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Thursday, January 6, 2022 by Tai Moses
Austin Water nabs finance award
Austin Water has been recognized for its innovative debt management strategies, which have saved its customers almost $700 million over the past six years. According to a press release from the city, the Government Finance Officers Association, an industry group, praised the utility for its creative methods of “increasing affordability for customers, while improving and maintaining critical infrastructure for extreme weather and a growing population.” Joseph Gonzales, the utility’s assistant director of financial services, said in the release, “Striking a careful balance between investments in infrastructure while ensuring rates remain affordable is a common challenge for public utilities. Adding pressures such as the ongoing pandemic, spiraling costs of living, and effects of climate change, and the complexity of this challenge soars. Austin Water has been able to navigate these issues, making major investments to Austin’s water and wastewater system while not raising rates and even providing rate reductions to help customers during difficult times. We are deeply honored to be recognized for our work in this area.” Read more about the Award for Excellence in Government Finance here.
Wednesday, January 5, 2022 by Jo Clifton
District 4 election locations, times set
City Council met briefly Tuesday to adopt the schedule for early voting and election day voting in the District 4 race to take over the seat currently held by Council Member Greg Casar. Casar must vacate the Council seat because he is running for Congress. Seven candidates are on the ballot. Early voting will run from Jan. 10-21, and election day is Jan. 25. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir is conducting the election – probably her last one as clerk since she announced her plan to retire at the end of this month.
There are three early voting locations: Chinatown Center at 10901 N. Lamar Blvd.; the city of Austin Permitting and Development office at 6310 Wilhelmina Delco Drive; and the Gus Garcia Recreation Center, 1201 E. Rundberg Lane. Those sites will also serve as election day polling places. District 4 voters will also be able to cast election day ballots at Sawyer Hall at 1302 E. 51st St., the Virginia Brown Recreation Center at 7500 Blessing Ave., Juan P. Navarro High School at 1201 Payton Gin Road, and YMCA North Austin at 1000 W. Rundberg Lane.
City Clerk Myrna Rios told Council that she and her staff are still counting signatures on a petition that could force the city to hold another election. The petition, from a group seeking to decriminalize possession of marijuana and prevent police from arresting anyone on class A or B possession charges (except under certain circumstances), would also prevent police from executing no-knock search warrants. Currently, officers are instructed not to make an arrest for possession of marijuana unless the investigation involves a “high-priority, felony level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony,” according to APD general orders. The general orders prevent officers from executing no-knock warrants except by prior authorization from a judge and a supervisor. If the petition is validated, Council will have the option to adopt the proposed ordinance or call an election.
Wednesday, January 5, 2022 by Tai Moses
Find a free vaccine clinic near you
The surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the omicron variant has pushed Austin-Travis County back to Stage 4 of the risk-based guidelines, and health officials are urging unvaccinated Austinites to get vaccinated without further delay. To make it easier, Travis County, Austin Public Health and their community partners continue to host a variety of free Covid vaccine distribution events every week. Simply check out the handy online calendar and map to find the date, time and location of the vaccine event nearest your home or workplace. No appointments are required. Getting vaccinated takes less time than it does to get a mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks – and it’s a whole lot better for your health. People receiving their second dose, third dose or booster shot should bring their CDC Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card so it can be updated.
District 4 candidate forum goes online
The city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters Austin Area will be hosting a virtual District 4 candidate forum on Jan. 6. Though there was some debate over where to hold the forum last month, the omicron variant appears to have settled the question by forcing the forum online. The candidates running for District 4, in ballot order, are Amanda Rios, Isa Boonto, Ramesses II Setepenre, Melinda Schiera, Jade Lovera, Monica Guzmán, and José “Chito” Vela. Questions for the candidates may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or phoned in to 512-893-1960 in English by noon on Jan. 6. The forum will be broadcast live on ATXN.TV, Channel 6, A&T U-Verse channel 99, or KAZI FM 88.7. Residents may also listen in by phone by dialing 1-855-756-7520, ext. 78384# for English, 78385# for Spanish or 78390# for Vietnamese.
