Whispers

Monday, July 12, 2021 by Tai Moses

Temporary closure on Riverside Drive

The Austin Transportation Department will be temporarily closing Riverside Drive between South First Street and Barton Springs Road from July 16-18 to allow the road crew to dismantle a crane. There may be traffic delays, so motorists are advised to use alternate routes when traveling in the area.


Friday, July 9, 2021 by Tai Moses

Lifeguards returning to pools

Finally, it looks as if Austin’s lifeguard shortage may be drawing to a close. Parks and Recreation’s Aquatics Division recently announced that lifeguard staffing levels have improved, allowing it to increase access to city pools. All pools currently open will add one more weekend day to their schedules starting Sunday, July 11, “so pools currently in operation will be open for both days on the weekend, and pools will be open five days a week instead of four.” In a news release, the Aquatics Division lists the obstacles it had to surmount in order to achieve this feat, including “the yearlong hiring freeze due to the pandemic, reduced training capacity due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols, and fewer experienced lifeguards on the roster. Aquatics staff will continue to hire and train lifeguards on an ongoing basis to maintain staffing levels at year-round pools, and in anticipation of next summer.” Find complete pool hours and reopening updates here.


Friday, July 9, 2021 by Tai Moses

It’s never been easier to get vaccinated

The Central Texas Counties Vaccine Collaborative is hosting multiple Covid-19 vaccine distribution events throughout the county, including pop-up clinics at supermarkets and schools in various neighborhoods and a drive-thru clinic at the Travis County Exposition Center that’s open Saturday and Sunday. No appointments are required. Anyone age 12 and above qualifies to get their free first dose of the lifesaving Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. Kids ages 12-17 must have a parent or guardian’s consent and the parent or guardian must be present. Find the locations and times for all vaccination events here.


Friday, July 9, 2021 by Tai Moses

Free summer camp combines art and social justice

The Mexic-Arte Museum’s free yearly Nuestra Lucha/Our Struggle summer camp will be held at Akins High School for a two-week session: July 19-22 and July 26-29, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with lunch provided. Campers “will learn relief printing and screen printing and create a mixed media personal statement poster that reflects on a social justice issue of their choice,” according to the announcement. “Learn how to use art and expression as a powerful tool to create change!” For more information contact Education Associate Jose Martinez or reserve a spot here.


Thursday, July 8, 2021 by Tai Moses

Austin reaches target vaccination rate, but …

Austin Public Health has topped its goal of protecting 70 percent of residents over 12 years old with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, “60.8 percent of eligible Travis County residents have been fully vaccinated, and 70 percent have received at least one dose.” However, health officials say we’re not out of the woods yet. The emergence of the Delta variant “has prompted a reassessment of the minimum threshold for herd immunity as health experts call on communities and neighborhoods to help boost vaccination rates,” according to a news release. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Desmar Walkes said, “We continue to monitor our case numbers and hospital admissions as we know that there will be an impact on these due to the presence of the Delta variant. We will make adjustments in our recommendations accordingly. At the same time, the situation calls for everyone taking responsibility for themselves and determining their own level of risk.” Unvaccinated pockets of the population remain susceptible to being infected, leading to more dangerous mutations of the virus. Yesterday, Austin Public Health reported 159 new Covid cases “along with an increasing positivity rate of 4.3 percent,” Walkes said. “We are beginning to see an increase in Covid-19 cases in Travis County, similar to what has been seen in other parts of the country.”


Wednesday, July 7, 2021 by Tai Moses

Take the Palm District survey

The future of the Palm School has been top of mind for many Austinites concerned about this property that is a cultural touchstone for the Mexican American community. As the Housing and Planning Department works on developing a plan for the entire Palm District – the area on the eastern edge of downtown, bordered by Interstate 35 and Trinity Street, from Rainey Street to 15th Street – the city is seeking public input on the district’s future. Explore the district, take the Palm District Planning Survey on SpeakUpAustin and leave questions for the project team on the city’s project website.


