Fewer than 10% of Austin Energy customers are without power, as of 1:08 p.m. Thursday. This is a significant improvement from Wednesday evening, when about 27% of customers were experiencing outages, and from earlier in the week, when more than 40% were impacted. However, 45,712 customers are still affected, and a citywide boil water notice has exacerbated the situation.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar tweeted around 1 p.m. that Austin Energy crews are working to restore power to the red areas on its outage map today. "Everything is dynamic and subject to change, especially if the state orders any more power off during this process or if there is really major storm damage to the area," he wrote.
⚡ 1PM Update I got from @AustinEnergy: AE employees are out in the cold trying right now to turn power on for those out the longest, especially the red areas on the outage map: https://t.co/oTbj9exiic. Details below ⬇️
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 18, 2021
Officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which maintains about 90% of the state's power grid, said they are no longer mandating controlled power outages and are instructing utility companies to restore power during a press conference this morning. This process will take some time, however.
Austin experienced "some of the most extreme versions of the weather in the state," Casar added, which is why the region has struggled to restore power compared to other parts of the state.
Austin Energy is in the process of restoring power to its customers, prioritizing those who have been without the longest, Chief of Staff Stuart Reilly said during a Facebook live hosted by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison Thursday morning. To avoid overloading the system, the utility is restoring power in sections and asking customers without power to turn off everything except one line and those with power to take conservation measures.
The power crisis resulted in a water crisis in Austin, along with many other regions across the state. Austin Water issued a boil water notice Wednesday evening due to a power outage at its largest water treatment plant and dropping pressure across the system caused by a surge in demand. Dripping faucets and burst pipes contributed to water use 250% greater than usual on Wednesday.
Although power has since been restored at the treatment plant, the utility is still facing a water shortage and the boil water notice remains in effect.
"I think it is important for people to understand that the boil water notice is a precautionary action," District 10 Alison Alter wrote in an email update sent early Thursday afternoon. "Austin Water has not detected contaminants in the water they are providing." Due to the time required to test water for contaminants, residents should expect "a lag time" before the notice ends, she continued.
Austin Water officials do not yet have a timeline for when the notice will be lifted or the pressure issues will be resolved, Chief of Support Services Anna Bryan-Borja said during the Facebook live.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.