Whispers

Monday, February 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

APH looks back on a year of Covid

Feb. 5 marked one year since Austin Public Health started monitoring returning travelers “for a mysterious respiratory illness, now known as Covid-19.” Today the city health department has expanded from monitoring Covid in the community to a program of “robust case investigation, testing, vaccination, and social services operations,” according to a news release. APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said, “Our staff has been incredible in responding to Covid-19 over the past year and our work is not done. While vaccine has started flowing into the community, we cannot let up our guard just yet. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to get out of the surge we continue to face.” APH has compiled the following statistics that tell the tale of the department’s battle to contain the pandemic in Austin and Travis County:

  • 412,470 APH staff hours spent on Covid-19
  • 39,650 people vaccinated by APH
  • 153,571 tests administered by APH
  • 422 written warnings issued to restaurants/bars by APH Environmental Health Officers
  • 240 child care providers given health and safety supplies
  • 45 press conferences and media availabilities held
  • 1,038,302 emails sent through community distribution lists
  • 1,910 translated documents and graphics

Monday, February 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

DSD pilot resolves conflicting comments

A new Development Services Department pilot project aims “to help keep complex projects on track,” according to a news release from the department. Site plans with Master Comment Reports that receive two or more conflicting review comments are eligible for participation. DSD explains: “Your Master Comment Report should include a link inviting eligible customers to participate in the pilot. If your report includes comments that conflict with one another, selecting this option will trigger a review by the staff providing the comments. You will receive follow-up notification after reviewers determine an alternative that allows your project to move forward in a compliant manner.” DSD hopes the project will “help customers save time and money by finding appropriate solutions quickly and efficiently.”

 


Friday, February 5, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Save Austin Now petition validated

A ballot initiative that seeks to reinstate the city’s ban on camping in public places will likely go before voters on May 1. On Thursday the city clerk verified the validity of the petition submitted by the nonprofit group Save Austin Now, which turned in 27,000 signatures last month. The petition needed 20,000 valid signatures to make it onto the ballot. The push for reinstatement of the camping ban and prohibition of sitting and lying down in most public places is Save Austin Now’s attempt to alter the city’s management of a growing homeless population. The ordinance changes approved by City Council in mid-2019 were seen as a way to decriminalize homelessness, launching a still-hot-button debate over the presence of homeless encampments in various parts of the city. Save Austin Now attempted to put the issue before voters last year but the clerk’s office found that petition lacked enough valid signatures. The next administrative step for the effort will give Council the option – by Feb. 12 – to adopt the proposed action without an election or call for the election. The issue is expected to be discussed at a special Council meeting on Feb. 9.


Friday, February 5, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

AYD president Ramos says goodbye

Austin Young Democrats will host a celebratory roast of outgoing president Jen Ramos today, ahead of an election on Feb. 11 that will decide the group’s next leadership. Ramos served two terms as president of the young Dems, and was the first Latina to hold that position in the organization. The roast is being held via a private online meeting and will be overseen by local political consultant Ed Espinoza and drag performer Senator Colleen DeForrest. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the group’s Promise Fund, with the goal of gathering $7,000 that will be used for grants to youth organizers who have faced financial hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a prepared statement, Ramos said, “I am humbled by the growth and opportunities provided to me by the Austin Young Democrats after six years of growth and friendship. It only feels right to pay it forward.  We must invest in the leaders of today and tomorrow to build on an America as good as its Promise. I hope that The Promise Fund will create an opportunity for equity and support in the political space, long past my years in leadership with the organization.”


Friday, February 5, 2021 by Tai Moses

Panel explores mobility in Austin

Movability’s annual Mayor’s Mobility Breakfast and Award Ceremony, which will be held virtually this year, will feature a Q&A with Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke and Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Huston-Tillotson University president and Austin Transit Partnership board member. The event “will also recognize leading employers who support multi-modal and alternative transportation options in an engaging, informative and entertaining video,” according to an Austin Transportation Department newsletter. The panel is open to all community members interested in learning “how Austin uses mobility options, what the future holds and how mobility touches every aspect of our lives, from affordability to equity.” Wednesday, Feb. 10, 8:45 a.m. Register here to attend.


Friday, February 5, 2021 by Tai Moses

Hancock Conservancy holds town halls

The Hancock Conservancy has scheduled two virtual town hall events to publicize and answer questions from the community about its goal of “transforming Hancock Golf Course into a green space and public park.” The first town hall, Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., will be an information and Q&A session for local neighbors. The second town hall, Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., will feature PARD Assistant Director Anthony Segura. Both events will be streamed live on the conservancy’s Facebook page. Read the Monitor’s coverage herehere and here to get up to speed on the issue.

