Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Mayoral candidates in bed together?

Chronicle cover for the Feb 13th issueThe Chronicle has a good summary of the Austin mayoral candidates and their cover pitches it as a “Municipal Death Match”.

However, last Thursdays council meeting where the Wildflower Commons PUD was up for discussion, debate and possibly vote, rather than it being a death match with Leffingwell taking one position, and McCracken taking the opposite, it was more like John and Yokos love-in, except the protest was from the public, not the lovers.

I arrived at City Hall around 4pm, listened to some of the heated discussion on the East Austin Solar farm, then the Town Lake trail extension and boardwalk. After 2-hours I left, there were a large number of people milling around, more than 90-had signed up to speak on the PUD. I got back later, but no debate, no discussion, just a postponment, apperently with the prior agreement of the developers lobbyist.

Rather than either McCraken or Leffingwell “grasping the nettle” and one or both of them taking an environmental stand, they both ducked the issue. Worse they moved the issue until after the Mayoral election, ducking the issue completely and allowing both of them to claim the anti-developer, pro-environment, which are likely to be vote winners.

Laura Morrison was the only dissenting voice in the 6-1 approval to postpone. I’d guess that both Leffingwell and McCraken would claim the revised conditions that have been placed on the developer before they come back to council in August over the 100,000 sq. foot supermarket, retail, restaurants, and 550 condos in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone, however, since neither spoke during the process we don’t have a clue what they really think. Give peace a chance?

The Save Our Springs Alliance has numerous documents explaining the Wildflower Commons PUD.

Downtown Street Event Closure Taskforce report

Missed in the run-up to the holidays 2: Thursday 18th December saw the Austin Downtown Street Event Closure Taskforce[1][2] report back to the full City Council.

Area considered by the Task Force

Area considered by the Task Force

I had attended the four of the first five or so meetings, including the infamous “Conely mob” meeting on August 11th. At that meeting, an innocent request to get a few sports events participants to some of the meetings, got out of hand in an “Internet connected world” sort-of way, and a hundred or so showed up at one meeting, leaving no standing or sitting room and a lot of disgruntled attendees.[More on this later].

After about a 6-meeting gestation, bi-weekly meetings, went weekly. The task force was co-led by RunTex owner Paul Carrozza, and local political grandee and former Democratic U.S. representative, Jack Hightower, with assistant City Manager Rudy Garza accompanied by a city staff from Parks and Recreation and other effected depts. as well as Lt. Boydston, APD Special Events Unit and other safety related groups to advise. Also heavily involved in the process(from my observation) was Larry Shooler, Policy Director for City Council Member Lee Leffingwell.

However, staff were there primarily as advisors, the bulk of the work was done by the task force members. For those of us from the public that did show up, there was a limited opportunity for people to speak for 3-minutes before the start of the meetings. After that it was down to the old game of passing short notes to task force members on specific points during meetings, a frustrating experience at best. Mid-way through the process the task force seemed to be getting bogged down, lack of clear definition and the [obvious?] groupings for and against events, seemed to be stopping reasonable progress. I also missed about 5-meetings.

It was then with some surprise when I attended the last two meetings. The task force had come up with a good set of recommendations. Seemed to have pulled together some key threads. Presentation of these on the 18th was pretty straight forward with a number of the Task Force members, Shooler and Garza present along with the full council.

The key points and focus areas were:

  • Issues/Challenges
    • Events in “downtown” up from 110 in 2005 to 145 in 2007
    • Number of downtown residents estimated to almost triple between 2000-2010
  • Event Frequency, Number, Variety, Scheduling, Capping etc.
  • Application Approval Process and Timeline etc.
  • Set Race Routes, Street and Building Access etc.
  • Financial Cost/Impact and Event Fee Structure
  • Political Events and Parades were not in-play for the Task Force

And a large number of issues and concerns related to these. From which the Task Force made the following recommendations, presented by Carrozza to the City Council.

