Austin Monitor

Transportation
9:49 am
Thu July 30, 2015

CTRMA Announces MoPac Project Delay, Again

The Mopac Improvement Project originally budgeted about $20 million for bumps in the road during construction; it currently has about $6.5 million left. There is a chance the transportation authority will have to find additional funding for the road.
MoPac Improvement Project

From our city reporting partner, the Austin Monitor: Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, told board members Wednesday that the MoPac Improvement Project is expected to be fully operational sometime in the second half of 2016, a far cry from its originally stated Sept. 17, 2015, completion date.

Lead contractor CH2M Hill is responsible for the design and construction of CTRMA’s express lane project, which affects MoPac from Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane. But the originally budgeted $200 million proposal has seen numerous delays because of labor shortages, drilling problems, weather issues, continual run-ins with unidentified utility infrastructure and debatably differing site conditions than those originally agreed upon, Heiligenstein said.

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Austin
10:17 am
Wed July 22, 2015

Parks Department Sat on Metz Pool Repair Bid for Nearly 6 Months

East Austin neighbors argued at a Parks & Rec Department meeting that it was unfair to learn roughly a month before the start of the summer season that some of them would be without the use of their community pools.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

From the Austin Monitor:

Although the city’s Parks and Recreation Department ordered the repair of an East Austin neighborhood pool in late April, it appears that the department had bids for the work for some time. This, even as department officials initially told residents that the pool would have to be closed for the 2015 summer season and then back-tracked under community pressure.

On Nov. 5, 2014 (see below), the Parks Department received a bid from Commercial Swim Management for Metz Pool repairs totaling $10,232.60. Those repairs included replacement of the plumbing in a pool wall drain and installation of new valves and piping. That bid was eventually approved, and a purchase request was made by the city on April 30, 2015.

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Austin
9:41 am
Thu June 11, 2015

East Cesar Chavez Hotel Fails at Planning Commission

Opponents objected to the size of the boutique hotel proposed for East Cesar Chavez. But if the hotel doesn't go up there, some argue, something else inevitably will.
Audrey McGlinchy/Austin Monitor

From the Austin Monitor:

Residents opposed to a proposed 65-room boutique hotel at 1207 East Cesar Chavez St. told the Planning Commission on Tuesday night that they do not want to see their neighborhood become “another Rainey Street.” At the meeting, several residents held signs that read, “Don’t Rain-ey on our Chavez … No East Side Hotel.”

Commissioners agreed that the hotel should not go up in East Austin, and a motion to approve a conditional use permit failed (Commissioner Richard Hatfield created the motion, but none of the other four commissioners present seconded it).

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Austin
11:14 am
Tue May 12, 2015

Committee Votes No on Barbecue Smoke Ordinance

Renteria’s original proposal would have required barbecue restaurants to put expensive scrubbers on their stacks to prevent smoke from bothering neighborhood residents.
flickr.com/lidocaineus

From the Austin Monitor: After hearing from several opponents of the proposed ordinance to require scrubbers on the smokestacks of restaurants that smoke meat, the City Council Committee on Economic Development voted unanimously Monday against supporting the ordinance.

Council Member Ora Houston made the motion not to pursue an ordinance initially proposed by Council Member Pio Renteria. Houston moved that individual complaints be referred to Code Compliance or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

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Austin
10:42 am
Wed May 6, 2015

Travis County Commissioners Ponder Drunk-Tank Proposal

Perhaps better known colloquially as a drunk tank, a proposed sobriety center in Austin would serve as an alternative to Travis County Jail or local emergency rooms as destinations for people detained for public intoxication.
AlexVan/pixabay

From the Austin Monitor:

The Travis County Commissioners Court took another tentative step toward establishing a sobriety center in partnership with the City of Austin at its regular voting session. Perhaps better known colloquially as a drunk tank, the proposed sobriety center would serve as an alternative to Travis County Jail or local emergency rooms as destinations for people detained for public intoxication.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-0 to direct the brain trust behind the effort to come up with specific proposals for the center’s governance that the county and city can then consider. Commissioner Ron Davis abstained from the vote, citing unanswered questions about the exact role the city would play in the center’s establishment and operation.

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Transportation
2:09 pm
Fri April 24, 2015

How You’re Paying (and Maybe Paying Again) for Austin’s Roads

Mike Heiligenstein is the Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Authority. The agency was created in 2002 to design modern transportation systems for Central Texas.
Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Terrence Henry take on transportation.

