Category: Business & Technology

Water Allocation…Is It Fair?

By: Judy Hong, Mackenzie Drake, Garrett Callahan, Samantha Rivera

 

When Taiki Miki woke up in the morning, his usual routine involved a quick shower, brushing his teeth and possibility drinking a glass or two of water.

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The sink water running in an Austin apartment.

Miki estimates he uses about 18 gallons of water each morning. But when he lived at his former apartment in Austin, he didn’t have to worry about the individual amount of water he used.

“I wasn’t very lenient in my use of water,” Miki said. “I didn’t use excess water than I needed, but I knew that any additional gallon of water that I used wasn’t going towards my individual bill.”

This is because Miki lived in an apartment that used a water allocation system. Instead of each residential unit paying for the amount of water it uses individually under submeters, residents are charged a part of the water usage of the whole apartment complex, which is calculated by the utility company.

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Austin Water Utility in downtown Austin takes part in the water allocations.

Some older apartments in Austin use a master meter for the entire complex, which measures the total amount of water used throughout all of the units. Based on this usage, the property gets a master bill, which is then split among the tenants using an allocation method approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or Public Utility Commission.

Some properties divide water usage based on the square footage of each apartment or based on a percentage for each unit, along with the number of residents.

Many properties use the allocation system because it is the only method possible. If properties have only one master meter for the entire complex, they are unable to see the individual usage of each apartment. For this reason, many of Austin’s older complexes, such as Tanglewood North and Su Casa Apartments, use the allocation system.

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Taped-up water pipes in various apartments in Austin.

However, many residents think this type of billing system constitutes an imbalanced system, as some units typically use far less or far more water than others.

“I think it’s very unfair,” said Jeff Haniuk, a tenant at Heritage at Hillcrest in Austin. “Because if you’re somebody like my wife who takes a lot of baths, I would hate for somebody to be charged for her bath water if they don’t use as much water.”

Under Texas law, water allocation is a legal practice. As long as property owners outline specific rules and disclosures in the rental agreement, they are able to allocate water based on the whole property’s usage.

In the lease, tenants must be made aware they will be billed on an allocation basis, the exact allocation method, and the average monthly water bill for the last calendar year, along with other procedures.

“I don’t think it’s a good system,” said Andy McClintic, a tenant of a complex that uses a submeter system. “Why would I even turn our water off, if we’re being billed for everyone’s water?”

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Although the water allocation system can be backwards from the conservation efforts that Austin is pushing for, there are other ways for individuals to save water.

There is not much residents can do to combat the water allocation system, if they don’t agree with it. Since it is allowed under Texas law, properties have the right to use their own metering system. The Austin Water Utility suggests getting into contact with property managers to make them aware of water conservation issues and educate them on the best practices to save water.

Many tenants believe that water allocation opposes Austin’s water conservation efforts. Currently in a Stage 2 drought restriction phase, Austin is making a push to lower water usage within residents and businesses.

However, under the water allocation system, tenants face almost no consequences to using more water than they need, since they are not paying for their individual usage.

“If you’re trying to encourage water conservation the best way would be the individual approach,” said Austin Batson, whose apartment uses the allocation system. “Having every unit responsible for their own bill or even more ideally you could track where the water is actually being used.”

 

 

SXSW Security & Safety Plan 2015


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AUSTIN – As people flood downtown for South by Southwest, from March 13 through the 22, last year’s fatal crash will be on the minds of venues, authorities and companies collaborating to create an exciting and relaxed atmosphere in downtown Austin.

The Austin Police Department is bringing all the equipment and personnel it can to maintain a safe environment for the music and film festival. During a Public Safety Commission meeting on Jan. Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.56.18 PM5, Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft outlined the festival’s safety strategies including traffic response forces, stro nger barricades and a 15 percent increase in officers downtown. He said the goal is to have more cohesiveness and communication among the different participants.

“We will have issues,” Chief Dusterhoft said, “But we hope to be able to respond to them more quickly.”

Commander of Special Events Tim Pruett, later said that there are rules and application processes venues have to follow. Lines can only be held for a certain amount of time, and they cannot block sidewalks, entrances, or exits out of parking lots. Venues are required to have people working the lines, he said.

 

Click HERE for the whole story.

