Whispers

Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

School district holds Murchison groundbreaking

The first phase of Murchison Middle School’s long-awaited modernization project begins this summer. To celebrate the milestone, the school is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony open to Murchison students, their families and the entire community. As part of the modernization, the school library and administration will be relocated and a space to house the sixth grade and a bus loop will be added. Murchison Principal Beth Newton, AISD Trustee Kristin Ashy and AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz will be on hand to make brief remarks, and student representatives will read poems dedicated to their school. The event will take place in the courtyard near the tennis courts at Murchison Middle School, 3700 North Hills Drive, on Tuesday, May 21, at 9 a.m.


Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Tai Moses

Water conservationists get sales tax holiday

The good folks in the Texas Comptroller’s Office want to help you save water, and they have figured out that the best way to do that is to issue a sales tax holiday on the purchase of water-conserving and energy-efficient products. Certain products displaying the Energy Star logo such as air conditioners under $6,000, refrigerators under $2,000, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and washing machines may be purchased tax-free over Memorial Day weekend (when you were probably planning to go shopping anyway, right?). Shower heads, bathroom sink faucets, toilets, and landscape irrigation controls displaying the WaterSense label can also be purchased tax-free and so can soaker or drip-irrigation hoses and other residential garden products that help conserve water. The water-efficient and Energy Star sales tax holiday runs Saturday, May 25, to Monday, May 27. Find more details and a list of items that qualify for the tax holiday (and those that don’t) here.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Chief appraiser missing deadline?

After a particularly bad year for Travis County taxpayers seeking to protest the appraised value of their homes, it looks like this year may be just as difficult, even though the Travis Appraisal Review Board has apparently hired more people to sit on its appraisal panels. According to Bill Aleshire, one of the attorneys working for ProTax, which represents homeowners wishing to dispute appraisals done by the Travis Central Appraisal District, Marya Crigler, chief appraiser for TCAD, is apparently going to miss today’s deadline to turn over new appraisals to the TARB. There was an item on the appraisal review board’s agenda for Monday, May 13, for Crigler to turn over the new appraisal numbers. However, Aleshire said a ProTax employee in the audience reported that the board did not receive the records at that meeting because Crigler was “running behind.” Aleshire pointed out that today, May 15, is the statutory deadline for Crigler to give those records to the appraisal board, and the board is apparently not scheduled to meet within the next three days because there is no listing for such a meeting on the TCAD website. Aleshire also pointed out that the appraisal review board has to send out notices about when and where they are going to hold each hearing 14 days prior to the hearing. “If they’re going to start on June 7,” as they have previously indicated, “they have to send out the specific notice of hearing and the evidence by May 24,” he said. The Austin Monitor contacted Betty Thompson, chair of the appraisal review board, seeking a comment on Crigler’s failure to present records to the board on time. Thompson politely refused to discuss the matter, saying she had no comment. “Nobody knows what the hell is going on because they won’t communicate. It’s the weirdest year ever,” Aleshire concluded.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Tai Moses

Ride a B-cycle for free on B2WD

Austinites who don’t own a bicycle can still participate in Bike to Work Day this Friday – and through the weekend – thanks to Clif Bar and B-cycle, which are partnering to provide free day passes in the bike-share system from Wednesday, May 15, through Sunday, May 19. According to B-cycle’s announcement about the promotion, “riders who select the 24-hour day pay at the kiosk or on the BCycle app will pay no charge for the pass and receive unlimited trips of up to 60 minutes in the Austin B-cycle system from 24 hours after their first bike checkout from May 15-19. Rides longer than 60 minutes will still incur the normal $4/30 minute usage fee.” Cyclists in need of sustenance will find free Clif Bar samples at the Sixth and Congress B-cycle station Wednesday through Sunday.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Tai Moses

Help shape the Blue Line at Cap Metro open house

Capital Metro is holding an open house to discuss the Blue Line Corridor, which runs between the airport and downtown. If you’ve ever battled traffic congestion along this route, you’ll want to attend to learn more about Cap Metro’s plans for a traffic-free alternative on the corridor. Attendees will have the opportunity to offer feedback on multiple aspects of the project, and other agencies will be on hand to answer questions about the various mobility projects unfolding in the Austin area. Monday, May 20, 3-7 p.m. (stop by anytime) at Austin Central Library, Special Event Center, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. If you can’t make the actual open house, visit Project Connect’s virtual open house, from May 20 to June 28.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Tai Moses

Parks and Rec needs a few good lifeguards

The Aquatic Division of Austin Parks and Rec is looking for a few good lifeguards for the summer. It’s not all sun and games, however: Without an uptick in applicants, some of Austin’s pools may not open on time this summer. To tempt more candidates, the lifeguard certification registration fee of $40 will be waived for Hiring Day, and as if that isn’t enough, free pizza and snacks will be provided. Applicants 16 and under must have a parent present while 17-year-olds will need a parent’s signature. All those interested in a summer job as a lifeguard, cashier, swim instructor or swim coach should attend Hiring Day on Tuesday, May 14, 4-8 p.m. at the Aquatics Administration & Training Center, 2818 San Gabriel Street. For more information, visit LifeguardAustin.com.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Tai Moses

