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Sure, a new Taylor Swift album debuted Friday, but another music icon also has some new music coming out. Austin's own Willie Nelson is releasing a Frank Sinatra cover album, his second such effort.
We've compiled the latest Austin news and information to help you keep up with interesting stories and breaking news around the city. Here is what we have shared so far this week:
Dec. 11: South Lamar Boulevard is getting a makeover and 4 more headlines you might've missed
This rendering shows what the planned transformation of South Lamar Boulevard from Riverside Drive to Barton Springs Road.
(City of Austin)
South Lamar changes: Money from the voter-approved 2016 Mobility Bond is being put on South Lamar Boulevard pedestrian and bikeway improvements, TOWERS reports. This map shows the extent of the changes between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, all part of broader plans for the entire South Lamar corridor.
Two legends, one album: Willie Nelson offered an exciting announcement to wrap the week: a new album of Frank Sinatra covers. This is the second time that Nelson has paid homage to Sinatra, with the latest album slated for a late February release, per Pitchfork. One song from the album, "Cottage For Sale," is already available online to stream.
Unfortunate COVID-19 milestone: The COVID-19 death tally in Travis County reached and exceeded 500 people Thursday, a grim marker as deaths climb nationally to nearly 300,000 total. City health officials warn Austinites not to relent on pandemic safety measures or risk moving to Stage 5 safety restrictions.
Local election, outside influences: Early voting ends Friday for the Austin City Council Districts 6 and 10 runoff elections, and Election Day is Tuesday. The Austin Independent found a Facebook page that invites outside groups into town before Tuesday's Election Day. It's all an effort by Austin-area Republican groups to help two challengers unseat incumbent Council Members Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan.
That didn't take long: Two days after Austin American-Statesman employees announced plans to unionize, the newspaper's management has already rejected the Austin NewsGuild's request to be recognized. The guild's formation was just announced Wednesday, with a "vast majority" of journalists asking parent company Gannett for a seat at the negotiating table.
Dec. 10: Costs of 'Live PD' reality show still adding up and 4 more headlines you might've missedWilliamson County sheriff indicted, arrested on evidence tampering charge in Javier Ambler case (Williamson County)
'Live PD' still lingers: Despite losing his re-election bid amid indictment, outgoing Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody will cost taxpayers long after he leaves Jan. 1. "Live PD" was canceled after revelations that Javier Ambler died in police custody while the reality show filmed the whole thing—and lawsuits are piling up for Chody's defiance to keep the show running, Community Impact reports.
NYE21 during COVID-19: The city of Austin typically holds a family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration on Auditorium Shores, but that's not going to happen during the pandemic. Instead, KXAN reports that live music performances from six bands across three venues, including Saxon Pub, have already been filmed for a virtual event this year. More details are expected to be released soon.
Company-CEO relocation package: A real estate investment firm from the United Kingdom is relocating to Austin, and—in seemingly familiar fashion—its CEO is moving here, too. Etienne Cadestin, CEO/founder of Longevity Partners, leased space in downtown Austin instead of Portland, Salt Lake City and Miami because we're cheaper and more focused on sustainability, Austin Business Journal reports.
AISD waits for pandemic relief: After spending $51.2 million on pandemic emergency needs this year, Austin ISD is yet to recoup most of those costs from the state, which controls CARES Act federal funding received earlier this year. KXAN learned that, at best, only 75% of those emergency expenses can be recovered, and it's unlikely AISD will even get that much back.
Transgender representation on task force: Public Safety Commission agreed with LGBTQ leaders that a transgender representative is needed on the city's task force for reimagining public safety. The commission voted unanimously for the recommendation, which City Council must ultimately approve, according to the Austin Monitor. The move comes as anti-transgender violence is up nationwide.
Dec. 9: Lady Bird Lake is safe for your four-legged friends again and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Lady Bird Lake is now free of toxic algae that threatens the safety of dogs swimming in the water.
Your pup can swim again: If there is any benefit to the increasingly cool weather, it's that Lady Bird Lake is safe again for your dog to swim. Since a deadly algae outbreak in 2019, the city has been testing the lake for toxins that likely killed dogs last year. For the first time since mid-July, those toxins are no longer active in Lady Bird Lake, KXAN reports.
Latina media moguls in training: Become a certified "Media Chica" as part of a new program from Latinitas, an online magazine in Austin since 2002. Austin Woman Magazine covered the creative program, which offers young Latina women media training and field experience—with their work published by Latinitas. The program has already graduated three cohorts.
