Monday, January 6, 2020 by Tai Moses

Experience the wild around Austin

Could there be a better way to start the new year than getting outdoors and into the wild? Austinites have the rare opportunity to experience the wild through the auspices of the Wildlands Conservation Division of Austin Water, which manages and protects 40,000 acres of pristine city-owned wildlands. These properties, which are some of the last truly wild places around Austin, are closed to the public except for guided hikes and special volunteer events. Take a full-day guided hike along rugged Onion Creek, where you’ll see meticulously restored native grasslands. Catch a glimpse of an endangered species like the golden-cheeked warbler at Bull Creek Nature Preserve or go on a nighttime hike in the Barton Springs watershed, by the light of the moon and the stars. Help biologists with forest preservation at Vireo Preserve or pull out invasive privet plants at Long Canyon, part of Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. See the full list of upcoming guided hikes and volunteer trainings here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 by Jack Craver

A sleepy New Year’s Eve at the Commissioners Court

The Travis County Commissioners Court has a meeting scheduled for today, but nothing notable is on the agenda. The plan is for the court to adopt the entire agenda on consent. Commissioner Brigid Shea tells the Austin Monitor via text that she has informed her colleagues she won’t be available for the meeting because she and her husband will be out of town. Why did the court bother scheduling a meeting on New Year’s Eve? Shea replied: “Good Q!”

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 by Jo Clifton

All invited to Barton Springs Polar Bear plunge

Austinites and visitors alike are invited to join Friends of Barton Springs Pool Polar Bear Club as they make their annual leap into the pool at 9:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Former city employee Clarke Hammond, who passed away two years ago, is credited with starting the leap 40 years ago, and his friends in the club named him “Grand Poobah.” Among those attending will be former Mayor Lee Leffingwell and his former aide, Matt Curtis. Curtis said in a news release, “This is an exciting opportunity to refresh your soul in the waters of Austin. This is what makes Austin Austin, and what makes the start of every new year magical.” Leffingwell noted that the weather may be cold, but it has not stopped Austinites in the past from leaping into their favorite local swimming hole. “This is about a shared adventure of being an Austinite, the wonder of celebrating a beginning with friends, a reminder that we have a unique ecological treasure in the heart of our city, and the positive renewal of spirit that we experience on the first day of every new year,” Leffingwell said.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 by Jo Clifton

How to recycle an evergreen wreath

As the city of Austin has informed us, it’s pretty easy to recycle your Christmas tree. Just set it out by the curb on your trash pickup/recycling day or take it to the polo fields at Zilker Metropolitan Park this weekend. But the Austin Monitor wondered what to do with that evergreen wreath that’s not quite as green as it was when it first came into the house. Don’t throw it in the trash can or recycling just yet. If you can pull the green parts off you can put those into the green compost bin. But if that is too difficult, Suzanne Harm at Austin Resource Recovery said the best thing to do is set the wreath outside for the next several weeks. The evergreen part will fall away and become part of your yard. Then you can recycle the wires that held the wreath together.

Monday, December 23, 2019 by Austin Monitor

Happy Holidays from the Austin Monitor

Over the holidays, the Austin Monitor will join our readers in taking a little time off to enjoy the season. During these last weeks of 2019 and the first week of 2020, join us in looking back on the past year and forward to the next year. We will return to our regular content on Monday, Jan. 6, rested and ready to tackle all that the coming year holds. Until then, Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you!

Monday, December 23, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

City holiday schedule

City offices and municipal facilities will be closed Tuesday, Dec. 24, and Wednesday, Dec. 25, in observance of Christmas Eve and Christmas, and Wednesday, Jan. 1, in observance of New Year’s Day. Trash, recycling, compost and yard trimmings collection will “slide” one day forward if the your collection day falls on a holiday. In addition, recreation, cultural arts, nature and senior centers and museums will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, with shorter hours on New Year’s Eve. All pools will close at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, except for Barton Springs Pool, which will remain open without lifeguards during regular hours. Austin public libraries will close at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day except for the Central Library, which will be closed Dec. 24 and 25. For questions about city services or more specific information, call 311 or read this detailed list of holiday hours.

This whisper has been corrected, the Central Library will be open on December 26.

Monday, December 23, 2019 by Tai Moses

Give your Christmas tree a second life

After your Christmas tree has given you the gift of filling your home with its piney scent, you can return the favor by ensuring that it stays out of the landfill and instead returns to the earth as mulch or compost. All you have to do is set your tree out on the curb on your regularly scheduled collection day, starting the day after Christmas. If you don’t have curbside service, you may drop your tree off at Zilker Metropolitan Park Polo Fields this weekend (Dec. 28-29) or next weekend (Jan. 4-5) between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. There are a few guidelines for recycling trees: If your tree is over 6 feet tall, it must be cut in half; trees sprayed with flocking, or artificial snow, will not be accepted; and all ornaments, decorations and lights must be removed, including the tree stand. Each year, the city provides curbside tree recycling for about 20,000 Christmas trees that are composted or turned into Dillo Dirt. If you’d like some of this Christmasy mulch, it will be available on a first-come, first-served basis on Thursday, Jan. 16. Find more information about Austin’s Christmas tree recycling program at AustinRecycles.com.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Home with ‘wealth of history’ is relocated

Earlier this year, the Cielo Property group donated and relocated the home of the first African American disc jockey, Albert Lavada Durst – also known as “Dr. Hepcat” – from 1608 E. Fourth St. to 1906 E. 21st St. This initiative not only gave housing to an East Austin resident who was left homeless after her own house burned down, it also rescued the house itself. According to Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, the home was in dire shape and was being used as a drug house in its former location. On its new lot, the house is being restored to reflect its 1920s-era working-class bungalow architecture. Sadowsky told the Historic Landmark Commission at the Dec. 16 meeting that the home has “tremendous significance.” According to the staff report, “This house reflects a wealth of history in Austin and should be preserved at any cost.” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said that relocating the home was “not ideal,” but in this case, was a “good compromise” and that its association with Lavada Durst “makes this house worthy of preservation.” The commission voted unanimously to initiate the historic zoning process.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 by Tai Moses

Developers, community leaders discuss affordable housing

The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department hosted a series of meetings on Dec. 3 for developers and community leaders to discuss expanding city programs and policies that would incentivize affordable housing construction in the city. Community members may view the entire presentation online. The meetings were following up on a community dialogue that began in December 2018, when NHCD invited developers and community leaders “to provide input on revamping and streamlining the Affordable Housing Development Assistance process.” The result was that NHCD has made “significant progress for affordable housing construction,” said James May, NHCD community development manager.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

HLC excited about rare historic discovery

When D.R. Horton Homes discovered a 19th-century blockhouse at 1208 E. Howard Lane, the Historic Landmark Commission got excited. Homes of that vintage are rare in Central Texas, and this one was a serendipitous find. The structure, part of the Dessau community of German settlers, was covered by over a century of stucco and walls from homeowners who had built and modified a larger home around the original footprint. The commission commended the homebuilder’s willingness to preserve the structure and unanimously recommended a permit for partial demolition. Once the structure is uncovered, the builders will provide any necessary rehabilitation and then fence off the structure for protection. The blockhouse is located where the developer plans to put a pocket park for the subdivision. Commissioner Ben Heimsath recommended going beyond just preservation and instead activating the space. “It could be a small meeting room or a community space,” he said, warning that if the cultural resource were left vacant it could become a magnet for vandals and squatters.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Alter gains an opponent

Activist and attorney Pooja Sethi has announced that she intends to unseat incumbent District 10 Council Member Alison Alter in November 2020. Sethi is an immigration lawyer who touts her Democratic Party credentials, including being named 2019 Activist of the Year by the Travis County Democratic Party. She is also a member of the city’s Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission. Her campaign treasurer is Ravi Vemulapalli, listed online as president of Veteran Solar. Alter named her husband, university professor Jeremi Suri, as her treasurer. In 2016, Alter defeated incumbent Council Member Sheri Gallo for the District 10 seat.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by Tai Moses

ECHO seeks more volunteers for PIT Count

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition is still seeking volunteers to help conduct its Point in Time Count, a yearly census of the homeless population in Austin and Travis County. ECHO has already recruited 350 volunteers; another 450 are still needed. With the help of an efficient new digital survey system, teams of PIT volunteers will fan out into the community on the early morning of Jan. 25 to count all those who slept outside the night before. Volunteers will also distribute care packages of snacks, toiletries, warm socks and hats. Before being assigned to a team, all volunteers will attend a mandatory training, in person or online. PIT Count volunteer coordinator Axton Nichols said, “We’re excited by the level of community support we’ve seen so far. But we’ll need even more volunteers to make the PIT Count truly successful.” Sign up to participate at ECHO’s website, austinecho.org/PIT.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by Tai Moses

Low temps trigger cold weather shelters

The mercury is dropping, with nighttime temperatures expected to dip into the low 30s, and that means the city’s cold weather shelters have been activated. Single adult men and women may go to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless by 5:15 p.m to get overnight shelter. Families may report to the Salvation Army on East Eighth Street by 8 p.m. More information is available from the shelter hotline at (512) 305-4233.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by Tai Moses

