Texas enjoys another sales tax holiday
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar knows the best way to get our attention is with a sales tax holiday. This one is perfectly timed for families getting their kids ready to go back to school. Says Hegar in a news release, “As Texas families begin the process of replacing their beach towels with lunch boxes, the sales tax holiday is the perfect opportunity to save some money on supplies families need before the school bell rings. As a father of three, I know how these expenses can add up.” Eligible items below $100 like notebooks, clothing, school supplies, shoes and backpacks can be purchased tax-free from Friday, Aug. 9 to midnight on Sunday, Aug. 11. You’ll find a complete list of the items that qualify for the sales tax holiday at TexasTaxHoliday.org. Sales tax holiday weekends have been an annual event in Texas since 1999.
City announces musicians for Tip the Band program
Austin’s Music and Entertainment Division has selected 10 local musicians or bands to participate in the city’s new digital tipping program, Tip the Band, which allows fans to tip artists with a debit or credit card via the use of a special device. The city received over 100 applications for the program, which were evaluated by an “independent panel of music industry professionals.” The chosen artists will be able to collect digital tips at live performances for the next six months as part of the city’s promotional campaign. Following the six-month review period, the artist may continue using the digital vessel to collect tips after submitting a report to the grant managers. In addition to providing a new revenue stream for struggling artists, according to a news release, Tip the Band aims to “elevate the practice of tipping our local musicians which reinforces Austin as a community that cares about the vitality of its artists and creatives.” The selected artists are Atash, Church on Monday, Derek Phelps, Gina Chavez, The Human Circuit, Jackie Venson, Kathy & the Kilowatts, Superfónicos, The Watters, and Will Southern.
Capital Metro makes quick transfer from Orange Line to Blue Line workshops
In response to community input, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently de-emphasized the need for its two high-capacity transit lines under Project Connect to feature the same types of vehicles and infrastructure design. While generally seen as a plus if, say, the Orange Line vehicles can easily run on the Blue Line route, and vice versa, the priority for the moment appears to be choosing the most suitable alignments and modes for each individual route. For that reason, feedback on the Blue Line concept is all the more critical. With the Orange Line community workshops wrapping up this week, the public is now being asked to take a fresh look at the Blue Line corridor and help the agency refine the basic concept. As in the Orange Line workshops, this set of meetings will likely feature a similar set of alignment choices for individual route segments with loose evaluations of potential station locations. Workshops will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings next week with each meeting taking place in a different neighborhood along the route. Beginning near the northern terminus, the first meeting will be Tuesday, July 30, 5:30-7 p.m. at Austin Community College Highland Business Center, 5930 Middle Fiskville Road. The subsequent meetings will be at Austin Energy Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road, and Ruiz Branch Library, 1600 Grove Blvd., both from 5:30-7 p.m. Please RSVP by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (512) 369-6201.
14th annual Back-to-School Bash prepares kids for new school year
Each year, the Austin school district and the city’s Safe Routes to School program partner up to throw a Back to School Bash to make sure kids – and their parents – are ready to start the new school year. The free community event features presentations on safety and educational best practices; health screenings and booster seats; and more than 4,500 free backpacks filled with school supplies. More than 120 community organizations and municipal and district departments will be on hand to provide information and free activities intended to support AISD students. A free shuttle beginning at 6:30 a.m. from several AISD campuses will be available for families who need transportation, and Capital Metro will also be providing free transportation to the event. Check this page to find departure locations. Saturday, Aug. 3, 8 a.m.-noon, Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road.
I.Q. Hurdle House gets face-lift
After several months of waiting for the condition of the I.Q. Hurdle House to be stabilized, the Historic Landmark Commission received an inspiring update on Monday night. “We have completed the work on the exterior of the home,” said Pam Madere, who represents the property owner, Dallas-based Eureka Holdings. The walls of the home have been repainted, windows boarded up in a fashion that makes them appear to have shades drawn over them, and preservation architect Donna Carter has confirmed that the roof is watertight. Madere noted that to double-confirm the status of the roof, Carter will go to the house during the next rainstorm to check for leaks. Next up, the property owners will erect an informational panel in the front yard detailing the importance of I.Q. Hurdle to the community. “This is tremendous,” said Commissioner Terri Myers. “It goes a long way to give some presence to the house.” Now that the home has been secured, the commissioners are waiting for a full restoration plan. However, in order to ensure that progress continues moving forward, the commission voted unanimously to get a staff update next month on a restoration timeline as well as an update on the progress of the restoration. Going forward, they requested a monthly update from staff on the home.