  • Create Office of Special Events (OSE) to report to the City Manager’s Office
  • Create Special Events Advisory Commission
  • Create a “no event” zone around 5th/6th Streets to provide open access
  • There should be a no-entrapment rule, all events should provide alternate access
  • Walks should be held in a “moving bubble” rather than blocking streets
  • There should be a cap on events at current levels
  • Timeline for Event submission and review changed from 60 to 210 days prior to the event
  • Events getting 20% or higher objections are referred to Special Events Advisory Commision
  • Organizers must have approved application before marketing events
  • Traffic plan inc. alternate access must be finalized earlier

Of these, when you look at it, the Cap was perhaps most feared by the event community. The problem is that each event community has their own, blinkered view on the disruption caused by their events. Limited by their events own geographic boundaries. What they don’t see is the big picture. The problem is that under the current scheme, nor does anyone person or department in the City, since different types of events are currently permitted and approved through different depts. So while you could take 145 events, and say thats almost 3-every weekend. It isn’t, sometimes it is more, sometimes less, and there are the inevitable clashes which don’t become apparent until Road Closures are processed, sometimes long after the events are approved.

For such a relatively small downtown area, often using public roads, 145 events as a cap seems more than enough. One of the key recommendations of the task force was to tier races and to find and encourage other great parts of the City. This both spreads the benefit and the burden. The continued, unbridled growth of events in the downtown district was perhaps the greatest concern of the non-events stakeholders, including residents, businesses, Churches etc. all of whom suffer regular disruption, which is currently left to the best will of the event organizer to minimize.

The “no event” zone was referred to as both the “Equator” and the “Red Sea”. Using the former designation, it was envisaged that the “Red Sea: would part on Congress for no more than six “grandfathered” events. Other events could start north or south of 5th/6th St but not cross or close them. So You could have a 5k race that went south from 4th, down Chavez, and loop back around, but it couldn’t cross or close 5th/6th, likewise a Walk could start on or north of 7th but not cross or close 5th/6th.

Final recommendations were around the City’s ability to understand, plan, budget and grant waivers for events. Currently there is no clear process, or understanding of the cost or benefit for events, and no tracking or post event evaluation is done to see if event organizers meet their commitments, and if waivers for closures and fees etc. are justified. There is also some work to be done on various ordinances if these recommendations are to become the norm.

The council meeting wrapped up with questions from council members. There were few. Members Leffingwell and Martinez both raised the point of citizen input. This was accepted, and the job is now on staff to turn the recommendations into proposed policy.

As part of that process, and in review with council, it’s clear that a broad coalition of event organizers and participants, and NOT just those from the sports community, need to review and provide feedback, as well as the neighborhoods, including mine Bouldin Creek, and the businesses and other effected parties. It’s our city and its also the events, from art, to music, and sport, are what make downtown Austin the small village it is, in a Capital city.

[1] “Downtown is defined by MLK to the north; Oltorf to the south; I35 to the east; and Lamar to the west.
[2] Minutes, Mission Statement, and full member list(although not including their alliances) can be found on the city website, here.

(ab)Using the blue giant

90-gallon recycling bins, only every two weeks folks!

90-gallon recycling bins, only every two weeks folks!

Prompted by fellow Austin Metblogger odoublegood tweeting about neighbours who’d put out their new giant(90-gallon) blue single stream recycling bin, as normal, instead of the new bi-weekly cycle. I checked down my street and sure enough, probably about a 1/5 of Residents had done the same, but our week was last week, and will be next week, but isn’t this week.

Then I stared vacantly into my blue meanie bin. As I live alone, the chances of me filling this by next Tuesday are remote. I was just thinking about it when the regular garbage truck came by to pick up my small size garbage bin. It’s a quick and relatively efficient process, an automated arm grabs the bin, lifts it, shake it into the truck. Since we’ve only had one single stream pick-up since I got my bin, and I wasn’t here, I can only assume it’s a similar process.

That being the case, it struck me that theres no real reason why you should put out a half empty Single stream recycling blue meanie bin. If yours will survive for a full month before putting it out, why not do that?

