Whispers

Tuesday, January 14, 2020 by Tai Moses

Nerd Nite goes underground

Nerd Nite Austin is teaming up with the Austin Cave Festival to present a night of fascinating talks devoted to all things underground, such as salamanders, geology, groundwater chemistry, caves – and the creatures who call them home. You’ll also learn about volunteer opportunities for those who want to help protect Austin’s fragile cave systems and wildlands. The event is free. There will be food and drink available for purchase from Pueblo Viejo and the North Door. Wednesday, Jan. 22; doors open at 7:30 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m., Great Hall, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave. (Next month we’ll tell you all about the Austin Cave Fest, which comes to town Feb. 22.)


Tuesday, January 14, 2020 by Tai Moses

PARD gets kids outdoors

In an ideal world, children and nature would be as inseparable as leopards and spots. That’s the kind of world the Austin Parks and Recreation Department wants to create, so with the aim of getting more Austin-area kids outside and connected to nature, the parks department is undertaking improvements to three city parks: Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, MLK Station Neighborhood Park and Armadillo Neighborhood Park. According to PARD’s news release, “The vision for these park improvements is to provide abundant and equitable access to nature for the children of Austin, with a specific focus on children in low-income communities and children of color.” Kids of all ages are invited to attend the following community engagement events, where they’ll enjoy pop-up play areas, design-a-park stations and fort-building activities:

  • Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park Playground Replacement and Nature Play, 12138 N. Lamar Blvd. (meet at the playground), Sat., Jan. 18, 10 a.m.-noon
  • MLK Station Neighborhood Park, 2907 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (meet at E. 16th St. and Clifford Ave.), Sat., Jan. 25, 10 a.m.-noon (bad weather date is Feb. 1)
  • Armadillo Neighborhood Park, 910 Armadillo Rd., Sat., Feb. 22, 10 a.m.-noon (bad weather date is Feb. 29)

 


Monday, January 13, 2020 by Tai Moses

Day of service honors Dr. King

In one of his final sermons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed a new definition of greatness: “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve,” he said. This Saturday, Jan. 18, thousands of people around the country will honor Dr. King’s legacy of service by volunteering themselves for a day of service, “a national initiative to strengthen communities, bridge barriers between different groups of people, create solutions to our social problems and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community.” Locally, United Way for Greater Austin is teaming up with Keep Austin Beautiful to recruit volunteers for a day of picking up litter along East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Interstate 35 to U.S. Highway 183. Before heading out on their urban beautification project, volunteers will be treated to a kickoff breakfast at 9 a.m. at United Way for Greater Austin, 2000 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Find out more about the project and sign up here.


Monday, January 13, 2020 by Tai Moses

Council adopts PARD’s long-range plan

City Council has adopted the Parks and Recreation Department’s long-range plan, Our Parks, Our Future, a blueprint that will guide the evolution of the city’s parks and recreation system over the next 10 years. PARD says the plan “reflects the community’s desire for expansion of Austin’s trail system, immersive natural experiences, and expanded arts and culture programming in parks.” The parks department has been working on the plan since fall 2018, and the completed plan is the result of careful analysis of existing assets and in-depth community engagement of “citizens, park supporters, conservancies, neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations and public partners.” Find a link to Our Parks, Our Future here.


Monday, January 13, 2020 by Tai Moses

Dougherty issues call for artists

The Dougherty Arts Center’s Julia C. Butridge Gallery is now soliciting exhibit proposals for the 2021 gallery season. Each season, several artists are selected by an anonymous panel of jurors to exhibit in one of the downtown gallery’s multiple exhibit spaces. Besides images of their work, artists must submit an artist statement and display information. Submit proposals here through Feb. 16.


Friday, January 10, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Pool files first campaign finance report

Council Member Leslie Pool was the first among her Council colleagues and candidates for the November Council election to file a campaign finance report ahead of the Jan. 15 deadline. Pool, who is seeking reelection to her District 7 seat in the fall, reported contributions of $10,985, which she started collecting in mid-December. Pool also loaned her campaign $52,500 in July. So far, no opponent has indicated an interest in running against Pool, although filing for Council races does not officially start until July 18 and the filing deadline is Aug. 17. Pool’s contributors include fellow Council Member Ann Kitchen and a number of neighborhood advocates, including Linda Bailey, and David King, Ann Denkler and Don Leighton-Burwell, who serve on the city’s land use commissions. Attorney and frequent Council critic Fred Lewis and his wife Dawn also contributed, as did Ellen Jefferson, executive director of Austin Pets Alive!


Friday, January 10, 2020 by Tai Moses

Come on down to Bluebonnet Lane

The Austin Transportation Department is inviting the community to attend an open house to review preliminary designs for changes to Bluebonnet Lane. The department is “evaluating Bluebonnet Lane from Del Curto Road to Melridge Place and Melridge Place from Bluebonnet Lane to Rabb Road for changes to enhance the safety and mobility of everyone who uses these streets.” Attendees will be able to fill out a project survey to provide feedback. 6-7 p.m, Thursday, Jan. 23, Zilker Elementary School cafeteria, 1900 Bluebonnet Lane.


Friday, January 10, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Southern Walnut Creek Trail temporarily closed

Maintenance and repairs on U.S. Highway 183 will close the portion of Southern Walnut Creek Trail that crosses the highway just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The temporary closure will begin Jan. 13 and continue until the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority completes the demolition of the old U.S. 183 bridge that traverses Boggy Creek. The project is estimated to take two weeks. Weekend warriors will still have access to the trail crossing, which will be open on weekends but closed Monday through Friday. During the closure period, there will be a detour shared-use path along northbound and southbound U.S. 183 that will lead to a pedestrian crossing at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.


Friday, January 10, 2020 by Tai Moses

Take this survey

Got 10 minutes to take a survey about the city’s cultural centers? If you’ve ever visited one of Austin’s cultural centers – and even if you haven’t – your anonymous feedback “will help the city auditor determine how well the city’s cultural centers serve the community and identify opportunities for the city to improve its services.” Really, how could you resist? Take the survey here, now through Jan. 21.


Thursday, January 9, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

New T.A. Brown campus opens

Though the Austin Independent School District has, of late, made headlines for proposed school closures, yesterday the district opened the new T.A. Brown Elementary School as part of the 2017 Bond Program. The campus was closed in 2016 due to structural issues, and demolished in 2017. According to a press release about the new, modernized campus: “A Campus Architectural Team made up of Principal Sharp, former Webb Primary director Marizza Marquez, additional school staff, parents and community members provided guidance throughout the design process as the team of ERO Architects, Rogers-O’Brien Construction and AECOM brought the modernized T.A. Brown campus to life. Design began in March 2018, with construction beginning in November 2018. Mr. T.A. Brown himself was an influence in the design of the school; a principal at Pease Elementary for 41 years, he represented high character and devotion to education.”


Thursday, January 9, 2020 by Tai Moses

Students compete in MLK speech competition

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was famous, among other things, for his oratorical skills. His powerful, eloquent speeches live on long after the man himself is gone. The Austin Area Heritage Council, in collaboration with Google Fiber, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and Child, Inc., issued an invitation to area schools to participate in an oratory competition commemorating Dr. King’s ideals and principles. Six schools answered the challenge: Blackshear Elementary Fine Arts Academy, Lee Lewis Campbell Elementary Media & Performing Arts Institute, Maplewood Elementary School, Barbara Jordan Early College Prep, Volma Overton Early College Prep and Texas Preparatory School. On Thursday, Jan. 16, the young finalists in the 15th Annual MLK Oratory Competition will each deliver a five-minute speech based on the theme, “If Dr. King were alive, what would you discuss with him in creating change in America which would halt the evils of racism, hatred, inequality, and social injustice happening to the people in our country today and how would you do it?” 6:30 p.m., George Washington Carver Museum’s Boyd Vance Theatre, 1165 Angelina St.


