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El Paso Democrat Sen. José Rodríguez Announces Retirement

Rodríguez, who was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29, said he would retire from the Senate at the end of this term in January 2021.

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State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, speaks to the press following Gov. Abbott's State of the State address in Austin on Feb. 5, 2019. Photo credit: Emree Weaver/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout

State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber in 2020.

Rodriguez informed El Paso colleagues of his decision in a text late Thursday night that was obtained by The Texas Tribune. He said he would make the announcement at “noon tomorrow at my office.”

“I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history,” Rodríguez said in a written announcement on his retirement. “Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools.”

Rodríguez was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29. The district, which hugs the Texas-Mexico border, is considered historically Democratic; it covers El Paso, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

The senator’s retirement announcement comes a day after the Senate Democratic Caucus announced that Rodríguez would step down as chair at the end of the year. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will replace him at the post.

It’s unclear who all will announce bids for Rodríguez’s seat. One potential candidate could be state Rep. César Blanco, a fellow El Paso Democrat who serves as chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Cassandra Pollock is The Texas Tribune’s state politics reporter. She joined the Tribune full-time in June 2017 after a fellowship during the 85th Texas Legislature. Pollock spent her first two years at the Trib as an engagement reporter, which meant her name likely landed in your inbox every weekday morning with “The Brief,” a newsletter on all things Texas politics and public policy. Pollock is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism.

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Austin

Austin Raises Metered Parking Rates Citywide

Austin Transportation will raise the base rate of all City of Austin metered, on-street parking spaces to $2-per-hour starting Monday, October 14, 2019.

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Starting Monday, October 14, 2019, Austin Transportation will implement the $2-per-hour citywide parking meter base rate City Council approved in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Budget. The new base rate will apply to all City of Austin metered, on-street parking spaces.

The City’s street parking system is designed to promote space turnover, which provides convenient short-term access to places of interest. However, at the current rates of $1.20 per hour in the downtown core and $1 per hour outside of it, Austin Transportation staff have routinely observed drivers exceeding parking time restrictions.

These observations align with those documented in the Downtown Austin Parking Strategy, released by the Downtown Austin Alliance in 2017. “The rates do not match the level of demand or patterns of behavior,” reads the report. “On-street prices are lower than off-street prices. There is a direct incentive for drivers to circle and hunt for the best deal.”

In order to reduce congestion, national best practices indicate that one to two parking spaces should be available at any time on any given block, minimizing the time that drivers spend circling in traffic in search of a nearby parking space. As parking usage is monitored quarterly, Austin Transportation may make incremental pricing adjustments to ensure that this goal is met.

“This rate modernization better represents the true value of street parking,” said Robert Spillar, Austin Transportation Director. “It also supports the City of Austin’s goals of providing more mobility options and reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips.” These goals are outlined in the Austin Strategic Direction 2023, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, and the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which envisions at least 50 percent of commuters using modes other than single-occupancy vehicles by 2039.

Reducing drive-alone trips allows Austin Transportation to test and implement curb management strategies that promote equitable and flexible curb space access for all travel modes and public needs.

As an alternative to on-street parking, Austin Transportation launched its Affordable Parking Program in 2016 to make downtown off-street parking more accessible for people who work or regularly park downtown in the evenings, including service industry workers. This program has flourished and now has approximately 400 users, reducing evening demand for on-street parking by directing people to off-street spaces that would otherwise often be unused. There continue to be spaces available at rates that vary from $30 to $65 per month, and Austin Transportation encourages people to learn more about the program.

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Austin

Unite The Fight 2019

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The Equality Alliance returns with its third annual Unite The Fight “black tie” gala event on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the Hilton Austin, complete with hostess Shangela, the red carpet, a huge silent auction, and the highly-anticipated main event as eight amateur drag contestants lip sync for their rights and the coveted title of Miss Unite the Fight. “Every year, The Equality Alliance hosts our Unite the Fight Gala to raise money for non-profit organizations who are on the front lines every day fighting for equality and basic human rights for the LGBTQ community,” explained Monica Painter, Executive Director of The Equality Alliance.

“At the gala, the charities briefly speak about what they do in our community and ways people can plug in and help,” Painter added. This year’s beneficiaries are:

“To add some fun to the mix, eight people [who have never considered doing drag in their life] are paired with a professional drag queen,” explained Painter. “The amateur queens practice drag for months and then they perform on the night of the gala in front of 1,000 people to compete for the crown of Miss Unite The Fight. We always say: ‘People come all dressed up in their fanciest clothes to support charity and leave with laryngitis from screaming for their favorite contestant.’ We have found this combination to be a perfect mix of philanthropy and fun!”

This year’s contestants walking the catwalk and the chance at the title of Miss Unite The Fight, (along with their mentors) are:

  • Veronica Castelo + Jack Rabid
  • Bobby Cook + Sabel Scities
  • Christopher Davis + Vylette Ward
  • Kelvin Glover + Scarlett Kiss
  • Cody Kinsfather + Colleen Deforrest
  • Sandy McIlree + Vegas Van Cartier
  • Matt Moffit + Alysha Pretty
  • Emmanuel Winston + Maeve Haven

The title of Miss Unite The Fight isn’t the only award up for grabs. Thanks to red carpet sponsor, Chappy, judges will be on the red carpet with awards handed out throughout the night for attendees presenting head-turning looks upon arrival. Categories include:

  • “The Beyonce” for sparkliest
  • “The Grace Kelly” for classic beauty
  • “The Gender Bender” for binary realness
  • “The Cher” for most over the top
  • “The OMGaga” for the Grand Prize

“Not only are LGBTQ+ events important as it raises awareness towards critical issues within our marginalized community, but Unite the Fight is near and dear to our hearts as it is an Austin-based event, which is now our hometown,” said Chappy Co-Founder and Head of Brand Sam Dumas. “We are so excited to participate in this event as a red carpet sponsor and we are honored to work side-by-side with an organization that aligns so closely to our core principals of equality, empowerment, commitment to safe spaces, and values that align across all sexualities and genders.”

In addition to the silent auction with over 100 items up for mobile bidding, this year features a raffle for a 3-year lease on a 2019 Mercedes C-300 Cabriolet (or a $20,000 credit towards the purchase of a new car) from Mercedes-Benz of Austin. The raffle is limited to only 500 tickets.

The official after party for the Unite The Fight gala will be hosted by Oilcan Harry’s on 4th Street, in the Warehouse District.

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Austin

More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins

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Barton Creek (center) flowing in to Lady Bird Lake. Photo credit: Chase Martin / therepubliq

Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.

Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.

In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.

“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.

Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.

The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.

On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.

On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.

Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.

Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitization in recovering animals
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.

In people, possible health effects include:

  • Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
  • Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
  • Respiratory signs or symptoms
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neurologic signs or symptoms
  • Ear symptoms
  • Eye irritation

Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.

If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.

Source: City of Austin website

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