Central Texas senators have plenty of cash
Senators Kirk Watson, Charles Schwertner, Judith Zaffirini, Dawn Buckingham and Donna Campbell each represent a portion of Travis County, with Watson representing the lion’s share. Bearing in mind that members of the Legislature are not allowed to collect donations while the Legislature is in session and for a couple of weeks after that, here are some highlights from the July 15 campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Although Watson raised only about $6,900 during the short window prior to June 30, he reported cash on hand of nearly $1,302,000 and he’s not up for reelection next year. On the other hand, Zaffirini, whose hometown is Laredo, reported raising $72,760 and her cash on hand was more than $1,276,000. She is up for reelection in 2020. Schwertner, who is from Georgetown, reported collecting no political contributions, but still retains more than $1,269,000 in the bank. Campbell, who represents parts of far South Austin as well as Hays and Kendall counties and parts of Bexar County, reported contributions of just $3,250 but still has more than $631,000 in the bank. Buckingham, on the other hand, raised more than $405,000 during that short window in late June and reported that she has $1,349,589 in the bank. However, the campaign owes her more than $1,023,000. Buckingham, who is an ophthalmologist
plastic surgeon, had a list of wealthy contributors and political action committees, including APAC, Inc./Oldcastle Materials, Inc. Texas PAC, which contributed $10,000 to her campaign. She also received $5,000 from the Beer Alliance of Texas PAC, the Eye-PAC of the Texas Ophthalmological Association and $15,000 from Alan Harper of the L&M Service Group. She is up for reelection in 2020.
Central Health postpones budget talk
Last week we told you that Central Health would be holding a community conversation on its 2020 health care budget, scheduled for Monday, July 29. Well, get your calendars out, because that meeting has been postponed until August. As soon as we hear the new date from Central Health, we’ll let you know.
DAA and friends talk homelessness
Next week, the Downtown Austin Alliance will be hosting a forum to discuss recent changes to city homelessness ordinances. Dubbed the Downtown Safety Forum, panelists will discuss changes to the camping and sit/lie ordinances that went into effect on July 1 and hear from “city officials about homelessness planning, including recommendations for shelters in each council district that are due in August,” according to a press release about the event. Panelists, including Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley, Interim Homeless Strategy Officer Veronica Briseño and DAA Vice President of Investor Relations Bill Brice, will discuss these issues and answer questions from the audience on July 23 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Eighth St. Though the event is free and open to the public, guests must RSVP online to attend.
Community working sessions aim to improve mobility in Austin
We know you never tire of hearing about Austin’s mobility issues. But big problems need big solutions. Now the city of Austin and Ford Mobility have launched The City:One Challenge, a collaboration of municipal, community and corporate partners whose goal is to crowdsource some really smart ideas that will help to transform Austin’s transportation headaches. This Thursday’s working group – the first in a series of community meetings – has an ambitious goal: to “identify new mobility solutions that create immediate impact for residents and support broader planning efforts in cities,” according to the news release. Bring your best stories about transportation. The event is free and dinner will be provided. Thursday, July 18, 5:30-8:30 p.m., Asian American Resource Center, 8401 Cameron Road. Please RSVP on Eventbrite or Facebook.
City departments launch expanded home repair program
Few things are more annoying than the drip-drip-drip of a slow faucet leak or the fitful hiss of a running toilet in the middle of the night. These leaks may seem minor, but the steady waste of water can really add up on your water bill. A partnership between Austin Water and the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development department will provide $350,000 in funding to extend the GO Repair! program to help low-income customers fix chronic leaks, among other home repairs. Each eligible home can get up to $15,000 a year in repairs including electrical, plumbing, exterior siding, drywall, flooring and roof repairs. The added funding will enable GO Repair! to reach more residents every year. Home repairs must fall within the scope of the program. See the program guidelines at austintexas.gov/department/go-repair.
Central Health invites residents to a tweet chat
Travis County tax dollars help to cover the costs of health care for one in seven low-income residents. Since we’re all in this together, Central Health decided to invite all county residents to participate in the conversation about how best to use those health care funds. Join Central Health on Tuesday, July 16, at 7 p.m. for a Twitter chat about the 2020 health care budget. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #CHealthChats.
Fairmont owner interested in buying Palm School
Douglas Manchester, the owner of the Fairmont Hotel, announced Monday that he’s interested in purchasing the property surrounding Palm School, a historic building that currently houses the Travis County Health and Human Services Department but is being eyed by city leaders as a future museum dedicated to the history and culture of Mexican Americans in Austin. City Council, led by Council Member Kathie Tovo, has urged the county to allow the city to preserve and use the building for the museum, but members of the Travis County Commissioners Court, while committed to its preservation, are reluctant to relinquish control of the property for less than market value, which at least one appraisal set at $53 million. Manchester also wants to preserve the building and said in his statement that he will donate $5 million to that end; however, he also wants to redevelop the rest of the property surrounding the building, which sits next door to the Fairmont. The proposal was quickly denounced by activists involved in the push to preserve the property, who maintain the entire parcel needs to stay publicly owned. Commissioner Margaret Gómez told the Austin American-Statesman that while she had met with Manchester, she would prefer the property remain in the public domain.
