Art installation helps visualize social distancing
A new art installation called the Parkspace project has both a practical and an artistic purpose as it helps Austinites visualize the necessary 6-foot space to slow the spread of Covid-19. The first phase of the project was installed in June, July and August at Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park, Pease Park, Republic Square and Zilker Park. Now the installations can be seen on the Long Center lawn and the Statesman Bat Observation Area under the Congress Avenue Bridge. According to the news release, the project provides a “creative wayfinding system to encourage safe practices for our community. The site-specific installation series uses eco-friendly turf paint to delineate spaces where people can come together to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities” while still keeping a safe distance from others. Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center, said, “We look forward to welcoming Austinites onto our lawn now and for the exciting activities we have planned for the fall season.”
Congress protected lane pilot to get permanent upgrade
As some local active mobility advocates anticipated, the city has decided to keep the protected bike lanes on Congress Avenue between Riverside Drive and 11th Street following the summer pilot. Beginning next week, the Austin Transportation Department will kick off a monthlong process of replacing the orange traffic cones currently separating general traffic from the bike lanes with flex posts and parking stops as permanent barriers. The project also includes protected intersection designs at Riverside Drive, Barton Springs Road, Third Street and 11th Street, as well as new left turn lanes and signal phases at Cesar Chavez Street, Fifth Street and Sixth Street. Right-turn lanes will also be added on Cesar Chavez Street, Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive. Council Member Kathie Tovo, sponsor of the summer pilot, said it’s “exciting to quickly transition to a permanent design that builds on the success of the temporary bike lanes.” The protected lanes, she said, will provide a “safer, more comfortable option” for the millions of people who walk, roll and bike along Congress Avenue every year. The plans are even popular with at least one local business along the corridor. Jim Ritts, CEO of Paramount Theatre, said the summer pilot “demonstrated how much more accessible and safer Congress Avenue could be for everyone” and that the permanent lanes “will improve the quality of life” downtown.
Explore Austin Museum Day, pandemic version
Yes, Austin Museum Day is happening this year, and no, it may not look quite like museum days of yore. Individual museums may have limits on the number of visitors they will allow inside their doors while other museums are opting for a Virtual Museum Day. Still, dozens of area museums are expected to participate in this free, citywide “celebration of art, culture, history, music, nature, and science” on Sunday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The day promises a full slate of tours, events, gallery talks, craft projects and activities. Check Facebook for the latest on participating museums and their schedules.
Apply to the Central Health Board of Managers
The Travis County Commissioners Court is seeking applications from qualified individuals to serve on the nine-member Central Health Board of Managers. The commissioners are looking for applicants “who will represent the interests of the county as a whole, as well as supply exceptional vision, business and administrative skills and commitment.” Applicants need not have health care provider experience, but should have a basic understanding of the health care system and “a commitment to improving the patient experience.” The county is currently seeking an appointee to serve a four-year term, Jan. 1, 2021-Dec. 31, 2024. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2. See a full list of the eligibility requirements and an application packet here.
Don’t make Texas a mess
We’re not the only ones who have noticed growing numbers of face masks discarded in parking lots and used sanitizing wipes tossed on sidewalks and in gutters. Alarmed by the amount of PPE trash piling up in the state, the #Don’tMessWithTexas anti-littering campaign has called on a number of Texas celebrities, including Matthew McConaughey, Marsai Martin, George Strait and Eva Longoria, to lend their fame to public service announcements reminding their fellow Texans “that the only safe way to dispose of used personal protective equipment (PPE) is in a trash can.” Becky Ozuna, program administrator for the campaign, said in a news release, “Unfortunately, we’re seeing a significant uptick in the amount of PPE litter. Not only is it unsightly, it is also harmful to the environment and a danger to public health. When you’re done with your masks, gloves and wipes, do the right thing and dispose of them properly.” The PSAs can be seen on television and social media channels. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, litter tossed from cars accounts for half of the 362 million pieces of trash that accumulate on Texas roads each year. The penalty for littering is a $500 fine, or up to $2,000 for tossed items that weigh more than 5 pounds.
