Candidates for mayor, as well as places 2, 5 and 6, showed up at Precinct 3 headquarters recently to answer questions of particular interest to Austinites living in the southwest quadrant of the city. Major themes included the Promiseland West (also known as Dream City) amphitheatre, single member districts, the Oak Hill town center and “giveaways” to developers.
About 50 people turned out for the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) City Council debate, which took place April 11 in lieu of the regular OHAN monthly meeting. Former State Representative Valinda Bolton moderated the event.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell faced his two opponents, former Council member Brigid Shea and self-proclaimed “citizen activist” Clay Dafoe. Leffingwell brought up recent reports touting Austin’s economic performance, the low tax rates and his goal to “leave Austin a better place than we found it.” He said “the record speaks for itself—AAA bond rating, no laid off employees and no deficit spending.”
Shea called herself “a proven leader”, citing her leadership in Cleanwater Action and Save Our Springs Alliance. The question, she states, is “what kind of a future do we want?” She says we should be “prosperous, but affordable” and claims that bad decisions have made Austin more expensive. She cites the city paying $13 million for Formual One infrastructure as an example. “We don’t need to pay people to move here,” she stated.
Clay Dafoe picked up on the same theme of “giveaways” and mentioned what he thought were ill-conceived rebates for Apple and the downtown Marriot in addition to Formula One. He also called for more Council meetings on Saturday to increase citizen participation.
The mayoral candidates were asked about their position on SH45. Leffingwell was for keeping it in the 2035 CAMPO plan while his challengers disagreed. Shea claimed that SH45 would “make MoPac a parking lot.” She proposes instead to improve existing roads such as Highway 290, and would support a “non-tolled, non-elevated parkway solution.” Clay concurred that we should “improve what we have.”
Place 2 candidates, incumbent Mike Martinez and challenger Laura Pressley answered questions about Capital Metro and improved service to this part of town. Pressley questioned the wisdom of spending so much for light rail to Leander and also brought up a theme repeated by many other challengers, that of “giveaways” to developers.
In the crowded Place 5 race, incumbent Bill Spelman faces six challengers on the ballot, but only three of them showed up for the OHAN forum. Tina Cannon, who is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Texas State, emphasized her many years as an Oak Hill resident, before moving to East Austin to escape the traffic problems. Iraq War veteran “Dom” Chavez likewise stressed South Austin roots. Candidate John Rubine arrived just as other Place 5 candidates were being seated.
Spelman touted his credentials as a UT professor at the LBJ School teaching his students to problem solve, saying that his role on Council was one of constant problem solving. He used as an example his recent discovery that the inspection process for bathroom contractors was overly cumbersome, causing delays and extra expenditures for the homeowner. He said that this was something that could easily be fixed. Tina Cannon said it was surprising that Spelman just now discovered this.
The question of why nothing was done to stop construction of the Promiseland amphitheatre, despite requests from adjacent Oak Hill neighborhoods to do so. Spelman replied that city lawyers had concluded that the issue was a constitutional one regarding religious assembly and that while the city could not stop the amphitheatre from being built, they could closely monitor and step in should there be noise violations or uses of the amphitheatre for other than religious assembly.
Place 6 incumbent Sheryl Cole faced challenger Shaun Ireland, who was also quick to point out that, unlike the entire City Council, he resided in South Austin. In her opening remarks, Cole talked about her roots in the PTA and chairing the school bond campaign. She emphasized her support for affordable housing, public safety and the Waller Creek project, which she said takes 11% of downtown out of the flood plain and puts it on the tax rolls. Ireland, in his opening remarks, stressed repairing broken infrastructure, support for single member districts and lowering taxes and the cost of living.
Both Cole and Ireland were asked whether they agreed with the CAMPO plan for 2035, which keeps SH45, or the Imagine Austin plan which removes it. Ireland, who is against SH45, said “We need to stop building new roads and repair the old ones.”
Cole’s response was “I am a member of the CAMPO Board and I voted for SH45.”
In closing, Ireland said “we need to spend money on the people who are already here” and claimed to be the “candidate of change.”
Cole, meanwhile, claimed that “people are losing trust in government and the clog in transportation is a major reason.” She points out how much better our quality of life would be if “we could take 10 minutes off of everyone’s commute.”
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