Casar and Cooke: strange bedfellows
City Council Member Greg Casar, who seems unable to rid himself of his runoff opponent, Laura Pressley, announced last week that former Mayor Lee Cooke would be his campaign treasurer for a special officeholder account. As he explained to publisher Michael Kanin on the Monitor’s radio show, Pressley is currently suing him in an election contest. The city charter allows Casar to solicit and accept contributions to pay his fees for the election contest. Cooke served on the Austin City Council as a member from 1977 to 1979. He was president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce from 1983 to 1987. He defeated Mayor Frank Cooksey in a runoff in 1988. It may seem as if someone with Cooke’s background might not want to help a Council member with a Workers Defense Project background like Casar. But Casar described Cooke as “one of the most common-sense guys I’ve ever met,” and therefore perfect as his campaign treasurer.
Monitor and KUT accept challenge
The Austin Monitor and KUT News have entered the Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge, with our application, Engage & Destroy. The app is designed to engage voters and destroy low voter turnout by allowing users to rank candidates and win points by making their way through the voting process, encouraging others to participate in elections, and researching candidates. More information on the project can be found on the Knight News Challenge website. Visit and leave feedback!
Council meeting for more education today
City Council members will continue looking at different facets of public policy at their 9 a.m. meeting today. At that time, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano and Travis County Justice & Public Safety Executive Roger Jefferies will answer the question, “What is the City’s approach to public safety service delivery? How does the City work with the County and other partners in delivering services?” Following this, Austin Police Monitor Margo Frazier, Greater Austin Crime Commission Executive Director Cary Roberts, former associate judge for Austin Municipal Court and former member of the Public Safety Commission Ramey Ko, and Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe will take a look at key community concerns and the community’s role in public safety. After that, Mike Levy and another speaker will address disaster recovery efforts. The discussion will also feature these speakers: Allen Graham, Mobile Loaves and Fishes; Nancy Hohengarten, Community Justice Council; Human Rights Commission; Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities; Mike Manor, Building Bridges Brick by Brick.
City issues SXSW citations, warnings
The city’s Public Assembly Code Enforcement, or PACE, team has been responding to calls related to downtown activities since the start of the South by Southwest Conferences and spring break. On Friday (the last day figures were available), the PACE team shut down 15 venues or facilities for unauthorized gatherings and issued another 15 citations for the same thing. It also issued 20 written warning and 63 verbal warnings for minor infractions. The Austin-Travis County EMS reports that it responded to 68 incidents, resulting in 34 patient transports. These numbers reflect calls for assistance within the area that encompasses SXSW-, South Congress- and other spring break-related events. The Austin Transportation Department’s Ground Transportation Enforcement team issued four citations Friday, in addition to parking citations or written warnings by parking enforcement officers. All four were for pedicab violations.
Committee meetings to start in earnest
Next week, City Hall watchers will get their first real taste of what the new City Council Committee structure will look like. At 9 a.m. Monday, the entire Council will meet to learn about public safety and how the city “responds to citizen requests for service.” Then at 3 p.m., the Economic Opportunity Committee will meet for the first time. At 4 p.m., the Public Safety Committee will meet. On Tuesday, Council will hold its work session at 9 a.m. On Wednesday, both the Audit and Finance Committee and the Mobility Committee will meet at 9 a.m.; the Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee will meet at 2 p.m.; and the Housing and Community Development Council will meet at 4 p.m. On Thursday, Council members will hold their regular meeting.
City continues to cite SXSW misdeeds
Apparently, the city’s crackdown on non-sanctioned events during South by Southwest has made an impression, as the Public Assembly Code Enforcement, or PACE, team has been handing out fewer citations and has shut down fewer events in the last day or so. However, the PACE team continues to issue a large number of written and verbal warnings to revelers who bend the rules. As of midafternoon Thursday, the PACE team had shut down nine illegal venues and issued 32 citations, 13 written warnings and 99 verbal warnings. Meanwhile, the Austin-Travis County EMS reports that it responded to 53 incidents resulting in 23 patient transports. Those numbers reflect calls for assistance within the downtown footprint where SXSW events are occurring. In addition, the Transportation Department’s Ground Transportation Enforcement team reports that it has issued 46 citations since March 12. Most of the citations were given to pedicab and taxi operators who did not follow city regulations. This number is in addition to numerous parking citations and warnings written by parking enforcement officers. Also, the Austin Police Department says it has instituted its No Refusal policy for suspected drunken drivers through 5 a.m. Sunday. For the most up-to-date information, officials recommend monitoring City of Austin social media.
