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Whispers

Monday, July 30, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Improvements at S. Congress and Oltorf now complete

South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street is a safer intersection to ride, walk and drive through now that the Austin Transportation Department has made some changes there. The department has photos of the improved intersection here, and a map of the improvements here, which include raised medians, bicycle detection and signals, restriped crosswalks, ADA-accessible ramps and more. This is just one of several planned Vision Zero Intersection Safety projects that were funded through the 2016 mobility bond. The department is holding a press conference at the intersection tomorrow at 9 a.m., and the Vision Zero street team will be hanging around at the nearby HEB parking lot at that time to give out complimentary safety gear such as bike lights, reflective wristbands and backpack clips.


Monday, July 30, 2018 by Katy McElroy

No grilling at Austin parks for now

The Parks and Recreation Department has enacted a burn ban prohibiting fires in all city parks, greenbelts and preserves. This also means grilling is verboten, which includes the use of all kinds of wood or charcoal barbecue pits, grills and smokers. Propane stoves will still be tolerated in designated picnic areas. Smoking, as a reminder, is never allowed in Austin parks. Fire-starters could receive a fine between $300 and $500. The ban is effective indefinitely – PARD will issue a statement when conditions make it safe for the department to lift it.


Monday, July 30, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Housing Bond Review Committee meets tomorrow

The city’s Housing Bond Review Committee will be meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, July 31, to review proposals for affordable housing developments. The members of the advisory committee, who have deep experience in housing and finance and are appointed by the director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, review the applications to make sure they are scored in compliance with program guidelines. The meeting, which is open to the public, is at 4 p.m. in the Street-Jones Building, 1000 E. 11th St., in Room 400A.


Monday, July 30, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Atlas 14: The reckoning

With the process to amend city code regarding flood plains now formally underway, the Watershed Protection Department is working to get the word out about Atlas 14. To that end, the city will be mailing about 13,000 postcards to those within the 100- and 500-year flood plains (which was revealed in a July 23 memo from Interim Watershed Protection Department Director Michael Personett). And, for questions about the changes that could be coming to city code, Austinites can visit the city website, email Atlas14@AustinTexas.gov or call a hotline (!) at 512-974-2843.


Friday, July 27, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Good Politics comes to Texas

A new political advocacy group and event series is attempting to break down the barriers that keep younger voters from becoming involved in local elections and other issues. The just-formed Good Politics will hold its kickoff event Aug. 23 at Native Hostel with appearances from Texas congressional candidates Joseph Kopser and Julie Oliver. The stated goal of the group is to encourage more “good people” to run for elected office or become otherwise involved in the political process. “Politics are unavoidable, and the only reason we hate professional politics … is that we want our political leaders to set a better example,” reads a portion of the introductory post on Medium announcing the group’s formation. Tickets for the launch event are available here.


Friday, July 27, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin groups protest Southwest Key

A collection of local activist groups has called on Austin and Travis County to stop doing business with Southwest Key, a nonprofit group whose services include operating shelters for immigrant youth. Groups including the League of United Latin American Citizens District VII, Latino HealthCare Forum, Texas American Federation of Teachers and Austin Sanctuary Network gathered at the organization’s Austin headquarters just after noon on Thursday to protest its role in detaining children separated from their parents because of strict immigration policies on those seeking asylum at the border. Southwest Key also runs charter schools in underserved communities and runs youth justice programs. Last month a group of protesters organized as Frente de Liberación Inmigrante, or Immigration Liberation Front, gathered at the home of Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez and asked him to end the organization’s federal contracts in addition to giving up his reported $1.5 million salary. Speakers at Thursday’s protest included Frank Ortega, director of LULAC District VII; Cynthia Valadez, LULAC District VII deputy director for the elderly; and Isabel Lopez-Aguilar, a program coordinator with Latino HealthCare Forum.


