Tuesday, November 10, 2020 by Tai Moses

Ready, set, GoGrant

Small-business owners in Austin in need of a boost may now apply for micro-grants called GoGrants. These active mobility grants, launched by the transportation management association Movability, provide “financial assistance up to $5,000 to qualifying businesses and nonprofit organizations to support active mobility options for their employees and customers.” Some examples of eligible projects are bicycle parking for customers, storage lockers for employees who ride their bikes to work and incentives like memberships to bike-share or e-scooter vendors. Here’s a list of other eligible projects. The deadline to apply is Nov. 30. Find information about the program at Movability.

Monday, November 9, 2020 by Tai Moses

City issues STR license fraud alert

Due to an increase in fraudulent short-term rental licenses, the city is cracking down on unlicensed short-term rentals and rental scams. The Austin Code Department reminds the public that owners of short-term rentals – any room, cottage, guest house that is rented for less than 30 days – must apply for an operating license annually. According to the city, “Scammers often use valid-looking printouts of a license with official-looking letterheads, graphics, and other forms of fraudulent identifiers including false information. Additionally, an STR license is considered fraudulent if presented or used as a valid document when its current state is expired.” A valid license should be posted inside every short-term rental. If you see a license posted on the wall but you’re not sure whether it’s valid, you can do a public search for the license here or here. If you think a license is fraudulent, report it to the Code Department at 512-974-2633.

Monday, November 9, 2020 by Tai Moses

Get to know your wild neighbors

Central Texas isn’t just an appealing place for humans; a wide array of wild creatures also calls it home. Balcones Canyonlands Preserve has invited Kelly Simon, an urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, to give a webinar talk titled “Animals of the Wildland-Urban Interface.” In addition to describing the rich diversity of urban wildlife, Simon will reveal how we can create more welcoming habitat for other critters and how different species contribute to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Friday, Nov. 20, noon-1 p.m. Register to attend here. If you can’t attend the online event, a recording of the webinar will be posted on the Austin Water Wildland Conservation Facebook page and YouTube channel afterward.

Friday, November 6, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin playgrounds to open, with caution

City playgrounds, skate parks and pavilions are set to officially reopen, though city officials will continue to urge caution in using the facilities. While the parks department has found that these outdoor recreation areas do pose some risk, the lack of direct correlation between usage and virus spread (and the fact that people were using them anyway) has caused the city to change its strategy. A Nov. 4 memo from PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley explains, “Beginning immediately, PARD will replace closure signage with caution signage to inform users of risks and suggest usage parameters should an individual elect to engage with the amenity.” The memo goes on to say that city sports programming will remain on hold. Parks system closures and regulations, which remain dependent on current Covid-19 conditions, can be found at austintexas.gov/parkclosures.

Friday, November 6, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Blue-green algae still a risk

The city’s Watershed Protection Department says there is still a high risk of blue-green algae that is toxic to dogs at Lady Bird Lake and Red Bud Isle. With cooler weather, the algae is becoming less predictable and more sporadic on Lady Bird Lake. While no blue-green algae was found in the most recent sample taken from the lake, on Oct. 27, clumps of the algae were found at Red Bud Isle. City officials strongly recommend that dog owners keep their dogs from swimming in or drinking from the lake. Handling the algae is also not recommended. For more information, check out the city’s web page on the subject.

Friday, November 6, 2020 by Tai Moses

AISD superintendent issues letter to district staff

Following her report at Monday’s board of trustees meeting, AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde wrote a letter to district staff summarizing the information she shared with the board. In the letter, she gave an update on Texas Education Agency funding, remote vs. on-campus learning, a staffing summary, an update on Covid-19 in Austin, and AISD’s participation in the Rapid Testing Project. Read the superintendent’s entire letter here.

