Whispers

Thursday, July 22, 2021 by Jo Clifton

New members coming to ACE board

City Council’s Audit & Finance Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend two city employees to join the Austin Convention Enterprises Board of Directors. Attorney Lee Crawford serves as general counsel division chief in the city attorney’s office, and Kimberly Olivares is the city’s deputy chief financial officer. Council Member Leslie Pool, who nominated the pair, said Olivares and Crawford would be “really brilliant additions” to oversee the important work that board does. The nominations will now go to City Council for its approval.


Thursday, July 22, 2021 by Tai Moses

As cases surge, APH reopens test sites

With Covid cases and hospitalizations on the upswing, Austin Public Health is reopening two neighborhood testing sites to provide free testing, no questions asked or insurance required. As APH interim Director Adrienne Sturrup explained, “Community-based sites help protect those most at risk. APH staff have been incredibly dedicated to doing everything they can to lessen the impact of the virus. With the presence of the Delta variant, access to free testing will be an important tool to catch disease early.” The test site at George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center at 5801 Ainez Drive opens today, with services available Tuesday-Friday, 1-7 p.m., and on Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The St. Johns testing site at 7211 N. I-35 opens July 29, with services Tuesday-Friday 1-7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. “Patients may arrive by foot, on a bicycle or motorcycle, or in a vehicle. All individuals are required to wear a face covering when arriving for testing.” No appointment is necessary, although scheduling a test in advance may save time.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Interfaith group calls for immediate action on homelessness

Members of Central Texas Interfaith are asking the city to spend the funds City Council set aside a few weeks ago to alleviate homelessness in Austin – now. At a virtual news conference Tuesday, members of the group also urged Travis County to come up with $100 million to match what the city might provide. Austin intends to spend at least $84 million on solving homelessness, mostly from its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, to help with the effort. However, the city’s commitment is conditional on major investments from the county and private foundations. County staffers have recommended spending only $325,000 on homelessness in next year’s budget. Speaking for the group, Rev. Michael Floyd said, “We’re tired of waiting and we believe that most Austin citizens are too. Austin citizens of every political persuasion share our desire for the city of Austin to act immediately to implement a comprehensive plan to end homelessness. That’s what we’re advocating today because the city’s efforts to assist those without housing have again been put on hold.” Council has set those funds aside and Mayor Steve Adler told the Austin Monitor that the city would know in four to six weeks how much funding to expect from private foundations. Asked why that time frame was too long, Carlota Garcia of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church said, “Four to six weeks is a timeline that we’ve heard over and over again over the past few years that homelessness has been such an issue. We welcome the identification of partners in this collaboration in putting up some hard money to construct shelters and we hope that the timeline can move more quickly. Summer is here now. The people’s needs exist now and so that’s why we’re calling on our city and county officials to start mobilizing that money now.” In response to a question about the recently announced plan to build shelters on two city properties, the group responded, “City Council is sitting on an $84 million contingency fund for homelessness that they should be spending right now to build emergency and permanent housing. While we haven’t looked at those campsite locations yet, we think the city should spend the money it has now to find those experiencing homelessness a dignified place to live.”


Wednesday, July 21, 2021 by Tai Moses

Redistricting commission hosts public forums

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission invites community members to attend two in-person public meetings about the work being done to redraw the new City Council district maps. According to the news release from the ICRC, “Along with census data, publicly submitted comments will be used to assist the commission when it begins drawing district boundaries between March 2021 through November 2021. The focus of public testimony is to receive information about the unique characteristics of communities of interest from those most familiar with their neighborhoods to help the commission determine areas that should remain intact and/or be grouped together in districts. The goal is to have a new district map approved for the November 2022 election.” The first forum, focusing on District 10, will take place from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, July 22, at Dell Jewish Community Center, 7300 Hart Lane. Another public comment forum focused on District 7 is scheduled for Saturday, July 24, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Gómez tops opponent Woody in fundraising

