Whispers

Thursday, December 18, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

AE to explain CAP issues to commission

Austin Energy staff will brief the Electric Utility Commission at its Jan. 26 meeting about the automated screening process that is allegedly giving wealthy residents utility discounts intended for low-income residents. Austin Energy local government relations division director Jeff Vice said that there were no staff members prepared to comment at Monday’s EUC meeting. “I did want to assure you, though, that we’re aware of this issue,” he said. Activist Paul Robbins told the Monitor on Wednesday that he cross-checked property appraisal records and found, based on preliminary results, that more than 1,100 of 19,000 Customer Assistance Program participants studied resided in homes valued at more than $300,000. Robbins said Monday that customers are automatically enrolled in the program if they live at the same address as someone who is enrolled in one of seven other financial assistance programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “Foster children are automatically enrolled in CHIP, but, as you know, not every person that takes in a foster child is poor,” Robbins said. “I’m really here to urge Austin Energy to come up with a plan next month to give to the new City Council to change this so that the money is going to the people that need it.”


Thursday, December 18, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Adler makes the media rounds

Austin Mayor-elect Steve Adler visited multiple media outlets Wednesday, just after he collected a significant victory over opponent and City Council Member Mike Martinez. Among other themes, Adler noted that he was already working with other Council member-elects to get the ball rolling on what will be a very tight post-holiday turnaround. Adler and his new colleagues will be sworn in on Jan. 6 — when the unlucky two-year termers and a mayor pro tem will also be selected. The first Council meeting is Jan. 29.


Thursday, December 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Christmas Bird Count volunteers needed

On Sunday, birders and bird enthusiasts are invited to take part in the Fourth Annual Lost Pines Christmas Bird Count. The count will take place from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Lost Pines Resort, though volunteers are not required to stay the whole time. The event is part of a nationwide bird count and one of 50 counts taking place in Texas. The resort is in a region that is home to about 250 bird species. Last year, volunteers counted 122 different species among the 9,843 birds tallied. Online registration closes today, but birders can continue to register by phone. The count is a collaborative effort among the Lower Colorado River Authority’s McKinney Roughs Nature Park, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, Bastrop County Audubon Society, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Lost Pines Master Naturalists, and the National Audubon Society. More information can be found here.


Thursday, December 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Symphony continues free events

This weekend, the Austin Symphony will continue its free performances through the new program “Christmas in the Community.” The program has been running since late November, and there are only a few chances left to hear the symphony play holiday songs, free of charge, throughout the city. The program concludes Monday at the State Capitol. The entire schedule can be found here.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Turnout low but not like before

All along, one expected positive result of the 10-1 change was the potential to increase voter interest and participation in local Austin elections. Good news and bad news on that front: Austin did see a significant increase over ballots cast in previous Council elections. In the June 2011 runoff, just 9 percent of registered voters turned out to select then-candidate Kathie Tovo over then-Council Member Randi Shade. Similarly, in June 2008, only 5 percent of the population showed up to hoist Council Member Laura Morrison over Cid Galindo. In 2005, a shade under 8 percent of voters turned out to pick Jennifer Kim over Margot Clarke. By direct measure, then, Tuesday’s turnout was indeed an improvement: 15 percent of the population took part in eight runoff elections. Still, the ratio remains a low one — and, as such, keeps Austin in line with at least one national trend.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by Michael Kanin

WTP Fore!

It reads like something of a fitting farewell to the sitting Austin City Council: The Austin Water Utility will “toast the opening” of Water Treatment Plant 4 this Friday at 2 p.m. Expected dignitaries include Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott. The construction of the plant was a hotly contested debate over a period of decades. We’ll see if the next Council can continue the tradition.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Pace, Gordon, Saldana win AISD seats

Kendall Pace, Paul Saldana and Ted Gordon were elected to AISD board seats as part of Tuesday’s runoffs. Pace, who got 65 percent of the vote, beat Hillary Procknow. Saldana collected 53 percent of the vote to Kate Mason-Murphy’s 46 percent. Gordon beat David Thompson 55 percent to 44 percent. In the race for a Place 2 on the Austin Community College board of trustees, Gigi Edwards Bryant polled 54 percent to win out over Jade Chang Sheppard.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Tovo, Morrison, Cole, Shea at Pool party

Departing Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole joined returning incumbent Kathie Tovo and incoming Pct. 2 Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea at what turned out to be newly elected District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool’s victory party Tuesday. That Pool would be the likely winner was reflected in what appeared to be blue script on a chocolate cake.