Cap Metro receives electric bus grant
As part of its long-term Project Connect vision, Capital Metro approved a plan earlier this year to allocate over $4 million to begin the long process of electrifying its bus fleet. Those four electric buses are still yet to hit the streets, but the agency announced this week that a $2.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration will allow for the purchase of up to six additional vehicles in the near future. The grant won’t cover the entire cost of the vehicles; at $1,069,476 per bus, the agency will need $6,416,856 for the six buses alone. On top of that, the costs of charging equipment, spare parts, and training to operate and maintain the new vehicles will be substantial. Even so, CEO Randy Clarke, with the support of the board of directors, has expressed his confidence that the city is ready to begin the transition into electric public transit and that the significant investment in vehicles and infrastructure will pay off in the years to come. In the short term, Capital Metro expects at least two of the fancy new electric buses to be in the city by the end of the year. What’s more, judging by a couple of tweets from Clarke this week, those buses may be “articulated,” like many of the MetroRapid vehicles, stretching out to 60 feet in length.
Govalle Park lot closed for repaving
If you’re headed for Govalle Park this week, the city would like you to know that the Govalle Park parking lot, off Bolm Road, will be closed for repaving from Thursday, July 25, to Saturday, Aug. 2. If you’re dead-set on going to Govalle Park or the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, use the ballfield parking lot just east of Govalle Park lot. The pedestrian bridge over Boggy Creek will take you to the playground or the bike trail.
Applications now open for CityWorks Academy
The city is accepting applications for the ninth annual CityWorks Academy, which offers community members a close-up look at the programs and services the city provides. Applications are open until Aug. 1 and are available online or in the second floor reception area at the Snell Building, 1050 E. 11th St. The academy is limited to 30 participants and the city typically receives more than 250 applications per session. Since its creation in 2009, more than 150 residents have graduated from the academy, with many moving on to serve on local boards and commissions or in other city leadership positions. Classes for this year’s academy will begin in September and will take place Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. Find more information here.
Group urges state to ban bee-killing pesticides
The Austin-based advocacy group Environment Texas will be holding a press conference at the Capitol this Thursday to draw attention to the threats bees and other pollinators face from pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Many communities and businesses, including the city of Austin, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, have halted their use of these toxic chemicals in order to protect pollinators. Environment Texas wants the Legislature to declare a moratorium on neonicotinoids and to hold interim hearings investigating the threat to bees. Activists will be delivering 9,000 petition signatures to legislators to bring home their point that Texans demand better protections for bees. The press conference is Thursday, July 25, at 10 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave.
Who wants to run for District 2?
When the committee formed to support Mayor Pro Tem/District 2 Council Member Delia Garza in her run for Travis County attorney, political people started wondering: If Garza wins the Democratic primary next March and therefore gives up her spot on the ballot as a Council candidate, who will be ready to run for her seat in November? So far, the Austin Monitor has discussed the question with David Chincanchan, who is chief of staff for District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria, and Ana Aguirre, a member of the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission. Aguirre told the Monitor, “For the record, I’m not running. Like a lot of people, I care about District 2,” but she’s not running. Chincanchan, on the other hand, expressed interest in the job. He said, “There are a bunch of folks encouraging me to run, but (Garza) hasn’t really made an official decision herself and so I’m supporting her for the county attorney race – and of course if she were to run for District 2 again, I would support her as well.” He said Garza had discussed the Council race with him “a while back, and I’ve been thinking about it.” He pointed out that he grew up in the Dove Springs neighborhood and currently lives there. Dove Springs has faced a number of problems, including flooding and a lack of facilities, and Garza has championed new projects in the neighborhood. No doubt, others are thinking about running for this Council seat. They just haven’t whispered loudly enough for us to hear them.
Give input on new speed management program
Only five years remain for the city to meet its Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic fatalities. Meanwhile, the number of people losing their lives on Austin’s streets is up this year over last year, taking the city even further away from that goal. To address the crisis, the Austin Transportation Department is yielding to physics with a plan to slow vehicles down with signage and other traffic-calming measures in the city’s most dangerous areas. With limited funds, the department will be aiming to stretch its dollars as far as possible to make the greatest impact on safety. As verified by numerous studies, the department acknowledges that relatively small decreases in speed can lead to dramatically better outcomes in the event of a crash, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists hit by a vehicle. Based on that principle, the goal of the program will be to slow vehicles to safer speeds that will have only minor impacts on travel time but could ultimately save lives. Before moving forward, the department is requesting input from the community about how the program can best achieve its goals. Residents are invited to an open house this Thursday, July 25, 5-7 p.m., at the Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina St.
Final weekend for community pool-inspired dance
Forklift Danceworks’ “My Park, My Pool, My City,” a trilogy of collaborative, neighborhood-inspired performances enacted in Austin’s public swimming pools, comes to an end this weekend with the second and final performance of Givens Swims. “From neighborhood teens to community elders, the story of Givens Pool will be told by the people who have long lived, worked and played around this historic place.” Audience members are encouraged to come in bathing attire and flip-flops as they will be invited to enter the pool. Those who volunteer to help will be guaranteed a seat at the performance. If you have a promo code, you can reserve tickets here. All others, tickets are available at the door, first come, first served. Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28, 8:30 p.m., Givens Neighborhood Pool, 3811 E. 12th St.
Parks department looks to the future
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s long-range planning process, “Our Parks, Our Future,” began in the fall of 2018 with five community meetings followed by an online survey that was completed by more than 4,400 Austinites. The best ideas have floated to the top and are included in the draft blueprint that will help guide the development of Austin’s parks over the next decade. Now PARD is wrapping up the process and wants to share its draft plan with the community. If you’d like to hear what’s in the plan and offer your feedback, you can attend the final round of community engagement meetings scheduled for late July or one of the pop-up events that will be announced at a later date. The two meetings are on July 25, 4-8 p.m. at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave St.; and on July 27, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road.
Flannigan files finance report
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan was traveling in China last week, so it was not very surprising that he filed his most recent campaign finance report on Friday, four days after it was due in the city clerk’s office. The report showed no political contributions during the first six months of 2019 – but that would be illegal, as Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison learned after filing a report showing 10 donations after January 1. (Travis County Republican Party Chair Matt Mackowiak has since filed an ethics complaint with the city complaining about Harper-Madison’s collection of contributions outside the allowed time period.) Flannigan reported spending $1671.13, which came from money he has loaned the campaign. Flannigan told the Austin Monitor via text: “I loaned my campaign money for Facebook ads and for my campaign website which I have maintained. It’s the same two categories of expenses I have had on all of my non-campaign season reports.”
Emma Long Park shoreline restoration to inform future wetland planting
In 2017, the city restored a 140-foot-long bulkhead at Emma Long Park. Andrew Clamann with the Watershed Protection Department told the Environmental Commission at its July 17 meeting that he was extremely pleased with the pace, price and results of the project. From excavation to completion, the restoration project took three months in the spring of 2017 and cost a total of $77,500, which was half of what the department budgeted for the restoration. Now, two years later, Clamann said that the department can see the fruits of its labor. The vegetation has taken root and is “extremely rambunctious.” He noted that some public feedback on social media called the new shoreline unkempt, but that is “what natural systems look like,” he said. Admittedly, he said that the project could have been completed with approximately a quarter of the plants that were used, but that the information will be used for future restoration projects. Similarly, he told commissioners that this project was useful to inform future plant palettes for wetland habitats and the care required to help them thrive. Clamann selected 10 species of wetland plants himself, but said 24 different species volunteered in the area. Notably, he emphasized that “all of this transpired in just a couple of weeks.”