In a campaign filing last week, Travis County Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez reported raising more than $26,000 this year in her quest for reelection in November 2022. Her Democratic opponent, Susanna Woody, raised $7,292 and had $6,611 left in her campaign account, according to Woody’s campaign finance report. The Gómez campaign put out a press release touting the longtime commissioner’s support, as evidenced by her fundraising. Gómez will hold her first fundraising event on July 30. Woody, who serves on the board of the Del Valle Independent School District, has the support of Austin City Council members Natasha Harper-Madison and Vanessa Fuentes and Austin Community College Trustee Julie Nitsch. Gómez, who has served as commissioner since 1995, has support from former Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and constables George Morales III and Stacy Suits. Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea has no announced opponent in the Democratic primary or the general election next year. Shea’s campaign reported last week that she had raised more than $122,000 so far this year and after expenses maintained about $111,000. Travis County Judge Andy Brown, a Democrat with no announced opponent so far in the Democratic primary or the general election next year, collected nearly $297,000 between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to his campaign finance report. Brown still had more than $370,000 in the bank as of July 15 and has no outstanding loans.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021 by Tai Moses

Richard Moya Bus Plaza opens

Photo courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department

A former truck parking lot at the intersection of East Fifth Street, Cesar Chavez Street and Shady Lane has been transformed into a multimodal transportation hub. According to the Transportation Department, the new Richard Moya Bus Plaza in East Austin “links four Capital Metro routes with nine Capital Area Rural Transportation System routes, provides access to Capital Metro’s bike-sharing service MetroBike, offers paratransit services and connects riders with Capital Metro’s on-demand service called Pickup.” The bus plaza is named for Richard Moya, the first Mexican American elected to public office in Travis County. Moya served as county commissioner from 1970-1986 and was the founder of CARTS as well as its first board chair. The new bus plaza features native landscaping, rain gardens and a “new indoor facility for transit riders to enjoy while waiting.”


Tuesday, July 20, 2021 by Tai Moses

Help Austin get around better

Community members are invited to attend the first virtual public meeting for ATX Walk Bike Roll, which the city describes as “a project to update three existing plans that guide sidewalk, urban trail and bikeway projects in the city.” The effort, a partnership between Public Works and the Transportation Department, is aimed at creating “more accessible and interconnected ways for people to travel,” which basically means it will give more people more choices in how they get  from place to place. As the city’s announcement explains, “Austin has grown since the sidewalk, urban trails and bikeway plans were published over five years ago. The plans were created prior to the voter-approved 2016, 2018, and 2020 bonds, which allocated a combined $306.5 million to the Urban Trails, Sidewalk and Bikeway programs. Public input is needed to help the city determine when and where to build these transportation networks.” Sign up here to attend the virtual meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 7-8 p.m.


Monday, July 19, 2021 by Tai Moses

It’s city budget time again!

Next week the city will hold the first of two community budget input meetings on Thursday, July 22, at 4 p.m at Austin City Hall – the first in-person City Council meeting since March 2020. The coming weeks will be laser-focused on community input and budget work sessions and residents are encouraged to get involved in the process. City Manager Spencer Cronk’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 would “maintain high-quality services and invest in critical infrastructure while utilizing the smallest increase in tax and fees in the past five years,” according to the budget summary. Sign up here to offer public comment at the meeting, either at City Hall or remotely via telephone. Council members will be reviewing and discussing amendments to the proposed budget before final adoption, which is scheduled for Aug. 11. Learn more about the budget process here.


Monday, July 19, 2021 by Tai Moses

Utility conducts prescribed burn

Don’t panic if you see smoke on the horizon today: Austin Water will be conducting a prescribed burn on 210 acres of the Water Quality Protection Lands. According to the utility’s announcement, “Smoke may be visible south (of) State Highway 45, east of FM 1826, west of Brodie Lane, west of FM 1626, and north of FM 967 from 10 a.m. to sunset.” Luke Ball, with Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division, explained that controlled burning is “one of the strategies used to manage these lands and protect groundwater in Central Texas. Prescribed burns improve the resiliency of our land when they are used as a planned seasonal management tool.” Sign up here if you’d like to receive periodic notifications of prescribed burns taking place on Austin Water wildlands.