Help steer affordable housing
The Housing Investment Review Committee – formerly known as the Housing Bond Review Committee – is looking for qualified members to review affordable housing projects, among other things. Interested candidates are invited to complete an application by Feb. 1, with preference given to those who have been part of a development team or have experience with development finance, academic-based housing research, legal counsel, or who have had personal experience with housing instability, according to a city press release. City staff members will review applications and make appointment recommendations to HIRC by March, with terms expected to begin March 30.
Fake QR codes found on city parking stations
Austin Transportation has put out a warning about fraudulent QR codes found on parking pay stations. According to a press release from the department, the sham QR codes link to a site that has no connection to the city and “may have been created with malicious intent.” Detectives from APD’s financial crimes unit are investigating the stickers and ask anyone who has paid for city parking through a QR code to file a police report and notify their card issuer. Anyone who witnesses an unbadged person messing with a pay station is encouraged to call 911. In the meantime, APD wants motorists to remember that Austin Transportation collects payment for parking through cash or card at pay stations or via the Park ATX app, not through a website.
DSD goes remote, again
Given the ongoing spread of Covid, the city’s Development Services Department is going back online, returning to remote operations until Feb. 1. An email from the department explains that existing in-person appointments will be converted to virtual “where possible” and all new appointments will be conducted virtually through the end of this month. Meetings with Austin Public Health will still be available in person as will inspections, though customers can opt to conduct those virtually as well. Payments will be collected via phone by contacting 512-974-7045.
Monday, January 3, 2022 by Jo Clifton
Vela leads in fundraising for District 4 seat
Progressive Jose “Chito” Vela is probably the best known of the seven candidates running in the Jan. 25 special election to fill the District 4 Council seat that Greg Casar is vacating. So it came as no surprise to learn that his campaign had raised the most among those vying for the spot. Candidates were required to turn in their 30-day campaign finance reports on Dec. 27, giving the public a chance to see how they’re doing in fundraising. Vela reported raising more than $41,000, including a $400 contribution from Mayor Steve Adler. The Austin Firefighters PAC also filed its monthly report, indicating that the group is endorsing Vela. Conservative Amanda Rios, who has support from the leaders of Save Austin Now, reported raising a little more than $11,000, including a $150 in-kind contribution from Matt Mackowiak – chair of the Travis County Republican Party – for work on her website. Monica Guzmán raised just over $5,000 and received contributions from Ann Denkler, Jim Duncan and David King. Denkler and King are members of the Zoning and Platting Commission while Duncan is a land use expert and former chair of ZAP. Candidate Jade Lovera reported raising $1,765. One of her contributors was Betsy Greenberg, another member of ZAP. Melinda Schiera reported raising $358.73 and spending $451.90. Isa Boonto-Zarifis reported zero dollars in contributions and $600 in expenditures. She spent $500 on the filing fee, and according to her report, gave $100 to her former campaign manager, Katherine Wilcox, “as a gift.” Ramesses II Setepenre did not file the required report.
Monday, January 3, 2022 by Tai Moses
Restoring ecosystems in the new year
For 2022’s first edition of the Wild Neighbors Speaker Series, Jim O’Donnell, a forest ecosystem biologist who works for the city’s Wildland Conservation Division, will be sharing his extensive knowledge of restoration ecology as it’s applied locally. Jim leads a team of volunteers and staff members who work on restoring degraded tracts of land at Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Among other efforts, they plant and care for trees, collect and sow native seed, and use erosion control methods such as bioswales – earthworks that promote water infiltration, healthier soil, reforestation and carbon sequestration. Friday, Jan. 21, noon-1 p.m. Sign up for the webinar here.