Thursday, November 5, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Two AISD races go to runoff

Near the end of Tuesday’s ballot, voters who live within Austin Independent School District got a chance to vote on school board candidates. Two of those races resulted in runoffs, allowing voters to return to the polls on Dec. 15. In District 5, the candidates were Piper Stege Nelson, Lynn Boswell and Jennifer Littlefield. Nelson came in third behind Boswell with more than 38 percent of the vote, and Littlefield with more than 36 percent. The other AISD runoff is in the at-large position 8, where Leticia Moreno Caballero got about 46 percent of the vote and Noelita Lugo won 30 percent. The other candidates, Mike Herschenfeld and Jared Breckenridge, won about 12 percent each. Ofelia Maldonado Zapata won the District 2 contest with more than 60 percent of the vote, besting John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, who got 28 percent of the vote, and Adolphus “Andy” Anderson, who won just 11 percent. Kevin Foster ran unopposed for the AISD District 3 seat. In Del Valle, Damian Pantoja got nearly 65 percent of the vote to win the District 2 seat on the Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees. His only opponent was David J. Albert.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Travis County welcomes Brown, Howard and Travillion

As expected, Democrat Andy Brown will be the new Travis County judge, officially filling Texas state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt’s empty seat. Brown will serve the remainder of Eckhardt’s term after being nominated by the Travis County Democratic Party. The court will also see a new commissioner, with former ECHO head Ann Howard defeating Republican Becky Bray with 56.88 percent of the Precinct 3 vote. In Precinct 1, Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion will hold on to his seat easily, with a staggering 75.92 percent of the vote over Republican Solomon Arcoven. During Monday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, interim County Judge Sam Biscoe said he expected to hand the keys over to Brown sometime in mid-November.

Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Goodall named Texas Municipal Clerk of 2020

The Texas Municipal Clerks Association has named Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall as its Municipal Clerk of the Year for 2020. Mayor Steve Adler took a few minutes to congratulate Goodall at last Thursday’s City Council meeting. Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said she was surprised that Goodall had not been sainted, given the amount of patience required for the job. In addition to that honor, Goodall was also elected treasurer of the Texas Municipal Clerks Association at its annual meeting last week. The organization has more than 1,030 members throughout Texas and operates the Texas Municipal Clerks Certification Program at the University of North Texas in Denton. Goodall, who has been Austin’s city clerk since early 2013, has worked for the city for more than 20 years.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020 by Tai Moses

Election Day is here

Today, at long last, is Election Day and polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. If you haven’t voted, here’s a list of Travis County voting locations; you may cast your ballot at any of these. Please vote safely: Wear a face mask, keep your distance if you have to wait in line and bring hand sanitizer. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to vote, what will happen if there’s no clear winner in the presidential contest, and what if one side doesn’t accept the results, we recommend The New York Times‘ Anxious Person’s Guide to the 2020 Election, which succinctly answers all of these questions and more. And finally, what about predicted post-election unrest in the streets tonight? Well, we can’t foretell the future, but it’s always a good idea to stay safe at home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020 by Tai Moses

APH remembers those lost to Covid

Photo credit: City of Austin

Last week Austin-Travis County reached the grim milestone of 450 deaths from Covid-19. Last Thursday, in memory of those lost souls, Austin Public Health staffers displayed 450 lit candles at the Long Center for Performing Arts. The following day, buildings across downtown turned their lights green “to promote the continued health of our community during the pandemic.” The health department hopes the memorial will serve to remind the community that Covid is not going anywhere, and that, with the holiday season approaching, it’s more critical than ever “to practice protective behaviors such as washing your hands often, masking and social distancing in public, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching your face, and staying home if you’re sick.”