Monday, July 19, 2021 by Tai Moses

DSD proposes change to Change-Out Program

The city’s Development Services Department is inviting customers and stakeholders to offer feedback on proposed rule changes that would expand timed inspection options for the Change-Out Program. According to a DSD announcement, “The expanded program will allow more people to benefit from time-specific inspections, an option now provided only for HVAC and water heaters. Upon adoption, residential customers will be able to request time-specific inspections for windows, siding, roofing, and more. Some commercial inspections also will be eligible.” If you’d like to weigh in, you have until July 30 to offer feedback on the proposed rules. Visit the project page on SpeakUp Austin to learn more.


Friday, July 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

Get vaccinated this weekend at a pop-up clinic

With Covid once again on the rise and hospitalizations increasing, Austin Public Health is redoubling its efforts to provide quick, convenient opportunities for residents to get vaccinated. City and county health officials are partnering with local community organizations to offer pop-up vaccination clinics in many locations around the county this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No pre-registration or appointment is necessary. See the full list of locations, dates, times and vaccines on offer here.


Friday, July 16, 2021 by Tai Moses

City seeks candidates for Sobering Center board

Austin City Council is inviting qualified individuals to apply to serve on the 11-member Sobering Center Local Government Corporation Board of Directors. The opening is for the next term, which begins Oct. 1, 2021, and ends Sept. 30, 2024. According to the city’s announcement, “The Sobering Center Local Government Corporation is incorporated to aid and to act on behalf of the city and the county to accomplish their governmental purpose; namely to staff, manage, and operate a sobriety center for the safe short-term treatment and management of persons under the influence of alcohol, and to provide those persons with information on and referrals to community-based outpatient services, for the purposes of preservation of law enforcement, judicial, and medical resources in the jurisdictional limits of the city and the county.” Individuals who have experience in the legal, medical, behavioral and mental health fields; public health, chemical dependency and addiction; and business, philanthropy and fundraising are particularly encouraged to apply. Find the application form here.


Thursday, July 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

Lady Bird exhibit opens

A new exhibition at the just-reopened LBJ Presidential Library delves into the life, loves and legacy of Lady Bird Johnson. Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers is the library’s first major curated exhibition of the former first lady’s “complete personal and political life,” according to the press material, and library Director Mark Lawrence calls it a “landmark moment.” Daughter Luci Baines Johnson said her mother was “the most curious woman I’ve ever known and believed a day without learning was a day that was wasted. She was a ‘gentle heroine of nature and mankind’ and never wasted a moment of her 94 years.” Her other daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, described her mother as “always ready for an adventure. … This exhibition captures my mother’s never-ending quest for knowledge about travel, art, literature, and environmental conservation as well as her passion for contributing to the community and our country.” The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 13, includes letters, photographs, clothing and artifacts that are on display to the public for the first time.


Thursday, July 15, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD summer theater returns

Austin ISD’s summer theater series has returned, in-person, to stage three public performances. Mamma Mia! runs July 22-25 at the AISD Performing Arts Center main stage; Charlotte’s Web and Still Life With Iris run July 15-18 at the AISD Performing Arts Center’s black box theater. Mamma Mia! reserved seating tickets are $15 and AISD student and staff tickets are $10. Still Life With Iris and Charlotte’s Web general admission tickets are $10 and AISD student and staff tickets are $5. Tickets for all three productions are on sale now and can be purchased online at Eventbrite.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

Event venues reopen at full capacity

The Austin Convention Center and the Palmer Events Center want the community to know that both venues “have returned to pre-pandemic guidelines and are open for full capacity events.” That means no social distancing, no face masks and no capacity or occupancy limits. If event participants prefer to wear face coverings, “enforcement is the client’s responsibility.” The convention center will provide optional health screenings and temperature checks if clients request those services. As Paul Barnes, the convention center COO, confirmed in a news release, “We are open! The planning and booking of large, small and other local events are taking place at ACC and PEC, and our team is ready to bring your events to life. We are ready to host face to face events again in order that we may begin to heal our beleaguered meetings and events industry.”