Thursday, January 9, 2020 by Tai Moses

Become a chicken whisperer

Chickens do so much for us: They give us their nourishing eggs, their manure enriches our soil, and our feathered friends also help keep trash out of the landfill by devouring our food scraps and yard trimmings. And that’s to say nothing of their abilities as natural pest control experts for your garden. If you don’t already have chickens, you may be eligible for a $75 rebate on a chicken coop through the city’s Home Composting Rebate program (if you pay the Clean Community Fee on your monthly utility bill). Then it’s as easy as attending a free chicken-keeping class – and there just happens to be one coming up this Saturday, Jan. 11, 11 a.m., at Manchaca Library, 5500 Manchaca Road. Chicken-keeping and composting go together like peas and carrots. Check out the city’s chicken fact sheet and register for the free class here.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020 by Tai Moses

Meet the candidates

The Parks and Recreation Department is holding two town hall meetings to give the community a chance to meet the finalists for an assistant director position with the parks department. The hiring manager will discuss the hiring process and introduce the candidates and attendees will have the opportunity to provide feedback. According to PARD’s news release, the assistant director position is “responsible for service operations, budgets, personnel, and management for community recreation centers, senior centers, adaptive recreation, nature based programming, forestry, outreach programming, athletics, cultural arts, and museums.” Both town hall meetings will take place Thursday, Jan. 16, at noon at Zilker Botanical Garden Auditorium, 2220 Barton Springs Road (parking fee waived for attendees); and 6:30 p.m. at Conley Guerrero Senior Center, 808 Nile St.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020 by Tai Moses

Prescribed burns take place today

County residents may see some smoke on the horizon as a result of prescribed burns being conducted today at Southeast Metropolitan Park and Pace Bend Park between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. According to Travis County Parks, “The prescribed burn is intended to reduce wildfire danger and improve ecosystem health by removing invading shrubs, consuming dead and downed vegetation, reducing the number of exotic species, and enhancing the health and diversity of the native plant community.” Both parks will remain open to the public, though some portions of the parks may be closed.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020 by Tai Moses

City’s emergency plan up for annual review

Have you ever wondered how well prepared Austin is in case of emergency? How would the city’s EMS respond to a real disaster – say massive flooding, viral contagion or terrorist attack? Now’s your chance to get some answers to those questions. The city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will be holding its annual public meeting to review and discuss the city’s Emergency Operations Plan. The plan, according to HSEM, “was established to provide a generalized and conceptual framework for the efficient use of resources, and coordinated or multi-agency response to any major emergency or disaster that may impact the metro area. The plan establishes guidelines for how the city will respond to all hazards within its boundaries.” Stakeholders and community members will have the opportunity to provide feedback and comment on the operations plan as well as receive emergency preparedness and safety information. 4 p.m., Friday, Jan. 31, Austin City Hall, Boards and Commissions Room, 301 W. Second St.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

LDC suit gets a court date

There is now a court date (Tuesday, Feb. 18) for the latest Land Development Code rewrite lawsuit. The suit, which was filed last month, alleges that the city has denied property owners their legal right to protest the mass rezonings that will result from the code revision. Doug Becker of Gray & Becker, who represents the 19 plaintiffs, released a statement about the scheduling, saying, “We believe that a quick answer to the legal issues raised in our lawsuit is in everyone’s best interest. The outcome of the case depends upon the Court’s legal interpretation of a few provisions of the Texas Government Code. The current uncertainty benefits no one.”


