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Whispers

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Mini Traffic Jam tonight in Oak Hill

The Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority have been hosting the Traffic Jam series to familiarize the public with Project Connect and all things transit-related. Over the next few weeks, mini Traffic Jams have been added to the program, six in North Austin and six in South Austin. The next mini jam is tonight, May 8, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Austin Public Library Hampton Branch at Oak Hill, 5125 Convict Hill Road.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Parking meter hours extended in Central East Austin

Effective yesterday morning, the on-street, metered parking hours in Central East Austin are now 8 a.m. to 11:59 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The new parking rules cover Interstate 35 to Chicon Street and East 11th Street to Lady Bird Lake, where the hours were previously 6 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Over the next two weeks, parking enforcement officers will issue warning citations as residents get used to the new hours. The new hours are an attempt to circulate traffic and create turnover, the Austin Transportation Department said in a press release, as the department has been hearing complaints from stakeholders about unavailability of daytime parking in the area.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

ABIA expansion in full swing

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is expanding, and the airport has released a video sneak peek inside the construction efforts. The project is adding nine gates to the terminal, which will contain an additional 88,359 square feet of concourse, hold rooms, concessions and retail space. There will also be a new outdoor patio space that will overlook the east runway. Watch the video below, and head over to the airport’s blog post for more details.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Name the Travis County Tax Office

Travis County has opened up the call for suggestions for names for the Travis County Tax Office at 5501 Airport Blvd. Any person or group is welcome to make a recommendation. If a recommendation commemorates an individual, a biographical sketch of the individual must be included. Only names of persons who have made a significant contribution to Travis County will be considered. Recommendations must be made in writing to Roger A. El Khoury, M.S., P.E., Director, Travis County Facilities Management Department, P.O. Box 1748, Austin, Texas 78767, or by email to roger.elkhoury@traviscountytx.gov. The submission deadline is Monday, June 11. A public discussion will follow on Tuesday, June 19, at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners Courtroom at 700 Lavaca St.


Monday, May 7, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

New screening guide will assist landlords with background checks

Rental housing providers have access to new resources intended to help them comply with fair housing regulations related to tenants with criminal backgrounds. The Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable has released a new background screening guide that was created to give property owners and managers guidance on legal terminology, how to calculate a look-back period and how to conduct individual reviews in compliance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The screening guide was created by a coalition of local organizations including the Austin Apartment Association, the Austin Tenants’ Council, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and the University of Texas Law School’s Community Development Clinic. Approximately one in three Texas residents have a criminal background, and it is hoped that uniform local practices for conducting background checks will make it easier for those with low likelihood of follow-up legal issues to find safe and stable housing. The guide can be accessed at www.reentryroundtable.net.


Monday, May 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Pushing the pedals

Bike to Work Day returns for its eighth year on Friday, May 18. Fifty-two cities are participating in this nationwide event, where regular and nonregular bicyclists are encouraged to ditch their cars and head to work on two wheels. Here in Austin, cycling commuters will be rewarded with free food and drinks at more than two dozen “fueling stations” throughout the city, organized by local bicycling advocacy organization Bike Austin. There’s more than just snacks at these stations: C3 Presents will be giving away a pair of tickets to this year’s Austin City Limits Festival, and the TownLake YMCA is opening up its doors, offering free passes and shower use in its facilities. Riders are encouraged to visit multiple fueling stations with the Passport Program. Pick up a passport at the first station you visit and get it stamped at each stop. Then, after work, head to the after-party at Cheer Up Charlies from 5 to 7 p.m., where you can redeem each stamp for one entry in a drawing for prizes like gift cards to local restaurants and have a drink with fellow bikers. Cheer Up Charlies is donating 10 percent of all after-party bar sales to Bike Austin, and there will be live music from local Americana artist Nichole Wagner and singer-songwriter Jonathan Brinkley.