After all, it should have no perishables in it to attract vermin, flys etc. Nothing to create a bad odour or a health hazard. At the same time it will speed the collection up, reduce noise, and reduce the amount of gas the city uses to collect the contents. That must be a good thing. If only 1/6 of the homes with these bins could put them out monthly when full instead of biweekly, the difference would surely be noticeable and a useful saving in time and money.

Oh yeah, and if you do put both bins out, the machines still need enough space between the green and blue bins to pick them up separately.
Austin Single Stream recycling
[Update: So, I’ve been getting emails from neighbors about this, one has already offered to fill my bin with her recycling, since she lives in an apartment complex that doesn’t recycle and won’t. Secondly, another just didn’t get the point, so here’s some simple maths. Say 30-seconds per half empty bin, say maybe 20,000 half empty bins across the city, that means a wasted 166-hours, and running the pickups large gas fueled engine for the same length of time… ]

2nd Austin Santa Speedo run

Santa Speedo AustinWell things are getting going for this years Santa Speedo run. I met with Head Santa Ed last week for lunch to plan out the 2nd Annual Austin Santa Speedo run. As Head Elf I should have written this post days ago. Between Ed and I we’ve created evites, Facebook events and more. While I blog here on Austin metroblog, Allen Chen over on the Austinist covered it first, and to be honest they did a great job last year too!

The purpose is to raise awareness and promote the work of Out Youth Austin! To take part, you must register for the 5k via the Trail of Lights 5k, and then show up on the night, at least by 6.15pm near the bonfire and we will strip down to red speedo, or swim costume and then start the run together. See last years video on youtube or the pictures on Flickr.

So, if you have not received an evite, or on facebook, now’s your chance to join in and have the most fun you can in a red speedo or bikini. We’ve got members from the Texas State tri team coming along, a number of people have signed up for the evite. Last year the temperatures were in the high 70’s for the run, @alkaloids and Derek Yorek of Team Hump started up front and finished up there, the rest of us mingled around near the back and ran through the crowds.

Now, I understand the whole speedo thing here in America. If you feel that going and buying a speedo is something that is just ‘beyond the pale‘ and not to be seen doing in public, do I have a deal for you. The has red speedos and bikini seperates on sale for just $9.95 plus postage. Don’t delay, get yours in time for the run!

This year the plan is to have three or four groups if people show interest. there will be the fast, the joggers, the back of the pack crew(which will inclide me this year as I’m doing a 100-mile bike ride the same day), and the supporters.

If you really can’t see running through some 1,000 people in a speedo or bikini then why not come along and support? Instead of paying the race entry fee, donate the same amount to OutYouth Austin.

Otherwise, see you there. Don’t forget to confirm your attendance via either the evite or the facebook event.

Get Motivated, Get Fit

If you are exhausted after trailing around the shops today, or feeling a little round after eating too much yesterday, two events to get you back off the couch and active again. Just as the doldrums about the economy kick back in, these are two events to either make you think again or give you a new opportunity.

The first up is the Austin Get Motivated event. Not so much for me, while I could use some motivation at this point, I somehow think that my cynical personality would come out and I’d miss the message while criticizing the messenger. Peter and Tamara Lowe are the latest in a long line of almost evangelical, motivational speakers and they’ll be in town on December 2nd at the Austin Convention Center with General Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani, as well as a host of other speakers. I talked to a ‘city official” at yesterdays Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot, and was told they were expecting 12,000 people to turn up. The convention/seminar starts at 8.00am, seems like downtown is likely to be jammed from 7am.

If you want to go, it will cost $299. However, for that you can apparently take your whole office.

Next up is a date for the diary. On Tuesday January 13th the City of Austin is hosting the Active Texas Summit at the Palmer Events Center on Barton Springs Road. It doesn’t appear to be aimed at the general public, but at $95 for early registraion, I actually think the ability to hear first hand on what is being proposed, strategies to get involved in sports related events in Austin and Texas, if you are looking for something to get you back on track after the Christmas holidays, this could be it.

