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Whispers

Friday, May 18, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Travis County investment remains high

Austin’s reputation as an economic hotbed continues, with a new study from SmartAsset showing that Central Texas is among the fastest-growing areas in the country in total economic activity. SmartAsset, a financial technology company, compiled stats on total investment and business growth across the U.S. and found that Travis County ranks 23rd overall. Texas posted two counties – Comal and Fort Bend – in the national top 10, with Travis County ranking eighth in the state. According to the data, the Austin area’s total number of businesses grew by 11 percent, its gross domestic product grew by $6.1 billion and it added 27.1 building permits per 1,000 homes. That gave the area an overall incoming investment index of 68.30. Neighboring counties Williamson and Hays ranked sixth and ninth, respectively.


Friday, May 18, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Council gives temporary extension to ARCH operator

City Council gave the nonprofit operator of the city’s downtown homeless shelter a six-month extension last week. The vote to keep Front Steps at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless through the end of next March slipped through without fanfare on the consent agenda. Front Steps has been running the ARCH since the facility opened its doors in 2004. Last October, however, Council took action to begin redefining the scope of services provided at the shelter as well as to invite other vendors to bid alongside Front Steps on a new contract to run the ARCH. The six-month extension worth just over $1 million will keep Front Steps in place while those processes continue to play out.


Friday, May 18, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

A playground for Dick Nichols

Dick Nichols District Park is getting a new playground, and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department is looking for public input on the project. To that end, the city is holding a community meeting on Tuesday, June 5, from 6 until 7 p.m. at the Hampton Branch Public Library, located at 5125 Convict Hill Road. The meeting is a two-way affair, where the city will let residents know about future plans and residents will, in turn, let the city know what they think of those plans. Alternately, those interested in the park but not interested in attending the meeting can learn more by calling Patrick Beyer at 512-974-9476 or emailing him at Patrick.Beyer@austintexas.gov.


Thursday, May 17, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Union asks AISD Board President Pace to step down

Education Austin has called for Kendall Pace, president of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, to resign over “offensive” text messages sent to a fellow board member. On Wednesday, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis cited a text, written by Pace, about the possibility of getting state money to potentially set up a charter in the district. In those texts, which can be seen in their entirety over at KUT, Pace wrote, “It will only get approved if we set up a real charter-like (i.e. one with balls to ignore the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps).” Zarifis denounced the language, saying, “We’re disgusted by it. We’re disappointed by it. But mostly we’re hurt that someone would say things such as this nature.” Pace was expected to step down from her position as board president in June, but she has indicated that she may now do so at the board’s next meeting.


Thursday, May 17, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Get out there and vote!

Even though there is considerable animosity between Democrats and Republicans in Texas, Travis County voters have given the May 22 runoff election a collective yawn. In a news release, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir noted that “In the first day of early voting, an underwhelming 1.31% of registered voters cast ballots. With over 740,000 registered voters in Travis County who are eligible to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Primary Runoff Election, that means that only 9,737 votes have been cast – this includes over 6,900 by-mail ballots.” Voting picked up a little bit among Democrats on the second and third days, but by the end of the day Wednesday, the total for Democrats was only 14,821, or 2 percent of the total number of registered voters. Turnout was even worse among Republicans. Their three-day turnout was 3,469 or 0.47 percent. The total for both parties was 18,290, or 2.47 percent. These runoffs will decide which person each party puts up as the best candidate for the seat. For example, Democrats are choosing between Andrew White and Lupe Valdez to run for governor against incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Democrats in House District 46 must also decide whether to elect former Council Member Sheryl Cole or her opponent Jose “Chito” Vela to replace retiring state Rep. Dawnna Dukes. Two women are vying in the Democratic runoff to face Republican state Rep. Paul Workman in November. They are Vikki Goodwin and Elaina Fowler. In Congressional District 21, where U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, there is a heated runoff on both sides. Republicans are deciding between Chip Roy and Matt McCall, while Democrats are choosing between Joseph Kopser and Mary Wilson. In Congressional District 10, Democrats are choosing between Mike Siegel and Tawana Walter-Cadien to run against incumbent Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. Both parties are making decisions about judicial candidates that could have repercussions for years. “Come on everybody, we have 22 Early Voting Locations plus Mobile Voting Locations all week,” DeBeauvoir said. “Give our dedicated polling place staff some company this week by early voting.” Early voting ends Friday, May 18, with most polling locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information, including polling locations, sample ballots, and ID requirements may be found at www.votetravis.com.