Monday, May 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Austin Energy recognized for solar efforts

Austin Energy made it on the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s 11th annual top 10 list of utilities that connected the most solar to the grid. The utility installed 285.9 MW of solar power last year, earning it a sixth-place ranking on the list. “The Austin City Council has consistently directed Austin Energy to be a leader among cities in the pursuit of solar energy,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy general manager, in the utility’s press release. “We appreciate SEPA’s recognition, which places Austin Energy among the nation’s top utilities for solar deployment.” The release states that over 7,500 Austinites utilize solar power in their homes or businesses, and this number is growing. In 2017, rooftop solar grew by 22 percent, and Austin Energy “saw a 2.5 fold increase in utility scale solar, with a total of 464 MW operational. Another 320 MW are under contract and expected to be energized by 2020, bringing Austin Energy to over 50 percent renewable once online.”


Monday, May 7, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Hacking for the greater good

Every year, St. Edward’s University, in partnership with Open Austin, Google Fiber and the city’s Innovation Office, hosts the ATX Hack for Change competition to provide computer programming-savvy Austinites with a chance to use their skills to improve their community. Now in its sixth iteration, the hackathon is open to residents over the age of 16 with all backgrounds, interests and levels of experience. This year’s competition runs from June 1-3: Check out the event website to see projects from previous winners and register to participate.


Friday, May 4, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Soccer input series kicks off

City staff has been hard at work preparing its analysis on the benefits of the use of the publicly owned tract of land at McKalla Place as a Major League Soccer stadium. The resolution asking for this analysis, which City Council passed on March 22, also called for a community engagement process to collect the public’s thoughts on the matter. In response, staff has scheduled three information sessions. There will be two on May 8 at the Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive, one beginning at 6 p.m. and one beginning at 7 p.m., and one on May 10 at 7 p.m. at the Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive. Staff’s report to Council is due June 1.


Friday, May 4, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

The Barton Springs salamanders crawl back to Austin

Every year in April, Austin’s environmental officer releases a report on the state of our environment to remind citizens that their tax dollars really do go to work to make a difference in the world they live in. One of the most noteworthy parts of this year’s report is the reappearance of the Barton Spring salamander. Long associated with Barton Springs, the Barton Springs salamander actually roams far and wide through the aquifers and springs of Central Texas and serves as a water quality indicator. At the last meeting of the Environmental Commission, Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak said during his presentation of the report that this year, staff biologists documented the presence of this endangered species at four springs along Barton and Onion creeks where it had never before been spotted. A project that has been a boon for the endangered salamanders is the Eliza Stream Daylighting Project, which has restored approximately 250 square feet of salamander stream habitat. According to Lesniak, the results of the Watershed Protection Department’s efforts have been almost immediately apparent. Since the Eliza project was completed last September, “we’re starting to see mosses and invertebrates in that stream which are the salamanders’ food sources,” he said. Now that the population numbers are climbing, Lesniak said staff biologists are collecting DNA sequence data from salamanders to determine whether they migrate between different springs and watersheds and to help us understand them better as a species.

This whisper has been corrected to identify the salamander as the Barton Springs salamander.


Friday, May 4, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

City prepares for transparency appraisal

Next week the city will receive an assessment of its efforts to increase transparency around issues such as homelessness, a tool to increase equity, public meetings, the Open and Smart Advisory Committee and an online project tracking tool. The city’s participation in the Open Government Partnership that includes more than 70 nations and more than 20 local governments spurred the push to improve accountability and transparency. The OGP conducted the independent assessment. There will be two public forums on May 8 to discuss the findings: 2:30 p.m. at Austin History Center and 6 p.m. at the city’s Office of Innovation. The events will also include an outline of the work of the Office of Innovation and a discussion with Open Austin about its work in the OGP process, and will serve as a kickoff for the next round of projects that will seek to increase transparency in other city departments and functions.