Imagine Austin plans panel discussion
The Imagine Austin Speaker Series is planning a panel discussion April 1 with Matthew Lewis, assistant director of the Planning and Development Review Department, and Thomas Hardy, Ph.D., on the lessons learned from two great green infrastructure projects located an ocean apart. Hardy is one of the principal designers of the Cheonggyecheon River Project in Seoul, South Korea. The Cheonggyecheon was an all-but-forgotten river under the shadow of an elevated highway in the heart of Seoul, until the area was transformed into a metropolitan-scale green infrastructure park through an unprecedented effort of urban planning and design. Lewis, the former planning director of the City of San Marcos, will discuss how to use the local watershed to inform development decisions, promote sustainable design and green-up a city. The session is at 6:30 p.m. on April 1 at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road. Organizers request that you RSVP on the city’s Facebook events page.
Meeting set on Colony Park Master Plan
The city and its community partners will host a Meet-n-Greet Saturday for Austin residents to discuss new possibilities for the Colony Park neighborhood in Northeast Austin. The event will include a community discussion led by a panel of special guests, including District 1 City Council Member Ora Houston. In addition to the discussion, residents will have an opportunity to view the Colony Park Master Plan and District Park approved by Council. The Meet-n-Greet will include food, music and a bike rodeo promoting bike and safety tips sponsored by the Ghisallo Foundation. Various city departments will provide information on home, health and social services programs. The Colony Park Master Plan for the 208-acre neighborhood is funded through a $3 million Community Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The event takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Multi-Purpose Facility of the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center, 7201 Colony Loop Drive. For more information, click here.
City disavows racist stickers in East Austin
Several East Austin businesses were defaced overnight Tuesday with racially offensive stickers. The stickers, designed to look like something official from the City of Austin, asserted that the establishments were for white people only and that “colored” patrons were not welcome in the various stores. The stickers also said “Maximum of 5 colored customers” and “colored BOH staff accepted,” referring to the “back of house” operations at a restaurant. The stickers used a City of Austin logo and said they were sponsored by the “City of Austin Contemporary Partition and Restoration Program.” The city has no program with that name. Officials said the stickers were not issued by the city and did not reflect any city policies or practices. The Austin Police Department and the Public Assembly Code Enforcement Teams are investigating, and will be monitoring local businesses for additional instances of defacement. Mayor Steve Adler condemned the stickers. “This is an appalling and offensive display of ignorance in our city. Austin condemns this type of hurtful behavior. Our city is a place where respect for all people is a part of our spirit and soul. We will keep it that way,” Adler said. City Manager Marc Ott also spoke out against them, saying they would not be tolerated. The stickers also drew condemnations from the NAACP and some members of the local legislative delegation. Though reasonable minds might conclude that the stickers are a comment on gentrification in East Austin, no one had claimed responsibility for them at the time of publication.
City enforcement busy during SXSW
City of Austin officials remain busy trying to keep things running smoothly during this year’s South by Southwest festival. As of Wednesday evening, the Public Assembly Code Enforcement Team has shut down seven venues or facilities for unsanctioned events and issued 32 citations for a variety of other violations. The team, which has been responding to calls related to downtown activities since the start of SXSW and spring break, has also issued nine written warnings and 26 verbal warnings for various violations. On Wednesday, meanwhile, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services responded to 48 incidents, 26 of which resulted in patient transports. These numbers reflect calls for assistance within the downtown footprint during SXSW and spring break events. The city’s Transportation Department has also been busy. It has issued 43 citations since March 12, not including parking citations or warnings from parking enforcement officers. Those citations were given to pedicabs, chauffeurs and taxis.
City hosts first Music Cities Summit
In addition to everything else that is going on this week, the City of Austin will be holding the first Music Cities Summit today and Friday. The summit is being coordinated by the Economic Development Department’s music and entertainment division. It will feature a series of roundtable discussions among music, entertainment and special events city representatives from Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto. According to a news release, “The Summit will be the first in-person gathering of these metropolitan cities to discuss the intersection of music, film, entertainment, and economic development.”
City seeks Battle Bend Park comments
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is evaluating possible improvements at Battle Bend Neighborhood Park and holding a pair of meetings to gather ideas and input from the public to help shape, prioritize and implement the improvements with the funding currently available. PARD is proposing to renovate the children’s outdated play area and explore opportunities for other site enhancements. The department will also address the need for improved ADA access and pedestrian connectivity within the park. Meetings are set for 6 p.m. today and 1 p.m. on April 4, both at the South Austin Recreation Center, 1100 Cumberland Road.
