After being postponed, the proposed Natural Areas Land Management Plan for Austin Parks and Recreation Department is back on the on the City Council Meeting Agenda as Item 53 for tomorrow, Thursday September 21st. This plan claims to include climate vulnerability studies, but fails to address preservation for the key features of our local ecosystem - including cave restoration for water retention, protection for endangered species, and thoughtful wildfire prevention based on practices that actually reduce wildfire risk. We encourage you to read the SOS letter of recommendation to City Council and the Mayor to POSTPONE or VOTE NO against this erroneous plan. As stewards of the Edwards Aquifer and fierce protectors against climate crisis, we recommend that the city brings in experts on karst terrain and rewilding integrated into park and city planning which drives us towards the goals in Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan and the Austin Climate Equity Plan.
Please take a few minutes to read over, rephrase, and submit your own short letter to City Council and the Mayor before Thursday, Sept. 21 at 11 AM.
Yesterday Austin's second most historic and iconic tree -- next to Treaty Oak- was designated for removal by Austin Park's Director Kimberly McNeeley. The historic Barton Springs Leaning Tree is set to be killed this Thursday!
Please read below and then email Mayor Watson, key councilmembers, and the Parks Board immediately and demand that no action be taken until after a public hearing at the next Parks Board meeting set for Monday, September 25th.
Cut and paste the email addresses below into your "to" box.
Please tell council and the Parks Board there is no emergency to justify this rush to judgment. Tell them to reverse the decision to kill Flo until after a public hearing as promised at the last Parks Board meeting.
Sadly, Parks Department leadership has once again misled the community. This time the consequences could be immediate and irreversible without action by "we the people." Please help today and more this week if we do not hear back that this terrible decision has been reversed by Monday afternoon. Regardless, plan to attend the Monday, September 25th Parks Board meeting set for City Hall at 6:00 p.m.
Photographs from the 1920s show Flo as a significant tree shading Barton Springs pool. To our knowledge there is no record that Flo has hurt a single Barton Springs visitor over the last 120 years. Not one. Ever. Yet, somehow, there is now an emergency to remove this "dangerous" tree this week.
It's simply not true; removing the tree without a public hearing would be irresponsible, and the late Friday announcement on the City's website that the tree "must be removed" violates Parks Director McNeeley's statement to the Parks Board that no decisions would be made before the public had an opportunity to provide informed public input to the department and the board.
There is no dispute that Flo' has multiple infirmities. The City and SOS now have at least five expert arborist reports confirming the tree has severe challenges. The City's expert reports were posted here late yesterday and the SOS commissioned report is linked below.
But Flo was in real bad shape all the way back to 1958 when the city placed a mass of concrete and rebar into her hollowed out core and installed the first support pole under the leaning tree. Sixty-five years later she lives on.
Then City experts then wanted to remove Flo in 2009 in a proposed massacre of 21 of the heritage pecan and other Barton Springs trees. This was part of the woefully misguided "Barton Springs Master Plan" that envisioned a "fresh canvas" for contracted landscape architects to paint a brand new, very expensive and heavily constructed "architectural masterpiece" around Barton Springs. It would have been great for private events! Sound familiar?
It was only public outrage in 2009 that saved 19 of the 21 condemned Barton Springs trees (and erased most of the proposed new construction.) For Flo, PARD expanded the 1950's support system with a metal support frame that now, 14 years later, cradles the still green and alive Leaning Tree.
It's now, once again, time for some basic common sense. To the untrained but loving eyes of many Barton Springs regulars it appears that it is literally impossible for Flo to fall on top of anyone. Or to even fall at all. The tree rests on the ground, then a concrete retaining wall, and then the three-posted cradle that spans the underlying sidewalk. Flo could live and continue slowly dying in hospice care for years, maybe even decades, without posing any threat to anyone.
The City's arborist experts have somehow overlooked the obvious. This is not a tree standing up, it is a tree laying down and fully supported. Perhaps a structural engineer would advise some limited improvements to the cradle, but this would be something small, if needed at all, and be cheaper than killing and removing the tree. In other words, this is a question for engineers not arborists.
Austin Beautiful Trees arborist Scott George recommends in his report prepared for SOS that a mechanical engineer or biophysicist be consulted to assess the tree and its support system. George recommends this action after first acknowledging -- unlike the other arborists consulted by the city -- that Flo's circumstances are so unique that they are outside his considerable expertise as an arborist.