Thursday, May 17, 2018 by Sommer Brugal

Approval granted, just in time

Despite updated backup documents and a last-minute request, the Zoning and Platting Commission approved the final plat for six lots on 14.57 acres of land at 7300 1/2 McKinney Falls Parkway for the Springfield Commercial – South Final Plat at its meeting on May 15. David Wahlgren, who is a planning officer with the city, said the plat had to be approved at the Monday night meeting, citing a preliminary plan that was approved for a large site almost 10 years ago. He said the development was given 10 years and a specific date before the final plats had to be approved. Failure to approve this final plat before the March 16 deadline would result in both the preliminary plan and the final plats ending. Commissioner Betsy Greenberg expressed dissatisfaction by the request’s tardiness and asked why the request was presented to the commission at the very last minute – and without the necessary information. She continued to say that she was “uncomfortable approving something (that she) didn’t get to look at,” and approving a request she and her colleagues didn’t see would be a disservice to their jobs. Despite Greenberg’s concern, the rest of the commission agreed that the applicant shouldn’t be penalized for staff’s misstep in neglecting to upload the proper documentation. The motion passed 9-0-1, with Greenberg abstaining and Commissioner Dustin Breithaupt absent.


Thursday, May 17, 2018 by Katy McElroy

LCRA approves FY 2019 plans

On Wednesday, the Lower Colorado River Authority’s board of directors approved a $949 million business plan for Fiscal Year 2019. The LCRA is Central Texas’ primary wholesale electricity provider and manages the six Highland Lakes, two of which are used to provide drinking water to over 1 million customers, and the lower Colorado River. The board also gave the green light to $368 million of capital spending for “energy, water and public service projects to support growth in Texas,” according to the authority’s news release. In 2019, the LCRA has planned “a full slate of projects to address electric transmission system reliability, respond to Electric Reliability Council of Texas system needs, meet projected area load growth, respond to existing customer needs and connect new generators to the system,” and over the next five years it “intends to invest about $1.2 billion to build new transmission facilities and improve existing ones.” As for its water-related projects, the LCRA will continue its ongoing rehabilitation at the Mansfield and Buchanan dams. In addition, in 2019 LCRA will start up operations at the Arbuckle Reservoir, “the first new water supply reservoir in the lower Colorado River basin in decades.” View the full plans here. “With the fiscal year 2019 business and capital plans, we are crystallizing our vision of supporting this growing state and continue to work to provide excellent customer service when providing these diverse and important services,” said Timothy Timmerman, chair of the LCRA Board of Directors.

 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Taco Friday

This month, Austin Independent School District students will be competing to see who can make the best taco. The contenders in the Diced and Sliced competition are six teams from Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy and Bailey, Bedichek, Dobie, Kealing and Lamar middle schools. The 23 finalists were whittled down from the original 340 competitors at the campus level. A panel of judges made up of local food writers, a chef and district officials will rate the tacos based on appearance, taste and recipe creativity. The winners will get to see their taco recipe featured on next year’s school lunch menu. Diced and Sliced goes down this Friday, May 18, 10:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m., at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

B-cycle signs up for another five years

Despite the potential threat of dockless bikes and scooters, Austin B-cycle is here to stay, at least on paper. Last the week, the board of directors behind the nonprofit operator of the city’s station-based bike-sharing system voted unanimously to approve a five-year renewal of its contract with the Austin Transportation Department. The deal will keep the ubiquitous red bikes rolling on streets and bike lanes through 2023. Austin B-cycle Executive Director Elliott McFadden hailed the revised agreement. “I think we got a pretty strong assurance from ATD and some members of City Council that the city is committed to B-cycle as a system,” he told the Austin Monitor. ATD’s Active Transportation Program Manager Laura Dierenfield said the city will help Austin B-cycle expand both its programs and its station footprint in the coming years.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

