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Whispers

Monday, May 8, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Some land-use commissioners still want to scrap CodeNEXT and start over

A few months after the CodeNEXT draft text release is still not too late to do the whole thing over for some Zoning and Platting commissioners. At the May 2 meeting, Commissioner Bruce Evans said that the examples given by the CodeNEXT team of the ideal street corners and neighborhoods in the city were developed under the pre-1984 land-use code. He admitted that they couldn’t be re-created with the current code, but he doubted the CodeNEXT draft would be able to re-create those models either. “Why are we going through this effort without going back to see how we got those examples in the first place?” he asked. Commissioner Jim Duncan, who serves on the CodeNEXT Advisory Group, took the opposing view and defended the draft, imperfect as it may be. “As a planner I look at it structurally and substantively. Structurally, it needs a lot of work,” he said, “but like the mayor said: Everybody needs to chill out.”


Monday, May 8, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Garza hires new policy aide

In this month’s District 2 newsletter, City Council Member Delia Garza announced a change in her office. Her policy aide Brian McGiverin has decided to return to practicing law. Taking over the role is Kate Garza, an attorney with more than 10 years of public policy experience. Garza (no relation to the Council member) was a senior political appointee in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration, and is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law. “We are sad to lose Brian, but Kate is going to be an amazing addition to our team,” Council Member Garza wrote. “She is looking forward to working with you.”


Monday, May 8, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

CodeNEXT talk tackles affordability

The city continues its string of Code Talks with a May 8 edition on affordability. Residents can engage with the people rewriting the Land Development Code to hear how the new rules will make an impact, express their ideas and concerns and hear from their neighbors on the subject. The talk starts at 6 p.m. in the Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road. After that, there’s only one other Code Talk this month: a session on mobility May 31. Learn more about the code, and find the full Code Talk schedule, on the city’s website.


Friday, May 5, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Austin Water’s five-year financial plan gets the OK

The Environmental Commission unanimously passed a motion to recommend approval to include Austin Water Utility capital improvement projects in Austin Water’s five-year capital spending plan at its meeting Wednesday night. The project relates to improvements to new water in wastewater treatment plants, capital expansions and growth-related projects in the Drinking Water Protection Zone. Kristi Fenton, the utility financial manager at Austin Water, said a 2011 audit conducted by the city of Austin was the reason for the request. The audit, she said, exposed inconsistencies with state law in the department’s financial policy. Fenton said the proposed request was part of the review process to make Austin Water plans more consistent with state law. “The intent was to get more review from citizens and different boards to look at projects in (the Drinking Water Protection Zone),” she said. If approved by City Council, the review will last through 2022.


Friday, May 5, 2017 by Jack Craver

Adler emphasizes hope in the midst of GOP control

Mayor Steve Adler kicked off the Thursday City Council meeting by acknowledging a number of national and state political realities that are frustrating – at the very least – to him and most of his left-leaning colleagues. “At the national level it looks like we’re going to be doing away with health care coverage for 24 million people or at least taking a step potentially in that direction,” he said, in reference to the House of Representatives voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “And our legislature passes an immigration law that is kind of a ‘papers please’ law, but we’re focusing on doing what the people want us to do, which is to improve mobility (and) focus on affordability. So I’m proud of what we’re doing. And, again, the rest of the world can be losing its mind but we’re still Austin, Texas.”

This story has been edited to correct a typo.


Friday, May 5, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

‘Visit Austin’ here to stay

The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau has taken on a new name – Visit Austin – in a move that is expected to make the organization and its services easier to find. The ACVB moniker remains as its name in some non-public facing capacities, but the “doing business as” Visit Austin change goes into effect just before the industry’s National Travel and Tourism Week kicks off on May 7. Tom Noonan, president and CEO of the newly rebranded organization, said the more SEO-friendly name is something of a trend in the industry. “Convention and visitors bureaus all over the U.S. are moving away from the traditional CVB titles because the terminology doesn’t truly capture the role of what we are trying to accomplish, especially in Austin,” he said in a prepared statement. Noonan’s group is busy these days, making the case with Austin leaders for a proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center that could cost as much as $600 million. Under most scenarios City Council would need to vote to utilize money from the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to pay for the expansion.


Friday, May 5, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Airport passenger, cargo traffic trending up

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport released its passenger and cargo traffic statistics this week. The numbers show – big surprise – that the numbers have increased over the last five years. Last month, 1.1 million passengers made their way through the airport. That’s an 8.5 percent uptick from March 2016 alone. In March of 2013, fewer than 900,000 people made their way through the gates. The airport is experiencing a similar increase in air cargo, which totaled out to a whopping 16 million pounds this March – a 9 percent increase from March 2016.


Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Jack Craver

Council considering canceling next week’s meeting

Some City Council members are pushing to cancel the Council meeting scheduled for May 11. During a Tuesday work session some Council members argued that the agenda for the May 11 meeting is so short that the city would be better-served if Council members took that day to attend to other important business. Council could then address whatever was planned for the 11th during its next scheduled meeting on May 18. Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Alison Alter both noted that they would like more time to engage with constituents and stakeholders on CodeNEXT. Council Member Ann Kitchen said she would like the meeting to proceed, saying that she appreciated short meetings. Mayor Steve Adler hasn’t stated an opinion; on Wednesday afternoon he posted a message to the City Council Message Board asking for feedback from his colleagues. Whether or not they go forward with the meeting, he said, there will be a work session on May 9.


Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Nina Hernandez

Give input on the new Waller Creek Park

Parks enthusiasts around the city are invited to the Waller Creek Conversations to give feedback on the designs for the new Waller Creek Park. The work also includes Waterloo Park and the Moody Amphitheater, as well as the Waller Delta at Lady Bird Lake. The city and the Waller Creek Conservancy welcome anyone to the events, whether they’re just learning about the work being done to Waller Creek or have been following the process from the beginning. Attendees can participate in “an interactive activity during the sessions to provide feedback on bike paths, trails, playscapes and lighting,” for the parks, the city said in a recent press release. “By providing feedback during these public sessions, we will shape Waller Creek Park to fit the needs of our growing community,” said City Council Member Pio Renteria. The first conversation on May 13 begins at 10 a.m. in the Metz Recreation Center, 2407 Canterbury Street. The second, on May 17, will be held at the Palm Door on Sabine, 401 Sabine Street, beginning at 6 p.m.


Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Help for more venues coming soon?

The city’s Economic Development Department is exploring ways it could expand eligibility for its Music Venue Assistance Loan Program, a $140,000 pool approved by City Council in 2012 to help local live music venues make sometimes-expensive modifications to their sound equipment. Currently only expenditures to help make venues compliant with noise ordinances are allowed, with businesses only eligible if their current lease is at least as long as the loan term. Alex Lopez, deputy director for the department, said city staff is looking at how to make that money available for improvements such as kitchen upgrades or enhanced sprinkler systems to increase a venue’s capacity, both of which could help increase revenue to the historically thin-margined businesses. There is no timetable for an adjustment to the program’s guidelines, and Council would need to approve such changes.


Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Hyde Park Spanker

Though the naked jogger appears to be laying low for the time being, Hyde Park now has a spanker on the loose. According to online posts from the neighborhood, there have been at least four incidents since April in the neighborhood, all of which involve women being surprised by a sudden assault at the hand of a man that quickly runs away. From an April 28 post on Nextdoor: “I was walking my dog earlier this evening (and) a man ran up behind me and slapped me on the butt. When I turned around he was running in the opposite direction, so I didn’t get a good at him. Based upon how well he was able to sneak up behind me without me noticing and how well he was able to run away, I suspect that this is a repeat offense. I have reported this information to the police.” And, from an April 26 post on the Hyde Park listserv: “While on a walk today, a man came up behind me, grabbed/slapped/hit my rear-end and ran away. I called the police and filed a report. The police officer suggested that I let you all know about it because he may do it again.” Anyone witnessing or experiencing such an assault should report the incident to the Austin Police Department.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Smith draws another Democratic challenger

Elliott McFadden has thrown his hat into the race to topple Republican Rep. Lamar Smith from his 21st Congressional District perch. McFadden took to Twitter and Facebook on Monday to announce that he had raised $25,000 in April, a sum that he said will help him “launch a competitive campaign to unseat Lamar Smith, the lead climate change denier in the U.S. House.” McFadden is a former executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party and also chaired the successful $65 million affordable housing bond campaign in 2013. Most recently, McFadden has been working as the executive director at Austin B-cycle. According to the website ReplaceLamar.com, he joins at least eight other potential Democratic candidates, including Austin entrepreneur Joseph Kopser and Tom Wakely, the party’s 2016 nominee. Smith has served in Congress since winning his first election in the mid-1980s. The 21st District, in its current form, includes parts of Central and South Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country.


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