Austin

Austin
7:13 am
Wed April 29, 2015

Travis County Home Values Increase by 11 Percent in 2015

Jon Shapley/KUT News

If you’re a homeowner, start checking your mail. You should receive the most recent appraisal of your home value from Travis Central Appraisal District by the end of the week.

And expect those values to have gone up.

The average home value in the county increased by 11 percent in 2015, to $355,312 from $320,032 last year. Taxable values rose about nine percent.

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Austin
8:18 am
Tue April 28, 2015

City to Close Some Swimming Pools, Reduce Hours

Austin Parks and Recreation Department head recently said in a memo to Mayor Steve Adler that the city's public pools will cost $41 million to repair.
via Flickr/smreilly

From the Austin Monitor: Citing budget shortfalls, water conservation issues and a lack of lifeguards, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department says it will close two pools and cut back pool operating hours this summer.

The department says it would cost the city $41 million to bring all of its public pools into good repair.

According to a memo written by Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley to the mayor and City Council, a shortage in lifeguards means that the city will not be able to open pools June 5, which is the first day of summer break.

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Austin
3:09 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

Why Some Downtown Austin Buildings Sit Vacant for Years

920 Congress is one of four buildings on Congress Avenue that's had little activity over several years.
Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT

For the past 10 years, the Austin skyline’s been in a state of constant flux. In the past year alone, two towers have gone up in the downtown area: the Colorado Tower and the IBC Bank Plaza. Those two buildings, which combine for nearly 570,000 square feet in office and retail space, were all but leased by the time they opened their doors.

But, for some buildings, the wait is a little longer.

For some buildings – like the former headquarters of La Bare on Riverside Drive, the boxy little historic building at Congress and Riverside just down the road, and even some properties in the heart of Downtown Austin, just a few blocks from the Capitol – the wait is seemingly interminable, leaving daily passersby wondering why such high-value real estate lies vacant in the middle of a Austin’s development boom.

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Austin
10:24 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Without a Permit System, Austin's Street Performers Busk with Uncertainty

James Anthony Johnson performs on South Congress. Johnson, originally from Tennessee, has been playing local venues and busking for over 20 years in Austin.
Miguel Gutierrez, Jr. for KUT Austin

Austin prides itself on being the live music capital of the world — anywhere you go, there's music, even just walking down the street. But the city’s buskers — not just the musicians, but also the magicians, bucket drummers, jugglers and others who perform for spare change on the city’s sidewalks — are operating in a legal gray area.

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Austin
7:28 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Austin Energy Working to Restore Power to Affected Areas

Energy outage map as of 7:15 this morning.
Credit Austin Energy

Storms that rolled through the area around 1 a.m. last night caused various power outages throughout Austin and surrounding areas. Austin Energy has a map of current outages here. Customers still experiencing loss of power should call 512-322-9100 to report it.  

Crews have been working to assess damage, some caused by fallen limbs, and some customers have had their power restored as of this morning.

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Austin
4:59 pm
Fri April 24, 2015

Can City Officials Create a Level Playing Field for Cab, Uber and Lyft Drivers?

Raido Kalma/flickr

Many things have changed in the five years since the Austin City Council last approved a contract with taxi franchises.

For one, ride service companies like Uber and Lyft have become more of a norm than an anomaly. Still, cab companies say their drivers are not operating on a level playing field when it comes to regulations.

Now, the Austin City Council, for the first time, says it's going to do an analysis of exactly how level the field is.

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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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Wayback Wednesday
2:55 pm
Wed April 22, 2015

Why Texas' First Attempt at a Statewide Police Force Was a Crooked, Bloody Mess

A Texas State Police badge that sold for $4,000 last month in New Braunfels.
Credit Burley Auction Group

Today marks the 142nd anniversary of the state’s repeal of the Texas State Police. Like all states, Texas has a statewide law enforcement agency in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s state troopers, but the first iteration of the concept, which lasted only three years, was as unabashedly radical as it was a bloodstained, crooked and altogether haphazardly assembled endeavor.

The group of white, black and Hispanic men who fought on both sides of the Civil War – some were criminals, others were law enforcement who went on to serve in the Texas Rangers – were an incredibly effective force.

In their first month, the police made 978 arrests, according to the governor, of which 239 were for murder or attempted murder – the year prior, the state handily led the nation in deaths. They also enforced Reconstruction-era policies designed to protect African-Americans that were largely derided statewide, like guarding polling locations. However, they were also accused of murdering suspects, were essentially an illegal military extension of the state’s top office and were led by a corrupt, embezzling Adjutant General.

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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
3:08 pm
Fri April 17, 2015

Austin Tries to Head Off Another Lifeguard Shortage

A lifeguard at the Northwest Park pool.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

Last year, we met Redding McArdle outside Hyde Park’s Shipe Pool. The two-year-old wore blue arm floats and a bathing suit, but the gates to the pool were locked, and McArdle had a slightly dejected look on his face.

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Agenda Texas
11:24 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Agenda Texas: Here's a Look at This Session's Buffet of Tax Cut Proposals

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

There's a buffet of tax cuts lying before state lawmakers this session, and cut supporters say the state wins no matter what gets put on its plate.

Lawmakers have served up plans to cut business franchise taxes, slice sales tax rates and even nibbled around the idea of a proposal to phase out property taxes entirely. While some of these proposals won’t make the plate this session, the state is prepped to approve billions in tax cuts before the legislature’s regular session gavels out in six weeks.

