Whispers

Thursday, June 25, 2020 by Tai Moses

AISD hosts equity summit

Austin ISD’s Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency & Inclusiveness is extending an invitation to community members, students, families and educators to participate in a Community Equity Summit to “share their individual and collective stories.” The summit, called “Our Voices, Our Stories,” will feature student art, musical performances and celebrations. Topics to be discussed include:

  • #AISDatHome: Learning while at home
  • How the district is investing in equity
  • Language access
  • Technology and achieving equitable outcomes

The event is scheduled for 1-5 p.m., Tuesday, June 30, via Zoom. Register on Eventbrite.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Dick Lillie, father of Austin Tomorrow, dies

Dick Lillie, who led the city planning department through some of its most turbulent times, died Monday at the age of 89. Lillie ushered a host of land use regulations through the city adoption process that are now deemed essential to planning and preserving neighborhoods and the environment. Jim Duncan, his friend and successor as director of planning, told the Austin Monitor he met Lillie in 1961 as Lillie was leaving the department to go to graduate school. It so happened that Lillie was leaving behind a job as research analyst, and he advised Duncan that the position would be open. Duncan took the job. Lillie got his master’s degree in planning, and after a stint as planning director in Waco, Lillie returned to Austin. That was 1965; five years later, Lillie was named director of the department. Not long after that Lillie began to put together the Austin Tomorrow program, which the city still uses as a fundamental planning tool. Duncan took over as director of planning when Lillie went into private practice in 1984. Duncan said Monday that he merely continued the good work Lillie had started. Duncan, who currently serves on the Zoning and Platting Commission, said of his colleague, “Over the past 60 years I have literally worked with thousands of planners and I can say, without hesitation, that not one of them has matched Dick’s caring, competence or character. Dick Lillie personified the perfect professional planner.” The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association has posted a slideshow tribute to Lillie highlighting some of his many contributions to the city, including pushing for adoption of ordinances regulating building in floodplains, protecting the city’s creeks and reviewing municipal utility districts.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin sees record high hospitalizations due to Covid

Austin Public Health reported a record 56 new Covid-19 hospitalizations Tuesday. According to the dashboard that monitors key indicators in our five-county region, 236 people are now hospitalized with the virus. The increase in new hospital admissions brings the rolling seven-day average to 39.3. Austin entered Stage 4 when that average rose past 20 on June 14, just over a week ago. The number of new cases reported Tuesday was 257. In response to the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases that Austin/Travis County has seen this past week, businesses in Austin must now require the use of masks. Under Stage 4, people over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions should avoid gatherings of more than two people, and everyone should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020 by Tai Moses

Survey probes Covid-19’s impact on commuting

For many of us, walking from the kitchen to the living room is all the commuting we’ve done over the past few months. Meanwhile, essential workers have been braving the highways throughout the pandemic, while other workers have been furloughed and still others are only now preparing to reenter the commute as some workplaces reopen. No matter which category you fall into, chances are you have a variety of thoughts about your commute during the pandemic. The Association for Commuter Transportation would like to know more about those thoughts. The advocacy group is conducting a nationwide survey “to help employers, transportation providers and policymakers plan for how best to ensure your commute to work is safe and reliable no matter the mode you choose.” Participants who share their email addresses – and who take the survey by June 26 – will receive a summary of the survey results and will be entered into a drawing for one of five $100 Amazon gift cards, as an enticement. Take ACT’s Covid-19’s Impacts on Commuting survey.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Masks, and latest orders

Given the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases seen in Austin this past week, Mayor Steve Adler has once again updated orders intended to slow the spread of the virus in the city. The new orders, which are effective as of 11:59 p.m. on June 22 through Aug. 15, are embedded in their entirety below. Notably, the orders ask that “social gatherings be avoided or minimized” with groups of more than 10 individuals (not of the same residence) prohibited. In addition, face coverings or masks are required under most circumstances, and Austin businesses now must require employees and patrons to wear face coverings or face a fine of up to $1,000.

