Austin

Politics
8:10 am
Mon February 3, 2014

Austin's Political Players Look to Gain Seats on New City Council

Austin's switch to geographic representation has groups traditionally locked out of City Hall eying seats on the council dais.

This article was co-produced as part of an ongoing City Hall reporting partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT. Listen to the audio story broadcast on KUT in the player below. 

With single-member districts soon to become a reality, Austin City Council candidates are already lining up to crowd what promises to be a very full November ballot. Austin's political insiders and outsiders alike are trying to get a handle on an election that promises to shape the city for years to come.

Roger Borgelt is vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. He also served as co-chair of the Austinites for Geographic Representation – the group responsible for getting 10-1 on the ballot. He says that he is excited about the promise of more localized, neighborhood representation, as well as the possibility of conservatives (or at least fiscal conservatives) taking some of the 11 open City Council seats.

 

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Austin City Council
11:45 am
Fri January 31, 2014

City Council Approves Athenahealth Incentives Deal - But Not Unanimously

Massachusetts-based athenahealth will open its offices inside the former Seaholm Power Plant
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Last night the Austin City Council approved a deal that offers nearly $680,000 dollars in incentives for athenahealth to expand in Austin. The grant will be offered in addition to a $5 million subsidy from Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Enterprise Fund.

But not everyone is happy with the deal. Some council members argue that the city’s booming economy doesn’t need to offer subsidies to bring business to Austin. (The deal passed on a 5-2 vote, with city council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting no.)

Austin Monitor publisher Michael Kanin says that this debate is heating up as council members become increasingly divided on the issue of business incentives.

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Tejano Trails
6:33 am
Fri January 31, 2014

Could East Austin's Tejano Trails Keep Gentrification at Bay?

A cyclist passes El Buen Pastor Early Childhood Development Center on the Tejano Healthy Walking Trail in East Austin.
Gabriel Cristóver Pérez, KUT

The Tejano Trails in East Austin are meant to highlight landmarks and legends of the area, but they’re not easy to find. Groups are now working to make the history of this neighborhood more visible under the guidance of a National Parks Service program. 

Last fall, the Scoot Inn, the oldest continuing running bar in Central Texas, made for a fitting location for an event promoting the next phase of Austin’s Tejano Trails

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Austin City Council
4:14 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

City Council OKs 'Visitability' Rules; All New Homes Must Be Wheelchair Accessible

New homes must have at least one entrance which doesn't contain a step, under new rules passed today at City Hall.
KUT News

The Austin City Council approved changes to city building code today, aiming to make new homes more accessible to everyone.

The changes aim to improve “visitability” in newly-built Austin homes by requiring disabled-accessible design. The rules are not retroactive, and don’t apply to remodels or additions.

Specific requirements include:

  • At least one bathroom or half-bath must be available on the first floor
  • First floor baths or half-baths must be accessible through a minimum 30-inch opening and contain wood blocking reinforcements within the walls for optional installation of hand bars
  • Light switches and thermostats can’t be higher than 48 inches from the floor; outlets must be a minimum of 15 inches above the floor
  • There must be at least one first-floor entrance that is 32 inches wide and cannot contain a step.
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Halloween Floods
8:41 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Onion Creek Residents Worry About Mold After Halloween Floods

Many houses in the Dove Springs neighborhood remain damaged and uninhabitable after the Halloween Floods, and mold growth continues to be a significant problem in the area.
Jon Shapley for KUT News

The mostly uninhabited neighborhood of Onion Creek in southeast Austin has experienced some growth. But it’s growth the few neighbors who are back do not welcome.

Mold and mildew is growing in many of the homes that were left uninhabited after last year’s floods, which could create health problems for those living in Onion Creek.

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Austin
1:35 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

Will Occupancy Limits Aimed at 'Stealth Dorms' Hurt Austin Affordability?

Austin's Planning Commission voted last night to lower occupancy limits for unrelated roommates from six to four.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

A fight pitting affordable housing against neighborhood quality is headed to the Austin City Council.

Austin’s Planning Commission is recommending a reduction in the number of unrelated adults allowed to live together in single-family homes: the maximum would fall from six down to four.

Last night’s action was in response to complaints that neighborhoods were suffering from what opponents call “stealth dorms.”

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Weather
4:55 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Delays & Closures Mount as Winter Weather Tangles Austin Traffic (Update)

National Weather Service

Update: Temperatures went up above freezing this afternoon, giving the roads a chance to thaw out and dry up. Skies have cleared, setting us up for another cold night with a hard freeze, but with no precipitation in the forecast. 

Earlier: UT Austin has announced it will remain closed the rest of the day.

"Student and employee safety is our top concern and we understand the frustration that many on the Forty Acres feel about today’s weather-related delays," UT said in a statement published on its Tumblr page. "We’re very sorry for any trouble, inconvenience or problems that our students and employees faced related to our decisions."

Read on for more information on closures and delays.

Previously: Freezing rain began falling on the Austin area this morning after local school and government officials had announced their initial decisions about whether to operate today and when. In some cases, people already had set out on the roads for work and/or school when officials reconsidered earlier decisions and announced closures and delays.

Austin Police reported responding to 80 crashes between 5:00 and 7:30 A.M. By later in the morning, that number had grown to 214 crashes – about 40 per hour, according to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. At last check, that number had rose to 260.

