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Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
AISD extends school closure
The Austin Independent School District announced Monday that schools will remain closed at least through April 3 over public health concerns about COVID-19. Superintendent Paul Cruz explained that the district will continue to provide food for families that participate in free- and reduced-price lunch programs. The programs will continue at 28 buildings across the city beginning March 23. With Monday’s announcement, AISD joins a host of school districts that have closed through the end of the month. KUT has the full list.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki
Local businesses seek tax relief
Local bars and restaurants have joined together in promoting an online petition drive that seeks a reprieve from the state on monthly payments of both the mixed beverage tax and sales tax receipts. The petition, which as of Monday had gathered more than 6,000 signatures, asks the state comptroller’s office to cancel or delay payments of March taxes. The rationale is that delaying the payments would provide needed cash flow for businesses that have seen their revenue drop off severely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It reads, in part: “We are asking the State of Texas to cancel or delay Mixed Beverage Gross & Sales Taxes, and/or Sales tax for a period of time. Payment of these taxes will undoubtedly cause even greater financial burden on already struggling businesses that are closing or being forced to close to stop the outbreak. This delay or cancel of tax will provide financial relief immediately to businesses that will file to pay the March 20th tax due. Federal tax credits at the end of this year will not help cash flow, but cessation of beverage taxes can help NOW. The food and beverage industry in the State of Texas is world class and we need relief immediately.”
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki
Music Commission meeting canceled
A special emergency meeting of the Music Commission was canceled Monday as part of an overall curtailing of city operations and meetings intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. The meeting, which was to have taken place in City Council chambers Monday, was scheduled in the aftermath of the cancellation of South by Southwest. Commission Chair Rick Carney had hoped the meeting would present an opportunity for the music community to discuss measures to aid local venues, artists and others impacted by the cancellation of the 10-day festival, which accounts for approximately 25 percent of annual revenue for many music-related businesses in Austin. Carney wrote in a note: “The cancellation of SXSW was just the beginning of this crisis; this pandemic is threatening all aspects of the music business and the livelihoods of everyone involved. The Music Commission is fully committed to seeking disaster relief for musicians, venues, venue staff and music businesses victimized by this disaster.”
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Tai Moses
City utilities implement courtesy reconnects
In addition to suspending disconnects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, city utilities are reaching out to residential customers who have recently been disconnected for non-payment of their bills. According to the city, the utilities have “prioritized customers who may have had difficulty making payments at area stores due to long lines and staffing shortages” and “instituted courtesy reconnects, making payment arrangements that meet customers’ financial needs.” The goal is to “ensure customers have uninterrupted access to water, electricity and other city utilities.” Austin Energy’s Deputy General Manager Kerry Overton said the city “is committed to keeping customers safe and healthy. We are here to work with our customers and make sure everyone’s utilities are restored.” Those without service should call (512) 494-9400 for help. Find more information here.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Ryan Thornton
Cap Metro board holds emergency meeting on COVID-19
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors will hold an emergency meeting this morning at 9 a.m., streaming live at the agency’s website. Thus far, in response to COVID-19, the agency has only cut services on its dozen shuttles that service students and faculty at the University of Texas. Agency spokesperson Mariette Hummel said the team is working all day every day to be able to respond in real time and implement any schedule changes as needed. Capital Metro is asking anyone who may be sick to refrain from traveling, and to limit non-essential travel to the greatest extent possible. It remains unlikely that transit service will be halted, though temporary schedule changes may be necessary. Capital Metro is enhancing its daily cleaning operations to add a disinfectant to commonly touched surfaces like handrails, door handles and stop request buttons. As is the case across the world, system ridership is down sharply, with MetroRail trains nearly empty yesterday, but Hummel added that ridership, and the revenue it generates for the agency, is not anyone’s primary concern at this point. Still, the crisis will certainly have an effect on sales tax revenue, which constitutes the bulk of Capital Metro’s funding operations. Economists are sounding warnings of a national recession, which could have an impact on the city’s anticipated property tax revenue election to fund its historic transit investment, Project Connect.
Monday, March 16, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Newman endorses Ann Howard in Precinct 3
Shiloh Newman, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 3, endorsed Ann Howard last week. Howard, who won 48 percent of the vote, will face Valinda Bolton in a runoff scheduled for May 26. The other candidate in the race, Sheri Soltes, has not indicated whether she intends to endorse either candidate. The winner of the runoff will face Republican Becky Bray in November. In the Republican primary for House District 47, former Council Member Don Zimmerman has endorsed Jennifer Fleck. Zimmerman, who had a one-vote margin over Justin Berry on election night, was behind by one vote after a count of late ballots. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Rep. Vikki Goodwin in November.
