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My first day of work at Austonia was on Monday, March 9. By the end of that week, local officials had canceled SXSW and our small team was headed home to work remotely.
It was from our virtual newsroom—spread out across our respective kitchen counters, living room couches and home offices—that we launched a daily newsletter and, in early April, our website.
Since then our team has covered the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, our newest corporate citizen (Tesla) and celebrity resident (Joe Rogan), homelessness, two elections, the mayor's trip to Cabo San Lucas, Project Connect and the administration of the first COVID-19 vaccines.
To end the year, we've compiled a list of 10 important stories we published this year. Here's to more to come in 2021!
1. 'Somehow life feels richer than ever' for some Austin families finding new at-home routines (April 16)
Karen Brooks Harper spoke to local families early on in the pandemic to learn about how they were coping—and discovered that many were bonding during all the time spent at home together. "I don't want this crisis to go on forever, but I desperately want our future as a family to look more like this," one mom said.
2. Two days of protest: demonstrators shut down I-35, Austin police respond with tear gas as police killings mobilize residents (June 1)
In late May, Austin residents took to the streets to protest the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Southeast Austin. Protests continued through the summer and ultimately led to the Austin City Council voting to cut the police department's budget—to the chagrin of many state lawmakers.
Editorial advisor Rich Oppel and myself teamed up to write about one of the biggest economic development projects seen in Austin this generation: the forthcoming Tesla Gigafactory, which is under construction in Southeast Travis County after a marathon process to secure property tax abatements and environmental permits.
4. Meet the two names from Austin behind the transformation of the new Joe Rogan podcast studio (Sept. 10)
Senior Producer Sonia Garcia profiled two local business owners entrusted by mixed martial arts enthusiast and comedian Joe Rogan to construct his new podcast studio, where he has since interviewed fellow Austinites Matthew McConaughey and Alex Jones. The recent transplant moved to the Texas capital from Los Angeles in July, bringing his $100 million podcast with him.
5. The Austonia guide to Proposition A, the ballot issue that could green-light Project Connect (Oct. 14)
(Emma Freer/Austonia staff)
On Nov. 3, Austin voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition A, which raised the city's property tax rate to help pay for Project Connect. The $7.1 billion transit overhaul plan is already being implemented, but it faced vocal opposition. This guide dives into how much Project Connect will raise property owners' tax bills and how it will address concerns about displacement.
Publisher Mark Dewey was thrilled to announce that the Local Independent Online News Publishers association had chosen Austonia as a finalist for its national best emerging publisher award. "Recognition like this from our peer group motivates us to work even harder on our mission of connecting you to our ever-changing city," he wrote to readers.
Photojournalist Jordan Vonderhaar visited homeless camps around Austin to document how residents were dealing with the pandemic—and ongoing cleanups orchestrated by local and state agencies. Last year, Austin City Council voted to overturn the city's camping ban. Advocates applauded the move as an important step toward decriminalizing homelessness. But many residents, business owners and state leaders opposed the decision, which they argued would threaten public health and safety.
8. Austin health official concerned about bars "masquerading as restaurants" to stay open amid COVID surge (Nov. 20)(Laura Figi/Austonia)
Reporters Laura Figi and Waylon Cunningham wrote about a state loophole that allows bars to reclassify as restaurants in jurisdictions, such as Travis County, that have not allowed bars to reopen. Dr. Mark Escott, the local public health authority, raised concerns about this policy last month, citing the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations, and has continued to advise residents not to attend such establishments. But bar owners and employees say they must remain open—or close permanently.
9. What Adler's Mexico vacation means for his chances in the Biden administration—and post-COVID political career (Dec. 3)
Earlier this month, news broke that Austin Mayor Steve Adler had hosted a small, outdoor wedding for his daughter in early November and then traveled via private jet to a family timeshare in Cabo San Lucas—while publicly asking Austinites to stay home. I spoke with political experts about what this scandal might mean for his career, especially if he runs for higher office.
10. Good times have faded at the TarryTown Shopping Center, the once-thriving neighborhood hub where animal rights activist Jeanne Daniels has pushed out local favorites (Dec. 22)
Writer Bryan Rolli took a deep dive into the once buzzing TarryTown Shopping Center that now stands desolate. Since inheriting the shopping center in 1999, Jeanne Crusemann Daniels has enforced strict rules that have resulted in the elimination of businesses that used or sold animal products. Long-time Austinites and former business owners remember what the shopping center was once like.
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Something about Q2 Stadium brings the best out of goalkeepers.
Much like Austin FC's Brad Stuver has done throughout the season, U.S. men's national team keeper Matt Turner kept his team alive in a 1-0 victory over Qatar. The match proved to be a battle of stamina as USMNT's Gyasi Zardes netted a last-minute goal to push Team USA to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
Turner, who has conceded just one goal throughout the tournament, continually tipped off shots by an offensively-minded Qatar and put up three saves. Turner now has 18 saves in the Cup.
🧤🧤 Matt Turner was on 🔥 in goal for the #USMNT!
This magnificent save was the Save Of The Game presented by @Allstate #ThisIsOurs #GoldCup21 🏆 pic.twitter.com/MzUScTLNJU
— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) July 30, 2021
The USMNT stumbled through the first half, falling to a 10-shot deficit in the first 45 minutes. Qatar, which gained quick acclaim as the 2019 Asian Cup winners, has not gone scoreless throughout the tournament and has tallied the most goals in the Gold Cup so far.
Qatar saw their biggest shot to topple the U.S. team in the 61st minute after they were awarded a penalty kick. Turner never had to make a save, however, as Hassan Al Haydos missed the crucial shot.
Team USA regrouped and took the reins of the second half, but it was two substitutions by USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter that advanced the team to the continental final.
The two second-half subs, Gyasi Zardes and Nicholas Gioacchini, proved to be the perfect mix for Team USA. As the final whistle loomed, Gioacchini set Zardes up for the first goal of the game in the 86th minute of play.
⚽ The finish ✅
🎥 The camera ✅
🔥 The atmosphere ✅
A perfect goal 🇺🇸🙌#GoldCup21 🏆 #ThisIsOurs pic.twitter.com/KGcpz8aZOR
— Gold Cup (@GoldCup) July 30, 2021
But Zardes wouldn't take credit for the game-changing goal.
"It's not just me, it's a whole team effort," Zardes told FS1. "It was a tight game, they're a great team, but our starters did a phenomenal job at wearing them out... and trying to create opportunities to where when the subs came in, we were able to make a difference."
An outmatched Qatar wasn't able to gain ground as the final tally went 1-0 to the U.S. in Q2 Stadium.
While some were concerned at stadium turnout before the match began, the stadium slowly swelled to near capacity as usual in Austin. Berhalter, whose son Sebastian Berhalter is a midfielder at Austin FC, has previously shown admiration for the MLS' newest stadium.
The USMNT is in Austin for the first time tonight.
After watching his son Sebastian play in the Austin FC home opener, HC Gregg Berhalter is hoping for a similar atmosphere at Q2.
"It's one of the top atmospheres in Major League Soccer." | @KVUE pic.twitter.com/Il4xJ76jvZ
— Jake García (@Jake_M_Garcia) July 29, 2021
This was the second national team match held in Austin in under a month after the women's national team christened the pitch in June.
Next up, Team USA will play the winners of the Mexico vs. Canada semifinal, which takes place at 9 p.m. Thursday, in the Gold Cup final. The final round of the continent's biggest tournament will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Las Vegas.
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- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
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The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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