Deep Eddy Pool gets a cleaning
There comes a time when all pools must be cleaned, and that time has come for Deep Eddy. The pool, located at 401 Deep Eddy Drive, will be partially closed for a couple of days, and completely closed for a full day, for a biannual cleaning of one of its freshwater wells. The deep end will be open Sept. 9, but the shallow end may be closed (call 512-472-8546 to find out). The entire pool will be closed Sept. 10, and on Sept. 11, the deep end will be open while the shallow end will be closed. Normal pool hours resume at 8 a.m. on Sept. 12. (Bonus fact, courtesy of Austin Parks and Rec: Deep Eddy is the oldest swimming pool in Texas.)
Algae, like summer, continues
If the canine members of your family are gazing longingly at the cool waters of Lady Bird Lake, heed this warning: It’s still not safe to go back in the water. The harmful algal bloom that has taken the lives of three dogs this summer continues apace with the summer heat. Austin’s Watershed Protection Department is keeping a close eye on the situation and latest tests show the continued presence of toxins in Red Bud Isle, Auditorium Shores and on Barton Creek between Barton Springs Pool and Lady Bird Lake. According to Watershed Protection, “The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall.” Until then, fill up that kiddie pool in the backyard for Fido.
Mayor hosts panel on homelessness
Mayor Steve Adler is hosting a panel discussion about a subject that’s been on his mind a lot lately: ending homelessness in Austin. Though City Council has made it a top priority, the path so far has been a rocky one. With stakeholders and leaders on all sides of the issue, this promises to be a lively conversation. Beside the mayor, the panel is composed of Matthew Mollica, the new executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition; Susan McDowell, the CEO of LifeWorks; Bill Brice, a vice president of the Downtown Austin Alliance; Chris Harris, a community advocate with Homes Not Handcuffs; and Sherri Greenberg, a professor from the LBJ School of Public Affairs. The panel will begin with a welcome from LBJ’s Dean Angela Evans and will be moderated by Steven Pedigo, the director of the LBJ Urban Lab. All are welcome but an RSVP is requested. Thursday, Aug. 29, 6-8 p.m., Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, 2313 Red River St.
Dog poop: The pollution and the solution
The Parks and Recreation Department has wisely enlisted dog owners to help solve a couple of problems created, in part, by dog owners: dog poop and off-leash dogs. The new public education program Bark Rangers helps raise awareness about these issues by certifying dog owners to be responsible canine guardians in a fun, hourlong workshop that comes with cool outdoor gear. The Bark Rangers educational initiative Leave No Trace educates dog-owning Austinites on the importance of scooping poop. It’s not just a yucky smell on the bottom of your shoe: Dog poop is full of harmful bacteria that is toxic to humans, wildlife, and birds. Dog poop does not biodegrade the way wild animal poop does, and rain only drives it deeper into the soil, polluting the groundwater. Dogs and their people who complete the free program receive an honorary Bark Ranger bandanna, free snacks and a Bark Ranger badge for those who decide to join the Bark Rangers Service Team. The workshop is limited to 12 leashed dogs at a time. Other topics covered are trail safety, first aid and park stewardship for pet owners. 2-3 p.m., Sept. 14 at Onion Creek; Sept. 29 at Zilker Ranger Station. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Environmental Commission recommends lowering toxicity levels in pavement
In 2005, Austin passed an ordinance banning the use of coal tar pavement products due to their use of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. PAHs, which are designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as “priority pollutants,” are known carcinogenic compounds that raise the risk of cancer for children and are acutely toxic to aquatic life. Ten years after the ban took effect, testing showed a 58 percent reduction in PAH concentration in Lady Bird Lake sediments. However, elevated levels of PAH remained in Austin’s streams. “In 2015, the industry sort of changed,” Tom Ennis with the Watershed Protection Department told the Environmental Commission at its Aug. 21 meeting. He explained that new, petroleum-based sealants came on the market with a 2 percent concentration of these chemicals. Coal-based sealants had a 7 percent concentration. However, because the 2005 ordinance only explicitly prohibits coal-based sealants, there is no way to legally regulate PAH concentrations in petroleum-based products. To change that, the Environmental Commission unanimously recommended that the city limit PAH concentrations in pavement sealants to 0.1 percent by January 2020. This limit was selected based on precedent. The European Union classifies road waste with 0.1 percent PAHs or higher as hazardous waste and the Federal Aviation Administration permits pavement with 0 percent PAH content. Already 17 U.S. municipalities have ordinances limiting PAH content to this percentage. According to Ennis, commercial sealant products are widely available with concentrations well below the 0.1 percent limit. “These are known toxins to aquatic life and humans,” Environmental Officer Chris Herrington said. “If the city has to adapt, the city has to adapt.”