Monday, November 2, 2020 by Jo Clifton

SOS Alliance wins suit against TCEQ

Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled last week in favor of the Save Our Springs Alliance, reversing a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that would have allowed the city of Dripping Springs to discharge wastewater into Onion Creek in Hays County. Bill Bunch, executive director of SOSA, told the Austin Monitor, “The TCEQ was ignoring both the law and the science in granting the permit … and in our view this ruling should put an end to new discharges to Hill Country streams.” A number of environmental organizations opposed discharges into Onion Creek, but based on a perception that TCEQ would grant the permit anyway, they reached a settlement in 2018. In her decision, Judge Gamble wrote that TCEQ’s approach to degradation of the creek “converts municipal wastewater discharges into benefits that should be encouraged rather than, as the Clean Water Act provides, pollutants to be eliminated from our nation’s waters.” The city of Dripping Springs, which had intervened in the suit on the side of TCEQ, had argued that the wastewater discharge would somehow “enrich Onion Creek, making it more biologically productive, while deeming as irrelevant effects of the discharge on native aquatic species adapted to the very low nutrient conditions of Onion Creek and other Hill Country streams,” the judge wrote. Such an interpretation “has turned the Clean Water Act upside down. This approach allowed the (administrative law judge) and the agency to ignore as irrelevant the multiple scientific studies introduced into the record concluding that increasing phosphorus in Texas streams” above a certain level “would lead to a displacement of native aquatics by more nutrient-tolerant and lower dissolved oxygen tolerant species,” according to Judge Gamble. Dripping Springs has moved forward with its new wastewater treatment plant, but so far has only disposed of the wastewater through irrigation. Bunch said the city had indicated it would start discharging into the creek when it reached 400,000 gallons a day, but is not at that level yet. If the state decides to appeal, which seems likely, the next court to hear the matter will be the 3rd Court of Appeals.

Monday, November 2, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Travis County Commissioners Court meets today

The Travis County Commissioners Court will meet today, instead of on the usual Tuesday (which of course is Election Day). Travis County will convene at the normal time of 9 a.m., though the Covid-19 presentation may be earlier than usual. Find information on the rest of the agenda online.

Monday, November 2, 2020 by Tai Moses

Carver museum launches conversation series

A basic understanding of business may not be something most artists enjoy, but it’s essential to lasting success and a productive career. The George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center, in collaboration with Capitol View Arts, is launching the fourth installment of its Art and Business Conversation Series, which offers some practical skills that will “provide motivated artists insight into the business of art and the cultivation of sustainable full-time careers” along with addressing some of the challenges artists of color face in the workplace. Guest speakers and presenters include Lise Ragbir, director of the Christian-Green Gallery and the Idea Lab at UT Austin; Andrea Mellard, director of public programs and community engagement for The Contemporary Austin; Shani Hebert, president of Hebert Tax Consulting, LLC; visual artist Ryan Runcie; and Adrian Resendez, attorney for Texas Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts. All three webinars take place on Zoom, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on three Thursdays this month. Find additional details about speakers and register here for the Nov. 5 event, here for Nov. 12 and here for Nov. 19.

Monday, November 2, 2020 by Tai Moses

SW Parkway being resurfaced

If you find yourself driving on Southwest Parkway next week you may notice some construction work, flaggers and lane reductions in effect between West William Cannon Drive to just past Amarra Trail. Starting Monday, Nov. 9, a city contractor will be doing a “mill and overlay,” which is a fancy way of saying the street is being resurfaced. The project “will improve street conditions on SW Parkway providing a smoother, durable, and safer surface for vehicles,” according to the city. The project will take about three weeks, weather permitting, as always.

Friday, October 30, 2020 by Tai Moses

Starting now, hand-deliver your mail-in ballot

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3 (!) – and among other things, that means if you haven’t yet sent in your mail-in ballot, the Travis County clerk says you should plan on hand-delivering it instead. With only five days to go until the election, if you mail the ballot, there may not be time to ensure it will be processed and counted. So bring your completed ballot to 5501 Airport Blvd. The hand-delivery drop-off site is open every day between now and Election Day. The hours are Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.; Monday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Tuesday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Oh, and another reminder: You may only hand-deliver your own personal ballot and not your spouse’s, friend’s, neighbor’s or dog walker’s ballot.