 


Monday, December 15, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Runoff elections set today

Today is Runoff Election Day for candidates in the Austin mayor and City Council races, for three Austin Independent School District board seats and for a seat on the Austin Community College board. In Austin city elections, all voters will cast ballots in the mayoral runoff between Mike Martinez and Steve Adler. Voters will also settle several district Council races. In Council District 1, they will choose between DeWayne Lofton and Ora Houston; in District 3, the candidates are Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Susana Almanza; in District 4, the candidates are Greg Casar and Laura Pressley; in District 6, candidates are Don Zimmerman and Jimmy Flannigan; in District 7, candidates are J.E. “Jeb” Boyt and Leslie Pool; in District 8, the candidates are Ellen Troxclair and Ed Scruggs; and in District 10, candidates are Sheri Gallo and Mandy Dealey. In the AISD runoff, voters in District 1 will choose between David Thompson and Edmund Gordon; in District 6, Paul Saldaña and Kate Mason-Murphy; and in At-Large District 9, voters citywide will choose between Kendall Pace and Hillary Procknow. In the ACC Place 2 Trustees race, voters will choose between Gigi Edwards Bryant and Jade Chang Sheppard. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Election officials say voters can cast a ballot at any polling place as long as they can properly identify themselves. Voting precincts are listed on voter registration cards and a list of polling places is available on the Travis County Elections website.


Monday, December 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Check your PDR receipts

A Building and Development Fees Audit, which evaluated whether the Planning and Development Review Department assesses land development-related fees in accordance with the City Council-approved fee schedule, revealed some problems Monday. Specifically, the audit found that 40 percent of transactions in the tested sample were incorrect. Most of the errors came from the department collecting lower fees than it should, though. Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey explained that, previously, fees were easier to apply because they had been the same since 1993. Since 2012, the department has implemented fee changes in phases, leading to them being “in flux” for the past two years. He added that the AMANDA system “isn’t as flexible as they’d like,” and trying to work with— or around — that inflexibility  can lead to trouble. He said that in some cases, the system was in conflict with what the actual fees are, and applied fees incorrectly. Guernsey said the department hopes to have a new system that will make it easier to adapt to the new fees in place by next year. In terms of plans to refund the handful of customers who were overcharged — given the anonymous nature of the audit — that will require some detective work. Customers who suspect they were overcharged might want to do that work themselves.


Monday, December 15, 2014 by Mark Richardson

New customs facility opens at ABIA

Passengers arriving on international flights will have a new experience at Austin Bergstrom International Airport. On Monday, a new state-of-the-art customs facility opened at ABIA with the usual ribbon cuttings and speeches. The facility doubles the airport’s capacity to process international arrivals from 200 passengers an hour to 400 an hour, with a maximum capacity of 600 arrivals. Its opening marks the completion of the lower level of the terminal addition project known as the Terminal East Infill. The upper level of the project will bring more TSA screening lanes for departing passengers and aims to improve passenger flow through the airport. Completion of the Terminal East Infill is scheduled for next summer. The number of international flights to ABIA has increased significantly in recent months. In addition to several direct flights to destinations in Mexico, British Airways now has nonstop daily service to London Heathrow Airport, and Air Canada will add nonstop flights from Toronto to Austin in May.

 


Sunday, December 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Early voting for runoff concludes

Tuesday is Election Day, and the last time that Austinites will be able to cast ballots in the runoff election, because early voting ended Friday. In the end, just 48,393 people voted in the early election, which translates to 8.76 percent of registered Travis County voters. By mail, 6,906 votes were cast, and 3,460 were cast at various mobile voting locations. The vast majority, or 38,026, of votes were cast at traditional polling locations around town. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. County officials say this will be a Vote Center election, where registered voters may vote at any polling location in Travis County. You can check your voter registration status and find the list of districts and local entities that you are eligible to vote for at www.votetravis.com.


