Whispers

Thursday, January 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

New podcast spotlights Austin’s Black community

A new livestream video podcast puts the spotlight on the African American experience in Austin. The Pivot, hosted by T.J. Owens, who manages the Economic Development Department’s African American Cultural and Heritage Facility, will offer a “virtual conversation space” as well as highlight “the ways that local businesses, the creative community and Austin culture can be collaborative.” Each episode also features a musical performance. Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the EDD, said in a news release, “We are excited to add this new dimension in our efforts to continue to tell the story of the African American experience in Austin. These are critical times for communicating and storytelling. Adding this opportunity to tune in virtually continues our efforts to share vital information with residents and receive community feedback about city programs and services.” Owens adds, “With the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility inoperable for most of 2020 due to the pandemic, our team sought a way to still serve the community who needs it the most. The Pivot ensures we stay connected to our East Austin neighbors and provides useful information to the community as the pandemic continues.” Catch The Pivot the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 7 p.m., starting in February, on Facebook.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

ECHO cancels homelessness count

Austin’s Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness will not take place this year due to concerns about Covid-19. The PIT count is a federally required count necessary for obtaining federal funds to fight homelessness. This year, ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, asked for and received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development “due to safety concerns around the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” Instead of sending volunteers out on Jan. 28 to count the number of unsheltered people living on the streets, ECHO plans to use data from the Homeless Management Information System to estimate and measure the number of unsheltered individuals in the community. Read more about the change at AustinECHO.org.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

DSD updates enviro manual

The Development Services Department has proposed several amendments to the section of the Environmental Criteria Manual that deals with trees and the preservation of natural areas. The proposed amendments, according to the DSD, “clarify existing rules, strike content that does not further code implementation, and update department and procedural terms.” While all that may sound rather dry and dull, we say if it’s good for the trees, it’s good for everyone. As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged. You may review the proposed updates on SpeakUp Austin and provide input and suggestions or ask questions.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

City tests new bus platform design

Passengers wait to board a bus from a ZICLA platform in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Charlotte DOT)

Capital Metro is teaming up with Austin Transportation to test a new “curb extension device” intended to enhance bus riders’ experience at one of the city’s busiest bus stops on Guadalupe Street. The green-and-white striped platform, made of recycled rubber by the Spanish company ZICLA, “will enable Capital Metro buses to meet the sidewalk and curb without pulling out of a travel lane, as well as provide separation from the roadway for people walking, biking and boarding transit at the intersection,” according to the news release from ATD. The platform will be installed this month and the pilot program will run for six months as the agencies decide whether to make the change permanent.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Shannon Jones appointed interim ACM

Former Austin Public Health director and “Health Talk” host Shannon Jones will be serving as Austin’s interim assistant city manager. A news release about the appointment explains that Jones’ purview will include homelessness, some elements of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and steering the city’s work on health and environment and culture and lifelong learning in a number of city departments, including Animal Services, Austin Public Health, Austin Public Library, Austin Resource Recovery and the Parks and Recreation Department. Jones said in the statement, “They say that nobody really leaves the city of Austin. Having already spent a significant portion of my career serving the community here I am excited to return once again and contribute to the great work city employees are doing, particularly around minimizing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Jones will be filling in for former Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter, who is relocating to Baltimore to serve as the city administrator. Recruitment to permanently fill the assistant city manager slot will begin this week.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

City hosts vaccine town halls

The public health officials at Austin Public Health are hosting a town hall to answer every question you may have about the Covid vaccines. Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority; Stephanie Hayden, director of APH; Dr. Charles Bell, vice chair of Central Health Board of Managers; and Dr. Jason Reichenberg, president of Ascension Medical Group Texas, will all be on hand “to discuss Covid-19 vaccine safety, efficacy and distribution.” The town hall is this Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m, followed by a town hall in Spanish the following day, Thursday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. Watch live on ATXN or Facebook.com/AustinPublicHealth.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

[RE]verse Pitch seeks competitors

The [RE]verse Pitch Competition is alive and well and inviting businesses and entrepreneurs to enter the contest in which former castoffs become raw materials for new products or services. Find out what’s new this year at reversepitch.org. Register here for the opening pitch event – a virtual presentation – on Feb. 2, from 6-7:30 p.m., in which you “will hear from businesses and institutions consistently generating or collecting byproduct, surplus or otherwise underutilized materials streams in Austin, Texas, that could be put to higher and better use in new social enterprises.”


Monday, January 11, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Grey appointed new homelessness officer

The city of Austin announced the hiring of a new homelessness strategy officer just before the end of 2020. Dianna Grey began her new job coordinating the city’s continued efforts to end homelessness on Jan. 4. A memo from City Manager Spencer Cronk announced the hiring and explained Grey had come from working at her own consulting firm, which has contracted with the city on the issue of permanent supportive housing. Prior to that, the LBJ School graduate was the director of the Texas Office of Corporation for Supportive Housing, “where she coordinated public policy efforts, provided technical assistance, and advised on capacity building programming and project financing across the state, with a specialized focus on Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, and Houston.” Lori Pampilo Harris, who was the city’s first homelessness strategy officer, served in the position for one month before stepping down in October 2019.


Monday, January 11, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

APH expects 12,000 vaccine doses this week

Austin Public Health is slated to receive 12,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine this week from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The vaccines, according to a news release from the city, will be administered to those who fall into phases 1A and 1B, according to state criteria, which includes health care workers, long-term care facility residents, those 65 or older, and residents with underlying health conditions. A registration system to distribute the vaccine will focus on vulnerable and underserved populations. “Individuals who meet the state’s current criteria for vaccination may be able to receive the vaccine under this first allocation or through future allocations. The system will have the ability to contact individuals to encourage them to schedule an appointment if and when APH is allocated additional vaccine. A phone line will also be available for those without internet access.” APH is one of more than 350 groups tasked with distributing the vaccine in the area. The health authority urges those who are able to obtain the vaccine through other means (such as a pharmacy or health care provider) to do so, in order to save the limited allocation doled out by the state for those who might not otherwise be able to get it. For more information, both Texas DSHS and the city of Austin have established information web pages.


Monday, January 11, 2021 by Tai Moses

Service changes at Austin Resource Recovery

With the start of the new year, Austin Resource Recovery has made a few modifications to its services and facilities. The Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center has been temporarily closed and drop-offs are no longer accepted at this time due to concerns about Covid-19. Residents may schedule contactless pickups of household hazardous waste for safe disposal. The large brush and bulk pickups, which were temporarily suspended last year, are now operating on their regular twice-annual schedule. Residential street-sweeping services have been reinstated, but are operating behind schedule. And after a four-year phased-in approach that began in 2017, the curbside composting program is expanding to all curbside customers in February. At some point in the future, ARR will distribute free kitchen collectors and compostable bags, but in the meantime customers are encouraged “to use reusable containers, coffee cans or paper bags for collecting food scraps.” Find more details about all service changes here.


Monday, January 11, 2021 by Tai Moses

City extends Shop the Block

The city’s Shop the Block program was launched last summer to give an assist to dining, drinking and shopping establishments that suffered serious financial setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The popular pilot program, which ran from June 15-Dec. 15, has now been extended until June 2021, according to an announcement from the city, “to help small businesses continue operations during Covid-19 restrictions.” Eligible businesses may apply for “quick, affordable permits” that will allow them “to expand operations outdoors onto private parking lots, public sidewalks, public parking spaces, or roads and alleyways in front of their establishments” for six months. Find directions and more information at AustinTexas.gov/ShoptheBlock.


Thursday, December 24, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Wishing you happiness and health

The holidays have finally arrived and the Austin Monitor is taking some time off to relax, eat some Christmas goodies and spend some socially distanced time with friends and family. We will be back soon with reports on our interviews with local leaders. We wish you the best for this season and for 2021.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020 by Seth Smalley

Commissioner Daugherty retires

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who has served on the Commissioners Court since 2002, was honored during a meeting of the Commissioners Court and recognized for his advocacy for veterans issues, his true bipartisanship and his steadfastness in service. Commissioner Brigid Shea called him a “model Republican,” a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Jeff Travillion and in public comment from Zenobia Joseph. Travillion emphasized his willingness to work with the other side, “putting constituents over party.” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said, “He may have wanted to pave places that I didn’t want to pave, and he certainly voted for people that I didn’t vote for, but he has exercised throughout his tenure an integrity and a commitment that is impressive and that has contributed greatly to the benefit of our community, always putting his constituents first.” In early 2020, Daugherty was the only Republican of the 51 Travis County elected officials.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

Fire marshal lifts fireworks ban

Just in time for New Year’s Eve, the Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office has lifted its ban on the sale or use of restricted fireworks outside the city limits of any city or town in Travis County. The class of firework included in the order are “skyrockets with sticks” and “missiles with fins,” if that means anything to you. The lifting of the prohibition comes with a slew of cautions, reproduced in full below:

Before you use fireworks, please remember:

  • Fireworks cause almost 20,000 fires a year
  • Hospital emergency rooms see more than 9,000 injuries a year caused by fireworks
  • Most fireworks injuries are caused by legal fireworks
  • Sparklers burn hotter than a welder’s torch – they are not for little kids
  • More than one-third of all fireworks-related injuries are kids less than 15 years old

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

Give your Christmas tree another life

Photo: city of Austin

Christmas trees are not trash. Live, natural trees – not plastic, artificial ones – may be mulched and recycled, ensuring that the tree returns to the soil in another form. Travis County has been providing free tree recycling for years, allowing county residents to give their holiday trees (and Hanukkah bushes) another life. Drop-off is available from Saturday, Dec. 26, to Sunday, Jan. 10., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Find a map of Travis County tree drop-off locations here.

Follow these simple guideline for recycling trees:

  • Remove all ornaments, decorations, lights, and tree stands
  • Remove all nails, staples and metal
  • Trees sprayed with flocking or artificial snow are not accepted
  • Do not place the tree in a “tree bag” or any plastic bag
  • Trees taller than 6 feet must be cut in half

If you live in the city of Austin you may simply leave your tree at the curb on your usual yard trimmings collection day. All other Austin residents may drop their trees off at Zilker Park. As for Christmas lights that no longer work, they can be recycled, too: Bring old lights (and discarded Styrofoam and cardboard) to the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center at 2514 Business Center Dr. Visit the city’s Tree Recycling web page for more info. And if you want some of that sweet-smelling tree mulch for your garden, it will be available, for free, starting Jan. 14 at 9 a.m., on a first-come, first-served basis. Wear your face mask and bring your own tools and storage containers for loading and transporting the mulch.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

Start the new year with a hike

Could there be a better tradition than starting the new year with a hike? Last year, 5,242 people decided to usher in 2020 by hiking, biking or riding a total of 9,564 miles in one of 89 Texas State Parks. This year, even more people may decide to take a First Day Hike, bike or paddle. Rodney Franklin, the director of Texas State Parks, said, “Personally, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to 2020, having some black-eyed peas and starting out the new year with a First Day Hike. Spending time outdoors is a great way to connect with friends and family in a healthy way.  While we must still recreate responsibly, I hope that everyone will join us in ushering in 2021 with a First Day Hike at your favorite state park.” Check out a list of self-guided First Day Hikes on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website. Parks are operating at a limited capacity, so reserving a day pass in advance is highly recommended. Reserve day passes online through the TPWD reservation website or by calling (512) 389-8900.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

About that mayor pro tem thing…

Though it was widely (and weirdly) reported last week that Council Member Greg Casar was the heir apparent to the largely ceremonial title of mayor pro tem, it looks as though that may not be happening after all. According to rumblings at City Hall and a post on the City Council Message Board, Casar’s once-certain victory may be threatened by a push to elect a female mayor pro tem “from a West Austin district,” which is rumored to be Council Member Alison Alter. In a Monday night post on the message board, Casar addressed the potential change in direction. “Let me be clear, if the interest amongst my colleagues is to ensure greater female representation, you have my support. But we cannot cave into right-wing pressure from the wealthiest parts of town, simply because our Council has voted to affirm Black Lives Matter, advance labor victories, and to protect the civil rights of our homeless population. We must make it clear that we are not willing to back down if we truly believe what we are doing is right for Austinites … I say all this, because I’ve received phone calls indicating that I should back out so that we can choose a mayor pro tem from a West Austin district. I believe we are sending the wrong message in this critical time if we choose to select our mayor pro tem from one of the whiter and wealthier districts, rather than from the Eastern Crescent.” Casar goes on to say he would be happy to support a mayor pro tem from Austin’s Eastern Crescent. Council will elect the new mayor pro tem at its Jan. 6 meeting.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Capitol will reopen on Jan. 4

Along with an announcement that the state might take over police operations in Austin, there was more normal news from the Capitol yesterday. Namely, the Texas Capitol will reopen on Jan. 4 after being closed since March due to the pandemic. The office of Gov. Greg Abbott explained that, “In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, health and safety protocols have been put in place to allow for the Capitol’s reopening while maintaining a safe environment for all visitors, lawmakers and staff.” As for what this means for the upcoming legislative session: “Preparations to safely conduct business in the Texas House and Senate are ongoing, and each chamber will vote upon their respective rules and protocols at the start of the legislative session.”


Tuesday, December 22, 2020 by Tai Moses

ATP appoints board of directors

The Austin Transit Partnership is the independent organization created to oversee the implementation of the Project Connect transit plan. The board of directors overseeing ATP is composed of one Austin City Council member, one Capital Metro board member and three community experts in the areas of finance, engineering and construction, and planning and sustainability. The nominating committee reviewed over 36 applications for the community expert positions and ultimately approved the following candidates: Tony Elkins, community expert in finance; Veronica Castro de Barrera, community expert in engineering and construction; and Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, community expert in planning and sustainability. Find more information about each position at AustinTransitPartnership.org. You may also review candidate bios and background information in the joint meeting backup.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020 by Tai Moses

Map prioritizes tree-planting

This year the city’s Community Tree Preservation Division released its Community Tree Priority Map, an interactive tool available for everyone from arborists to developers to community members. The map has a variety of uses, according to the news release, which notes that “tree canopy data helps uncover disparities in historically under-canopied areas. This enables people to decide where activities like planting, tree care and community outreach could occur around Austin.” The red areas on the map indicate higher-priority areas where more tree-planting and tree stewardship is needed. Check out the map to see if your neighborhood needs more trees.

 


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