The future of West Austin's Lions Municipal Golf Course, or Muny, has been debated for years, but the conversation entered a new phase on Monday evening when the city hosted the first of many public meetings to collect feedback on the site's redevelopment.
Nearly 140 attended the Zoom event and dozens offered suggestions, ranging from preserving the historic golf course, which was the first public golf course in the South to racially desegregate, and now hosts 60,000 rounds of golf each year, to building affordable housing for homeless residents to creating a Central Park-type green space.
The city of Austin has leased the 141-acre, 18-hole public golf course from the University of Texas since 1936. But two years ago, smarting from state budget cuts and approaching the end of its 31-year lease with the city of Austin, UT decided that it could no longer lease the course at a discounted rate—about $500,000 a year—and offered to sell it for $110 million, far below its 2019 appraised value of $205 million but too steep a price for City Council.
Now under a month-to-month lease extension, the city is working with UT to develop a redevelopment proposal that serves both parties' interests. UT wants to know what it can sell and redevelop on the Brackenridge tract, which includes Muny, and the city wants to preserve the course and other public green space. "I've long championed the notion that we should plan and manage our growth and not simply unleash it," Council Member Alison Alter said.
Many of the speakers, including representatives from the West Austin Neighborhood Group, Save Historic Muny District, the Muny Conservancy and the West Austin Youth Association, called on the city to "Save Muny" during the Monday meeting, citing its historic significance, public access and in-demand tee times.
Ben Crenshaw is a two-time Masters champion and co-chair of the Muny Conservancy, which is working to raise money to purchase Muny. He started playing golf at the course as a child. "To me, it is part of what I call an incalculable asset to the community and has been for nearly a hundred years," he said Monday.
First day of @MaroonsGolf practice was a success!— Coach Lebo (@Lebo_Nick) September 9, 2020
Temperature Screening 🌡 ✅
Mask 😷 ✅
Social Distancing 🚫 🤝✅
Play Golf 🏌️♀️⛳️ ✅@AustinISD @AISDAthletics @LoyalForeverAHS @savemuny pic.twitter.com/BSuOWwzkh1
Other residents suggested alternative options, from affordable housing for homeless residents to a mixed-use development similar to Mueller. "I just don't think it's justifiable that the city has nearly 1,000 acres of golf course land but some of the parks are becoming unusable because they're overcrowded," said Ben Yasui, who recommended the latter. "From an environmental perspective, a golf course is just not a green space."
Recognize the historical significance of Muny's integration by housing those effected by segregation. And keep the trees.@MayorAdler@NatashaD1atx@VanessaForATX@CM_Renteria@D5Kitchen @mkelly007@LesliePoolATX@PaigeForAustin@kathietovo@ALTERforATX https://t.co/izzkST8t2n
— Marie Acuna (@marieacunaa) May 18, 2021
Staff will use feedback from this meeting and others in the coming months to develop its rezoning recommendations, which will ultimately go to council for approval. Unlike a typical zoning case, in which a developer would submit a request for rezoning, city staff will initiate zoning cases for the Brackenridge tract, along with three other UT-owned properties. "Our goal here is to hear from as many people as possible," said Jerry Rusthoven, chief zoning officer for the housing and planning department.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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