Central Labor Council makes endorsements
The Central Labor Council of Austin has endorsed city propositions A and B on the November ballot, which are both related to funding transportation improvements of various types, including Project Connect. The labor group met Saturday to consider a wide range of candidates for City Council, Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees. Longtime labor activist Jack Kirfman told the Austin Monitor that the group endorsed all of the incumbent Council members running for reelection. That includes Greg Casar in District 4, Jimmy Flannigan in District 6, Leslie Pool in District 7, and Alison Alter in District 10. The group also endorsed David Chincanchan for the District 2 seat. Council Member Delia Garza, who has held that seat since first being elected in 2014, instead ran successfully for the Democratic nomination for Travis County attorney. Because Republicans did not put up a candidate for that seat, her election to the position is virtually assured. The labor group also endorsed Andy Brown, the Democratic nominee for Travis County judge, and Ann Howard, the Democratic nominee for commissioner in Precinct 3. They endorsed the following candidates for AISD board: John McKiernan-Gonzalez in District 2, Kevin Foster in District 3, Lynn Boswell in District 5 and Noelita Lugo in District 8.
Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.
PARD reopens a few more facilities
Over the weekend, the Parks and Recreation Department reopened several of the parks, facilities and programs that have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now open and available for public use – albeit in a limited fashion – are the Barton Creek Spillway, or Barking Springs; city disc golf courses, tennis courts and outdoor exercise equipment; the campsites at Emma Long Metropolitan Park; Sunshine Camps; and the Girl Scouts hut. The parks department is also restarting some small group (no more than 10 people) activities such as cleanups and tree plantings as well as select outdoor fitness instruction. Still, PARD cautions, “Each facility will operate under reduced capacity and Covid-19 Modified Operating Procedures specific to each facility, such as social distancing, cleaning protocols, and other requirements of the nonprofit operators.” Which means, in everyday parlance, wear your mask at all times, wash your hands frequently and maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
LBJ center’s fall plant sale proceeds, with changes
Gardeners wait impatiently for this event all year long and finally it’s almost here – Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Fall Native Plant Sale. The annual open-air plant sale features “a variety of spectacular Texas natives, including succulents, grasses, perennials, wetland plants, shrubs and trees. Not only are they beautiful, but native plants help conserve water, reduce mowing costs, provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, protect the soil, and save money on fertilizer and pesticides.” The center acknowledges that, due to Covid, “things will look a little different this season.” In an effort to diminish the hordes of green-thumbed shoppers, the sale will be spread out over nine weekends. The members-only weekends (Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 2-4) are already sold out. Weekends from Oct. 9 to Nov. 22 are open to the public, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., “with very limited capacity and timed entry.” Reserve your spot here and read the center’s tips for preparing for a successful sale experience here.
Planning commissioners pay tribute to former leaders
Planning commissioners paid tribute to their former leaders, Chair Conor Kenny and Vice Chair Fayez Kazi, at the board’s Tuesday night meeting. Kenny left to join Kazi at Civilitude Group to work on affordable housing developments together. New chairman Todd Shaw thanked the two for advancing affordable housing in Austin. “Conor and Fayez really took it to heart to do brick-and-mortar and get affordable housing done,” Shaw said. Greg Anderson touted their work on pushing revisions to the Land Development Code. “They did a good job of calling out the endless bullying and whatnot that comes along with throwing your hat in the ring in Austin, Texas, and trying to do the right thing,” he said. “So I love them both for that.” Robert Schneider said he also learned a lot from the former commissioners. “They really embodied the spirit of service and the service of commitment to the city,” he said. The tributes rounded up an unusually light agenda for the Planning Commission, with the only extended discussion revolving around the annual Imagine Austin report. Commissioners used a variety of green items to signal their yea votes; while most held up green cards to approve the consent agenda, Schneider, Claire Hempel, James Shieh and Greg Anderson used a lime, a green Uno reverse card, a green pencil sharpener and a houseplant, respectively.
Chamber awards honor local businesses
The Austin Chamber has announced the recipients of its 2020 Greater Austin Business Awards. The 20-year-old event “celebrates businesses in the region, recognizing the people and companies that have demonstrated a unique vision, innovation, and best business practices,” according to the chamber. The chamber has made a special effort this year to recognize the effect of the pandemic on area businesses, with a Healthcare Heroes award that recognizes the recipients’ “continued collaboration with the community amid Covid-19.” Voting for the Uniquely Austin award, which is given each year to a company “that exemplifies what it means to live and do business in Austin,” is now underway. Read about the finalists and cast your vote here. Other award categories include Austin CEO/Site Leader, Community Relations, Company Culture, Consumer Product, Customer Experience, Employee Health & Wellness, Entrepreneur, Environmental Champion, Nonprofit and Technology Innovation. The award recipients will be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 5-8 p.m.
