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Whispers

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Seaholm intake takes in $450,000

The second attempt to plan for the future of Austin’s Seaholm Intake facility property got a major boost Monday with the announcement of a $450,000 contribution to fund a study that will determine how to best use the building and three acres of surrounding property. The money from the Austin Parks Foundation and Trail Foundation will pay for a study from Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design firm based in New York and Chicago that has overseen dozens of ambitious projects, mostly in Chicago and the Midwest, with contributions from Austin-based subcontractors including Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Datum Engineers, Urban Design Group, GO collaborative and Civic Collaboration. The study will include a series of public hearings and online input beginning in June ahead of a fall completion date, and it will be something of a reboot for the future of the historic facility. A 2011 feasibility study and three-year competition process among development firms to create a new plan for the site found Austin-based Stratus Properties as the favorite, but the process was terminated in early 2016 amid concerns that the new plans would downplay and threaten much of Seaholm’s historic characteristics. In a press conference Monday announcing the contribution, Mayor Steve Adler emphasized that the new study would take the site’s historic status into consideration and make it a recreational and public gathering area designed to appeal to all Austinites. “Today the intake structure and parkland represents a unique opportunity to create a vibrant recreational and publicly accessible destination,” Adler said. “The plan for this space will preserve and respect the historic significance of this underutilized structure and turn it into a genuine public asset.” Adler called the project – which includes the land between the Pfluger Bridge and Shoal Creek, and from Lady Bird Lake’s edge to Cesar Chavez Street – another possible highlight of the potential of public/private partnerships that are able transform dormant civic structures. The intake facility project will be a counterpart to the estimated $130 million mixed-use project that has turned the former Seaholm Power Plant site into a combination of office, retail and residential development, anchored by the health care technology company athenahealth Inc. There is no timeline for when work on the intake facility is expected to commence.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Open for business

The Austin Community College, the Austin Independent School District, Travis County and the city all want to work with the owners of small, minority and women-owned businesses. The Central Texas Small Business Partnership Conference next Wednesday, May 24, is a chance for those business owners to get to know the ins and outs of working with each of the entities. It takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Austin Community College Highland Campus at 6101 Airport Blvd., and will feature panels and “breakout sessions” in four categories: “construction, professional and consulting services, commodities, and technologies.” There will also be purchasing agents, buyers and “prime contractors from local government and state agencies,” on hand to answer questions.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Tree journey of 125 feet has begun downtown

Yesterday, the city of Austin began the monthlong process of relocating the final tree to be preserved under the Tree Preservation Agreement of the 2012 Green Water Treatment Plant Master Development Agreement. The 28-inch diameter heritage live oak will be moving about 125 feet – from Cesar Chavez Street to its new home on the bank of Shoal Creek. According to a press release about the move, “The new tree location will provide an immediate environmental amenity to the banks of Shoal Creek across from the New Central Library and allow Trammell Crow Company to maximize the development of Block 185 as directed by the Austin City Council in initiating the redevelopment process. … The City’s Arborist in the Development Services Department along with the Watershed Protection Department have partnered with the Economic Development Department to ensure a seamless tree relocation project.” The tree is one saved after public outcry and about a year of negotiation with the city, which had initially waived the Heritage Tree Ordinance for the development.


Monday, May 15, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Local officials respond to Senate Bill 4

City Council members, county commissioners, state legislators and organizations from across Texas will meet on Tuesday, May 16, at the south steps of the Texas State Capitol to announce they support litigation in response to Senate Bill 4. The law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed on May 7, targets “sanctuary” communities whose authorities do not fully comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. In a Saturday post to the City Council Message Board, Council Member Greg Casar told his colleagues that he has sponsored a resolution “to pursue appropriate legal action against the State to stop Senate Bill 4.” Cosponsored by Council members Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan and Ann Kitchen, the item is due to come up at this week’s Council meeting. “If you support the resolution, I hope you’ll consider attending the press event,” Casar added. The press conference will begin at 12:15 p.m.


Monday, May 15, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Planning Commission recommends capital improvement strategy

At its May 9 meeting, the Planning Commission adopted a letter drafted by a joint comprehensive plan committee that recommends long-term strategies regarding the city’s Capital Improvement Program to the city manager for the coming year. “We would like (the letter adopted tonight) to have the long-range CIP strategic plan feed into the bond development process,” Stevie Greathouse, with the Planning and Zoning Department, said at the meeting. The letter this year builds significantly on the letter from the previous year, since many of the projects are ongoing. Commissioner Karen McGraw, who also served on the joint committee, said that one key addition was recommendations based on the work of the Flood Mitigation Task Force. The letter suggests incorporating the recommendations from the task force’s final report into the long-range CIP strategic plan, as well as the bond development process. Commissioners adopted the letter unanimously in a vote of 11-0.


Monday, May 15, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Join us for some real talk

Next Wednesday, join the Austin Monitor, KUT and Glasshouse Policy for some “Real Talk” with City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. Flannigan will sit down with KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy to discuss his first few months in office and the future of District 6, among other things. The talk will take place at the Concordia University Texas Incubator for Innovation & Impact, with details and registration available here.