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Weather
4:54 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

School Districts, UT Apologize as Late Weather Cancellations Are Criticized

An accident hampers the Mopac entrance in north Austin. Police responded to 274 collisions today.
Matt Largey, KUT News

A strong blast of wintry weather wasn’t the only irritant for many Austinites today: many were inconvenienced and frustrated by changing decisions from local officials on whether to open and when.

It seems the weather got unexpectedly worse at about the worst possible time: when many had already set on the roads. Adding to traffic were entities including the University of Texas and City of Austin, which did not initially alter their schedules.

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Winter Weather
1:19 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Meet the Austin Ice Scraper: a Credit Card, CD or Spatula

In Austin, ice scrapers are a hot commodity when the temperature drops. Check out our Instagram roundup of Austin alternatives.
flickr.com/rs_butner

The Austin area’s freeze this morning is no laughing matter: The wintry weather – which worsened in tandem with the city’s morning rush hour – snarled traffic and caught schools and government offices by surprise. (See a list of delays and closures here.)

But it’s also provided ample fodder on social media, where Austinites are sharing stories and images of their morning commute – or their snow days.

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Open Data
2:23 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Interactive: Austin is Mapping New 3-1-1 Call Data Online Every Day

A screen shot of 3-1-1 data visualized on the City of Austin website. New 3-1-1 data is refreshed on the site daily.
data.austintexas.gov

The City of Austin has started uploading information on 3-1-1 service calls – citizen requests for things like animal services, graffiti abatement, making noise complaints and more – in hopes software developers utilize the data for public apps.

In 2001, the City of Austin established 3-1-1 as a way for citizens to make non-emergency calls separate from police calls. According to austintexas.gov, Austin 3-1-1 receives over a million calls a year, which translates into some 200,000 departmental service requests each year. Citizens are also able to submit service requests online.

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Micro-units
10:30 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Tiny Apartments Could Be Big Answer to Austin's Housing Crunch

A micro-unit development in Seattle. Austin is calling for a zoning study to ensure micro-units don’t face big hurdles.
Seattle Department of Planning & Development

Micro-units – apartments of 500 square feet or less – might be Austin's next big building trend.

As the city's population continues to climb, troubles have mounted with providing affordable housing. To address the issue, the Austin City Council is asking the city manager to study the feasibility of micro-unit projects.

"Micro-units will allow people to live closer to downtown at a more affordable cost," says council member Bill Spelman.

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Homelessness
9:27 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Photos: Inside Austin's Annual Homeless Count

Tivas, a homeless man who lives under the RM 2222 and Mopac Expressway overpass, jokes with ECHO team leader Edward McHorse. A federally mandated "point in time" count of Austin's Homeless takes place each January.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: KUT's was on hand to document the homeless count this weekend. Take a look in the photo gallery above. You can see more photos on the KUT Austin Flickr page.

Original story: (Jan. 25) It’s the annual Point in Time Count of the Homeless here in the Austin area. Hundreds of volunteers were out Friday and again before dawn Saturday, finding out how many people are living here without permanent shelter.

Ann Howard is the Executive Director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, known as ECHO. She says the counts are going on across the country in the last week of January, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s just coincidence that this year’s falls on a night in Austin when temperatures are below freezing and extra shelters are open.

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Halloween Floods
9:39 am
Sun January 26, 2014

Perry Appeals Denial of FEMA Benefits for Halloween Flood Victims

Mike Espinoza gets help pulling damp sheetrock from the kitchen of his home. He and his wife waited out the sudden flood in the second floor of their Onion Creek home.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Gov. Rick Perry is asking President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Administration [FEMA] to reverse a decision denying benefits to individual victims of southwest Austin’s Halloween floods.

Fast moving floodwaters in the early hours of Oct. 31 last year – concentrated in the southwest Austin neighborhood of Onion Creek – claimed six lives and ruined hundreds of homes.

In a letter to the President, Gov. Perry writes:

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Winter Weather
12:05 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Winter Weather Snarls Austin; Schools and Universities Cancel Classes

An overnight freeze brought much of Austin to a standstill this morning. Here, pedestrians brave the Congress Avenue bridge over Lady Bird Lake.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Update: The winter weather advisory for the region has expired. While temperatures are rising about freezing this afternoon, and freezing temperatures are expected again tonight, which will re-freeze any leftover wet spots.

While emergency services say they’ve responded to more than 250 crashes since the freeze began, no fatal crashes have been reported.

Capital Metro will remain on a Saturday schedule for the rest of the day.

The Austin school district says it will resume normal operations at 5 p.m.  The district also says it will make up today’s cancellation on June 6. Austin Community College says it will reopen tomorrow. 

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Turning the Corner
9:40 am
Fri January 24, 2014

How Music Kept This Dove Springs Student in School

Isay Medrano's absences to care for his ill mother put his school orchestra playing into jeopardy.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

  Chronic absenteeism is a common problem among low-income schools; Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood is no exception. The neighborhood has the largest concentration of high absenteeism students in the city – and teachers say there are some students who miss up to 40 days of school in one semester.

But many students aren’t skipping class to avoid schoolwork. Some lack transportation; others are dealing with health issues. Still, other have responsibilities like raising siblings or working to support their families.

Isay Medrano is one of those students.

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