Meet The City of Austin Candidates for Mayor

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This November, the City of Austin will hold its first-ever election under the new 10-1 district system, and shift the voting date from May to November. As a result, the electorate is expected to increase by over 200%.

Burnt Orange Report reached out to all 78 people running for Austin City Council and mayor to learn more about their opinions about the biggest issues facing Austin. For more on this election cycle, click here.

First up: the candidates for Mayor.


What is the number one issue facing Austin and what do you plan to do about it?
Steve Adler: Affordability is the big issue facing Austin. Newcomers and long-time residents feel the crush of housing prices rising five times faster than incomes. Utility rates are on a continual rise as well, and our city doesn’t yet have a plan to deal with our utilities’ business models. We are in danger of losing the very things that make Austin a special place. We’re doing a great job bringing in new employers and economic growth, but nearly 60% of jobs created in the last five years don’t pay a living wage. We’re the only large city in the U.S. losing its African-American population. I’ve proposed a 20% homestead exemption to give Austin homeowners tax relief. It’s not ideal and not the tool I would choose if other options were available. I have seen too many families and older Austinites pushed out of their homes. We can’t stand by and say there is nothing we can do. We also need to build and train to a larger middle class.
Sheryl Cole: The number one issue facing Austin is affordability (with transportation a related and close second). If we continue to see skyrocketing demand that exceeds the supply of new inventory Austin will lose the diversity that makes this such a special place to live. I will continue to lead the effort for more affordable housing through general obligation bonds and collaboration with the non-profit sector, and we must work with the market and use the density bonus program to guarantee on-site affordability in new developments. I also plan to see the rewrite of the Land Development Code through to its completion and work towards alleviating undo regulations that make the cost of housing unaffordable.
Mike Martinez: Working class and middle class families make up the fabric of our community, and Austin is facing an affordability crisis which disproportionately impacts these folks. Most Austinites are renters as well. We should consider their needs as part of every policy decision we make as a Council, which has been my priority during my time as a Council Member. I was proud to initiate the process that led the Council to approve the first increase of the homestead exemption for seniors and the disabled since 1996. I’ve also championed creating a Homestead Preservation District which will allow residents to stay in their homes that might have otherwise been pushed out of the City as a result of rising property taxes. We should also work to reduce the regressive fees that both homeowners and renters pay each month and encourage the state legislature to allow cities like Austin to give flat rate homestead exemptions. If elected, the middle class will be my top priority as your Mayor.
David Orshalick: Our growth model is unsustainable and must be fixed, unless we don’t mind a complete turnover of residents replaced by those who have higher paying jobs. But that would also be unsustainable because a healthy economy and community includes diversity. The Texas property tax system is at the core of our problems: Austin’s rapid growth puts a high demand (and cost) on City resources which keeps property tax rates high at the same time that property values are soaring. This impacts everyone, whether residential or commercial, and whether renting or owning property. The costs of living and doing business are steadily increasing. Some answers are to reduce the demand for housing in Austin’s core by stopping all outside marketing efforts, increase the supply of affordable housing significantly, reduce property taxes by 20% across all taxing authorities through operational efficiencies (strategic planning), grow our economy from within, and reduce utility fees (hidden regressive taxes).
Randall Stephens: Mobility funding crisis: Direct attention toward State and City funding sources to remove traffic lights from our commuter freeways as with the intersections of E. Riverside Dr. and SH71;and, SH71 & Thornberry near ABIA. Refocus political efforts area-wide to fund commuter rail in the greater CTRMA area since the political center of gravity on transportation funding has changed with area growth.
Do you support the 2014 Transportation Bond? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and explanation.
Steve Adler: Yes. We must start immediately on long-term infrastructure projects like this light rail program. We just can’t delay any longer. I’m frustrated by a process that should have produced agreements on core details of the plan. We are still having arguments over route, funding, maintenance, and operation of this system. So many want to fix congestion, our leaders should have given us community consensus. The next council will have the ability to revisit decisions this council is now making.
