Liveable City Community News, May 2009

  • Annual Vision Awards, Wednesday, May 20 @ MACC
  • LC Weighs Our Transportation Future
  • Community Process and the Austin Comprehensive Plan
  • Inching Toward Common Sense on School Closure Laws
  • Shout Outs
  • A Word for our sponsors...

In This Issue:

You’re Invited! Liveable Vision Awards, Wednesday, May 20, 6pm-8pm @ MACC

Mark your calendars now! Liveable City is gearing up for its 6th Annual Liveable Vision Awards celebration, Wednesday, May 20, 6pm-8pm at the Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River Street. This year's party should be the best one yet with great food and drink, a liveable raffle, live music by The Melancholy Ramblers, and, of course, stellar schmoozing. Get your tickets at the door or at www.liveablecity.org. Each spring, the Vision Awards recognize notable community-led initiatives, private sector accomplishments, and advocacy efforts that represent the “Five E’s of Sustainability.” This year, we’re proud to honor the following local heroes: Economy: Foundation Communities’ Community Tax Centers. These free tax preparation centers helped over 17,000 low-income Austinites get back more than $20 million in rightfully-earned tax refunds last year, providing a vital boost for Austin’s working families, as well as our local economy. Engagement: Red Salmon Arts/Resistencia Bookstore. Carrying on the spirit of its late founder Raul Salinas, this Austin treasure continues to draw diverse crowds for political forums and events featuring progressive writers, human rights activists, indigenous artists and other important voices. Environment: Shudde Fath and Save Barton Creek Association. With tireless efforts spanning 27 years, these environmental champions have worked to protect that which sustains us all - the six watersheds of the Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. Equity: PeopleTrust.  An offshoot of PeopleFund, PeopleTrust has pioneered a shared equity program that helps working families secure affordable homes and build wealth, while ensuring a continued stock of affordable housing in Austin. Esthetic: Thseatre Action Project. Using theater and visual arts, TAP works with over 14,000 students in Austin’s public schools to spark kids’ creativity while helping them develop tools to address real-life problems like bullying, discrimination and illiteracy. Tickets to the Vision Awards are $25 at the door or online at www.liveablecity.org (yes, the online system is working again!). For information about sponsorships, please call Heidi Gibbons at 474-9783 or 663-8865. Special thanks to… Liveable Vision Partners: The Austin Chronicle, Southwest Strategies Group, UT Institute for Community, University & School Partnerships (ICUSP). Supporters: Austin Community College District, King Engineering, Little City Coffee, Perry Lorenz, Stubb's Legendary Kitchen Inc. ,Texas Disposal Systems Inc. Friends: Lloyd & Libby Doggett, Group Solutions RJW, Sanford & Cynthia Levinson, Momark Development, SCDP Inc., Vickie Tatum & Ken Manning, and Jim Walker. See you May 20th! 

Getting There from Here: LC Weighs Our Transportation Future

Liveable City's Transportation Working Group is putting the finishing touches on a set of core principles it hopes will guide future transportation decisions in Central Texas. The final product will include criteria to identify and evaluate proposals that promote affordable and accessible transportation, while shaping growth that fosters economic and cultural vitality, environmental protection, and a sustainable city. The group is also completing the first in a series of white papers on transportation spending by Austin and other local governmental bodies. With continuing opposition to the failed toll road scheme, the possibility of new “local option” transportation taxes or fees, plus a renewed federal resolve to reduce carbon and address climate change, 2009 promises to be a big year for transportation. Liveable City will be working hard to ensure that any changes keep us moving in the right direction. 

Better Input, Better Outcome: Community Process and the Austin Comprehensive Plan

There were plenty of high fives among LC members when the Austin City Council voted in April to hire the nationally-recognized firm of Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT) to guide the city's critically important Comprehensive Plan project. As you may recall, Liveable City strongly supported the concept of a Comprehensive Plan, as did the City's Planning Commissioners. But since any successful planning effort requires community buy-in, we were dismayed to learn earlier this spring that residents would have only five days to vet the finalist firms before City Council made its decision. To make matters worse, three of the five days fell over a holiday weekend and available information on the finalist teams was scant. Working with other community leaders, Liveable City led the push for more detailed information about the finalist firms and a reasonable length of time in which to evaluate it. As a result, Austin City Council members postponed the decision and instead hosted community meetings on March 4th and April 7th to gather questions from concerned residents and provide additional information about the finalists. Based on this new information, Liveable City submitted a memorandum to City Council Members providing our analysis before the April 23rd vote. Though Liveable City did not endorse a specific team, we’re pleased that this improved community process led to a well-informed hiring decision. We look forward to working with WRT on this important project and encourage everyone who cares about Austin to do the same. To find out how you can get involved, get on the e-list for Comp Plan updates at:http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/contact_info_ncp.cfm. For more information, visit http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/compplan/

Time for Improvement: Inching Toward Common Sense on School Closure Laws

Heading into the final weeks of the legislative session, Liveable City and Save Texas Schools continue the quest to change our state’s mandatory school closure law. At this writing, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 3 - the omnibus education bills that include school accountability sanctions – have been approved by their respective chambers and are headed for conference committee to iron out differences before a final vote. Though school closure remains in both bills as an option, the bills now provide a sixth and potentially seventh year for schools to improve, as opposed to the current five. The TEA Commissioner would also have the option of repurposing a school or seeking alternative management, rather than closing it, and would have some flexibility in applying the current provision that mandates removal of the principal and 75% of the faculty.  Both bills include a “growth model” that would recognize the progress many students and campuses are making, allowing them more time for the hard work of improvement. Finally, struggling schools would no longer be forced to change their names, an expensive and emotionally wrenching mandate under current law. In addition, a House amendment would allow the Commissioner to replicate the successful community partnership model pioneered by Austin's Webb Middle School. And a Senate amendment would make any new provisions effective immediately, potentially giving Pearce Middle School and Reagan High School another year to continue on the path to improvement. If the current language holds, Texas schools and students should end the legislative session slightly better off than they started it, at least as far as school closures are concerned. We’ll count that as a win for now – but expect the conversation to continue in 2011. 

Shout Outs:

To the new and returning members of the Austin City Council: Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez, Chris Riley, and Bill Spelman. Congratulations and best of luck in the tough decisions ahead! future! To the 57,163 Travis County residents who actually bothered to vote in the May 9th election. Don’t forget to bring 526,187 of your closest friends next time! 

And now, a word for our Sponsors...

Building a more Liveable City isn’t cheap! Special recognition goes to the Shield-Ayers Foundation, the Rather Family Trust, the Trull Foundation, and the Greater Houston Family Foundation’s Gray Family Fund whose generous help makes our work possible. We’d also like to give special thanks to our Liveable Vision Awards Partners: The Austin Chronicle, Southwest Strategies Group, UT Institute for Community, University & School Partnerships (ICUSP); Supporters: Austin Community College District, King Engineering, Little City Coffee, Perry Lorenz, Stubb's Legendary Kitchen Inc. ,Texas Disposal Systems Inc.; and Friends: Lloyd & Libby Doggett, Group Solutions RJW, Sanford & Cynthia Levinson, Momark Development, SCDP Inc., Vickie Tatum & Ken Manning, and Jim Walker.