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District 8 candidates spar at Ballot Boxing forum

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Candidates turned the spotlight on Southwest Austin on Monday night at the District 8 Ballot Boxing forum. All five candidates attended the forum, hosted by the Austin Monitor,  KUT News, KXAN and Univision at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane.

The night kicked off with candidates explaining what they saw as the greatest challenge facing Austin. Like other districts, transportation and affordability topped the list.

Becky Bray, 44, is a professional transportation engineer and transportation land planner who has been involved with the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Capital Area Transportation Coalition.

Bray said that transportation was the biggest issue facing the city. She pulled out a copy of the strategic mobility plan, which she said largely left out Southwest Austin, as does public transportation in the city.

“I’m a huge proponent of building a Southwest 45. Let’s get the Oak Hill Parkway completed. Let’s get the South MoPac improvement project completed,” said Bray.

Darrell Pierce, 49, is president of SNAP Management Group. Pierce has served on the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Education Council, the Texas Economic Development Advisory Board, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce board of directors and the City of Austin Planning Commission, and currently serves on the mayor’s Transportation Working Group.

He agreed that transportation was the biggest issue right now, and called for a regional transportation master plan that would allow the city to study traffic in the Southwest more closely and obtain funding for solutions.

Ed Scruggs, 49, is a clinical research associate at PRA International, former director of the Circle C Homeowners Association and founder of the Circle C Democrats.

For Scruggs, affordability is the top concern. He said the high rate of homeownership in the district made property taxes a particular concern.

“I’m very worried about our ability in Austin to simply own a home over time,” said Scruggs, who added that he favored a phased-in 20 percent homestead exemption to help address that concern.

Ellen Troxclair, 29, is a real estate agent and chief of staff to state Rep. Jason Issac (R-Dripping Springs). She is a member of both the Texas Association of Realtors and the Austin Board of Realtors, and is active as a volunteer for a number of organizations.

Troxclair said that she saw the rising cost of living in the city, including property taxes and utility rate increases, as the biggest issue.

“We are just on an unsustainable path,” said Troxclair. “You and I can’t continue to bankroll the growth. We need someone who is going to take a hard look at the budget and refocus our priorities on basic city services. If you are looking for a taxpayer advocate, I’m your candidate.”

Eliza May, 60, is the director of mission services at the Austin branch of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In the past, May has served as executive director of MEDICO and president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

May said that she initially saw transportation as the biggest issue. However, she said affordability had more recently taken a “strong first place” among issues. Ultimately, May split the difference, saying it was both.

As a solution, May proposed a four-day workweek and staggered work hours to alleviate traffic during the most congested times.

Later in the evening, candidates were asked whether they believed development over the Edwards Aquifer degrades water quality.

Bray does not, and says technology exists to clean runoff to “nearly rainwater levels.”

“Of course it degrades water quality,” said Scruggs, adding that development should work within the bounds of the SOS Ordinance.

Pierce pointed out that the impact to water quality depended on the type of development, saying, “I think there is a way you can combine good development with good, sound environmental principles.”

May said that new technologies may offer ways to implement new strategies within the SOS Ordinance.

Troxclair said a balance needed to be struck, and the “strict, complicated development codes” in the city are making it “almost impossible to do business.”

In what has become a common refrain in this election, all of the candidates said that they did not support the rail bond, even though some of them may support rail in the larger sense. Scruggs and Bray pointed out that the current proposal doesn’t help District 8.

“It’s going to cost too much, and do too little for us,” said May.

“We have to prioritize, and I think roads should come first,” said Troxclair.

Pierce said the plan lacked a vision of the future. He disagreed with the choice to combine rail and roads in one proposition, he said, and didn’t like the fact that the $400 million for roads didn’t give the new City Council flexibility in terms of how the money would be allocated.

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