply

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife

The once-common Texas horned lizard is growing so scarce it’s considered a species of concern in its home range. That means the spiky reptile isn’t endangered yet, but it could be soon, without captive breeding and reintroduction programs and stronger habitat protections. With their flat spiny bodies and prominent horns, the lizards may not look too delectable, but they actually have many predators, including birds, mammals and other, bigger reptiles. But the news isn’t all bad. Yesterday, 204 baby horned lizards – or horny toads, if you prefer – were released into the wild, thanks to the Texas Horned Lizard Coalition, a partnership between the Fort Worth Zoo, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Christian University. The 204 tiny hatchlings were tagged so researchers can track and study them. (Watch a short video of the release of the hatchlings.) Want to help? Congress is considering bipartisan legislation called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that would give biologists the resources they need to protect the horny toad and thousands of other imperiled wildlife species. Learn what you can do to help the passage of RAWA.


Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD panel encourages conversation

It’s always a good idea to examine and make peace with the past before moving forward. That’s the theme behind an Austin ISD community conversation exploring historic inequities in the school district and brainstorming ways to rebuild trust among community members. The online panel is moderated by KUT’s Claire McInerny and Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera. Saturday, Sept. 18, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Register here for the Zoom event.


Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

North Central Austin intersection gets makeover

Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike will appreciate the improvements recently completed at the North Central Austin intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and West St. Johns Avenue. The work, courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department, “eliminated dangerous left turns in and out of driveways by adding new raised medians on both approaches of North Lamar that include a connection to the existing median at the intersection of North Lamar and Airport Boulevard.” The crosswalks are newly visible after restriping, and a new shared-use path on the east side of St. Johns, a bicycle lane northbound on North Lamar and ADA-accessible curb ramps improve mobility all around. View photos of the improvements here.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Making it cool to grow veggies

A new mini-grant program launched by the Office of Sustainability targets “people in our community most negatively impacted by food-related injustice.” Twenty grants of up to $3,000 are going to groups like Black Lives Veggies, which “teaches sustainable and organic gardening skills to people of all incomes.” Larry Franklin, who founded the group, explained that his goal is to “put a spin on gardening like it’s basketball – we make it cool to grow vegetables.” Lucia Athens, the city’s chief sustainability officer, emphasized, “Food injustice in our community is real. No one in a city as wealthy as Austin should be going hungry. We are thrilled to offer support to these groups that are improving access to food in our community.” See the complete list of grant recipients here.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Need the Covid vaccine? You’re in luck!

With the Delta variant raging, Austin-Travis County remains in stage 5 – the most severe stage – of the Covid-19 risk-based guidelines, and health officials are urging unvaccinated people to get the vaccine without further delay. To make it easy, Austin Public Health, Travis County and their community partners are hosting dozens of opportunities this week. If you need the vaccine, visit the Travis County Covid-19 page and click on the button that says “Get Vaccinated.” The handy online calendar displays multiple vaccine events around the county and is frequently updated with new events, dates and times. No appointments are required and the whole thing takes less time than it does to drink a cup of coffee. Below the calendar, the “Find a Covid-19 Vaccine Near You” button takes you to the vaccine locations map. Kids aged 12-17 must have a parent or guardian present, and the Pfizer vaccine is the only one authorized for that age group.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Tahuahua takes new post

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas has chosen Geoffrey Tahuahua as its new president. In a press release, the group noted that Tahuahua is succeeding Will McAdams, who was tapped to serve on the Texas Public Utility Commission in April. For the past 10 years, Tahuahua has worked in politics and government affairs both inside and outside the Texas Capitol. Most recently he served as vice president of policy and government affairs for the Real Estate Council of Austin. Before that, he worked for the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin. “In Geoffrey Tahuahua we have chosen a proven leader with a deep understanding of the commercial and industrial construction industry here in Texas,” said GPaul Holliman, board chair of ABC of Texas. “Geoffrey will continue to elevate ABC of Texas’ presence at the Texas Capitol and build upon the success we’ve had the last several sessions.”