MLS stadium plans revealed

Austin has a sky-level look at its (potentially) first non-U.S. football stadium. On Tuesday, Precourt Sports Ventures – owners of the Columbus Crew professional soccer team – released a conceptual site plan for a 20,000-seat stadium it plans to build in North Austin if the team relocates to Austin. The stadium would sit on nearly 25 acres of formerly industrial property owned by the city and known as McKalla Place, and it is drawn to have 1,000 parking spaces. That number makes the presence of a MetroRail route immediately east of the site a potentially key component of moving fans to and from the stadium. Following the release of the conceptual rendering, consultant Dan Vaillant of Creative Artists Agency ICON released a statement saying Precourt will complete a full parking and transit plan once an agreement is in place for the group to use the property for the privately financed stadium. He also said there are 10,000 parking spaces within a 15- or 20-minute walk of the site and that a shuttle program would be used to transport fans from parking areas to the site. Precourt is expected to deliver a full proposal for the stadium development to City Council by June 1.

Download (PDF, 13.6MB)


Wednesday, May 16, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Vireo’s removal from endangered species list will not endanger its habitat

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing the black-capped vireo, a small songbird that nests in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, from the federal Endangered Species List. However, the county assured residents yesterday that this development does not mean the preserve would be dismantled. “In fact the delisting is based on the presumption that the preserves will remain in place in order for the species to survive,” said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea in the release. The preserve covers over 31,000 acres in western Travis County and was established to “make up for the permanent loss of other endangered species habitat. It currently provides habitat for the vireo as well as the seven still-endangered species and 27 Species of Concern,” according to the release, and in fact the “decision to delist the vireo, which will not affect the BCP, was made with the assumption that protected habitat would remain intact and continue to be managed for the species.” Shea pledged continued support for the preserve and the species it hosts: “Travis County and its partners in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP), including the city of Austin, are committed to protecting this critical habitat in perpetuity.”


Tuesday, May 15, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Environmentalists to protest at Whole Foods

Environment Texas will join the national environmental group Mighty Earth at Whole Foods Market’s corporate headquarters at Sixth Street and Lamar this morning to demand that the company take a stand against water pollution generated by corporate meat suppliers. According to a press release from the protesting organizations, the event will culminate in the delivery of petitions signed by nearly 100,000 people from across the country. Brian Zabcik, a clean water advocate with Environment Texas, explained that there are two big problems with Tyson Foods and Cargill – two of the suppliers that environmentalists are certain provide meat to Whole Foods. The most important problem is that the growers who supply livestock feed use excess fertilizer to boost production. That fertilizer, as well as manure, is washed away by rain runoff and contaminates drinking water as well as the ocean. According to a report from Mighty Earth, last summer excess fertilizer caused “the largest ‘dead zone’ of algae growth in the Gulf of Mexico on record.” The group has identified Tyson Foods, Cargill, “and several other known Whole Foods suppliers as being most responsible for driving the practices causing this pollution.” Among those speaking today will be Andrew Smiley, board president of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Dr. Lisa Doggett of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Texas. Whole Foods did not respond to an email requesting comment.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Into the sun

Looking for a summer job? The Parks and Recreation Department is hiring for the 2018 summer swim season. A variety of positions – lifeguard, cashier, pool attendant, swim instructor and swim coach – are available. In addition, interested persons can attend the Hiring Day event at the Aquatics Administration and Training Center at 2818 San Gabriel St. today from 4 to 8 p.m. to complete an application, meet and interview with managers, and register for the required training. Call the center at 512-974-9330 for more information, or take a look at the aquatics website.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council members express concerns about Planning Commission membership

In a message posted to the City Council Message Board, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Alison Alter, Ora Houston and Leslie Pool reiterated their belief that the Planning Commission’s current membership violates the city charter because too many of the members have “direct or indirect” links to the real estate or land development industry. They also highlighted their votes against a resolution approved by Council last week that they said “fails to address the critical issue of ensuring compliance with our City Charter.” They asserted that Council must approve a measure that both defines what type of profession qualifies as a “direct or indirect” interest with land development and includes a mechanism for removing the necessary number of commissioners. If it doesn’t, they argued, “Councils will continue to be in violation.” They concluded: “We believe in this key Charter protection and will continue to advocate for its enforcement.”


