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At a time when bars, restaurants and most shops have closed, public parks are one of the few destinations still available to Austinites—at least until this weekend, when the city, the county and the state will close their parks, trails, greenbelts and preserves for the Easter holiday.
At the city level, this rule—in place from Thursday at sunset to Monday at sunrise—will be enforced with signage, gate closures and regular patrols by park rangers. At a press conference on Wednesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler indicated that a longer-term closure may lie ahead.
"I'll tell you another place that I'm concerned about, are the people bunching up together on the trails when they're running or the people in the parks," he said. "Quite frankly, I think we need to consider closing them down at the end of [the holiday weekend] as well so that we really do show the discipline that we need to show as a community."
The decision to temporarily close parks arrived alongside updated social distancing metrics. While data suggests Travis County residents have reduced nonessential activities by 64%, this rate drops to 19% when it comes to parks, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said Tuesday.
Both rates are far short of the 90% reduction in nonhousehold contact researchers estimate is required to flatten the curve in Austin.
Traffic counters posted on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail show that last Sunday, 5,252 people crossed the Roberta Crenshaw Bridge, which runs under MoPac and over Lady Bird Lake, according to data obtained from the nonprofit Trail Foundation.
This count is slightly higher than the number of people who visited the trail last spring, and overall usage has not decreased since the mayor issued a stay-at-home order on March 24.
"We have tried to encourage people, if they can't walk to the trail, to maybe exercise in their own neighborhoods, and instead of getting in their car and driving [downtown] to minimize the number of people who are out there every day," Trail Foundation CEO Heidi Anderson said. "And the only reason for that, really, is because the trail, when it's overcrowded, it just can't accommodate a six-foot space between every trail user."
While some public green spaces may reopen on Monday morning, many city facilities have been closed indefinitely to prevent the spread of coronavirus cases. These include recreation centers, museums, campsites, basketball courts, playgrounds and golf courses.
Last Friday, the parks and recreation department announced it had also closed Barking Springs, tweeting: "Park users were gathering in groups & not allowing enough physical distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Allison Watkins, chief strategy officer for the Austin Parks Foundation, said the organization is working to move as much of its programming online and to encourage people to seek fresh air at their neighborhood parks and in their own backyards, rather than flock to more popular destinations.
"The most important thing that we want to get across is [that] the social distancing guidelines… apply to parks as well," Watkins said, adding that it is important for people to have a safe space in which to exercise or get a "mental health break."
To this end, APF has taken its kids club, the Little Hummingbird Society, virtual, offering free indoor activity kits and games for parents to print out at home. The nonprofit has also adapted its popular Movies in the Parks series, pointing Austinites to streaming services where they can find classic films for viewing on their couches.
In the meantime, organizations like APF and the Trail Foundation—as well as Waterloo Greenway, which is building a 1.5-mile network of parks along Waller Creek between Lady Bird Lake and 15th Street—continue their work keeping the city's green spaces safe and maintained.
"We know the minute that we are all free to move about again that people are going to be flocking back to the trail and hungry and thirsty for that experience again," Anderson said.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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