Big bucks for district attorney candidates
Local attorney José Garza is challenging incumbent Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore in a race that may or may not turn out to be about how many indigent people who haven’t been convicted of a crime are waiting in jail for their day in court. Garza, former co-executive director of the Workers Defense Project, reported raising more than $57,000 on his July 15 campaign finance report. But Moore, who has many years in politics and many well-heeled friends, reported raising more than $152,000 during the first six months of this year, bringing her contribution balance to more than $198,000. Moore received $1,000 contributions from local union AFSCME and from attorneys such as Bill Aleshire and Rick Cofer. She also received a $10,000 contribution from the Blackridge lobby firm, which is led by longtime state lobbyist Rusty Kelley, and $15,000 from the law firm Minton Bassett Flores & Carsey. Somewhat surprisingly, Garza, the nephew of former City Manager Jesús Garza, reported a contribution of $10,526.63 from Serena Simmons Connelly of Dallas. Connelly, the daughter of a Republican billionaire who founded the Harold Simmons Foundation, has reportedly made numerous donations to Democrats, including the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Austin Water looks to reconfigure facilities
In an effort to increase worker productivity, save money and make its operations more sustainable, Austin Water is looking to reconfigure and modernize its facilities. Although a specific path forward has not yet been selected, there are three on the table. The scenarios, according to Austin Water Chief of Support Services Anna Bryan-Borja, who spoke to the Water and Wastewater Commission at its July 10 meeting, can be likened to car shopping. “If we were talking about a car … we’re going to fix that sedan and continue using it,” is the first option, which will cost $76.2 million. Option two, which is “where we decided to buy a new car” is $81.1 million. The final option is, “The family is growing, the sedan won’t do anymore, we need a bigger car,” which would cost $92 million and could involve acquiring a new site. The study of 15 facilities was done with primarily administrative support centers in mind, though it included six treatment plants. Bryan-Borja told commissioners that the Austin Water executive team will evaluate all the proposals and submit its final recommendations for the next round of capital improvements program budget planning from 2021-2025.
Prescribed burns just what the doctor ordered
The Edwards Aquifer provides water both to Barton Springs and to groundwater wells throughout Travis and Hays counties. Protecting the aquifer means protecting the ecosystem above and around it, and prescribed burning is one tool proven to have numerous benefits. Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division will be conducting prescribed burns this summer on sections of the 28,000 acres in Hays County designated as water quality protection lands. Among its other benefits, prescribed burning helps to minimize the danger of uncontrolled wildfire, promotes the growth of native grasses and supports biodiversity in the area. Luke Ball with the Wildland Conservation Division says, “Conducting prescribed burns is one of the strategies used to manage these lands and protect groundwater in Central Texas. Prescribed burns improve the resiliency of our land when they are used as a planned seasonal management tool.” To conduct the burns, Austin Water partners with highly trained staff from municipal fire departments and land management agencies. If you’d like to receive notifications when the burns are scheduled, sign up here.
Fairmont backs away from Palm School deal
Douglas Manchester, owner of the Fairmont Hotel, may not be interested in buying the Palm School property after all. Manchester told the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday that a news release announcing his interest in developing the county-owned property was sent without his permission. The attorney who sent the press release, state Rep. Sheryl Cole, told the Statesman she had been fired as a result. The news release stated that Manchester would seek to develop the property surrounding the historic school building but would donate $5 million to preserve the building as a cultural center. The proposal quickly drew rebukes from some of the advocates for preserving Palm School, who said the entire property, not just the building, should remain a public space. Manchester told the Statesman the news release left the impression that “our conversations were much further along than they were.” He added that he was only interested in a deal that would be able to attract public support and that he would not be moving forward with any “unsolicited” offers to the county.
San Antonio facing sick leave challenge
Apparently following the lead of Austin businesses that objected to the city’s required sick leave ordinance, a group of San Antonio businesses have filed suit challenging their city’s attempt to require employers to provide sick leave. Austin’s ordinance was never implemented because of a lawsuit, and the same may be true of San Antonio’s ordinance. Last November, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled that Austin’s ordinance violates the state constitution because it is in conflict with the Texas minimum wage law. The city of Austin has asked the Texas Supreme Court to overturn that ruling and restore the ordinance. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s ordinance is set to take effect Aug. 1. However, business groups, including the Associated Builders & Contractors of South Texas and the San Antonio Restaurant Association, have filed a lawsuit to prevent that from happening. The San Antonio Express-News reported Wednesday that the head of CPS Energy, San Antonio’s city-owned utility, announced that she is stepping down as chair of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce because of the lawsuit. Paula Gold-Williams said she had decided to leave the chamber because “it is not helpful for me to be in the middle of a serious and formalized legal conflict between CPS Energy’s parent organization and its customers.”