Be sure to mark your calendars for our fourth annual Budget Party on Aug. 29! Budget Party is a web app designed for mobile devices that teaches you about the city of Austin budgeting process. The evening starts with an overview of city budgeting, complete with a budget-themed coloring book. Then we’ll break up into groups and invite you to remix how city departments and city services are funded. Each group will present its budget to be judged, and one budget will be chosen as the winner! (Note that to participate in this activity you will need a personal mobile phone or laptop.) Thursday, Aug. 29, 6-9 p.m., at Capital Factory, 1st floor Voltron room, 701 Brazos St. Make sure to RSVP on Eventbrite to stay up to date with event details!
National rights group honors RBJ Health Center
Austin Public Health’s Rebekah Baines Johnson Health Center, at 15 Waller Street, has been named a “Top Performer” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2019 Healthcare Equality Index. The acknowledgment is noteworthy as, according to a press release, “only 22% of HEI participating facilities received the Top Performer designation” this year. HEI scores facilities based on their LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. High scores were given to the RBJ Health Center for “patient non-discrimination, employment non-discrimination, training in LGBTQ patient-centered care, employee benefits and policies and transgender-inclusive health insurance.” The RBJ Health Center’s sexual health clinic provides testing and treatment for STIs as well as tuberculosis screening. Stephanie Hayden, the director of Austin Public Health, said in the press release, “At Austin Public Health our core purpose is to prevent disease, promote health and protect the well-being of our community. This Healthcare Equality Index recognition shows the success we have in meeting our mission and providing inclusive care for all.”
Civic Futures Awards extends nominating period
The Civic Futures Awards has extended its deadline to Sept. 3 for nominations of teams and individuals doing outstanding work in local or state government or academia. University faculty, community organizers, government employees and others are eligible if their work has “resulted in a meaningful impact on the people, policies, and services of government in Central Texas over the past three years.” The nomination form is short and sweet and nominations may be in six categories: Unlocking Human Potential; Workplaces of the Future; Privacy and Data Ethics; Procurement and Vendor Ethics; Designing for the 100%; and Community Inclusion and Engagement. The awards gala will be held Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m. at Austin’s new Central Library. Submit your nomination and learn more here.
McNeeley to officially head parks department
The city continued its hiring streak yesterday with the announcement that Kimberly McNeeley will be the director of the Parks and Recreation Department. McNeeley has been serving as director on an interim basis, and will begin her new non-interim duties on Sept. 1. She rose through the ranks from lifeguard to management, becoming an assistant director of the parks department in 2010. “I am honored to continue my work with the Parks and Recreation Department and put my experience and knowledge to work with the department’s highly skilled staff. Austinites are passionate about their parks and recreation programs, and I look forward to engaging the community on the challenging and important work the department provides,” McNeeley said, in a statement announcing the hire.
Faulk history center moves forward
Despite Council Member Jimmy Flannigan’s opposition to using the former downtown library, known as the John Henry Faulk Central Library, as a history center, Council took a step toward conversion of the building Thursday, approving a resolution to use the construction-manager-at-risk method of contracting to renovate the building. At the work session Tuesday, Flannigan questioned whether the best use of the building was to become an archival repository. Several of his colleagues strongly disagreed. Council Member Kathie Tovo said it is an important repository of city records, as did Council Member Pio Renteria, who said he had also used it. Tovo pointed out that bond covenants seem to require the history center use. Flannigan said he wasn’t arguing about the value of the history center, just that it was not the best use of the centrally located building. Currently, the building has a number of city tenants, including the Innovation Office. At the end of Thursday’s discussion, there was a motion to approve the item with an amendment from Flannigan asking staff to investigate whether other city offices might be co-located there. That amendment won approval on a vote of 6-4, with Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Renteria, Leslie Pool and Tovo opposed and Council Member Alison Alter abstaining.