Sunday, December 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mayor candidates plan election parties

Both Steve Adler and Mike Martinez have plans Tuesday night, and if you are interested in joining either candidate on election night, the information for their public parties has arrived. As was the case during the last election, Martinez will be holding his election watch party at the Rattle Inn, located at 610 Nueces. That party starts at 7 p.m. Adler has moved his party from his headquarters to Midway Field House, the former location of Antone’s. The Adler Election Watch Party will take place at 2015 East Riverside Drive. Adler staff didn’t say when it starts, but around 7 p.m. is probably a safe bet.

 


Sunday, December 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mt. Bonnell marker to be installed

Tuesday isn’t just Election Day — it’s also the day that the long battle to install a granite marker on Mount Bonnell will officially end. The monument will be installed at the base of the park stairs at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The monument commemorates the donation of the park to the county by the Covert family, who also funded it. It was designed by O’Connell Robertson of Austin and is carved in the form of a north-south cross section of Mount Bonnell. The old limestone marker, which has been in disrepair for years, is now being partially protected from further deterioration by a roofed wire cage, and will be restored through grants from the city and the Texas Historical Commission. Plans to construct a viewing area at the top of the mountain are underway, with fundraising for that project to begin next year.

 


Sunday, December 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Auditorium Shores Trailhead reopens

Following upgrades and construction, the Auditorium Shores Trailhead reopened last week. Improvements mean that the trailhead now has an expanded parking lot, new restrooms and, according to a news release from the city, “improved bicycle and pedestrian connectivity, exercise and stretching area enhancements, landscaping, lighting, site furnishings and signage.” Funding for the project came through a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The trailhead is located at 800 W. Riverside Drive. For more information about the project, visit the city’s website here.


Friday, December 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Mild turnout continues for early voting

By Thursday night, 41,027 people had voted in the Travis County runoff elections. That’s 7.43 percent of the registered voters in the county. On Thursday alone, 3,704 people voted. The two busiest voting locations yesterday were the Randalls at Research Boulevard and Braker Lane, which saw 573 people casting ballots, and the Ben Hur Shrine Center, which saw 508. The least busy location was the Pflugerville County Tax Office, which was visited by just 16 voters. Today is the last day of early voting for the runoff election. Election Day is Tuesday.


Friday, December 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council honored at final meeting

State Sen. (and former Mayor) Kirk Watson (D-Austin) took time during a very long final meeting to pay tribute to the current Austin City Council. “This is a historic day, and I, as perhaps your most empathetic constituent, I couldn’t let today pass without coming down to say thank you for your service,” said Watson, who brought proclamations from the Texas Senate honoring the mayor and each of the Council members individually. Watson also presented them each with a Texas state flag that had flown over the capitol. “This is a big day in our city’s history, and each of you has played a big role in that history,” said Watson. “I want you to know that the citizens of this community are deeply indebted to you, they deeply thank you, and all wish to honor you.”


Friday, December 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Commissions commissioned

The bulk of how the city will handle the transition of its boards and commissions under the new 10-1 system had been worked out by Thursday’s City Council meeting. Council tied up the few remaining loose ends. In the end, Council members opted to expand the Building and Standards Commission to 22 members, though they could decide to appoint 11 members for now, leaving the option open to appoint a second panel to increase enforcement. Council also opted to retain the Downtown Commission, and maintain the Public Safety Commission and Downtown Austin Community Court Advisory Committee as separate entities.


Friday, December 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Microunits ordinance passes

After lengthy discussion at both the Planning Commission and previous Council meetings, in the end, the city approved a new microunits ordinance with very little fanfare. Council approved the ordinance in a vote of 5-2, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting in opposition. The final ordinance allows that, for dwelling units that are 500 square feet or less, the minimum site area requirement is zero, parking can be leased separately and the minimum off-street parking requirement is .25 spaces per unit. Tovo proposed to include a provision that would allow neighborhoods to “opt in” to the ordinance if it fit with their existing neighborhood plan, but that amendment failed.

 


Thursday, December 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Early votes continue to trickle in

On Wednesday, one more person cast a ballot than Tuesday, bringing the day’s total to 3,582 votes, or 0.65 percent of the registered voters in Travis County. The grand total for early voting this go-round is 37,323 votes, which is 6.76 percent of the voters in the county. The largest number — 461 — came from people voting by mail, but in terms of physical locations, the Randalls at Research Boulevard and Braker Lane, the Randalls at South MoPac and William Cannon Drive and the Ben Hur Shrine Center remained the most popular with 438, 378, and 360 votes cast, respectively.


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