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Friday, May 10, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Zoning and Platting zaps commissioner from Environmental Commission
After four years on the Environmental Commission, Hank Smith has shifted focus and now sits on Zoning and Platting. An Austin resident for over 50 years, Smith lives in District 8 down south and has been an environmental engineer for 30 years. With plenty of experience in development and a good handle on the commission process, Smith seemed pleased to be participating in a more development-focused body. With little introduction, he sat down and got right to business at the May 7 meeting, asking the kind of environmentally spirited questions that aren’t always heard on the dais.
Friday, May 10, 2019 by Tai Moses
County’s transportation blueprint will be telecast
The public is invited to attend a telecast to learn about the future transportation projects Travis County has in the pipeline. The Travis County Transportation Blueprint, a 25-year road map of projects aimed at improving mobility in the region, is the result of two years of technical analysis and community input. Besides highway improvement projects, the blueprint includes bike lanes, walking trails, pedestrian infrastructure, safety measures, and more. Which projects are most important to you? You’ll have a chance to offer your opinion by phone, text or Twitter at the televised town hall, “Blueprint Live!” on Wednesday, May 15, at 7 p.m., online at Travis County TV, Time Warner Cable channel 17, Grande Communications channel 17 or AT&T UVerse channel 99. The county has also created a detailed survey for all community members to weigh in on the mobility projects in the blueprint.
Thursday, May 9, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Givens Park meeting postponed
Wednesday’s severe wet weather caused a postponement of the community forum that had been scheduled at Givens Park, with the intent to let Parks and Recreation Department officials and other city leaders discuss the Art in Public Places program that normally governs murals and other art installations on city property. The event will now take place at 6 p.m. Monday. It was organized as a response to friction with community members over a memorial mural recently created in the park to honor the victim of a robbery and shooting there in April. That mural was created spontaneously and outside of the city’s standard public art process, causing some concern it would need to be removed. PARD staff and other city leaders have decided to leave the mural in place at least for the near future, with Monday’s event expected to deal with how long it will remain in place, and how it may be added to in the future.
Exhibit celebrates the ‘fresh perspective’ of artists in state hospitals
A new art exhibit at the Texas Capitol features 45 unique artworks created by residents of state hospitals and state-supported living centers. “Fresh Perspectives: The Art of Empowerment” showcases the talents of people living with mental health issues and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Mike Maples, a deputy executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said, “Art is used as treatment to help pave the path to recovery and independence. Some use art as a form of recreation, or as a vocation. Regardless of why they created the art, our artists have found a way to express hope, beauty, fun and struggle.” The weeklong exhibit can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, May 13, to Friday, May 17, at the Ground Floor Rotunda at the Texas Capitol at 1100 Congress Ave.
New E-Paper signage to debut at Cap Metro stations in fall
Come fall, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be sporting some snazzy new digital signage. The digital displays using E-Paper technology developed by Luminator Technology Group, will be used throughout Cap Metro’s service area. The signs are designed to run on low power and will deliver high-resolution, backlit, real-time transit updates that are easy to read even in direct sunlight. Read more about the new technology here.
New director takes over at ABIA
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has a new woman at the top of the control tower. Jacqueline Yaft has been named ABIA’s executive director of aviation, effective June 10. Yaft has spent the past two decades as an airport management professional at some of the busiest hub airports in the nation, including Los Angeles World Airports, Denver International and JFK. In the press release announcing the new hire, City Manager Spencer Cronk said, “I am excited to welcome Jackie to the city of Austin. She stood out among a pool of highly qualified and talented candidates because she has the experience and skills to help Austin realize our airport of the future.” The Austin Chamber also weighed in, saying in a statement, “Jacqueline Yaft is a strong choice to lead ABIA through its next phase of passenger growth, capital projects, air service expansion and retention, and customer experience. The Chamber looks forward to working with her to ensure our airport continues to excel and serve our growing business community.”
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
Help Texans be counted
Travis County is looking to hire a census program manager as part of an effort to ensure an accurate U.S. census count. The position will work under the intergovernmental relations officer as a primary contact with the community and coordinator of the activities of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. The CCC was formed to spearhead a local effort to increase participation in the upcoming census in light of inclusion of a question asking U.S. residents about their citizenship status. More information about the position, which closes May 20, is available on the county website.
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 by Tai Moses
DSD service center adjusts hours
In an effort to improve customer service and meet the needs of both staff and the public, the service center at the city’s Development Services Department has adjusted its hours of operation. Effective June 3, the service center at One Texas Center will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Staff recommends trying to avoid the lunch rush hour by planning your visit before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m. You can also check in remotely from home or work using QLess, the center’s virtual waiting line. Sign in to QLess when the center opens at 7:30 a.m. and you’ll be notified by text of the estimated service time and how close you’re getting to the front of the line. You can also use QLess to cancel your appointment or reschedule for another day.