Wednesday, July 7, 2021 by Tai Moses

Little ant has big impact

At the next entry in the Wild Neighbors Speaker Series, brought to you by Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, you’ll learn everything there is to know about the tawny crazy ant – along with some things you’ll wish you didn’t know. This highly invasive species, which was introduced from South America, is on the march throughout the Gulf Coast region, including Travis County, according to Dr. Ed LeBrun, a research scientist with the Department of Integrative Biology’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory at UT Austin. LeBrun will discuss the ant’s “impacts upon the natural systems it invades, its interaction with the current regionally dominant invasive ant, imported fire ants, and ongoing work towards sustainable control.” Friday, July 30, noon to 1 p.m. Register here for the webinar. Oh, and if you’re wondering why this little ant is called crazy, read this.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021 by Tai Moses

Housing and Planning gets new assistant director

Cupid S. Alexander will start his new position as assistant director of Austin’s Housing and Planning Department in early August. According to a news release from the city, Alexander “will oversee programming and policy implementation related to the department’s inclusive planning and displacement prevention initiatives.” At his current job, as division director of Neighborhoods, Housing and Human Services in Spokane, Washington, he “oversees a staff of 40 with five direct reports. His leadership and areas of expertise include community development; strategic planning; and program oversight to address numerous community services and projects to help improve life outcomes” in Spokane. Prior to that, he “designed and implemented public policy platforms and strategies regarding housing, economic development and community engagement on behalf of the Office of the Mayor and the city of Portland.”


Tuesday, July 6, 2021 by Tai Moses

APD debuts Pride car

Photo courtesy of Austin Police Department

At this year’s Pride Parade on Aug. 14, Austin Police Department representatives will be proudly driving the department’s brand-new Pride car, a shiny white vehicle festooned with brightly colored rainbow art, NOH8 logos, the hashtag #APDOUTANDPROUD and the department’s Pride patch. APD is the first police department in the state that has adopted its own Pride patch. The car was designed to represent “all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community,” according to a news release, which adds that APD feels “privileged to serve Austin’s vibrant community and continue to make strides in being true public servants to all.” APD recruiters will drive the new Pride car year-round.


Friday, July 2, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Update on Winter Storm Uri delayed

José Roig, director of the Austin Code Department, sent a memo to the mayor and City Council Thursday requesting an extension to July 21 to report “a comprehensive overview of the gaps and recommended improvements regarding the city’s emergency response” to events such as Winter Storm Uri. Council requested that the city manager develop tools and resources to address health and safety violations resulting from the winter storm and provide a final report to Council by June 1. City staff members provided a preliminary update on April 14 and a second update on June 4. The second update described code enforcement actions underway to try to require noncompliant property owners to appear before the Building and Standards Commission. Staffers also provided a Winter Storm Uri dashboard that tracks violations and progress toward remedying the violations. The dashboard shows that District 4 has by far the largest number of deficiencies cited, with 242 cases, compared with 86 in District 1, 36 in District 2 and 102 in District 3. District 7 had 91 cases and the other districts had fewer cases. Currently there are 112 active cases and 680 closed cases, according to the dashboard.


Friday, July 2, 2021 by Tai Moses

What’s closed on Fourth of July?

As you surely know, the Independence Day holiday falls on a Sunday this year, thus many city offices and facilities will be closed the following day, Monday. Among the closures are rec centers and senior centers and most museums (Elisabet Ney, Susanna Dickinson, George Washington Carver, O. Henry, Old Bakery and Emporium, Dougherty Arts, Mexican American Cultural Center and Asian American Resource Center). Austin Public Library branches, Austin Central Library and the Austin History Center will be closed Monday. There will be no changes to Austin Resource Recovery trash, recycling and compost collections, but ARR administrative offices will be closed Monday. City golf courses, tennis centers and Zilker Botanical Garden will be open as usual on Monday. Some swimming pools will be operating on modified schedules – check here for more info. Find details about Parks and Recreation closures here. The Austin Animal Center will be open on Sunday during normal hours, 11am-6pm, but will be closed Monday, July 5.


Thursday, July 1, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Tovo first to file midyear finance report

City Council Member Kathie Tovo is the first of her Council colleagues to file the required July 15 campaign finance report with the city clerk’s office. Tovo, who filed the report last week, reported that her campaign still owes her nearly $162,000 from her successful 2018 reelection bid. She reported expenditures for bank fees and for her website, but in accordance with city ordinance, she did not raise any money this year. If Tovo decided to run for a fourth term, she could do so by gathering signatures from her District 9 constituents starting this November for an anticipated reelection bid in November 2022. She could also decide to run for mayor in 2022, a really expensive proposition for a term that will be over at the end of 2024 since Austin voters decided mayoral elections should coincide with presidential elections.


Thursday, July 1, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Tatro appointed director of convention center

Trisha Tatro, who has more than 19 years of experience at the Austin Convention Center, has been named director of the department. Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales announced Tatro’s selection in a memo Wednesday. According to Gonzales, Tatro “spent her first 14 years” at the convention center, “successfully overseeing the management and execution of world-class meetings and conventions while establishing strong relationships with valuable clients both locally and internationally.” Next, she served as facility manager, moving up to assistant director. Tatro has certainly earned her position, serving as the convention center’s interim director starting just a few weeks before the beginning of the pandemic. Gonzales wrote, “For the past 16 months, Trisha has led the ACCD team through the industry’s most vulnerable time period with poise, resilience, and strength. She has successfully navigated and mitigated the Covid-19 impact on ACCD operations, our community, and our convention and hospitality industry.” Even though the events industry is making a comeback it seems likely that Tatro will need all of her skills and experience to navigate the road ahead, especially in light of the need to reimagine convention center expansion.


Thursday, July 1, 2021 by Tai Moses

Online wildfire hub aims to keep Austin resilient

The Austin-Area Wildfire Hub, an online project of the Austin Fire Department’s Wildfire Division, describes itself as a “portal for information-sharing, cross-agency initiatives and grassroots coalition-building to prepare our community for wildfire. Because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ the next wildfire occurs, but ‘when.'” The hub contains information and resources on local fire danger and burn bans, fire-adapted and fire-wise communities, wildfire prevention, and the wildland-urban interface code (Austin is the first major city in the state of Texas to adopt the WUI code). But the most fascinating part of the wildfire hub is a live feed that monitors, via satellite, “thermal hotspots and fire activity” around the country in the last 48 hours. It’s shocking to see how many fires are actively burning out there, and seeing them on the map drives home the fact that we are all truly at risk. As the wildfire hub puts it, “Wildfire is everyone’s fight.”


Wednesday, June 30, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

NOAA grant funds extreme heat project

The city and UT Austin have teamed up for a two-year project that will study the disparate impact of extreme heat on the city and look for solutions. According to a press release, the project has “three main goals: creating dynamic heat maps that plot how people experience heat alongside actual temperature measurements; using those maps to develop strategies to cool down temperature hot spots; and finally, presenting the data and potential solutions to community members and city decision-makers.” Of particular focus is East Austin, which has more frequent hot spots than other parts of town. Researchers will use satellite data, sensors and computer models along with resident input, “engaging in discussions about temperature hot spots in their communities and receiving feedback on temperature maps.” Project lead Dev Niyogi, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences and Cockrell School of Engineering, said, “This project will help businesses and communities and it is helping students to develop a purpose for their research. They are not simply trying to develop an analysis or a plot; it’s a project that means a better life for someone if we do this right.” In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration selected the project for $296,477 in funding along with three others that focus on community-led urban heat mapping and the inequitably distributed impacts of extreme heat.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021 by Tai Moses

DSD opens new permitting center

The Development Services Department has opened a new center that brings together several different departments all under one roof to provide “a streamlined, efficient experience for residential and commercial customers alike.” DSD’s new Permitting and Development Center, which opens its doors on Tuesday, July 6, will be “offering a new take on the development experience and complementing the growing range of virtual options that are now available for the Austin community.” To save time and be more efficient, DSD will now require customers to make appointments both for virtual and for in-person services. Virtual appointments can be scheduled for as soon as the next business day. Schedule your appointment here.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021 by Tai Moses

Initiative aims to increase vaccination rates

A new initiative dubbed “Let’s Stick Together” is out to accomplish “the community-focused goal of 70 percent of eligible Travis County residents receiving at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4, and 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated by Labor Day,” according to a news release. Praising the partnership between Central Health, Austin Public Health, Travis County and CommUnityCare Health Centers, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a news release, “For more than a year, we’ve joined as a community to keep our friends and family safe from Covid-19. Working together, we’ve saved lives. Continuing to keep each other safe is how we will stop the spread and return to pre-pandemic life. We can get to Stage 1, the lowest risk level of this pandemic, if we all do our part and help each other get vaccinated.” The city of Austin and Travis County plan to launch a calendar and interactive map showing “daily mobile pop-up vaccination sites focused on communities with lower vaccination rates.” Central Health is also paying providers to vaccinate residents of high-risk communities, and patients who get vaccinated will receive gift cards and T-shirts. To learn more about Let’s Stick Together, Central Texas/Vacunémonos y Juntémonos, Central Texas, visit Central Health.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021 by Tai Moses

Shelter chief pleads for help from community

In a June 25 memo to City Council, Chief Animal Services Officer Don Bland described a dire state of affairs at the Austin Animal Center, where “every kennel is full, and staff have had to double-up dogs in each suite.” Bland explained that far more animals are coming into the shelter than are leaving via adoptions, rescue and foster, and said, “Maintaining a No Kill shelter requires support from the entire community, and we are asking the community to help us with this challenge.” From June 1-23 alone, the center took in 1,146 cats and dogs. Austin isn’t the only city shelter coping with a capacity crisis; Bland wrote, “Shelters throughout the Southern United States are facing the same challenges. Our largest rescue partners are also at full capacity and not able to take animals from us to alleviate our space issue.” He warns, “This current challenge may create the need for staff to issue notifications for possible euthanasia. Notifications would apply to animals that have been in our care for a long period due to behavioral concerns.” How can community members help? Step up to foster pets; keep lost pets in your homes and look for their owners instead of turning the animals in to the shelter; use your social media platforms to help spread the word about the crisis and promote shelter animals for rescue, adoption and foster.


Monday, June 28, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Youth collaborative gets a little training help

Austin Opportunity Youth Collaborative has received a $100,000 grant from the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions to help fund postsecondary and career training programs for low-income youth in the Austin area. The youth collaborative won the grant via its connection with Workforce Solutions Capital Area, which coordinates job training programs throughout Central Texas with an emphasis on careers in health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing. The collaborative targets people aged 16 to 24 who are not participating in school or the job market, with pre-pandemic demographic studies showing there were just over 24,000 such individuals in greater Austin. In 2020, Workforce Solutions helped serve 340 opportunity youth, connecting them to employment, post-secondary education or other opportunities to improve themselves economically. The Aspen Institute’s $1.6 million in total awards were funded in part by JP Morgan Chase, Prudential Financial and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Monday, June 28, 2021 by Tai Moses

Parks foundation awards spring grants

T.A. Brown Neighborhood Park, Springwoods Neighborhood Park and Deep Eddy Community Garden are the recipients of Austin Parks Foundation’s 2021 Spring Community Grants. The three parks will receive a combined $102,000 for the “installation of connection walks, equipment, a new kiosk, the rebuilding of dilapidated storage sheds and more.” Ladye Anne Wofford, the foundation’s chief mission officer, explained in a news release, “Amenities like tables, benches and kiosks in our parks and green spaces are essential. We are proud to financially support these projects that will allow for much-needed park improvements benefiting communities across Austin. Our parks have been a respite over the past year, and we know these improvements will allow for our community to continue to enjoy them.”


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