Friday, October 29, 2021

The redistricting commission maps city council districts for next decade




AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 29, 2021) – Unlike the state of Texas's political maps, the new Austin City Council district maps, certified by the Independent Citizens Commission (ICRC) on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, were devoid of political party influence.

"I think these maps are a testament to the strength of our expertise and ultimately the strength of this redistricting process under an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission," said ICRC Chair Christina Puentes (District 7) after signing her name to the certification document at Wednesday's meeting. "We have followed in some really courageous and thoughtful footsteps in previous positions, and I hope to see that this movement will sweep the country. We are living proof that this system works."

Austin's independent redistricting system was set in place in 2013 after the passage of a proposition that moved the City Council from a seven-member, all at-large group to its current 10-1 configuration that centers on demographics. Before this system, Austin's at-large system for electing council members had been in place since 1953 with a change or unofficial concession termed "a gentleman's agreement" to reserve two seats for minority candidates. However, the explosive growth of the Hispanic population in the '70s and every decade afterward and the protests and litigation that followed made the change a reality in 2013.

Commissioner Joshua Blank (District 8), research director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, said he was proud of the work the commission produced.

"I study politics for a living, and currently, almost all politics are defined by their toxicity. By the inability of people to work together, and by those in power using the levers at their disposal to maintain or increase that power," Blank said during the certification of the map on Wednesday. "This map, by contrast, was made among citizens who approached this task humbly. Who asked for input at every stage, and who then received that input without prejudice or predetermined outcomes in mind. Citizens who truly sought to follow the charter that established this commission and this process, and in particular, the maintenance of the geographic integrity of local neighborhoods and communities."

Wednesday marks the second time an independent commission redrew the city council districts, and the obstacles the 2021 commissioners had were different from the 2013 commission in that they were apolitical. In its path to redistricting, the ICRC weathered a global pandemic, February freeze, late U.S. Census data numbers, learning new virtual meeting protocols and the shortening of public engagement timeframe.

Austin City Auditor Corrie Stokes noted these obstacles before awarding commissioners certificates for the volunteer work they put into the redrawing of the new Austin City Council boundaries.

"I wanted to recognize the challenges that you all faced this time that we didn't have last time. Number one is we were in a global pandemic. We were all struggling to adapt to real time virtual meetings and developing a coordinated community engagement plan for Austin residents to give input on this map. You all were able to do this within COVID-19 protocols. I think that was a significant feat and I'm really impressed," Stokes said. "That wasn't enough, though. You also had late Census data. When we set out to do this in late 2019, we had no idea you would have less time for public engagement, and you were still able to pull that off, so I am so impressed with this group."

The ICRC held 20 public forums from July through October, four more than mandated by the City Charter. Since July, commissioners spent over 23 hours in meetings, hosted 173 attendees, listened to 82 speakers, collected 70 maps and 187 emails.

"I want to thank the voters of Austin for establishing this process for redistricting," Blank said. "While city councils, commissioners courts, and legislatures throughout the country engage in a process wherein, for the most part, elected officials pick their voters, ours was a process of citizens representing their fellow citizens in an effort to create a city council map that as accurately as possible, reflects the many, often overlapping, communities of this great city that we all clearly hold dearly."

The ICRC will present the certified map to the Austin City Council by the Nov. 1 deadline set out in the City Charter. The commission will remain inactive except when necessary to comply with its duties under the City Charter mandate.

Visit speakupaustin.org to download a copy of the 2021 Austin City Council Final District Map.

Contact

To contact the commission please email: icrc.commissioners@austintexas.gov; call 512- 512-710-5329 or write to: Housing and Planning Department, Attn: ICRC, P.O. Box 1088, Austin, Texas 78767.

Due to rapid changes in scheduling due to COVID restrictions, for the most up-to-date events information from the ICRC please refer to the following events pages:

https://www.speakupaustin.org/city-of-austin-redistricting/

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AustinRedistric/events/

Public input forums are recorded and made available after the meetings here: http://www.austintexas.gov/page/watch-atxn-live.