You oughta be in pictures, Hays County
The Hays County Commissioners Court votes today on a proclamation aimed at bringing more film industry business to the county and to launch a campaign dubbed “50 Locations in 50 Days.” According to a press release about the push, the “San Marcos Cinema Club, in conjunction with other municipal, county and university groups, aims to register 50 Hays County properties in 50 days on the Texas Film Commission’s website as potential locations for television/film production … Starting July 16, the coalition will sign up willing locations in San Marcos and across Hays County as potential sites for the TV/film industry. A Cinema Club rep will be available to assist property owners with their application – explaining the financial perks, taking photographs of the property and answering any lingering questions – with a goal of registering 50 properties in 50 days.” Hays County property owners are encouraged to register their locations, and can find help doing so by calling (512) 557-5837 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. “By enticing the TV/film industry to Hays County, we not only get to show off the unique assets and geography that our corner of Texas has to offer, but we can also potentially boost our local economy significantly, with particular benefit for our arts and cultural organizations,” said San Marcos City Council Member Lisa Prewitt.
An affordable housing project in Southeast Austin gets bigger
The Travis County Commissioners Court was delighted to hear that a proposed affordable housing project has become even bigger after the developer decided to add another story to the project. AMTEX, the developer, now wants to build 304 income-restricted units at 7430 Bluff Springs Road, which sits just outside city limits in Southeast Austin. Previously, the plan had been to build 228 units. The new plan will also include some units priced for very low-income people at 30 percent of the area median income. “My goodness, thank you so much,” said County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, addressing Darin Hansen, a representative of AMTEX. Hansen explained that the developer decided to add a fourth floor to the complex after assessing the surrounding area and deciding that a building that tall was in line with the character of nearby properties. The court unanimously approved a resolution of no objection, which will allow the developer, which is working in partnership with the Travis County Housing Finance Corporation, to apply to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for federal 4 percent low-income housing tax credits to finance the project.
Take a detour to Office of Vital Records
This weekend saw the beginning of a major demolition and reconstruction project of the Colorado River bridge crossing on U.S. Highway 183. The work is expected to last up to a year, and while construction is ongoing, northbound traffic will be affected. Those headed for Austin Public Health’s Office of Vital Records will find that they need to take a detour; fortunately, the office has supplied several alternate routes:
- From U.S. 183 Northbound: After crossing the Colorado River, continue northbound on U.S. 183. Keep left and use the U-turn at Bolm Road to head southbound on U.S. 183. Immediately merge to the far-right lane to exit for Airport Boulevard/Loop 111/Levander Loop. Keep right and look for the entrance to Austin Public Health on your right.
- From East Cesar Chavez, Fifth and Seventh Streets: After crossing Springdale Road, turn left onto Shady Lane. Take Shady Lane across Airport Boulevard to Bolm Road. Turn right onto Bolm Road. Follow Bolm Road to Gardner Road. Turn right onto Gardner Road. Take Gardner Road to Levander Loop. Turn right onto Levander Loop. Keep right and look for the entrance to Austin Public Health on your right.
- From U.S. 183 Southbound: After passing FM 969/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard continue southbound past Bolm Road. Keep right and exit U.S. 183 to Airport Boulevard/Loop 111/Levander Loop. Keep right and look for the entrance to Austin Public Health on your right.
If you need a birth or death certificate, follow this process.
Travis County approves $100,000 loan to Sobering Center
On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court unanimously approved a $100,000 loan to Sobering Center Austin to prevent the facility from having to make cuts as it awaits funding from the state Health and Human Services Commission. According to Travis County Judge Nancy Hohengarten, who chairs the Sobering Center board, the organization, which is a local government corporation, successfully applied for a federal grant aimed at addiction treatment that is distributed by HHSC. The organization was awarded the grant, which is distributed as a reimbursement once the center meets certain deliverables. However, the agency has been slow to deliver on the payments due to a new payment system that was recently implemented, said Hohengarten. While she believes the Sobering Center will ultimately meet all of the necessary deliverables and get roughly $600,000 from the state, in the near term the center needs immediate financial assistance in order to meet payroll or it may have to reduce hours. The deal the court approved calls for the center to pay back the county in the next fiscal year.
City commences work on Redbud Trail Bridge
Over the weekend, the city started some routine maintenance work along a section of Redbud Trail in West Austin. The work – which is unrelated to the Redbud Trail Bridge replacement project – includes repairs to the bridge, repaving and re-striping lanes, fixing guardrails, and other minor repairs. The work is expected to wrap up in early or mid-August, depending, as always, on the weather. Motorists can expect some temporary weekday lane closures while the work is being performed, and possibly on some Saturdays as well. The bridge will remain open and access to Redbud Isle Park will not be affected. For more details, see the map below.