Monday, December 27, 2021 by Tai Moses
Recycle your Christmas tree … please
With the holidays drawing to a close, you may be wondering what to do with your Christmas tree, which has given your family so much enjoyment and perfumed your home with its fragrant piney boughs. You can return the favor by giving your tree a second life: Drop it off to be recycled into mulch instead of entombed in the landfill. Travis County residents may bring their trees (live trees only) to one of the county’s free Christmas tree recycling drop-off locations, open from Dec. 26-Jan. 10. Find a map of drop-off sites here.
If you’re a city curbside customer, you may leave your tree at the curb on your regular composting collection day or visit the city’s Tree Recycling web page to find out how to drop it off for recycling at Zilker Park. To ensure that your tree can be safely mulched, remove all ornaments, decorations, lights and tree stands as well as nails, staples and metal. Trees sprayed with flocking or artificial snow will not accepted. Don’t bag the tree, and if it’s taller than 6 feet, it will need to be cut in half. Want to get your hands on some of that Christmasy mulch? Free mulch will be available on a first-come, first-served basis starting Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. (weather permitting). Bring your own tools and storage containers for loading and transporting the mulch, and please wear your face mask.
P.S.: If you have holiday lights that no longer work, you can bring them to the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center at 2514 Business Center Drive. They will also be happy to accept your post-holiday piles of Styrofoam and cardboard packaging.
Wednesday, December 22, 2021 by Tai Moses
What’s closed for the holidays?
Unsurprisingly, most city administrate offices and municipal facilities will be closed for the holidays. Here’s a few to take note of.
Austin Public Health’s Covid-19 testing and vaccine sites will be closed for Christmas from Thursday, Dec. 23, through Sunday, Dec. 26, and the city’s Covid surveillance dashboard will not be updated over that same period. APH testing and vaccine sites will also be closed for New Year’s from Friday, Dec. 31, through Sunday, Jan. 2. You may schedule a Covid test or vaccination for any other time.
The Austin Animal Center will be closed from 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 23, through Dec. 25, resuming normal hours on Sunday, Dec. 26. The center closes again at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 31, and remains closed through Jan. 1.
Austin Public Library will be closed Thursday, Dec. 23, through Saturday, Dec. 25, and again on Friday, Dec. 31, and Saturday, Jan. 1.
Most Parks and Recreation facilities will be closed for the Christmas holiday from Dec. 23 through Dec. 25, and again for New Year’s on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
There are some exceptions:
Bartholomew, Barton Springs, Big Stacy, Springwoods and Deep Eddy pools will be open on Friday, Dec. 24. Barton Springs Pool will be open on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
Cemetery gates will remain open every day for regular hours, though cemetery administrative offices will be closed on Dec. 23, 24 and 31.
Golf courses will be closed Dec. 25, but open on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
The pickup schedules for trash, recycling and composting remain the same with no changes. If you don’t believe us, look up your collection schedule.
Tuesday, December 21, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Historic Preservation Officer Sadowsky honored
Mayor Steve Adler declared Monday Steve Sadowsky Day, giving Sadowsky the city’s distinguished service award for more than 20 years as the city’s Historic Preservation Officer. As City Council Member Kathie Tovo noted, Sadowsky has been a “tireless advocate for historic preservation.” Zoning chief Jerry Rusthoven noted during Monday’s Council meeting that Sadowsky has worked to preserve the history of all cultures, not just the dominant culture. His service has overlapped with a period of unprecedented growth, as noted by Preservation Austin, which last month gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award, saying: “During his time as Historic Preservation Officer, the Historic Preservation Office has been inundated with demolition permit requests and applications for historic landmark designation. Steve has faced these challenges by taking his well-researched stand with conviction, and has weathered many a storm to defend Austin’s historic fabric. He has personally prepared or reviewed hundreds of historic landmark applications, and through that process, shared and uncovered the history of Austin with us all. Preservation Austin is honored to recognize Steve for his years of service on the frontlines of preservation, and for the vital role he has played in protecting and celebrating Austin’s precious heritage.”