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City Council preview: Convention Center expansion, East Austin park plans under consideration and more
Austin City Council is expected to answer several lingering questions Thursday: Will the city take the next step in a proposed Austin Convention Center expansion effort? Will a South Austin neighborhood annexation be called off? And are budget changes coming to the city's code department?
As of Monday, there are 68 items on the agenda, including 52 items up for unanimous consent. Council will hold a virtual work session at 9 a.m. Tuesday before its scheduled meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, both of which can be followed live online.
The legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will also be recognized as part of a resolution expected to be approved unanimously by council members. City Council members discussed plans to honor Ginsberg on the city message board. A copy of the resolution can be found here.
Ginsberg, an associate justice since 1993 until her death Sept. 18, became an inspirational figure and an icon for her gender equity efforts. Her death sparked an ongoing Supreme Court confirmation battle at the U.S. Senate, with hearings starting this week to confirm candidate Amy Coney Barrett.
Here is a rundown of other notable items on Thursday's agenda. Let us know below what issues you plan to follow.
#3: Convention Center expansion update
This agenda item would allocate $6.3 million for city officials to negotiate land sales with property owners at downtown blocks #16 and #32 adjacent to Austin Convention Center. The proposed expansion project would add event space west of the existing facility where Fogo de Chão, MAX's Wine Dive, Vince Young Steakhouse and several other businesses are located.
#13-#18: Shady Hollow MUD fire protection/canceled annexation
Several agenda items attempt to authorize the latest agreement between the city and Shady Hollow Municipal Utility District (MUD) in South Austin. The MUD would no longer be annexed by Austin, under the proposal, in exchange for ownership of the existing fire station and water/wastewater system as well as compensation for fire services.
For more details about the proposal, the city recently released a memo outlining the actions being considered Thursday.
#19-#20: $7M in proposed land conservation purchases in Hays County
Two agenda items authorize the city to negotiate and execute $7.01 million in combined land sales on 560 acres of land across two Hays County properties to create conservation easements. The Nature Conservancy of Texas would manage the real estate transaction based on its conservation expertise, based on council agenda items up for approval Thursday.
Both properties are located in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. The city would purchase the land using money from the voter-approved 2018 open space bond.
"The acquisition will prevent non-point source pollution from potential development entering the acquirer and impacting downstream aquatic resources," city documents read. See maps of the proposed conservation easements here and here.
#22-#23: Vision plans for Walter E. Long Park and John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park
Proposed vision plans for two major Austin green spaces will be introduced to council members Thursday.
When it was developed in the 1960s, early plans for Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park in East Austin called for a golf course. But a revised vision plan based on recent residential feedback is expected to be presented to council members Thursday.
Additionally, council members will consider a vision plan for John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park, an undeveloped 330-acre park just south of Walter E. Long Park in East Austin. The park is a former ranch purchased by the city in 2003.
#50: Propose budgetary changes to code department by Nov. 20
Several council members co-sponsored a resolution asking city staff to consider budget and fee changes to the Austin Code Department in an attempt to "reimagine public safety."
The draft resolution calls on a proposal to return to council by Nov. 20 with budget plans that can be enacted by March 2021 based on public safety recommendations set out in recent city audits.
Those changes essentially attempt to decrease service calls taken by Austin Police Department and move those duties to code enforcers.
#66: 508 Kemp Street rezoning
The final readings are expected on a Montopolis neighborhood zoning case that requests a change at 508 Kemp St. from family residence zoning to townhouse/condominium residence zoning.
This case is interesting because city staff recommended not to approve the rezoning request, but the Planning Commission did so in June. The neighborhood responded with a valid petition opposing the rezoning requests, with nearly a third of adjacent property owners' support.
Furthermore, the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning Contact Team voted to oppose the rezoning request. This contact team's recommendation typically carries weight with City Council members when considering rezoning cases within designated neighborhood planning areas.
The first reading passed council 7-2, with Council Members Alison Alter and Kathie Tovo voting against, and Council Members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen abstained. The council agreed unanimously to a neighborhood request to postpone the case at its Oct. 1 meeting.
More on city council:
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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