Tuesday, January 7, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Democrats start endorsement dance

It’s that time of year again and since the year is 2020, many Austinites will be focused on the presidential race. But there are many other important local races, and the city’s Democratic clubs are wasting no time in screening the various candidates seeking their endorsement. Starting Thursday night, Jan. 9, the West Austin Democrats will hold the first of two endorsement meetings starting at 6:45 p.m. The meetings, held at the Austin Public Library Howson Branch, last just two hours, which limits the number of endorsements in a given evening. This Thursday’s agenda includes endorsements for Travis County attorney and sheriff. Next month, they will hear from candidates for district attorney and at least two district judge seats. The Northeast Travis County Democrats and several other groups, including the Black Austin Democrats and the East Travis County Democrats, are hosting a forum this Saturday, Jan. 11, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Hanovers 2.0 at 16912 N. I-35. Candidates will kick off at noon with Mike Siegel, Shannon Hutcheson and Pritesh Gandhi, who are hoping to be on the November ballot against Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul. Jennie Lou Leeder and Wendy Davis, who are vying to face District 21 U.S. Rep. Chip Roy next fall, are scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. District attorney candidates Margaret Moore, Erin Martinson and José Garza are scheduled for 2 p.m. Travis County attorney candidates Mike Denton, Laurie Eiserloh, Delia Garza and Dominic Selvera are scheduled for 2:40 p.m. The South Austin Democrats and the Tejano Democrats will host a forum together at the Gardner Betts Center at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 and the Central Austin Democrats are planning their forum for noon on Jan. 26 at the Violet Crown Clubhouse.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020 by Tai Moses

New signals give pedestrians a head start at crosswalks

With the installation of new signals called “leading pedestrian intervals,” the Austin Transportation Department hopes to move closer to the city’s goal of reducing traffic deaths to zero. The new signals display the walk symbol for five to seven seconds for people crossing the street at a crosswalk before motorists get the green light, giving pedestrians a head start. This makes pedestrians more visible to motorists, encouraging drivers to yield the right of way. Austin Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar said, “LPIs provide enhanced safety for our most vulnerable neighbors who may be slower in crossing an intersection.” Other cities that have implemented LPIs, such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have witnessed a reduction in collisions involving motorists and pedestrians. The Transportation Department has doubled the number of LPIs downtown. “Downtown makes up less than one percent of Austin’s road network, but more than 10 percent of crashes affecting pedestrians occur in this part of our city,” said Arterial Management Division Manager Jen Duthie. “We strongly believe more LPIs on the highest-risk traffic corridors will increase safety for everyone.”


Tuesday, January 7, 2020 by Tai Moses

Annual march honors MLK Jr.

The annual Community March, organized by the Austin Area Heritage Council, honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrates diversity in Austin. The march begins 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 20, at the MLK statue at the University of Texas campus, and continues to Huston-Tillotson University. Afterward, marchers and community members celebrate from 11:15 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at a festival featuring live music, food, kids’ activities, local artists and vendors from around the community. Individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations are all welcome to march. This year marchers are asked to help support the Central Texas Food Bank with a donation of canned or nonperishable food. Find the march route, vendor applications and information about the food drive and volunteer opportunities here.


Monday, January 6, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

STRs and you

In November, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals issued a ruling on short-term rentals. Last week, the city’s Code Department offered a short clarification on what the ruling means for enforcement of existing rules in Austin. The department clarified that it will continue to issue Type 2, or non-owner-occupied, short-term rental commercial licenses, but is not required to issue Type 2 licenses in residential areas. In 2016, City Council approved a gradual ban on Type 2 STRs that will be fully implemented by 2022. As for existing license renewal: “Austin Code Department will continue to renew existing residential and commercially zoned STR Type 2 licenses as long as they are renewed on or before the expiration date. An STR residential Type 2 license will not be re-issued if it becomes expired. An application qualifies as a renewal if the application is submitted before the existing license expires.” The statement from the city confirmed that the Code Department will continue its enforcement of short-term rental properties, though it can no longer enforce occupancy limits that were imposed as part of the city’s short-term rental regulations, but can pursue enforcement of over-occupancy as defined by the Property Maintenance Code minimum square footage requirements.


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