Monday, May 15, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Campaign finance amendments move forward

There is some debate about whether former City Council Member Don Zimmerman won or lost his suit against the city over campaign finance rules. However, there is no debate that the ruling has allowed candidates – including current Council members – to raise money all year round. Now Council Member Leslie Pool is moving forward with her push to limit that fundraising period. According to a post on the City Council Message Board, Pool hopes to have language before Council for its June 8 meeting that would give candidates 365 days to raise funds prior to the election, and six months to pay off their debt. That draft resolution was approved by the Ethics Review Commission at its most recent meeting, and is currently being reviewed by the Office of the City Clerk.


Friday, May 12, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Yellow Bike Project celebrates 20 years

As volunteer coordinator Pete Wall tells it, the Yellow Bike Project launched in Austin with the aim of solving the city’s traffic problems and saving us all from a future of gridlock and pollution. The plan was to paint unwanted bikes bright yellow and “put them on the streets as an interactive advertisement for cycling itself” and for all to use. “Needless to say, we failed,” he acknowledged. “In the meantime, however, we built a sturdy volunteer base and continue to work on our original mission, but with some changes. We no longer make Yellow Bikes, but we continue to take bikes out of the waste stream and give them new lives.” On May 27, the Yellow Bike Project will celebrate its evolution into a place where Austinites can learn to fix their bikes for free and help those in need of transportation, and a center that has partnered with Caritas of Austin, Refugee Services of Texas, Travis County Integral Care, the Boys and Girls Club of Austin and others to bring programs to the city. The celebration will feature food, beer and live music from Thor & Friends and DJ Katastrophik. It will take place on May 27 at the Neill-Cochran House Museum (2310 San Gabriel St.) from 5-10 p.m.


Friday, May 12, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Number of medically vulnerable registered customers set for disconnection drops significantly

On Sunday, Austin Energy announced in a memo that 22 “medically vulnerable registered” customers were at the point of disconnection from city utility services. Fortunately, though, as of Tuesday morning, that number is down to just four customers. The Austin Monitor was informed of the change via phone call with Austin Energy Corporate Communications Director Robert Cullick. According to Cullick, about 40 percent of medically vulnerable customers fall into the non-payment category each month. But with the help of Austin Energy and other local agencies and services, many are able to make the necessary payments to remove their name from the list. “We take extra steps to care for our customers,” Cullick said. Much of those efforts are seen in various support programs the department offers, like arranging different payment options, presenting opportunities for support from community partners and agencies, and ensuring customers have a backup plan in place for if and when it becomes necessary. In 2016, for example, through various offered services, all disconnect-eligible participants found assistance and were able to avoid full disconnection. Though nobody enjoys planning for the unexpected, Cullick said “having a backup plan (a medically vulnerable customer) could implement is incredibly important, even just for outages that (may) occur.” While Austin Energy maintains and operates the Medically Vulnerable Registry, Cullick said it’s a function of the city’s Customer Care office. That means disconnected customers lose services not only from Austin Energy, but all other city utility services as well. For the four MVR customers that remain, the disconnection process is set to begin on May 17.


Friday, May 12, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Austin firefighter wins PETA award

A local firefighter earned superhero status and an award from PETA recognizing his dedication to animal rescue. Austin Fire Department firefighter Alex Baumeister saved five animals in the first week of May. From May 1 through May 5, Baumeister was involved in several different animal rescues. He saved a cat in one incident, a six-foot snake in another, saved a dog from a burning building and found two lost kittens. PETA took notice of his heroics, and awarded him and the department Compassionate Fire Department awards. “This superhero firefighter had the knowledge, resources, heart, and determination needed to rescue five animals in one week from perilous situations,” said PETA’s Colleen O’Brien in a May 11 press release. The award comes with a pack of fire-alert stickers, certificates and – of course – vegan cookies.


Friday, May 12, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Lower Colorado River Authority OKs $1.1 billion spending plan

On Wednesday, the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors gave the OK to its business and capital plans for Fiscal Year 2017-18. Operations and maintenance, as well the utility’s annual debt service payment, comes from the utility’s $885 million business plan. In addition, LCRA approved $383 million in capital spending this year in energy, water and public service projects. The bulk of that money – $256 million – will go toward improving electric service in the region. Beyond 2018, LCRA hopes to spend $1.1 billion in renovations and new facilities in the next five years. “These plans and our five-year vision offer a road map that will enable us to become even better at fulfilling our mission of enhancing the lives of the Texans we serve,” said board Chair Timothy Timmerman.


Thursday, May 11, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

April was a good month for the Austin Animal Center

The Animal Advisory Commission received a number of updates from the Austin Animal Center at its meeting Monday night. Chair David Lundstedt said the presentation was, most likely, the highlight of the meeting. One of the more notable updates was the center’s year-to-date live outcome rate, or live release rate. That number is currently 98.2 percent. “Nationally, there’s nobody else doing more than that – and we have open kennels,” said Mark Sloat, Field Services program manager at the Austin Animal Center. He said having open kennels, yet maintaining such a high live release rate, further highlights the achievement. Other successes include the center’s inventory. According to Sloat, the inventory continues to be at its lowest in history, with an average of 600 pets in the center’s care in April. Last month alone, a total of 429 animals were placed in foster homes, while another 70 pets were adopted directly from foster care. For the most part, the updates were positive. Still, though, a few incidents were mentioned. Sloat said Travis County officers responded to a raccoon that tested positive for rabies last month. “This is notable because this is now the fourth animal (the city has) had, other than a bat, that had a positive rabies result with it being a skunk rabies.” Sloat said Travis County hadn’t had a skunk rabies-related case in more than 10 years.


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