Past meetings, agendas and map presentations can be viewed on the commission's website at www.austintexas.gov/cityclerk/boards_commissions/meetings/116_1.htm

Interpretation and/or translation services will be available free of charge by advance request in Spanish, Chinese or Vietnamese. Call 311 or email matthew.dugan@austintexas.gov to request these services 48 hours in advance of a forum.

ICRC Information

Commissioners are: Joshua Blank (District 8), Sara Inés Calderón (D2), Erin Dempsey (D10), Camellia Falcon (D7), Luis Gonzalez (D10, Vice-Chair), Errol Hardin (D1), Shaina Kambo (D9), Prabhu Kannan (D5), Dr. Sterling Lands (D4), Hoang Le (D3), Brigham Morris (D3), Christina Puentes (D7, Chair), Eugene Schneider (D6) and Selina Yee (D1).

The ICRC board has scheduled its next weekly commission meeting at the Permitting and Development Center (PDC), 6310 Wilhelmina Delco Dr., Austin, TX 78752, 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2021. 


Austin Public Health and Travis County Partner with Community Organizations for COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics (10/29-11/1)



Austin Public Health (APH) and Travis County are partnering with local community organizations to provide FREE COVID-19 vaccination clinics around the county for events from October 29 – Nov. 1.  
 
Clinics are open to all eligible individuals without registration or appointment and require neither identification nor insurance. All vaccinations are free.  All APH sites offer Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, including third doses for the immunocompromised and booster shots for qualifying individuals. Travis County sites offer the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine only. If you are receiving your second, third dose or booster shot, please bring your Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to be updated. 
 
Individuals attending these events should be weather- and traffic-aware. Remember to wear appropriate clothing, including garments that allow you to easily expose your arm. 
 
H-E-B gift cards are no longer available.  
 

Friday, October 29

Southeast Library ­ (APH) Little Walnut Creek Library (APH) Reilly Elementary School (Travis County) La Mexicana Meat Market (Travis County)  Poco Loco Supermercado (Travis County) Poco Loco Supermercado (Travis County) Tienda Mexicana Market (Travis County)  

Saturday, October 30

Dailey Middle School (Travis County) Del Valle High School Opportunity Center (Travis County) La Moreliana Meat Market (Travis County) Travis County Exposition Center (Travis County) Southeast Library ­(APH) Little Walnut Creek Library (APH)   

Sunday, October 31

Travis County Exposition Center (Travis County)  

Monday, November 1

La Mexicana Market (Travis County)

COVID-19 Information
For more information on COVID-19 and vaccinations, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19 or call 3-1-1 (512-974-2000).


Thursday, October 28, 2021

New system at Austin Water’s largest water treatment plant helps prepare for future extreme flooding events

Austin Water is completing a new system at Ullrich Water Treatment Plant to handle turbidity associated with extreme flooding events. A new polymer chemical feed will help to accelerate the process of settling out and removing particles in the water, an important step in the treatment process.

In October 2018, the Colorado River system experienced unprecedented flooding that washed large amounts of silt into the Highland Lakes, Austin’s source for drinking water. Lakes that often are crystal clear appeared dark brown like chocolate milk. The level of cloudiness in the water is called turbidity and is measured regularly by Austin Water. Typical turbidity in the lake water is less than 5 Nephelometric Turbidity unit (NTU); during the 2018 flood it was greater than 400 NTU for more than a week.

In past flood events, turbidity would spike in the Highland Lakes to around 150 NTU and return to normal levels rather quickly – within a day or two. During the 2018 flood, turbidity levels remained at greatly elevated levels for a long period of time. As a result, Austin’s water treatment plants struggled to remove the high levels of silt and bring turbidity levels down to regulatory standards, which caused the need for a weeklong boil water advisory.

Following the event, Austin Water turned to experts in the field to help create solutions to prepare the utility to face extreme flooding events in the future. A report released in October 2019 called for construction of polymer chemical feed systems at Austin Water’s water treatment plants to better equip the plants to remove high levels of silt in the source water.

While design and construction for the polymer system at Ullrich Water Treatment Plant was underway for the past two years, Austin Water had materials on hand so that polymer could be used in the treatment process through a temporary system, if needed during an emergency.

