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Place 4 candidates criticize Capital Metro

Thursday, May 1, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The candidates for Place 4 on the Austin City Council clashed over affordable housing, the future of Capital Metro, light rail, and the city’s efforts to make older homes more energy-efficient during a debate sponsored on News 8 Austin. The debate, moderated by anchor News 8 Austin Crestina Chavez and reporter Reagan Hackleman, included all six candidates running for the seat being vacated by incumbent Place 4 Council Member Betty Dunkerley.


Several candidates offered suggestions for improving Capital Metro, especially in the area of customer service. “The problem with Capital Metro is they think that if you’re sitting at a bus stop, you don’t have any other options,” said Robin Cravey. “We have to change that paradigm to serving the customers, to marketing to the customers, to making it convenient for people to get around by Capital Metro.”


Laura Morrison had a similar complaint about the transit agency, saying she had noticed during her work with the agency through the Austin Neighborhoods Council that “there doesn’t seem to be a clear mentality at Capital Metro, at least at some levels, that the community is a real stakeholder in their service.”


And Cid Galindo suggested that the agency was losing its focus on those who need it most. “They have two classes of customers. One is customers who have no option but to take the bus,” he said. “Then there’s what we call the ‘choice riders.’ I think as Capital Metro is starting to expand its services to attract more ‘choice riders’, which is something it needs to do, it’s starting to neglect its original purpose, which was to make sure the people who don’t have access to transportation other than public transit have a good quality and good level of service.”


The debate aired one day after a report on the station in which a representative of the Austin Board of Realtors voiced concerns that the city’s Zero Energy Capable Homes Task Force would eventually make recommendations on retrofitting existing homes to become more energy-efficient. One option that has been discussed during previous task force meetings, but not officially recommended, is requiring upgrades to existing homes at the time of sale.


The candidates were questioned about their stance on that concept, should it be brought up for a vote by the Council. “It’s not clear what the ordinance is going to be. What I support is a fair and reasoned conversation in the task force, with the goal of coming up with a point of sale ordinance,” said Morrison. “So I support it…assuming that we have a fair conversation to get there.”


Galindo was not open to the proposal, saying it would drive up the cost of the city’s housing stock. “I am categorically opposed to it,” he said. “This cuts to the heart of affordability. This is going to have a tremendous downward effect on the affordability in town.  Secondly, nobody’s even talked about what it’s going to cost to enforce it. It’s going to be a huge pressure on the existing staff. I don’t think this is the right solution to the problem we’re trying to face,” he said.


Cravey pointed out that upgrading energy efficiency would make living in the house more affordable and more attractive to buyers.


The Place 4 debate was the third sponsored by News 8 Austin. The debates for Place 1, 3, and 4 are now available through Time Warner Cable’s on-demand service for Austin customers with digital cable on channel 1408.

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