News briefs from Austin, the region, and elsewhere
• East Austin Economic Summit
Doing business in East Austin, thinking about it, or just curious about what's transacting on the ever-changing Eastside? Then spend a day mingling with dozens of community leaders at PeopleFund's East Austin Economic Summit 08 this Saturday, Oct. 11. Events kick off with the sixth annual Economic Outlook report. Summit participants will take an interactive survey on community development then go over the responses. Session topics helpful to small businesses include things like weathering a recession and preventing a foreclosure. Others focus on health, public transportation, development, and affordable homes. Key speakers include Brian Kelsey, from the Capital Area Council of Governments, and Ken Gladish, CEO for the Austin Community Foundation. The summit runs 8:30am-2:30pm at the Austin Community College Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Rd. Order $15 tickets, which include breakfast and lunch, by Oct. 9 at www.peoplefund.org. PeopleFund is also throwing a free presummit open house showcasing Eastside entrepreneurs: Thursday, Oct. 9, 5-7pm, at 207 Chalmers; RSVP to 472-8087. – Katherine Gregor
• For Every Decision, There's a Tree
"Vision: Develop a comprehensive multimodal regional transportation system that safely and efficiently addresses mobility needs over time, is economically and environmentally sustainable, and supports regional quality of life." That's the promising start on a 2035 regional transportation plan, discussed at a board work session for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on Oct. 8. Following the lead of CAMPO Chair Kirk Watson, staff recommended following a planning policy framework that's based on the Transportation Investment Decision Tree. While those evaluation criteria came from the CAMPO Transit Working Group, they now will be applied to road (and bike and pedestrian) projects as well. The policy framework presented includes 12 specific goals. New and notable: goal eight – "Air Quality, Climate Protection, and Energy: Minimize air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions." Also noteworthy are goals six, nine, and 10, which address, respectively, land use and economic development; environment, noise, and neighborhood character; and social equity. CAMPO's 2035 plan promises to use transportation dollars as a new carrot to motivate wiser regional land-use planning. Another likely outcome: a 2035 plan that includes more transit and fewer roads than the 2030 plan. – K.G.
• MetroRAIL SET FOR MARCH
MetroRail, the new Leander to Downtown Austin commuter rail, will finally begin service on March 30, 2009, Capital Metro announced last week. The agency also announced that it might order as many as another dozen cars above the six it already has, due to anticipated demand. The new opening date is a full year behind what Cap Metro originally announced after voters approved the line back in 2004. The opening was delayed in part because the agency had to wait for federal approval of the Swiss-made rail cars. The Federal Railroad Administration decided that because the commuter rail cars are more like freight cars than light rail, the fuel tanks needed a protective covering, which Cap Metro has finally installed. – Lee Nichols
• Commuter Challenge Winners
Try alternatives to solo commuting by car! That's the rallying cry of the Commute Solutions Coalition of Central Texas, which will present awards Oct. 13 to the winners of its annual Commuter Challenge. The contest challenges car-driving employers and employees to experiment with other ways to get to work: ride the bus, carpool, walk, bike, or (our favorite) work from home. Awards go to the participants with the most participating employees: UT-Austin (governmental) and Whole Foods (business). They will be honored at the 6pm board meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization by a Commute Solutions Coalition member. The 300 participants saved about 1,000 gallons of gas. Looking for a fresh commute solution yourself? For ideas and resources, including a free carpool/vanpool matching service, visit River Cities Rideshare (a related CAMPO project) at www.rcride.com. – K.G.
• AFD Closes in on New Fire Chief
The field of candidates for the top job at the Austin Fire Department has been whittled to seven. The finalists: Randy Bruegman, chief in Fresno, Calif.; Jimmie Bryant, chief in Monroe, La.; Niles Ford, chief in Lincoln, Neb.; Richard Gracia, deputy chief, Las Vegas; Noel Horan, assistant chief for the San Antonio Fire Department; Rhoda Mae Kerr, chief in Little Rock, Ark.; and Raul Reyes, chief in Greenville, Texas. (An eighth finalist, Michael Pruitt, Longview Fire Department chief, has removed his name from consideration.) This week the candidates face interviews by management; in coming weeks, the field will be further narrowed after city officials travel to the candidates' home cities for a visit. – Jordan Smith
• Mount Hutto Looms in WilCo
On Sept. 30, by a vote of 4-1, the Williamson Co. Commissioners Court abruptly lifted the hold it had placed on a permit application before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, paving the way for TCEQ to hold a hearing to decide whether garbage giant Waste Management Industries may substantially increase the area of the county dump located in Hutto. The news came as an ambush to the Hutto Citizens Group, which has marshaled a lengthy, Herculean opposition to the looming "Mount Hutto," a pile of trash predicted to ascend to a height of more than 700 feet if the expansion permit is granted. In the group's newsletter, Jeff Maurice, chair of the Landfill Committee, blasted the hastened court vote as a "betrayal," because Commissioner Ron Morrison had indicated that a vote that day was "doubtful." The Citizens Group, along with Mount Hutto Aware Citizens, fears the new permit naming WMI as operator will afford the privately owned firm unchecked powers over a public, county facility. "It leaves the county with no leverage over WM. ... We are going to end up with the monstrous expanded landfill," Maurice wrote in an e-mail to the Chronicle. Commissioner Lisa Birkman, Precinct 1 incumbent running for re-election against attorney Mike Grimes, cast the dissenting vote. – Patricia J. Ruland
• Say Goodbye to Puny Recycling Bins
The city unveiled new recycling bins this week that dramatically outsize the old ones and look more like trash cans. Intended not only to accommodate a wider variety of recyclables than before (like cereal boxes and plastics Nos. 1-7), the "single stream recycling" bins also do away with the need for sorting. Crews will be distributing them to Pay-as-You-Throw customers through the end of the year; customers may keep the old bins for personal use or set them at the curb on pickup day to be taken away like so much trash. For details, see www.cityofaustin.org/sws/recycling.htm. – Nora Ankrum
A Texas persimmon in Pease Park and an escarpment live oak between Central Market and the Heart Hospital of Austin will be officially declared winners of the city of Austin's 2008 Tree of the Year Awards this week. The presentation ceremony, at 38th and Lamar at 11:30am Oct. 10, is intended to raise awareness of the benefits of good arboreal care. The winning trees are not expected to deliver acceptance speeches, but the city will be providing free persimmon saplings to the first 30 attendees. – Richard Whittaker