The arborists do agree that the one large limb that extends beyond the metal support frame out over the pool should be supported with a cable system and that it could be trimmed to reduce load and exposure to wind. This part is standard tree care and PARD has already installed a temporary rope system that prevents this large limb from falling into the pool.
As Flo leans today she is lush and green with a few small brown spots typical to all mature pecans, especially this summer. No one knows how much longer she will live. Some pecan trees live for 200 to 300 years.
There is certainly no emergency, no threat to the public, and no reason to not do what was promised: refrain from making any decisions until after a public hearing.
Please send your email today to these addressees and urge your friends and family to do the same. If you don't already have plans, go jump in Barton Springs and see our beloved Leaning Tree for yourself. Without your help and some common sense at city hall, it may be your last chance.
Thank you for caring and helping out. Together we saved most of Zilker Park last month; now let's save this special part of Austin and Barton Springs.
Water Watch: Today, August 15th, Austin moves to Stage II Drought restrictions amid scorching temps and a glimmer of rain in the forecasts late next week. Be sure to read up on the recent water restrictions for the Austin area HERE. Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is still at Stage IV with low spring flows nearing 12 cfs this week. Mayor Watson addresses the water shortage in his weekly newsletter, encouraging Austinites to be especially “mindful” of our water use in the coming weeks.
A New and Better Direction for Zilker Park: Last night Austin's Animal Advisory Commission passed this resolution on a 10 "yes" to 1 abstention vote (with a few minor amendments that are not yet available. The resolution recommends to the Austin City Council a more natural Zilker Park, one without parking garages and other major construction projects, and one that supports the health and wellbeing of people and wildlife, especially the endangered Barton Springs and Austin Blind salamanders. The video of the meeting is not yet available; we will let you know when it is. This action by the AAC stands with the community that opposed the Zilker Park plan and we thank the commissioners for pointing the way ahead.
Watershed Wins: Late last week, Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool, District 7, announced that she would withdraw her resolution that would have led to the removal of environmental review and consideration of utility extensions within the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. This harmful resolution would have given the green light for sprawl development in areas of the Edwards Aquifer with less public scrutiny and few regulations. Thank you for writing in to encourage the City Council to scrap the resolution. We look forward to continuing to monitor and work with the City’s Watershed Protection Department in protecting these areas from overdevelopment and expanding environmental review and protections to areas that need more attention, such as creeks in East Austin.
This Weekend: A community celebration for our local water will take place this Sunday, August 20th at Casa de Luz from 6-9 pm and our Executive Director Bill Bunch will be speaking alongside a program of live music, art, and activations. RSVP at the Mind’s Eye website to attend this event.
We’re relieved to have the Zilker Vision Plan on hold for now, and please stay tuned for ways to stay involved in our ongoing fight to protect the Edwards Aquifer watershed and its precious ecology.
Save Our Springs Alliance
It’s uncommon for us to send out back to back emails, but the recent message from Mayor Watson that the Vision Plan is “shelved” indefinitely deserves a collective celebration. Yesterday, August 7th, Councilmembers Ryan Alter, Paige Ellis, and Zo Qadri came out from the shadows and conceded with a Joint Statement that they would no longer support the Vision Plan due to “irreconcilable differences”. Shortly after, Mayor Watson followed suit with a nod to collaborating in the future to “meet our objectives to preserve and nurture the ecological sanctity of this place while assuring equitable access to all Austinites.”
This is an unexpectedly quick win, and one that would have never happened without all of your passionate emails, strategic meetings, heartfelt conversations, and unfaltering grit. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! for your time and energy which is what drove home how the “Zero Vision” Plan failed to protect or provide access to the park, and instead would have privatized and monetized the heart and soul of Austin.
Many of you are asking, what’s next? Did we defeat the big, bad Live-Nation-funded-atrocity? First, we rest and thank Mayor Watson and our Council Members who stood up against this plan. Then, we continue to tell the story of what really happened by sharing Uncensored Zilker, Inc. and advocating for protection, restoration and rewilding of Zilker, all of our parks, and the entire city, as called for by the Austin Climate Equity Plan.
Now, for other news - - As our current furnace forecasts confirm, the biggest ongoing threat to our waterways and the Edwards Aquifer is climate heating and resulting drought. The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is now at Stage III and approaching Stage IV Drought and the Springs flow which averages 53 cubic feet per second is now at 16 cubic feet per second, which is dangerously low. Please do your part and follow the city’s current guidelines for limiting water usage as much as possible. We need your help to keep Barton Springs clean and flowing.
What in the Hays is Happening?
New subdivisions, new highways, new competition for water supplies — there's a lot being planned for Northeast Hays County.