Monday, March 16, 2020 by Tai Moses
City revises lease for RHDA-funded properties
The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department wants to expand and strengthen the tenant protections in its Rental Housing Development Assistance leases, used by tenants in RHDA-funded affordable housing. The department consulted with local developers and the tenant-rights organization BASTA to develop the proposed revisions, which are intended to “ensure transparency and compliance” for both tenants and property owners, says NHCD. Said James May, NHCD’s community development manager, “A lease agreement is a binding contract, with terms and conditions that can be complicated for those unfamiliar with them. Any way the city can help facilitate that understanding is a win for everyone involved.” To see the specific details on the revisions, visit RHDA Lease Addendum. Community members can give feedback during the 30-day public comment period, which ends April 13. Email comments to NHCD@austintexas.gov and include your name, address and phone number.
Monday, March 16, 2020 by Tai Moses
Safety contest invites submissions from young filmmakers
Safe Routes to School, an educational program from Austin Public Works, invites all seventh- and eighth-graders to enter its first annual Lights, Camera, Safety PSA Contest. To enter, students create a PSA – a public safety announcement – about being safe while walking and biking. Safe Routes to School “provides and trains crossing guards, teaches students how to walk and bicycle more safely, and partners with communities to improve students’ routes to school.” Sahiti Karempudi, who coordinates the program, says, “We want to give young filmmakers a platform to use their creativity for a good cause. We also want students to build on the lessons they learned from our program in elementary school to teach their peers about walking and biking safely.” The winning videos will be broadcast in middle schools across the city and winners will receive gift cards to Alamo Drafthouse. Submissions are open from March 10-30. Winners will be announced May 20. See contest guidelines and rules on the Lights, Camera, Safety website.
Friday, March 13, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Travillion running for county judge
County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally resigned Tuesday to run for the Texas Senate. On Wednesday night, her colleague, County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, declared his intent to run for Travis County Judge. Travillion, who was first elected to serve Precinct 1 in 2016, announced his candidacy in a statement that can be read in full below, touting endorsements from an impressive array of elected officials.
Friday, March 13, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Council may talk elections on Tuesday
City Council may hold a special called meeting on Tuesday, March 17, in order to address a possible vacancy on Council. The vacancy would occur if Council Member Greg Casar opts to run for the Texas Senate to fill Kirk Watson’s seat. That would leave Casar’s District 4 seat open until January, as Council cannot appoint someone to serve out the rest of his term, which ends this year. To remedy that, the city will have to hold a special election, likely in May. In an email to Council offices, City Clerk Jannette Goodall notes a complicating factor, saying, “As a reminder, the governor has not set the date for the Special Election to fill Senator Watson’s vacancy; therefore while we are posted for 3 p.m., we may have to recess and reconvene if the governor has not set the date. Positive thoughts that this will be a non-issue.”
Friday, March 13, 2020 by Tai Moses
A splash of good news
The Save Our Springs Alliance wants to remind you that Barton Springs Pool, the crown jewel of Austin, is opening for the season this Saturday, March 14, at 5 a.m. Admission is free until 8 a.m., when the regular gate fee kicks in. Regular swimmers should consider buying a family season pass, which is good for two adults and two kids, whether you’re a family or a group of friends and neighbors. The pool is closed Thursdays for cleaning but the greenbelt is open daily for hiking. Parks and Recreation wants everyone to get outside for spring break, with a common-sense reminder to use best practices to stay safe and healthy.
Thursday, March 12, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Selvera endorses Garza
With the Travis County Attorney race headed to a runoff, former candidate Dominic Selvera has thrown his support behind Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza. Selvera won 7.53 percent of the vote on March 3. Garza, who won 38.91 percent, will face off against Laurie Eiserloh, who won 42.2 percent of the vote and the endorsement of the fourth person in the race, Mike Denton. Selvera explained his support in a Twitter thread:
1/7 When we began our campaign for Travis County Attorney in early 2019, our goal was to bring true criminal justice reform to our community by ending the cash bail system, ending the war on drugs, and decriminalizing homelessness. pic.twitter.com/QEkqmUZrBu
— Dominic Selvera 🌹 (@nicselvera) March 10, 2020
Artist pool deadline is today
Today is the deadline for local artists wishing to apply for the Corridor Construction Program Artist Pool. Artists in the pool have the opportunity to be considered for Art in Public Places projects, such as the upcoming Anderson Mill Road Regional Mobility Project, slated to start construction this summer. Visit the website for full details, eligibility and submission requirements.
