Passover and Easter week are here and I realize this is not how any of us envisioned we would celebrate our families and communities this year. We have an opportunity, however, to reflect on what is most important: family & friends, near and far.
And maybe there's room for a sprinkling of gratitude. All of us ...
Council Member Pool
Passover and Easter week are here and I realize this is not how any of us envisioned we would celebrate our families and communities this year. We have an opportunity, however, to reflect on what is most important: family & friends, near and far.
And maybe there's room for a sprinkling of gratitude. All of us are exercising creativity in how we stay safe and at home for this extended time and yet stay sane: Entertaining the kids with new kitchen slime (yuck!) and cookie (yum!) recipes, connecting virtually with our loved ones in nursing homes and making sure they feel our love and presence, taking on long-wished-for sewing & home repair projects, family game night or tv show binges, reading the classics and detective novels that have been waiting, and waiting, for more of your time.
And there it is: we wait for more time, and now it's arrived. Let's use it the way we dreamed – to connect with each other and with ourselves. And let's reflect on the possibility that we may, in fact, be closer as a family and as a community than we were when we started. That's something to celebrate.
Your city leaders are continuing to provide assistance to our community during the COVID-19 crisis – this week we approved several funding measures including utility bill relief, emergency funds from the City budget reserves to assist our most vulnerable residents and front line city workers, and help for Austin musicians who are struggling.
We also pushed for more voting rights protections during this time, and affirmed our city's diverse culture, expressing solidarity with our Chinese and Asian-American neighbors who have, in some cases, experienced increased racial bias during this crisis.
I was fortunate to have co-sponsored many of these items with my council colleagues, and I'm very gratified by the funding that we've accomplished thus far. There is more work to do, and I will be here, representing you and advocating for your needs so that we can all emerge from this crisis stronger than we may feel today, and with the tools we need not just to survive, but to thrive.
In other news from Thursday's Council meeting, the majority of my colleagues chose to pursue an appeal of Judge Jan Soifer's recent ruling against the City of Austin. The ruling requires the City of Austin to follow state law and to recognize individuals' right to notification and protest rights regarding zoning changes. Unsurprisingly, the vote was 7-4 with Council Members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, and Kathie Tovo voting with me not to pursue such a costly and ill-timed appeal. More details on our position can be found below.
Amid the crisis, some critical efforts continue that deserve mention – the Census 2020, is open and the deadline to respond has been extended to August 1, 2020 in light of the pandemic. We've included an update from our City Demographer Ryan Robinson below with a summary of District 7 response rates, and a link to the full report with figures for each council district. Congratulations to the Preston Oaks neighborhood – you all have the highest response rate thus far in District 7 –keep up the great work! Remind your neighbors and friends to fill out the Census 2020 survey – and don't forget to remind them that an accurate census ensures authentic democratic representation and the full potential of federal investment for our area.
This month we say farewell to a longtime champion for Austin's local small business community. Rebecca Melançon, Executive Director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), is stepping down after nearly 20 years of leadership, having shaped our local business community with the critical tools of advocacy, education, connection, marketing, and policy victories. We will miss her persistence and the resiliency she inspires in our local businesses. AIBA will continue under the interim leadership of Dixie Patrick, the current Membership Manager. Thank you Rebecca, for serving our District 7 small businesses with your energetic spirit and unwavering loyalty to the local cause.
And for everyone out there... Stay safe and healthy!
Council decides to
appeal court ruling
April 09, 2020
Council Members Alter, Kitchen, Pool and Tovo Joint Response on Council Vote to Appeal Court Ruling
Today, a majority of the City Council chose to pursue what is likely to be a time-consuming and costly legal effort that we believe is an ill-timed expenditure of resources amid our current crisis.
The Council majority seeks reversal of a recent court decision on the Land Development Code revision that requires the City of Austin to follow state law on notification and to recognize individuals’ protest rights.
We are disappointed by their decision to appeal the ruling and believe this should not be our focus right now. We also proposed that the Council ask the court to postpone the deadline for filing an appeal. This attempt to defer the decision until the COVID-19 crisis is under control in our community was also rejected by the Council majority.
It will be several months before the community is able to focus on the LDC revision. When the effort is re-initiated, we strongly urge that the Council respond collaboratively. We have long advocated for finding common ground. Especially now, we firmly believe that the true measure of this effort is how well we build consensus, foster mutual respect, and listen to the community. That is how the city will be successful in achieving our adopted goals.
Right now, we, along with the rest of Council, are focused on the health and safety of our community and helping our residents get the critical assistance they need. As always, we stand ready to work collaboratively with our colleagues.
City of Austin and Travis County
updates on COVID-19
We have new information and updates this week on COVID-19. Please review and visit the City of Austin's COVID-19 webpage for more information. Still have questions? You can call 3-1-1, orcomplete this form online. As always, you may contact the District 7 office for assistance.
The Parks & Recreation Department has closed all public parks through Easter Sunday to help prevent further spread of the virus over the holiday weekend.
In anticipation of this weekend's religious holiday, medical authorities arehighlighting places of worship in their effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19. “While we must abide by the Governor’s Order reclassifying mass in-person religious gatherings as essential, we are also reassured and grateful to see a strong level of support among the Austin faith community for staying home and staying safe, especially this time of year,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority.
At Tuesday's council work session, staff from the Economic Development Department, and the Deputy Chief Financial Officer presented the city's economic recovery plans for the community, and the budget impacts of COVID-19 on the City's finances.
Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, and Dr. Mark Escott participated in a press conference to update the community on the latest information about the upcoming Easter weekend, preparations for a potential hospital surge, new Construction Industry Guidance (in Englishand Spanish), and the most recent virus spread projections from UT’s COVID-19 modeling project. The archived video can be watched on Facebook. For more information on the hospital surge plans, visit the City's surge plans webpage.
Thursday, April 9, The Austin City Council approved several measures to assist our community during the COVID-19 crisis, including utility bill relief, emergency funds from the City budget reserves to assist our most vulnerable residents and front line city workers, help for Austin musicians, efforts to protect our voting rights, and an affirmation of our city's diverse culture and expression of solidarity with our Chinese and Asian-American neighbors.
Help for Residents, Workers, and Musicians, and other actions:
The Council approved allocating $15 million from the City's Emergency Reserve Fund to the City’s Relief in a State of Emergency (RISE) Fund to support COVID-19 emergency relief for Austin residents. This was Item 81on the Council's agenda. These funds are intended to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable, lower-income populations, who may either be ineligible for other forms of State or Federal assistance. More information is provided in the City's press release in an item below.
Also approved was a measures to fully compensate City workers who continue to provide services for our residents and businesses, but who need may fall ill with the virus or have family members who fall ill. This measure was co-sponsored by CM Pool. More details are in Item 79.
The Council approved a continuation inItem 83of a moratorium on utility cutoffs, as well as water and electric utility bill relief for all residents (a reduction that is likely to translate into at least a 4% reduction in an average households' monthly bill), and an expansion of Austin Energy's "Plus 1" program for qualifying households.
City staff brought several proposals to Council for leasing hotel space for isolation/quarantine purposes if needed, and all were approved. $2.8 million out of the City's reserves will pay for these lease agreements that will provide a total of 492 beds across the city, if activated. See the following council items for more information: Items 65-68.
City staff also brought several items that Council approved increasing social services contracts to provide shelf-stable food for food insecure households and for people experiencing homelessness.
Emergency assistance for musicians was passed by the Council to get dollars out as quickly as possible to folks who are struggling amid the closure of music venues and secondary jobs such as restaurants and bars. Led by CM Kathie Tovo, CM Pool was a co-sponsor on Item 86.
The Council unanimously approved Item 76, a resolution condemning violence, hate speech, racism, and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and expressing solidarity with Chinese and Asian Americans.
Also unanimously approved was a resolution, Item 78, imploring the Texas Governor and the Texas Secretary of State to protect the voting rights and the public health of all Texans during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic by permitting voting-by-mail for all voters eligible to vote in Texas elections. CM Alter led this effort, with CM Pool as co-sponsor.
City Council provides relief
for vulnerable residents
April 10, 2020
City Council approves Relief in a State of Emergency Fund to provide immediate and direct relief for vulnerable Austinites
RISE Fund receives $15 million to provide direct relief services & financial assistance to Austinites in need
Austin, Texas – The Austin City Council recently approved allocating $15 million from the Emergency Reserve Fund to establish the City’s Relief in a State of Emergency (RISE) Fund to support COVID-19 emergency relief for Austin residents.
A resolution was also unanimously approved authorizing the use of existing contracts with social services agencies. This also provides for the initiation of new emergency contracts funded from the RISE Fund to offer immediate support services and direct financial assistance to residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.
“Getting relief to those who need it most is a critical priority,” said Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Deputy City Manager. “In these most trying times, this is an opportunity to reaffirm our values as an organization and demonstrate our community’s commitment to helping those among us hardest hit by this pandemic.”
The RISE Fund aims to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable, lower-income populations, who may either be ineligible for other forms of State or Federal assistance. By partnering with existing social service agencies who have a demonstrated history of success in reaching vulnerable community members, the City of Austin aims to provide relief as quickly as possible.
“We have many great community partnerships in place to help us provide quick social service assistance,” said Stephanie Hayden, Director of Austin Public Health. “During this time, our community should unite to support those who may be struggling financially to meet their basic needs.”
Funding will be allocated in two forms of immediate relief:
Direct relief services such as diapers, improving food access, case management, and assistance with rent, mortgages, utilities, medical and childcare expenses.
Direct financial assistance such as one-time payments through pre-paid debit, gift cards or ACH transfers provided to eligible Austin residents by a social service provider.
Eligibility criteria will ensure immediate relief is provided to vulnerable community members that have experienced a significant hardship or loss of household income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Austin Public Health will work with the Equity Office to ensure funds are provided to community-based organizations providing services to our marginalized communities.
“Equity is centered as one of the anchors of our City’s strategic direction,” said Brion Oaks, Chief Equity Officer. “As we respond to the COVID-19 crisis, the role of history and its impact on outcomes for low income communities which are disproportionately communities of color in Austin cannot be ignored. These RISE funds will play a critical role in allowing those most impacted to make the decisions right for themselves and their families.”
Information about service providers receiving RISE funding will be provided in the coming days. For social services agencies that would like more information about providing immediate relief through the RISE Fund, please emailRISEFunding@AustinTexas.gov. For more information about COVID-19 resources, visit the City's webpage.
Council approves utility bill relief
April 9, 2020
Council Approves Emergency Utility Bill Relief
On Thursday, April 9, 2020, City Council approved an emergency ordinance that will reduce utility bills for residents and businesses experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This emergency measure is a direct response to City Council’s passage of Item 92, sponsored by Council Member Kathie Tovo and co-sponsored by Mayor Adler and Council Members Alter, Casar, and Pool on March 26, 2020, to identify and evaluate options for reducing utility bill impacts for customers affected by the coronavirus.
“During this time of crisis and uncertainty, no one should go without utility service or worry about mounting bills they cannot pay due to illness or unexpected job loss,” said Council Member Tovo. “I appreciate the swift response of Austin Energy and Austin Water as well as the support of my colleagues, and I am committed to continue identifying ways for those who have been impacted by this global crisis to receive the support they need to remain safe and healthy in their homes.”
Mayor Steve Adler added, “The City of Austin is committed to making it easier for people to stay home in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. To help, City Council is taking action, voting on a package of measures including a moratorium on disconnections and the expansion of customer assistance programs to help people handle the increased utility costs and get a little breathing room in household budgets already being tested by this crisis.”
“As we ask Austin residents to stay home and work safe, it’s important that we help them do so successfully,” said Council Member Alison Alter. “I commend Austin Energy and Austin Water for working quickly to help us provide immediate utility relief to Austinites during this pandemic.”
Council Member Greg Casar said, “As we weather this ongoing crisis, it is critical that we do all we can to help Austin residents who may be struggling to make ends meet.”
“We’re working hard to make sure all households get immediate relief in this difficult time when so many of our families must stay home and will see their monthly home costs rise,” stated Council Member Leslie Pool. “I’m pleased with the discounts that Austin Energy and Austin Water have suggested in response to our utility relief initiative, and I anticipate that we will continue to collaborate with our utilities and other city services to achieve more assistance for all of our residents.”
Austin Energy’s General Manager Jackie Sargent concluded, “Austin Energy is part of this community, and we must do everything we can to reduce costs for customers who are helping our community by staying home. We’re also making sure those who have suffered a loss of income during this unprecedented crisis can come to us for additional utility bill assistance.”
Cisco Systems gives virtual
support to churches
Message from Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks:
Thanks to a connection from Stephen Elkins our City Director for Technology Management, we’ve been able to make connection with Cisco Systems to assist churches to transition to virtual sermons especially as Easter Sunday approaches. The attached link includes instructions for churches and other organizations that are looking for resources to have virtual meetings. Cisco is making their WebEx platform available free of charge for virtual meetings up to 100 people. It does not require any credit card information to sign up and participate either. Per our call this looks like a good resource for smaller churches that don’t have standing technology to meet virtually and challenged with the cost.
The Austin History Center, Austin Public Library (AHC) is seeking donations for its new collection, COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds to a Pandemic, documenting life in Austin during the COVID-19 crisis. AHC is looking for community documentation of home and work life, life while social distancing and/or in quarantine, scenes from neighborhoods and other communities, and life for small business owners and other industry workers affected by the crisis. Submit your stories in the form of photographs, documents, audio or video recordings, art, writing, and more. We are living through a historic moment, and as the city’s archives, the Austin History Center seeks to share and preserve your stories of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We recognize that this is an unprecedented period of hardship and loss for so many in Austin. Longtime Austin businesses are shutting their doors for the first time, signature community events have been cancelled, and essential city systems have been strained and ever-changing. We have also witnessed remarkable instances of connection, creativity, and solidarity as we strive to keep our Austin communities together.
Storytelling and archival documentation can be empowering sources of hope and healing during our most painful times.
COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds to a Pandemic aims to be a gathering point for community narratives, images, records, art, and other forms of response to the impacts of COVID-19. How is this affecting your life, family, or business? What feelings are you experiencing? Have you noticed any new changes, strategies, or realizations? Upload your experiences to this project and be a part of history.
Ways to share your story:
Write: Keep a Journal, write poetry, pen a script
Create Art: Draw or paint
Start a video blog or speak into a recorder
Take photographs or video of your environment/community/life in quarantine
Upload records from your business that document how it responded to the crisis (social media graphics, e-mail or mail correspondence, business announcements, etc.)
Upload your materials directly to the Austin History Center website at this link: https://library.austintexas.gov/covid-19-files. We will be collecting stories throughout the duration of the crisis. If you have paper materials you wish to donate, you can scan them and send digital copies now, then bring the originals to the Austin History Center when we resume normal business hours. Have a larger collection of materials you wish to donate or any other questions about donations? Contact our Media Archivist, Madeline Moya, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In gathering your thoughts and stories, please adhere to all issued safety precautions, such as social distancing, to minimize the spread of COVID-19. For the most current public information, please continue to visit: http://austintexas.gov/COVID19
The Austin History Center collects and preserves information about local government, businesses, residents, institutions, and neighborhoods so that generations to come will have access to our history. Our rich collections and expert staff support exhibits, programs, and research by the public in our Reading Room six days a week (though we remain closed as part of the Shelter in Place Order currently in place).
About the Austin History Center
As the local history collection of the Austin Public Library, the Austin History Center provides the public with information about the history, current events and activities of Austin and Travis County. The Center collects and preserves information about local governments, businesses, residents, institutions and neighborhoods so that generations to come will have access to their history.
Texas Children in Nature and Spending Time in
Nature During a Time of COVID-19
We are living in an unprecedented time around the world. Many of us are staying home and following the guidelines put into place by our local health agencies, but we still can take this time to spend time in nature. Let's take these few weeks to create a habit of nature in our lives, benefiting from the capabilities of nature to help our physical and mental health.
Visit the Texas Children in Nature website to find some resources we have been collecting to help us all safely spend time in nature during this time of physical distancing.
Nature Rocks Texas
Many of our partners are creating wonderful online resources. Everything from lessons to be used now that students are doing school at home to nature breaks and outdoor explorations. We are collecting these resources and posting them on the Nature Rocks Texas Page under Resources. We have also started to create a calendar of digital events our partners are putting together. You can find the calendar on the Texas Children in Nature Website.
If you would like add your organization's resources please email Sarah Coles.
Nature Rocks Texas can also be used as a great place to find greenspaces and nature near you.
Find Resources Near You Here: naturerockstexas.org
National Recreation and Park Association
NRPA has created this great graphic on social distancing. You can access the graphic learn more about their recommendations on the NRPA website.
Children & Nature Network
The Children and Nature Network has created a great website with lots of tips on staying connected to the natural world during a time of COVID-19. The site includes webinars from leaders in the field addressing the currently pandemic, resources and more.
Connect to Texas Children and Nature Are you looking for a way to participate more in TCiN and our efforts to help make nature a habit in our state. You can join in an a monthly pillar call addressing one of five focus areas of our strategic plan. Groups meet on calls addressing each of the following strategies:
Health - working to make nature a public health strategy
Access - working to promote equitable access to nature for all across the state
Community - working within our communities to encourage families to spend time in nature, and looking at how nature creates a sense of community
Education - formal and informal educators working together to bring students outdoors
Marketing - how do we market the benefits of nature
To join a call email Sarah Coles
COVID-19 community resources
Here are some helpful COVID-19 resources including government and health provider updates, plus information about food and rental assistance. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 please refer to the City website.
Census 2020 went live on March 12, 2020 by allowing US residents to go online and answer the decennial census. Since then the US Census Bureau has published daily so-called self-response rates for cities, counties and states. Although the City of Austin was at the back of the pack a few weeks ago, it has moved up considerably through the set of the nation’s largest 30 cities and is now poised to catch and pass Fort Worth, leading the pack of biggest cities in Texas and yet still lagging behind it’s national peers of Seattle, San Jose, Portland, and Denver.
It is important to note that many Census Bureau field enumeration operations have been delayed and a few of these programs directly affect Austin such as the on-campus counting of college students and other so-called Group Quarters populations. Without question, some of the lowest performing census tracts across the City are those containing large concentrations of college students.
Austin has large populations of individuals who are considered “hard to count” by the Census Bureau. These big groups include not only college students but lots of international immigrants, renters, low income households, the homeless, and folks who may be linguistically isolated.
The following brief narrative looks at the self-response rates for census tracts around the City, grouped by City Council District. The tract-level data used for this analysis are “as of” April 6.
District Seven Areas of Strength
The Preston Oaks neighborhood off Parmer Lane is currently leading the District in terms of the self-response rate for that census tract (Tract 420 at 65%) with Allendale in the southern part of the District coming in with a response rate of almost 60% (Tract 15.01).
The only truly lagging part of the District is the North Burnet Gateway/Domain area, Tract 454 with a current response rate of only 35%. This low rate is most probably being driven by the large share of rental multifamily housing which can typically host households that are somewhat hard to count.
For each council district response rate visit the summary here, or visit a map of the census tract-level response rates.
Farewell and much gratitude
to our small business champion
Farewell Loyal Localists
It’s time to bid you farewell as Executive Director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance. I resigned in January, effective April 30, before the pandemic hit us all. I’m glad I was able to be here to help guide and assist local businesses during this time.
I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it’s been to lead AIBA to become the successful organization it is today. I’ve been with AIBA for 19 years, first as a founding board member, then Executive Director for the past 10 years. Now it’s time for me to embark on my next adventure.
I was involved in the very first discussions of an organization for local business back in 2001 when I co-owned a local magazine, The Good Life. There weren’t any other city-wide independence independent business alliances in the country and, true to our entrepreneurial roots, we invented as we went. In the beginning, we offered only a fledging website and a printed directory. Today we have built that into the AIBA Community embracing advocacy, connecting, education, marketing to both consumers and businesses, place-based economic development, resources for local business, and more. And we’ve had fun along the way.
AIBA isn’t just local, we’ve become nationally known. I now serve on the Board of Directors of our national umbrella organization, the American Independent Business Alliance, and on several national advisory groups. This has given AIBA a connectivity and access to our best national localists. A couple of years ago I was interviewed by a professor from Boston who was writing a book on culture. It was a fascinating discussion but I was puzzled about why he came here to interview me (or rather AIBA). His answer was “You are the mothership.” It’s an image I carry always.
I will always cherish these years and each and every one of you for letting me travel this path with you. Getting to know our local legends and shining a spotlight on new entrepreneurs has been an education like no other and a joy. I bid you a heartfelt farewell.
As I do this I am thrilled to hand the mothership over to Dixie Patrick. You’ve known Dixie as our Membership Manager and now you’ll know her as the Interim Director of AIBA. Dixie has been with AIBA for more than four years and will do a great job of steering the ship as AIBA moves forward.
Connect with District 7 Online!
Follow the District 7 staff onTwitterand Instagram for a behind-the-scenes look at our work. Visit our websiteand check out many of the resources available for you and your community!