The leisure sector, fitness, events etc. are an important service industry in North America. If times continue to get hard and people hunker down, keeping this vital part of the economy going will be key. It’s all too easy to complain about the events that go on downtown, and I take part in both, the events and complaining, they do provide an essential link to the economy through food sellers, facilities providers, fencing, porta-lets, printing, police, the list go’s on and on. Continuing and growing the tradition is an opportunity even in hard times. People need distractions, they need focus and for many sports not only fulfill those needs, but they also are a significant aid in fitness and health.

The day starts early, at 6:30 with an optional exercise program, and ends late with Health and Fitness Awards and a Blues show at Antones, with (healthy)meals and (virtuous)breaks, and transportation to Antones included. In the middle there will be a host of speakers and sessions, the agenda has Mayor Will Wynn, Governor Perry, Luci Baines Johnson, Paul Carroza, Marc Ott, and Susan Dell who is a member of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports.

So, feeling a bit overloaded after yesterdays bird? Maybe one of these is for you!

In mammary of mom

Mom flyerI was around at Sinsations earlier this evening to pick-up and pay for my ticket for tommorrow nights erotic carnival and when I got back someone had hung a flyer on my door handle for 50% off Shuggies Burgers down at the South Austin Trailer park and Eatery. So I put a hoodie on, grabbed “Bob” my cruiser and headed on down their for dinner, more on that in a minute.

When I ordered my food, there in Shuggie trailer window was a promo flyer for “In Mammary of MOM” a charity gig for the benefiting Komen Austin’s race for the cure. 10% of all food sales will be donated.

I’ll be down at the carnival watching the fire eaters/jugglers and contemplating getting spanked for charity otherwise I’d go. The South Austin Trailer park is always alive Friday evenings, this week even more so. From 7-10pm for every $5 donation you’ll get a chance to win a digital camera plus gift certificates to local merchants and other “fun” prizes.

Music will be supplied by the Neil Nasset band and you are encouraged to NYOB. According to this evite, there are already 76 people going, and theres some sort of t-shirt contest going on apparently, who knew!

If you’ve got ’em, feel ’em!

SPTAE SignsThe South Austin Trailer Park and eatery is just south of the Texas School for the Death at 1311 South 1st St. and is home to both Shuggies and Torchys Tacos.

Single Stream Recycling

Scrap piled hile in Skagastrond, Iceland - their home of country music

The home of country music

I’d had this nagging question about the imminent introduction of the new single stream recycling bins here in Austin.

So, if we are going to dump all our recycling into a single bin, including lots of stuff previously not accepted, where is all this stuff going to get separated for recycling?

Having been to a few less than glamorous locations in China, and seen some of the hard hitting documentaries on electronic waste, I wondered, where will ours get sorted? I read through the cities single stream recycling FAQ(thats easy questions, with obvious answers to all you non-IT types) and couldn’t see anything. So this morning in the break before my next work call, CONTACTED THEM.

I asked “How and where will the stuff get recycled?” The how question was answered by machine and some people. I asked again “Where, overseas or here?” – “here” came the response. So, thats all right then. Unless you know better?

Although sort of tangential, for an insight into some of the the issues of electronic recycling, see this short video from Good Magazine. Although, if you’d seen women and childern working on their knees for 8-10 hour sessions, hand sorting garbage outside their homes, this is just an extreme illustration to make the point.

When it came to choosing the photo to accompany this post, I resisted the various pictures of children sat amongst foreign waste in developing nations, too easy. The picture above is a scrap heap pile in the town of Skagastrond, Iceland. Population 650. Skagastrond is the music capital of North Iceland(I’ve been there too, Iceland that is, there is a north??).