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2015 Legislature
8:02 am
Fri April 17, 2015

John Legend Heads to the Lege to Drum Up Support for Criminal Justice Bills

Musician John Legend spoke at the Texas Capitol yesterday along with other lawmakers including Houston Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis.
Sarah Montgomery for KUT

John Legend is well-known for his music. He’s won Grammys and, most recently, he and Chicago rapper Common won an Academy Award for the original song “Glory” from the film Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend used the podium to draw attention to the high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Yesterday, he came to the Texas Capitol to continue that advocacy and kick off a national campaign called Free America, which aims to drop the country’s incarceration rate.

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Austin
3:26 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Update: Immigrant Affairs Commission Appointee Steps Down

Rebecca Forest speaks at a 2011 anti-immigration rally.
Screenshot from Youtube.

Update Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 3:30 p.m. Council member Don Zimmerman confirmed that Rebecca Forest has stepped down from her appointment to the Immigrant Affairs Commission.

Of Forest's remarks, made at the 2011 rally (see the youtube video below), Zimmerman said, "I don't judge Rebecca Forest by a clumsy remark. I judge her based on ten years of knowing her, and she's not a bigoted person."

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Austin
12:11 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Austin Energy Deregulation Bill Sent to Senate

Daniel Hoherd/flickr

This story has been updated since it was originally published and corrected due to an editing error.

From the Austin Monitor: A bill that could have major implications for Austin Energy and the city budget passed its first hurdle on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate floor. It could give certain Austin Energy customers the ability to break away from the utility and buy energy on the deregulated market.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development passed Senate Bill 1945 on a six-vote majority, with Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) casting the sole opposing vote.

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Wayback Wednesday
12:06 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

A Look at Austin City Limits Through the Years

Credit ACL via YouTube

Today’s Wayback Wednesday looks back at some memorable performances of the 41-year-old music program. One of ACL's creators, Bill Arhos, passed away last Saturday at the age of 80. So as a tribute of sorts, we’ve compiled videos from the show’s four-decade run, with a song from the show’s inaugural broadcast in 1974 with Willie Nelson, a 1982 set from Emmylou Harris, a cut from what would be Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final performance at Studio 6A, and a recent tune from Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Check out the full video playlist below.

Austin City Council
11:39 am
Tue April 14, 2015

Adler's First State of the City Breaks With the Past in More Ways Than One

Mayor Steve Adler delivered his first State of the City address last night.
Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

It's been 100 days since the new Austin City Council and Mayor Steve Adler took office, and last night Adler delivered his first State of the City address.

It was a packed and very diverse event — with nearly a thousand in attendance — which was a change of pace from the typically subdued addresses of the past.

While the event was free and open to the public, it wasn't free for the Mayor. As he told reporters afterwards, he and his wife paid to rent AISD's Performing Arts Center for the occasion. While he didn't say how much it cost, he did say he also footed the bill for a set from Austin musician Max Frost, who performed "White Lies," perhaps a curious choice for a political event.

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Austin
10:53 am
Mon April 13, 2015

Austin City Limits Creator Bill Arhos Dies at 80

Arhos said he produced the show's initial for $12,000 after writing a proposal to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
YouTube

Austin City Limits co-founder Bill Arhos, who was instrumental in the development of the longest-running music program in the nation's history, died over the weekend. He was 80.

While working as a producer at KLRN (now KLRU) in October 1974, Arhos partnered with Paul Bosner and Bruce Scafe to produce the first show in the concert series, which featured Willie Nelson.

“He was a real character, known and loved not just in Austin but throughout the PBS system. The idea for Austin City Limits was not just his alone, but he brought it to life, and he kept the show going and growing through some difficult times,” said Austin City Limits producer Terry Lickona in a written statement. “Whether they know it or not, millions of music fans, artists and PBS viewers owe a debt to him for his enormous contribution to what’s become a cultural institution.”

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Austin
10:13 am
Fri April 10, 2015

Shorter Library Hours Pose a Problem for Voters on Election Days

Austin voters sometimes face 'irregular' hours at polling places, especially since libraries have cut back their hours. Pictured here: Voters head into the Pan American Center in November.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

This is normally a busy time of year for anyone involved with city elections in Austin. Some school districts and local governments in the area have things on the ballot.

But it's the first time Austinites will not be voting for city council in May, and this new timing may help solve a city-wide voting challenge: finding an open polling place.

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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
2:13 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

This Man Spent 20 Years Trying to Turn Bluebonnets Red

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist spent two decades trying to cross-pollinate bluebonnets to create a red-colored variant of the wildflower.
Courtesy of Jerry Parsons

This week’s Wayback Wednesday examines the state’s beloved bluebonnet, though not the "blue" so much as the other hues that have graced the petals of Texas' state flower.

The wildflower comes in all manner of colors – blue, white, pink, red and even maroon, which Longhorn fans became intimately aware of last year. But the roots of these bluebonnet variants stretch back over 30 years, when a young, if not naïve, Texas A&M vegetable specialist took up the challenge of creating a Texas flag solely comprised of the state flowers.

“Being naïve, I said, ‘We’ve already got a third of it done!’ like an idiot,” says former Texas A&M horticulturist Jerry Parsons. “You know how young people are.”

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