Whispers

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

Homeless Strategy team hosts meetings

Almost no one in Austin doesn’t have an opinion about the homelessness crisis. Here’s a place to air those opinions and ideas – at one of two virtual public meetings hosted by the city’s Homeless Strategy Officer, Dianna Grey. Grey and her team will “share an overview of the city’s role in homelessness response and plans for expanding it by investing $106.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.” Grey said in the news release, “As a community, we have an exciting opportunity to dramatically expand our homelessness response and make significant and sustainable change. As these plans are being formed, it’s important that we hear from community members and hear their feedback on the investments that will have the most impact.” Share your feedback on Thursday, Oct. 14, or Monday, Oct. 18. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m. Register to attend on SpeakUp Austin.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

Making a wishbone

This summer, the city’s Public Works Department launched the design phase of the effort to build a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Lady Bird Lake near Longhorn Dam. The wishbone-shaped bridge will connect to the shore at three points: Longhorn Shores, Holly Shores, and the peninsula near Holly Shores. It is expected to be completed by 2026. If you’d like to receive project updates about significant milestones along the way, subscribe here.


Monday, October 11, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

City opens input on Monotopolis school

The city of Austin is launching an effort to plan for the future of the Montopolis Negro School. The Parks and Recreation Department will hold its first virtual meeting on Oct. 27 at 4 p.m., followed by an open house at the school on Nov. 6 from 10 a.m.-noon. The property has remained fenced off and unused since the city began the process of acquiring it in 2017. The city ultimately took possession of the land through eminent domain proceedings after negotiations with the property owner fell apart. The school has since gone through a hazardous material abatement, and the parks department aims to launch planning efforts this spring.


Monday, October 11, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

City initiates burn ban in parks

Citing moderate forecast fire danger, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has issued a burn ban in city parks, effective today. Low levels of rainfall and consistently high temperatures mean the city is at greater risk of wildfire, according to an Oct. 6 memo from PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley. The memo points to an ordinance that allows the city to temporarily prohibit the building of fires and grilling in city parks, greenbelts and preserves when the threat of wildfire has increased. McNeeley notes that if conditions lessen, the department will terminate the restrictions.


Monday, October 11, 2021 by Tai Moses

Deep Eddy: You’re not shallow

Those who enjoy splashing around in the shallow end of Deep Eddy Pool may take this news hard: Due to a mechanical problem with a well pump, the shallow end of the pool will be closed for the remainder of the year. The pool will also need to be closed three days a week because, with a broken pump, it takes longer to fill the pool. The parks department’s Aquatics Division is working hard to repair the pump so that normal winter operating hours may resume. In the meantime, swimmers can still make a splash in the shallow ends of Barton Springs, Bartholomew, Big Stacy and Springwoods pools.


Monday, October 11, 2021 by Tai Moses

Rainbow crosswalk brightens intersection

In honor of National Coming Out Day, which is today, the city is installing a colorful crosswalk at a downtown intersection. According to a news release from the Transportation Department, “The design is based on a previous design requested by the community and incorporates colors from the Progressive Pride Flag which includes black and brown stripes to represent people of color, and baby blue, pink and white, which represent the transgender community.” Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk, Austin City Council members, Transportation Director Rob Spillar, and Austin LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory commissioners will be on hand at 9 a.m. to watch the installation, which includes three nearby utility boxes. The intersection at 400 Colorado St., at the corner of Bettie Naylor (Fourth) will be closed from 3 a.m.-5 p.m.


Friday, October 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

Get jabbed at ACL Fest

Just a reminder, the Travis County mobile vaccine team will be at ACL Fest again this weekend, offering first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine as well as boosters to those who are eligible. Travis County now has 70.85 percent of its 12 and older population vaccinated, but as Travis County Constable George Morales points out, “We can’t stop here. Covid-19 vaccines continue to prove to be safe and effective. Vaccines can protect our community from severe illness, hospitalization and death.” The vaccine team will operate from noon-4 p.m. each day of the festival. If you’re getting the booster, bring your vaccination card so it can be updated. 


Friday, October 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

Healing veterans through the arts

A variety of exhibits, presentations and virtual experiences taking place from Oct. 11-Nov. 16 fall under the umbrella of the Austin Veteran Arts Festival, or AVAFest. According to the city, which is hosting several of the events, the purpose of AVAFest “is to promote and support veterans in the arts. Many veterans struggle with mental health issues and/or seeking treatment. The Austin Veteran Arts Festival aims to help heal through art therapy, an approach that allows people to express themselves in a nonverbal and non-threatening way that potentially helps individuals to understand themselves and their issues better.” View a full calendar of festival events here.


Friday, October 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

In the spirit for a spider talk?

Most people have strong feelings about spiders, and we’re no exception. But how much do we really know about the gangly critters? Not enough, it turns out. Joe Lapp, also known as Spider Joe, is a self-taught spider taxonomist and nature educator who develops software to support arthropod conservation at UT Austin. Joe loves to talk spiders – jumping spiders, crab spiders, orb weavers, what have you – and he’ll be talking up a spider storm on the next Wild Neighbors webinar, hosted by Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Friday, Oct. 22, noon to 1 p.m. Register here.

