Austin

Austin
4:22 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

Three Things to Watch For in the Bag Ban Vote

Plastic bags would be completely phased out by 2014 in a proposal before the City Council.
Photo by KUT News

The hotly debated question of whether to ban disposable bags comes to the Austin City Council tomorrow.

The council is posted to hear comments and take action on the proposal in a public hearing tomorrow evening. But considering the proposal has been fluttered around more wildly than a Wal-Mart bag in a strong breeze, it’s worth contemplating three aspects of the ban that have remained most controversial.

Here’s a brief primer, from KUT News:

Paper or Plastic? Or Both?: Although the proposal started out as a ban on single-use plastic bags, the ordinance has since expanded to include paper bags as well. This hasn’t escaped the attention of Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who questioned Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) director Bob Gedert at a previous meeting as to how the ban was broadened.

Read more
Austin
9:32 am
Wed February 29, 2012

The Five Topics at City Council's Policy Retreat

Council heads to the Palmer Center to talk policy today.
Photo courtesy palmereventscenter.com

Think about corporate retreats, and you’ll likely envision team-building exercises. But no zip-lining or “trust falls” are on the Austin City Council’s retreat agenda today – just policy planning.

This morning, the council is decamping to the Palmer Events Center for a “policy retreat work session,” a chance to meet and discuss upcoming topics and initiatives. Five topics are on the agenda:

  • Using the upcoming Comprehensive Plan “for policy guidance and planning,” a topic from council member Laura Morrison.
  • Fostering collaboration with counties and school districts in the city limits, sponsored by council member Kathie Tovo.
  • A “review of past and existing City youth programs,” also from Tovo.
  • “Community public safety goals and resource allocation priorities,” from council member Bill Spelman.
  • A discussion of the structuring of council committees –  groups tasked with delving into specific topics like public health or city finances – as proposed by council member Chris Riley.

Read more
Austin
8:57 am
Wed February 29, 2012

AM Update: Moontowers Temporarily Vanish, Ron Paul's Michigan Finish, Texas' New Railroad Commish

One of Austin's historic moontowers. Austin Energy is refurbishing towers recently removed due to a construction project.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/wadeferd

Moontowers Temporarily Taken Down

An Austin moontower on the corner of West 22nd and Nueces streets has been temporarily dismantled due to a nearby construction project, and another on the corner of Trinity and Cesar Chavez is slated to move over to Third and Red River.

Austin is the only city in the world that still operates under a moonlight tower lighting system, made up of those ethereal structures that provide large areas of illumination and – as every "Dazed and Confused" fan knows – the occasional party.  According to the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Energy plans to refurbish the towers that have been removed, and because of their designation in the National Register of Historic Places, any repairs have to be historically accurate. You can read more from KUT News about the towers.

Read more
Austin
1:07 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Sentient Shopping Carts Invade Whole Foods

Whole Foods is testing intelligent shopping carts at a local store.
Photo by Beth Cortez-Neavel for KUT News

Well, our robotic shopping cart overlords aren't here just yet. But a partnership between Austin-based Whole Foods and a local tech firm may lead us a step closer.

Computing giant Microsoft recently demonstrated a “smart cart,” wired to a computer tablet and a Microsoft Kinect motion sensor that can follow shoppers around the store, check items off a shopping list, and, as the video below shows, even make corrections if you select the wrong item.

Microsoft doesn’t mention who made the cart, but news outlets like Wired point to Austin-based Chaotic Moon Studios. Chaotic Moon has previously tweaked Kinect technology; at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, it unveiled the “Board of Awesomeness,” a Kinect-connected skateboard that can travel at up to 32 mph.

Wired says Whole Foods is currently testing the carts at stores in Austin, and will launch a broader trial run in April.

Read more
Austin
10:32 am
Tue February 28, 2012

Should Austin Outsource the Trail of Lights?

The entrance to the Trail of Lights, photographed in 2006.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/maddcovv

The Trail of Lights is an Austin tradition dating back decades – or was, until it went dark due to city budget cuts in 2009.

That may no longer be the case, as an item before the Austin City Council this week would see the RunTex Foundation – an arm of the local running store and marathon sponsor – bringing the Trail of Lights back to Zilker Park this holiday season.

Backup materials on the agenda item state:

[The Parks and Recreation Department] received an unsolicited proposal regarding the production of a 2012 Trail of Lights from the RunTex Foundation (RTF). RTF seeks to partner with the city to bring back the “traditional” Trail of Lights (TOL) Holiday Festival that will offer an 8-night, family-friendly lighted trail and entertainment at no cost to the citizens of Austin. Recognizing the need to generate funding for this event, RTF proposes to conduct a major fund raising campaign to reimburse the City of Austin for all direct costs associated with the production of this event.

Read more
Austin
8:52 am
Tue February 28, 2012

AM Update: Another Redistricting Deadline, STAAR Rule Deferred, Weekend Rail on the Way?

An agreement on Texas redistricting maps must be reached this weekend to preserve a May 29 primary.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/joegratz

Redistricting Maps Must be Drawn By Saturday for May Primaries

According to the Texas Tribune, if redistricting maps are not drawn by Saturday, March 3 then primaries will move to June.