Sheryl Cole: Yes. I support Prop 1. We need a comprehensive transportation solution that includes both roads and rail, as well as bicycle and pedestrian modes of transportation. We cannot just build our way out of congestion. Prop 1 will improve mobility across the city, help us obtain an additional $600 million in federal dollars, and lay the foundation for the regional Project Connect vision. Finally, I added a provision that ensured we will only incur this debt if we get the federal matching dollars.
Mike Martinez: Yes. Expansion of rail is overdue, and we must provide our community with options to address mobility. By leveraging federal dollars, we have an opportunity to provide improved services at a value to Austinites. The 2014 bond proposal and the vision of Project Connect will be invaluable tools as we address our traffic problems in Austin. My proven leadership on transportation makes me uniquely qualified to help ensure that the implementation of rail is a success once approved by voters.
David Orshalick: No. The plan is not cost effective, benefits few at expense of many, increases demand for housing and roads (inflationary, more traffic), raises cost of living directly through property taxes, is in the wrong place. The City must first have a reliable and competent mass transit partner. Austinites pay $75 in subsidy for every Red Line rider’s $5.50 roundtrip ticket; urban rail may be worse. Combining rail and road in one bond is fraudulent and limits public choice. We need Cellular Mass Transit.
Randall Stephens: No. – The Prop 1 bond package has held road improvements hostage to our acceptance of a rail plan that has little support – based on feedback I have received from taxpayers. If the rail system went to ABIA at this stage, it would take commuters off the freeway. The new rail system adds a complete new system of spares inventory, training, and maintenance.
What are the top three policies you propose to improve mobility and decrease traffic congestion in Austin?
Steve Adler: 1. Immediately push for more staggered work hours and telecommuting. We can push major governmental employers and large downtown employers to stagger work hours with the goal of impacting rush hour. Telecommuting makes sense for our high-tech community that currently has several gigabit fiber systems under installation. 2. Build more infrastructure. We need it all – roads, rail, bikeways, sidewalks, and anything else that can help move people around our city. We also need to address our legacy taxi system and work to provide more peak time capacity – including on public transit. 3. Better land planning. We must provide urban-like places outside of downtown for people to work and play. I can’t imagine Austin in twenty years without a mid-town area. We need more density in appropriate places, and we need infrastructure to support that density.
Sheryl Cole: Number one on this for me is to continue working to get Lone Star Rail built out. This rail line will connect communities between Georgetown and San Antonio, and will stitch together Central Texas like never before. Next, I’d like to see all of the governmental agencies (the City, County, State and UT) join forces and work to tackle congestion together. These entities employ tens of thousands of people and we can pool our parking resources together as well as explore ways to avoid having all of our employees on the road at the same time by working with community organizations like Mobility Austin. And I am passionate about following through on Imagine Austin’s vision of a compact and connected city. More residents should have the option to live closer to where they to live, work, and play. Shorter commuting distances means that our current transportation network becomes more efficient.
Mike Martinez: As Chair of the Capital Metro Board of Directors, I helped lead our transit agency out of near financial disaster into a place of fiscal security while expanding services such as Bus Rapid Transit and the Red Line. The agency has earned national recognition for unparalleled transparency and provides about 30 million trips each year. By providing quality and reliable public transportation, we give our residents alternative options that encourage reduction of single occupancy vehicles on our roads. I fully support Project Connect and continuing to improve our multimodal options in Austin. Our soon-to-be updated Bicycle Master Plan, Sidewalk Plan, and Urban Trails Plan will all significantly improve the state of transit in Austin. We must continue to view transportation as an integrated system and approach future initiatives in a way that ensures connectivity and access for everyone in our community. I will continue my leadership on all aspects of transportation as Mayor of Austin.
David Orshalick: Mass transit serves less than 5% of all passenger miles in Austin. (1) The other 95% requires immediate fixing of our roads: expand I-35 to a 12-lane superhighway; expand Mopac to 10 lanes by moving Union Pacific track east of Austin; turn north-south corridors (Lamar, Burnet, SoCo, Airport) into 6-lane boulevards before constructing VMU’s and increasing traffic. A revamped City Transportation Department will eliminate traffic hotspots. (2) If CapMetro becomes a reliable and competent mass transit partner for the City, its $300 million annual budget is sufficient to meet our mass transit needs. Instead of urban rail, I endorse Cellular Mass Transit (CMT) developed by Richard Schultz which uses Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) serving 22 Transit Centers in Austin. BRT is the most efficient and cost-effective approach to mass transit. Construct bus stops to allow buses to pull out of traffic lanes. (3) Entice demand (and traffic) outside Austin’s core through Innovation Districts.
Randall Stephens: Lobby Texas Legislature, TXDOT to increase funding to RMAs. Build bridges, frontage and turnabouts to remove traffic lights from freeways; improve off-ramps to allow drivers to optionally bypass intersections where possible, Seek RMA approval of voters in the greater area to fund commuter rail with urban service. Increase bus service from the entertainment district to area Park & Ride facilities to a 24 hour schedule. Work with rideshare and insurance companies to empower individuals to carry riders for pay.
Rents are skyrocketing in Austin. Do you support increasing the rental housing supply, and if so, where?
Steve Adler: I support increasing supply of all housing. We must get ahead of the supply-demand imbalance, but the city isn’t doing itself any favors. We have a confusing and complicated land development code and a permitting process that takes twice as long as Round Rock and eight times as long as Dallas. It’s unpredictable, expensive, and it impacts the type and affordability of housing that gets built. We should support UT building more dorms to free up supply.
Sheryl Cole: Yes. We are desperate for more private sector housing inventory at all price points, especially in our urban core. I’m happy to see the thousands of units coming online right now and the thousands more under construction and in the pipeline. As to where I feel these homes should be built, my preference is for them to be on transit routes and in walkable areas, as envisioned by Imagine Austin.
Mike Martinez: The recent affordable housing bonds are one way to address the need, but market forces are also part of the equation. I support increased density on our transit corridors and in the urban core as a way to create affordable units and meet increased demand. No single solution will address our housing needs, but encouraging density will be a critical tool as we work to provide an adequate supply of housing options. I also support granny flats as another tool to create affordability.
David Orshalick: City says we’re 34,000 affordable housing units in the hole, so significantly increase housing supply while significantly reduce demand in Austin’s core, plus transform CapMetro into competent and reliable mass transit partner to facilitate transit oriented development outside the core. Innovation Districts outside Austin’s core can supply affordable housing while satisfying demand for walkable urban spaces. Build 22 transit centers across Austin with integrated affordable housing units.
Randall Stephens: Yes! My “Inspire Austin” growth plan decentralizes Austin growth. I will encourage new policy to develop Capital Metro – connected rental and condo housing, retail and light industry in an extended Innovation District along the length of SH183 from North to South as well as wherever we build rail stations; and, dedicate a larger share of Austin’s incentives funding to regional small business employer relocation into Austin’s new “growth ring” as per my Inspire Austin Plan.
How can we make sure the city’s infrastructure is equipped to handle its growth?
Steve Adler: One way we can do this is to consider enacting the state-authorized transportation impact fee on new development. This tool exists to help cities pay for infrastructure necessary to support growth. We have other tools available to direct and support growth, including our land development code and public improvement districts. We need to use every tool available. We need leadership and political will.
Sheryl Cole: The city has done a tremendous job upgrading our water and wastewater capacity, and maintaining our public safety sector, but our roads in the central city have been at capacity for motor vehicles for years. Few people want to see roads like South 1st or Lamar expanded ever wider to accommodate more cars. We need mobility options. That means bike and dedicated public transit lanes, busses, and urban and commuter rail.
Mike Martinez: As a result of an item I cosponsored, we’ve changed our impact fee approach to ensure that developers pay fees that are sufficient to cover the costs of the City to provide services. I believe we need to create triggers for economic incentive deals. Cost of development should not be shouldered by our ratepayers and residents. I will continue to look for ways to shape our policies to ensure that we are not passing on the costs of growth to our middle class working families and renters.
David Orshalick: Write a new Comprehensive Plan with a new preferred growth concept map. Plot the infrastructure capacity for every property in Austin on a new GIS city website tool that shows all history, permitting, sales data, infrastructure capacity, zoning, code violations, etc. for every property in Austin. Recapture the true costs of growth and required infrastructure upgrades through the permitting process. Introduce strategic planning citywide and in all departments.
Randall Stephens: My “Inspire Austin” plan calls on city managers to adopt “smart growth” methods used in the business sector to lower the per capita cost of providing city services 5%-20% over the next six years without touching employee pay or benefits. “Plan ahead, measure twice, cut once”. General obligation bonds issued must have a certain amount of return from the building firms after property sales, for early bond retirement. Mobility planning and infrastructure is key.