Tuesday, May 15, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Suspected drunk driver crashes into Central Health clinic

It was business as usual for Central Health’s Southeast Health and Wellness Center on Monday morning even after a suspected drunk driver slammed his car into the building overnight. According to a press release, no patients or staff were at the clinic when the crash happened at 1:30 a.m. The driver plowed through an exterior wall and into a meeting room. The driver was arrested while a female passenger was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center with injuries that were not life threatening. Though the crash didn’t interrupt clinic operations, it did force Central Health to relocate a scheduled community forum the hospital district hosted Monday evening to discuss health-related challenges in eastern Travis County.


Monday, May 14, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Fun with the ATX budget

In an effort to make the budget process open and inclusive, the city is hosting a number of engagement opportunities for the public. The budget office has made a teaser video, which we have embedded below, and there is also an online survey, which you can take here to share your budget priorities with city staff. The first citywide in-person meeting, moderated by Mayor Steve Adler and City Manager Spencer Cronk, is scheduled for May 15, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Central Library. In addition, each district’s City Council member is having their own talk throughout May and June, with the city manager also in attendance. Visit austintexas.gov/budget for the dates and locations of these meetings, as well as the planned public hearings and commission meetings.


Monday, May 14, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Black-capped vireo makes its way off the list of endangered species

Commissioner Annie Schmitt, who sits on the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, told the Water and Wastewater Commission at its May 9 meeting that the black-capped vireo – one of Central Texas’ most famed birds that has maintained an endangered designation since 1987 – has been retired from the list of endangered species. However, another bird with which it shares its habitat is still on the list. “The golden-cheeked warbler is still very much under contention,” said Schmitt. A few of the commissioners feared that delisting the black-capped vireo would open the door to additional development on lands that were previously protected as sanctuaries for the species. Schmitt explained that although their fears were valid because being listed does provide some additional protection to the properties a species inhabits, she didn’t think that delisting will “change the practice of what is protected” in this case. She also noted that there are many other, albeit less visible, species, like the Bone Cave harvestman arachnid, who inhabit this area and are extended protections that would keep the black-capped vireo’s habitat safe.


Monday, May 14, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Water Treatment Plant 4 renamed

Eight years ago, after much discussion and strong opinions from the public, Water Treatment Plant 4 was finally installed on Lake Travis. However, its name never changed and remained a reminder of the contentious circumstances that surrounded its construction. On Aug. 3 of last year, City Council decided that the time had come to bestow a new appellation upon the facility and recommended renaming Water Treatment Plant 4 to the Berl L. Handcox Sr. Water Treatment Plant. Since then, the Public Works Department received six additional name recommendations from the public, which the Water and Wastewater Commission was also required to consider. At its May 9 meeting, the Water and Wastewater Commission voted unanimously and without hesitation to recommend the name Council suggested. The Environmental Commission will weigh in next at its meeting on May 16.


Monday, May 14, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Manley for chief?

The city manager’s office would like to know your thoughts on Interim Police Chief Brian Manley, specifically whether you think he should be made the permanent chief of the Austin Police Department. Share your opinion by taking the quick survey, or email comments to OurNextChief@austintexas.gov. Manley is also making public appearances this month: The second public forum will be Thursday, May 17, 7-8:30 p.m. at the KLRU Studio, 2504-B Whitis Ave., on the University of Texas campus.


Friday, May 11, 2018 by Katy McElroy

A city for all ages

Today marked official implementation of the Austin Age-Friendly Action Plan. Community leaders recognized this occasion at the beginning of Thursday’s City Council meeting, where they presented Council members with a certificate from AARP and the World Health Organization. Austin’s action plan is the first one in Texas to receive approval from the WHO. The plan was developed by AARP in conjunction with city’s Commission on Seniors, AustinUP and other nonprofits in coordination with Council. As the pre-senior population in Austin is the fastest-growing in the United States, the city will shortly be home to more older adults than children, and this action plan is a step toward making sure the city keeps all ages in mind when planning improvements and prioritizing services. Visit www.agefriendlyaustin.com for more details and updates on implementation of the plan.


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