Kendra Scott anniversary: The Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at The University of Texas has nearly hit its one-year anniversary. Famed Austin jeweler Kendra Scott started the program and doubles as a teacher. She reflected on the institution's first year with the Austin Business Journal this week, with hopes a decade from now that Scott can say "we changed Austin."
Council candidate's curious company: Campaign finance reports can be revealing, as Austin Chronicle learned this week. The alt-weekly revealed that District 6 candidate Mackenzie Kelly hired an Infowars videographer to produce her campaign ads despite his history of bigoted social media messages. Kelly's campaign denied any connection between the candidate and the Alex Jones-led "news" site.
Lamar art installation to retire: Did you know those blue panels lining the underpass of downtown Lamar Boulevard is actually a public art display installed in 2003? Most people don't get it, probably why the work is slated for "delisting" on Thursday's City Council agenda. Even the original artist endorses the piece's retirement, KUT learned.
Dec. 8: Live music venues could be rescued soon and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Mohawk music venue on Red River Street
Live music miracle: Multiple short- and long-term efforts to rescue music venues and other "legacy" Austin businesses proceeded last week at City Hall. Emergency grants are available, up to $140,000 for six months, Community Impact reports, and $15 million exclusively for venues could be unlocked by January.
Real tree > fake tree: It's not too late to get a real Christmas tree and embrace the holiday spirit this December. Austin.com compiled this list of tree farms that let you cut down your own Christmas Tree in true Griswold family fashion.
Music legend lost: A fixture of Austin's music scene was laid to rest this weekend. Margaret Wright, 78, was a singer and pianist known for taking over any venue she performed, according to the Austin American-Statesman, whether it be the Driskill Hotel or Skylark Lounge. "She knew every tune ever written," said Harold McMillan, a bass player who has played alongside Wright for three decades.
Dogs from the valley: Austin Humane Society rescued 15 dogs from shelters in Del Rio, Texas, where the city lacks a no-kill status, KXAN reports. The pups arrived in Austin for medical evaluations before being made available for adoption. This is good news for AHS after reports last year that overcrowding and volunteer issues threatened the shelter's no-kill status.
Party down: A new hotel and event space in the Hancock neighborhood caught social media flak this weekend for hosting hundreds at a dance party. Chances are, the event dodged statewide health orders because the outdoor setup was "not subject to an occupancy limit," KVUE reports. Nonetheless, Austin health officials recommended party-goers quarantine up to a week.
Dec. 7: Debate begins over who should get COVID-19 vaccine and 5 more headlines you might've missed
Return of the Mack, kinda: The University of Texas performance on the football field leaves a lot to be desired this season, but a former coach's daughter just delivered a "Jeopardy!" championship performance on the popular game show. KXAN reports that Katherine Ryan, daughter of longtime UT coach Mack Brown, won Friday's show and returns Monday as the defending champion. The episodes were filmed in early November before host Alex Trebek lost his battle with cancer.
Bring your blankets: The recent cold-weather snap takes its toll on individuals experiencing homelessness. That's why Front Steps is accepting blanket donations through the spring for visitors to its downtown ARCH homeless shelter and beyond. KXAN reports there is a special need for larger blankets based on feedback from shelter visitors.
Get in line for a vaccine: The Austin Latino Coalition is pushing the city to distribute the vaccine to low-income minorities as soon as possible, according to KVUE. This tool from the New York Times helps identify how soon until you might gain access.
Vaccine could be required: Just because a vaccine is coming online doesn't mean everyone wants to take it. KVUE reports that employers may be able to require their workforce to take the vaccine once it becomes widely available. Some exceptions will apply, but there's nothing in the books saying companies cannot enforce vaccination, according to one legal expert.
Businesses battle COVID-19: The Westover Hills neighborhood near MoPac and US 183 just lost a business to COVID-19. Hempton's Retro Threads announced it is closing at the end of the year, according to KVUE, after almost 5 years of selling vintage clothing, jewelry and handbags.
Don't break anything: Home appliances such as ovens, dishwashers and laundry machines, are getting used more than ever—and breaking down more than ever. KVUE reports the wait time for repairs are up significantly because of this higher-demand, and a limited supply chain only makes matters worse. Some local residents are waiting weeks for service repairs and replacements as a result.
After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
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Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.