Meet the City of Austin Council Candidates for District 9

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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.

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.

Below, meet the candidates for District 9.

Austin City Council Map

District 9

What is the number one issue facing Austin and what do you plan to do about it?
Erin McGann:
The main issue facing Austin is affordability. There are two reasons Austin is becoming less affordable. One is because demand outweighs supply in almost everything, and the other is the City budget needs to be reduced. I intend to audit the budget and reduce the excess. We can save about $30 million by reducing the fund for unfilled vacancies that equals 9.7% of the current workforce. Those funded unfilled positions are carried from year to year and the money is used for other purposes. We should stop using taxpayer dollars to court businesses and offer incentives. Austin is a dynamic intelligent city with a well-educated population. This is what will keep companies coming to Austin. In the upcoming year Austin will have the opportunity to solicit bids for developing land in the Mopac and 35th street area. We must assure those areas have a variety of housing options- town homes, apartments, elder housing, stand alone homes etc- so we can create a robust environment for our citizens.
Chris Riley:
Austin is facing a housing crisis. If we don’t increase the supply of housing units quickly, we risk pricing out many of the people who make Austin the amazing place that it is. Austin embraces diversity; this wouldn’t be the same city without musicians, artists, small business owners, teachers, tech start-ups and many others. If we keep stifling the supply of housing units within the city, we’re going to lose that diversity. I plan to continue to work for more and more varied housing types. I’ll advocate for more multifamily in the central city and along corridors where residents don’t have to use a car for every trip. I’ll continue to work to make it easier to develop different kinds of housing, including garage apartments, micro units, and tiny houses. I’m working on these solutions right now, not waiting for our land development code rewrite to take care of it. We’re in a housing crisis now, and we need to solve it.
Kathie Tovo:
Affordability. Residents of all income levels should be able to afford to live in Austin. Yet, rising property values, fees, and overall costs of living are forcing families out of their homes. Council must relieve the tax and fee burdens on Austin residents. I have taken the lead on affordability, including successfully fighting off a proposed 12% energy rate hike; taking initial steps on property tax reform by increasing the homestead exemption and laying out a plan to restore balance to our appraisal process; and pushing for increased access to energy efficiency programs for renters and low-income residents. I have championed affordable housing—from using city-owned land to build units to rehabilitation efforts that maintain affordable units in our central city. I have fought for responsible use of taxpayer money by strengthening the economic incentive review process; emphasizing workforce development and local businesses; and voting against subsidies for F1, Marriott, and every 2014 incentives proposal.
Do you support the 2014 Transportation Bond? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and explanation.
Erin McGann:
No, I do not support the current rail proposal. The cost is too high for the result of the rail. Less than 2% of the estimated population will be served by this rail, it is more expensive than almost every other recent rail build and it will not reduce congestion on the highways. We can do better, with more flexibility and faster with reduction in congestion by building park and rides around the city on our most congested routes, and offering quality service including extended hours.
Chris Riley:
Yes. We need to make a serious investment in transit. We know that building more and more roads is not going to build us out of congestion. We need a high-capacity system, connecting a great mix of land uses across the city, and this bond is a good step in that direction.
Kathie Tovo:
Yes; I voted to put the urban rail on the ballot and will support it. Austin must reduce its dependence on the automobile. Urban rail is critically important to improving affordability, mobility, and the quality of life of Austin’s residents. It will also help reduce our community’s collective impact on the environment (air quality, land use, and urban heat island effects). This initial line is an investment in a larger, more robust transportation network that serves all of Austin.
What are the top three policies you propose to improve mobility and decrease traffic congestion in Austin?
Erin McGann:
Increased better maintained bike paths for those who find biking a great way to get around. Fix the sidewalks and add more sidewalks. This is not easy as we need about $850 million worth of sidewalks to make Austin connected. Increase the bus routes and utilize all different bis options. For less populated routes we can use smaller busses and more populated routes more, bugger busses. We can increase the taxi licenses and the bring in TNC’s.
Chris Riley:
1. Compact and connected development patterns with a mix of uses. We’re seeing more and more people wanting to spend less time in their cars—which is healthier for them and better for the environment. We should be making that easier for everyone.
2. Better bike and pedestrian infrastructure. There’s no reason that Austinites should have to get in the car for very short trips. Not only does culling these short trips off of our roads make it easier for the person taking the trip, it also removes those trips from the streets, making it easier for those taking longer trips to get around.
3. More transit and transportation data. Having technology at our fingertips means we don’t have to guess—we can take the right mode easily every time, without having to wait endlessly. And in a compact, connected city, technology can open up any number of alternative modes, letting everyone choose the one that works best for themselves.
Kathie Tovo:
(1)Improve Transit Options. Austin must invest in and develop policies to support a multi- modal transportation network, which includes public transportation (urban rail, rapid bus); bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure (bike lanes, sidewalks, and safety devices); and strategic roadway improvements (fixing intersections and removing bottle necks). I voted in favor of Project Connect, because I support its vision for long-term investments in our transportation network. (2)Manage Growth. Land use and infrastructure decisions should be harmonized. Growth should be guided to transit corridors and new town centers, where there is opportunity to accommodate additional units supported by public transit. (3)Create Safe Streets. I co-drafted the Families and Children Taskforce Report, which provides a blueprint for making our neighborhood streets safer, including recommendations for traffic calming, educational programs, and investments in Safe Routes to Schools.
Rents are skyrocketing in Austin. Do you support increasing the rental housing supply, and if so, where?
Erin McGann:
We need an increased supply of all housing in Austin. Currently all the development in the central city area is high end small units. None of the development is appropriate for families. We can approve housing that is affordable and can be access able for all budgets. I think we need more housing all over the city, we should encourage people to work and live close together if possible as this will reduce road congestion as well.
Chris Riley:
I’ve supported increasing rental housing throughout the central city. Rental units like garage apartments are a great way to accommodate density in neighborhoods. We also need more options along our corridors, in transit nodes, and in activity centers like Downtown or West Campus. And in between those denser areas and single-family homes, we need more “missing middle” housing options. We can do way better at providing all these options than we’ve done for the past 50 years.
Kathie Tovo:
Austin needs to both build more rental units and increase ownership opportunities. I support the comprehensive and neighborhood plans’ visions of accommodating new density along
transit corridors and in transit-supported town centers, while still preserving the qualities that make each neighborhood unique. We must encourage a mix of housing types (more 2 and 3- bedrooms) and preserve (through rehabilitation) and build more affordable units to provide housing for families of all sizes and income levels.
How can we make sure the city’s infrastructure is equipped to handle its growth?
Erin McGann:
The new council needs to require development impact fees to pay for infrastructure as allowed by state law. We must utilize every opportunity to shore up the infrastructure. On the November ballot State Proposition 1 will allow for millions of dollars to improve road and bridge infrastructure. I hope the citizens of Texas approve this proposition.
Chris Riley:
We need to do better at thinking ahead about development. With a new comprehensive plan to guide us, and a new land development code on the way, we should be making smarter investments so that infrastructure is ready for growth. We also need to work with regional partners to address infrastructure outside the city. It’s not just about right-sizing utilities; it’s also about providing transportation infrastructure that will make all modes – including walking, biking, transit – safe and appealing.
Kathie Tovo:
Imagine Austin should guide infrastructure investments, managing growth and coordinating with other jurisdictions. Development impact fees should recover full extension costs, so we can prioritize capital improvements on existing infrastructure needs. Natural resources and green infrastructure (parks, tree canopy, creeks) must be protected and enhanced. And, we must improve building efficiency standards and invest in conservation programs to avoid unnecessary infrastructure costs, like WTP#4.
What is your favorite thing about Austin?
Erin McGann:
I love the small city feel of Austin, even though it is becoming a big city. The people of Austin are smart, thoughtful and caring. I began running when I moved to Austin and find great love in the athletic community. I volunteered 10 years for SXSW and adore that this event exists and that I am a part of it. The always changing, dynamic vibrant community in Austin is the best part of living here.
Chris Riley:
Austin has a vibe that other cities, even other great cities, don’t have. It’s hard to pin it to just one thing. I think our amazing small businesses contribute to it, as does our sense of being a healthy city, a city with great nightlife, a city that loves animals and being outdoors, a city that loves food, a city of pickups and bikes, and a city that is a blue oasis in the middle of a very red state. It’s a place for everyone, and we all contribute to that Austin vibe in our own weird way.
Kathie Tovo:
The people. Austin is racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. To maintain that diversity, we’ll need imagination to solve the challenges ahead and a philosophy that puts the people and livability of Austin first. I’ll continue to work to make Austin a city where students, professionals, service workers, seniors, and families with children can all thrive.
Why should readers of Burnt Orange Report vote for you?
Erin McGann:
I am the only non incumbent running in district 9. I have a background in finance, auditing multimillion dollar trades for fraud, and reviewing contracts for compliance and making budget recommendations. I manage up to 20 people around the state in a reentry program that facilitates criminal offenders return to society. I am active in two groups on homelessness and volunteered on the Citizens Review Panel through the Office of the Police Monitor for 4 years. I will serve the people of Austin.
Chris Riley:
I grew up here in Austin, and I love this city, but I’m not under some illusion that I’m going to keep it exactly the way it was when I was a kid or stop people from moving here. The Uber/Lyft issue is a good example of how I view policy: I don’t just say no because something is new and different. I see Austin as a place that’s creative and innovative; a place that can embrace change to keep on being the awesome, progressive place that we all love.
Kathie Tovo:
In 2011, I promised to represent everyday Austinites, understanding the impacts council decisions have on the lives of people and their families. I have kept that promise. I prioritize the needs of current residents, e.g. establishing a meals program for seniors, supporting pre-K programs, and voting to restore public library hours. And, I support investments in a more sustainable future, e.g. pursuing a water-efficient economy, shifting to renewable energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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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