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Downtown, central city make up core of compact District 9

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 by Mark Richardson

District 9, which encompasses the central core of the city, has changed as rapidly over the past decade as any other part of Austin. From stately older neighborhoods to gleaming downtown high-rises to a new urban enclave, the district embodies some of the highs, lows and extremes of the 10 new districts.

The area, which is only 12 square miles in size, is bordered by MoPac and Lamar boulevards on the west, Manor Road and Interstate 35 on the east, Oltorf Street on the south and 51st Street on the north. Drawn in a “C” shape to accommodate District 1’s need for a large black population, District 9 includes most of downtown and the University of Texas campus but does not include the Capitol or most of the state office complex.

Residential neighborhoods include Bouldin and Travis heights to the south, Clarksville and Hyde Park on the north and Cherrywood and Mueller on the east. The population is 66.8 percent white, 17.2 percent Hispanic and 9.9 percent Asian. It has the second-highest population density among the districts at 9.8 persons per acre.

Overall, the area is moderately wealthy, with a median family income of $82,000 a year. However, that is offset by the highest poverty rate among the districts at 35.3 percent. That number may be skewed by the number of students living in the district, but is still high enough to be significant. In an area with a heavy rental market, home ownership is only 29.2 percent. District 9 has the highest market value – $20 billion, thanks mostly to downtown high-rises – based on property values.

Moreover, there are numerous college-age persons living in the area. The number of persons in the 18-to-24-year-old age bracket is 43 percent, triple the city average of 15 percent. That skews some of the other population statistics, keeping the number of children under 10 to less than 5 percent and the percentage of senior citizens at 3.8 percent. Only 7 percent of residents are lists as non-citizens. The population of the area grew less than 15 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The non-student parts of the area are politically active, with 61 percent of residents registered to vote, but with students mostly staying away from local elections. In the 2012 election, the area voted heavily Democratic, going 73 percent for President Obama. District residents also voted in favor of both the failed 2012 affordable housing bond election and the similar 2013 measure, which passed.

Three candidates are vying to represent District 9, two well known among City Council watchers, and one political novice.

Erin McGann, 49, lives in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood close to Oltorf Street. According to her campaign website, McGann has worked for the state of Texas for the past eight years with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She has worked as a Parole Officer, a Program Specialist for clients with mental health needs, a Human Services Specialist for the HIV program and as a Program Supervisor for the Community and Veterans Re-entry Programs. She holds a master’s degree from Texas State University in Criminal Justice.

McGann’s issues include growth, traffic, transportation and helping small businesses. She says, “I am concerned about the growth of Austin without any apparent emphasis being placed on infrastructure. Austin needs to infuse common sense in growth. South Lamar and South Congress have increased the number of apartment complexes substantially, but there has been no traffic or public transportation plan.” She, like several other candidates, is opposed to incentives to bring businesses to Austin. She serves on the Police Monitor Citizens Review Panel, which hears disputed Internal Affairs cases. McGann has voted on occasion in Democratic primaries, but more recently participated in Republican primaries.

Both Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo have several years of experience on the City Council and if either one is elected, they will be either the only member or one of two members of the new Council with prior service.

Riley, 50, is known as an advocate for alternative modes of transportation, including, of course, bicycles. He serves on the Capital Metro board of directors and is a strong supporter of the urban rail proposal. The Austin Chronicle has called him “City Hall’s most prominent advocate for public spaces and public transit.”

Riley lives downtown and is one of the founders of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association. He is strongly associated with new urbanism and density, especially downtown. He practiced law before joining the City Council in 2009. Riley is also known for his support of alternative energy resources, including solar and wind, to power Austin Energy. Riley is a Democrat.

Kathie Tovo, 45, was first elected to Council in 2011, with the overwhelming support of central city neighborhoods like Bouldin, where she used to live and the West University area, where she currently resides. She is a former member of the Planning Commission and a former writing teacher at the University of Texas.

Tovo stresses neighborhood protection and affordable housing as well as needs of families with children.

Although most items on the City Council agenda pass unanimously, Tovo has voted against some items that the rest of her colleagues approved. She and Council Member Laura Morrison voted against incentives for the Formula 1 racetrack in 2011, for example, even though the $25 million incentive package did not include any city funds. Tovo identifies as a Democrat.

By way of contrast, Riley voted for the package but only after negotiating a lengthy list of environmental upgrades and protections for the racetrack area.

As noted in an earlier story, Riley raised more than $96,000 during the period that ended on June 30, while Tovo reported raising more than $41,000. McGann reported having raised less than $2000 and having none remaining on June 30.

Editor Jo Clifton contributed to this story

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