The Tribune reports that the primaries cannot be held on May 29 if the deadline is not met this weekend. Instead, the date will yet again be pushed back, this time to June 26.

“The lawyers working on House maps have been pushing back and forth, primarily on three districts, and haven't produced an accord. And congressional maps, several lawyers have said, will have to be drawn by the three federal judges in San Antonio, because the parties can't seem to find common ground."

If the primaries are held in late May or June, the primary runoffs will be delayed to July 31 or August 28 reports the Tribune.

KUT News' Andy Uhler sheds some light on the court's long battle over the redistricting maps.

Read more
Austin
3:04 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

Leslie Cochran Hospitalized

Leslie Cochran, posing in the foreground, as photographed in 2006.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/chainsawpanda

Contrary to recent reports that transgendered homeless icon Leslie Cochran was moving to Colorado, Leslie is still in Austin. And according to a statement from friends and family, Cochran is currently recuperating in an area hospital.

Local activist Debbie Russell says she is a spokesperson for Cochran and a relative. Russell sent out a release this morning:

Read more
Austin
11:43 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Check Out Time for Austin Hostel? Not If Some Council Members Have Their Way

Hosteling International Austin's lease could either expire next year or be extended by a decade, depending on the City Council.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/jstephenconn

The Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) is seeking to reclaim the land on which Austin’s only hostel sits. But a contrary resolution before the Austin City Council this Thursday may extend the hostel's stay by a decade.  

Hosteling International Austin, located on South Lakeshore Boulevard off of Riverside Drive, backs onto the shores of Lady Bird Lake. As the hostel sits on parkland, PARD director Sara Hensley says her department can find a better use for the space. “We support the hostel and we believe that they are doing a great thing, but it does not meet a park purpose and it does not necessarily meet the need of our community,” she tells KUT News.

Hensley notes the agreement with the hostel was inked in 1988, and since then, “as you can imagine, a lot of things have changed. This is on prime parkland – right there where the mouth of the new [Lady Bird Lake] boardwalk will be built.”  

Read more
Austin
10:47 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Happy 75th Anniversary to the UT Tower

Today marks the diamond anniversary of the UT tower.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/ericejohnson

Today, the Main Building on the University of Texas campus – also known simply as the Tower – celebrates its 75th anniversary.

KUT News recently toured the tower with Jim Nicar, acting director of the UT Heritage Society, who got into the history behind the iconic building:

Read more
Austin
8:21 am
Mon February 27, 2012

AM Update: AISD Budget Talks, Health Reform Hits Texas House, Advances in Nerve Repair

The Austin ISD school board meets tonight to discuss a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
KUT News

Austin ISD's Preliminary Budget for 2012-2013

At tonight's Austin ISD School Board meeting, administrators will present a 2012-13 preliminary budget that increases spending slightly while assuming the district will lose $8.7 million in federal money and $53.6 million in state funding. The Austin-American Statesman reports:

The preliminary $724 million spending plan increases expenses 2.9 percent over the current budget and holds the property tax rate steady at $1.242 per $100 of valuation. It includes $14.2 million for an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise and $1.1 million to jump start an early childhood center at Linder Elementary School in Southeast Austin, among other goals. To hit those targets, budget officials say the district plans to dip into reserves for $32.5 million.

Austin ISD will present a revised budget on April 16th and a public hearing is scheduled for April 23rd. The board will vote on the budget on June 18th.

Read more
Austin
10:13 am
Sun February 26, 2012

Sunday News Roundup

A roundup of your weekend's news from Austin and beyond.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Cedar Park DA, Police Investigate Officer Involved Shooting

The officer who shot and killed a robbery suspect in Cedar Park Friday night has been moved to administrative duties pending an investigation of the shooting, a standard procedure in such cases.  Cedar Park policy dictates that officer-involved shootings are investigated by the District Attorneys Office, reports the Austin American Statesman.

Read more
Austin
8:31 pm
Sat February 25, 2012

Huston Tillotson Celebrates 13th Annual Heritage Fest

KUT News

The thirteenth annual African American Community Heritage Festival took place on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University today. It includes food vendors, merchants and information tables. The Regan High School drum line kicked off the festivities this afternoon with a salute to Mardi Gras.

Read more
Austin
3:46 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

The Austin Energy Rate Debate Isn’t Going Anywhere, Anytime Soon

With a lengthy time table, discussion of proposed energy rate increases will continue for months.
KUT News

Get ready to keep talking about Austin Energy’s rate increases.

As KUT reported yesterday, the Austin City Council approved a timetable for work sessions delving deeply into all aspects of the proposed rate increase: rates for houses of worship, rates for out-of-Austin customers, the utility’s debt service requirements, solar and renewable energy goals, and practically any other issue you can imagine.

A timetable favored by council members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and Kathie Tovo was adopted yesterday, over a more compact proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.

Read more
Austin
12:05 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

What Are the City's Plans for Airport Boulevard?