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns
Comprehensive evaluation of sexual assault investigations moves forward
Since City Council ordered an independent review of police handling of sexual assault cases in February, the City Manager’s Office has been collaborating with a working group composed of members of the Public Safety Commission and Commission for Women to write a request for qualifications for contractors to bid on. In order to ensure that a non-biased candidate is appointed to the task, Commissioner Rebecca Gonzales explained at the May 6 meeting of the Public Safety Commission that “we wanted to make sure that the contractor selected doesn’t do work that feeds into this process.” Contractors already working for the city will be allowed to bid on the contract. Another push that the commissioners made was to have more direct input on the hiring process. “We did get four commissioners on the actual review of the finalist,” she told commissioners. While she is happy with the expanded role of commission members in the process, she added, “Having us be a fuller part would be even more impactful.” She explained that since commission members are representatives of their respective communities, having them more intimately involved in the process will help foster more trust in the overall audit process and the efficacy of the police evaluating sexual assault cases in the future.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by Jack Craver
Travis County finally welcomes new courthouse
Plans that have existed for over a decade to build a new civil courthouse in Travis County are finally coming to fruition. On Friday, May 31, at 2 p.m., county leaders will assemble for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Travis County Civil and Family Courts Facility at 1700 Guadalupe St. Speakers will include County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Commissioner Brigid Shea, Civil District Court Judge Lora Livingston and Austin Bar Association President Adam Schramek. In November 2015, voters narrowly defeated a $287 million bond proposition to build a new courthouse on county-owned land at 308 Guadalupe St., forcing the county to find a new way to build a new facility, which leaders of the legal community said was desperately needed. The county leased the 308 Guadalupe St. property and entered into a 99-year partnership with a private developer that will own the land, build the facility and lease it to the county. The price tag is estimated at $344 million.
This whisper has been changed since publication to update the date of the ceremony.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Railroad Commission rejects Robbins’ complaint
The Texas Railroad Commission, which hears appeals of certain gas utility rates, has dismissed an appeal from the city of Austin’s decision related to Texas Gas Service’s conservation adjustment fees. Utility customers pay those fees along with charges for natural gas service to defray the cost of the company’s conservation programs. Consumer and energy conservation advocate Paul Robbins complained to Council last year about Texas Gas Service’s conservation programs, basically saying they cost too much and save little energy. But Council approved the rates and Robbins filed an appeal with the commission. Subsequently, Administrative Law Judge John B. Dodson ruled that the city “has exclusive jurisdiction over the gas utility rates and related programs within its boundaries.” Therefore, the commission has no authority to hear the case. Robbins was not particularly surprised to lose, but he was surprised and quietly outraged when he learned that the city sought to assess litigation expenses it had incurred during the proceeding. In ruling against the city’s request for an unspecified amount of fees, the judge said, “Mr. Robbins describes himself as an activist, but he also is an Austin resident and TGS customer, and his grievances raised in this docket appear to be good-faith attempts to bring legally remediable claims. This ruling granting dismissal is not a determination that his grievances are without merit, but rather that the Railroad Commission is without jurisdiction to hear them.” Robbins told the Austin Monitor that he filed a public information request to find out how much the city spent on the litigation. He did not receive that information, he said, only the hourly salaries of people who worked on the case. Anyone who knows Robbins will not be surprised to learn that he has not given up on this particular quest.
Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by Tai Moses
AISD summer reading event splashes down
Summer + reading: Aren’t those two beautiful words just meant for each other? We think so, and so does the Austin Independent School District. AISD Libraries, BookPeople and the Austin Public Library have partnered up to organize a free summer reading event featuring some of Austin’s favorite authors. The Summer Reading Splash also offers reading lists, book signings and other fun literary stuff geared toward readers in grades 3 through 6, but all interested members of the reading public will be welcome. The Splash is 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, at AISD Performing Arts Center, 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd. You’ll find the full author lineup, summer reading lists and more details here.
Fire chief issues waterway ban
Heavy spring rains over the weekend led to the decision by the Austin Fire Department to close local waterways: Lake Austin from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam, Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River downstream of Longhorn Dam have been declared unsafe and part of the “flood ban area.” According to the waterway ban notice, the chief has declared flood conditions in all Austin city creeks as well. All boating and recreational use in these waterways is banned until noon on Monday, May 6, when the fire department will re-evaluate the conditions.
