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District 5 candidates oppose Proposition 1

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 by Gene Davis

The seven candidates at Monday’s District 5 City Council forum all came out against November’s $1 billion bond proposition to help fund a rail initiative and build roadways. The Austin Monitor co-hosted the forum along with the Austin Chronicle, KUT, KXAN and Univision.

In fact, Jason Denny went as far to ask fellow candidates vying for the south central Council seat to sign a pledge formally opposing the bond proposition.

“I actually have copies of that pledge with me for my opponents to sign, and I’ll be happy to serve as their witness,” he said.

The candidates at the forum suggested different transportation fixes for the city.

Dan Buda, a former chief of staff to Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), said the city should focus on expanding the number of buses and the routes they serve. He added that Capital Metro should, in particular, offer more bus routes to serve the city south of Ben White Boulevard.

“We do have a stigma in this city against using mass transit – you go to other major cities and that’s not the case – and we need to find ways to incentivize people to use mass transit,” he said.

Dave Senecal, a computer systems technician, argued that a future mass transit system should focus on connecting surrounding cities and the airport to Austin. He said the city should explore building a commuter rail line on the Union Pacific railroad tracks and its right of ways.

“I want to achieve a goal of affordable transportation that puts less cars on the road, increases safety, (creates) less pollution and a better balance to our quality of life,” he said. “I don’t think Proposition 1 does any of that.”

While Dave Floyd, an attorney with a tech startup, said he does not oppose urban rail as a concept, he does not believe Proposition 1 is the right plan at the right time. He echoed Senecal’s comments that the city should focus on building a rail line that connects suburban areas to Austin.

“Buses and Bus Rapid Transit could supplement that kind of system and would make a lot of sense,” he said. “That’s a much better way to approach rail than Prop 1.”

Mike Rodriguez, an Air Force veteran and retired stockbroker, said he opposes Proposition 1 because “it goes from nowhere to the mall.”

“We should (instead) be increasing our bus grid,” he said.

For Ann Kitchen, whose resume includes state legislator and assistant attorney general, Proposition 1 would implement a tax hike at a time when the city is concerned about affordability. She said the city should focus on building a well-connected transportation system that includes roads and buses, and encourages employees to work from home or commute to work during non-rush hour.

“Basically, we need to look at the options available to people and we need to look at more immediate lower cost solutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, CarolAnnRose Kennedy, who retired from the IRS in 2004, said the Capital Metro bus system is perfect and has no room for improvement.

“It’s dependable, cheap, clean, safe and entertaining,” she said.

Later the in the forum, the Council hopefuls turned their attention to Austin Water and Austin Energy. While most candidates agreed that Austin Water and Austin Energy should remain under city control, several called for more oversight over the utilities.

Kitchen said Council should implement recommendations made by the two task forces that examined the utilities. The recommendations include taking water conservation to the next level, she said.

Buda called for an independent audit on the utilities, and both he and Denny said its outrageous that Austin Water charges customers more money even though customers are conserving more water.

Rodriguez said the city should roll back the revenue – 9.1 percent from Austin Energy and 8.2 percent from Austin Water – it takes from the utilities to help reduce the costs on customers.

Floyd and Senecal had sunnier outlooks and said the city is in a good position by owning the two utilities.

For her part, Kennedy suggested Austin Water should grant every household a set amount of free water per month. The utility could then charge a tiered rate for any household that exceeds the set amount, she said.

The last day to register to vote is Oct. 6, and early voting begins Oct. 20. The general election will take place Nov. 4.

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