 


Thursday, October 7, 2021 by Tai Moses

Everyone moves

Everyone moves around the city in some fashion, be it walking, driving, biking, scooting, rolling, or riding buses and trains. So everyone should have a say in the city’s mobility decisions. One of the best ways to do that is to offer feedback on the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, a “comprehensive, multimodal transportation plan” that was first adopted in 2019 but is a living document that evolves to keep up with the needs of the community. You can read about the ASMP’s accomplishments in the two-year progress report. The Transportation Department is proposing additions to the ASMP and would like your feedback to help shape the new policies that City Council will consider in spring 2022. Take the 1o-minute survey in English or Spanish until Oct. 31.


Thursday, October 7, 2021 by Tai Moses

Kids: Draw the Zilker holiday tree

Pandemic or no pandemic, traditions are important, and one enduring tradition is the annual Zilker Holiday Tree Art Contest, hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department. As in years past, Austinites between the ages of 5 and 10 are invited to enter their original drawings of the Zilker Holiday Tree. The young artists may use crayons, watercolors, ink, colored paper, pastels or paint, and the winners from each age category will get to help light the holiday tree. The Zilker holiday tree is, of course, not just any old tree: at 155 feet tall it’s festooned with 3,309 lights. Check out prize-winning renditions of the tree from years past; it’s pretty wonderful to see the many ways kids’ imaginations have captured the tree. Submit your entry online until Nov. 1. Make sure you read the rules carefully before submitting artwork.

 

 


Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

Former mayors endorse Prop A

After teasing a “major announcement,” Save Austin Now founders revealed that their campaign supporting Proposition A, an initiative that they petitioned to have on the ballot, has the support of three former Austin mayors: Lee Leffingwell, Lee Cooke and Ron Mullen. Leffingwell explained that he asked the other mayors to join him after he was asked to go on the record with his support. “There’s nothing wrong with having too many police officers,” he said at the press conference, “but there’s a lot wrong with having too few.” His comments were echoed by Cooke, who said that the ratio of two officers per 1,000 residents was a goal they had “strived to fund” since the 1970s, but now it was time. “Cities started 5,000 years ago for one reason: safety. Protect the citizens,” Cooke said. “In those days, they put up walls.” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly also spoke in support of Prop A.

Those at the press conference expressed skepticism that Prop A’s mandated staffing increase would threaten other city services or Fire Department jobs, but the Austin Firefighters Association recently voted to oppose the measure, and city budget staffers have estimated its annual cost at $54.3 million to $119.8 million, which could mean tough choices in upcoming budget cycles. 

Though Save Austin Now leader Matt Mackowiak introduced the three mayors as “the living mayors that live within the city of Austin,” making them “quite in tune with what is actually happening in our city,” Leffingwell now lives in Driftwood. However, Austin remains home to former mayors Kirk Watson, Bruce Todd, Carole Keeton and Frank Cooksey, none of whom spoke at the press conference.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Council members seek more diversity on commissions

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, Council Member Alison Alter and Mayor Steve Adler have announced a partnership with the Appointments Project of United WE to increase the number of women on the city’s boards and commissions. Austin is doing better than most cities in terms of recruiting women to serve on the city’s 65 boards and commissions: A spokesperson for Harper-Madison told the Austin Monitor that 50 percent of city commission appointees are female and 48 percent are male. However, only 14 percent of board members are Black and 25 percent are Hispanic, according to city data. Of the 728 seats on commissions, 677 are currently filled. Harper-Madison told the Monitor, “I’ve been saying from the start of my political career that representation matters, and that all voices need to be at the table. I’m proud that more than half of the people we as a Council have put on our boards and commissions are women. However, I recognize that we still have work to do when it comes to adding more diversity to specific board and commissions.” Alter noted that her city service on the parks board inspired her to run for City Council. “As a supermajority female Council, we work to create opportunities for women in our community to lead. Through the Appointments Project, I hope we chart even more pathways for female leadership and service.” According to Wendy Doyle, president of United WE, the group “created the Appointments Project so local boards and commissions could reflect the communities they serve.” With the help of Harper-Madison, Alter and Adler, she said, “we are addressing the gender disparities in local leadership and are able to make real changes in our communities.” The group will hold public training events for those interested in learning about civic leadership on Oct. 7 and Oct. 29.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Tai Moses

City targets digital inequities

Digital Inclusion Week continues with a slate of virtual events designed to raise awareness about the digital divide between those with access to technology and those without. In the pandemic era, the gap between the connected and the not-connected is growing wider all the time, and digital inequities can have severe economic consequences. As the city’s Telecommunications Officer Rondella Hawkins puts it, “Imagine a single mom of three kids without internet during normal times. Now imagine the same family during the pandemic when all the schools are locked down and she has to work remotely. Access to online information is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for so many.” The city has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Community of Austin to create a full calendar of events for the week, from brainstorming solutions to technology training and support.


Tuesday, October 5, 2021 by Tai Moses

Emergency alerts now come in ASL

Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Travis County Office of Emergency Management have partnered with Deaf Link to launch an emergency alert system for the deaf community. The Accessible Hazard Alert System, or AHAS, “has the capability to send accessible alerting messages to registered residents before, during and after an emergency or disaster.” Subscribers receive an accessible message in ASL and English voice and text that includes details about the emergency and suggested actions to take. Users can receive the messages on their personal computers, cell phones, smartphones, tablets, or wireless Braille readers. Juan Ortiz, the director of OHSEM, said the AHAS system “allows us to reach another part of our community that we can inform and protect during a crisis or other emergency events.”


Tuesday, October 5, 2021 by Tai Moses

Panel discusses local digital divide

As part of Digital Inclusion Week (What the heck is that? Read all about it here), a panel of government and community leaders will discuss “how the access issues we see in East Austin have many overlaps to the shortage of technology access in West Texas.” UT communications professor Sharon Strover; Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison; Kelty Garbee, executive director of Texas Rural Funders; and Nehemiah Pitts III, a member of the city’s Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission, will unpack the “disparity between those who are able to access and use technology and those who are not” in an online panel organized by Austin Free-Net. Thursday, Oct. 7, noon-1 p.m. Register on Eventbrite.


Monday, October 4, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Firefighters vote to work against Prop A

Expressing concern about the negative impact Proposition A would have on firefighters and other city employees, the Austin Firefighters Association has voted to campaign against the ballot measure backed by Save Austin Now. Bob Nicks, president of AFA, announced Friday that 57 percent of union members voted to oppose the Nov. 2 ballot measure. If enacted, Prop A would require the city to spend from $54 million-$119 million more on police officers each year, according to Austin’s Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo. Nicks said the union would spend $15,000 in an independent effort to stop Prop A. According to the AFA website, “Firefighters love and support our police officers, but don’t be misled. Thanks to current state law, APD is already ‘fully funded’ with an additional $10 million …. If passed, Prop A will have a negative impact on public safety, including Fire and EMS … and it will harm other essential community and city services like our parks, libraries, and pools.”

Nicks noted that every public safety department within the city is currently understaffed because of delays in recruiting, hiring and academy approvals. Leaders of AFSCME, the union representing civilian employees, had already announced opposition to Prop A, but Nicks made clear his union was campaigning separately as opposed to joining forces with other opponents. According to weekend news reports, liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros has donated $500,000 to Equity PAC, AFSCME’s political action committee, to oppose Proposition A. The outspoken leader of Save Austin Now, Matt Mackowiak, is a Republican consultant who serves as chair of the Travis County Republican Party. Groups opposing Prop A include the Travis County Democratic Party, the Austin Justice Coalition, the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Austin Area Urban League and the Austin Sierra Club, among others.


Monday, October 4, 2021 by Tai Moses

Trio of community meetings explores affordable housing proposal

The first of three online community meetings about a proposed affordable housing development in East Austin is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. via Zoom. The meetings, hosted by the city and the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, will provide information and collect feedback about the project planned for 3515 Manor Road, at the corner of Manor Road and E.M. Franklin Avenue. According to the city’s news release, “Development priorities for the three-acre property should provide mixed-income, family-friendly housing with deep affordability.” Learn more about the development proposal, view the full meeting schedule and complete a survey at SpeakUp Austin.


Monday, October 4, 2021 by Tai Moses

New mural adorns Buffalo Pass

A 140-foot-long mosaic mural festooned in 600 pounds of colored glass serves as the new gateway to the Southern Oaks neighborhood, thanks to more than 200 volunteers working under the guidance of artist Ryah Christensen. The mural on Buffalo Pass was the brainchild of Southern Oaks Neighborhood Association with support from the city’s Neighborhood Partnering Program. See a photo essay of the mural project in progress here. Nearly 60 other community-initiated projects have been installed around Austin since the NPP launched in 2010.


Friday, October 1, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Pool changes vote on abortion resolution

Council Member Leslie Pool, a longtime supporter of women’s reproductive rights, initially co-sponsored a resolution by Council Member Paige Ellis condemning the new state law known as Senate Bill 8, which has nearly eliminated legal abortions in Texas. Because Ellis used the phrase “individuals who are capable of becoming pregnant” instead of “women” Pool abstained from the vote, sparking immediate pushback from people who thought her abstention reflected a lack of support for LBGTQIA folks. That was not her intent at all, she said, as she later asked her colleagues to reconsider the vote so she could vote in favor of the resolution. “When I abstained earlier today,” Pool said, “I really meant to express my interest in including women specifically in the resolution, but I fear that it came across as me being unreceptive to the concerns and struggles of the trans and intersex communities, and those folks also need access to abortion rights. And I certainly did not intend to exclude them. So, I just want to make sure that it is known that the LGBTQIA community has my support and always has.”

This whisper has been corrected to reflect the fact that the resolution was not changed.


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