Chicks in the city
If you haven’t taken advantage of Austin Resource Recovery’s free chicken-keeping classes, you have another opportunity coming up this weekend. The city encourages people to keep chickens because not only do the fluffy little cluckers help keep food waste out of the landfill, their poop makes great fertilizer that enriches the soil. The class is part of the city’s Home Composting Rebate Program, so if you pay a Clean Community Fee on your utility bill you’ll qualify for a $75 rebate on a brand-new chicken coop or home composting system. When you attend the class, you can apply for the rebate (more details about that here). Sign up online for the free class this Sunday, Aug. 25, 10-11 a.m. at Mueller Farmers Market, 4209 Airport Blvd.
Get smart about trees
Austin is renowned for being protective of its trees. Which is all to the good, though it can be a little confusing for homeowners wondering what kinds of construction projects may trigger the need for a tree permit, how to get one, and whether they even need one. To answer all of these questions and more, the Development Services Department’s Community Tree Preservation Division has created a series of free workshops called Get Tree Smart. Attendees will learn about the city’s tree ordinance, how to apply for a permit, why trees increase property values, and most importantly, how to keep Austin’s urban canopy healthy and happy. The workshops will be held on Aug. 27, 6-7:30 p.m., at University Hills Library, 4721 Loyola Lane; and on Sept. 17, 6-7:30 p.m., at Cepeda Branch Library, 651 N. Pleasant Valley Road. Kids’ activities and snacks will be provided. Find more details and register online at TreeSmart.eventbrite.com.
Red on black goes right back
The crimson glow has faded just days after the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority started running buses up the bold new transit lanes at Guadalupe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The project caused a minor sensation when its red paint first hit the streets, sending a clear signal for all to see that the city is willing to dedicate at least a very small fraction of its right of way for public transportation. By Wednesday’s meeting of the Mobility Committee, however, that signal had already lost its fidelity. Having caught the bus down Guadalupe Street earlier that morning, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan noted his surprise that the bright paint had become discolored: “Even colorblind me could tell it was not red anymore.” Eric Bollich of Austin Transportation acknowledged the new tire-marked mauve shade, pointing to “extreme heat” or initial conditions of the asphalt as probable culprits. Bollich said the department is looking at paint vendors and other cities in the region to see how they’ve managed or failed with painted pavement of their own.
Trail Foundation explores taking over Butler Trail
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department and The Trail Foundation are exploring the feasiblity of transferring operation and maintenance of the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake to The Trail Foundation. The Urban Land Institute’s Advisory Services Program will assist the city and TTF in making this weighty decision, in a comprehensive process that includes site visits and interviews with key stakeholders arranged by TTF and PARD between Aug. 25 and Aug. 30. TTF of course has a significant investment in the Butler Trail, having spent more than $2.5 million on ecological restoration work there last year, in addition to more than $11.3 million over the prior 16 years. Heidi Anderson, executive director of The Trail Foundation, said in a press release, “We are honored and excited to have been selected for this opportunity and grateful for the valuable input as we consider this option. Taking this potential step would be a big commitment for TTF in terms of funding and organizational growth, and the ULI Advisory Service Program is one of the ways we will explore the feasibility of the potential transition.” The ULI Advisory Services panelists will be presenting their findings in a public forum, with Mayor Steve Adler and leaders of PARD and TTF present, on Friday, Aug. 30, at 10:15 a.m., at Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St.
Whellan on the mend
Attorney Michael Whellan told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday that he has numerous cuts on his face as a result of a bicycle accident this weekend, but otherwise he was unhurt. Whellan, a partner at Armbrust & Brown, said he was riding his bike on a newly paved Highway 87, near Elgin, when he hit some loose gravel, flew off the bike and ended up in a ditch. A STAR Flight helicopter took him to a hospital, where a plastic surgeon stitched up “a lot of lacerations” on Whellan’s face. He noted that the mishap occurred near Lost Pines Cowboy Church and that the folks at the church were very nice to him. Whellan has been lead counsel on the zoning case currently called 4700 Riverside but widely nicknamed the “Domain on Riverside.” The project has generated considerable controversy. According to Planning and Zoning Director Jerry Rusthoven, 21 protesters opposed to the zoning change have been arrested on three separate occasions. Whellan said he was not sure whether he would be up for another round on Thursday, but his law partner, Richard Suttle, said he would handle the case if Whellan couldn’t.
Another downtown one-way street goes two-way
The city will be working today and tomorrow on the conversion of three blocks of 16th Street between San Antonio Street and Colorado Street from a westbound single-direction to a two-way traffic pattern, consistent with the two-way street design to the east and west of the section. The change is depicted in the State of Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan, along with the conversion of identical segments of 17th and 18th streets to the north, as a step to improve access to the complex and its parking garages. To that end, the city coordinated with the Texas Facilities Commission on the design to make sure it will be compatible with the complex when it is complete. The conversion is also shown in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan’s Roadway Capacity Projects Map with similar changes planned for segments of Ninth, 10th, and Brazos streets downtown. Conversion of 17th Street was initially scheduled for August but Austin Transportation has indefinitely postponed the change to better coordinate with nearby construction projects. Besides the new traffic flow, the city will also be removing four parking spaces along the south curb of 16th Street between Colorado and Lavaca streets. Lane closures will be done on a rolling basis so that at least one lane is open to traffic at any moment.
Fair Play passes
The Fair Play Austin political action committee announced Monday that it would not be supporting Proposition A as it is written. The PAC, which was funded by Bobby Epstein, the chairman of Circuit of the Americas, circulated a petition calling for voter approval of the McKalla Place deal. City Council approved the ballot language for that validated petition at its last meeting, prompting Fair Play’s statement. It reads, “In its current condition, passing Proposition A would do more harm than the good intended when we initially supported it. Given how far the ballot language has drifted from its original intent to give voters a say on whether the City should give away valuable land and waive property taxes, Fair Play Austin PAC will not undertake any effort to support the passage of Proposition A.”
The ballot language approved by Council reads:
Shall a city ordinance be adopted that requires that a sale, lease,
conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for any existing or
future youth, recreational, or professional sports facility or any existing or future
entertainment facility be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11
members) and also be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must
pay; requires that any site development permits and variances related thereto be
approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members); requires that site
development permits and variances related thereto be approved by the voters at an
election for which the City must pay, if the sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or
other alienation of City-owned land for the facility has not already obtained voter
approval; requires that the facility post payment and performance bonds and pay ad
valorem taxes, or payments equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes; and requires
that all information concerning such sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other
alienation shall be disclosed to the public.
Four AISD campuses debut new names
After much thought and deliberation, the Austin Independent School District has renamed four campuses that were previously named after people associated with the Confederacy. When school starts on Aug. 20, the four campuses will be identified by their new names. The John T. Allan Facility is now the Anita Ferrales Coy Facility, named after an educator and former principal. Zachary T. Fulmore Middle School is now Sarah B. Lively Middle School, named after a popular social studies teacher. Sidney Lanier Early College High School is now Juan Navarro Early College High School, in honor of a U.S. Army sergeant and former student who died in action in 2012. And John H. Reagan Early College High School is now Northeast Early College High School, in recognition of its deep ties to the community.
Turn a parking space into a parklet
For everyone who’s ever gazed at a parking lot and wished it were a park, here comes PARK(ing) Day, an international event that celebrates the universal desire for more open green space in cities and towns. This year’s PARK(ing) Day falls on Friday, Sept. 20, and the Austin Transportation Department invites the entire community to get in on the action. Basically, you work to temporarily transform a parking space into a tiny public space, or parklet. The sky – or your imagination – is the limit. There are, of course, lots of rules and requirements and applications, and all of that can be found in its entirety in the PARKing Day permit packet along with photographs of parklets past. Have a pleasant PARKing Day.
Photo courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department, from PARKing Day 2017.
Buses get new red lanes, out of red lights
The Capital Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority started running its northbound routes through the city’s new “contraflow” bus-only lane Sunday, giving customers a glimpse of a possible future of greater collaboration between the transit agency and the Austin Transportation Department. In addition to the bright-red, bus-only lanes, the project features new traffic and transit signals and a new shared path for pedestrians, cyclists, and scooters. The purpose of the project is to bypass the heavily congested intersection of Lavaca Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by giving buses a new transit-only path westbound on 18th Street and then northbound against traffic (hence, contraflow) on Guadalupe Street to cross Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The project also gives northbound pedestrians and cyclists a shared path route with a painted stripe separating users. By making more efficient use of existing right of way, Capital Metro expects the changes to decrease trip time by 65 seconds per bus during afternoon peak travel time and improve the customer experience enough to attract 7-10 percent more transit customers. Many of Capital Metro’s high-frequency and local routes, including MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, are using the new configuration. Eastbound buses, however, are keeping their same routes, sharing the right-turn lane on Lavaca Street with private vehicles. The project was funded with approximately $19.8 million from the city’s 2016 Mobility Bond.