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A Fraction of the Whole

Urban Outfitters’ site plan exemption for the Drag

Small Businesses Say Good Bye To Guadalupe at Hands of Big Corporations

By Claire Hogan, Chelsey Pena, and Andrea Rogers

AUSTIN—The vessel that runs through the heart of the city known as Guadalupe Street, or as many say the Drag, has been a staple to the University of Texas. The street that lies parallel to UT is lined with restaurants and shops, both local and corporate. Many of these local shops have called the Drag home since their establishment and have resided next to bigger businesses, until now.

The store Manju’s at 2424 Guadalupe St., popular for women’s apparel and accessories, will finally close it’s doors at the end of this month after 37 years of residency on the drag. This isn’t because the game day favorite is going out of business, but instead being pushed out by a competitor.

Manju’s owner Kavida declined an interview but briefly said that closing her business is not of her choosing.

Select the image below to view an interactive map of the property

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A few doors down at 2406 Guadalupe the Pennsylvania based retail giant Urban Outfitters is housed. The two story establishment that sells both men’s and women’s apparel, as well as house décor, records, books and other miscellaneous gifts, has plans to expand their franchise on the drag.

Chris Johnson the Development Assistance Center Manager in the City of Austin Planning & Development Review Department says that although Urban Outfitters has not directly announced an expansion, they have expressed interest.

“Urban Outfitters had a meeting with his Planning and Development Review team back in December about some options they were considering for the land,” Johnson said. “They discussed remodeling the existing buildings for new businesses or even building a multi-tenant development with an entertainment area that included a restaurant and bar on the floor level.”

Both partial and total demolition permits have been applied for the addresses that include Urban Outfitters, what were originally Pipe’s Plus, Texadelphia and Longhorn Lux, and Manju’s. With the exception of Mellow Mushroom, BHF Guadalupe LLC owns all of the addresses on the same strip as Urban Outfitters.

The Washoe Company based of out Luling, Texas owns Mellow Mushroom. The pizza-based restaurant’s lease will end later this year, but there is no word on either a renewal or sale of the property.

Of the addresses owned by BHF Guadalupe LLC, the only address that will remain intact is Chase Bank. Despite being able to stay at their drag location, representatives at the bank say that their parking in the back of the address has been purchased and they will soon have to park elsewhere.

Most recently on January 20th, the 2424 partial demolition permit application was submitted for a remodel to accommodate an Urban Outfitters MEN store at what currently is the Manju’s location.

Urban Outfitters has declined to comment on any purchases, renovations, additions and permit proposals they have made.

This isn’t the first instance of a major corporation buying out small businesses to add or expand their brand. In just the last year 7-11, ATT&T have moved into the drag taking over what once were local shops like the Co-Op Market.

Student’s that that regularly shop on the drag say that part of what keeps Austin weird is having these local shops that cater to the personality of the city.

“These small businesses make up what Austin is and what America is,” UT student Sahare Wazirali said. “I think as long as local business have an equal opportunity for advancement, then I think it’s fair. But what ends up happening is that bigger corporations end up making more money and they have more power and money to do these things. [Buy out small businesses]”

An official date for construction to begin on any of these properties has yet to be announced.

Compare images from the Drag in 2009

. . . And the Drag in 2014.

UT Nears Water Conservation Goal

B-Cycle or B-Hit?

By Adam Beard, Juan Cortez, Heather Dyer, and Landon Pederson.

Red bikes with baskets are becoming a common sight along the city streets of Austin, Texas. The B-Cycle program, which launched in December of 2013, is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week bike-share program that has gone from 11 stations to 45 stations, doubled its first usage projections and set national records.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

The main goal of the program is to bridge the transportation gap in public transit by providing a final-mile connector from the city’s mass transit system to their final destination and to reduce Austin’s traffic downtown.

However, many believe B-Cycle could be harming a different traffic problem – bicycle safety.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I don’t really feel that safe as a bike rider myself,” said Bea Scott, a frequent bike rider in Austin. “A lot of times, a lot of people don’t really know what they’re supposed to do.”

Scott referred to both cyclers and drivers having confusion on the roads, which in turn, can cause a lot of accidents. In fact, the city of Austin has seen its bicycle accidents increase by 15 percent almost every year since 2007.

With the increase in bicycles due to the B-Cycle program, some are expecting this will only continue and perhaps get even worse.

“I’ve just heard such horror stories about people getting hit because there’s confusion as to who is turning or if the biker was going to go through a crosswalk,” Scott said. “Because of that confusion and also the fact that a lot of people don’t wear helmets, it’s really concerning.”

