Daniel Martens

Intern for KUT News

Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

Austin’s urban rail plans will take a major step tomorrow when a preliminary funding and phasing plan will be outlined during an Austin City Council work session.

The Austin Transportation Department sent out a memo last Thursday outlining initial phases of investment for urban rail. 

The first proposed phase would serve Downtown, the Capitol Complex, UT, Hancock Center and Mueller. Phase Two would cross the river and head down Riverside Drive to Pleasant Valley.

Photo by KUT Austin; lotto image courtesy aclfestival.com; graphic by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The 2012 lineup for the Austin City Limits Music Festival will be announced tomorrow. But, thanks to festival promoters and some silver-fingered Austinites, we’ve gotten a few previews of the lineup.

Over the weekend, festival fans started buying lotto-style scratch tickets for a chance to win passes and more. The tickets also revealed the names of attending bands. Each of the following bands were featured on the tickets, confirming their appearances at ACL this October (barring any cancelations, of course):

  • Quiet Company, Punch Brothers, Steve Earle, Bon Iver, Alabama Shakes, Freelance Whales, Kimbra, Barrington Levy, Jack White, Black Keys, Andrew Bird, Esperanza Spalding, A-Trak, Zola Jesus (via diffuser.fm)
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues

On Saturday, the Austin Poetry Society is kicking off its Poetry with Wheels contest. Open to anyone 18 or older, the winner’s poem will be posted on the placards lining the inside of Capital Metro buses.

"The Poetry with Wheels contest is not just for professional poets," the society writes on its website. "All members of the Austin community are encouraged to enter."

Although there’s no restriction poem topics or the amount of poems you can submit, the Poetry Society has four guidelines for submissions:

Photo by I-Hwa Chang for KUT News

The Austin Animal Center is seeking adopters for at least 40 pets today, May 15. The Animal Center will euthanize 23 dogs today if at least 40 pets do not find a home.

The Animal Center has taken in a large number of pets recently, but they haven’t seen an equal number of adoptions. Since last Friday, the shelter says it has taken in 36 animals, putting the total population at 1,046 pets with no more space. The Austin Animal Center’s population is at 58 (over capacity by 130), and the Town Lake Animal center is also at capacity.

Since February of 2011, the city-run shelter has maintained its "No Kill" policy by saving 90 percent or better of the animals taken in. But this year, if the adoptions don’t rapidly increase, the Animal Center could fail to meet this benchmark.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/asifch

Merriam-Webster defines “eclipse” both as “the total or partial obscuring of one celestial body by another,” and “a falling into obscurity or decline.”

Dr. Jarita Holbrook hopes her new documentary about the former will prevent the latter from claiming young America’s interest in science.    

Dr. Holbrook is an astrophysicist, anthropologist and filmmaker. Her current project, “Black Sun,” is about two astrophysicists, Dr. Alphonse Sterling and Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, and their journey around the world chasing solar eclipses. However, the film is about more than just two globetrotting scientists, it’s also about the revitalization of American youth’s interest in the STEM field –science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and specifically, in minority communities.

Photo by Emery Reifsnyder for KUT News

Is the long-deliberated redesign of Austin Energy electric rates coming to a close?

Three members of the Austin City Council – Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Chris Riley and Bill Spelman – seemingly hope so. The three held a press conference this morning to propose a new rate structure for the city utility, which they would like to take effect this fall.

“I wish we could wait another year or two before proposing higher electric rates, but we can’t,” said Spelman. While he admitted no one wants an increase in rates, the five-tier rate structure the group proposed – with rates increasing in amount as customers use more electricity – could allow for rates to be lowered in the future. For residential customers, the average rate increase will be reduced from 20 percent in the originally proposed plan to eight percent. A monthly fixed charge, originally proposed at $22, has been lowered to $10.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Most students would agree that cramming for finals is painful. 

But one overlooked stressor is eye strain, which can result in computer vision syndrome. A recent BBC article noted 90% of matriculating students in major Asian cities are suffering from nearsightedness.

According to Dr. Benjamin Warta, a VSP optometrist with Vision Care Specialists in Denver, Colorado, people that engage in daily or extended work, reading, or entertainment viewing on a screen near their face – “close work,” as Dr. Warta calls it – tend to show a definite increase in eye-strain.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Political trailblazer Gus Garcia – the first Hispanic elected to the Austin ISD Board of Directors, and the city's first Hispanic mayor – was honored today.

Garcia has been a major force in Austin politics for decades. In 1972, he became the first Hispanic to be elected to the school board, coming into office with a list of “17 Demands for Quality Education.” Programs at today’s event, sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, commemorated the 40th anniversary of his historic election.

Garcia’s colleague and keynote speaker, Ernest Perales, remarked on the difficulties the AISD board found itself in during the turmoil of the 1970s. Peralez called Gus Garcia “a hero” and praised his tenure on the board.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

It being election season in Austin, you’ve likely heard some candidate singing the city’s praises – or blasting Austin’s inclusion on various Top 10 lists as a sign of increasing cost.

KUT News likes to compile the city’s latest Top 10 accolades – but take it one step further, into a Top 10 list of our own. You can see our previous Top 10 list here.  

As we wrote then, to get a gauge of just how many Austin-happy rankings are floating around, we look for “best cities” rankings including Austin over the last few months. And from that, we compiled this meta-master list, a Top 10 of the city’s most recent Top 10 rankings ranging from the apparent, to the arbitrary, to the really, really arbitrary. So without further ado:

1. You grow up so fast!: No surprise here, but Austin’s growing, and growing fast. Forbes ranks Austin Number One in its April 18 study of “America’s Fastest Growing Cities.”

View May 5th/May 6th Road Closures in a larger map

If it’s a weekend in Austin, there must be some special events. And special events mean road closures. Five big events are happening this weekend, and KUT News has mapped the closures above. Here’s more on what’s happening:

  • Chuy’s Hot to Trot 5K and Kid-K: Chuy’s Arbor Trails location is sponsoring a 5K run Saturday, May 5. The Kid-K is approximately a half-mile and everyone receives a medal as they cross the line. Online registration for the event is closed, but in-person registration is available Friday until 8 p.m. and Saturday beginning at 6:30 a.m.
Photo courtesy facebook.com/WallerCreekBoathouse

The city’s nascent plans for re-envisioning Waller Creek took another step forward today, in the form of a new, $3.4 million boathouse on the north side of Lady Bird Lake.

In March of this year, city officials authorized Austin Rowing Club to operate the facility. Boat storage and office areas of the new boathouse will be reserved for the ARC, but according to KXAN , “builders say it is designed to be accessible to the public, with a scenic observation deck, vending area, and public restroom.”

The 10,800 square foot, two-story boathouse was built new, in part, because previous facilities had to gain way for construction of the Waller Creek tunnel.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Outside Tyler’s clothing store on The Drag, anyone could try their hand at painting on a “Big Ass Canvas.”

Big Ass Canvas offered its first community canvas painting today, outside the Guadalupe Street store. The project encourages passersby to pick up a paintbrush and help fill a large canvas (8.5 by 6 feet). It was launched a week and a half ago by Zach Horvath and Travis Chafin.

Aside from the action on The Drag, canvases will also be available at spots on South Congress and the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake, as well as at a final celebratory event. Then, the four canvases will be auctioned off to raise money for Explore Austin, a mentoring program with an emphasis on the outdoors.

Photos courtesy tamacc.org

The Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) is honoring female business and community leaders at its first annual Women of Distinction luncheon – and three honorees hail from Austin.

TAMACC has previously awarded a Woman of the Year award to women in the Hispanic community who show exceptional service in a leadership role. But this year the group will bestow multiple awards to “Hispanic women [who] have taken such a prominent role in business and in various leadership roles,” according to TAMACC Board Executive J.R. Gonzalez. Gonzalez remarked that it was so difficult to narrow the applicants down to the original 10 awardees that the board had to settle on 13.

 Three Austinites are among the 13 women being honored for their excellence and contribution to their community. 

Photo courtesy Larry Miller, flickr.com/drmillerlg

Could Waller Creek – currently a flood-prone, trash-strewn downtown creek – ultimately stand along New York’s High Line Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park as a premier urban space?

That was one of the rosy assessments the Real Estate Council of Austin shared at a lunchtime talk about the future of the Waller Creek, and its potential as a central riverwalk-style district.

Plans for redeveloping Waller Creek have lurched along with little success dating back to the 1970s. Things began falling into place in 2007, when the city and the county developed a financing agreement to pay for the tunnel that would create a steady flow, and preventing flooding.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

A few million dollars here, a few million there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

The Bond Election Advisory Task Force is currently soliciting input on a bond package to send to voters this November. In February, city departments presented lists of projects and programs they would like to see funded. Since then, the committee has narrowed down an initial $1.49 billion of funding requests to just $650 million. (You can view the recommendations here.)

Tonight, May 2nd, and tomorrow, May 3rd, the task force is holding public forums it will use to further narrow its $650 million list. Here’s a look at what’s made the cut so far. 

City Facilities: About $117 million

Big Ticket Items: Fire Department– Fire Maintenance & Breathing Air Shops ($14,852,000)

This nearly $15 million would go towards “relocation of fire department fleet maintenance and breathing air shops from their 2011 E. 51st Street location.”

Image courtesy of Fernando Romero

The Mexic-Arte Museum is asking for $10 million in City of Austin bond money to finance the construction and design of a $30 million, six-story building downtown.

Designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero, architect of the $70 million Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, the new Mexic-Arte Museum is designed to be 54,000 square feet, half of which will be leased as office space, the Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday.

The Statesman notes that in 2000, the museum received $740,000 to buy their current location at 419 Congress Ave. In 2006, the museum received $5 million in voter-approved bonds to design and construct a new facility on the Mexican American Cultural Center campus, and the museum announced that it would sell its existing building. But three years later, the museum canceled those plans and announced it would stay on Congress Avenue. The museum started thinking about building again in 2010, receiving $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce.