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.
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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