Whispers

Monday, May 20, 2019 by Tai Moses

Downtown Austin Alliance adds new members

The Downtown Austin Alliance has named six new members to its board of directors. The new members were announced at the DAA’s annual meeting on Thursday, May 16. Chinna Natesan, Richard Paddock, Steve Scheibal, Tara Shaikh, Julia Taylor and Mark Terry will each serve a three-year term and be deeply involved in shaping future initiatives at the DAA. Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the DAA, said in the press release, “As we make major steps toward fulfilling the 20-year vision for downtown, the leadership and influence of this new group will be invaluable. They were selected because of their diverse skills and knowledge and will have the expertise to help support our ongoing work in downtown Austin.” For more information about the DAA and to read bios of all 50 board members, visit the website.


Friday, May 17, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Moody Foundation donated $2.1 million to help restore Barton Springs bathhouse

After 72 years of constant public use, it’s no surprise that the Barton Springs bathhouse needs a little TLC. The state of the deteriorating bathhouse prompted Barton Springs Conservancy to begin its “For the Love of the Springs” campaign in 2016 to raise funds to rehabilitate the historic bathhouse on-site. Three years later, the Conservancy has reached its fundraising goal, securing $8 million in public and private funds for a facility rehabilitation and renovation, thanks in large part to the $2.1 million donation from the Moody Foundation. Other sources of funding include $1.8 million from a voter-approved, 2012 city bond, $3 million in hotel occupancy tax funding and $1 million in private philanthropic donations. “With this gift, and the support of the Austin community, we can begin our efforts to rehabilitate the Historic Barton Springs bathhouse to its original splendor, restore the rotunda and dressing areas, and make the facilities usable for modern needs,” said Emma Lindrose-Siegel, executive director of Barton Springs Conservancy, in a statement. The Conservancy has worked closely with local architects to determine how best to respect the historic architecture of the 1947 structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Historic Landmark by the city of Austin and state of Texas. Limbacher & Godfrey Architects, the designers behind the restoration project, will work to remodel the front entrance, reopen the original men’s and women’s bathhouse accesses at the central rotunda locations, restore and brighten the women’s dressing area, which was partly taken over by the management office, modernize the bathroom facilities, and enhance the educational components of the space. After all is said and done, Barton Springs bathhouse will once again have a glittering grand entrance through which to welcome its ever-increasing number of visitors.


Friday, May 17, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

How scooters go the way of taxis

The Austin Transportation Department’s proposed franchise model for dockless mobility companies was up for debate again at Tuesday’s Urban Transportation Commission meeting. With the franchise model largely failing the city’s taxicab industry and leaving it vulnerable to the recent takeover by ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber, commissioners and members of the public alike had lots of questions about the need to imitate that model with a burgeoning new industry like dockless electric scooters. Parking enterprise manager Jason Redfern argued the franchise model will let the city maximize operator fees above the city’s cost of service in order to fill in the infrastructural gaps that will ultimately enhance the safety and experience of dockless users. Despite this prediction of added revenue, Commissioner Samuel Franco questioned what will be done differently from the taxi model to allow for competition that can strengthen the dockless market in Austin so it can be most effective. Mobility enthusiast Dan Keshet agreed that some of ATD’s language – like requiring new dockless operators to prove they are filling an existing need in the market – could have the effect of keeping newer innovators out of Austin and effectively safeguarding the profits of more established providers. But Redfern emphasized that the goal is to remain open to new mobility services as they enter the market while ensuring that demand is sufficient for new units added to Austin’s streets. Commissioners also took issue with the legal requirement that new operators entering a regulated franchise would each need to be approved by City Council, creating an additional barrier to dockless innovation. Redfern said ATD “would have loved” to be able to permit operators administratively but it wouldn’t legally be possible if the franchise model is adopted. He added that any limitations imposed on the numbers of operators or dockless units allowed in the city should be temporary until the city is able to use operator fees to further build out dockless parking areas and paths for safer use.


Friday, May 17, 2019 by Tai Moses

Be prepared for fire season

It’s never too early or to late to be prepared for fire season, especially here in Austin, which is considered one of the nation’s most at-risk communities for wildfire. Peak fire season is April through October, and the Austin Fire Department says it’s not a question of if, but when the next major wildland fire will occur. There’s a lot you can do to make your home or business fire-safe – you’ll find some of the basics here. At the top of the to-do list, emergency management officials urge all Travis County residents to sign up for WarnCentralTexas.org, a free emergency notification system that will send hyper-local, targeted alerts by phone, text or email in the event of a threat to public safety in your area. And if you’re not familiar with the term “fire-adapted community,” you’ve got some homework to do.


Friday, May 17, 2019 by Katy McElroy

Austin celebrates its streetcar history

The Austin History Center is celebrating the impact that over six decades of streetcar operation had on the city’s growth and development. From 1875 to 1940, streetcars were an everyday part of the transportation system in Austin, and a current exhibit at the center documents this legacy with photographs and other information. Off the Rails: The Rise and Fall of Austin’s Streetcars runs through May 26. On Saturday, May 18, visitors are invited for a special tour hosted by the exhibit’s curator. This exclusive inside look will run from 2-3 p.m.


Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Katy McElroy

Austin waterway bans in effect

Due to the heavy rains in Austin this month, combined with floodgate operations on the Highland Lakes, Fire Chief Joel Baker has determined that several Austin waterways are experiencing flood conditions and are unsafe for recreational and commercial use. Effective noon yesterday, there is a ban on all commercial or navigational boating in and around the following lake areas:

  • Lady Bird Lake
  • Mansfield Dam downstream to Commons Ford Park
  • Walsh Boat Landing to Tom Miller Dam

The ban also extends to all commercial boating, with an exception of commercial boats over 40 feet, on Lake Austin between Walsh Boat Landing and the Loop 360 Bridge. Watercraft that are operated on areas within the ban zone could be impounded. The order will expire at noon on Friday, May 17.


Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Mayor and Council kick off initiative to make workplaces more family-friendly

Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison joined more than two dozen businesses Wednesday in promoting a new effort to make Austin workplaces more family-friendly. The Family-Friendly Workforce Initiative kickoff at City Hall was held to encourage Austin businesses to look for ways to change their policies to be more accessible for employees with children under the age of 5. The nonprofit Early Matters Greater Austin has created a toolkit to make it easier for employers to make their workplace more family-friendly. The Austin Chamber is among the organizations that has endorsed the toolkit, in part because more than 26 percent of full-time employees in Austin have young children and 83 percent of millennials say they would leave their current job for a new employer with more family-friendly programs and benefits.


Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

School district holds Murchison groundbreaking

The first phase of Murchison Middle School’s long-awaited modernization project begins this summer. To celebrate the milestone, the school is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony open to Murchison students, their families and the entire community. As part of the modernization, the school library and administration will be relocated and a space to house the sixth grade and a bus loop will be added. Murchison Principal Beth Newton, AISD Trustee Kristin Ashy and AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz will be on hand to make brief remarks, and student representatives will read poems dedicated to their school. The event will take place in the courtyard near the tennis courts at Murchison Middle School, 3700 North Hills Drive, on Tuesday, May 21, at 9 a.m.


Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

Water conservationists get sales tax holiday

The good folks in the Texas Comptroller’s Office want to help you save water, and they have figured out that the best way to do that is to issue a sales tax holiday on the purchase of water-conserving and energy-efficient products. Certain products displaying the Energy Star logo such as air conditioners under $6,000, refrigerators under $2,000, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and washing machines may be purchased tax-free over Memorial Day weekend (when you were probably planning to go shopping anyway, right?). Shower heads, bathroom sink faucets, toilets, and landscape irrigation controls displaying the WaterSense label can also be purchased tax-free and so can soaker or drip-irrigation hoses and other residential garden products that help conserve water. The water-efficient and Energy Star sales tax holiday runs Saturday, May 25, to Monday, May 27. Find more details and a list of items that qualify for the tax holiday (and those that don’t) here.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Chief appraiser missing deadline?

