Austin

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.”  

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Austin
10:30 am
Mon February 20, 2012

Animal Center Offers $5 Adoptions This 'PAWSidents Day'

I cannot tell a lie: The Austin Animal Center produces some hilarious promo materials, like the image above.
Image courtesy facebook.com/austinanimalservices

Most City of Austin offices are closed this Presidents Day, but the Austin Animal Center is celebrating the holiday with an adoption special this “PAWSidents Day.”

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Austin
11:27 am
Sun February 19, 2012

Sunday News Roundup

Bob Daemmrich of the Texas Tribune

Kenyan Edward Kiptum and American Shannon Bixler win the Livestrong Austin Marathon. Roads will be closed throughout the afternoon. Check out the Livestrong website for complete closure information. Also, Austin Energy is having billing system problems and records show Rick Perry doesn't check in at the Capitol very often. Let’s take a look at some top news stories across Texas today.

Austin Energy Has Billing Issues

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Austin
3:54 am
Sat February 18, 2012

Heavy Rains in Central Texas

KUT News

UPDATE - 9:00 am:

The National Weather Service has issued an Urban and Small Stream Flood Advisory for minor flooding of poor drainage areas in parts of Hays County, Comal County, northwestern Caldwell County, Travis County, and west central Bastrop County. That advisory is in effect until 10:30 am. Heavy rainfall across the advisory area has produced up to 3 inches of rain an hour.

All roads in and around Austin that were closed for a short time have been reopened.

3:35 am:

A Flash Flood Warning remains in effect until 5:00 this morning for Williamson and Travis counties – that’s according to the National Weather Service. The service has extended a Flash Flood Watch until noon.

Though the heaviest rains are thought to have left the Austin-metro area, scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to last throughout the morning. Overnight rain gauge readings indicate that over an inch and a half of rain has fallen in and around Austin since midnight.

Locations where creeks, streams and road intersections have experienced flooding include Sun City, Liberty Hill, and the Georgetown dam.

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Austin
5:13 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

The City of Austin’s $1.5 Billion Wish List

$50 million in I-35 improvements are included among a "needs assessment" from city departments.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

While most of the chatter over Austin’s November bond election has revolved around urban rail and medical schools, those aren’t the only potential items on the ballot. In fact, they’re only a fraction of them.

We got a reminder of that this week when city departments presented a “needs assessment” to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force, a citizen task force created to recommend what makes it onto the ballot.

What is a needs assessment? Essentially, it’s a wish list from city departments outlining projects and initiatives they would like to undertake. The proposals are then weighted by need and urgency, and also compared against a set of values (cost-effectiveness, geographic balance, environmental protection, and more). Omnibus projects like rail or a med school would be considered separately from these departmental proposals.

While there’s no guarantee any of the below projects will make it before voters in their present form,  the list offers a revealing look at how city departments rank their priorities. So what’s on this massive, $1,500,000,000 wish list? We break it down below, highlighting the biggest proposals in each department:

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Austin
11:26 am
Fri February 17, 2012

Watch Lee Leffingwell's ‘Ferris Bueller’ Homage

Mayor Lee Leffigwell sports a soapy fauxhawk in a viral campaign clip.
Image courtesy youtube.com/TheLeeTeam2012

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has never been big on the theatrics that defined his predecessor, Will Wynn. But with a single campaign video, Leffingwell surpasses Wynn’s zombie costumes, “Thriller” dancing and SXSW partying in one fell swoop.

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Austin
8:54 am
Fri February 17, 2012

Top Morning Stories 2/17/12: Fracking and Groundwater, $90 Million More for F1 Track

An image from the UT Energy Institute's report on fracking.
Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

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Austin
3:44 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

$400 Rent in Downtown Austin? Nonprofit Says They Can Make it Work

Construction of affordable housing downtown could start in less than a year.

At a meeting tonight, Austin nonprofit Foundation Communities is making a pitch for their Capital Studios development – 135 apartments to be located on what's now a parking lot at 11th street and Trinity.  A Foundation Communities spokesperson tells KUT News Capital Studios will be the first truly affordable downtown development in the last 40 years – and with rents ranging from $400 to $650, all bills paid, it’s hard to argue.

The low rents are designed to attract Austinites that work and play downtown, but can’t afford to live there – primarily young adults making $27,000 annually or less. Ten of the units will be reserved for working musicians and artists. Another 27 units will provide permanent supportive housing for clients transitioning out of homelessness, processed through agencies like Caritas, the Trinity Center, and the ARCH.

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