Friday, May 4, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Sneak a peek at Colony Park

The city will give the public a look at the future of Colony Park, its next large-scale transit-oriented development project, later this month. The open house and preview at 6:30 p.m. on May 24 at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center will include a video presentation from Catellus Development Corporation – one of the development companies on the short list for the Colony Park selection process – on the firm’s plans for the project, with attendees asked to score and give input on what’s ahead for the 208-acre development in Northeast Austin. Input will help in the selection of the final master developer. The city is hoping to turn the property into a hotbed of affordable housing units, retail and office space, a job training center and possibly a center for future mass transit. Catellus, which led the redevelopment of the Mueller Airport property more than a decade ago, is currently the only company on the short list for Colony Park after Stratus Properties Inc. asked to be removed from consideration earlier this year.


Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Young Lawyers Association hosts resource fair for Austin women

The 11th iteration of the Women’s Resource Fair, hosted by the Austin Young Lawyers Association, is this weekend. The fair offers a number of resources to Austin women and children in need of services such as legal assistance, job skills and financial counseling, medical care, haircuts, a clothing closet and more. Child care is provided on-site, as well as breakfast and lunch. All women and children are welcome, and there are no income qualifications or prerequisites for participation. The fair is this Saturday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Schmidt-Jones Family Life Center, 1300 Lavaca St. Those who would like to volunteer or provide a service that’s not on the list can email womensresourcefair@hotmail.com. Resources in Spanish will be available.


Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Katy McElroy

Manley makes the rounds

As the Austin Monitor reported on Monday, the wheels are in motion for Austin to get a permanent police chief. Many have been speculating that City Manager Spencer Cronk would promote Interim Police Chief Brian Manley to the position. In a slight twist, however, Cronk has announced that Manley instead is simply a finalist – albeit the only finalist. Over the next few weeks, the sole finalist will share his platform in a number of public appearances, and after this, the city manager will decide whether to officially appoint him to police chief or open the playing field up to other potential candidates. As part of the engagement process, the city and KLRU-TV are co-hosting two public forums. The first is on Monday, May 7, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center, 7201 Colony Loop Drive, and the second is on Thursday, May 17, 7-8:30 p.m. at the KLRU Studio, 2504-B Whitis Ave., on the University of Texas campus.


Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Bus fares for kids go on summer vacation

Kids in Austin will ride the bus for free this summer under a new pilot program announced Wednesday morning by Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority President and CEO Randy Clarke. The program is one of three the agency is branding together as its Summer Sun, Late Nights and Family Fun initiative set to run from June 8 to Sept. 1. Under current agency rules, kids younger than 5 years old already ride sans fare. The new program will extend that exemption to include all kids through high school seniors. Additionally, the agency is expanding weekend MetroRail service to include runs to Leander until 1:45 a.m. on Fridays and to Lakeline until 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays. MetroRail will also provide all-day Saturday service starting at 10 a.m. rather than 4 p.m. on June 9, July 7 and Aug. 4. “These pilot initiatives respond directly to what I have been hearing from customers and partners during our customer engagement events,” Clarke said. “They enable us to use our existing services and investments to increase ridership and provide community-focused mobility solutions.”


Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Craig back at work part time

Welcome back to Ken Craig, who has returned to work on a part-time basis as senior policy adviser to District 5 City Council Member Ann Kitchen. Craig suffered serious injuries on Jan. 16 when his truck apparently hit ice on a Slaughter Lane overpass, went through a guardrail and fell 30 feet.  Craig told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday that he is still doing a lot of physical therapy. He said, “I’ve got the crew at St. David’s (hospital)” for physical therapy. “They’re fantastic.” For now, Craig said he is working three days a week.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Lobbyist Mike Kelly passes away