Bike to work this Friday

This Friday, May 17, is Bike to Work Day and it’s shaping up to be quite a party in a city that loves to show off its bike-friendliness. Over 40 local businesses will be doing double duty as fueling stations offering free coffee and snacks from 7-9 a.m., and a few will even have live music. If you prefer company while you pedal, join one of Ghisallo Cycling Initiative’s three guided bike trains that will leave their scheduled stops at 7:30 a.m. Want to try a new route to work? Check out the Austin Bike Map. B2WD participants can flaunt their healthy glow at the afterparty at Cheer Up Charlies from 5-8 p.m. See a map of fueling stations, bike train stops and other details here. B2WD is sponsored by the city of Austin and hosted by Bike Austin.

 

 

 


Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Accelerator seeks new startups to support

Austin’s Office of Innovation has partnered with Impact Hub’s accelerator program to provide up to $90,000 in funding to socially focused startups. The program is currently accepting applications for its next cohort of accelerator members, with up to six participants targeting housing affordability or workforce development eligible to receive one of six grants for $15,000 each from the city. Impact Hub member groups receive mentoring, workshops on a variety of business topics, coworking space and guidance on how to build and scale the startup into a viable company or nonprofit organization. Those with questions about how to participate can consult the innovation office’s FAQ page about the effort.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Three finalists vie to lead EDD

The city has named one current staffer and two outside candidates as the three finalists all hoping to become the new director of the Economic Development Department. Assistant City Manager Rodney Gonzales announced the finalists Friday, along with a meet-and-greet session on May 16 at 2 p.m. in the City Council chambers. Veronica Briseño, currently the city’s interim homeless strategy officer, is one of the finalists. She previously served as director of the Small and Minority Business Resources Department and holds a master’s degree in public administration from UT Austin. The other two finalists are Al Latimer, who recently served as director of the Tallahassee/Leon County (Florida) Office of Economic Vitality; and Larry Westerlund, who is currently the economic development director in Fresno, Calif.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

2020 budget town hall to cover pending revenue caps

City budget director Ed Van Eenoo will give a presentation on the city’s ongoing budgeting process at a town hall meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Austin Senior Activity Center on Manchaca Road. The session will include discussion on the expected caps on property tax increases, which impact revenue for cities, that will result from legislation expected to pass at the state Capitol this month. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen and other city officials and staff will be in attendance to hear from residents about their priorities in an expected tight budget year. Those who want to give feedback but are unable to attend the session are encouraged to complete the city’s online survey for the 2020 budget.


Monday, May 13, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Public Safety Commission forms working group to discuss Vision Zero

Vision Zero’s goal is to reduce the number of people who die or are seriously injured in traffic crashes to zero. To help achieve this objective, commissioners Kathleen Hausenfluck and Preston Tyree formed a working group at the May 6 meeting of the Public Safety Commission. “On a per capita basis (the number of deaths) is actually coming down pretty well,” said Tyree. However, he pointed out that as the population of Austin grows, so will the number of people involved in traffic accidents. He pointed to 2015 when there was a significant jump in traffic fatalities: from 63 to 102 deaths. That year was also the first time 50 percent of fatalities occurred outside of vehicles. Tyree explained that “a big part of the crash rate can be associated with distracted driving.” He also noted that distracted walking contributes to some of the accidents. While he said one way to lower the number of serious and fatal incidences is increased enforcement, first and foremost, Austin needs to engineer its streets to be safer and more shareable. The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan promotes a transportation network design that is mindful of Vision Zero goals. Commissioner Daniela Nuñez said that from personal experience in her district, improved street conditions for pedestrians and cyclists are crucial. “Get those transportation improvements for pedestrians, because it’s long overdue,” she said.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Community rallies behind golf course owner

Supporters of the longstanding owners of the Butler Park Pitch & Putt golf course will gather Friday in an event intended to spur attention and action from City Council. The “community supporter day” is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. at 201 Lee Barton Drive, and was organized because of the city’s decision not to consider the current ownership’s bid to continue operating the course, which is located on city park property. The bid was excluded from consideration because owner Lee Kinser neglected to sign one page of the bid form, meaning the bids from two other groups were the only ones considered. There is some belief that Council could opt to reopen the bid when it comes up for approval in approximately the next 30 days. During that time, lobbying restrictions prevent Kinser or her representatives from having any direct contact with city officials, and City Council members have declined to comment on the open contract. Kinser’s existing contract expires in August.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Tai Moses

