County burn ban in effect
Commissioners approved a burn ban for unincorporated areas of Travis County on Tuesday. The last burn ban was lifted May 13. Fire Marshal Hershel Lee said the fire danger runs from “moderate” for the eastern half of the county to “high” and “very high” for the western portions. “The extreme heat and lack of significant rainfall increases the chances that fires can get out of control and spread quickly.” Under the burn ban, the public should not litter cigarettes, park recently driven or running vehicles on dry grass or operate poorly maintained machinery on dry grass. Prescribed burns and grilling in a closed container with a lid are allowed.
Water levels in Central, South Texas aquifers dropping
You’d think with all the rain and storms lately, the drought would be a thing of the past. But that is not the case. Tuesday, the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio voted to impose Stage IV restrictions on pumping, saying the aquifer’s water level has fallen below the critical threshold of 630 feet above sea level. That means water customers in Bexar and Medina counties and parts of Atascosa, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Hays counties must cut pumping by 40 percent. The north end of the Edwards, the Barton Springs segment in parts of Travis, Hays and Bastrop counties, could face a similar change in status this week. The Barton Springs aquifer district board meets Thursday and will consider the state of its portion of the underground river. As of Tuesday, the aquifer’s two drought triggers – the Lovelady Well level and the flow at Barton Springs – were at or below the threshold to send it into Stage II status, meaning a 20 percent reduction in pumping. Board members took the aquifer out of drought status in late June but warned at the time that hot summer weather could draw it down again.
Last week to submit a ballot application
After today, there will be just one week left for candidates in the Nov. 4 City Council election to make it official and submit an application to get their name on the ballot. Applications are due at the City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Aug. 18. Several new candidates filed for places on the ballot late last week, including Randall Stephens in the Mayor’s race; Andrew Bucknall in District 1; Robert Perez Jr. in District 4; Ann Kitchen in District 5; Edwin E. English and Leslie Pool in District 7; Eliza May in District 8; and Kathie Tovo in District 9. Of the 60 or so people who filed paperwork naming campaign treasurers, only about half have signed up to be on the ballot with a week left to go.
Chief Medical Examiner resigns, interim appointed
Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. David Dolinak is resigning his position, effective Aug. 18, and Travis County Commissioners have appointed Dr. Satish Chundru to step in for the interim until a new chief is hired. Dr. Dolinak was the chief for eight years. The Medical Examiner‘s office has until November to hire a permanent replacement.
Today’s Most Interesting Meeting?
The Council Audit and Finance Committee will have a lot on its plate this morning as it grapples with the results from audits of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department related to contract compliance; small and minority business participation goals for the Small and Minority Business Resources Department; and a safety audit of Austin Resource Recovery. Committee members will also be asking questions about whether the Budget Office has adequately documented cost allocations for internal services. There has long been a suspicion that Austin Energy and Austin Water Utility are being overcharged. According to a briefing document provided ahead of the meeting, city auditors found that the Budget Office “does not have a well–documented cost allocation plan for CTM (the Communications & Technology Management Department). However, the budget office argues that “they took over responsibility for administering the cost allocation plan in FY2013, and documentation for the plan was not available from CTM.”
Group to hear Mayor candidates tonight
South Austin Democrats will be offering their members an opportunity to hear candidates for Mayor
and vote on an endorsement for that office tonight. However, they will not be making an endorsement, as we originally reported. The group meets at El Gallo Restaurant, 2910 S. Congress, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Also at the Audit and Finance Committee
Also, the Economic Development Department will be discussing its progress in implementing Council resolutions from 2012 related to assisting small local businesses. Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, is scheduled to discuss that same topic with members of the committee. The committee is also scheduled to talk about bylaw amendments for the Parks and Recreation Board plan to eliminate the navigation committee, which no longer meets. Another change will allow the board chair to serve as a nonvoting member on any committee, which is already occurring, according to Deena Estrada, boards and commissions coordinator.
CAMPO names Cooper to board
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board voted Monday night to appoint Wade Cooper as the newest board member. Cooper will replace John Langmore, whose term ended in June. Cooper is the manager of Jackson Walker, a law firm with 340 attorneys and an annual budget of more than $200 million. “I think Mr. Cooper will be a great addition to the board,” Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said.
Special aquifer board meeting
There will be a special called meeting of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District board of directors at 6 p.m. tonight. They will be considering the district’s official comments on TxDOT’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for SH 45 SW. The district’s scientific staff have expressed strong doubts about the science and data behind the proposed environmental statement. The staff version of their official comments called the information in the draft document “incomplete and deficient,” and recommended that state officials go back to the drawing board to complete the project. But the board has the final say and may well decide to water down those criticisms.
The Council Audit and Finance Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission meets at 6 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road . . . . The Ethics Review Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. in Room 2016 at City Hall . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in Chambers at 700 Lavaca St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners meet at 9 a.m. in the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos. . . .
Notables named to city commissions
Austin City Council members made two notable appointments as part of their regular consent agenda Thursday. Council Member Laura Morrison put former Council Member Jackie Goodman on the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission, and Council Member Mike Martinez sent former Austin Energy honcho Michael Osborne to the Electric Utility Commission. Both selections are marked by the level of experience carried by each of the new commissioners, ahead of what could be extreme change brought on in the wake of the coming 10-1 system. Other appointments include Meredith Walker, nominated by Council Member Spelman, to the Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Committee; Shubhada Saxena (Tovo) to the Asian-American Quality of Life Advisory Commission; Heather Dalby (Tovo) to the Animal Advisory Commission; Rebecca Webber (Morrison) to the Public Safety Commission; and Robert Shaw (Spelman) to the Animal Advisory Commission.
