I spend a good amount of this column reporting on what officials can do to improve local government. This week, it's all about local governments telling us what we can do to be better citizens.
First up, Travis County Commissioners Brigid Shea and Gerald Daugherty hosted a luncheon Wednesday to brief local businesses on the county's new Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program – a creative financial tool that enables commercial property owners to upgrade older, inefficient buildings with no up-front costs. You know, if Shea and Daugherty are on the same side of an environmental issue, it's got to be a no-brainer, and this one sounds like it is.
In 2013, the Texas legislature enacted SB 385, authorizing cities and counties to work with private-sector lenders and property owners to finance energy- or water-saving improvements on commercial properties. Because the term of a PACE loan may extend up to 20 years, utility cost savings can exceed the loan payments, meaning the improvements can generate positive cash flow, with no up-front cost to the property owner. Shea calls it "one of those rare win-win situations where county government can enable businesses to do the right thing, at no cost to taxpayers. This program has the potential to save hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year, and similarly reduce energy use."
Shea and Daugherty co-sponsored the resolution in January that made Travis the first county in Texas to participate in the PACE program, and now they're ready to get some money flowing. For more info, or to see if you or your building have a project that would qualify, see www.keepingpaceintexas.org or www.texaspaceauthority.org.
Also this week, Austin Resource Recovery released the results of an independent study, auditing the materials ARR picks up through its residential curbside trash and recycling pickup programs. Austin's first-ever Waste Characterization Study determined that some 44% of residential trash going to the landfill could have been recycled, and another 46% could have been composted – meaning only 10% of it is actual trash that ought to be going to the landfill in a perfect world. Those 58,000 tons of recyclable materials that go in the landfill each year have a market value of some $4.7 million; no value is put on the 61,000 tons of compostable material that go in the landfill (and create methane gas), but the city already does a brisk business in Dillo Dirt, and could certainly use more.
At 47 pages, the full report makes for interesting reading: depressing that we're doing so badly, but encouraging that we could do so much better. Read it, or the bullet-point handout version, at www.austintexas.gov/news/what’s-our-trash.
Speaking of monuments (see Point Austin and "The End of the Confederacy at UT?"), the City's George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center (1165 Angelina) will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth by unveiling its newest addition, the Juneteenth Memorial Monument, on Saturday, June 27, with a dedication ceremony beginning at 11am, and games, food, vendors, crafts, and more activities until 4pm. It's free, and "the public is invited and encouraged to come, listen, and learn the rich history we have to share."
The sculptures were originally commissioned by the Texas Legislature in 1999 to serve as a memorial on the Capitol grounds. But that project stalled, and the sculptures went into storage at a state outdoor warehouse, until Reps. Sylvester Turner and Dawnna Dukes led a request for their donation to the Carver Museum. The five sculptures represent the timeline of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation being passed from the lawmaker to the preacher, to the slaves, who deliver the news to their daughter, who waits to tell her story to future generations, who can climb onto a sixth pedestal, to symbolically receive the message, which, sadly, never gets old.
Flood Aid TX, a benefit concert supporting Central Texas disaster relief efforts, is this Sunday; tickets are available via the effort's website, www.floodaidtx.org. All proceeds go to the United Way of Hays County Flood Relief Fund and the Austin Disaster Relief Network. It is being hosted by Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, the city of Austin, Travis County, the LCRA, and the Texas Music Office. The lineup is ridiculous: Jack Ingram, Ray Benson, Gary P. Nunn, Bill Carter, the Texas Tornadoes, Little Joe y La Familia, Mingo Fishtrap, Shinyribs, and oh-so-many, many, more, playing on four stages, all day long, with food from several local food trucks. Noon-10pm on Sunday, June 28, at Palmer Events Center. $35-150. www.floodaidtx.org.
And the city wants your input on a couple of matters:
• The South Lamar Corridor Improvement Program has extended their survey/comment deadline by one month, to July 17. Review the draft plans for South Lamar that were presented at a May 27 Open House, and submit comments and questions through an online survey at www.austintexas.gov/southlamar.
• The Austin Center for Events is currently conducting a comprehensive evaluation of events during the 2015 SXSW Festival time period, and has an online survey to "gather public feedback on a range of topics including street closures and the use of City resources." See www.speakupaustin.org; deadline is July 9.
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