Wednesday, July 14, 2021 by Tai Moses

AUS is growing

Rendering courtesy of AUS

According to a news release from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, since March 2021, the airport has been experiencing “significant and consistent” passenger growth and summer air travel activity “is on track to match or surpass 2019 air travel activity.” And as travel rebounds, the airport is launching “the most extensive improvement program in its history.” AUS CEO Jacqueline Yaft said the planned infrastructure expansion project “will help us build a better airport and deliver an upgraded passenger experience – one that is not only safe, comfortable and convenient, but also reflects the city’s distinct culture and community.” Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca added that the slate of improvements will allow AUS “to meet the needs of Austinites, Central Texas and global travelers while driving regional economic recovery.” The plan includes:

  • Optimization of the Barbara Jordan Terminal
  • Enabling airfield and utility work to include building a new Central Utility Plant and removing existing structures to prepare for construction activities
  • Preparing for a new Midfield Concourse with 10+ new gates and two new taxiways.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Virtual summit addresses mobility challenges

Movability, the nonprofit group that seeks to reduce car trips to workplaces, will hold a virtual mobility summit on July 21. The event will focus on the transportation challenges that have returned following the Covid-19 pandemic and how they impact equity, the environment, housing, job access and affordability. Speakers including Travis County Judge Andy Brown, State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, and Catherine Crago, the head of strategic initiatives for the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, will discuss possible changes to federal transportation policy, how to improve local transportation, and the variety of impacts that transportation can have on different segments of the local population. Register for the free summit on Eventbrite.

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021 by Tai Moses

Help the city select an artist

The city is inviting community members to help select an artist for a new public art project intended to improve mobility and safety along Spicewood Springs Road in Northwest Austin. “Feedback from the meeting will help define the inspiration and goals of the creative selection process for this 2016 Bond Regional Mobility Program,” according to a news release from the Transportation Department. The public meeting will be held on Zoom on Wednesday, July 14, 6 p.m. Register here.


Monday, July 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

Homelessness storage program expands

The city’s Violet KeepSafe Storage program, which provides a secure place for people experiencing homelessness to store their possessions while they’re out and about, is being expanded to operate seven days a week, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Robert Kingham, court operations manager for the Downtown Austin Community Court, explained the move in a news release. “We know from working with the Austin Homelessness Advisory Council and other individuals with lived experience with homelessness that access to storage is a basic need. Storage is necessary for individuals to be able to pursue job interviews and medical appointments, maintain secure access to identification documents and important belongings, and is a matter of human dignity.” Currently, 174 people use VKS “to store vital documents, family memories, clothing, bedding, and more. Any individual experiencing homelessness may access storage through VKS at no cost to the program participants.” For more info about accessing this service, call 512-974-4879. People may also bring the items they wish to store to VKS and sign up in person at the former HealthSouth Parking Garage at 612 E. 12th St.


Monday, July 12, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

East Austin veterans memorial finds a home

Plans for a veterans memorial in Edward Rendon Sr. Metro Park are moving forward. City Council approved a resolution in March asking the city manager to work with the Austin Travis County Vietnam Memorial Association to identify a location. This month comes news confirming that the location has been found: just west of the Nash Hernandez Building in the park. According to a July 9 memo from Parks and Recreation director Kimberly McNeeley, “This area was selected due to its gentle slopes, away from existing utility infrastructure and close to the roadway for better accessibility. The parkland needed for the concept the group is working with requires about 6,500 square feet of land. The association is in the fundraising phase of the project which is anticipated to cost approximately $1.5 million.”


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