Polymer feed systems at Austin Water’s Davis and Handcox water treatment plants have been designed and will be constructed over the next two years. Materials for temporary polymer feed systems will be on hand at these treatment plants in the meantime as part of Austin Water’s emergency preparedness measures.

“We expect to see extreme flooding events in our watershed more frequently due to the effects of climate change,” said Director Greg Meszaros, Austin Water. “Austin Water is committed to making improvements to our water treatment systems to be prepared to respond to these changing conditions.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Prescribed Burns Planned on October 29 Help Restore Native Grasslands on Austin’s Water Quality Protection Lands


Austin Water will be conducting a prescribed burn on up to 158 acres of the Water Quality Protection Lands on Friday, October 29, 2021.

Smoke may be visible south State Highway 45 and MoPac, east of FM1826, west of Brodie Lane, and northwest of FM 1626 from 10am to sunset.

The Water Quality Protection Lands (WQPL) program actively manages more than 30,000 acres to benefit the quality and quantity of water recharging the Edwards Aquifer, which provides water to both Barton Springs and to groundwater wells in Hays and Travis Counties. Austin Water Wildland Conservation Division manages the lands.
 

"Conducting prescribed burns is one of the strategies used to manage these lands and protect groundwater in Central Texas," said Luke Ball, Austin Water Wildland Conservation Division. "Prescribed burns improve the resiliency of our land when they are used as a planned seasonal management tool." 

 
Prescribed burns mimic the natural fire cycle in a way that can be planned and organized to limit fire intensity and can serve both natural landscapes and human communities by reducing the potential for destructive wildfires. Prescribed fire reduces brush and promotes grasslands which provide the optimal quality and quantity of water to recharge the aquifer. Wildland Conservation staff has seen wildflowers and native grass communities experience greater biodiversity after prescribed fires. Grassland birds like quail and northern harrier hawks benefit from open habitat, found after a fire, for nesting and feeding.
 
A team of highly trained professionals comprised of Austin Water staff, city and county fire departments, and federal, state and local land management agencies ensures that safety is their primary objective. Partnerships with agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Wildflower Center, the Texas Forest Service, and Travis County Natural Resources as well as coordination with the Austin Fire Department, neighboring fire departments and emergency service districts all contribute to successful prescribed burns.

All personnel meet specific training, experience, fitness and personal protective equipment requirements for the position they perform on the fireline. The prescription for each fire takes into account weather conditions– including wind and past precipitation – and requires specific parameters for the burn to ensure the fire behavior will meet objectives and can be safely controlled.

MORE INFORMATION AND NOTIFICATIONS
 
Austin Water will notify the public and neighbors before each prescribed burn event. Notifications will include maps with the specific location. Neighbors or anyone interested, can sign up to receive notifications by email at this link.

Follow regular updates about prescribed burns at: www.facebook.com/AustinWater and  www.twitter.com/AustinWater

For more information, please visit www.austintexas.gov/rxfire.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Great Police Drive-Thru Trunk or Treat

Austin Police Department (APD) Office of Community Liaison (OCL) and the Austin Independent School District Police Department (AISD PD) will host a drive-thru trunk or treat event on Saturday, October 30, 2021 from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at Nelson Field at 7105 Berkman Drive in North Austin.

The community outreach effort is youth – especially LGBTQIA+ youth - who reside in North Austin near Northeast Early College High School, which is a Title 1 school that predominantly serves low-income families. The objective is to continue fostering positive community relations in an underserved area and with the LGBTQIA+ community that has historically had strained relations with police.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place and changing, the priority is the safety of the community and participants. Therefore, this event is outdoors in a large parking area, which will allow participants to maximize health and social distancing protocols.
Organizations and families can also participate by:

  • Bringing a decorated vehicle and giving away candy, unopened snacks, and/or souvenirs
  • Setting up a canopy or table that represents your organization
  • Donating candy or unopened snacks 
  • Giving a monetary donation (all donations will go directly towards this event)  

Event subject to cancellation due to changes in COVID-19 public gathering guidelines.


Historic Montopolis Negro School Project Discussions: Virtual Meeting Postponed



Community Engagement Opportunities
POSTPONED: Virtual Community Meeting: Wednesday, October 27

The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) is postponing the first virtual community meeting to share information about the Historic Montopolis School. PARD is working with community leaders to identify when a virtual meeting option can be made available.
 