Although the number of bicycle accidents is increasing in Austin, the percent might be higher if all

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

accidents were reported. The Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying “people tend to only report a bicycle accident to the police when there is an injury or major damage. Most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.”

Despite all of the controversy, B-Cycle officials have yet to see a problem with its program.

“It hasn’t really been an issue for us,” said Elliott McFadden, the CEO of B-Cycle Austin. “Bike share systems have a stellar safety record throughout the world, and that is so far the case here.”

Austin resident Joy Messie does not see an issue either.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I’ve moved around a lot, and this is definitely the city I’ve lived in that has the most bike lanes and most biker-friendly stuff,” Messie said. “Some of the drivers in the city I think could do a better job.”

The answer to the question of bicycle safety in Austin remains split, but there are people out there trying to improve the city’s conditions. Nathan Wilkes, an engineer with Austin’s Bicycle Program, said Austin is looking to create a plan that would make for a safer transportation system.

He also added that 39 percent of residents fall into the category of “interested but concerned” to ride a bicycle on the streets. Wilkes said he believes there are ways to make cycling a more appealing option.

                                                                                   One includes what was recently implemented on Guadalupe Street – a cycle track that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Nevertheless, there are still concerns for increasing bicycle accidents with the new B-Cycle program, especially because the program enables people to ride bikes that don’t normally use them on the city’s roads.

 

 

Grocery shopping trends check out the digital aisle

By Joe McMahon, Alice Kozdemba and Silvana Di Ravenna

Grocery shopping in Austin, like many things in these days of smartphones and tablets, is going digital. Instacart is one of the newest services that offers Austinites an online grocery shopping service with HEB, Central Market, Royal Blue, Costco and Whole Foods.

The idea of grocery shopping at the touch of a button is gaining popularity in the U.S. as more grocery deliver services are entering the market. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna

 

Instacart allows customers to purchase all stock items from these Austin area stores, with the exception of alcohol and in house prepared food items. Customers have the option of getting their order delivered to an address within the city limits or picking up the order at the store. Adam Alfter, an Instacart representative at the Whole Foods Market in Austin, spoke about his experiences delivering food, and the ease the service offers to customers

“When I used to deliver, it would be to a lot of young mothers,” Alfter said. “People who are busy with kids who wanted to bypass the hassle of wrangling them into a car and getting them to the grocery store.”

 

Alfter, a full-time chef,  works with Instacart on the side. He no longer delivers, but stays in the store and does the actual shopping for customers who place their orders online.

“Probably one of the reasons I do this on the side is because I don’t mind being in a grocery store,” Alfter said. “It’s obnoxious going grocery shopping for some people because it can take two hours sometimes.”

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Accoring to Rachel Malish, Whole Foods’ Austin Media Community Relations Coordinator, the selling approach grocery delivery services are pitching  to consumers is that it saves shoppers time.

“I think what it does for us is it gives time back to customers when they don’t have time to go to the store and explore the aisles,” she said.

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Instacart was initially launched  in San Fransisco in 2012. It has since then expanded and Austin became the 12th city to offer the service in May.

“One of the things that we did when we launched it in Austin, was that we asked people if they wanted to use Instacart and in return we gave them a $5 gift card that they could go use in the store for a cup of coffee and read a magazine, or go to the bar and get a flight of wine,” Malish said, “So there’s definitely still effort put into bringing customers into the store as well as encouraging them to use the Instacart services.”

Instacart announced  a national deal with Whole Foods Market on Sept. 8 but despite it’s national score, it isn’t the first service to help shoppers speed up the weekly chore in Austin. Some smaller local delivery services such as Austin Grocer, Speedy Grocer and Greenling have all been in operation longer than Instacart. Founded in 2005, Greenling, which operates solely as a delivery service, also has the full selection of a grocery store, and everything they carry is locally or sustainably produced, or certified organic. Aside from the organic focus, Greenling Marketing Team Lead, Aspen Lewis, described the business relationship they have with farmers.

“We work directly with the producers and distributors,” Lewis said. “And we do have a warehouse, so local farmers will come directly to us from their farms and the rest we buy from distributors just like Whole Foods or any other grocery store would.”