Board of Adjustment chair steps down
Yesterday, William Burkhardt, who has chaired the Board of Adjustment since 2015, tendered his resignation from the board. “It’s just time for me to step down,” he told the Austin Monitor. Burkhardt, who was Council Member Kathie Tovo’s District 9 appointee, was serving his third term on the board, which would have extended through February 2021. In June, while he was still chair, Burkhardt filed a grievance along with other members of the board against former Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd alleging a conflict of interest and misrepresentation of the interests of the board to third parties. The former chair explained to the Monitor that work demands have become more pressing as of late, and with the new Land Development Code discussions beginning, he felt it was time to pass the torch. He has recommended Brooke Bailey, a former member of the Board of Adjustment, as his replacement.
Austin declares July 13 Sandra Bland Day
Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African American woman who was arrested during a traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, in July 2015 and died in a Waller County jail cell three days later. Her arrest, recorded on cellphone video, sparked protests across the country. Social justice and civil rights groups are applauding the city of Austin’s proclamation of July 13 as Sandra Bland Day and several events have been planned to honor her life and explore the lessons of her death. On Friday, July 12, Wildflower Unitarian Church will be airing the short film Awaken the Voice: Seeking Justice for Sandra Bland, co-sponsored by WFC Social Action Council and Undoing White Supremacy, 6:30-9 p.m., 1314 E. Oltorf St. On Saturday, July 13, Huston-Tillotson University will hold a Day of Advocacy and Healing, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 900 Chicon St.
City acknowledges that dads change diapers too
Dads can have a rough time out in the world when baby’s diaper needs changing. Men aren’t welcome in women’s restrooms, and few men’s rooms have diaper-changing stations. What’s a dad to do? Austin City Council to the rescue! Council approved a resolution June 19 recognizing that “gender norms have changed, and fathers and other male caregivers frequently now share in the full range of joys and responsibilities associated with parenthood.” The resolution directs the city manager to look into the feasibility of installing diaper-changing stations in all city restrooms so that Austin will truly be more family friendly. The charge toward gender-neutral access to diaper-changing tables was spearheaded by District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis. After hearing from constituents who described the variety of creative methods they were using for changing diapers in public, Ellis told Spectrum News, “It just seems like we could be doing better.”
I-35 gets worse
This weekend, traffic on I-35 will be even worse than normal, with plans to shut down northbound lanes between Rundberg Lane and U.S. 290 East. The traffic will be diverted to southbound lanes from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. The Texas Department of Transportation – and common sense – is urging drivers to find alternate routes during that time, if possible. More information can be found at my35construction.org.
MAJOR TRAFFIC SHIFT on I-35 this weekend. Traffic will be reduced to two lanes in each direction from US 290 East to Rundberg Lane. NB traffic will shift west. Avoid this stretch of I-35 if you can. #My35 #ATXtraffic https://t.co/BoU3EbJrgF
— TxDOT Austin (@TxDOTAustin) July 11, 2019
Commissioners Court hosts futuristic info panel
The Travis County Commissioners Court has decided it’s time to get smart about 21st-century technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and (maybe) robots. Commissioner Brigid Shea has invited a panel of tech leaders to brief the court on the impact emerging technologies could have on local government and how the county could best prepare itself and residents for what lies ahead. The panel includes Meme Styles, president and founder of the nonprofit Measure; Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs; Lemuel C. Williams, director of partner development at Adaptus LLC; and Peter Zandan, global vice chairman for data and analytics at Hill + Knowlton. The panel convenes on Thursday, July 11, 1:30 p.m., Travis County Commissioners Courtroom, 700 Lavaca St., 1st floor.
AISD holds Pre-K Enrollment Fair
Summer’s only just begun, but when you have small children, it’s never too soon to start thinking about school. The Austin school district is holding a Pre-K Enrollment Fair to offer parents a chance to learn more about the various programs that are offered in the district, meet the staff and register their eligible 3- and 4-year-olds for free pre-K. Starting school early gives kids a major head start on their futures. Find out if your child qualifies for free pre-K here. A dozen schools in the district also offer a dual language pre-K curriculum. There will be refreshments and kid-friendly activities at the fair, which runs from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, July 20, Crockett Early College High School, 5601 Manchaca Road.
Attend Central Health’s discussion on health care budget
Central Health wants to know what you think about health care and how your tax dollars are being spent to fund it. Travis County residents are invited to attend a community conversation about Central Health’s 2020 proposed budget. Share your views on Monday, July 29, 6:30-8 p.m., Central Health Board Room, 1111 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Mere hours left to take Longhorn Dam survey
The Longhorn Dam survey is wrapping things up at the end of today, so if you want to offer the city some feedback on alternatives for a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Lady Bird Lake, this is your last chance. The background on the project and all of the materials from the June 10 open house are posted online, and all of the different possibilities for pedestrians and cyclists makes for some very interesting reading. But don’t tarry too long: The online survey closes in just a few hours.