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Education
10:54 am
Fri April 24, 2015

New High School Graduation Plans Means More Work for Texas School Counselors

As a school counselor at East Side Memorial, Jennifer Mullins juggles between catering to the academic and personal needs of students. That responsibility has increased since the state passed HB 5.
Credit Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

Jennifer Mullins is sitting in her office at Eastside Memorial High School when a staff member comes in and asks for a stress ball. There’s a student outside that needs help. Mullins walks out the door and immediately takes control. 

"Hey bud, hey! Stress ball! Just breathe," Mullins says.  The student was having a negative reaction to a medication.

Mullins is one of two school counselors at Eastside Memorial High School who handles both emotional and academic support. Every student there is labeled at-risk. Mullins says she spends half her time dealing with students' needs outside the classroom.

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Austin
8:07 am
Fri April 24, 2015

Why Texas Isn’t Paying for What it Wants from Austin’s Classrooms

Public education in Texas faces funding challenges, and the Austin Independent School District may be the perfect poster child for the issue.
Nathan Bernier/KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

It’s no secret that public education in Texas faces funding challenges, and the Austin Independent School District may be the perfect poster child for the issue. While the district sends more tax revenue to the state annually for redistribution than any other, it implemented austerity measures in 2008 and has been dipping into its reserves since 2012.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley stressed the issue when she spoke with the Austin Monitor. “We're utilizing our reserves to really maintain funding that we know is important for students,” she said.

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Transportation
8:30 am
Thu April 23, 2015

More Lanes Are Coming to Austin's Highways, But They Won't Be Free

The MoPac Improvement Project will add one tolled lane in each direction to North MoPac. The lane will be free for transit.
Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

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Austin
10:59 am
Wed April 22, 2015

Why Your Speeding Ticket Doesn’t Pay For What You Think it Does

When Austinites pay traffic tickets and fines, where does that money end up?
Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin take part in a regular fiscal dance with the State of Texas over who pays the costs of government. Over the next three days, KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.” Today, we take on Austin’s Municipal Courts. 

When Austin residents are handed traffic tickets or other Municipal Court fees and fines, they likely assume that the city is profiting handsomely from those often colorful sheets of paper. If they could see where those revenues go, however, they might come to a different conclusion.

In fact, the city’s current budget projects that the court will face a roughly $3.7 million shortfall in the fiscal year that started in October by incurring about $19.7 million in general expenses and pulling in about $16 million in general revenue. On top of that, it projects that the court will fall short in three of its special revenue funds and break even on the fourth.

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Austin
10:20 am
Thu April 9, 2015

Austin Commission Votes to Ban Use of 'Painful Devices' on Circus Animals

Nathan King/flickr

From the Austin Monitor: Before the Austin Animal Advisory Commission endorsed a proposed ordinance Wednesday banning the use of painful devices on circus animals, commissioners deliberated how the city should define a circus animal.

Members said the inclusion of lions, tigers and bears, plus other usual circus animals, was certainly right. However, Commissioner Babette Ellis worried that including horses and dogs might affect those animals traveling to the city for non-circus events, such as the upcoming Austin Kennel Club Dog Show.

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Austin
4:19 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

Council Approves Further Study, Input Process for Proposed Barbeque Smoke Regulations

Brisket at Franklin's. Owner Aaron Franklin visited city council Monday to explain the potential effects of proposed regulations on his, and others', barbecue businesses.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

Update Thursday April 2, 2015, 4:20 p.m. At today’s meeting, the Austin City Council voted to start a stakeholder input process on possibly regulating barbecue smoke from restaurants.

Recommendations will be made by the city manager to the Health and Human Services Committee and the Economic Opportunity Committee. After July 31, there will be another chance for public comment.

ORIGINAL STORY from the Austin Monitor: In response to owners of barbecue restaurants worried about their future in Austin, City Council Member Pio Renteria is making some changes to his resolution directing city staff to create rules to regulate smoke from commercial barbecue smokestacks.

Originally, the resolution was written to require restaurants and mobile food vendors who use a wood or charcoal burning stove or grill within 150 feet of properties zoned residential to install exhaust systems called smoke scrubbers or similar devices.

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Austin
10:27 am
Thu March 26, 2015

MoPac Boulevard Project Completion Delayed

Officials have pushed back the MoPac construction completion date.
Courtesy of MoPac Improvement Project

From the Austin Monitor:

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority officials announced Wednesday that a fully operational MoPac Boulevard may not happen until the end of the year. While the announcement currently delays construction only three-and-a-half months, officials said they were not confident they could complete the work even then.

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Austin Monitor
9:36 am
Wed March 18, 2015

Austin Energy Payments to City Keep Growing

Sue Jones/wikimedia commons

From the Austin Monitor:

Even though City Council froze the transfer from Austin Energy to the city’s general fund at $105 million in 2012, the amount the utility pays for support services has continued to grow. For the current fiscal year, the utility will fund more than $20 million for support services as well as to departments that may or may not have much to do with the utility.

The transfer, of course, is like a dividend payment to the taxpayers, reducing the amount they would have to pay to fund the city. It is used to defray costs and reduce taxes. The city uses various methods to allocate administrative costs, some of them intuitively obvious, but others not.

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Austin
12:29 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

Council Plays Fast and Loose on Garza Tract Vote

Credit Liang Shi/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

Those familiar with the previous City Council’s strict adherence to procedural rules have been left dizzy by the new Council’s first few meetings. Last week, during the Garza Ranch discussion about the maximum allowable number of vehicle trips per day on the tract, that confusion reached new heights — and after some investigation, the Austin Monitor remains unable to determine who, if anyone, made the final amendment to the motion that was approved on first reading.

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Austin
11:17 am
Thu February 26, 2015

Adler Seeks Public’s Help in Lobbying for More Staff

Credit Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

Mayor Steve Adler is trying to boost the chances that his 10 City Council colleagues will vote for a resolution directing the city manager to identify funding options for five new members of the mayor’s staff — at a projected annual cost of $490,645.

Even if Council approves the resolution today, it does not guarantee that his colleagues will vote to spend the money when the answers come back.

Last night, employing a tactic heretofore unseen by the Monitor, Adler sent out an email asking his supporters for help in approving a larger staff for his office. Adler took the unorthodox step of requesting that his supporters email other Council members to promote his plan.

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Austin
11:34 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Professor Lectures Adler on Austin Government

Mayor Steve Adler announced that he would no longer try to use a nonprofit foundation to add up to 15 new members to his office staff, which currently has five. He's pictured here at KUT studios.

From the Austin Monitor:

Terrell Blodgett, professor emeritus at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, has written to Mayor Steve Adler and his City Council colleagues expressing concern about the mayor’s plan to add more staff for his office and lecturing him on the fact that the mayor has no more power than any of his Council colleagues or mayors before him.

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Austin City Council
11:09 am
Fri February 6, 2015

Aleshire Files Criminal Complaint Against Zimmerman

District 6 City Council member Don Zimmerman is accused of wrongly using campaign funds to pay his wife.
KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

District 6 City Council Member Don Zimmerman may be headed back to court, but this time as a defendant in a criminal prosecution.

On Thursday, Aleshire LAW PC attorney Bill Aleshire filed a criminal complaint against Zimmerman with the Travis County Attorney and the Texas Ethics Commission.

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City Hall
11:06 am
Fri January 23, 2015

Council Postpones Salary Debate Until Next Week

Credit Callie Hernandez/KUT News

From the Austin Monitor:

On Thursday, City Council temporarily backed away from a plan that could have members voting to reduce their own salaries.

Council members voted 11-0 to postpone action on the resolution until their Jan. 29 meeting. The resolution directs the city manager to change the current office budgeting structure to allow Council members to decrease their individual compensation and shift funds within their offices. Mayor Steve Adler explained that the postponement will give Council members the opportunity to take a closer look at the proposition, then address it further at next week’s Tuesday work session.

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Austin
10:24 am
Fri January 16, 2015

City Orders Study on Bag Ban That State May Toss

The city's Zero Waste Advisory Commission will study the effectiveness of the city's bag ban. Governor-elect Greg Abbott believes the ban is a violation of state law.
Credit s-t-e-v-e-n/flickr

From the Austin Monitor:

Amid concerns that state leadership will take steps to limit city ordinances such as Austin’s plastic bag ban, the Zero Waste Advisory Commission has instructed city staff to study the ban in time to send the results to the state legislature.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday requesting that the Austin Resource Recovery Department complete a study of the results of the city’s Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance by no later than May 1.

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