AISD award ceremony honors Latino achievement

The Austin school district is dressing up and getting ready for its 2019 AISD Latino Academic Achievement Awards ceremony, which recognizes Latino students from every middle and high school in the district for excelling in academia, fine arts, sports, ESL and dual language programs. Several community leaders will also be honored for their outstanding contributions to AISD students and schools. In addition, the district will give special awards to a parent volunteer and will present a lifetime achievement award to the late Gustavo “Gus” Garcia, a former Austin mayor and past AISD board president. The event is free and open to the public and takes place on Saturday, May 11, at 10:30 a.m. at the Austin Independent School District’s Performing Arts Center, 1500 Barbara Jordan Blvd.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Zoning and Platting zaps commissioner from Environmental Commission

After four years on the Environmental Commission, Hank Smith has shifted focus and now sits on Zoning and Platting. An Austin resident for over 50 years, Smith lives in District 8 down south and has been an environmental engineer for 30 years. With plenty of experience in development and a good handle on the commission process, Smith seemed pleased to be participating in a more development-focused body. With little introduction, he sat down and got right to business at the May 7 meeting, asking the kind of environmentally spirited questions that aren’t always heard on the dais.


Friday, May 10, 2019 by Tai Moses

County’s transportation blueprint will be telecast

The public is invited to attend a telecast to learn about the future transportation projects Travis County has in the pipeline. The Travis County Transportation Blueprint, a 25-year road map of projects aimed at improving mobility in the region, is the result of two years of technical analysis and community input. Besides highway improvement projects, the blueprint includes bike lanes, walking trails, pedestrian infrastructure, safety measures, and more. Which projects are most important to you? You’ll have a chance to offer your opinion by phone, text or Twitter at the televised town hall, “Blueprint Live!” on Wednesday, May 15, at 7 p.m., online at Travis County TV, Time Warner Cable channel 17, Grande Communications channel 17 or AT&T UVerse channel 99. The county has also created a detailed survey for all community members to weigh in on the mobility projects in the blueprint.


Thursday, May 9, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Givens Park meeting postponed

Wednesday’s severe wet weather caused a postponement of the community forum that had been scheduled at Givens Park, with the intent to let Parks and Recreation Department officials and other city leaders discuss the Art in Public Places program that normally governs murals and other art installations on city property. The event will now take place at 6 p.m. Monday. It was organized as a response to friction with community members over a memorial mural recently created in the park to honor the victim of a robbery and shooting there in April. That mural was created spontaneously and outside of the city’s standard public art process, causing some concern it would need to be removed. PARD staff and other city leaders have decided to leave the mural in place at least for the near future, with Monday’s event expected to deal with how long it will remain in place, and how it may be added to in the future.


Thursday, May 9, 2019 by Tai Moses

Exhibit celebrates the ‘fresh perspective’ of artists in state hospitals

A new art exhibit at the Texas Capitol features 45 unique artworks created by residents of state hospitals and state-supported living centers. “Fresh Perspectives: The Art of Empowerment” showcases the talents of people living with mental health issues and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Mike Maples, a deputy executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said, “Art is used as treatment to help pave the path to recovery and independence. Some use art as a form of recreation, or as a vocation. Regardless of why they created the art, our artists have found a way to express hope, beauty, fun and struggle.” The weeklong exhibit can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, May 13, to Friday, May 17, at the Ground Floor Rotunda at the Texas Capitol at 1100 Congress Ave.


Thursday, May 9, 2019 by Tai Moses

New E-Paper signage to debut at Cap Metro stations in fall

Come fall, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be sporting some snazzy new digital signage. The digital displays using E-Paper technology developed by Luminator Technology Group, will be used throughout Cap Metro’s service area. The signs are designed to run on low power and will deliver high-resolution, backlit, real-time transit updates that are easy to read even in direct sunlight. Read more about the new technology here.


Thursday, May 9, 2019 by Tai Moses

New director takes over at ABIA

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has a new woman at the top of the control tower. Jacqueline Yaft has been named ABIA’s executive director of aviation, effective June 10. Yaft has spent the past two decades as an airport management professional at some of the busiest hub airports in the nation, including Los Angeles World Airports, Denver International and JFK. In the press release announcing the new hire, City Manager Spencer Cronk said, “I am excited to welcome Jackie to the city of Austin. She stood out among a pool of highly qualified and talented candidates because she has the experience and skills to help Austin realize our airport of the future.” The Austin Chamber also weighed in, saying in a statement, “Jacqueline Yaft is a strong choice to lead ABIA through its next phase of passenger growth, capital projects, air service expansion and retention, and customer experience. The Chamber looks forward to working with her to ensure our airport continues to excel and serve our growing business community.”


Wednesday, May 8, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Help Texans be counted

Travis County is looking to hire a census program manager as part of an effort to ensure an accurate U.S. census count. The position will work under the intergovernmental relations officer as a primary contact with the community and coordinator of the activities of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. The CCC was formed to spearhead a local effort to increase participation in the upcoming census in light of inclusion of a question asking U.S. residents about their citizenship status. More information about the position, which closes May 20, is available on the county website.


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