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Whispers

Friday, February 8, 2019 by Tai Moses

Lake LBJ is ready for its refill

At the end of December, the Lower Colorado River Authority temporarily lowered the level of water in Lake LBJ in order to allow for the repair and maintenance of docks and other structures that were damaged during the severe flooding in October. The lake was lowered about 4 feet. Now, say elected officials in surrounding communities, it’s time to fill the lake back up. The refill was originally set for mid-March, but at the request of the communities, LCRA has shortened the timetable for refilling Lake LBJ. The refill is now scheduled to begin Sunday, Feb. 24, and should be finished by Wednesday, Feb. 27. Water was also released from Lake Marble Falls, lowering that lake about 7 feet. The Marble Falls refill will take place on the original timetable, beginning March 18. For more information on lake and river lowerings, visit LCRA.org.


Friday, February 8, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Promises, promises

After a bit more discussion, a sublease at the Recycled Reads store at 5335 Burnet Road was postponed yet again. Council will take up the proposed sublease at its March 7 meeting, a decision that was made after a chorus of pleas for more information on the future of the used bookstore, which could be tied to the proposed lease of the space to Austin Creative Reuse. Many were caught off guard by the idea of winding down operation at a central location of Recycled Reads in favor of book sales that would be dispersed throughout Austin Public Library branches. City Manager Spencer Cronk assured Council members that clarity on the future of Recycled Reads when the sublease returns in March was a “clear takeaway” from the past weeks’ discussions.


Thursday, February 7, 2019 by Jack Craver

Council ponders implications of revenue caps

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo was the bearer of bad news Tuesday at a City Council work session. Council should not expect the budget process this year to be as easy as it was last year, he said. That would be the case even if the state Legislature does not impose the stringent local government revenue restrictions that Gov. Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders have promised. Under the proposal backed by Abbott, local governments would be allowed to collect a maximum of 2.5 percent more in property tax year-over-year, down from the current maximum of 8 percent. Any increase above 2.5 percent would need voter approval. Council members agreed that the community must speak out against the measure, which they said would devastate city services while providing very little tax relief. They also agreed, however, that the city needs to brace for tough times. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said it would be even more important for Council to make tough decisions about how to allocate dollars, including by disappointing groups or stakeholders that have come to expect funding for certain programs. Council Member Pio Renteria said that the city might have to pull back on incentives for businesses, suggesting that move might force Republican legislative leaders to reconsider their decision. Council Member Greg Casar said the “forced austerity” from the state means the city would be focused on “mitigating hurt” to existing programs, rather than doing more to help those in need.


Thursday, February 7, 2019 by Tai Moses

Developers, come hither and apply

The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department is hoping to entice developers to submit proposals for the Rental Housing Development Assistance Program and the Ownership Housing Development Assistance Program in line with the new development assistance calendar. The new calendar aims to streamline the process and help boost the construction of affordable housing in the city. Project applications can be submitted at any time, and will be reviewed quarterly. Both RHDA and OHDA are critical programs for affordable housing in the city: RHDA promotes housing development construction for low-income households while OHDA funds private and nonprofit developers in purchasing, rehabbing or constructing affordable homeownership opportunities for low- to moderate-income homebuyers. James May, NHCD community development manager, said in the announcement, “Our goal is to establish the clearest and most efficient means for processing these applications in a timely manner. We ask that applications be detailed as to all stages of the development process, so the city’s AHFC (Austin Housing Finance Corporation) Board can consider the entirety of the project.”


Thursday, February 7, 2019 by Jack Craver

Council to consider two Muny-related items

City Council will vote Thursday on two items related to the future of Lions Municipal Golf Course, the historic West Austin course that is operated by the city and owned by the University of Texas. One item will extend the termination of the current leasing agreement until May 2020, giving the city more time to try to negotiate a deal with the university to prevent all or part of the land from being leased to a more profitable tenant, such as a commercial developer. Council will also vote on a proposal from staff that would allow the city to negotiate a trade of sorts with UT: If the city forfeits control of part of Red River Street – which UT wants to realign to make way for a new arena – the city will get a certain amount of credit toward the purchase of Muny. On Tuesday some Council members voiced concern about this proposal, saying that they wanted to consider what else the city could get from UT besides Muny.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Clarification

According to our report yesterday, District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison had designs on removing four commissioners from city service. That may have been the plan, but city charter restrictions whittled that number down to three (a fact that was discovered following publication of our story). As a result, Board of Adjustment Member Bryan King will not be up for removal on Thursday, and is likely to continue his impressively long service on the quasi-judicial board.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019 by Tai Moses

Airport sets new travel record – again

Last year was a banner year for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, with 15.8 million people passing through the airport and setting a new annual passenger traffic record. This number tops the previous 2017 record-setting mark of 13.8 million travelers by nearly 2 million. This is the ninth year in a row that ABIA has set a new annual passenger record. “It’s an eye-popping number,” Walter Zaykowski, a senior director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, told the Austin Business Journal. “There’s just a lot of interest in Austin,” he explained. “The economy being as strong as it is in addition to the tourism factor.” Apparently, Austin had better get used to all those visitors, since even more travelers are expected in the coming year. “I don’t see those numbers slowing down,” Zaykowski said.

 

 


Wednesday, February 6, 2019 by Tai Moses

Shoal Creek Trail erosion work begins

The Watershed Protection Department is scheduled to begin erosion repair work along Shoal Creek Trail near 12th Street. The trail that runs alongside Shoal Creek Boulevard, between 12th and Lamar, is badly eroded and the problem is rapidly worsening. This week the trail will be detoured to the sidewalk by House Park Stadium. In the following weeks, the trail will be closed during the week and open on most Fridays and weekends. The work will include the removal of invasive plants that are choking the stream and inhibiting the growth of native plants. A new limestone block wall will be built to serve as a retaining wall for 100 feet of stream bank. Since the trail repair work is being done in the creek bed, all work is weather permitting. Once this section of trail is repaired, the crew will begin work on Shoal Creek Trail near Sixth Street. 


Tuesday, February 5, 2019 by Tai Moses

TxDOT forms smart car task force

Autonomous car technology is such a rapidly advancing field that the Texas Department of Transportation has decided to form a task force to be a one-stop resource on all related advancements, investments and initiatives in the state. The Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force will host industry forums and encourage collaboration in the field of mobility technology. The city of Austin is a leader in smart mobility, with several pilot projects in the hopper for 2019, following on the heels of its successful signal-phasing project with the U.S. Department of Transportation that deployed short-range communication technology at five Austin intersections. In 2017, the state passed a law allowing self-driving cars on public roads. TxDOT hopes the CAV task force will encourage further innovation and investment in autonomous vehicles in the interest of improving highway safety.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Creative bond spending ahoy

This past November, voters approved a number of bonds, including the closely watched $12 million Proposition B. That money, according to the ballot language, is earmarked for “planning, acquiring, constructing, renovating, improving, and equipping community and cultural facilities, libraries, museums, and cultural and creative arts facilities, and acquiring land and interests in land and property necessary to do so; and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.” According to a post by Mayor Steve Adler, there are several factions working on how, exactly, the money will be spent. Adler wrote, “In addition to any projects being developed by city staff or Council, my understanding is that the Arts and Music Commissions currently have a joint working group that is soliciting input and will be recommending ideas to the City Council this spring. I look forward to the full Council considering all of these options so that we can include this funding in the bond appropriations as a part of the budget process this coming summer.” We do, too.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019 by Tai Moses

Heads up: Roads closed

Several lanes of traffic will be closed at the intersection of Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard as Austin Water performs wastewater line rehabilitation work. The road will be closed from Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. through Monday, Feb. 11, at 5 a.m. The westbound lanes of Barton Springs Road will be closed between South Lamar Boulevard and Jessie Street, with a detour available onto South Lamar. Anyone headed for Zilker Park from the east is advised to take a different route.


Monday, February 4, 2019 by Tai Moses

Drug-resistant ‘superbug’ emerges in Travis County

Austin Public Health researchers are warning the public about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. The number of cases of CRE in Travis County has been increasing since 2015. In 2017, APH investigated 37 cases of CRE, 18 of them in Travis County residents. CRE are considered a class of “superbug,” strains of bacteria that are resistant to most available antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, CRE are considered an “urgent” public health threat. CRE infections are extremely difficult to treat and are often fatal. People with weakened immune systems who are in hospitals or nursing homes are most at risk of being exposed to CRE; healthy individuals are not in danger. Prevention can minimize the spread of the germs. Public health officials recommend frequent hand-washing and sterilization of medical instruments. The November/December issue of the Travis County Medical Society Journal features a paper by APH scientists on the growing issue of CRE in Travis County.


Monday, February 4, 2019 by Jack Craver

Oh sugar

For the fourth consecutive year, City Council kicked off its first meeting of the year with a “wellness workout,” led by local fitness coach Dionne Ross. A 20-second video showing Council members and city staff exhibiting varying levels of enthusiasm for the Zumba routine generated quite a bit of activity on Twitter, but not nearly as much as the remix of the clip done by the popular Twitter personality @EvilMopacATX, who synced the clip to Maroon 5’s “Sugar.”


Monday, February 4, 2019 by Tai Moses

City receives commuter compliment

Congratulations, Austin! For the second year in a row, the city has been named to the Best Workplaces for Commuters list. The national designation is bestowed on workplaces that meet standards of excellence including offering a variety of transportation options to employees and commuter benefits that have positive impacts on both people and the environment. Austin city employees enjoy free Capital Metro transit passes, free B-cycle memberships, subsidized vanpools, shower facilities for those who bike to work, and flexible work schedules, among other benefits. Said Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department, in a release announcing the designation, “In our commitment to sustainable mobility, we aim to double the percentage of city employees taking sustainable commutes and hope to lead by example. In partnership with Movability, our region’s transportation mobility association, the city of Austin has also challenged other employers in Austin to do so as well.” See the entire 2019 list of Best Workplaces for Commuters.


Friday, February 1, 2019 by Tai Moses

OPO goes to the library

In an attempt to make its services more available to the public, the Office of Police Oversight has begun holding community office hours from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in select Austin neighborhood libraries. The goal, OPO tweeted, “is to provide guidance to the community on how to utilize OPO as a resource and build community partnerships.” Check out OPO in the library on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Carver branch; Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Southeast branch; Wednesday, March 13, at the Pleasant Hill branch; Wednesday, March 27, at the Ruiz branch; and Wednesday, April 10, at the Terrazas branch.


Friday, February 1, 2019 by Jack Craver

Council approves new contract for ARCH

The same day Council approved a resolution instructing city staff to identify a property for a new homeless shelter, it also approved a new contract with Front Steps, the nonprofit agency that operates the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless on Seventh Street. The initial term of the contract is for 18 months and $4.5 million, but it could be extended up to five years for a maximum of $13.5 million. The contract envisions changes to ARCH, including a reduction in bed space, from 190 to 130, and a new requirement that those seeking shelter at the facility enroll in case management. Only about 25-30 percent of those entering the shelter do so now, according to a staff memo. People staying at the shelter will also have more flexibility to come and go as they please, whereas currently they must leave in the morning. The idea is to engage all of those who come to ARCH with services that will hopefully lead to permanent housing, rather than simply providing homeless people with a place to stay for the night.


Thursday, January 31, 2019 by Tai Moses

Building inspection floor gets a makeover

Starting today, Jan. 31, the third floor of One Texas Center at 505 Barton Springs Road will be undergoing renovations. During the renovation period, which is expected to last four months, the building inspection team that normally occupies the third floor will be temporarily relocated to the city’s Ben White location. Limited building inspection services will be available on the second floor of One Texas Center during this time. Planned improvements to the third floor include a new intake area for residential, commercial, expedited and volume builder building plan reviews.


Thursday, January 31, 2019 by Tai Moses

Annual symposium to emphasize water conservation

A diverse lineup of state and national water experts will be speaking at the ninth annual Central Texas Water Conservation Symposium, whose theme this year is “Integrated Water: Keeping Conservation at the Forefront.” The symposium’s goal is to educate water utilities on how to implement successful water conservation programs and keep customers engaged. The event is today, Jan. 31, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Canyon View Event Center, 4800 Spicewood Springs Road. See a complete list of speakers and topics of discussion here.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Tai Moses

School district IT team wins accolade

Austin Independent School District has snagged an honor called the Texas K-12 Consortium of School Networking Council’s Team Award, in recognition of the district’s pioneering use of technology in urban schools. The award, which recognizes “individuals and school districts that demonstrate outstanding vision in the use of information technologies to improve student learning,” was announced by the Texas K-12 CTO Council, the state chapter of the Consortium of School Networking. The technology team at AISD is led by Kevin Schwartz and includes Erin Bown-Anderson, John Kohlmorgan, Les Ready and Lewis Wynn.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Jack Craver

Planning Commission: Who stays and who goes?

At City Council’s first work session of the year, Mayor Steve Adler reminded his colleagues of the lawsuit by the state attorney general against the Planning Commission. The suit accuses the commission of being in violation of the city charter, which states that only one-third of its members can have ties to the real estate or land development industry. Two of the eight members cited in the suit have since left the commission, but two more will have to go for the commission to be in compliance, according to the suit. Council Member Alison Alter insists that her appointee, Patricia Seeger, is retired from real estate and therefore should not be considered an industry insider. Even if the attorney general agrees, that still suggests that Council members will have to negotiate with each other to ensure that more than four of the commissioners do not have real estate ties. Due to a charter amendment approved by voters in November, every commissioner’s term ends in June, at which point they can either be reappointed or replaced. Council will begin considering appointments to the commission in February.


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