 


Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

UK Covid-19 variant confirmed in Travis County

Austin Public Health announced Wednesday that the UK variant of Covid-19 – B.1.1.7. – has been detected in Travis County. In a press release about the confirmed case, Austin Public Health notes, “Covid-19 variants have been likely in Austin-Travis County for weeks, after a Harris County man with no history of travel was discovered to have a variant. APH lab testing will detect the coronavirus, but at this time, extended lab testing is required to determine the variant strains under the coronavirus umbrella at this time.” Because not all labs are able to test for the variants, APH’s Covid-19 dashboards will not distinguish cases by variant at this time. In a statement to the press, Dr. Mark Escott took a measured tone, saying, “It is common for viruses to mutate, especially when the original virus is in the community longer. Based on everything we have heard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the variants are potentially more contagious than the original virus, they are not more deadly. … From our understanding, currently approved vaccines are effective against the variants, and while this may be a reason to reemphasize the importance of prevention measures, it is not cause for alarm.”


Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Tai Moses

Reilly Elementary gets rain-ready

Reilly Elementary School is celebrating its readiness for the rainy season with five new rain gardens and 12 cisterns placed around the campus that will collect thousands of gallons of rainfall each year from roofs and parking lots. The project was completed by the Watershed Protection Department and will be used as a demo site to educate the community about the city’s Rain Catcher Pilot Program. As the news release explains, “Catching and slowly releasing stormwater will reduce the erosion and flooding problems on the property and improve the water quality and flow in the nearby Waller Creek. The rain gardens accommodate a variety of landscape conditions, and the different designs showcase that rain gardens can serve as turf lawns for recreation, habitats for wildlife or traditional gardens.” The project took first place in the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies 2020 Green Infrastructure Awards. Watch the virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony here.


Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Tai Moses

PARD lifts burn ban

The beginning of February has brought cooler temps and rainfall to the region, leading the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to lift the burn restrictions that have been in effect in all Austin parks, greenbelts and preserves. Grills, fire rings and propane stoves may be used in designated picnic areas. As always, smoking is prohibited in all city parks.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021 by Tai Moses

There’s a blog for that

No doubt you’ve heard about the ongoing city process called Reimagining Public Safety. Since there are so many questions – and some confusion – about the process, the city has launched a blog to keep track of the multipronged initiative and what people – community members, city leaders, experts – are saying and thinking about it. The city announcement explains, “You will find a variety of posts that will help you better understand everything the city is doing to create a public safety capability that works for everyone, as well as information on how you can provide input and make your voice heard.” For starters, one blog post tackles the question, “Does reimagining public safety mean defunding the police?” (No.) See a list of all blog posts.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021 by Tai Moses

Help make Austin better for Austin

Austin’s 9 Joint Inclusion Commissions are preparing the Fiscal Year 2022 budget recommendations with the goal of informing city leaders about the programs and services needed in order for the community to flourish. Several boards and commissions are collaborating this year to host three town hall meetings:

  • Public Safety: Tuesday, Feb. 9, 6:30-8 p.m.
  • Health and Environment: Thursday, Feb. 11, 6:30-8 p.m.
  • Economic Opportunity, Culture, and Affordability: Wednesday, Feb. 17, 6:30-8 p.m.

To register for a section, complete a short questionnaire. Zoom links will be sent to you after registration. If you can’t attend a section but still want to give feedback, complete the city’s Age-Friendly Austin Community Survey. Feedback from the survey will be shared with the The Joint Inclusion Commissions: African American Resource Advisory Commission, Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission, Commission on Immigrant Affairs, Commission on Seniors, Commission for Women, Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission, Human Rights Commission, LGBTQIA+ Quality of Life Advisory Commission, and the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For more information, visit austintexas.gov/budget. Feedback can also be emailed to  budgetqa@austintexas.gov

 

This whisper has been expanded to include the 9 Joint Inclusion Commissions, not just the Commission on Seniors.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021 by Tai Moses

Keep chickens, be happy

The city is still offering free chicken-keeping classes, but like so many other things, they’ve gone online. Hosted by the Austin Resource Recovery Home Rebate Program – which offers eligible participants a $75 rebate toward purchasing a chicken coop – the class teaches “the art of keeping chickens from a skilled instructor.” Not only do backyard chickens present an opportunity to recycle your food scraps (by eating them), their poop helps create healthy soil for your garden. And did we mention the fresh eggs? Chickens are also intelligent, personable birds who can learn tricks in their spare time. Tuesday, Feb. 9, 6-7 p.m. Register on Eventbrite.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Robinson joins mayor pro tem’s staff

Kelan Robinson, who has worked at City Hall and for the development-oriented outfits Austin FC and the Downtown Austin Alliance, started his new job Monday as chief of staff for Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. Harper-Madison told the Austin Monitor via text, “I’m super excited to have Kelan bring his energy and seasoned knowledge of City Hall to Team District 1. My mantra for 2021 is ‘housing, housing, housing,’ and Kelan has the experience and skills that will be indispensable as my team and I make a big push for expanded affordability, equity and access to opportunity for the residents of District 1 and all of Austin.” Robinson is also on the boards of the nonprofit Six Square and the urbanist group AURA.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021 by Tai Moses

