Public Notice: Just to Clarify
Speedway post office closing, AISD spending delayed?
There were a couple of flurries of online public outrage that flared up over the past week; they have nothing to do with each other, aside from the common theme of unfortunate misinformation.
First off, rumors have been circulating for a few weeks about the post office closing the North Station at 43rd and Speedway. (This hits close to home at the Chronicle, as our mailing address has been a P.O. box there since before the first issue was published.) The lease was up, people were saying, and the P.O. couldn't negotiate a renewal. This sparked a lively if predictable debate on the neighborhood listservs: The rapacious landlord was excoriated for selling out the neighborhood for a few bucks, then defended for daring to tear down the old and build something new and bigger and better.
Um, no, and no.
The rapacious developer himself, Blake Thompson of local property management company State Street Properties, sent word to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night to tell his side of the story, and it didn't really fit either of the prevailing narratives (though it might be part of another).
Yes, there were unresolved issues with the lease renewal, but Thompson says he had assumed they would just roll it over in June and continue talking, until he started hearing news of the closure third-hand like everyone else. Blindsided, he has no firm plans for the property at this point but is thinking of dividing it up as offices for the time being. The building was purpose-built as a P.O. in 1967 and has never been anything else, and may be hard to adapt. So, yes, the station will close as of June 17; services will be picked up by Northcross station, though the UT campus and 38th & Lamar offices are closer. But no, this isn't a parable about gentrification and densification, and there's no bad guy to blame. Not locally, anyway. But it's tempting to finger Louis DeJoy, and his attempted long, slow strangulation of the U.S. Postal Service, but that decision-making process and the logic behind it is pretty opaque. Real estate decisions come out of a USPS office in Colorado, Thompson says, and they're hard to communicate with.
FWIW, concerned neighbors have begun a letter-writing campaign to the local postmaster to express their concerns; chime in by mailing to:
PCC Postal Co-Chair
8225 Cross Park Dr.
Austin, TX 78710-9998
Then there was the furor kicked off by the lead story in the Austin American-Statesman Metro section on Friday, April 30: "Austin ISD in no rush to spend relief money: District will have a plan for federal funds by 2023" What? The district has been begging the state to release this estimated $150 million in pandemic relief funds (see Clara Ence Morse's piece on the funding), and now they're going to sit on it for two years, while layoffs continue?!?
Well, again, um, no.
Commentary started pinging around almost immediately: At least two board members didn't recall hearing that message at the briefing the story was based on; and the district confirmed that's not what they intended to say, nor is it the case: While the current year's budget is set (hence the district's push to get the money released sooner than now), planning has already begun on how to use the funds to plug holes, both immediate and anticipated over the next couple of budget cycles (read more).
By day's end, some wording was tweaked in one paragraph, and a footnote was added:
Clarification: This story was updated Friday, April 30, to clarify the Austin school district is seeking to use the federal coronavirus relief funds as soon as possible.
But the headline remains, "Austin ISD not rushing to use new federal coronavirus funds, Superintendent Elizalde says." So, actually true, but perhaps not reassuring, or helpful, for anyone scanning the news wondering how our schools are doing. It's possibly more useful for state lawmakers who are always looking for excuses not to fund public education.
It's My Park Day will be back as a (partially) in person event on Saturday, June 12, but due to city COVID protocols, "in-person events will be limited in capacity so early registration is encouraged" for projects including mulching, painting, clean-ups, and other much-needed maintenance at parks all over Austin. The organizers, Austin Parks Foundation, will continue to monitor public health protocols and expand capacity as possible. See www.austinparks.org/IMPD for details on that and the week of virtual events that are being staged to go along with it, beginning on National Trails Day the previous Saturday, June 5.
Small Business Week winds up this Friday, May 7, with still a baker's dozen of free training sessions put together by the city's Economic Development Department to help local small businesses, nonprofits, and creatives acquire new skills; see the full schedule at www.smallbizaustin.org to register. One highlight: Time for a Transition: Converting Your Small Business to a Cooperative, 2-4pm on Friday, is part of a six-course series on co-op structure and practice, presented in conjunction with UT-Rio Grande Valley.
[Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Blake Thompson did not himself appear at the Hyde Park NA meeting, but met with an HPNA representative, who reported at the meeting; apologies for the original misreporting.]