[Re]Verse Pitch contest wraps
Social entrepreneurs Anjali Sridharan and Mike Strong took winning honors – and a prize of $10,000 each – in the fourth annual [Re]Verse Pitch Competition, which ended Tuesday, April 30. The contest asked competitors to think up innovative ways to upcycle the raw waste materials from five Austin industries and use them to create new products or business ventures. The press release announced that “Sridharan’s winning pitch was to repurpose polycarbonate plastic dye-cut sheets from HID Global to make affordable eyewear with a new company, POLYMart. Strong’s team, re:3D, will be adding to their 3D printer business to launch Design by re:3D using the same plastic waste to make specialty furniture, art and other unique items …. Judging was based on business viability, sustainability impact, economic impact and social impact, along with effectiveness of pitch delivery.” Read about the finalists and the winners and learn more about this iconic Austin competition at reversepitch.org.
Is your park open? Check here first
If you’re planning a springtime picnic at an Austin-area park, you’d be advised to first check and make sure your favorite neighborhood park is indeed open for business. Maintenance work, temporary flooding, renovations, sewage leaks, landslides – there are a lot of things that can close a park down. The Parks and Recreation Department maintains a webpage that lists all the latest park, pool, trail and recreation center closures. So go ahead and pack that picnic, but check the PARD website before you leave home.
Friday, May 3, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Davis mural to stay
Tensions between East Austin residents and the Parks and Recreation Department over an unplanned memorial mural appear to be easing after city officials agreed to keep the mural in place. At issue is a mural in Givens Park that was created last month as a tribute to Andre Davis, who was robbed and murdered in the park. The hastily created mural drew concern from PARD staff because it fell outside the normal process for installing art in city parks and other public spaces. Several weeks of discussion with community leaders and District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison resulted in the decision Thursday to leave the mural in place. A planned community gathering next Wednesday is intended to let residents discuss Davis’ murder and the mural’s importance and share information on the city’s Art in Public Places program. In a Facebook post Thursday, Harper-Madison announced that the mural will stay in place and that its creator will be compensated.
Friday, May 3, 2019 by Tai Moses
Bastrop organizes a (code update) rodeo
There are traditional rodeos with bucking broncos and calf roping (not that we approve of that) and then there’s a whole different kind of rodeo that involves animated discussions about land use and development standards. Yee-haw! Bastrop is holding a Building Bastrop Code Update Rodeo, a final opportunity for its citizens to weigh in before the city crafts its draft development codes for review by the Planning & Zoning Commission. According to the announcement, “These discussions will ultimately lead to the adoption of new land-use regulations that are locally made, geographically sensitive and fiscally sustainable.” All are welcome. Thursday, May 9, 3-8 p.m. at the Bastrop Opera House, 711 Spring St., Bastrop.
Friday, May 3, 2019 by Tai Moses
History Center hosts conversation about Austin’s transportation past and future
Transportation lessons from Austin’s past can shine a light on the mobility challenges of today. That’s the focus of “Off the Rails: Austin’s Commuter Future,” a summit hosted by the Austin History Center and featuring a panel of transportation experts including Austin Transportation, Austin Energy, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Air Central Texas and Commute Solutions. Participants will discuss the transportation challenges Austin faces and present possible solutions. The event is part of the History’s Center’s exhibit on the history of the streetcar in Austin. As the center’s press release says, “Issues that may seem as modern as conflict with ride-hailing companies, electric light rail, mobility and transportation can find their origins in the story of the streetcars. The historical narrative provided by this exhibit will offer a depth of context for a conversation featuring the organizations providing the services and structure that support mobility in our city.” Saturday, May 11, 2 p.m., at the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe St. RSVP on Facebook.
Thursday, May 2, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
How dangerous are scooters? Tune in!
Today’s the day! The final results of an investigation into the public health impacts of dockless electric scooters will be announced at 10 a.m. The investigation is the result of a collaboration between Austin Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who cannot wait for our coverage can watch the press conference live on Facebook.
Thursday, May 2, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano
LDC rewrite continued, continued
Today, Austin City Council will reconvene at a special called meeting to continue (and hopefully, finish) the discussion on the Land Development Code rewrite. The discussion is a continuation of the one that began last Thursday – Council members are now deciding on the direction the new code rewrite will take in terms of scope, housing capacity, housing types, compatibility standards, and parking requirements. Council will meet at 1 p.m. today at City Hall. According to a post by Mayor Steve Adler on the City Council Message Board, “As we’re picking up where we left off last week, and may only have three or four hours to complete our work, I would not anticipate taking any public testimony on Thursday, unless it is the will of the Council otherwise.” New amendments proposed can also be found on the message board, and items flagged for discussion, maps and more can be found here.