Tuesday, February 7, 2023

District 8 City Council candidates talk issues at OHAN

September 19, 2014  

Becky Bray, Eliza May, Darrell Pierce, Ed Scruggs and Ellen Troxclair.

by Bobbie Jean Sawyer

The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN) hosted a District 8 City Council Candidate forum during its Sept. 10 monthly meeting at the Southwest Family Fellowship Auditorium. Public transit, traffic congestion, land development codes, SH 45 and the Oak Hill Parkway were major topics of conversation.

Early voting for the first 10-ONE City Council election begins Oct. 20 and lasts through Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4.

The Candidates:

Becky Bray


Bray is a fourth-generation Austinite and a licensed professional transportation engineer. Bray said her extensive transportation background has given her the knowledge and ability to address one of Austin residents’ top concerns.

“Transportation and traffic are huge issues in District 8,” Bray said. “Throughout my career I have planned for and designed many roadways in Southwest Austin and the Central Texas area, therefore I believe I’m the only one uniquely qualified to address our traffic and transportation issues.”

On public transportation: Bray said bus service is almost non-existent in District 8 and she would work with Capital Metro to bring accessibility to Oak Hill.

“I would insure to you that Capital Metro and transit is provided down in this area.”

On the LifeAustin (formerly DreamCity) Amphitheater: Bray said the approximately 1,000 seat amphitheater is not an appropriate land use for an area originally zoned as rural residential, and would ask for a complete legal review.

“To me, from the outside looking in, there’s something very, very wrong with this situation,” Bray said. “This is like having Stubb’s or The Backyard or Zilker Park in your backyard. While I understand a civic use is applicable in a rural residential area, I don’t think it meant to allow for the abuse of this use by having the construction of a commercial amphitheater.”

On Save Our Springs (SOS) land development code and schools in Southwest Austin:

“Given the current climate of land availability in Southwest Austin, we have to allow allowances for school construction,” Bray said.

Bray said Oak Hill is lacking in community amenities, such as a community center, restaurants and hospitals. Bray said it’s imperative that CodeNext, Austin’s initiative to revise the land development code, moves forward.

SH 45 SW: Bray said she wholeheartedly supports building SH 45.

“I’ve been working with Commissioner Jones and Commissioner Daugherty for years on this project to make sure that’s it’s completed and completed in an environmentally sound manner,” Bray said.

On whether she has a preference for Option A, C or F for the Highway 290 West project (Oak Hill Parkway): “I have a slight preference for Alternative C and that’s primarily because much of the pavement that’s currently being put down for the continuous flow intersection will be re-used and therefore the cost can be decreased,” said Bray. “I also support the neighborhoods having very active involvement in the final design.”


Eliza May


May has lived in Austin since 1976 and has worked as a social worker with the Department of Human Services, served on the Economic Development Task Force and served as executive director of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

May said she joined the movement to bring geographic representation to Austin early on. “I was one of the leading architects for the creation of 10-ONE because this community as (with) many parts of our town, had not had a voice, and I felt that it was critically important that your voice be heard and that your voice be represented adequately at Council,” May said.

On public transportation: May said she would encourage outreach and communication on the part of Capital Metro to insure that citizens know all the services available to them and examine how routes could be altered to increase riders.

“I think if they were a little more open about how those different routes could be amended, that would possibly increase ridership as well,” May said. “We need to go back to the drawing board and see how we could improve the current bus service that we have in this area.”

On the LifeAustin Amphitheater: May said, as a City Council member, she would first gather the facts from the city manager, city staff and community residents.

“I think the role I would play would be to mediate some of the concerns and then figure out where we went wrong in terms of the decision making,” May said. “Following that, ensuring that we went back to the drawing table to see how we could best come up with a solution for it.”

On SOS land development code and schools in Southwest Austin: In response to overcrowding in AISD schools, May said her experience on the AISD bond oversight committee has given her insight into the challenges of building schools in environmentally sensitive areas, such as Southwest Austin.

May also said she would like to re-examine AISD’s transfer policy, which allows students to move around to different schools within the district. May said the policy risks driving up the population of certain schools. (Editor’s note: For years, AISD has frozen transfers to Austin and Bowie High schools, which are already overcrowded, and many other elementary and middle schools in the local area are also frozen to transfers).

“I’m not saying that’s what’s causing all of the overcrowding in our schools,” May said. “What I am saying is that it would probably help to alleviate some of those issues.”

May said it’s crucial that Southwest Austin is able to grow and develop small businesses, while maintaining its unique environmental features.

“I think it’s prudent upon our part to see how we can bring in small businesses and how we can allow small businesses to develop in that area so we’re able to get some business development and retention in that area,” May said.