Photo by Wendy Crockett, licensed under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Street closures, task force and downtown disruptions this w/e

Better get ready for major downtown disruptions this weekend. First up the 4th Annual BatFest shuts South 1st Bridge all day Saturday, overnight and all day Sunday. Of course Saturday p.m., is the UT Football Game. This is something I have yet to experience, but given it’s the first game of the season, and with the newly expanded stadium(some 92,000 seats), roads will be closed and very busy in and around the Stadium, both east and west of I35.

Sometime Sunday probably well before 6.30p.m., Congress and a number of surrounding roads will close for the Human Race Nike 10k. You can see a route map here. It’s worth noting though that it’s not just a race. There will be a large number of entrants, and after the race their is a concert up by the Capital building at 8.30pm with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. All the run participants get free entry, you can also pay separately. So some roads will remain closed until late. The Nike 10k organizers have gone the whole hog. Not only are they providing a bag drop for a change of clothing after the race, but they are also providing a bike valet and compound service, I’ll be cycling down.

Meanwhile, just a few blocks East at Waterloo Park will be the KVET Party in the Park(*). at the same time. Starting at 12pm, roads around the park will be closed or have restricted access.
So that takes care of Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, starting very early (I know I’m volunteering and have been asked to show up at 4.30a.m.), more roads will be closed for the Austin Triathlon. Amongst the roads closed Monday morning will be Congress from the Capital, across the bridge to South Congress and Mary; Caesar Chavez from Congress to Austin High under Mopac, I assume both directions; South 1st Bridge, Riverside Dr from Barton Springs down to S Lamar, also Lee Barton Drive along the pitch and putt Golf Course.

I’m sure they’ll be more events than that, but those are the ones I know about. You could look at this as a major inconvenience, or you could take it as a great opportunity to walk or bike downtown. The 2nd St District shops will be open, you’ll have to wait to cross a few roads, but otherwise it should be car free.

Which brings me around to the Austin City Council Task Force on Street and Event Road Closures. Monday saw the latest meeting of the task force. Unlike the prior meeting which was packed to the gills with athletes, this time there were only about eight members of the public. After hearing from four of us the task force got on with it’s business. By the end of the session, a sense of urgency and organization had taken over from the fact-finding and discovery phase. If the task force is to produce anything meaningful, they’ll have to get going. They’ve agreed to meet weekly starting September 8th, organized around an agreed set of agenda items. As always, they’ll take the first 10-speakers from the public to register on the day.

If you didn’t get to speak previously and have any constructive suggestions, as opposed to testimonial on how this event, or that event changed your life, why not come along and speak. Make some notes, even feel free to read your speech, you get just 3-minutes though. What’s clear from this weekends event and road closures is that some coordination is needed, along with a much better, more coordinated road closure and alternative route scheme.

(*) Party in the Park organizers are going to have their hands full if their what to bring/what not to bring list is to be take seriously and enforced. Cell Phones and iPods that don’t have voice recorders won’t be allowed, nor will digital still cameras that also take videos. Also, what’s a laptop these days compared to some of the latest PDA’s and iPhones? Why differentiate? What’s the point of making rules that you can’t or won’t keep??

Full moon celebration

Its full moon tonight, just a quick reminder of a couple of fun things…

First up at 7.30pm it’s Full Moon Yoga – Should wrap up around 8.30pm, leaving just enough time to drive down to Barton Springs and park for the 9pm free Barton Springs full moon swim, which was big fun last month although I only caught it on the Austinist [video, work safe!] – hint, don’t bring your wetsuit – should be a howling good time!

Extreme Local Food

Local vegetables and lentils make for good eating.

Tonight, I made an incredibly healthy and tasty meal – using all ingredients from farmers within 150 miles of Austin.  Most of the meal – a yummy combination of red lentils, zucchini, okra, carrots, and green pepper, with Asian spices – came from sellers at the Austin Farmers Market, which is a producer-only market held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The lentils were purchased at Whole Foods Market and are from Austin’s New World Sprouts.  The spices – garlic, ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper, sesame oil – were not locally produced, but the appropriately named beer was from the East side’s Independence Pale Ale.  The beer was especially important since I made the food a wee bit too salty. 

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