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Monday, December 9, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Republican Rebecca Bray, an engineer and transportation planner, has announced plans to run for Travis County commissioner of Precinct 3. If she succeeds, she will replace retiring Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who announced last week that he did not intend to run again. Daugherty immediately endorsed Bray, the only Republican to announce her candidacy for that seat so far. In 2014, Bray ran for the District 8 Council seat, which Ellen Troxclair won. Bray’s civic involvement includes the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Capital Area Transportation Coalition. At least three Democrats are running for the Democratic nomination in the March primary. They include former state Rep. Valinda Bolton; Ann Howard, founding executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition; and Sheri Soltes, a former attorney and advocate for animals. The filing deadline is today.
Monday, December 9, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Austin’s Watershed Protection Department has a new director as of Oct. 28. Jorge Morales came to introduce himself to the Environmental Commission at its Dec. 4 meeting, where he told commissioners he was “very excited” to join the department as the director. This is Morales’ third time working for Watershed Protection; he was an intern in the 1990s and later returned in 2009. Since 2016, he has served as an assistant director in the Public Works Department. Morales, who has a background in civil engineering, told commissioners that he is well-versed in flooding and storm mitigation, but is “still learning” about the environmental side of the department’s work. Going forward, he said, “Part of my focus as the new director will be out there listening to community members.” Commissioner Mary Ann Neely asked Morales about his thoughts on preserving trees and plants, “Because on this group we’re just over the top sometimes (on this topic),” she said. While Morales did not offer any concrete departmental approach to tree and plant preservation, he said, “Austin is the most desirable city because of what we’ve done to preserve the environment.”
Monday, December 9, 2019 by Tai Moses
Attention local filmmakers: The city’s Economic Development Department has issued a call for submissions of short films for the 2020 “Faces of Austin” program. The selected films will be screened in March at South by Southwest as a showcase for “the diverse faces, voices and experiences of Austin,” according to the news release. Cultural Arts Division Manager Meghan Wells said, “From light-hearted profiles of Austin locales to moving tributes of individuals who have shaped the fabric of our city, this program serves as an important outlet for Austin’s creative community.” Last year, 13 films were chosen from over 70 submissions. The shorts will also be shown on ATXN and via the city website. Submissions are due by Monday, Jan. 6, at 5 p.m. Complete eligibility guidelines, as well as selections from past “Faces of Austin” screenings, are here and the online application is here.
Friday, December 6, 2019 by Ryan Thornton
City Council made the unanimous call Thursday to rename the Dove Springs Recreation Center at 5801 Ainez Drive the George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center. Morales, the first elected Travis County constable from the Dove Springs community and president of the Dove Springs Recreation Advisory Board, was celebrated as a warm and engaged community figure on Thursday, though a number of community members also showed up to criticize Morales’ reputation and oppose the renaming. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who made the motion of approval, said the community seemed to be caught up in a war of “he said, she said.” Garza said she could only go by what she knows of Morales and his family, whom she called a “fixture and part of this community,” noting that wherever Morales goes he is greeted with warmth and cheers from those who know him. Reputation aside, Romteen Farasat, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, said he respects Morales as a public servant and person; however, naming the center after him would give him an unfair advantage in the political arena. Otherwise, Farasat said he would support the change. Council approved the item 9-0-2 with Council members Alison Alter and Leslie Pool off the dais. Afterward, Alter said she would have voted in favor had she been present.
Friday, December 6, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
The local citizen organization Planning Our Communities sent out recommendations for how the Land Development Code draft can consider opportunities to invest in the economically disadvantaged and historically marginalized residents of Austin. The draft code is up for a City Council vote on Dec. 9. Awais Azhar, a member of the Planning Commission, is on the group’s steering committee and sent a full explanation of POC’s recommendations to the Austin Monitor. The recommendations are broken down into four categories: maximizing affordable housing; minimizing gentrification and displacement; equitably distributing development within the city; and providing amenities for healthy and connected communities. “In our attempt to rectify historic injustices, we must remember that equal zoning allowances do not lead to equitable outcomes,” the group stated in a release. To help reduce inequities in the LDC draft, Planning Our Communities supports implementing an “Equity Overlay” that disincentivizes the redevelopment of existing multifamily housing and increases opportunities for income-restricted affordable housing with increased rights and protections for tenants. “Corridors in gentrifying areas that have only recently seen infrastructure investment after years of neglect should not have to bear the undue burden of increased density,” the group notes. “The Land Development Code must increase housing capacity in high opportunity areas and West Austin.”
Friday, December 6, 2019 by Tai Moses
Months of collaboration between several local government entities has borne fruit in the form of new traffic and pedestrian safety improvements along Pearson Ranch Road in District 6. A new pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Pearson Ranch Middle School, a traffic signal at Pearson Ranch Road and Avery Ranch Boulevard, and a new fence at Pickaxe Trail to discourage people from crossing where it’s unsafe will help smooth the way for students traveling to and from three District 6 schools as well as pedestrians and commuters in the Pearson and Avery Ranch areas. According to a press release, “These highly anticipated improvements came after months of audits, studies, public input and inter-local collaboration” by the city of Austin, Williamson County and Round Rock Independent School District. As D6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said in the release, “Job one is to protect the safety of our citizens regardless of government jurisdiction. I’m so proud to work with Commissioner (Terry) Cook on a collaborative relationship between the city of Austin and Williamson County.” Part of Pearson Ranch Road runs along the Northwest Austin city limits.
Thursday, December 5, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
November saw a 27 percent increase in patients seeking medical attention for sexual assault at Eloise House, which is run by the nonprofit SAFE. In total, 68 survivors came seeking consults, medical care and/or a forensic exam. “That’s significantly higher than last year,” said SAFE Senior Director Juliana Gonzales at the Dec. 2 meeting of the Public Safety Commission. “We hope that means there’s growing community awareness.” Gonzales told commissioners that this time of year is generally quieter than other months. According to data from SAFE, of all the patients seen this past month, four were male and six were minors. Overall in 2019, there have been fewer survivors of sexual assault coming to Eloise House than last year. By November 2018, 636 patients had visited the center. So far this year, 590 patients have visited the center.
Travis Early College High School’s annual tamalada, or tamale-making party, is a celebration of a Mexican culinary tradition: the making of tamales each holiday season. This year, AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and members of the district’s board of trustees will join students, staff, parents and community members in preparing a variety of delicious tamales to share with the community. Thursday, Dec. 5, 10:30 a.m., Travis ECHS culinary dining room, 1211 E. Oltorf St.
Dr. Mark Escott is the EMS medical director and public health medical director for Austin and Travis County. So when he speaks on matters of public health, people take him seriously. Right now Dr. Escott is urging all community members to get vaccinated for the flu, because he’s forecasting a real whopper of an influenza season – even worse than the 2017-18 season that caused 79,000 deaths in the U.S. With one confirmed child death in Texas and one school flu outbreak, local public health officials aren’t taking any chances. “Austin Public Health experts are anticipating a severe wave of flu illnesses if residents do not get vaccinated,” says a press release from APH. If you have health insurance, visit VaccineFinder.org to find a convenient location to get your flu shot. APH offers flu shots for uninsured adults and kids who are uninsured or have Medicaid through its Shots for Tots/Big Shots program. “The ability to vaccinate against disease is one of the greatest achievements in human history,” Dr. Escott said. “Please don’t take vaccinations for granted. Protect yourself, protect your loved ones and protect those around you who are at increased risk for disease.”
Big Stacy Pool had to close its doors to the public yesterday for some “unanticipated electrical repairs,” according to the Aquatic Division of the Parks and Recreation Department. As more information becomes available, PARD will post an update on the situation. Swimmers can enjoy other city pools in the meantime, and Bartholomew and Deep Eddy pools will both have extended hours until Big Stacy reopens. Find all pool locations and hours of operation here.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced Tuesday that he will be part of the new Climate Mayors Steering Committee. The group of 24 mayors will, according to a press release, “serve as a leading voice in efforts to further climate action in the more than 400 cities across the U.S. making up the Climate Mayors coalition.” Said Adler, “Cities are main contributors of carbon emissions around the world, and Austin is working to ensure we are moving the needle with regard to the global climate crisis. From implementing green methods of public transportation and increasing our use of renewable energy – time is of the essence, and it is crucial we all take action.” The Climate Mayors took up the mantle of the Paris Agreement in 2017 after President Donald Trump withdrew federal support. Currently, the network includes 438 mayors who have pledged to support climate action and clean energy. The full press release about the steering committee is available online.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019 by Tai Moses
For those who don’t know, John Treviño was the first Latino to serve on the Austin City Council. His name now graces 330 acres of undeveloped parkland in East Austin that may soon boast a world-class skate/bike park as well. Park boosters are inviting community members – particularly designers, builders and riders – to come and walk through their proposal for a park that would include BMX and mountain bike trails, a pump track and a large skate park. Free tacos and coffee are part of the bargain. Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m., 9501 FM 969. Correction: The bike/skate park is a proposal, not a finalized plan, as we reported in an earlier version of this Whisper. We regret the error.