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Place 3 candidates talk water, growth at Save Barton Creek forum

Monday, April 18, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

City Council Place 3 candidates got to talk about their water conservation bona fides last Thursday at a South Austin forum hosted by the Save Barton Creek Association.


The forum seemed custom made for challenger Max Nofziger. The Save Barton Creek Association has been working since the late 1970s to limit the impact of development on Barton Springs and Barton Creek, and Nofziger has a long history with that issue. He was on the City Council when it voted in favor of the Save Our Springs Ordinance in 1992, a seminal moment in the city’s environmental history.


“I did a lot of environmental and water quality stuff during my time on the Council,” Nofziger told around 15 people gathered at the South Austin Grill. “I put endangered species on the agenda for the first time in this area. And of course I was up all night, June 7, 1990, for Jim Bob Moffett’s show at City Council.”


“I think the environmental movement has lost a little steam in the last years and I want to rebuild it and make it a powerhouse in the city.”


Incumbent Randi Shade faces a tougher road toward an endorsement from the environmental community, many of whom have expressed displeasure at her vote in favor of building Water Treatment Plant 4. But Shade defended that controversial vote as being part of a larger environmental and economic plan to expand the city’s tax base and accommodate the city’s rapid growth.


“It’s important to recognize that half of our population wasn’t here when the SOS Ordinance was passed,” Shade said. “Water conservation, just like energy conservation, is going to cost a lot of money. It costs us money to explore new options in the energy world and it costs us money to be more aggressive in our water conservation. So I think really hard about what we need to do to improve out tax base in the central part of the city.”


Shade pointed out that with the decommissioning of the Green Water Treatment Plant on West Cesar Chavez, which WTP4 will more than match in terms of treatment capacity, the city has more space for tax-generating development in downtown Austin.


The other candidate wooing environmental leaders, former Planning Commissioner Kathie Tovo, pointed to Shade’s vote on WTP4 as an indicator of both the Council member’s environmental priorities and leadership skills. “We need stronger leadership on Council,” Tovo said.


Asked whether she would support more density along designated transportation corridors over the aquifer, Tovo said she would prefer not to see any more development but would work for denser development if necessary.


“If development is going to occur, we want it to happen along the transportation corridor for a variety of reasons,” Tovo said. “Hopefully it will get people living closer to the kinds of businesses they frequent, so we’ll have fewer cars on the road. I would support the taller, more-clustered developments rather than sprawl.”


In answer to the same question, Shade said she does not support new development over the aquifer and wants the city to provide incentives for owners of existing properties to make those properties more environmentally friendly.


“If there is existing development, I am a supporter of the work Mayor Leffingwell did initially to make some sort of an enticement to somebody who’s already got the impervious cover to improve the water quality and to build something new that may be more dense but also more sensitive,” Shade said.


Nofziger meanwhile, said he would encourage more development east of SH130 as a way to limit the amount of impervious cover over the aquifer. He said the rapid growth that Austin has seen over the last 20 years demands a strengthening of the SOS ordinance and a refocusing by the community on environmental and social issues.


“I think that the pressures for growth and development in Austin are such that we need to do everything we can to strengthen the ordinance and limit impervious cover even further on that side of the city and over the watershed and over the aquifer,” Nofziger said.


“We can’t afford to let Austin become a playground for the wealthy; that’s not the real Austin. And I’m afraid that it’s not just an unfortunate side effect of policies that are passed. I think it is a strategy that’s unfolding that’s driving gentrification, that’s driving poor people out of town, that’s driving artists and musicians out of town.”


Accountant Kris Bailey, the race’s fourth candidate, did not attend.


There will be a larger televised forum on environmental issues on Friday night sponsored by Austin EcoNetwork, the Austin Sierra Club, PODER, and others.

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