Lifeguards needed for summer season
Sure, it’s barely spring, but the Aquatic Division of Parks and Recreation is thinking ahead to summer. In order to fully staff Austin’s dozens of community and neighborhood swimming pools and splash pads, the division needs 518 more lifeguards (there’s supposed to be 750 in place by May). The Aquatic Division will be hosting training classes over spring break and those who qualify may receive training scholarships. Lifeguards make $15/hour, get free bus passes, enjoy flexible schedules and get to work outdoors. No prior experience necessary. Apply in person at the Aquatic Division office, 2818 San Gabriel St., from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., or online. Find more information on PARD Aquatic jobs here.
Southwest Parkway project underway
The city contractor has begun making street improvements to a section of Southwest Parkway to provide enhanced safety and pavement quality for motorists. The project is expected to take six to eight weeks, weather permitting, and will take place weekdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and weekends from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. According to the news release, “Work will consist of surface milling, asphalt overlay, striping and installation of traffic signal loop indicators. The limits of the project are both eastbound and westbound lanes on Southwest Parkway from S Mopac Service Road to Mission Oaks Boulevard. Some lane closures may be in effect during working hours. Vehicles will always have access on SW Parkway in both directions.”
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
LDC case to be heard today
After a brief postponement, the protest-rights lawsuit against the city of Austin will be heard today at 2 p.m. at the Travis County Courthouse. The group of Austin homeowners that filed suit against the city argues that property owners have the right to formally protest the rezoning of their land under the Land Development Code rewrite currently underway. The city, of course, disagrees with this interpretation of the law. If the lawsuit is successful, it could change the shape of the rewrite and how the citywide rezoning is implemented.
Virus fears impact region’s blood supply
Multiple blood drives have been canceled this week due to fears of coronavirus infection, leaving Central Texas hospitals and medical centers facing the possibility of critical shortages of blood in the near future. We Are Blood, which is the exclusive provider of blood and platelets to a 10-county area of Central Texas, has issued an “urgent, community-wide plea” for healthy people to donate blood. “(We) are seeing a downturn in blood donations as concern grows in our community,” said WAB’s Nick Canedo. “We want Central Texans to know it is safe to donate blood at our donor centers and mobile drives, and that blood and platelet donations made now will help us meet local patient needs while preparing our community for further impacts from the coronavirus in coming weeks.” Prospective donors may visit any of We Are Blood’s three Austin-area donor centers, and mobile blood drives are scheduled weekly. Not sure if you’re eligible to donate? Read this FAQ. “Making a blood or platelet donation now, or scheduling a donation for this week, will help mitigate lost blood donations due to mobile drive cancellations and prepare us for any further decreases in blood donations in our community,” Canedo said.
Panelists discuss impact of school closures
UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis and the UT Opportunity Forum are hosting a panel discussion about an issue that’s been top of mind for many Austinites: school closures. Austin ISD is one of many school districts that is in the process of closing or consolidating schools, which is “raising issues of equity and access, and questions about the impact on black and brown communities.” Lunch is provided at this free event, but seating is limited. Find a complete list of panelists and RSVP here. Friday, March 27, 11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m., University of Texas School of Law, Francis Auditorium in Townes Hall, 727 E. Dean Keeton St.
B-cycle goes electric
Thanks to a new pilot launched by the city and Capital Metro, 200 more B-cycles are hitting the streets of Austin. B-cycle is phasing out its current standard bikes in favor of electric models. According to the Transportation Department, “The first e-bikes will roll out this spring along with new docking stations that are more flexible, allowing for the shape and number of docks to be arranged in a way best suited to each location.” So get ready for a better, smoother, faster commute.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Eiserloh picks up Denton’s endorsement
Former Judge Mike Denton, who came in third in the race for the Democratic nomination for Travis County Attorney on March 3, endorsed Assistant County Attorney Laurie Eiserloh on Monday, declaring that she is the best candidate to enact criminal justice reform. Precinct 4 Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who supported Denton in the primary, former Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder stood under a canopy across from the county courthouse in spotty showers to tell the public to vote for Eiserloh in the runoff against Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza. Garza was the first Latina elected to City Council, but Gómez was the first Latina elected commissioner. All those endorsing Eiserloh emphasized her experience, which includes 27 years practicing law, including her current position as the head of the labor law division in the County Attorney’s Office. Barrientos said during his years of public service, “I’ve come to appreciate deeply the qualifications of the individuals who were elected. It’s so, so important. … In some of the positions like this one, you don’t have that much time to get on-the-job training, and Eiserloh has vast experience, a record of compassion and innovative programs that she intends to push.” Eiserloh led into the runoff with 42 percent of the vote to Garza’s 39 percent. The runoff is scheduled for May 26. Since there is no Republican candidate in the race, the winner will become county attorney when the current occupant of the office, David Escamilla, retires at the end of this year.