Federal mask mandate starts today

The Biden administration’s federal mask mandate goes into effect today, requiring all users of public transit to wear face masks in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. Capital Metro issued an announcement reminding its customers that “new federal regulations now require customers to wear masks while on transit vehicles and when at our facilities. The face masks must cover your nose and mouth and attach around the ears. Bandanas and other single-ply fabric coverings do not meet this new requirement and will be prohibited.” Read the full order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021 by Tai Moses

AISD trustees move meeting day

From now on, the AISD Board of Trustees’ regular voting meetings will be held the second Thursday of each month (except for July, when the board does not meet). According to a news release from the school district, the trustees also agreed on a “change to the number of board members needed to request a Special or Emergency Meeting from two members to three. This change will not affect public testimony or public comment. The process will continue to be the same but will be moved to Thursdays. Additional changes regarding agenda setting and approval will be considered at future board meetings.”


Tuesday, February 2, 2021 by Tai Moses

Humane Society organizes food bank for pets

While many Austinites are struggling to pay rent and put groceries on the table these days, some are also having a tough time feeding the furry members of their families. In an effort to help, the Austin Humane Society has launched the Pet Food Pantry, distributing bags of pet food to those in need. The next AHS Pet Food Pantry will be held Saturday, Feb. 13, 9 a.m.-noon, rain or shine, 124 W. Anderson Lane. First come, first served; supplies are limited. Find more details about the event here.


Monday, February 1, 2021 by Tai Moses

City hires first civil rights officer

Starting Feb. 16, Carol Johnson will become Austin’s first-ever civil rights officer. According to a city announcement about her appointment, she “will develop and monitor a clear vision for the Civil Rights Office, advance the city’s non-discrimination efforts, and promote outreach, education, and awareness events for both businesses and community stakeholders.” Johnson said she was “honored to be appointed as the city of Austin’s first Civil Rights Officer and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead in leading the City’s Civil Rights Office toward providing racial and social equity and inclusion for Austin residents.” Formerly the executive director of the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission, Johnson also served as civil rights director for the state of Oregon and director for the programs and compliance branch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 


Monday, February 1, 2021 by Tai Moses

What’s new at APH

Austin Public Health is opening a third vaccination site in northern Travis County that is by appointment only, no walk-ups. The address will be shared with those who have appointments. Residents in Phase 1A who received their first doses from the first allocation from the state health department will start getting their second doses this week. According to APH, people “do not need to get their second dose precisely four weeks after their first dose (for Moderna). The vaccine will be equally effective if they receive it up to 40 days later.” As of Jan. 29, APH has distributed 30,000 first doses of the Covid vaccine. About 80,000 people have signed up on the city’s pre-registration site who fit into Phase 1A or 1B, and over 500,000 in 1A or 1B in Austin-Travis County. APH’s news release says, “We are asking the public to be patient with our teams, as the vaccine doses are still very limited. APH is seeking to vaccinate the community as equitably and efficiently as possible. While the vaccine is still limited in Austin-Travis County, we will continue to survey the community to identify those in Phase 1A and 1B.”


Friday, January 29, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Public Works takes on trash problem

Anyone who has driven along East Riverside Drive, or next to the underpasses along Ben White Boulevard, or more than 60 other locations, has seen a disturbing sight –  mounds of trash, sometimes in piles, sometimes simply scattered across the ground. Austin’s Public Works Department personnel and contractor Relief Enterprises are working daily to clean the right-of-way on East Riverside and 63 underpasses, according to Public Works spokeswoman Elizabeth Ferrer, and the city’s Watershed Protection Department works to clean up watershed areas. Ferrer explained that Relief Enterprises is the same firm TxDOT used when it was doing the cleanups, so the company has a lot of experience. In an email, she told the Austin Monitor, “The 64 locations are on a scheduled monthly rotation to ensure continuity and equal coverage of every site … the Riverside location was cleaned yesterday and will be cleaned again in March.” Ferrer explained that the monthly cleanups are not homeless encampment sweeps and that no one is being relocated. “These are strictly to conduct trash and debris removal in the city’s right-of-way.” The contractor and city staff give advance notice to anyone living in the targeted areas so they can put their possessions in a tent or other shelter before the cleanup begins.


Friday, January 29, 2021 by Tai Moses

PARD postpones summer programs

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department is delaying its summer camps and aquatic programming due to the uncertainty around how long the pandemic will last and when vaccines will be available. Summer camp registration typically begins in February and aquatic programming in April; but with the city and county in Stage 5 of the Covid-19 risk-based guidelines, PARD is not able to set new registration dates for any summer programs. In a news release, PARD explains that the postponement will allow it, and the Austin Public Health Department, to “consider the local characteristics of the virus as vaccine distribution evolves” and offer in-person programming when it is safe to do so. “Delaying registration until there is a path forward for the safe delivery of programming can eliminate concerns related to program cancellations and refunds. … PARD continues to work closely with state and local health authorities to make operational decisions that ensure both the health and safety of participants, families, and PARD employees.”


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