Mike Kelly, a staunch liberal Democrat who lobbied not only for paying clients but also for people whose causes he believed in, passed away on Tuesday, just three days before his 73rd birthday. His death was caused by a pneumonia-related illness following treatment for cancer. Kelly used his political skills to help elect Democrats in Oklahoma at a time when Oklahomans would still vote for Democrats. He and his wife, Teresa, moved to Austin, where he worked at the Texas Legislature for then-Sen. Hugh Parmer and later as a lobbyist. State Rep. Donna Howard said via email: “I’ve had the good fortune of knowing Mike for many years. He helped steer me in my initial run as a state representative and has been a dear friend and source of witty counsel. I will miss him and am holding his family in my heart.” Other friends noted that he was always willing to help younger people understand the workings of the Texas Legislature. Most recently, he worked in Bastrop for property owner Robert Leffingwell. He also spent many hours in the last few months trying to help Eddie Wilson, the owner of Threadgill’s, to ensure that the restaurant would retain a spot on the current property after it is redeveloped. Journalist and political consultant Glenn W. Smith said he had known Kelly since Kelly came to Austin. “He’s always been engaged. … Mike has kept all variety of different groups of people in our political town in contact with each other because he got along with everybody. … He grew up in Houston not far from me, although he was older. He’s been a loyal friend, entertaining – a man about town. His friendships cross all kinds of different political groups and personalities. He always seemed to know what was going on everywhere. And he was honest to a fault, which you really appreciate in a political town.” Kelly is survived by his wife, their daughter Kate, one grandson and many friends. His family is planning private services this week, with a memorial celebrating Mike’s life to be held later this spring. In lieu of flowers, the family has established a memorial in Mike’s name at the Girls Empowerment Network, PO Box 3122, Austin, TX 78764 or http://www.girlsempowermentnetwork.org.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Process begins to honor trailblazing tax assessor-collector

County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant on Tuesday proposed to the Travis County Commissioners Court to rename the office he works in after his predecessor, Nelda Wells Spears. The first African-American in Texas to serve as a tax assessor-collector, Spears spent 20 years in that role before stepping down in 2011. She died in March at the age of 71. In order to consider the proposal to rename the building at 5501 Airport Blvd., the court unanimously voted to issue a general call for recommendations from the public. Residents can submit their proposals – which must include a biographical sketch of recommended individuals who have made a significant contribution to Travis County – to Facilities Management Director Roger El Khoury by June 11. However, based on statements from the dais, it’s clear that Spears is the clear front-runner for the honor. “It would be a wonderful way to memorialize her,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. Commissioner Jeff Travillion added, “What she represents is so significant in this community: an L.C. Anderson (High School) grad, a person who grew up in the Greater Mount Zion Church, a true community person who lived an honorable life of public service.” The Commissioners Court is set to hold a public hearing on the proposed renaming at its June 19 regular voting session.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

Water rates sink

The Austin Water Utility has the rarest of good news for its retail customers. As of May 1, rates have gone down for residential, multifamily, commercial and large-volume customers. The average residential customer will see a monthly bill that is $2.40 lower. As a press release from the utility explains, “Refinancing and paying off loans early allowed the utility (to) keep the overall cost down and pass along the savings to ratepayers. Water usage rates were left unchanged in 2017 and then lowered mid-year in 2018. The new current low rates are expected to stay the same through 2018 and 2019.”


Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Katy McElroy

AISD appoints new police chief

The Austin Independent School District has a new police chief. After an exhaustive hiring process that drew candidates from across the nation for multiple interviews and screenings, Ashley Gonzalez was appointed to the position at Monday’s meeting of the board of trustees. His first day on the job will be Thursday, May 24. “Based on his expertise, years of experience and accomplishments, Ashley Gonzalez’s name stood out among the candidates. Particularly, his ability to lead a department, his extensive training in school safety and his reputation as being trustworthy and transparent brought him to the forefront,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said. “We wanted to ensure we had the best person for the job and the best fit for Austin ISD.” Gonzalez was previously deputy chief of police of Norwalk, Connecticut, where he oversaw a $24 million budget. Before he was chief of police, he served as patrol officer, detective, sergeant and lieutenant at the Norwalk Police Department. His achievements throughout his career, such as expanding the School Resource Officer program and handling a program that resulted in reduced juvenile recidivism called the Greater Norwalk Juvenile Review Board, demonstrate his focus on serving the youth in his community. He has an associate degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and he is currently working on a master’s in criminal justice.
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