For our constituents in Hays County and patrons of the now dry Jacob’s Well, we know that Aqua Texas is responsible for overuse by upwards of 84 million gallons, along with several other wasteful water companies. They are currently facing steep penalties and an urgent call to act on a drought management plan, or else they will lose their permits altogether.
Want to know more? Our friends at Save Barton Creek Association are hosting a happy hour talk on Wednesday, August 16th, from 6:30-8:30pm at Texas Keeper Cider in Manchaca. SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch will be on hand to speak to the impacts of potential developments planned for one of the last large undeveloped areas in NE Hays county. Located between Buda and Austin and bordered by Bear and Onion Creeks, this sensitive karst terrain is dotted with caves and springs, is full of botanical diversity, and is right over the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Mike Clifford from the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, and Darlene Starr of United Plant Savers will also share their knowledge and insights. Texas Keeper is opening their doors to us exclusively for this event, so bring a friend and come on out to this scenic old homestead at 6:30 to grab a drink, listen to the speakers at 7:00, and join us for questions and conversation after.
More details at SBCA's website
As always, thank you for your loyal support,
Watch Documentary Here
This past Friday, August 4, 2023, Design Workshop – the City of Austin’s contractor that wrote the proposed Zilker Park Vision Plan -- pressured YouTube to remove the 16-minute documentary “Zilker, Inc.: The Plan to Monetize a Natural Treasure” by award winning local film maker Steve Mims. Released last Wednesday, August 2nd , the film had already received almost 5000 views in just 48 hours and received praise from viewers who called it “beautiful” and “powerful.”
Design Workshop has created an intensely unpopular plan that 80% of Austin opposes –- no wonder they want to pull down this film.
A new version called: “Uncensored: Zilker, Inc.; The Plan to Monetize a Natural Treasure” is now live on YouTube and tells the story that Design Workshop is trying to hide with its unfounded “copyright infringement” claim. The “Uncensored” film removes a few seconds of the original that showed Design Workshop’s logo and project images obtained from the Design Workshop website. “While such use falls within the “fair use” doctrine for copyrighted materials, we chose to remove them rather than have Design Workshop censor the film with its unfounded claims,” said Reid Nelson, Mr. Mims’ attorney.
The Austin City Council is scheduled to hear public testimony and decide the fate of the draft Zilker Park Vision Plan at its Thursday, August 31st meeting at City Hall.
Read more about the film below, but here are three simple things you can do to help save Zilker Park:
1. Watch and share the link to the Uncensored: Zilker, Inc. film with all your friends and followers.
2. Tell them you will be at City Hall on August 31st to speak to the City Council on the future of Zilker Park and Barton Springs and urge them to be there with you.
3. GO HERE and send one simple message to Mayor Watson and the Austin City Council asking them to tell Design Workshop to disclose all public information about the plan and stop censoring its critics. We have suggested some language but feel free to erase it and write your own message. A personal message is the best message!
The film, funded by local investors and Save our Springs Alliance, documents overwhelming local opposition to Design Workshop’s proposed “concrete vision” to build three large parking garages, six bridges, a 5000-seat amphitheater, and other structures in Zilker Park.
The film also documents Design Workshop’s closed-door coordination with ACL/ Live Nation representatives. Design Workshop project lead Claire Hempel had denied ACL/ Live Nation’s involvement in the plan but walked it back when caught on video posted to the City’s website. Live Nation/Ticketmaster now owns controlling interest in the ACL Music Festival by way of a side deal with its pet non-profit Austin Parks Foundation. “Is this the real reason Design
Workshop wants to censor this film?” is a question many who have seen the film were asking this weekend.”
The RewildZilker.org coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups did not sponsor the film but has proposed a more popular alternative vision for a natural, recreational Zilker park that would provide more water protection/ climate mitigation/ shade and save taxpayers over $150 million in construction and operation costs. See the Rewilding plan here The only way we are going to save Zilker Park from being converted into a money-making machine for Live Nation and its allied park concessioners is with your help and the help of everyone you know who loves Zilker Park as a public park and not as an outdoor entertainment
district. Spread the word, write and call council, and be there at City Hall on August 31st .
Send Letter to Council Here
Read SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch's letter to City Council recounting all items we opposed at the July 20th meeting.
ZILKER, INC. THE PLAN TO MONETIZE A NATURAL TREASURE
Join us for the free premiere of ZILKER, INC. at AFS Cinema on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 @ 7 PM with a panel discussion following the 16 minute documentary. Seats are limited so EACH attendee will need to fill out an RSVP to reserve a seat.