Pool forwards CodeNEXT group expansion
In a post on the City Council message board, Council Member Leslie Pool has proposed a resolution expanding the CodeNEXT Citizen Advisory Group. Pool writes that, after talking with Austin Neighborhoods Council President Mary Ingle, she would like to expand the membership to 16 to include “two citizens of Austin” and also consider the “need for additional members from neighborhoods and the environmental community.” The last part of the resolution reads, “The City Manager is hereby instructed to cause the Code Advisory Group to not make any further recommendations regarding the CodeNEXT project until the City Council appoints the two additional members of the Code Advisory Group and the new members are seated.” The resolution asks that the Planning and Neighborhoods Committee of the City Council, chaired by Council Member Greg Casar, recommend the new members to Council.
Public Safety Council Committee scheduled
The first Public Safety Council Committee meeting will take place at 4 p.m. March 23. City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who chairs the committee, sent out a release Tuesday about its first agenda. According to the release, the committee will tackle three issues: the need for a new Municipal Court clerk; towing dispatching, impounding and fees; and the city’s Code Department. The last item, the release says, will feature “Briefings, public testimony, and policy discussion on Austin Code, with case history from Austin Code and constituents,” and is expected to take an hour. Given that Zimmerman has already tipped his hand about his feelings toward Code, we look forward to what promises to be a lively discussion.
Code enforcement cites outlaw events
The City of Austin Public Assembly Code Enforcement Team has responded to numerous calls related to downtown activities since the start of the South by Southwest Conference and spring break. The majority of citations and warnings issued have been at venues hosting unofficial SXSW activities.
Code Enforcement numbers as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday were:
- Venue/Facilities shut down: 3
- Citations issued: 15
- Written warnings issued: 9
- Verbal Warnings issued: 19
Conversation Corps schedules discussions
The Conversation Corps program has scheduled its first 12 discussions offering citizens the opportunity to engage with local government. These conversations are a joint effort among the City of Austin, Austin Independent School District, Capital Metro and Leadership Austin. This will be an ongoing program that will provide regular opportunities for citizens to have hosted discussions about local government. The first round of conversations will take place between Friday and March 30. The topic will be, “How can Conversation Corps add value to our community?” These discussions will seek input from participants about the issues they’d like to see as future conversation topics. For more information and a schedule of events, go here.
Oops — Tovo cites wrong task force
With so many city boards, commissions, task forces and working groups it should come as no surprise that even someone as knowledgeable as Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo mixes up one task force with another occasionally. Last week, Tovo posted a request on the Council message board that the Council Austin Energy committee hear a presentation from the Low Income Advisory Task Force on the utility’s policies regarding how to deal with low income customers having trouble paying their bills. Consumer advocate Paul Robbins has a deep and abiding interest in those policies and has pointed out problems associated with the current policies. He and Tovo do not see eye-to-eye on the matter. Robbins noticed Tovo’s request and emailed her to say that particular task force has nothing to do with arrearage policies. He even attached a copy of the resolution setting up that task force, which references weatherization and solar energy for low income homes. Austin Energy’s Toye Goodson told the Monitor that what Tovo was actually referring to is an Austin Energy working group that has been meeting for several years to develop procedures for payment management. It includes services providers like Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels. Some members of the task force are also part of the working group. Tovo said Monday that she wants the Council to hear Austin Energy’s recommendation “and I also want to hear from the working group.” Tovo provided a correction on the message board on Monday and apologized, noting, ” I believe AE staff are clear on the request as we spoke to them last week, but at least one member of the public was not.”
Zimmerman’s TDHCA Bill filed
On Monday, Council Member Don Zimmerman announced the introduction of Senate Bill 1719 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). If enacted, the bill would allow more local input into the scoring of tax credits in the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs process. Zimmerman’s proposition (which the Monitor addressed at length here) would allow individual City Council members, County Commissioners and members of the Boards of Directors of Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) to affect the scoring process, rather than only allowing them to endorse (or not endorse) affordable housing projects as a group. In a statement, Zimmerman said, “I investigated the TDHCA’s scoring process, I personally met with TDHCA staff, and arrived at the conclusion that the scoring process is rigged in favor of approving these tax credits.” The legislation can be read in its entirety here. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has not yet referred it to committee.
Gallo plans D10 town hall meeting
District 10 City Council Member Sheri Gallo is inviting residents to a town-hall meeting Saturday. It will focus on “Your Neighborhood Park: Learning how to partner with City departments and other organizations.” The meeting will include representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department, the Public Works Department and Alison Alter, chair of the Ramsey Park Renovation project. Constituents will have the opportunity to raise issues or concerns related to public parks and open spaces in their neighborhood. The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Austin Board of Realtors, 4800 Spicewood Springs Road.
City opens hotline for SXSW information
The city has activated a temporary hotline for media inquiries related to city operations during the South by Southwest festival and additional events, at (512) 974-9280. News media are encouraged to call this number with any questions regarding special event permitting and compliance, general public safety and other city-related issues. City public information staff will monitor the line from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. from Tuesday through Sunday. The city will distribute an advisory when the lines are deactivated.