Download (PDF, 8.91MB)


Tuesday, June 23, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Mail ballots could break record

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir announced Monday that her office is on track to break the record of 31,000 ballots mailed in during the 2016 presidential election. According to a news release from her office, the elections division has already received more than 28,000 applications from people wanting to vote by mail. Under normal circumstances, she said, the office would have received 1,000-2,000 such ballot requests. DeBeauvoir has responded to the extraordinary level of requests by adding temporary staff and additional screening equipment. As of Friday, June 19, she said, “17,247 (ballot by mail) ballots have been mailed to voters, including to over 65, disability and out-of-county voters. We plan to continue at this pace until all current requests are processed.” The deadline for requesting ballots is July 2, which means the clerk’s office must receive those requests by that date in order to qualify for the July 14 election. The elections division is still looking for additional workers. To apply, fill out an online form or email erecruiting@traviscountytx.gov.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

City launches ‘Shop the Block’ to give business a boost

As everyone well knows, dining, drinking and shopping establishments have suffered serious financial setbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic. To support these businesses and help tempt customers back into the fold, the city has launched Shop the Block, a pilot program aimed at encouraging businesses to expand their operations in a safe and inviting manner. According to the city, “retail stores, restaurants and bars can expand their outdoor operational areas to sidewalk cafes, into their private or shared parking lots, and onto city right of way, including on-street parking spaces.” Eligible businesses may apply for Shop the Block permits through the Special Events Office, and the process has been accelerated to a 10-day turnaround time. The pilot runs from June 15-Dec. 15.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020 by Tai Moses

Parking lots close at Bull Creek District Park

Bull Creek District Park is getting ready for its close-up – but first, the planned site improvements must be completed. Construction on the park trail, the restroom, and the picnic areas in the southwest corner of the park begins on Tuesday, June 23. The two parking lots that service Bull Creek park will be closed for about three weeks while construction work is being performed in the area. The parking lots servicing Bull Creek Greenbelt will remain open. According to the parks department, the intent of the improvements “is to preserve the park’s natural beauty and characteristics while providing long-term solutions to connectivity, wayfinding, creek access and waste management.” Find more details about the project here.


Monday, June 22, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Violating policy, Ramos video delayed

Citing a failure to follow its own policy, the Austin Police Department will delay release of video showing the police killing of Mike Ramos. According to a report by KUT and a statement by City Manager Spencer Cronk, the required Office of Police Oversight review of the video had not yet happened on Sunday, though the 60-day deadline to release the video is Tuesday. A statement from Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense Project, Just Liberty, and Texas Appleseed reiterated a call for Chief Brian Manley to resign. “Let us be very clear. We support the release of body camera footage. However, we do not trust what Chief Manley is about to do by releasing a video without complying with his own agreed editing policies, and we object to retraumatizing the family and the community,” it read. “We do not believe this video release violation around the Ramos case is an accident.”


Monday, June 22, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

TravCo to consider ‘gigafactory’ Tuesday

This week the Travis County Commissioners Court will discuss the associated economic development incentives meant to attract California car maker Tesla to construct its planned $1 billion “Gigafactory” in the far reaches of East Austin. The 5-million-square-foot plant will bring along 5,000 middle-skill manufacturing jobs with a $15 per hour salary. The project is anticipated to generate $7 million in tax revenue for the county over a 10-year period. Although the deal has not been sealed, the factory has been reported to be the future birthplace of the electric car maker’s Cybertruck, which Tesla CEO Elon Musk debuted last November in prototype. The car company is working with the state, the Del Valle school district and Travis County to finalize an incentive deal.


Monday, June 22, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

AISD budget hearing tonight

The Austin Independent School District will hold a virtual public meeting on its proposed budget and tax rate for the 2020-21 school year today. Those who would like to comment must call 512-414-0130 between 7:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, where they will be able to record 60-second remarks that will be aired during the meeting. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on AISD.TV and the AISD Facebook page. This year, among other budget issues the board will consider, the Austin Justice Coalition has issued a call to:

  • Divest from strategies that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, including excessive funding for school police departments;
  • Reallocate funds to district-wide implementation of culturally responsive restorative practices;
  • Publish AISD Police Department budget information online;
  • Publish AISD Police Department policies and data, especially use-of-force policy data, online;
  • Develop key performance indicators for AISD Police Department, and hosting an annual Board Work Session for status updates;
  • Publish School Safety and Security Committee information online.

Monday, June 22, 2020 by Tai Moses

City launches ‘How to Help’ portal

The city has launched an online hub to connect volunteers and donors to local organizations responding to community needs created by Covid-19. The “How to Help” campaign brings together nonprofits, faith-based groups and government programs with volunteers and donors who want to contribute. Mayor Steve Adler said in a news release about the effort, “Frequently in our past, it’s the volunteers and donors that get us through uncertain times. Covid-19 is one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever had to face. By pooling resources together, everyone can be part of the response and recovery in ways that speak to them.” Council Member Jimmy Flannigan added, “So many of our citizens need help, right now. And so many willing and able nonprofit and faith-based partners want to help but need the resources to make it effective and safe. The city of Austin can be a bridge in the community: linking folks who want to help with our public service partners who can best meet needs.” The campaign comes at a time when Covid-19 cases in the region appear to be on the rise. According to CNBC, Austin is among the top five urban areas experiencing the fastest Covid-19 case growth in the past week. Community members who want to participate may visit the portal, review the listings from local organizations and sign up with one that matches their interests and abilities, or make a contribution online.


Friday, June 19, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Biscoe updates mask requirements, safety guidelines

With the secret of how to require masks now revealed, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has followed the lead of other municipalities and issued an order that “all commercial entities in Travis County that provide goods or services directly to the public must develop and implement a health and safety policy related to Covid-19. The Health and Safety Policy must require, at a minimum, that all employees and visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises or other facilities wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible.” The order, which is effective as of 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 18, is embedded below. Unless modified, it will expire Aug. 15.

Download (PDF, 539KB)


Friday, June 19, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

City steps up monitoring for toxic algae

The city has issued a precautionary warning that toxic algae blooms at Lady Bird Lake that sickened and killed several dogs last summer could return again this year. The risk is low at the moment, but with temperatures on the rise, the danger is expected to increase. The city will be tracking lake temperature and flow, which are ways to evaluate the risk of the harmful blue-green algae blooms. According to the city website which tracks that data, in summer and fall the city will “conduct weekly sampling of algae to identify species and the presence of toxins at four locations. Locations include Red Bud Isle, Barton Creek between Barton Springs and the lake, Vic Mathias Shores and Festival Beach. Testing may occur twice a week if conditions warrant.” Along with the website, which will continue to provide information about the algae, the city has issued safety guidelines in English and in Spanish.


Friday, June 19, 2020 by Savana Dunning

Arts Commission approves new art installation in Montopolis

The Arts Commission approved the prospectus for a new art installation at the site of a new Austin Convention Center warehouse and marshaling yard in Montopolis as part of its Art in Public Places program. AIPP uses 2 percent from capital improvement project budgets to commission local artists to create public artworks. The Austin Convention Center Department initiated the construction of the warehouse and marshaling yard for off-site storage and to alleviate downtown traffic after City Council approved the land acquisition in 2017. AIPP is now seeking a local artist to create a permanent art installation on the outside of the warehouse or elsewhere on the site. The prospectus states that only low-maintenance, durable projects will be considered. The total artist contract awards $100,000 for the project, which comes from 2 percent of the Convention Center Department’s capital improvement budget for the warehouse and includes the fees for design, fabrication, installation and other project-related costs. Artist submissions close in September and the Arts Commission’s tentative schedule expects for the project to be installed in July 2021.


Thursday, June 18, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Cronk talks APD … in a memo

Today, the Austin City Council Public Safety Committee will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss recently passed and anticipated reform measures intended to repair systemic racism in the police department. As part of that meeting, the committee is expected to hear from City Manager Spencer Cronk, who has been criticized by some Council members for the passive public role he has taken in response to police violence at local protests and calls for change from the community and the dais. As a preview, Cronk released a memo Wednesday titled “Reimagining Public Safety for the City of Austin.” The memo is embedded below.

Download (PDF, 205KB)


Thursday, June 18, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Cop cash not welcome

The entire Austin City Council and Mayor Steve Adler have signed an online pledge to “reject political donations from the Fraternal Order of Police.” A growing list of local candidates and elected officials have signed the pledge, including, at press time, the following:

Margaret Chen Kercher, Candidate for County Court Judge, Austin, Texas; David Chincanchan, City Council Candidate, Austin, Texas; Vanessa Fuentes, City Council Candidate, Austin, Texas; Pooja Sethi, City Council Candidate, Austin, Texas; Alison Alter, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Greg Casar, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Paige Ellis, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Jimmy Flannigan, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Ann Kitchen, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Leslie Pool, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Sabino Renteria, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Kathie Tovo, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Natasha Harper-Madison, City Council Member, Austin, Texas; Mike Siegel, Congressional Candidate, TX-10, Texas; Candace Valenzuela, Congressional Candidate, TX-24, Texas; Laurie Eiserloh, County Attorney Candidate, Travis County, Texas; Valinda Bolton, County Commissioner Candidate, Travis County, Texas; Ann Howard, County Commissioner Candidate, Travis County, Texas; Lisa Prewitt, County Commissioner Candidate, Hays County, Texas; Jose Garza, District Attorney Candidate, Travis County, Texas; Steve Adler, Mayor, Austin, Texas; Delia Garza, Mayor Pro Tem, Austin, Texas; Eddie Rodriguez, State Representative, District 51, Texas; Sarah Eckhardt, State Senate Candidate, District 14, Texas; Stephanie Gharakhanian, Trustee, Austin Community College District, Texas; and Julie Oliver, U.S. House Representative Candidate, TX-25, Texas.


Thursday, June 18, 2020 by Tai Moses

PARD honors Rosewood Park

A global pandemic isn’t stopping the Austin Parks and Recreation Department from giving credit where credit is due. For example, PARD has created a virtual dedication ceremony to honor Rosewood Neighborhood Park’s shiny new accolades – a state Historical Marker from the Texas Historical Commission, and a Lone Star Legacy Park award from the Texas Recreation and Park Society. Austin’s black community has celebrated Juneteenth at Rosewood for 90 years, and the parks department says the park is “the heart and cultural center for the Rosewood community.” Kim McKnight, who heads up PARD’s Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism Program, said in a news release, “We look forward to the day when we can celebrate in person and are grateful to the community for working with us to develop this engaging online event. We are excited to share the history of this special park with the Austin community.” The dedication video, which “highlights the history of the park with historic photos, longtime community members and local dignitaries,” may be viewed here.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Escamilla adds his name to Eiserloh endorsers

Voters will select a new Travis County Attorney in the July 14 Democratic runoff election since David Escamilla announced he would be retiring from the job at the end of the year. On Tuesday, Escamilla announced he was endorsing Laurie Eiserloh, an assistant county attorney, over her opponent, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza. Escamilla said in a prepared statement, “We need a county attorney who is not only capable of doing the job well, including providing legal advice to dozens of county officials, but one who has the courage and character to fight for what’s right for our community.” Taking a swipe at Garza over her limited legal experience, Escamilla added, “Laurie is the only candidate in the race with the necessary legal experience to protect the interests of the county and its residents. And Laurie has proven many times she can unite diverse stakeholders to fight for our progressive community values. Given the events of the last few months, we need that now more than ever.” A majority of Garza’s colleagues on City Council have endorsed her, including Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Natasha Harper-Madison, Jimmy Flannigan and Paige Ellis. Council Member Leslie Pool has endorsed Eiserloh.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Leffingwell loses PEC race

Former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell came in second in a six-person race for a seat on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors this week. The winner was Travis Cox, the former chair of the Hays County Republican Party, who garnered 28 percent of the vote. Because there is no runoff, Cox was declared the winner of the District 4 seat. Leffingwell got 22 percent of the vote. Emily Pataki ran unopposed and was elected to the District 2 seat, while Mark Ekrut won the District 3 seat. Leffingwell noted that he has lived in Hays County for less than two years, adding, “I can no longer say I am undefeated.”


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