Friday, July 27, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Budget proposal is on the way

The numbers for the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget are almost here. According to a press release, City Manager Spencer Cronk will hold a special called meeting on Monday, Aug. 6, to submit his proposed budget to City Council and deliver his accompanying message. The event, which is open to the public, will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Mexican American Cultural Center, at 600 River St. “In a growing and increasingly complex city like Austin, it’s vital that the budget provides a roadmap toward a shared vision for the future,” said Cronk in the release. “That means focusing on the outcomes we want to see for our investments. The Strategic Direction provides us a new and meaningful way to engage in budget conversations with the Council and the community.” Council will begin discussion on the budget in a work session on Aug. 15, with budget and tax rate public hearings scheduled for Aug. 22 and 30. Final adoption of the budget is planned for September. The city manager developed his budget proposal after an extensive public engagement process that involved informational meetings, Council district town halls and online surveys.


Friday, July 27, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Sexual assault in Austin gets a face

Sexual assault is not sufficiently studied, Kristen Lenau, SAFE response coordinator and Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team coordinator, told the Public Safety Commission at its July 2 meeting. In an effort to correct that, she, along with the Austin Police Department, worked with a three-year grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to conduct a study on sexual assault in Austin and Travis County. Although the sample size was small, the findings were big. Of those who participated, 51 were professionals who dealt with sexual assault cases – counselors, law enforcement, attorneys – and 24 were survivors of assault. “Actually, I feel pretty good about 24 considering there’s not much research in this area,” said Lenau. “There’s still so much stigma for victims coming forward.” According to the professionals, 94 percent do not believe the law addresses sexual assault adequately. At a more granular level, 40 percent of professionals said that “immigrants and undocumented survivors are the most underserved in this community,” according to Lenau. Regardless of the community they are serving, 59 percent of professionals said that access to funding and resources presented the biggest challenge to them offering satisfactory aid; two-thirds of them said that they did not have enough time with current staffing to complete their workloads. However, despite the lack of resources, 75 percent of interviewed survivors felt believed by the people investigating their case. According to Liz Donegan, a retired APD sergeant who led the Sex Crimes Unit for nine years, with sexual assault cases, the credibility of the victim is challenged from the moment that they report. Although there are many gaps when it comes to addressing sexual assault in Austin, Lenau told the commission that the greatest need that Austin’s SARRT has is for staffing. “We’re seeing huge numbers of people coming forward and even more with the #MeToo movement,” she explained. “We want our professionals to keep up.”


Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Spigner joins race for District 1 seat

Third-generation Austinite Reedy Spigner will be officially declaring his candidacy for the City Council District 1 seat today at the School House Pub on Manor Road. According to a press release from the candidate, Spigner’s party will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Kay Gourley, who answered the campaign’s phone on Wednesday, said that those working for Spigner’s election do not have titles but act collectively. In his press release, Spigner points out that his grandmother, Mildred Coleman Holloway, was prominent in Texas Democratic politics, helping to launch the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the Black Austin Democrats. Mildred Holloway also served as an election judge for many years at her East Austin polling place at the David Chapel Church. Spigner earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Clark Atlanta University and a Master of Public Health from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He reports that he is currently completing a Ph.D. at Prairie View University. Spigner has worked as a policy analyst for the Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence and is currently a grant monitor for the Texas Attorney General’s Office. In addition to Spigner, there are four other announced candidates: Lewis Conway Jr., Vincent Harding, Natasha Harper-Madison and Mariana Salazar. After four years on the dais, incumbent Council Member Ora Houston decided not to run for re-election.


Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Ryan Young

Capital Metro demos robot buses

With robot buses now rolling around downtown streets, it looks like the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will soon be the proud owners of the first autonomous vehicle fleet in Austin. The small shuttle buses – perhaps better described as “pods” – will fit several people each and make trips between the Central Library and the Austin Convention Center, stopping at Republic Square and other destinations along a 1.2-mile loop. Capital Metro, through its operating partner RATP Dev, is currently testing autonomous vehicles from two manufacturers, EasyMile and Navya – you may have already seen the blue “autonomous vehicle testing” signs downtown. The agency will evaluate autonomous vehicles from both vendors and acquire a fleet of six before the 12-month public pilot that is expected to begin later this fall. Capital Metro says the autonomous buses will run every 5 to 7 minutes, but operating days, service hours and the branding of the new service have yet to be decided.


Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Oak Hill library closing for renovations

The Hampton Branch library at Oak Hill will be closing soon for a full renovation. The Austin Public Library’s press release shared that the branch will close at 6 p.m. on Aug. 24 and remain closed for approximately nine months. The library building and the book drop will be closed during the renovation period. The upgrades are part of the 2012 bond program and include a new roof, new floor, updated electrical and plumbing, new furniture, repainting of the interior, and more. Bookmobile services will be available nearby at the Dick Nichols District Park, 8011 Beckett Road. APL suggests the Manchaca Road, Pleasant Hill, Southeast and Twin Oaks branches as alternatives for full library services.


Thursday, July 26, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Hill Country AeroModelers club thanks Parks and Rec for 25 years

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Hill Country AeroModelers club partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department. In recognition of the city’s support, Dennis Caudle, 72, and Elliot Turner, 17, came to the July 24 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board to say thank you. Although the club itself has been around for 70 years, it has spent the last 25 years at Mary Moore Searight Park where, at no cost to the city, “We created a miniature airfield with a 550-foot runway,” said Caudle. This self-sustaining club has also made approximately half a million dollars in park improvements over the years, and, Caudle said, “We provide an annual $2 million insurance policy within the flying vicinity.” Membership to this nonprofit club of aeromodelers is $8.30 a month and membership is demographically varied. The airfield hosts competitions as well as instructed recreational flights. According to Caudle, some of the teachers used to be instructors in the military and now share their expertise with civilian enthusiasts, ROTC members and homeschool groups. The airfield is also used in partnership with the University of Texas for aeronautical and engineering projects. Although the club focuses on model airplanes, Board Member Randy Mann asked the obvious question: “How do you feel about drones?” While Caudle said that they are welcome at the airfield, “It’s all still focused back to family and learning for us rather than cameras and intrusion.”


Wednesday, July 25, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Second case of West Nile confirmed in Austin

The city has seen its second case of West Nile virus this summer, Austin Public Health confirmed in a statement released yesterday. West Nile is transmitted through mosquito bites; the department shared that two mosquito samples from traps set in the Barton Creek Greenbelt area also tested positive for the virus. The virus is endemic to the area – last year Texas saw 135 cases, including six deaths. This year’s first case in Austin was confirmed on July 17.  Wearing clothing that completely covers the skin and using EPA-approved insect repellents that contain DEET can help prevent mosquito bites. Symptoms don’t always occur with West Nile infection, but they can include fever, body aches, headache, rash, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. While symptoms related to infection usually pass within a few days, some people have reported them lasting several weeks, requiring medical attention. Severe disease after infection is rare – the most significant risk factor is advanced age. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, even in an amount as small as a teaspoon, so the department reminds all residents to make sure to drain outside containers, fix leaky pipes and faucets, and clean gutters.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018 by Jo Clifton

With valid petition, Tovo set to run for third term

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, District 9’s representative on City Council, on Tuesday turned in 4,752 signatures from voters in her district in order to run for a third Council term. By the end of the day, Tovo told the Austin Monitor, City Clerk Jannette Goodall had validated the signatures, assuring Tovo a spot on the November ballot. Tovo pointed out that she only needed 3,500 signatures, but with 80 volunteers and some paid help she was able to gather many more than that. She said gathering the signatures was a great experience for her and her volunteers who talked to thousands of voters in the district. The campaign started gathering signatures on Jan. 27 and from that point had six months to complete the effort, she said. Her opponents are Danielle Skidmore and Linda O’Neal. Political consultant David Butts told the Monitor that he expects a strong effort from Skidmore with support from “certain elements of the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Chamber of Commerce.” The main issue for those groups, he said, relates to new urbanism. He concluded, “I think the other side thinks they’re going to slam her and attack her on many fronts and we’re prepared for that. I assure you we’ll give as good as we get.” Tovo defeated then-Council Member Randi Shade in 2011, and then she beat Council Member Chris Riley in 2014 when the two were paired as a result of the change to single-member districts.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Talk money with Central Health

