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Whispers

Friday, February 9, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council members sound off on CodeNEXT

The final draft of CodeNEXT will be released Monday. And, in preparation for that release, four City Council members have taken the unorthodox step of creating a blog about the Land Development Code rewrite. Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Delia Garza, Pio Renteria and Greg Casar, who comprise the “For All Austinites” coalition, released their first post on Thursday. The “joint op-ed” stresses the need to update the outdated code, which they say is only working to increase inequality in the city. It reads, in part, “Encouraging a diverse mix of housing across the city, not only in undeveloped parts of town, begins to bridge the gaps  –  not just between haves and have-nots but between homes and grocery stores and museums and bus lines and jobs. Making a fair and just code also begins to address the disparity of opportunity. Decades of operating under a broken code have created an environment where larger developers and affluent landowners and homeowners (who can afford the best lobbyists and contractors) may “game the system” and enjoy opportunities – in home buying, home renovation, and rental properties  – that the average homeowner and renter cannot. … Now is the time to fix the failed status-quo policies of the past and to create a land-development code for all Austinites. Now is the time for us to put aside community divisions, look at the big picture, and focus on our shared future.” City Council is currently expected to take up CodeNEXT in April, though that timeline could be delayed by discussion at the city’s land use commissions.


Friday, February 9, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Siegel running for Congress in District 10

Mike Siegel, an assistant city attorney for Austin, has a new hobby. He is one of five Democrats competing in the March 6 primary to run against incumbent U.S. Congress member Michael McCaul in District 10. The district’s pretty safely Republican, but Siegel is doing well and reports that he has gotten an endorsement from just about every Democratic group he has asked. That includes the Austin Environmental Democrats; the Stonewall Democrats of Austin; the Capital Area Progressive Democrats, the Austin Central Labor Council; and the Austin chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The district stretches from Austin to Houston, and Siegel noted that he had picked up endorsements from Area 5 Democrats, the oldest Democratic club in Texas, as well as the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, Houston AFSCME and Unite Here Local 23, which represents airport workers. He also said he has support from Council members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria and Delia Garza. He said he will continue to work his day job and campaign at night, during lunch hours and weekends and “I take leave when I have to.” He said if he gets the Democratic nomination he will have to talk to his boss about taking more time off. Siegel has handled some high-profile cases for the city, including the lawsuit against the state over Senate Bill 4, the anti-immigrant legislation passed by the state legislature in 2017.


Friday, February 9, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Nathan Wiebe moves on from the Office of the City Auditor

Last Friday, Feb. 2, Nathan Wiebe completed his final day as the chief of investigations for the Office of the City Auditor. His new role is IT security consultant for the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer. Specifically, Wiebe will work in digital forensic investigations to support citywide inquiries. With his background in computer forensics, this job appears to be a natural transition. Wiebe told the Austin Monitor that as our world migrates more and more online, being able to investigate people in conjunction with their digital footprint is a pivotal skill set. Jason Hadavi, the deputy city auditor who is looking for a replacement for Wiebe’s position, told the Monitor that it is not, however, an easy skill set to find. The city is currently reaching out to candidates across the country and encouraging them to apply when the position opens officially. “If they can get one of these folks on board, I’m very, very comfortable it will be a smooth transition,” said Wiebe.


Friday, February 9, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin Public Library celebrates diversity in Texas literature

The Austin Public Library and KAZI Book Review are hosting a free Celebration of Diverse Literary Voices of Texas, in honor of African-American History Month. Eight Texas authors and editors will be in attendance for readings and “panel discussions on cultural diversity, African American education, Mexican American literature and social justice in literature,” according to the news release. Books will be available for sale. Head to the Austin Central Library Living Room (on the sixth floor) on Saturday, Feb. 24, from 1 to 5 p.m.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Eckhardt to deliver State of the County today

It’s time for the State of the County address. Every year, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt delivers a speech covering the previous year’s accomplishments and setting out goals for the next year. This year’s State of the County will be tonight at 6 p.m. at the Travis County Administration Building, 700 Lavaca St., first floor. Everyone is welcome.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Chief Kerr announces return to Fort Lauderdale

Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, who has served as the leader of Austin’s Fire Department since 2009, is returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she began her career as a firefighter 18 35 years ago. Interim City Manager Elaine Hart announced Wednesday that Kerr had accepted the position of fire chief at the Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Department, where she started in 1983 before becoming fire chief in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then in Austin. Her retirement is effective July 1, which will give Austin’s new City Manager Spencer Cronk time to get his feet on the ground before choosing a new chief. When Kerr came to Austin, she was the first female chief and exemplified the city’s push to hire more female firefighters. She will also be the first female chief for Fort Lauderdale. Although the local firefighters union has voted to censure her twice, it has not stopped her from rising through the ranks in the International Association of Fire Chiefs. She served as president of that organization as well as president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association during 2015-16. In Austin, Kerr established four-person staffing on all fire apparatus and started the first Wildfire Division. Kerr also helped to create the Austin Fire Foundation and expanded the department’s outreach to distribute free smoke alarms every year. Although the Austin department is considerably larger than Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue, the Florida city was recognized as having the busiest fire station in the nation in 2014.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Kitchen organizes blood drive for Craig

Council Member Ann Kitchen has an update on Senior Policy Advisor Ken Craig and information on how to help. Craig was in a serious accident last month on the Slaughter Bridge during the ice storm. Kitchen said her office is collecting cards for Craig and has organized a blood drive for March 19 at City Hall. To donate blood in his name, visit the We Are Blood website and use the group code C874. In addition, people can spread the word about this drive using this poster, or donate blood using the group code at other We Are Blood clinics located at 4300 N. Lamar Blvd. and 3100 W. Slaughter Lane. Reservations at those clinics can be made by calling 512-206-1266.

Kitchen also relayed a message from Craig, which reads:

Thanks for the prayerful support of all of you. I have been able to complete the first stage of my recovery and am now engaged in inpatient rehabilitative care. Due to the virulent nature of this particular strain of flu in the area, this being cold season, and my compromised respiratory system, my ability to receive visitors will be extremely limited.

I will always be grateful for each of you. Thank you.


Thursday, February 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Anderson Mill open house this weekend

The city of Austin has been working on improvements to Anderson Mill Road between Spicewood Parkway and U.S. Highway 183. Last year, staff gathered community input and combined it with technical assessments to create a draft of “recommendations to improve mobility, safety and connectivity for all roadway users.” Now, the city would like some feedback on these recommendations. The feedback will be used to inform the preliminary engineering report, which is planned to be released in March 2018; the design phase should begin shortly after. To offer feedback, attend the open house this Saturday, Feb. 10, from 10 a.m. to noon at Hope Presbyterian Church’s Activities and Education Center (11559 Spicewood Parkway). District 6 City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan would love to see you there!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Reduced traffic delays on Cesar Chavez due to traffic signal retiming

Noticed quicker travel times on Cesar Chavez Street recently? It’s not just a seasonal phenomenon. According to the Austin Transportation Department, the traffic signals on Cesar Chavez were retimed after the opening of the MoPac Express Lanes, and this appears to have resulted in reduced rush hour delays in the area. The news release mentions that the department has noticed reductions in both the morning and evening rush hours. Travel time reductions range from 25 to 30 percent, which means travelers are arriving at their destinations about 2 to 5 minutes faster than they were before the signal retiming. The department plans to continue monitoring travel times in the area to keep improving the experience for commuters.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin Public Library debuts the ‘eCard’