SH 45 SW: “I think it’s incumbent on me as your city council member to ensure that the project is built on time and is built within the appropriate revenues that have been set forth,” May said. “Most importantly we need to make sure that the road project is actually built with all of the environmental protections that we can maximize within this project.”

On whether she has a preference for Option A, C or F for the Highway 290 West project (Oak Hill Parkway): “I support the project that the neighborhoods want. It’s that simple to me.”


Darrell Pierce


Pierce, a resident of Austin since 1981, has served on the General Services Commission as the Director of Executive Administration, as a commissioner on the Austin Planning Commission, and as a board member of the Western Oaks Homeowners Association. He’s also the principal and founder of SNAP management group, a firm specializing in process improvement and change management for government agencies.

Pierce said as council member he would work to bring a variety of groups and voices together for a common goal.

“I have a vision that I’m running on for this campaign and it’s ‘one team, one dream, one city.’ I think it’s going to be critical for our community that we’re able to develop common voices around critical issues, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s how we approach affordable living, whether it’s how we protect our open spaces and parks and make sure we have a recreation center in our community—developing a common voice is going to be critical,” Pierce said. “My dream is that we’ll be able to improve where we live, learn, work and play.”

On public transportation: Pierce said he would begin by working to develop a comprehensive plan that connects to other communities and gets commuters from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

“If you have a plan you’re in a great position to be able to receive funding,” Pierce said. “If you look at it from a customer service perspective the question becomes how convenient, how accessible and how streamlined is that service?”

On the LifeAustin Amphitheater: Pierce said the controversy is a good example of why the city planning department needs to be re-engineered.

“I think this is a good example of the bureaucracy that has been developed that’s being passed on to renters and homeowners,” Pierce said.

Pierce said he would work to resolve the issue by bringing together appropriate parties and attempt to find common ground. Following that, he would examine the city’s actions and determine whether inappropriate action was taken by city staff.

“If we’re unable to mediate or come up with a win-win solution, I think the next thing we have to look at is simply what is it that the staff may or may not have done that was inappropriate,” Pierce said. “If we can identify what that inappropriate action was, then we can determine what the appropriate remedies would be in making this hopefully a win-win situation and the community would be heard fairly.”

On the SOS land development code and schools in Southwest Austin: Pierce said CodeNext presents a great opportunity for Austin, adding that it will “reset the foundation” for city planning. Pierce said the key will be planning for development in Southwest Austin by revising codes and ensuring the infrastructure to provide for future schools. Pierce said it’s important that all parties are involved in the process.

“Clearly, AISD, the city and the county should work in collaboration,” Pierce said. “I think we can make sure that we designate certain areas that might be appropriate for land purchase for the development of a new school.”

Pierce said amenities can be built in Southwest Austin while still adhering to environmental standards.

“I think we can simplify the process but still make sure the development we’re engaged in is safe—is responsible to our environmental needs—but also meets our basic community needs.”

SH 45 SW: “The city of Austin has no authority over this project other than our role that we have in CAMPO (the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization). Clearly, this is an option that should be part of our toolbox, but more importantly what I think is important for us to do as council (members) is focus on what we can control. That is to make sure we have continuous flow at La Crosse and Slaughter,” Pierce said. “We should stay focused on what it is that we can control and stay within our lanes.”

On whether he has a preference for Option A, C or F for the Highway 290 West project (Oak Hill Parkway): “Right now A and C offer some of the height restriction that people are concerned about, but also have an ability to get on and off in case of emergencies,” Pierce said. “I understand some of the philosophy and concepts behind F. I think what we need to do is continue to let the process play out.”


Ed Scruggs


Scruggs, a 23-year Austin resident, has served on the Circle C Homeowners Association, where he helped transition the organization from developer-controlled to homeowner-controlled and led a plan to create amenities in Circle C. He also helped to get funding for Gorzycki Middle School, Clayton Elementary and Baldwin Elementary.

“I want to bring that passion to work for you in Southwest Austin. This area has not been heard. You know it hasn’t been heard and every time you drive past the construction equipment stored out there on 290 you know your voice hasn’t been heard,” Scruggs said. “That’s going to change under this new system. I’m going to bring a voice to you and a voice to the City Hall to make sure everyone here is heard.”

On public transportation: Scruggs said the bus service in Austin needs better connectivity. “The problem with the bus service that we do have is that it doesn’t connect to anything. That’s the big problem,” Scruggs said. “You ride to the end and then you wait and hour or an hour and a half for a transfer and if you come back too late at night sometimes you have to go out to almost the airport to come back. It’s just not practical to use.”

Scruggs said southwest Austin is in a position to have a larger commuter ridership.