Central Health is working on its 2019 budget, and as part of the process it’s holding meetings to make sure its priorities are in line with those of Travis County residents. The next conversation will be Tuesday, July 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St. RSVP here, and download the event flyer, which is in Spanish and English, to help get the word out.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Aquifer district board members seek re-election

Both the president and the vice president of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors have filed the necessary documents to run for re-election in November. Blayne Stansberry, who is president, represents Precinct 2 and was first elected in 2014. On the district’ s website, Stansberry notes, “As a civil engineer, like my father was before me, I recognize water is our most undervalued resource and yet fundamental for life on the planet. In my work, I deal with protecting our creeks from erosion and improving the quality of stormwater runoff to our creeks and recharge features. I also design water distribution systems to provide the clean water people depend on.” Craig Smith, the board member representing Precinct 5, has served on the board for the past 20 years. Smith is an attorney and a year-round daily swimmer at Barton Springs. He retired from the Travis County Attorney’s Office, but still works on energy and water conservation. Smith also serves as vice president of the Save Barton Creek Association. A spokesperson for the district said that no other candidates had filed for the board positions as of Tuesday.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Conway files

District 1 candidate Lewis Conway Jr. officially filed to place his name on the November general election ballot yesterday. A press release from the campaign notes, “filing for official candidacy will mark the first time in history a previously incarcerated person has done so.” Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state’s office, said that Texas law allows a person convicted of a felony to run for office, but only when the conviction isn’t “final.” Whether Conway’s candidacy will be challenged remains to be seen. With this official filing, that question can now be officially addressed. Conway claimed first filing Monday, saying, “We started our campaign over a year ago, before anyone else had the courage to contest Sister Ora Houston. We have never been afraid of leadership, nor of being the first in line. … As a Democratic Socialist I believe the folks that are considered the least of us, should be leading the rest of us.”


Tuesday, July 24, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Roadwork next month at Oakwood Cemetery

Starting on Wednesday, Aug. 1, the city will begin repaving the main road in Oakwood Cemetery. This will limit the roadway access at certain times through Aug. 15 – vehicles will only be able to enter and exit through the east and west side gates. In addition, the priming, asphalt and drying phases will necessitate full road closure, but the cemetery will remain available to pedestrians during this time, who will be able to access the cemetery through the west side gate. The repaving is necessary because of recent utility repairs to the road, such as wastewater improvements for the Oakwood Chapel project and irrigation line repairs.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018 by Katy McElroy

ABIA continues to build

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has been under construction, and a recent blog post provided some updates. First, work has begun to enlarge and improve the entry and exit parking plazas. The renovations are intended to make for a more efficient experience at the parking garages and economy lots B-G. The number of lanes at the north exit plaza, which services all of the economy parking lots and the new 6,000-space parking garage that is under construction, will increase from five to 10. A new parking administration building will be located there as well. Also, “a new rental car facility is under construction and a new entry to the parking garages will expand from four lanes to six lanes. The new entry plaza for economy parking is under construction. It will continue to be four lanes and accessible from (Presidential Boulevard).” Finally, the east apron expansion is adding 59,000 square yards of operational space to the Barbara Jordan Terminal, and a 14-foot high “jet blast fence” has been added to a new retaining wall there, which “deflects fast moving heated air created by jet engines. This protects airport assets and personnel from potential damage that could occur from the jet blast or airborne debris.”


Monday, July 23, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Help the city data-check the proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Program

Would you like to have a little more say in the revision of Austin’s Land Development Code? The city is collecting input from residents to confirm that assumptions about the area such as development costs, rental/sale prices and market conditions that it used to develop CodeNEXT’s Affordable Housing Bonus Program are accurate and up to date. The program allows developers to construct more units in exchange for setting aside a percentage of on-site units for low-income residents. The models that it used to determine the appropriate percentage of affordable units to require were based on those area assumptions. Visit the Affordable Housing Bonus Program website to find the form where you can view the information the city and its consultants used to make their models and develop the program and suggest alternative numbers if you see fit. The city is also collecting ideas for ways that developers could meet their affordable housing requirement other than by requiring on-site affordable units; the link to that input form is on the same website. The deadline for providing input is Aug. 20.


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