Montopolis School Open House

Saturday, November 6
10 a.m. to 12 noon
500 Montopolis Dr.
Austin, TX 78741

 

Community members are invited to attend the open house on Saturday, November 6 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon at the Historic Montopolis Negro School. This will allow community members the opportunity to see the school as it is today and imagine what could be possible. PARD will also have opportunities for community members to share stories and memories about the school as well as ideas for the future.

The Austin Transportation Department will also be present at the Open House to discuss and answer questions around the City-owned parcel adjacent to the historic school property, which was acquired many years ago for future transportation purposes.

 

Background
Until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark US Supreme Court case, the education system in the United States was racially segregated by law. In 1935, a major Austin flood destroyed the c. 1891 original Montopolis Negro School located on the north side of Bastrop Highway, about one mile south of the Colorado River. St. Edward's Baptist Church donated land to Travis County for school purposes. A two-room army barrack was relocated from Camp Swift to the site and renovated to serve as a school. Travis County transferred ownership of the school to Austin Independent School District (AISD) in 1952, and the school closed in 1962 due to desegregation of schools. 

In 1967, the property was purchased from AISD and the building then served as the Montopolis Church of Christ. The church operated until the 1980s and the building has remained vacant since that time. In 2015, a private developer purchased the tract of land along with the building with the intention of developing the land into single family homes, retail space, and an office building.

The City of Austin began the process of acquiring the Montopolis Negro School in 2017, as directed in Resolution 20170928-056, for the purpose of preserving and programming the building and site as a museum and historic asset. Ultimately, negotiations with a private landowner were unsuccessful and Resolution 20180628-081 initiated eminent domain proceedings in 2018. The Office of Real Estate Services communicated in a January 24, 2019 memorandum to City Council that the City of Austin had taken possession of the property.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Deep Eddy Normal Winter Schedule Restored effective 10/26/2021



Deep Eddy Pool Resumes Winter Operation Schedule
After Closure Due to Mechanical Issues
The Austin Parks and Recreation Aquatics Division announces that Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., will resume its normal winter schedule on Tuesday, October 26 after a closure due to mechanical issues.
 
Deep Eddy Pool Hours of Operations effective 10/26/2021:
Monday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

For more information, please call the Deep Eddy Pool Hotline at 512-974-1189 or visit AustinTexas.gov/Pools





PARD Long Range Plan Wins Outreach Award from Texas Chapter of APA

American Planning Association Texas Chapter Outreach Award
Recognizes the Austin Parks and Recreation Long Range Plan 
Austin Parks and Recreation Department Our Parks, Our Future Long Range Plan has received a Public Outreach Award from the American Planning Association (APA) Texas Chapter (APATX). The Public Outreach Award celebrates how planning improves a community's quality of life. The APATX Awards Selection Committee evaluated nominees based on originality and innovation, engagement, implementation and effectiveness, quality, and promotion of planning. View the comprehensive list of 2021 Texas Planning Award Recipients. The award will be presented at the APATX Chapter Conference in Ft. Worth on November 3.

Our Parks, Our Future was led by WRT, a national planning and design firm, and was funded in part through contributions from Austin Parks Foundation. The future of Austin Parks and Recreation is impacted by a multitude of forces, trends and shifts including unprecedented population growth, increasing reliance on private and philanthropic funding, and the emergence of best practices in sustainable park development and management. 

The planning effort began with inventory, evaluation of park and facilities, an analysis of demographic data, and trends and industry standards for parks. Public outreach played a critical role throughout the process with in-depth engagement of citizens, park supporters, conservancies, neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, and public partners. The result is a blueprint to guide the growth and development of Austin's park and recreation system for the next 10 years. 

About WRT 
WRT is a team of planners, urban designers, architects, and landscape architects, working across scales to create enduring, transformative, communities, parks, and open spaces. WRT previously worked with the City of Austin on the award-winning Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and led the consultant team in support of PARD for Our Parks, Our Future. The consultant team included: WRT, PROS Consulting, Studio Balcones, Civic Arts, Adisa Communications, The Trust for Public Land, and ETC Institute.  