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

Ride the Ferris wheel, get vaccinated

Vaccination doesn’t have to be a dour, disagreeable occasion; in fact, getting the lifesaving Covid-19 vaccine should be a celebration. That’s the thinking behind this festive Del Valle community vaccination day. Austin Public Health will be providing free vaccinations – first and second doses, and thirds for the immunocompromised – to all those who are 12 and older. There will be free hot dogs as well as a Ferris wheel, carousel and kiddie rides, and the first 250 people who get a vaccine will receive a free funnel cake. There’s even live music from Javier Jara, Sonya Jevette and Jenn D’Spain. Sunday, Sept. 19, 4 to 7 p.m., Circuit of the Americas.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

Compete to drive more safely

What if you could get paid not to look at your cellphone while driving? The app Safe 2 Save and the city of Austin are hosting a monthlong competition offering motorists up to $10,000 in cash prizes – just to stay off their phones while driving. With the help of the free app, participants compete to see who can reach the highest score. At the end of a month, drivers who score 98 and above will be entered into a drawing to win cash prizes. The point of this exercise, of course, is to drive home the dangers of distracted driving. But it doesn’t hurt to win a prize either. Find more details and enter the competition here.


Monday, September 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

Grants for a greener future

The Bright Green Future grant program is accepting applications for the 2021-22 school year. Sponsored by the city’s Office of Sustainability, the educational program “was designed to recognize and support innovative projects that will inspire students to become lifelong environmental stewards.” Past Bright Green Future grants of up to $3,000 have funded wildlife and pollinator habitats, composting systems, rainwater harvesting and rain gardens, organic veggie and native plant gardens, and bicycle academies. The most successful projects “actively engage students and members of the community with hands-on involvement and learning.” Schools may also use the funds to partner with a local nonprofit on a sustainability curriculum. Apply by Oct. 1.


Friday, September 10, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Sales tax collections up, comptroller reports

Austin and numerous other Texas cities got good news Thursday from Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. According to data released by the comptroller’s office, Austin’s sales tax collections for the month of July were up nearly 28 percent over last year. Austin will collect more than $24 million in sales tax for the month, compared to less than $19 million a year ago. Overall, Austin’s sales tax revenue has gone up nearly 13 percent this year, from about $178 million to nearly $201 million. News was also good for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which saw an increase of about 28 percent for the month of July and more than 13 percent for the year so far. Overall payments this year stand at nearly $222 million as compared to about $196 million last year, the comptroller’s office reported. Local shopping mecca Sunset Valley saw an increase of more than 31 percent over July 2020, bringing in more than $579,000 as compared to last July’s sales tax collections of $440,000. Things are also looking good for Round Rock, which saw its sales tax collection jump more than 26 percent for the month, bringing in more than $9.6 million as compared to $7.6 million last year. San Marcos, on the other hand, saw its sales tax collections drop from $37 million to about $31 million year to date. Hegar reported that July sales tax collections statewide, as reported in September, were $925 million, up 20.9 percent over last year.


Friday, September 10, 2021 by Tai Moses

Austin surpasses 1,000 Covid deaths

Public health leaders have confirmed that August was the pandemic’s “most lethal month” in Austin since vaccines became available earlier this year. The announcement released Wednesday said, “Following the fastest surge Austin-Travis County has seen, the community surpassed another grim milestone of 1,000 deaths.” Interim Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup confirmed that almost all of the recent deaths were among unvaccinated people. While most of the people who died were over 60, some were as young as 20. The highly contagious Delta variant has “produced a troubling increase in hospitalizations and life support among children and young adults.” Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, pleaded again with the community to get vaccinated and to wear masks. “With more cases comes more deaths and while symptoms may be insignificant to you, not wearing a mask, not social distancing and not staying home when sick are contributing to the spread that will eventually reach a loved one who dies. We need to work together as individuals to survive as a community.” Texas Department of State Health Services statistics show that 31.7 percent of eligible Travis County residents are still not fully vaccinated.

 


Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Tai Moses

Lumbreras retiring from San Marcos

Bert Lumbreras is a familiar name around Austin City Hall. He spent more than a decade with the city, starting as assistant city manager in August 2006. In 2017 he left Austin for a job as city manager of San Marcos. But his career appears to be headed for an ending as Lumbreras announced his intent to retire yesterday, effective Jan. 31, 2022. The surprise announcement may partly be the consequence of the city of San Marcos’ bungled response to a traffic collision back in June 2020, which was caused by an off-duty police officer and resulted in the death of a woman named Jennifer Miller. San Marcos police Sgt. Ryan Hartman had an open can of beer in his vehicle at the time of the fatal crash, in which he was not injured. Miller died at the scene while her partner was airlifted to a hospital. In his announcement, Lumbreras said he’d been planning his retirement for almost two years and the decision was “strictly driven by when I was able to take this important step in my life.”


Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Austin Energy, ERCOT sued over winter storm death

A woman whose mother died during February’s winter storm has filed suit against Austin Energy and the state’s electric grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Colinda Meza is seeking $1 million in damages and claims gross negligence on the part of the utility and ERCOT. Austin Energy cut off power to its customers for as long as four days after ERCOT ordered it to do so. Both entities are likely to claim sovereign immunity in response to the lawsuit and any others that might be filed. A divided Texas Supreme Court declined to issue an opinion on whether ERCOT was immune in a case filed by a company earlier this year. That case has not yet returned to the Supreme Court.


Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Environmental Democrats reject Prop A

Members of Austin Environmental Democrats have decided on endorsements for the Nov. 2 election. The group voted decisively against Proposition A, which its sponsors hope will lead to hiring considerably more police officers. The vote on Prop A showed nearly 90 percent of the group in opposition. On the other hand, nearly 90 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of endorsing Proposition B. The lesser-known proposition would authorize the city to exchange nine acres of parkland on Lakeshore Boulevard for at least 48 acres of waterfront land contiguous to a city park, plus the cost of constructing a new maintenance facility on other city-owned land, among other things. The group also endorsed state of Texas propositions 7 and 8, but strongly opposed Prop 3. That constitutional amendment would “prohibit the state or a political subdivision of the state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations,” which undoubtedly relates to Covid-19 closures. Nearly 72 percent of those voting rejected that amendment. Proposition 7 would allow the surviving spouse of a disabled person “to receive a limitation on the school district ad valorem taxes on the spouse’s residential homestead if the spouse is 55 years of age or older ….” Prop 8 would authorize the Legislature to provide a tax exemption for the homestead of a surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. armed forces killed or fatally injured in the line of duty. The group took no position on the other proposed constitutional amendments.


Thursday, September 9, 2021 by Nina Hernandez

Austin Pets Alive! aims to clear the shelter

Austin Pets Alive! is hosting a slew of events and offering adoption specials over the next week as part of the Clear the Shelter initiative. Visit the link to see a full schedule of events taking place at locations across the city. Those who bond with a furry friend can “pay what you can” for adoption fees through Sept. 19. Clear the Shelters is a partnership with NBC Universal Local, which is partnering with hundreds of shelters nationwide to find animals forever homes. The program has rehomed more than 550,000 pets since 2015. The Austin Animal Center is also participating.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021 by Nina Hernandez

Prescribed burns in Southwest Austin this week

If you see smoke around South State Highway 45 and MoPac Expressway on Thursday, don’t be alarmed. It’s just Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division conducting a prescribed burn on up to 80 acres of Water Quality Protection Lands. It’s a strategy the department, which manages 30,000 acres in order to benefit the Edwards Aquifer, uses to protect Central Texas groundwater. Planned burns “improve the resiliency of our land when they are used as a planned seasonal management tool,” Austin Water said. The burns reduce area brush, promote grasslands and increases biodiversity. Austin Water staff will be joined by county fire departments, as well as federal, state and local land management agencies to ensure everyone remains safe.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

Native trees benefit all of us

On the next Wild Neighbors webinar, the staff of Balcones Canyonlands Preserve have invited Andreina Alexatos of TreeFolks to talk about the benefits of native trees and offer some tips for selecting the right trees for your yard. Trees provide endless ecosystem values, from habitat and food for wildlife and shade, to beauty and lower energy bills for humans, to cleaner air and water for all. Tree planting season is around the corner in Central Texas and there’s no time like the present to start making your fall planting plans. Friday, Sept. 24, noon to 1 p.m. Register for the webinar here.


Tuesday, September 7, 2021 by Tai Moses

Microgrant program takes root

The city of Austin sensibly combines Arbor Day and Monarch Appreciation Day into a two-week festival of nature dubbed Roots & Wings, offering the community a chance to learn all about pollinators and other wild creatures and the native trees and plants that support them. This year, Roots & Wings, which spans Oct. 24-Nov. 6, is launching a new, big-tent initiative offering microgrants of up to $1,500 in an effort to give more nonprofits and educational organizations an opportunity to participate in the festival and “host their own goal-aligned events.” The deadline to apply for a microgrant is Sept. 13. Learn more about eligibility requirements here.


Friday, September 3, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Council lines up for abortion access

Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, and Council members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Vanessa Fuentes, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, Paige Ellis and Kathie Tovo lined up outside City Hall during a break from Thursday’s Council meeting to reiterate their commitment to women’s reproductive health. Council Member Alison Alter was absent and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly was probably feeling a little bit shy about expressing her opinion on this topic. The bandanas they are holding in the photo say, “Bans Off Our Bodies.” Casar <a “href=”https://twitter.com/GregCasar/status/1433517097422925826″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>tweeted: “Since 2019, this City Council has committed $500K+ to help Texans access abortion, especially those forced to travel. We need cities across the state to do the same!” #AbortionIsHealthCare.”


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