County conducts prescribed burn at Reimers Ranch

If you see smoke billowing from the general area of Reimers Ranch Park in Dripping Springs, fear not; the cause is a prescribed burn being conducted today by Travis County Parks, with help from local fire departments and natural resource agencies. The goal of prescribed burning is to “reduce wildfire danger and improve ecosystem health by removing invading shrubs, consuming dead and downed vegetation, reducing the number of exotic species, and enhancing the health and diversity of the native plant community,” according to the announcement. The resulting smoke is expected to be “light and of relatively short duration.” Except for the multi-use trail, which will be closed part of the week, Reimers Ranch Park will remain open.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 by Tai Moses

Weigh in on draft mobility plan

Curious to know what mobility projects will be coming down the pike next year? The preliminary draft of the city’s 2020 Mobility Annual Plan is now online and comments are welcome until Feb. 2. The MAP, which comes with an interactive projects map, offers an overview of projects funded by the 2016 mobility bond, including “sidewalks, Safe Routes to School, bikeways, urban trails, Intersection Safety/Vision Zero improvements, and more,” according to a news release. Austin Mayor Steve Adler noted, “We’re just three years into the 2016 Mobility Bond and we have already implemented over 200 projects all over our city – on time and on budget – giving Austinites better and safer ways to get around our city.” The final MAP will be published in early March.


Monday, December 16, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Austin Animal Services officer receives award

Michelle Baca received an Officer of the Year award from the Texas Animal Control Association for her work in the field microchipping stray animals in Austin. “This is the first time anyone from Austin has received this award,” said Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland. The award is a statewide recognition effort for individuals who contribute to animal care, control and welfare. Baca, who has been with the department for a year, has the highest microchipping rate in the field of all Austin animal control officers, according to Bland. In a double acknowledgment of her efforts, the Animal Advisory Commission offered her a certificate in recognition of her achievement at its Dec. 9 meeting. “Animal protection officers are underappreciated, underpaid and overworked,” said Chair David Lundstedt. He noted that officers who perform duties above and beyond what is normally required are deserving of recognition.

Monday, December 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

City offers capacity-building grants to CDCs

In recognition of the economic pressures that are forcing so many people to move out of the city, Austin is offering grants to help community development corporations build their capacity to develop ways to mitigate displacement and increase the availability of affordable housing units. The Austin Housing Finance Corporation will be awarding the grants in spring 2020 in amounts from $5,000-$50,000 spent over 12 months. According to an announcement from AHFC, “The initiative will help neighborhoods experiencing displacement, or are at risk of displacement, to develop capacities and programs to address affordable housing and amenities specific to their neighborhoods.” Learn more about the application process and check eligibility guidelines here (PDF).

Monday, December 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

No Refusal for the holidays

In an effort to discourage merrymakers from getting behind the wheel after one too many spiked eggnogs at the office holiday party, the Austin Police Department has issued a statement that a No Refusal initiative will be in effect from Dec. 12- Jan. 4, 10 p.m-5 a.m. This is in addition to normal No Refusal weekend hours. During No Refusal, officers can immediately obtain blood search warrants when a motorist is arrested for DWI and refuses to voluntarily give a blood or breath sample. To plan your ride home from holiday parties or any other special occasion where alcohol is a factor, visit AustinTexas.gov/GetHomeSafe. Plan ahead, get home safe.

Friday, December 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Laing leaves Capital City

Chris Laing has announced his departure as the executive director of Capital City Innovation, the nonprofit group formed to guide the development of the city’s health care Innovation District focused around the creation of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Laing, who joined the organization as its inaugural top executive, has accepted a position as senior dean of innovation and entrepreneurship for Duke National University Singapore Medical School. The Dell Seton Medical Center opened under Laing’s tenure, allowing the city to move forward with the demolition of the Brackenridge campus for its redevelopment. A new 17-story tower at the corner of 15th and Red River streets is the next major new building for the district, with plans calling for half of the space to be used for the medical school while the rest will be available to health-related businesses and nonprofits. Capital City Innovation has not announced its plans or timeline for selecting Laing’s replacement.

Friday, December 13, 2019 by Tai Moses

AISD announces schools frozen to transfers

Every year, Austin ISD selects a number of schools that will be frozen to transfers, i.e., not accepting students transferring from other schools. The district chooses these schools based on “enrollments that exceed capacity, construction and programming, such as dual language campuses,” according to an AISD news release. The schools that will be frozen to transfers for the 2020-21 school year are Akins Early College High School and Navarro ECHS; Austin, Bowie and McCallum high schools; Gorzycki, Lively, Lamar and Murchison middle schools; and Baldwin, Baranoff, Becker (except dual language), Blazier, Brentwood, Casis, Cowan, Doss, Gullett (except kindergarten), Hill, Kiker, Lee (except kindergarten), Maplewood, Mathews (except kindergarten), Menchaca, Oak Hill, Reilly (except dual language through fourth grade), Ridgetop (except dual language), Summitt (except dual language), Sunset Valley (except dual language through fourth grade) and Zilker (except kindergarten). For more information about school transfers, visit AustinISD.org/transfers.

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