BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 4, 2019)



Commission drills down on Grove at Shoal Creek park plans (Austin Monitor)

After years of contentious planning, the Grove at Shoal Creek has broken ground and begun construction on the first two blocks of residences of this mixed-use development in central Northwest Austin.

The plan for the accompanying parkland remains under discussion.

At the Feb. 26 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board, Robert Deegan, a partner at Rialto Studio who is working on the project, explained that they were looking for the board’s recommendation so they could present the master plan to the Parks and Recreation Department director for final approval. “We want to deliver the park along with the rest of the construction,” Deegan explained. Under the agreement made with Council, once the plan is approved, the developer will have up to six months to present a finalized site plan.

The first phase, which will cost $1.16 million, is the only portion of the master plan that the developer is committing to financially. That phase, however, does not include an off-leash dog park – a top priority for area residents.

“From the summaries that I saw that was one of the top priorities … so I’m a little surprised,” said Board Member Dawn Lewis.

Deegan explained that the plan balanced what City Council required the developer to deliver. That meant some of the community’s “top priorities” were actually obligatory. Still, he said, “It’s still a fairly good reflection of the community’s expressed desire.”…

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'They say it’s safe to drink but it smells toxic’ (Austin American-Statesman)

Link to storyMore than a year before foul-smelling water poured from Austin’s faucets and showers, Mehrdad Morabbi, Austin Water’s operations manager, gave a stark presentation about the invasion of zebra mussels in the Lower Colorado River lake system.

The mollusks had been detected in Lake Travis in June 2017 and two months later, they were found in Lake Austin. With the two lakes that supply Austin’s water system on the verge of infestation, it was a given that the invasive mussels — native to fresh waters in Eurasia — would soon hit the city’s three water treatment plants.

“It is time for us to start rolling into action,” Morabbi told the city’s Water and Wastewater Commission.

Morabbi suggested using a sodium permanganate mitigation system, incorporating a chemical treatment that causes the mussels to detach from treated areas. Estimated to cost $1.1 million, the system — already in use in Dallas and being built at treatment plants that serve Round Rock, Cedar Park and Leander — would require 18 months to design and build. The yet-to-be-built mitigation system will eventually be replaced by a more-permanent safeguard against zebra mussels.

At that $1.1 million price tag, Austin Water could have acted on Morabbi’s recommendation immediately, using a discretionary fund to cover construction and installation. Instead, officials waited 18 months to move forward, and the sodium permanganate system remains unbuilt.

Zebra mussels have now fully infested the lakes in and around Austin, and thousands of the fingernail-sized mollusks have attached to intake pipes connected to the utility’s water treatment plants.

Despite Morabbi’s warning of the inevitability of this type of an infestation, Austin Water was caught off guard Feb. 7, when a mass die-off of zebra mussels in a raw water intake pipe at the utility’s largest water treatment plant tainted the city’s drinking water.

The incident, which plagued the utility for several days, has left Austin Water officials scrambling to install the sodium permanganate mitigation system first floated by Morabbi…

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U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro "seriously" considering run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (Texas Tribune)

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro's camp released a statement early Friday morning making clear that the San Antonio Democrat is mulling whether to forgo re-election next year and instead challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, two days after Beto O'Rourke made clear he won't be vying for the seat.

"Congressman Castro will seriously consider running for Senate in 2020," Castro spokesman Matthew Jones emailed. "Right now, he's focused on protecting Texans – and all Americans – from the most consequential challenge to our constitutional separation of powers that we have seen in a generation."

"He will not stand by while the President attempts to unilaterally strip Texans of their land to build a wall in a manner that most Americans, especially Texans, disagree with."…

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Gov. Greg Abbott raves about Dallas' teacher incentive pay program. But it's hard to replicate. (Texas Tribune)

When third-grade reading teacher Natasha Boone told her peers she was considering a job at Titche Elementary School, a chronically low-performing school known for its low test scores and rowdy classrooms, they all asked, "Why?"

But now the Dallas Independent School District teacher is making around $70,000, including a bonus, to work in a school that she's helped to meet state academic standards, teaching students who wriggle excitedly before answering questions and stand when they want to speak.

Boone is one of more than 400 teachers participating in a Dallas ISD initiative to turn around chronically low-performing schools by flooding them with the best resources for three years — most importantly, the highest-rated teachers and principals. A 13-year teaching veteran, she is earning a salary at Titche higher than that of the average Texas teacher with more than 20 years of experience.

By many measures, Dallas ISD's Accelerating Campus Excellence or ACE initiative appears to be working, turning around Titche and 11 other schools that were previously failing state ratings — and turning lawmakers' heads in the process. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly celebrated it as the pathway to getting more top-notch teachers in public schools, and lawmakers will likely include it in some way in the school finance reform measure this session…

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New San Antonio city manager names executive staff (San Antonio Express-News)

In one of his first acts of official business, new City Manger Erik Walsh on Friday named his executive staff.

Most notably, Walsh promoted María Villagómez — the other finalist for the city manager job — to replace him as deputy city manager.

“These changes will accomplish our goal of being effective, efficient and responsive to our residents,” Walsh said. “I’m excited about today’s appointments. It’s critical to have the right team in place to carry out our responsibility to the Mayor and City Council and the San Antonio community.

“Together, we will continue the City’s legacy of providing critical, professional services to our residents and improving their quality of life.”…

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Dallas mayoral candidates 'deeply troubled' by another City Hall scandal, push for ethics reform (Dallas Morning News)

After former City Council member Carolyn Davis’ guilty plea to federal corruption charges, several mayoral candidates said Friday that Dallas City Hall is need of systemic changes.

The case against Davis, who left City Hall in 2015, now figures to be a factor in the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Mike Rawlings. She is the third council member in the past decade — the others were Dwaine Caraway and Don Hill — to be felled by federal prosecutors. Six of the candidates in the nine-candidate field — Mike Ablon, Jason Villalba, Eric Johnson, Lynn McBee, Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis — jumped on the news of Davis’ plea and said they were best qualified to move the city forward after the case…

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Trump promises executive order that could strip colleges of funding if they don’t ‘support free speech’ (Washington Post)

A new executive order from the White House will aim to make federal research funding for colleges and universities contingent on their support for “free speech,” President Trump said Saturday. The announcement, during Trump’s address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, appeared to target complaints by some university critics that institutions of higher education stifle right-wing viewpoints.

“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak,” Trump said, bringing onstage a young conservative, Hayden Williams, who was physically attacked last month while tabling for a conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley. The executive order, Trump said, would “require colleges to support free speech if they want federal research” money. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment…

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Episode 36: The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

(Run time - 22:53)

“A good land use plan is also a good transportation plan, and so they have to work hand in hand.” - Annick Beaudet

On today’s episode we speak with Annick Beaudet, A.I.C.P. - Assistant Director at the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) over Transportation Engineering, Transportation Systems Development Division, Special Events and the Active Transportation Division.

Annick and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP), Austin’s new city-wide transportation plan.

ASMP is the city’s transportation appendix to the 2012 Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which outlines a vision of sustainable growth through 2039 (Austin’s 200th anniversary). It is a compilation of policies and actions to reach the city’s transportation targets with accompanying transportation network maps and tables. If adopted, ASMP will take the place of the outdated 2025 Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan.

The city of Austin is asking for public comment on the ASMP final draft (see link below) through March, as well as providing staff presentations before the various city boards and commissions. 

Annick also updates on ATD’s progress towards a new street impact fee policy, an implementation tool integral to the ASMP…

Link to Episode 36

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