About the American Planning Association
The American Planning Association and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning – physical, economic, and social – so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people's lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill, and Shanghai, China. For more information, visit its website at Planning.org.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Austin Public Health and Travis County Partner with Community Organizations for COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics (10/22-10/25)



Austin Public Health (APH) and Travis County are partnering with local community organizations to provide FREE COVID-19 vaccination clinics around the county for events from October 22-25.   

Clinics are open to all eligible individuals without registration or appointment and require neither identification nor insurance. All vaccinations are free. Locations offering Moderna and Pfizer are providing first and second doses, as well as third doses for qualifying immunocompromised individuals.  

Booster shots guidance has also been updated for those who received Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. If you are receiving your second dose or booster shot, please bring your Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to be updated.  

Individuals attending these events should be weather- and traffic-aware. Remember to wear appropriate clothing, including garments that allow you to easily expose your arm. 

 

Friday, October 22

Southeast Library (APH) 

Austin Community College Eastview Campus (Travis County) 

Little Walnut Creek Library (APH) 

Pflugerville High School (Travis County) 

La Mexicana Meat Market (Travis County)  

Poco Loco Supermercado (Travis County) 

Poco Loco Supermercado (Travis County) 

Tienda Mexicana Market (Travis County)  

 

Saturday, October 23

Austin Vietnamese American Medical Professional Society (APH) 

Dailey Middle School (Travis County)  

Del Valle High School Opportunity Center (Travis County) 

La Moreliana Meat Market (Travis County) 

Travis County Exposition Center (Travis County) 

Southeast Library (APH) 

Little Walnut Creek Library (APH)  

Boo the Flu and Covid Too! (APH) 

  • Time: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. 
  • Address: Travis High School, 1211 E. Oltorf St., Austin, TX 78704 
  • Vaccine:  Pfizer (12+ years), Moderna (18+ years), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years), Flu Vaccines

Sunday, October 24

Travis County Exposition Center (Travis County)  

Monday, October 25

Consulado General de México (Travis County) 

Sunrise Community Church (APH) 

  • Time: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.     
  • Address: 4430 Menchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78745 
  • Vaccine:  Pfizer (12+ years), Moderna (18+ years), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years), Flu Vaccine

Lotus Village (Travis County) 



COVID-19 Information
For more information on COVID-19 and vaccinations, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19 or call 3-1-1 (512-974-2000).


City of Austin Presents Proclamation in Recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October

On Thursday 10/21/21, Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool presented a proclamation on Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was received by Stephanie Burgess, Victim Services Supervisor at the Austin Police Department. Throughout the month of October, community partners have hosted events to educate the community about domestic violence, and have encouraged buildings to "light up purple" in recognition of the month. The proclamation brings attention to the importance of collaborative efforts to educate and empower community members to address and prevent domestic violence.
 
"Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides an excellent opportunity for citizens to learn more about preventing domestic violence and empowering victims," said Council Member Pool. "I urge you all to participate in this month's activities with the Austin/Travis County Family Violence Task Force, The SAFE Alliance, and other community organizations."
 
Representatives of several key partners - including SAFE, the Hotline, Austin Public Health's Office of Violence Prevention, Austin Police Department's Victim Services Team, and Travis County Courts, as well as fellow Austin City Council Members Alison Alter and Vanessa Fuentes - spoke on the importance and strength of the coordinated, collaborative approach to addressing domestic violence in our community.
 
"Last year, there were five homicides in Travis County caused by an intimate partner. That is five too many. It is also dramatically lower than other large urban cities in Texas," said Julia Spann, Co-CEO of SAFE, which serves survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence. "Our strength in Travis County is our willingness for law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, advocates and service providers to work cooperatively to address and respond to victims of family violence."
 
"Travis County is a leader in the state of Texas when it comes to advancing criminal justice reform while addressing domestic violence incidents through our Domestic Violence specialty court, which allows us to better determine which defendants will respond well to counseling and rehabilitation, and which defendants need to face more serious consequences, including relinquishment of their firearms to keep alleged victims and the community safe," said Honorable Judge Dimple Malhotra. "As the presiding judge of the domestic violence court, I am proud that in 2019 and 2020, Travis County had the lowest domestic violence homicide rate of any major urban county in the entire state of Texas."
 