“It’s definitely a space that’s heating up,” she said. “Some services only provide local produce so it’s much more of niche market, and then there’s services that don’t actually hold inventory, that just goes by on-demand. We’re able to offer a wider variety of items because we do hold our inventory and we can take customer requests more easily.”

Lewis, who said she has long had a passion for teaching people how to cook, thinks that home delivery helps consumers embrace traditional cooking and promotes healthy eating habits.

“One of our main tenants is that people have increasingly gotten away from the kitchen and that’s the reason our food has gotten so bad,” she added, “So making it exciting to create things at home is something I really enjoy about my job.”

These businesses also take to social media and highlight customers making these healthier choices.

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With socialization, transportation and now grocery shopping going digital, it’s anyone’s guess what will be next.

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3-D Technology Finally Free For UT Students

By: Jamie Balli, Silvana Di Ravenna, Briana Franklin, and Breanna Luna

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UT’s first 3D printing vending machine is the hot topic of technology accessible for students.
Photo Credit: Breanna Luna

AUSTIN – With all the talk about 3-D printing, a few questions still remain. What is in it for the consumer? How does 3-D printing work? Is it costly?

Since early September, 3-D printing has been available at no cost for all students at the University of Texas at Austin. The printer is located in the “T-Room” inside the Mechanical Engineering Building on campus.

Third-year aerospace engineer Kenzie Snell heard about the 3-D printer in the Longhorn Rocketry Association where students had to use it for their rockets. Students in other engineering courses are also using the printer for class projects.

“For my engineering design graphics course I had to recreate a water valve pipe that we took the dimensions of, created 3-D images of them, and then printed them for a final project,” Snell said.

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This rabbit was designed and printed using free 3-D technology
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

A software development group at the university’s school of engineering created an online portal for students to upload their own designs to the 3-D printer. And here is how the process of 3-D printing works. Each design is reviewed by an engineering student for approval. Students are notified via text message once their design has been approved and is in the process of printing. A second and final text message is sent when the design is finished printing and can be picked up.

“No one has to walk up to the machine and load files which is what typically happens with 3-D printers, and involves students kind of hanging around until it becomes available’’ said Dr. Carolyn Seepersad, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U.T.’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

According to Seepersad, students are customizing parts for themselves, including cuff links, initialed designs, and longhorns for the graduating class. Lately, Seepersad has noticed a significant amount of Pokemon figurines being printed.

“If they can draw it up on their computer, then they can print it out and have it pretty quickly, which is easier than going to the machine shop and trying to make it out of wood, steel, or metal,” said Seepersad.

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Students can pick up their creations at the Innovation Station once they are completed
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

3-D printing is also being used to make complex shapes in low volume that are not made with other manufacturing techniques used for high volume. According to Seepersad, 3-D printing “is not going to replace other forms of manufacturing,” but it’s going to “supplement manufacturing in very viable ways.”

“Essentially, what you would make in five pieces and glue them together in an assembly shop, a 3-D printer can do it in a single step,” said Dr. Vikram Devarajan, University of Texas alumnus and 3-D printing expert.

According to Devarajan, 3-D printing was invented about 20 to 25 years ago, and because all of the original patents have already expired, the cost of printing has since decreased. This has made 3-D printing much more affordable for the consumer.

The 3-D printer available for the students uses materials that are relatively inexpensive. The mechanical engineering department has offered to help pay for materials, but donations are also being accepted.

“We can print parts almost continuously and only have a couple thousand dollars of material costs at the end of the year,” said Seepersad. “The labor of keeping the machine updated and maintained is probably the biggest expense.”

According to Devarajan, U.T. owns several printers that employ two main types of additive manufacturing processes.The 3-D printer available for all students is based on a process called FDM [Fused Deposition Modeling] and is more reasonable in material costs. The other process, SLS [Selective Laser Sintering], is more expensive but can print more complex designs and is widely used in the medical and the aerospace industry.

“We couldn’t afford to open up [the SLS] process to students because of the material costs,” said Seepersad. “The parts printed from the 3-D printer downstairs rarely print anything that has more than a dollar’s worth of material.”

3-D printers range in price depending on the complexity of the printer itself. Printers using the SLS modeling process can print complex designs such as organs and complex flow field geometries. At U.T., a human heart modeled from a CT scan was printed, according to Devarajan.

“You can go buy an FDM 3-D printer for $1,000,” said Devarajan. “The SLS printers I have operated at U.T. are about half a million dollars each.”


3D Printing from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.