This design proposal for Airport Blvd. shows a divided median, bikeways, improved sidewalks and more.
Image courtesy airportboulevard.com

Airport Boulevard – or at least the bustling but non-scenic stretch of it from the Mueller development to its terminus at North Lamar – may look and function a whole lot differently in the future.

For the past several months, the City of Austin, designers and planners have worked on a plan to beautify the urban thoroughfare, making it more multimodal and pedestrian friendly. Tonight, at a meeting of the city’s Design Commission, we’ll see the result of that work, as the commission discusses and may take action on recommendations in the Airport Boulevard Corridor Study Report.

So why this stretch of asphalt? Its location has several things going for it: The ongoing infill development at the former Mueller airport speaks to the area’s redevelopment potential; so does ailing Highland Mall, the largely-vacant retail destination center that Austin Community College has a large stake in. Then there’s the new Midtown Commons development at North Lamar, located on the Capital Metro Red Line.

Read more
Austin
9:40 am
Thu February 23, 2012

AM Update: Perry's Security Costs Soar, Car Crashes Down, F1 Neighbors' Noise Complaints

Ben Philpott, KUT News

Perry’s Security Costs Soar

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been releasing travel-related security costs incurred by Gov. Rick Perry during his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. However, the totals haven’t included overtime pay. The Texas Tribune requested the overtime amounts:

“In the six months in which Perry was an active presidential candidate, DPS spent $1.1 million on overtime pay for the Executive Protection Bureau – more than the total overtime pay for the security detail in all of 2010, records show. ”

In December, during Perry’s tour of Iowa, DPS spending costs came close to $300,000.

Read more
Austin
3:43 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Sparks Fly at Council Discussion of Austin Energy Rates

Adopting a timeline for discussion of Austin Energy rate increase turned into a debate over the merits of a separate, interim increase.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/jvk

At a special-called meeting this morning, the Austin City Council called for the City Auditor to review Austin Energy’s revenue requirements, one of the drivers of the utility’s controversial rate increase proposals.

But that may have been the meeting’s least contentious aspect.

Item 2 on the on council’s sparse agenda would set a timeline for further discussion on Austin Energy’s rate proposals. But the seemingly innocuous item – “Discussion and approval of a work session schedule to consider Austin Energy rates” – set off a debate on the dais that lead to a lengthy discussion.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole proposed a timeline of her own, which she discussed in an Austin American-Statesman editorial.

“Today, in a City Council work session, I'll propose a reasonable, prudent and aggressive schedule through mid-May that seeks to methodically review the myriad of questions surrounding Austin Energy's financial needs,” Cole wrote.

Read more
Austin
9:35 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Austin Energy Under the Spotlight at City Council Meeting Today

Don't touch that dial: City Council will discuss Austin Energy's proposed rate increases and billing errors today.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/pyxopotamus

The Austin City Council convenes in a special-called meeting today to take up – what else? – Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases.

Three topics were initially on the council agenda – discussion of the rate proposal, scheduling an additional work session to discuss rates again, and action directing the City Auditor to “conduct a review of Austin Energy's revenue requirement.” Posited as one of the rate increase’s main drivers, council members have questioned the amount of money the city-owned utility says it needs to replenish its reserves.

Read more
Austin
8:54 am
Wed February 22, 2012

AM Update 2/22/12: Cost of Boardwalk Rises, Juárez Bullet Strikes El Pasoan, Meth Seizures at Border

A rendering of the proposed Lady Bird Lake boardwalk.
Image courtesy courtesy of the Trail Foundation, townlaketrail.org

Mounting Expense for Lady Bird Boardwalk 

In 2010, City of Austin voters ushered in Proposition 1, a project to construct a boardwalk trail over and along Lady Bird Lake. Back then, the estimated cost of the project was $17.4 million, but as of today, the lowest bid (of eight) is $20.7 million. That's a 19% jump.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the cost increase can be attributed to two main factors: Oil prices (no surprise there) and a construction industry still trying to correct itself post-recession. Builders are finally doing things they put off during those lean years, like replacing old equipment, and that's made government building projects more costly. Still, city officials aren't worried about coming up with the extra money. 

Read more
Austin
11:45 am
Tue February 21, 2012

The City Task Force Facing a Billion Dollar Decision

In addition to the task force's work, the city is looking for online input on the bond development process.
Photo by KUT News

It turns out compiling a $1.5 billion wish list of city projects was the easy part.

Last week KUT reported about the massive “needs assessment” City of Austin departments compiled with an eye towards this November’s bond election: millions of dollars for projects including development of the Waller Creek riverwalk downtown, new police and fire stations, and open space acquisition.

Read more
Austin
9:11 am
Tue February 21, 2012

AM Update 2/21/12: LCRA Talks Water, Charges in Fatal Wheatsville Wreck, F1 Hotel Rates Rise

LCRA's Water Operations Committee will meet today to discuss a new water plan which has many people divided.
Photo by Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

LCRA Board to Discuss Water Management Plan

The Lower Colorado River Authority's (LCRA) Water Operations Committee is meeting today and on the agenda is the new Water Management Plan. The full LCRA board will discuss the new plan and possibly take action tomorrow.

Read more

Pages