Council Member Vanessa Fuentes spoke about the disproportionate burdens that women face with domestic violence in our community. "While anyone can become a victim of domestic violence, we know it's overwhelmingly women who are the victims. This is especially true for women of color and immigrant women. Thank you to our community organizations who work tirelessly to help survivors and to those who ensure resources are culturally sensitive. Everyone must feel safe to come forward to seek support."
 
Honorable Judge Aurora Martinez Jones spoke about the impact of domestic violence on children. "Domestic Violence is one of the primary reasons I see families in my Court with involvement from Child Protective Services. It is urgently important that our community understand how impactful Domestic Violence is on children and on the parent-child relationship," said Jones.
 
Other representatives spoke to community resources to both prevent domestic violence and support victims. "The National Domestic Violence Hotline is proud to be headquartered in Austin, where we provide confidential services 24/7 to survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones via phone, chat, and text all across the United States," said Crystal Justice, Chief External Affairs Officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "Especially during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it's important that we continue to invest in the long-term safety of survivors." 
 
Michelle Myles, Manager of the new Office of Violence Prevention at Austin Public Health, spoke about the Office's initiatives to prevent domestic violence in Austin. "In our first year, the Office of Violence Prevention is starting at the intersection of gun violence and domestic violence. We know that in 2020, 67% of domestic violence fatalities were caused by guns, and having a firearm present increases the chances of fatalities by 500%. We are working with organizations across Austin/Travis County to develop and implement standardized firearm surrender protocols that will increase the safety of victims, perpetrators, and first responders."
 
"We have a community responsibility to interrupt and prevent violence, and I am proud of the work we are doing with our partners and through the Office of Violence Prevention," said Council Member Alison Alter. "The data is clear – access to guns greatly increases the likelihood that a family violence incident will result in death. We can save lives by reducing firearm access for individuals with a history of domestic violence, and we must take common sense actions like this to protect those who need help."
 
Stephanie Burgess, Victim Services Supervisor at the Austin Police Department, spoke to the critical role her team plays in supporting victims of domestic violence. "At Austin Police Department Victim Services, we recognize the importance of creating awareness in our community and having conversations about domestic violence. Victim Services counselors are available to assist you regardless of if you choose to make a police report," said Burgess "We can provide emotional support, help you to understand your options and guide you to resources in the community."
 
For more information on Domestic Violence Awareness Month and resources in Austin, visit https://www.safeaustin.org/DVAM/.
 
For help: If you want to talk to someone, you can call or text The SAFE Alliance at 24-hr SAFEline – Call: 512.267.SAFE (7233)  |  Text: 737.888.7233 | If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

City Council Passes Historic Resolution Affirming Austin's Commitment to Protecting Intersex Human Rights



Austin City Council on Thursday took action to make Austin the first city in the South to move to protect intersex residents' human rights and health care.

By unanimously approving Item 28, a resolution brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, Council voted to condemn non-consensual and medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. The resolution also directs City Manger Spencer Cronk to consider options for a public education campaign aimed at providing accurate, affirming to doctors and parents of intersex children.

Close to 2 percent of people are born with chromosomes, gonads, internal, or external genitalia that differs from the conventional dimorphic understanding of sex. Since the 1960s, the medical community has relied on dubious science to encourage cosmetic surgeries to make intersex children's bodies conform to a binary definition of male or female. These surgeries can lead to lifelong complications such as scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

"Intersex people are not rare and our rights our not niche," said Alicia Roth Weigel, an intersex advocate and member of the City of Austin Human Rights Commission. "We need all levels of government representing us at least equally to our existence. At approximately two percent of the population, we deserve and demand better, and today's action by Austin City Council is a big first step. Condemning these surgeries reaffirms that whatever happens in that pink building up the road, this City does right by our residents and we serve as a beacon for the rest of the South to do the same."