Virtual open house previews Longhorn improvements
A virtual open house launched by Austin Transportation portrays upcoming changes to Longhorn Dam and along South Pleasant Valley Road. According to the department, “The changes are an update to near-term interim improvements that were presented during the 2018 and 2019 public process for a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge design over Lady Bird Lake.” South Pleasant Valley Road between Cesar Chavez and Oltorf streets was identified earlier this year as a “High-Injury Roadway.” The Vision Zero team’s analysis led staffers to update the scope of the improvements “planned for South Pleasant Valley Road between Cesar Chavez Street and Elmont Drive to better align with the safety needs of people driving, rolling and walking in the area.” Construction should begin by early 2021.
Fight for Austin PAC forms
A new political action committee formed to boost candidates who “prioritize public safety” in the November City Council elections launched Tuesday. In a press release about the new Fight for Austin PAC, the group announced its intention to educate voters and support candidates based on “their record and positions related to public safety issues, especially the homeless campaign ordinance and the $150 million police budget cut. Candidate questionnaires will be sent out and reviewed before endorsement decisions will be made.” This November, voters will choose City Council members in districts 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10, with incumbents running in all but District 2. The PAC has six founding board members: S.A.F.E. Project founder Cleo Petricek, downtown property owner Michael Girard, former City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, executive Chris Ragland, chiropractor Larry D. Maddalena and Travis GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak. “Incumbent Council members have made our city less safe,” Mackowiak said. “Our Fight for Austin PAC will give Austinites an opportunity to support candidates who will make our city safer. It is time Austin fights back against City Hall. It is time we throw the bums out.” (Disclosure: Ellen Troxclair is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.)
AFSCME endorses Chincanchan, incumbents
The union representing city, county and state employees has endorsed David Chincanchan in the race for Place 2, the seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza. Longtime AFSCME employee Jack Kirfman told the Austin Monitor that the group was “going with David,” citing his work for Council Member Pio Renteria. “He’s a great policy guy, very simpatico” with workers issues and will have very little learning curve if he is elected, he said. Kirfman said Chincanchan’s opponent, Vanessa Fuentes, seemed very intelligent but has much less experience than her opponent. AFSCME is also endorsing all the current Council members running for reelection, including Alison Alter (District 10), Leslie Pool (District 7), Jimmy Flannigan (District 6), and Greg Casar (District 4). ” I think all of the incumbents deserve to be endorsed and reelected,” he said. “I think they’ve performed in a thoughtful and forward-looking way” during a difficult time.
Oakwood symposium addresses discovery, remembrance
A free public symposium on the archaeological findings at Oakwood Cemetery Chapel will feature nationally renowned anthropologist Dr. Michael Blakey among other speakers. All Together Here: A Community Symposium for Discovery and Remembrance will be broadcast online and through live social media channels. The event is divided into two themes: Day 1 sessions, on Friday, Oct. 9, will address the archaeologist’s report and what it means; while Day 2, Saturday, Oct. 10, covers “the historical context of the people who were found and how the context expands our understanding of 19th-century Austin, cemetery history, and cultural expressions of grief and reverence of ancestors.” Dr. Maria Franklin, an associate professor in UT’s Department of Anthropology, said, “This is an innovative symposium that bridges research, community engagement, and a collective conversation on how to best honor the men, women, and children who were recently discovered at Oakwood.” Register on Eventbrite. Afterward, the recorded sessions will be posted on the parks department’s YouTube channel.
Learn how to protect the night skies
For the latest installment of the Wild Neighbors Series, dark skies advocate Cindy Luongo Cassidy will be giving an online presentation on the consequences of artificial lighting on the natural world. Almost every living thing depends on the cycle of light and dark. Yet as the state’s population has boomed, dark skies are becoming increasingly threatened and the ensuing light pollution affects animals, plants and even human health. In addition to giving participants a peek at real darkness, Cassidy will share information about “outdoor lighting practices that let us have the light we need, while saving energy, reducing glare and limiting negative consequences on the environment.” Participants will receive a digital handout with drawings of recommended light fixtures. Register to attend here. Login info will be sent before the event. Thursday, Oct. 1, noon-1 p.m. Wild Neighbors is hosted by Travis County and City of Austin Balcones Canyonlands Preserve partners.