More confirmed candidates
With the addition of Randall Stephens on Thursday, there are now four mayoral candidates on the ballot. The others of course are Mike Martinez, Steve Adler and Ron Culver. We can expect Mayor pro tem Sheryl Cole to add her name to the ballot any day now… There are three official candidates on the ballot in District 1 with the addition of Andrew Bucknall on Friday. Ora Houston and Sam Osemene had already filed… Delia Garza remains the only candidate in District 2 to have achieved ballot status… District 3 candidates on the ballot officially include Susana Almanza, Mario Cantu and Sabino Renteria… Of a large number of candidates filing campaign treasurer designations in District 4, only Laura Pressley and Roberto Perez Jr. on the current ballot list… In District 5, likely front runner Ann Kitchen put her name on the ballot last week, joining Mike Rodriguez and David Senecal… In District 6, only Jimmy Flannigan and Jay Wiley are currently set to be on the ballot… In District 7, new candidate Leslie Pool joined Jeb Boyt, Ed English, Jimmy Paver and Melissa Zone on the ballot list… Eliza May joined Rebecca Bray on the District 8 ballot list on Friday. Council Member Kathie Tovo filed the appropriate documents to be on the ballot for District 9 on Friday… No one new joined the list for District 10 last week. Margie Burciaga, Sherri Gallo and Matt Lamon remain on that list.
The Sign Review Board/Board of Adjustment meets at 5:30 p.m. at Town Lake Center721 Barton Springs Road . . . The Waterfront Planning Advisory Board meets at 6 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meets at 6 p.m. at the Joe C. Thompson Center on the University of Texas Campus, Red River and Dean Keeton streets.
TxDOT refuses to withdraw draft EIS
The Texas Department of Transportation has refused to suspend or withdraw the draft environmental impact statement, called an EIS, for the roadway design of SH45 Southwest, as requested by Austin City Manager Marc Ott July 23. The agency has also declined to extend the period of time during which citizens can comment on construction of the disputed roadway, as Ott requested. The deadline for comment is Aug. 13. Ott expressed disappointment but said “we want to continue to be part of the process and will submit comments that will allow us to be part of their record.” For more information, read this.
Casar backs push for Municipal IDs
At a news conference called in support of potential new City of Austin municipal identification cards, District 4 City Council candidate Greg Casar got a prime spot next to sitting Council Member Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. Casar, as did all assembled before the mic, spoke in favor of the IDs, citing a number of public safety concerns. The politics here are also worth noting. Morrison, after all, was forced to quash a rumor (in these pages) that she’d be support Casar opponent Laura Pressley in the November elections. Though she didn’t indicate her favorite in her part of that statement, she did say that there was a candidate that she preferred.
Travis County to vote on Charles Schwab incentive agreement
Charles Schwab, a San Francisco-based brokerage and banking corporation, wants an $8.5 million economic incentive agreement from Travis County to expand its offices in Austin. If the Travis County Commissioners Court approves the motion at Tuesday’s meeting, the corporation will also get $4.5 million from the state. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce support the agreement, while local taxpayer organizations like ChangeAustin.org oppose. Under the agreement, the corporation would invest $210 million, build 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of office space on a 50-acre plot and hire 823 new employees.
Short-term losses, long-term tax gains
As part of the budget process, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole asked for a breakdown of revenue collected and fees assessed for the city’s Short Term Rental registration program this past year. So far, the results have been less than lucrative for the city. As of May 31, 2014, the city projects that its total revenue from licensing the 929 Type I, Type II and Type III rentals will be $255,210 for Fiscal Year 2014. The estimated cost of administering the program is $301,462 for that same year. That’s a loss of $46,252. However, a question from Council Member Chris Riley showed that those rentals generated more than $1.4 million in hotel/motel/STR occupancy tax revenue in 2014, so maybe it’s not as bad as all that.
TCAD asks for $2.9 million budget increase
The Travis Central Appraisal District’s request to increase its Fiscal Year 2015 is on the schedule for the county’s annual budget hearings. TCAD will get the last slot of the hearings on Aug. 11, when Travis County Commissioners will discuss amendments to the Planning and Budget Office’s preliminary FY 2015 budget. Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler appeared at the court’s regular session Tuesday to ask that the county contribute $2.9 million more to their budget than last year, out of a total $3.2 million needed from all the taxing entities that contribute to TCAD’s budget. The money would go to fund district court litigation on appraisal protests from commercial properties, hire new appraisal staff to handle the increased work volume and hire an impartial expert to research sales information.
Send in the Aggie drones
At Tuesday’s Council works session, the Austin City Council discussed a proposed interlocal agreement between the city and the Texas A&M University System that would investigate potential future uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (better known as drones) and other robotics in emergency response situations. Austin Fire Department Assistant Chief Richard Davis stated that the agreement would have no fiscal impact on the City, and that “the technology has promise.” Davis explained that the goal of the four-year project is to have developed a plan for implementing the technology by its end. Council Member Bill Spelman, who requested that the item be discussed, expressed concern about the way that such a project may be perceived by the public. He suggested that the Fire Department split the program into four, year-long projects, with progress reports at the end of each year.
Leffingwell stumps for transportation bonds
Although he said he is happy not to be running for elective office again, Mayor Lee Leffingwell says he is indeed campaigning – for the transportation bond on the November ballot. He will hold a news conference at 9:30 this morning right before the Council meeting begins to explain how the bond election will be framed. Leffingwell said that in addition to the $600 million for rail, the ballot proposition would outline $400 million in bonds to fund the strategic mobility plan. The ballot language, he said, will specifically name the highways to be upgraded, such as I-35. In addition, he stressed that the ballot language would also contain the proviso that the city not borrow any money for the rail project until matching funds have been secured from the Federal Transit Administration.