Thursday, October 29, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Get out and vote for Prop A, local leaders say

Despite the cold and wind, a group of transit advocates gathered outside of Carver Branch library Wednesday to encourage Austinites to cast their votes in favor of Proposition A and Project Connect. Mayor Steve Adler said he is concerned people are making decisions on Prop A based on false or misleading information spread by organizations that refuse to disclose the sources of their funding. Adler said most of the opposition is taking advantage of the sticker shock reaction to the investment of $7.1 billion on the ballot, whereas the true impact of Project Connect would amount to about 78 cents per day per resident. “For the cost we get so much for our community – we get to actually do something about traffic, we get to meet our responsibility on climate change, we actually get to provide mobility equity,” Adler said. Chas Moore, executive director of Austin Justice Coalition, expanded on that last point, saying the plan is a “direct investment in the quality of life for black people, for brown people and for everyone who’s been marginalized because of their skin color or their bank account.” Adler clarified that the $300 million anti-displacement fund included in the plan is the largest such investment in the nation and would help ensure that “almost 60 percent of every income-restricted affordable housing unit in this city is going to be within walking distance of a Project Connect station.” Rep. Donna Howard also joined the group with calls for action: “If you want to offset 285,000 car trips a day and give everyone, whether you take public transit or not, a faster way to get around … if you want to cut down on our number-one source of greenhouse gases and give people a cleaner alternative to private cars, we need you to get out and vote for Prop A.” Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza urged residents to embrace the transit plan as a continuation of the city’s push toward equity. “Prop A so embodies our progressive values as Austinites” who “believe in science” and climate change, she said. Moore said while the city hasn’t always lived up to the progressive values it proclaims, “Prop A is our chance to put our money where our mouth is.”

Thursday, October 29, 2020 by Tai Moses

Downtown Alliance launches Writing on the Walls II

For the second installment of its popular public art initiative, Writing on the Walls, the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation has commissioned four murals for Bouldin Creek, a new office building at the corner of Oltorf Street and South Lamar Boulevard. The murals, designed by local artists Soledad Fernandez-Whitechurch, Tyler Hobbs, Sophie Roach and Jana Swec, will “celebrate the characteristics and cultural significance of South Austin and the greenbelt. Organic elements and colors inspired by nature blend with structure to create modern art with features that are familiar to Austin,” according to the news release. Two of the murals will be installed in the parking garage, one will be on the front of the building facing Oltorf, and the fourth will be inside the building’s lobby. Molly Alexander, executive director of the foundation, said, “We are excited about the second installation of Writing on the Walls and working with the public and private sectors and nonprofit organizations to pair local artists with walls and funders. The project at Bouldin Creek allows us to support the work of local artists while creating new and unique places to connect downtown with our community.” Work on installing the first mural begins today and continues throughout the weekend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Travis County bars to remain closed

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe reaffirmed that bars in Travis County will remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement about the decision, Biscoe wrote, “In review of the projections for the Austin MSA, there is ongoing concern for the threat of substantial increases in the utilization of hospital beds, ICUs and ventilators. These projections indicate that we may pass the threshold for stage four of our community risk by Nov. 4, 2020. Additionally, there are concerning trends in other metropolitan counties in Texas. The most concerning of which is El Paso where they are experiencing exponential growth of Covid-19 cases and are critically short on hospital and ICU beds. The patterns across Texas create a very concerning picture for November and likely December for our state.” Biscoe recommended that data be collected for an additional 14 days to evaluate whether his recommendation to keep bars shut should change. While an earlier executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott allowed for the reopening of bars in Texas, it left the ultimate decision in the hands of county authorities.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 by Jo Clifton

More candidates file eight-day reports

On Tuesday, the Austin Monitor reported that the majority of Council candidates had filed their campaign finance reports due eight days before the election. Filings from three candidates failed to make the cutoff to appear on the city clerk’s website Monday, and were posted Tuesday. Vanessa Fuentes and Casey Ramos are running against David Chincanchan for the District 2 seat being vacated by Delia Garza, who is running unopposed for Travis County attorney. Fuentes reported collecting $8,137 in contributions in the last month from 82 contributors. She still had nearly $20,000 in the bank as of Oct. 24. Ramos’ report shows he collected $2,625 from 11 contributors and spent $4,074 over the past month. According to the report, he had $1,330 left in the bank. In District 6, Deedra Harrison is running against incumbent Jimmy Flannigan as well as Jennifer Mushtaler and Mackenzie Kelly. Harrison reported that four contributors gave her $1,050, and after spending $862, she still had $1,435 left in the bank.

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