“This is where the growth is. This is where the commuters are and we need to be a part of the discussions that take place in Austin.”

On the LifeAustin Amphitheater: Scruggs said the approval of the amphitheater is another example of city staff being out of touch with the citizens of Oak Hill.

“They don’t know that this is not a rural area,” Scruggs said. “There’s not an understanding of what a facility like this would do.”

Scruggs said the community should have had the opportunity to voice concern in a public forum from the beginning.

“If I lived near this I would be hopping mad,” Scruggs said. “This hints at city management problems and the way the departments are configured. With the new council we have the opportunity to make a lot of changes and this type of thing has to change and it can’t be allowed.”

On SOS land development code and schools in Southwest Austin: “When we talk about CodeNext in Southwest Austin, in many ways we’re talking about the (Save Our Springs) Ordinance and how that should be amended or whether that should be amended. I think for schools I can favor some allowances but we have to be very, very careful about that.”

Scruggs said Southwest Austin is in need of a new high school as well as renovations and expansion of existing schools, Bowie in particular.

“If we have to make some amendments to allow for some measured expansion of Bowie…I would favor doing that right away. I think we need to make allowances for schools and libraries and public entities.”

SH 45 SW:   “I have to honestly tell you that I do not support it. I know deep down it will destroy Mopac,” Scruggs said. “Mopac can’t handle its current capacity.”

On whether he has a preference for Option A, C or F for the Highway 290 West project (Oak Hill Parkway): I favor a non-tolled option, which is F, although—knowing the way things are—if we can get a combination of A and C with what is best in F, that’s important,” Scruggs said. “You need access to your homes that is convenient and free and you also need to be able to access commercial services near you and mitigate sound and light pollution.”


Ellen Troxclair


Troxclair gained her public policy experience by working at the State Capitol, dealing with constituent services and relations, and researching public policy issues such as transportation and the state budget. She also works as a realtor, which she says has given her a window into the lives of Austin residents and their concerns.

“I hear on a daily basis how the decisions that city council is making is affecting peoples’ daily lives, their families and their businesses,” Troxclair said. “The two questions they inevitably ask me are: ‘how much are my property taxes going to be and how long is it going to take me to get downtown in rush hour traffic?’ I have a really great mix of public policy experience, but also running my own business as well.”

On public transportation: Troxclair said she was shocked to find out that Oak Hill is not even on the map for Project Connect, a group made up of Capital Metro staff, city employees and regional transportation officials working to provide better public transportation connectivity in Austin.

“It blows my mind how many other communities they’re serving outside of Austin when one of the main commuter areas of our district is not getting the service it needs,” Troxclair said. “We can’t have the ridership if we don’t have the routes and the times that make sense for us.”

Troxclair said if elected she will make it her goal to improve public transit in District 8.

“I’m absolutely determined to work with Capital Metro to improve service in the area.”

On the LifeAustin Amphitheater: Troxclair said land development codes have become confusing and difficult to enforce, leading to inappropriate land use.

“Even the own staff of the city doesn’t know how to correctly interpret and enforce (codes). We’ve got to make sure that through the CodeNext process, which is going to be revising our land use and development codes, comes up with a plan that is clear, concise, fair, that allows for public input at all times, that is transparent and equally applied across the board.”

Troxclair said she wants to make sure council members are held accountable for the decisions they make.

“There’s been a very hands-off approach,” Troxclair said. “As a city council member I will make sure that the city manager and the city staff know that they’re ultimately accountable to the people who were elected and I”m ultimately accountable to you, the voters.”

On SOS land development code and schools in Southwest Austin: Troxclair said the quality of education in Austin is being threatened by overcrowding. “We need to make sure that the needs of our area are being served,” Troxclair said. “Bowie is the most overcrowded high school in the city. With new growth the most important thing we must do is make sure that we have the school capacity to accommodate that growth.”

SH 45 SW: “At the end of the day the voters approved and paid for the right-of-way to build this road. I think we’ve seen that this mentality of ‘if-you-don’t-build-it-they-won’t-come’ when it comes to road infrastructure is part of what’s gotten us in this mess today,” Troxclair said. “I do support the building of SH 45. I want to make sure it’s done in an environmentally safe way, which TxDOT has committed to do.”

On whether she has a preference for Option A, C or F for the Highway 290 West project (Oak Hill Parkway): “I think it’s important that we continue to voice our opinions on this issue. We’re the ones who live here, we’re the ones who need access to our homes, we’re the ones who want to preserve our communities while improving mobility for the region,” Troxclair said. “I just want to make sure that this public input process continues and that our opinion is taken into account with TxDOT.”



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