Zilker, Inc. is an examination of the controversial plan to transform Austin’s Zilker Park from a uniquely fragile natural oasis into an outdoor entertainment district serving corporate interests. Directed and edited by Steve Mims. Produced by Bill Bunch and Brian Rodgers.
Q & A discussion after the film with SOS Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch, sustainability expert and environmentalist Robin Rather, and Tanya Payne from Rewild Zilker.
Watch Zilker, Inc Trailer
RSVP for Zilker, Inc.
City Council Postpones Some, Moves Forward on Citywide Attack on Single Family Zoning
Yesterday, the Austin City Council voted to postpone indefinitely Item 92, the proposal to cut back on the public's right to speak at City Council meetings. Hopefully this terrible idea stays dead. State law and many decades of City Hall practice have allowed and encouraged public participation in council's decision making processes.
Council also postponed action on Item 125, Councilmember Leslie Pool's push to shift City decisions from City Council to staff on if, when, and how we extend city water or sewer service to proposed developments in the Barton Spring watershed. This City Council oversight has been crucial to stopping some of the very worst projects proposed in the Barton Springs watershed while helping modify and assure better water protections on others.
This City Council oversight of utility extensions into the Barton Springs watershed has been a cornerstone of City policies protecting Barton Springs for over 40 years. The only reason to change it is to let the Water Utility expand its customer base at the expense of protecting Barton Springs.
It's bizarre and inexplicable that Councilmember Pool pushed this proposal forward. Even worse, she made several false statements from the dais in advocating for it. She did so even after Mayor Watson said he agreed the existing process works as intended. So the question is: Why?
The only reason we can think of is that the Water Utility very much wants to serve one or more terrible developments that desperately need City services to be viable -- including the nightmarish "Violet Crown" amphitheater proposed for land almost surrounded by City endangered species habitat in the Barton Creek watershed. The matter was postponed until the August 31 meeting -- the same meeting the Zilker Park Vision Plan will be heard. Giant thank yous go out to Councilmember Alison Alter for pushing hard for the postponement, asking all of the right questions, and to Mayor Watson and Councilmember Vela for speaking up early in favor of the postponement. Pool and CM's Ellis, Harper-Madison, and Qadri all voted to rush forward with this terrible move.
The City Council -- all but Councilmembers Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly--cast a historic vote directing staff to move forward preparing ordinance changes that would, if adopted, effectively eliminate single family zoning in Austin. Again Councilmember Leslie Pool led the charge. And again she made both false and misleading statements to support the move, denying that it would reduce impervious cover limits and tree protections and thereby worsening the already terrible urban heat island effect and central city flooding.
Read our letter to the City Council on these two important matters HERE. If you haven't already, mark your calendar for a day at City Hall for the critical Thursday, August 31 City Council meeting.
As always, thank you for support and participation.
Today Austin Mayor Kirk Watson issued a strong statement opposing construction of parking garages and a large amphitheater in Zilker Park and supporting both rewilding of the park and retaining and strengthening city management of Zilker and all of our parks. Read Mayor Watson's statement here.
Also important, Mayor Watson put the $200 million-plus draft plan from the City's consultants in the context of having zero committed city funds for the plan and, at the same time, substantial needs for investing in other city parks.
Mayor Watson's clear and common sense statement didn't just happen. It grew from a groundswell of many thousands of Austinites speaking out against the massive construction and conversion of Zilker Park into an outdoor entertainment district called for by the city consultants' draft plan. Overwhelmingly, Austin residents want to save, restore, and rewild Zilker Park. Thank yous!!! go out to everyone who attended a meeting, wrote emails, called, or spoke directly to City Council, City board and commission members, and City staff over these last two years. Your voice matters.
But this is just the beginning. We need you to stay involved!!
Mayor Watson is just one vote out of eleven on the City Council. None of the other ten members have stated in writing where they stand on the proposed plan. The private for-profit and nonprofit groups are not going away. They are literally banking on finding six votes on city council in favor of the draft plan that would expand moneymaking in and private control over Zilker Park.
First, please take one minute to send a "thank you" to Mayor Watson by using this email tool that goes to all of the city council members. That way all of the other ten see how much support and appreciation there is for Mayor Watson's leadership on these issues.
Second, call or email your own City Council member (if you live inside the city). Ask them to make a public statement that they agree with Mayor Watson across the board. Find the contact information here.