What is your favorite thing about Austin?
Steve Adler: When I moved to Austin in 1978, I thought I would only be here for law school. Like many others, I fell in love with this city because it has a special soul and spirit. What I liked most then and what I still love now is that nobody is too good for Austin and everybody is good enough. You can go to a lunch counter and sit next to a musician who is next to a CEO who is next to a government worker who is next to a high-tech entrepreneur. Our diversity is what makes our city great.
Sheryl Cole: Austin’s a tolerant, independent, and vibrant place. We serve as Texas’s progressive conscience. As an African American woman I have found opportunity here. I earned my law degree, make a good living, and raised a wonderful family. This is isn’t by accident. My mother wasn’t welcome in Barton Springs, but this City is capable of change. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I am a one voice in a chorus with room for all voices. That big, weird, off-key chorus is what Austin can and should be.
Mike Martinez: During my 22 years of public service, I’ve learned that the most special thing about our City is the people that live here. Austin is fortunate to have a diverse population that enriches our local culture with its creativity and innovation and helps build our city with its activism and involvement in local policy. I’m running for Mayor because I believe that everyone matters, and I will fight to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share in Austin’s prosperity.
David Orshalick: I am in awe of our passions. Some crave the music scene, as musician or attendee, at small venues or giant extravaganzas. Some epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit as seen at lean startup meetups. Some love outdoor pursuits, walking or cycling our trails or roads, boating our lakes, swimming our pools. Others promote and protect our environment; others our neighborhoods. Volunteerism runs high, whether for helping people or our creeks. Some crave civic engagement. And all while staying friendly.
Randall Stephens: The people of Austin are the most welcoming and tolerant folks I ever came to know and love. My wife came to the USA with a foreign medical degree, and found nothing but institutional discrimination from Dallas area medical residency (federally funded job training, equal employment opportunity) programs; but Austin’s Blackstock Clinic called and said; “come on over”. She did. We came. I transferred with my employer and we found a home for life.
Why should readers of Burnt Orange Report vote for you?
Steve Adler: We need a new way forward. Traffic is getting worse. Our city is getting too expensive. We have a looming water crisis. We’re the only big city experiencing double-digit growth that is also losing its African American population. The current path won’t work. I love this city. I’m concerned about losing what makes it special. For those who love Austin and want to see it remain a city for everyone, where the middle class can afford to own a home and get around, I ask for your vote.
Sheryl Cole: I’m running for Mayor because I can bridge the gap between the Austin we know and the Austin we show. I fought to protect the tax base, environment, and progressive values. 10-1 changed the game. To make it work, we need a Mayor who knows where the bathroom key is and how the budget works. We need a Mayor that understands how to collaborate! Martinez’s “My Way or the Highway” approach or Adler’s “New Way Forward” won’t lead, guide, or teach a new Council how to govern. I can and will.
Mike Martinez: As a former Austin firefighter, I believe no one should be left behind and that City Hall should work for all of us. I have taken on special interests and fought for middle class families, led the fight to hold corporations who get tax breaks accountable for paying living wages and providing benefits, cracked down on payday lenders who overcharge consumers, and protected our environment from big polluters. As your next Mayor, I’ll keep fighting for everyone in Austin, including our renters.
David Orshalick: My campaign epitomizes the progressive spirit. My platform is large and includes social equity: I’m pointing out the substandard housing crisis and institutional racism. I’m the only neighborhood activist and advocate in the mayor’s race, and the only candidate to promote 10-1 and help Austinites for Geographic Representation pass this historic Charter revision. But best of all, I’m the only candidate with a clear understanding and appreciation for our problems (crises) with actual solutions.
Randall Stephens: I’m committed to the concept of One Austin, working with every group, listening to all citizens and resolving our complex local issues as one community. I will “Inspire Austin” to improve mobility, uplift and empower indigents with a “Fusion Center” approach to enrolling the least among us in State and Federal programs; and, help save Austin property owners millions of dollars on Emergency Room visits alone while providing a pathway to medical care, education, empowerment and housing.

Early voting begins Monday, October 20. Click here for information about voting in the 2014 election.


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Burnt Orange Report

Burnt Orange Report, or BOR for short, is Texas' largest political blog, written from a progressive/liberal/Democratic standpoint.

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