Drafted by Harper-Madison, the resolution was co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler and council members Pio Renteria, Greg Casar, and Paige Ellis. It also received the endorsement of social justice organizations such as Austin Justice Coalition, LGBTQIA+ advocacy organizations such as Equality Texas, and reproductive justice organizations such as Avow. Embrace Austin led a campaign on social media and at City Hall to build support for the resolution.

"Embrace Austin was founded to ensure the voices of the most marginalized people within the Queer community are heard and uplifted," AJ Majd, Co-founder & Interim Executive Director of Embrace Austin. "For too long now, the Intersex community have been ignored by Gender and Sexually Diverse focused organizations and society at large. With Austin City Council passing this resolution, we are setting a new standard for protecting Intersex children and we will not stop until we end Intersex Surgery and ensure the inclusion of Intersex communities within LGBTQIA2+ spaces."

Harper-Madison said her experience as a mother informed her commitment to crafting and passing this important resolution.

"I know firsthand the myriad anxieties and uncertainties new parents face and the fierce desire they feel to protect the well-being of their children," Harper-Madison. "By shining the light of dignity on an unnecessary stigma, and by conscientiously pushing back on misinformation, we can help more parents ensure that their kids grow up happy and healthy in a truly inclusive community."

The United Nations has deemed the practice of intersex infant genital surgery as akin to torture, and the European Union recently encouraged member states to ban medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants. The state of California passed a resolution condemning these interventions in 2018 and earlier this year the New York City Council became the first city in the country to pass a bill mandating an educational campaign of the same type proposed in Harper-Madison's resolution.

"Each letter of the LGBTQIA represents an Austinite who is an important part of our community," said Mayor Adler. "Today's council resolution is a human rights action which will help parents and physicians – through public information – make informed decisions to prevent intersex individuals from having life-altering choices about sex and gender identity forced upon them."

Council Member Casar added, "We will protect and celebrate Texans of all backgrounds, especially those who so often face discrimination like our intersex neighbors. Everyone should have access to current and accurate health care information. We cannot support medically unnecessary and risky medical procedures. While state leaders at the Capitol continue to pass discriminatory laws, here in Austin we are dedicated to becoming more inclusive for everyone." 

Council Member Paige Ellis Leads Living Streets/Block Party Effort

Austin City Council to Consider Initiatives to Activate Play Streets, Streamline Block Parties, Improve Neighborhood Safety

Council Member Paige Ellis is leading an effort to activate Austin neighborhood streets into more than just uses for cars by encouraging neighbors and kids to get outside and enjoy their community safely. Under a proposal adopted on today's City Council agenda (Item #27), the city would embrace the Living Streets concept, which seeks to facilitate resident-led play streets, healthy streets, and block parties.
 
"The Living Streets effort will create a simple process that empowers residents to take the lead on imagining fun and unique spaces for their neighborhood." said Austin City Council Member Paige Ellis, lead sponsor of the Living Streets resolution. "It has become clear that Austinites want to get to know their neighbors in a more meaningful way - from the ongoing pandemic to looking out for each other during the winter storm. Outdoor spaces for public gathering and entertainment is the perfect way to continue building community relationships."
 
Adam Greenfield, Board President of Walk Austin said, "Living Streets would be a profound step forward for Austin. By allowing communities to reshape their own streets, our city will become safer and more beautiful and socially connected than ever before."
 
The Living Streets concept is proving successful across the country in cities including Memphis, Fayetteville, Fort Worth, and some pilot projects here in Austin. The proposed program is made up of three main components:
  • Better and Easier Block Parties
  • Resident-led Healthy Streets
  • Play Streets for Kids
"Instead of clogging our streets with cars, we have the opportunity to do what cities across the country and around the world have done for centuries: Prioritize people on our streets, the connective tissue of our community," said Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. "This equity-centered resolution will help Austinites repurpose our underutilized public space while creating stronger bonds with our neighbors."
 
Specifically, the resolution directs the City Manager to improve the Neighborhood Block Party Program, create a Play Streets Program and a Resident-Led Healthy Streets Program, and launch a one-stop-shop website where residents can learn about and apply for these Living Streets activations. The new and updated programs are expected to take shape over the next few months.
 