New environmental directory is here
The 2020-2021 edition of the Austin Environmental Directory, compiled by Paul Robbins with help from a number of other local environmentalists, presents not only a listing and description of Austin environmental organizations but a compendium of articles about the environment and our interactions with it. From the neurotoxin BPA found on many grocery receipts to the carcinogens found in many carpet materials, floor products, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces, the directory is a great guide for anyone contemplating home upgrades. Robbins told the Austin Monitor, “I really set out to create an urban survival manual. We’ve got all these toxins overwhelming us, in our food, in our water, in our clothing, in our building materials, etc. and I thought this could be the children’s issue where I could talk about how to avoid all these toxins. It’s relevant to everyone, but it’s particularly relevant to children.” Robbins spent three years putting this issue of the guide together. If you have ever wanted to reach out to the Austin Sierra Club, Texas Conservation Corps, Urban Patchwork outdoor learning environments, or groups dedicated to organic gardening, solar energy, health, parks or recycling, you’ll find a listing in the directory. Robbins is distributing 30,000 free copies of the book, which was financed by contributions and sales of ad space. On Tuesday, he delivered copies for the public to Half Price Books, the Wheatsville Food Co-ops and the Central Market on North Lamar. He has also updated the directory’s website.
This whisper has been changed to correct the number of copies available.
Environmental Democrats make endorsements
Austin Environmental Democrats met online last Friday and voted overwhelmingly to endorse the city’s two transportation bonds that will be up for vote in November. The group also made endorsement decisions about Austin Independent School District trustees, voting online with a process allowing voters to remain anonymous, just like when they vote on paper ballots in person. The group voted 51 to 7 to endorse funding for Proposition A, which would fund Project Connect’s rail lines and bus rapid transit as well as affordable housing and other anti-displacement measures. They also voted 50 to 7 to endorse a package of road, sidewalk, bicycle lane and trail improvements known as Proposition B. On the question of AISD trustees, the group endorsed John McKiernan-González in District 2 , Kevin Foster in District 3 and Noelita Lugo in District 8. Lynn Boswell and Jennifer Littlefield got a dual endorsement in District 5. The group also endorsed one candidate in Del Valle ISD: David Albert for District 2.
School’s open, stay alert
While AISD students are starting school this week with four weeks of remote learning, crossing guards – wearing face masks and observing social distance – are still at their posts to protect any students who are attending classes at physical campuses. School zone flashing beacons are also in operation. Safe Routes to School Program Manager Amir Emamian said in a news release, “The school year might look a little different this year, but we want to make sure that our kids are safe when they’re walking and biking to school.” Motorists are reminded to be on the lookout for kids crossing the street, stay alert for the flashing beacons, observe the speed limits, and above all, don’t text while driving.
City again delays phased reopening
The city has, once again, delayed its phased reopening plan. This time, according to a Sept. 4 memo from City Manager Spencer Cronk, phase one of the plan will be delayed until “at least the end of November 2020.” That phase was originally scheduled to begin on June 29. The memo explains, “This weekend marks six months since our region first declared a local state of disaster in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time, city departments have continued to provide essential services to our residents while also offering our employees more opportunities for teleworking and flex scheduling. …We have long believed and planned to return to our work environments once the pandemic subsided. As we learn more about this disease, we are working to clearly define what a ‘workplace of the future’ post-Covid will look like for our organization.”
AISD launches web resource for community learning spaces
Today, Austin ISD students start their first four weeks of school – not physically at school, but learning remotely. To help parents and caregivers in this effort, the district has launched new web pages supporting the resources it calls community learning spaces. A community learning space, according to AISD, is “a place outside school where a legal guardian takes the student to receive in-person supervision, access to digital resources and other support.” These spaces are not run by AISD staff, but “facilitated by community organizations, groups of parents, faith-based organizations or other public entities” to provide “in-person support to students during times of remote off-campus instruction.” Among other things, the new web pages include training for remote student learning, FAQs for caregivers, locations of community learning spaces, and video tutorials for AISD technology devices. While such concepts are also called learning pods, the district prefers to use the term community learning space “because it represents the many ways individuals and organizations have stepped up to support students during the pandemic.”