If you’ve been meaning to get a library card but you are unable or can’t find the time to visit a branch, the Austin Public Library now has an option for you. Austinites aged 18 and older can now register for a library “eCard” completely online by submitting an application and uploading a copy of a valid (not expired) acceptable photo ID and proof of current residence address. Applications take two to three business days to process, and you can find the form here. Once approved, you will receive an email with your eCard number, which will provide you with access to all the electronic resources that are in the Virtual Library, such as streaming entertainment and e-books. If you decide one day that you’d like to check out physical books or movies, you can convert your eCard account to a full-access account by bringing your ID and residence documentation to any library branch. Note: You already have access to the full Virtual Library if you already have a library card.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Tovo re-election kickoff Thursday

Kathie Tovo, who represents District 9 on the Council and also serves as mayor pro tem, will officially launch her re-election campaign at El Mercado on Thursday. Volunteers have already been collecting signatures in the various neighborhoods of District 9, but Tovo is hoping to get more signatures and more volunteers at Thursday’s party. Tovo is gathering signatures because she has served two terms, one under the at-large system and one under the current system, and it’s foggy how term limits work in this case. She was not certain whether she needed the signatures because of a difference of opinion about the matter, but she decided last fall to collect the signatures as soon as she could do so, and eliminate any doubt as to her eligibility. She needs to collect signatures of 5 percent of voters in her district. She told the Austin Monitor that she needs “somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,700, but I’m aiming for 5,000” signatures, adding, “We’re hoping to get it done quickly.” Longtime campaign consultant David Butts and media specialist Dean Rindy are assisting with the campaign, Tovo said. So far, no one has announced intentions to run against Tovo, who is popular with the neighborhood activists and environmentalists. She defeated incumbent Randi Shade for her at-large seat in 2011, and then ran against and defeated a fellow Council member, Chris Riley who withdrew from the runoff, in the first district race in 2014.

This whisper has been edited to clarify that Riley withdrew from the Council election.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council to talk sick leave today

Sad that City Council isn’t meeting this week? Don’t worry, they are. Council will convene at City Hall today at 1:30 p.m. in order to discuss the upcoming paid sick leave ordinance (a draft of which is posted here.) The meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m., but Council Member Greg Casar allowed that the meeting would likely start later than planned due to various commitments on the dais. City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance on Feb. 15, and discuss it again at the work session prior to that meeting, on Feb. 13. If it passes, the new city law would mandate Austin employers offer paid sick leave to employees.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Loyola bridge construction underway

Construction of the Loyola Lane bridge over the future 183 South Expressway has begun. As a result, for about a year, the Loyola Lane crossing over U.S. Highway 183 will be closed. The crossing will be closed to bicycles and pedestrians as well. Loyola Lane west of 183 will also close for about two months to allow crews to construct the new general-purpose lanes and connect them to Loyola. Expect travel delays near these areas. Eventually, the 183 South Expressway will pass underneath Loyola Lane. View the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority website here for maps of the affected areas, planned traffic impacts of this project and suggested detours for drivers.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Erwin Center plans develop

We’ll soon start learning more about the future home of the University of Texas’ basketball programs. That’s because companies interested in building the school’s replacement for the Frank Erwin Center have until March 8 to submit plans under a recently published request for qualifications and proposal for a developer and operator of the new facility. The current arena site is expected to be utilized as part of the growing health care innovation district on the east edge of downtown Austin, with the parking lot located south of Mike A. Myers Stadium believed to be the most likely spot for the new arena. There is also a chance the arena could be located just south of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, though that would mean replacing at least two other existing structures as well. Development teams selected from the initial qualification round will then have a June 18 deadline to submit a full proposal.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Jack Craver

Shane Sexton withdraws from District 8 race

The race for the District 8 City Council seat just got a little less crowded. Shane Sexton, one of four left-of-center candidates vying to unseat Council Member Ellen Troxclair, the only conservative elected official left in city government, announced in a Facebook post on Saturday that he was getting out of the race. In a text message to the Austin Monitor on Sunday, Sexton said that the field of candidates had become overcrowded. “It divides the voters and resources in support of progressive candidates,” while those on the right will be united in support of Troxclair, he said. “I entered the race to better my community and the city and there are other good candidates that can help accomplish that now,” he said, adding that he plans to meet with the other challengers next week and has not yet decided who he will support.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council members have police contract ideas