"As we emerge from the social isolation we've all had to endure, having room to spread out and move in places where traditionally we couldn't is inspiring," said Council Member Leslie Pool.  "Living Streets is a chance for us to reconnect and strengthen bonds with our neighbors. I'm excited about the empowerment this program will bring for our neighborhoods."
 
This resolution will allow neighbors across the city to build trust and enjoy their community safely. Christy Williams, an urban planner from Southwest Austin said, "As a resident of District 8 and a mom of two boys, I fully support the Living Streets Resolution. A person is much more likely to give a neighbor walking on the street at night the benefit of the doubt if they've shared a meal with him at a block party the week before."
 
For more background information on the Living Streets concept, please visit: https://www.austinlivingstreets.com/find-out-more

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Austin Public Health to Host Virtual Feedback Sessions



Community Feedback Requested as Equitable Outreach and Access Remain Priority for APH Vaccine Operations 

To deepen its ongoing conversation with communities across Austin and Travis County, Austin Public Health (APH) is hosting a "Moving Forward Together Against COVID-19" event. The two virtual engagement meetings will collect public feedback on participants' vaccination experiences with a focus on those who may have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. 
 
The virtual session will be offered twice - once during the week and alternatively on the weekend. To join the conversation, log on using Zoom or through the SpeakUp Austin! website, which includes access to the Zoom meetings: 

  • Monday, Oct. 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. on Zoom 
  • Saturday, Oct. 30 from 10-11:30 a.m. on Zoom 

Language-specific breakout sessions follow the informational portion of the meeting.  Simultaneous language interpretation will be provided in American Sign Language, Arabic, Burmese, English, Spanish and Vietnamese. 
 
"We are continually refining our processes to ensure a focus on equity," said Austin Public Health Interim Director Adrienne Sturrup. "an important part of this refinement is checking in with community.  We need you, Austin-Travis County, to tell us where our vaccination processes are working, and where they are not. " 

Individuals will be able to provide feedback, suggestions, and comment using SpeakUp Austin which will be published by the time of the virtual meeting. SpeakUp Austin will offer translations in Arabic, Burmese, English, Spanish, and Vietnamese; as well as Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Urdu.

"As we move into the next phase of this pandemic, we must ensure the hard work of our community is not diminished by continuing to reduce new cases and hospitalizations. We need our community to step up once again and get booster doses for those who are eligible," said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. "Booster doses will extend the protections afforded to our community and continue to help reduce the burden on our hospital systems by preventing severe illness and need for hospitalization." 
 
Prior Vaccination Outreach Efforts 
With the increased availability of vaccine providers, APH has had greater latitude to shift from a hub-type provider operation, as seen earlier this year with the initial rollout of vaccines, and adjust operations to meet the needs of indigent and hard-to-reach populations. 
 
As APH has returned to being a safety net provider, partnerships with community organizations, and the development of a vaccine coalition have become vital throughout the equitable outreach process. The vaccine coalition regularly reviews data and strives for more equitable distribution. Thus far, the coalition has relied heavily on hyper-local community organizations, social media messaging and a 311 call option to address concerns and spread awareness among hard-hit populations. The coalition has seen success coupling vaccination outreach with food distributions and identified the importance of offering information in as many languages as possible. 
 
The coalition and other organizations help APH provide education on the importance of vaccines and overcome hesitancy and misinformation. In addition, these types of partnerships provide much-needed access to the COVID-19 vaccine for many communities in efforts to reach herd immunity and prevent an additional surge of COVID-19 cases. 
  
Beyond traditional outreach organizations, APH has also worked with faith-based organizations and grassroots organizations within the Eastern Crescent in continued efforts to remove access barriers. For example, partnerships among the UT School of Nursing, Austin Community College, and education and outreach task forces have extended support of additional pop-up vaccination clinics using opportunities to provide the vaccine to individuals who may not have otherwise had the time or resources to get one from one of the traditional sites. 
 
For additional information and updates about COVID-19 vaccines, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19-Vaccines.

Austin Water Saves Millions through State Funding for Water, Wastewater and Metering Infrastructure Overhaul

Funds will enhance resilience to extreme weather and emergency events Austin's push to modernize and strengthen its water, wastewater ...