After a particularly bad year for Travis County taxpayers seeking to protest the appraised value of their homes, it looks like this year may be just as difficult, even though the Travis Appraisal Review Board has apparently hired more people to sit on its appraisal panels. According to Bill Aleshire, one of the attorneys working for ProTax, which represents homeowners wishing to dispute appraisals done by the Travis Central Appraisal District, Marya Crigler, chief appraiser for TCAD, is apparently going to miss today’s deadline to turn over new appraisals to the TARB. There was an item on the appraisal review board’s agenda for Monday, May 13, for Crigler to turn over the new appraisal numbers. However, Aleshire said a ProTax employee in the audience reported that the board did not receive the records at that meeting because Crigler was “running behind.” Aleshire pointed out that today, May 15, is the statutory deadline for Crigler to give those records to the appraisal board, and the board is apparently not scheduled to meet within the next three days because there is no listing for such a meeting on the TCAD website. Aleshire also pointed out that the appraisal review board has to send out notices about when and where they are going to hold each hearing 14 days prior to the hearing. “If they’re going to start on June 7,” as they have previously indicated, “they have to send out the specific notice of hearing and the evidence by May 24,” he said. The Austin Monitor contacted Betty Thompson, chair of the appraisal review board, seeking a comment on Crigler’s failure to present records to the board on time. Thompson politely refused to discuss the matter, saying she had no comment. “Nobody knows what the hell is going on because they won’t communicate. It’s the weirdest year ever,” Aleshire concluded.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Tai Moses

Ride a B-cycle for free on B2WD

Austinites who don’t own a bicycle can still participate in Bike to Work Day this Friday – and through the weekend – thanks to Clif Bar and B-cycle, which are partnering to provide free day passes in the bike-share system from Wednesday, May 15, through Sunday, May 19. According to B-cycle’s announcement about the promotion, “riders who select the 24-hour day pay at the kiosk or on the BCycle app will pay no charge for the pass and receive unlimited trips of up to 60 minutes in the Austin B-cycle system from 24 hours after their first bike checkout from May 15-19. Rides longer than 60 minutes will still incur the normal $4/30 minute usage fee.” Cyclists in need of sustenance will find free Clif Bar samples at the Sixth and Congress B-cycle station Wednesday through Sunday.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Tai Moses

Help shape the Blue Line at Cap Metro open house

Capital Metro is holding an open house to discuss the Blue Line Corridor, which runs between the airport and downtown. If you’ve ever battled traffic congestion along this route, you’ll want to attend to learn more about Cap Metro’s plans for a traffic-free alternative on the corridor. Attendees will have the opportunity to offer feedback on multiple aspects of the project, and other agencies will be on hand to answer questions about the various mobility projects unfolding in the Austin area. Monday, May 20, 3-7 p.m. (stop by anytime) at Austin Central Library, Special Event Center, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. If you can’t make the actual open house, visit Project Connect’s virtual open house, from May 20 to June 28.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Tai Moses

Parks and Rec needs a few good lifeguards

The Aquatic Division of Austin Parks and Rec is looking for a few good lifeguards for the summer. It’s not all sun and games, however: Without an uptick in applicants, some of Austin’s pools may not open on time this summer. To tempt more candidates, the lifeguard certification registration fee of $40 will be waived for Hiring Day, and as if that isn’t enough, free pizza and snacks will be provided. Applicants 16 and under must have a parent present while 17-year-olds will need a parent’s signature. All those interested in a summer job as a lifeguard, cashier, swim instructor or swim coach should attend Hiring Day on Tuesday, May 14, 4-8 p.m. at the Aquatics Administration & Training Center, 2818 San Gabriel Street. For more information, visit LifeguardAustin.com.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Tai Moses

Bike to work this Friday

This Friday, May 17, is Bike to Work Day and it’s shaping up to be quite a party in a city that loves to show off its bike-friendliness. Over 40 local businesses will be doing double duty as fueling stations offering free coffee and snacks from 7-9 a.m., and a few will even have live music. If you prefer company while you pedal, join one of Ghisallo Cycling Initiative’s three guided bike trains that will leave their scheduled stops at 7:30 a.m. Want to try a new route to work? Check out the Austin Bike Map. B2WD participants can flaunt their healthy glow at the afterparty at Cheer Up Charlies from 5-8 p.m. See a map of fueling stations, bike train stops and other details here. B2WD is sponsored by the city of Austin and hosted by Bike Austin.