The Austin Police Association is ready to resume contract negotiations, but, in the meantime, there are some City Council members looking for a stopgap measure. According to a post on the City Council Message Board from Council Member Ora Houston’s office, co-signed by Council members Alison Alter, Jimmy Flannigan, Ann Kitchen and Ellen Troxclair, there will be a resolution on the Feb. 15 agenda. The post explains, “At this time, we have developed a set of recommendations to move forward that we feel achieves these goals. It includes guidance on an overall spending limit and details on other fiscal and non-fiscal items. The details we have developed and agreed upon as a group will be delivered to the new City Manager as soon as possible. Because the negotiations may take some time, we believe it is critical that we bring forward a Council resolution to set some items back in place for the short term while an interim agreement is negotiated. With this resolution, we will recognize the direct impact to our officers in the absence of a contract and show our effort to move forward with respect and in good faith. We don’t assume however, that any or all of the items put in place in the short term will necessarily continue in an interim or final agreement, but are important to sustain our officers while the process continues.”


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Construction begins today at Congress/Oltorf

Construction begins today on the intersection of South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street. The project is funded by money from the 2016 mobility bond as part of the Intersection Safety/Vision Zero program. It is the third intersection to be enhanced as part of that program. According to the news release, “Improvements include construction of center medians on Congress Avenue near the intersection to reduce unsafe left turns; redesign of access driveways and construction of a shared-use path to reduce conflicts between people walking or biking and people driving; installation of new high-visibility crosswalks; and more.” The goal for completion is summer 2018. View the project fact sheet here.


Monday, February 5, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Final draft of MACC plan available for feedback

After an extensive planning and public input process, the final draft of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center Master Plan is here. The plan was presented by CasaBella Architects at the third public meeting on Jan. 20, and it is now available here to view and respond to using a short survey. Feedback from this survey will be used to prepare the final design presentation that will be made to City Council, boards and commissions.


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Ken Craig recovering from serious injury

Around City Hall, people have been missing Ken Craig, senior policy advisor to District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen. Craig suffered serious injury when his truck apparently hit ice on a Slaughter Lane overpass on Jan. 16 and fell 30 feet from the overpass. Mayor Steve Adler and Kitchen both spoke warmly of Craig during Thursday’s City Council meeting. Kitchen noted that he was in an intensive care unit for some time but has now moved to rehabilitation. She did not give out his location, saying that she did not want to encourage visitors because of the current flu epidemic. However, she did encourage Craig’s friends to send cards and warm wishes. Kitchen also said that because Craig had to have transfusions after the wreck, there would be a blood drive at City Hall at some point in the future. Although he was badly injured, Kitchen stressed that he is recovering. His companion did not survive the crash and some observers questioned whether the overpass should have been closed during the rare icy weather.


Friday, February 2, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Another record-breaking year at ABIA

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport just released its 2017 passenger numbers: 13.8 million travelers passed through the airport this year. That’s an 11.5 percent increase over 2016, and this is the eighth year in a row of record-breaking passenger traffic for the airport. The news release also notes the addition of 10 new nonstop destinations, for a total of 70, “which included 10 carriers initiating or announcing 29 new routes.” The airport has been undergoing renovations to keep up with this service growth, and improvements include terminal expansion and a new six-story parking garage that should be open in 2018. And, the release notes some quirkier stats as well: 61.5 tons of brisket and 684,199 breakfast tacos served; 18,300 bottles of Shiner Bock and 111,557 T-shirts sold (Keep Austin Weird and ACL shirts led the pack in T-shirt popularity); over 80 artworks exhibited, with $4,000 of artwork purchased by travelers directly from artists; and 1,500 live music performances hosted, for a total of 11,500 live performances since 1999.


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