Third, no matter where you live mark your calendar for the new date for the city council hearing on the Zilker Park Vision Plan; Thursday, August 31, 2023. Set aside the whole day and evening if you are able and plan to be with us at City Hall. Recruit your friends, family members, and neighbors to join you for a critical and exciting day of civic action.
Finally, stay tuned. There is still lots more information coming out about the draft plan and what we need to do to save Zilker Park, Barton Springs, and Austin from the dual threats of bottomless greed and a heating climate.
Save Our Springs Alliance is pleased to announce a unique fundraiser on July 16, 2023 curated by internationally acclaimed artist and musician, Ben Livingston. Parthenia’s Majesty: A Cinematic Voyage is an immersive, audiovisual experience at the newly established Rosette Theatre at the Baker Center in Hyde Park. The 90 minute event (one at 2PM and one at 7PM) combines nostalgic short films celebrating the unrivaled beauty and rich history of Barton Springs with music, art, and refreshments.
The screenings include Brian Leonard's cosmic underwater light dances and four short movies from Karen Kocher’s “Living Springs'' series. The stunning underwater headliner “Parthenia’s A:X Pageant” created by prominent neon artist and springs advocate, Ben Livingston is accompanied by a live score performed by composer and pedal steel master Bob Hoffnar. Livingston’s ephemeral footage alongside Hoffnar’s otherworldly soundscape invites attendees on an introspective journey, inspiring conservation and advocacy in generations to come. Guests will also be invited to view a collection of water-inspired artworks by Sculptor / New Yorker cartoonist Julia “Jul” Suits.
Sponsors include Gruene Hall, Jim Brand MD, Magnolia Cafe, Mary Jane Nalley, Robin Rather, and Family, & Austin Classical Guitar.
PURCHASE TICKETS HERE
About Ben Livingston: Ben Livingston is an internationally acclaimed artist, performing songwriter, and film personality who draws inspiration from beauty and embraces a daily, year-round swimming routine at Barton Springs. Recognized as a National Endowment of the Arts fellow, his expertise in neon/light sculpting has earned him global acclaim. Alongside his mastery of neon, Ben's artistic versatility extends to mediums such as drawing, painting, wood, copper, steel and found object construction, photography, and his latest venture in silent movie-making collaboration with composer, Bob Hoffnar. Ben Livingston continues to inspire others and defy limitations. His neon art has found its place in public collections like the Austin Convention Center and the University of Texas Performing Arts Center, solidifying his commitment to making a positive impact on the community.
About Bob Hoffnar: Pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar is a major contributor to Austin’s cultural landscape. Originally from Silver Springs, Maryland, Hoffnar graduated from Purchase Conservatory of Music in 1998 with a BFA in Composition. Further private studies included time with such musical luminaries as Lamonte Young, Pandit Pran Nath, and Ernest Tubb’s steel player Buddy Charelton. As a full-time working pedal steel player he has worked with artists from Patsy Montana to Cindi Lauper to Iggy and the Stooges. Along with a constant stream of solo and collaborative works he had the international debut of his "Prismatic Listening" installation in Mexico City in May of 2023.
About Karen Kocher: Karen Kocher is an Austin-based media producer known for her digital content creations spanning over two decades. Her notable works include Living Springs, an immersive series exploring the history, culture and science of Barton Springs pool. With accolades like the Lonestar Chapter of the Sierra Club's "Art in Service of the Environment'' award, Karen's passion for environmental stewardship shines through her projects. As an educator, she shares her expertise in digital post-production and documentary production at the University of Texas at Austin.
About Brian Leonard: Brian Leonard is an accomplished artist, healer, and dedicated advocate of Barton Springs, where he can be found swimming daily with the grace of a dolphin's tail. Based in Austin, Texas, Brian's artistic achievements have been showcased in exhibitions such as the West Austin Studio Tour and the Austin Art Space Gallery. He has made significant contributions to the Amanda Love Healing Center and Heal Healing Center, utilizing his talents to promote well-being. Brian's passion for art, healing, and his deep connection to Barton Springs exemplify his commitment to the transformative power of nature.
About Julia Suits: Julia "Jul" Suits, an Austin-based artist, has returned to sculpture after decades away, with a focus on welded steel and glass. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows, including at the Pilchuck School and in a 2-person show with Dale Chihuly. Alongside her artistic endeavors, Suits has also made contributions as an environmental activist, creating large-scale outdoor installations addressing various issues and employing grants and donations to fund these immersive projects. In addition, Suits has worked as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, with work featured in The New Yorker, Texas Monthly magazine, and in newspapers worldwide as an editorial illustrator for Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles.