Whispers

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Travis County health care bill over budget

Travis County Commissioners received a large and unexpected health care bill Tuesday. According to Jessica Rio of the county Planning and Budget office, they needed an additional $4 million for the rest of the fiscal year to cover the cost of claims for county employees. Travis County is self-insured, meaning that it directly pays the costs of its employees’ medical claims. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said that despite putting in an additional $7 million for health insurance in 2014, they are exceeding the budget. “If we’re not taking on this health care thing the way that we need to as an entity, then we’re just going to continue to watch it escalate to the point that we really can’t get our arms around it,” he said. “When you talk about our current payout actually being $52.87 million, and last year’s total was $52.32 million. And with five weeks left, we’re averaging about a million dollars a week.” Daugherty added that the number of claims above $25,000 has grown to 167 this year compared to 147 for all of last year. Commissioners, who approved the extra funds, have contracted with a new administrator for FY 2015 in hopes of keeping costs down without having to cut benefits to the county’s 5,000 employees.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

New food trailer court gets go-ahead

Plans for a new food trailer court in South Austin cleared the Planning Commission last week, despite concerns from its most immediate neighbor. Contractor Ray Yates was representing the landowner, James Samon, and explained that they were seeking a change from Limited Office (LO) zoning to Commercial (CS) Zoning in order to build a food trailer court on the land. Samon also owns the adjacent GNS Lounge and lots along South First Street, for a total of six adjacent lots. Yates said that Samon wanted to get all of those lots zoned uniformly, in order not to inadvertently run afoul of code by parking a trailer on the wrong lot. “There’s no future development plan. He’s an original Austinite, and he’s kept this property in the family. I don’t see any future development other than food court trailers,” said Yates. Jesse Saletan, who owns the property to the west, said his land was zoned LO but used as single-family residences. He said he was very concerned about the prospect of the property changing over to CS zoning, though he supported the idea of food trailers on the land. Saletan said he would support CS zoning for the land along South First Street but not the land immediately adjacent to his own. In the end, the Planning Commission approved CS zoning for tract 1, Limited Retail (LR) zoning for tract 2 and Limited Office (LO) zoning for tract 3, as was recommended by staff.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Council set to consider Bull Creek land sale

City Council members are set to conduct an executive session discussion of the potential sale of a swath of state-owned land at Bull Creek Road and 45th Street. This, of course, is the 75-acre TxDOT tract that’s drawn widespread attention and concern from neighbors in the area. Last week, the Statesman reported that Stratus Properties “is working with H-E-B to acquire the site.” The paper put the value of the tract at “almost $900,000 per acre.”


Tuesday, September 2, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

ANC president bans pair from meeting

Rumors of a dust-up at the most recent Austin Neighborhoods Council meeting reached the Austin Monitor‘s offices last week. Sources said that Realtor Frank Harren and developer David Whitworth had been “barred” from the meeting for speaking out against ANC President Mary Ingle at a recent CodeNEXT meeting. Both sides see the conflict as fallout from recent ethics allegations filed by Ingle against Land Development Code Revision Advisory Group member Melissa Neslund. (The city’s Ethics Review Commission dismissed the charges against Neslund last month.) Ingle told the Monitor that although the two had been prevented from attending the meeting, it was with good reason. “I wasn’t going to put up with any bad behavior,” said Ingle. She said that while Harren had attended meetings in the past, Whitworth had not. Ingle stressed that though ANC meetings are open to the public, they are not city-sponsored events. The situation could be rectified, Ingle added, if the two apologized in writing and promised to refrain from personal attacks.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Council committee to hear funding requests

The Council Health and Human Services Committee will hold a special called meeting this afternoon to hear briefings from the nonprofit Colorado River Alliance and from One Voice Central Texas. They will also hear from city staff on their recommendations on funding social service contact requests. One Voice is a group of social service agencies advocating for more spending for health and human services. They will be requesting that Council add $15 million to the HHS Department budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Today’s meeting is at 3:30 p.m. in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The full Council will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to take public input and continue budget discussions, Last month’s HHS meeting was canceled.

 


Tuesday, September 2, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Florance takes job at historic commission

Chris Florance is starting his new job today as director of communications for the Texas Historic Commission. Florance had worked for the City of Austin as a public information specialist for the past seven years. Members of the city’s public information staff may feel a little shorthanded with the departure of Florance and Reyne Telles, who last week announced he would be leaving the city to direct communications at the Austin Independent School District at the end of September.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Eastside Jazz Fest funding plan derailed

Plans for the revival of a jazz festival at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard are on hold after the majority of City Council members opted to shift funding to the budget process currently underway. Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley sponsored the item, which would have funded the event through $25,000 of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue. Council Member Laura Morrison pulled the item, citing concerns that the event was bypassing the normal selection process to fund arts programs. “Thank you for catching that,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “I think we ought to be very judicious about the events that we select. Some would say that we already have too many. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have more, I just think that there ought to be a very careful process.” Martinez explained that the funding would revive what was once an ongoing event in East Austin, which was in line with the African-American Quality of Life Report and support of African-American cultural events. Martinez suggested that redirecting the item through the budget process was disingenuous and noted it would still fall outside of the normal process. “If you are going to make a motion that it go through the budget process, you should just make a substitute motion to deny it,” said Martinez. A motion to consider funding the festival through the budget process passed on a 5-2 vote, with Martinez and Riley opposed.

 


Friday, August 29, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council OKs Distracted Driving Ordinance

After a brief foray into the ins and outs of ham radio operation, Austin City Council passed its new Distracted Driving Ordinance on Thursday, despite persistent concerns that the law has too many loopholes. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, bans operators of motor vehicles and bicycles from using portable electronic devices. Those devices include phones, PDAs, music players, GPS devices and e-readers. City Council did allow an exception that will permit the use of cellphones while motorists and bicyclists are at a complete stop. Additionally, hands-free devices will be permitted. A bid to reduce the ordinance’s application to cyclists was rejected. Council also took the time to clarify that two-way radios used for business, FCC-approved devices and emergency communications will be allowed under the new law.

 


Friday, August 29, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Monitor, others take a turn with forums

The Monitor and four media partners — KUT, KXAN, Univision and the Austin Chronicle — will add to the extreme level of political discussion with a series of their own public candidate forums. The outlets will go into each of the city’s 10 districts between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8. They will also host a mayoral tilt on Oct. 15. RSVP pages are now up for all of the events: D1 is Sept. 8 at the Wesley United Methodist Church. D2 is Sept. 10 at the Dove Springs Rec Center. D3 is Sept. 15 at the North Door (this one is also part of the Monitor‘s Beers, Brains, and Betterment series, sponsored in part by Yellow Cab). D4 is Sept. 17 at the Marchesa Theater. D5 is Sept. 22 at Austin Community College’s South Austin Campus. D6 is Sept. 23 at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. D7 is Oct. 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. D8 is Sept. 29 at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. D9 is Oct. 6 at KUT’s Studio 1A. D10 is Oct. 8 at the LCRA’s Red Bud Center. Our Mayor’s Forum is set for Oct. 15 at KUT’s Moody Auditorium.


Friday, August 29, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Clean Water Action touts two endorsements

David Foster, state director for Clean Water Action, announced Thursday that his organization has endorsed Gregorio “Greg” Casar in District 4 and Ann Kitchen in District 5. Noting that District 4 is 65 percent Hispanic and “includes many working class neighborhoods,” Foster said Casar “fully understands that protecting the environment and growing the economy go hand-in-hand, and he is committed to increasing investments in energy efficiency and rooftop solar that pay a living wage and provide a ladder into the middle class.” As for Kitchen, Foster said, “Ann Kitchen is hands-down the best candidate to represent District 5 … She has stellar environmental credentials, earning a 100 percent pro-environment voting record in the legislature, co-founding the Save Our Springs coalition and serving two years as the chair of Livable City. She supports protecting Austin’s water supply through conservation and reuse rather than paying for expensive new sources, and is committed to keeping water required to meet essential needs affordable for all.” Clean Water Action intends to announce more endorsements next week.


Friday, August 29, 2014 by Mark Richardson

City recycling adds hard plastics to mix

Austin Resource Recovery is extending its curbside recycling program to accept all hard plastics in its blue recycling carts for pickup at no extra cost.  Resource Recovery officials say that in addition to plastic bottles and containers, items such as buckets, lawn chairs, laundry baskets, pet carriers, milk crates, non-battery operated toys, totes and lids, tubs, flower pots and trays, dish drainers and trash cans will now be collected. However, plastic foam, plastic bags and plastic wrap are still not allowed. Recyclables are picked up on a biweekly basis and taken to one of two local facilities, Balcones Resources or Texas Disposal Systems, where they are processed and sold to manufacturers. For recycling guidelines, curbside collection schedules and a complete recycling guide, go to austinrecycles.com.

 


Thursday, August 28, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Neighbors battle over naming park

Members of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association were seen around City Hall this week as they waited to talk to Council members about how to name a new park at 3000 Del Curto Road. Council voted 4-3 in June to name the park the Thomas Lasseter Neighborhood Park after a man who lived on the property in the 1960s. Carrie Lasseter, Tom Lasseter’s daughter, has fought to get the park named after her father, a high profile Austinite who served in both World War II and the Korean War. Members of the neighborhood association worked to get the property designated as a park and feel their efforts should be acknowledged with the name South Lamar Neighborhood Park. However, it seems unlikely that any of the Council members who voted for the Lasseter name will change their minds today. Fortunately, the public hearing on the matter is closed, so perhaps the item won’t take too long on what may be a very long day.


Thursday, August 28, 2014 by Jo Clifton

New Democratic club endorsements

Austin’s Stonewall Democrats met Wednesday night to consider endorsements for six of 11 city races on the November 4 ballot. The group endorsed Ora Houston for District 1; Greg Casar and Katrina Daniel for District 4; and Ann Kitchen for District 5. They also endorsed Jimmy Flannigan in District 6 and Ed Scruggs in District 8. They issued a dual endorsement for Tina Cannon and Mandy Dealey in District 10. According to endorsements chair Rich Bailey, the group will meet again Sept. 4 to consider endorsements in Districts 2, 3, 7 and 9.


Thursday, August 28, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Zoning cases spark dissent

Today’s Council agenda includes two contentious zoning cases that have sparked valid petitions from their respective residents. The developer of the Overlook at Spicewood Springs wants to build an 18,000 square foot building, but neighbors are seeking to cut that down to about 10,000 square feet. There is also a disagreement over how close the building will be to the front of the property. It’s possible there could be a compromise or a last-minute postponement, but it’s unlikely the developer will want to roll the dice on such a large project … White Lodging, represented by Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle, is seeking a zoning change from CBD to CBD-CURE at 619 Congress Ave. The company, which is currently building a JW Marriott hotel a few blocks south of this location, is attempting to get approval for the change despite a total lack of parking. The owner of the property next door, which houses the Hideout Theater, is concerned the construction will put her tenant out of business. It’s possible Council will instruct the parties to go away and come back when they have reached an agreement.


Thursday, August 28, 2014 by Mark Richardson

Telles to leave city for AISD post

Reyne Telles, media manager for the city’s Public Information Office, has accepted the position of executive director for the Department of Communications and Community Engagement with the Austin Independent School District. Telles is a seven-year veteran at the city and most recently has served as director of communications for Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “I am thankful for the opportunity, excited and know that the challenges will be great,” he told the Monitor on Wednesday. City Manager Marc Ott said, “I wish Reyne the best of luck, thank him for his nearly seven years of service to the City of Austin and look forward to working collaboratively with him in his new role.” Telles has a Bachelor of Science in communication from Eastern New Mexico University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. Telles will start with AISD on Sept. 29.

 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Everhart to depart mayor’s staff

Friends of Amy Everhart, who has worked as Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s policy director for the past five years, gathered at the mayor’s office Tuesday night for a farewell celebration. Everhart is starting her new job next week as director of government relations for Hahn Public Communications. “I will probably be working on a lot of the issues that I’ve been working on here: transportation, water, energy, that kind of thing,” Everhart said. “It’s been five years, and this has been my favorite job so far.” Everhart explained that she entered city politics by running the successful 2005 campaign of Jennifer Kim, and then worked in Kim’s office for a few months. In 2006, she managed the successful campaign of Mike Martinez. “After that I just did campaigns for a few years,” she said. Everhart worked for both the ACLU and the Sierra Club before joining Leffingwell’s mayoral campaign in 2009. She said her new position will bring her to City Hall frequently, so she won’t lose track of many of the people she has worked with. Leffingwell said he was happy for her but also described her departure as “bittersweet.” He said he would not hire anyone to take over as policy director because, with him having only four months left in office, the job would be “not much of a career opportunity.”


Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by Mark Richardson

ABIA tops 1 million passengers milestone

Austin Bergstrom International Airport passed a major milestone in July, logging a record one million passengers traveling through the Barbara Jordan Terminal that month. The airport has experienced passenger growth for 54 of the last 55 months, since January 2010. It is on track in 2014 to pass its 2013 record of 10 million passengers. Part of the reason for the increase has been the addition of flights at the airport. In just the past few weeks, Virgin America announced it is adding a new nonstop flight to San Francisco, Delta is adding a new nonstop to Los Angeles International (LAX),  American is also adding a flight to LAX, and Southwest is planning nonstop service to Cancun, Mexico. In recent months, several new airlines have begun flying into ABIA, including British Airways, Aeromar and Allegiant Air.

 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by Gene Davis

Parks board reviews Special Events Ordinance

The Austin Parks and Recreation Board heard a presentation Tuesday evening on revisions made to the proposed Special Events Ordinance. Under the revisions, neighborhood block parties would not fall under the ordinance. Instead, block parties would require a separate permitting process that would be easier to get than a permit under the Special Events Ordinance. Most of the other revisions discussed  involved definition changes. The Parks and Recreation Board had little discussion on the item.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

County may act on Timber Creek buyout plan

Travis County Commissioners will consider action today on an agreement that would bring funding to the county for continued buyouts of flood prone homes in the Timber Creek neighborhood. County voters approved a $3.9 million bond to act as a county match for a $10 million federal buyout program in 2005. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in early 2014 that it would fund $12 million more during the fiscal year toward the project. The county has been buying properties in the Timber Creek area since 2007 and has exhausted its county match. If commissioners vote to enter into the agreement, the county would be reimbursed for any buyout expenses past the $3.9 million match.

 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Central Health to propose tax rate to county

Central Health, Travis County’s health care district, will bring its proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget of $270.8 million to Commissioners Court today. The district will also present its proposed 12.64-cent tax rate, which is lower than last year’s 12.9- cent rate. Central Health’s Board of Managers is in charge of adopting a budget each year, but the county is responsible for approving its tax rate. Central Health works to provide health care to low-income Travis County residents and operates the University Medical Center-Brackenridge Hospital and Trauma Center.


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