Headlines / Quote of the Week

I-35 construction at Sixth St. in 1960
I-35 construction at Sixth St. in 1960 (via TexasFreeway.com)

I-35 Racist or Not: TxDOT argued in federal court that I-35 didn’t “cause discrimination.” But, KUT reported, the state agency’s own historical assessment of the highway states: “IH 35 reinforced the segregated division between the largely white population of Central and West Austin and the largely Black and Hispanic population in East Austin south of Manor Road.” Perhaps our fine state will circle back to the argument that “segregated division” is not “discrimination.”

Alvin Crow and Joe Gracey (r) in 1977, during Gracey’s last show on KOKE-FM
Alvin Crow and Joe Gracey (r) in 1977, during Gracey’s last show on KOKE-FM (photo by Ken Hoge)

Saving Sidewalks and Streets: The Transportation and Public Works Department has announced a plan to renovate 810 miles of sidewalks and 740 miles of shared street roads in Austin by 2033, the Austin Monitor reported. Meanwhile, they’ve got big plans for the city’s urban trail network that include 94 miles of high-priority urban trail projects to be completed by 2043.

KOKE-Not-FM: Last week, alternative country station KOKE-FM announced its transition from terrestrial over-the-air radio to a streaming-only model. The 99.3 FM station is now available at kokefm.com, while 101.9 FM sports talk station the HORN heads to hornfm.com. Days later, KOKE confirmed “unexpected changes” to its lineup. Morning DJs Bob Cole and Eric Raines depart. Texas Nights hosts Scotty and Amber will take over the morning slot, with Rita Ballou on air from 3-7pm.

Beekeeper Konrad Bouffard examines hives in the pre-Bee Bill era
Beekeeper Konrad Bouffard examines hives in the pre-Bee Bill era (photo by John Anderson)

Limiting Asylum: President Joe Biden’s new immigration policy to temporarily stop granting asylum to migrants if illegal crossings pass a certain threshold drew quick criticism in Texas, from both sides of the aisle, The Texas Tribune reported. Biden said he’s doing “what I can on my own to address the border” after Republicans in Congress did not pass a bipartisan border security deal brokered in the Senate.

Hospital Cyberattack Recovery: After nearly a month of paper charting following a cyberattack, Ascension Seton hospitals in the Austin area once again have access to electronic health records, KUT reported. Austin is one of the first markets to restore its electronic health records (EHR) system since the May 8 ransomware attack. The hospital chain expects to restore access nationwide by June 14.

The Google “shark fin” building (left) is notoriously empty
The Google “shark fin” building (left) is notoriously empty (image via Getty Images)

Not Enough Nurses at Nursing Homes: This week, Community Impact took a look at nursing homes in Central Texas, which, like nursing homes nationwide, are facing staffing shortages and low ratings issued by the federal government. The Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies recommends pay increases and educational partnerships to fight the shortage.

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Bee Bill: Texas became the nation’s top beekeeping state partly because of a chance encounter. A hobbyist beekeeper was working at an art store, and the chief of staff for a rookie state lawmaker stopped to shop on her way to or from Austin. That conversation led to the “bee bill,” which in 2012 created a tax break that incentivized landowners to start beekeeping. The Texas Tribune told the full story behind the bee bill this week.

Atomic Tattoo in 2023
Atomic Tattoo in 2023 (photo by Jana Birchum)

Drive Sober Summer: The Austin Police Department will be conducting an initiative through the summer to encourage people not to drink and drive – through Aug. 31, officers will apply for blood search warrants whenever anyone refuses a Breathalyzer or blood sample.

Mosquito No No: Austin Public Health has identified a mosquito pool that tested positive for West Nile Virus in the 78744 ZIP code. In 2023, Travis County saw one West Nile virus death and three probable West Nile virus cases.

Colin Allred at Texas Tribune Festival in 2023
Colin Allred at Texas Tribune Festival in 2023 (photo by Jana Birchum)

Checks to Change Lives: Nearly 100 low-income households in Austin will now receive payments of $1,000 a month from the “family stabilization grant,” the Austin Free Press reported. City Council approved $1.3M for the program, partnering with the Oakland-based nonprofit UpTogether, which raises funds from private donors. During a pilot program in 2021, more than half of those who received payments spent it on housing, while the percentage of households facing a food shortage also dropped.

Office to Housing: With one in five Austin offices vacant, City Council members Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly asked for city staff to look into possibilities for converting office space into housing stock. The audit found that reuse is likely a bad fit for newer office buildings. Issues include centrally located bathrooms and HVAC, low access to sunlight in some cases, and lots of construction debt still in play. The audit found governments could encourage these adaptations through subsidies, tax breaks, and relaxed zoning restrictions.

Algae, Whiz: The city is pouring clay into Lady Bird Lake to fight toxic blue-green algae that can be dangerous to people and fatal to dogs. This is the fourth year in a five-year pilot to see if the clay actually helps. Results have been mixed, KUT reported. The city cautions people against entering water that is still, warm, or covered in a film.

Livers of Rivers Endangered: This week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared six species of mussels which reside in Central Texas endangered. Scientists call these little creatures the “liver of the river” because they filter harmful substances including algae from the water, The Texas Tribune reported. In its ruling, the federal agency also designated 1,577 miles of rivers and creeks in the Colorado, Guadalupe, Brazos, and Trinity river basins as critical habitat, which means banning development or projects that could harm mussels.

Letters from Solitary: “I have friends in hell,” is the first line in a series of letters from prisoners published by The Texas Observer last week. Roger Uvalle writes: “8-days without eating and I’ll be going till I get sick. I rather suffer this way than to continue in the [solitary confinement] conditions that I’ve been in the past 29 yrs that has tortured me and caused irreparable damage physically and mentally.”

Calling For Tattoo Stories: The upcoming “Stories Inked in Skin” exhibit at the Bastrop Museum and Visitor Center will collect photos of tattoos and the stories behind them from Bastrop County residents. They’re collecting these stories until Sunday. The museum’s collections manager Heather Bloom told KUT, “I’m about as edgy as a butterknife, but even I want a tattoo myself.”

A Better Bike System: CapMetro Bikeshare announced MetroBikes will be unavailable starting July 1 until mid-July, while the company distributes more electric bikes across the city, develops more drop stations, and updates the B-cycle app, the Austin Monitor reported.

Keeping Creative Spaces: The city is planning to launch a new incentive program for small businesses, including creative spaces, which will likely go before City Council in July, the Austin Monitor reported. The initiative would offer certain businesses that provide a community benefit with financial assistance, predominantly from property tax and sales tax rebates. These state-allowed economic incentives haven’t been updated in Austin since 2018.

National Democrats Back Allred: Colin Allred is trying to do what Beto O’Rourke couldn’t – topple Sen. Ted Cruz. At about this point in his campaign, O’Rourke had campaigned in all 254 of Texas’ counties. Allred is taking a more traditional approach, pouring resources into ads, particularly in Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, and Rio Grande Valley markets, The Texas Tribune reported. For a long time, Democrats outside the state have figured it’s too big and too Republican to invest in, but now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has identified Texas as one of its top two pickup opportunities this year along with Florida. They’re investing a lot of money in Allred. Veterans of the O’Rourke campaign told the Tribune no such support existed from national Democrats at this point in the 2018 cycle.

Headlines / Quote of the Week
photo by John Anderson

Quote of the Week

“The Board of Pardons and Paroles and the governor put their politics over justice and made a mockery of our legal system.”

– Travis County District Attorney José Garza, as his office works to overturn Gov. Abbott’s pardon of Daniel Perry

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