 

 

 


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Accelerator seeks new startups to support

Austin’s Office of Innovation has partnered with Impact Hub’s accelerator program to provide up to $90,000 in funding to socially focused startups. The program is currently accepting applications for its next cohort of accelerator members, with up to six participants targeting housing affordability or workforce development eligible to receive one of six grants for $15,000 each from the city. Impact Hub member groups receive mentoring, workshops on a variety of business topics, coworking space and guidance on how to build and scale the startup into a viable company or nonprofit organization. Those with questions about how to participate can consult the innovation office’s FAQ page about the effort.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Three finalists vie to lead EDD

The city has named one current staffer and two outside candidates as the three finalists all hoping to become the new director of the Economic Development Department. Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales announced the finalists Friday, along with a meet-and-greet session on May 16 at 2 p.m. in the City Council chambers. Veronica Briseño, currently the city’s interim homeless strategy officer, is one of the finalists. She previously served as director of the Small and Minority Business Resources Department and holds a master’s degree in public administration from UT Austin. The other two finalists are Al Latimer, who recently served as director of the Tallahassee/Leon County (Florida) Office of Economic Vitality; and Larry Westerlund, who is currently the economic development director in Fresno, Calif.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

2020 budget town hall to cover pending revenue caps

City budget director Ed Van Eenoo will give a presentation on the city’s ongoing budgeting process at a town hall meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Austin Senior Activity Center on Manchaca Road. The session will include discussion on the expected caps on property tax increases, which impact revenue for cities, that will result from legislation expected to pass at the state Capitol this month. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen and other city officials and staff will be in attendance to hear from residents about their priorities in an expected tight budget year. Those who want to give feedback but are unable to attend the session are encouraged to complete the city’s online survey for the 2020 budget.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Public Safety Commission forms working group to discuss Vision Zero

Vision Zero’s goal is to reduce the number of people who die or are seriously injured in traffic crashes to zero. To help achieve this objective, commissioners Kathleen Hausenfluck and Preston Tyree formed a working group at the May 6 meeting of the Public Safety Commission. “On a per capita basis (the number of deaths) is actually coming down pretty well,” said Tyree. However, he pointed out that as the population of Austin grows, so will the number of people involved in traffic accidents. He pointed to 2015 when there was a significant jump in traffic fatalities: from 63 to 102 deaths. That year was also the first time 50 percent of fatalities occurred outside of vehicles. Tyree explained that “a big part of the crash rate can be associated with distracted driving.” He also noted that distracted walking contributes to some of the accidents. While he said one way to lower the number of serious and fatal incidences is increased enforcement, first and foremost, Austin needs to engineer its streets to be safer and more shareable. The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan promotes a transportation network design that is mindful of Vision Zero goals. Commissioner Daniela Nuñez said that from personal experience in her district, improved street conditions for pedestrians and cyclists are crucial. “Get those transportation improvements for pedestrians, because it’s long overdue,” she said.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Community rallies behind golf course owner

Supporters of the longstanding owners of the Butler Park Pitch & Putt golf course will gather Friday in an event intended to spur attention and action from City Council. The “community supporter day” is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. at 201 Lee Barton Drive, and was organized because of the city’s decision not to consider the current ownership’s bid to continue operating the course, which is located on city park property. The bid was excluded from consideration because owner Lee Kinser neglected to sign one page of the bid form, meaning the bids from two other groups were the only ones considered. There is some belief that Council could opt to reopen the bid when it comes up for approval in approximately the next 30 days. During that time, lobbying restrictions prevent Kinser or her representatives from having any direct contact with city officials, and City Council members have declined to comment on the open contract. Kinser’s existing contract expires in August.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Tai Moses

AISD award ceremony honors Latino achievement

The Austin school district is dressing up and getting ready for its 2019 AISD Latino Academic Achievement Awards ceremony, which recognizes Latino students from every middle and high school in the district for excelling in academia, fine arts, sports, ESL and dual language programs. Several community leaders will also be honored for their outstanding contributions to AISD students and schools. In addition, the district will give special awards to a parent volunteer and will present a lifetime achievement award to the late Gustavo “Gus” Garcia, a former Austin mayor and past AISD board president. The event is free and open to the public and takes place on Saturday, May 11, at 10:30 a.m. at the Austin Independent School District’s Performing Arts Center, 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd.


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