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Wednesday, January 7, 2015 by Tyler Whitson
Pool excited to tackle a wide array of issues
As a longtime managed growth advocate, District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool has developed a succinct metaphor to explain her position on the issue. “I have likened Austin’s economic development since the last recession to trying to drink water out of a fire hose,” she told the Austin Monitor last month. “I’d like to turn that hose down some.”
Pool represents a district that is unevenly divided in terms of growth — making it a microcosm of city issues in many ways — with established neighborhoods such as Allandale and Brentwood on the south end and newer developments between US 183 and Wells Branch Parkway further north that are in need of basic public services like parks, pools and libraries.
When she spoke with the Monitor, Pool cited a wide range of issues she would like to address with her colleagues this year, both citywide and in her district. These include concerns that candidates often discussed on the campaign trail, such as transportation and affordability, and issues she said were often overlooked, such as social services and health and human services.
First on Pool’s list, though, is making sure the new Council works smoothly. “My priority will be coming together with my new colleagues to establish how the new Council will operate and communicate,” she said.
Pool cited a report the Office of the City Auditor released last year that showed that Austin’s Council meetings run far later than those of peer cities. “Two a.m. meetings are a real drain on everyone,” she said. “I don’t know that a lot of really good decisions can consistently be made when the hours go past midnight.”
As potential solutions, Pool suggested that Council shift more of its discussion and public input to committee meetings and have an additional meeting day to discuss particular types of agenda items, such as zoning cases.
With this approach, Pool said, Council could work to reserve its regular meetings for decision-making. “Not that it would preclude debate, but that we would be at a point in a discussion of an issue where we’re ready to make decisions because the presentations, the input, the conversations and the pros and cons have been developed more fully.”
Pool added that the new boards and commissions structure would accommodate more district representatives. “I suspect that the commissions will take on greater importance,” she said.
In District 7, Pool is concerned about the deficit of public services. “Budget priorities for me will be looking at the parks and libraries budget to try to elevate those departments in ways that haven’t happened in recent years,” she said, adding that she wants to see what geographical gaps exist as far as open spaces and recreational opportunities.
As far as transportation, Pool supports having multiple options on the table. “I’m saying we continue to consider rail and look for ways to do the right route at the right price for Austin while we back-fill with providing additional improved bus service and encouraging people to use it more.”
Pool said the city should re-examine the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor, an alternative route to the proposed urban rail line that voters rejected in November. “I don’t think we have to go back to the first step, because we do have an analysis of the route that was preferred by most of the voters who supported rail,” she said.
Other potential options Pool mentioned include implementing bus rapid transit and neighborhood shuttle services as well as encouraging staggered and off-site work hours.
Pool said she supports a midrange approach to rewriting the city’s Land Development Code as part of CodeNEXT and was glad when Council adopted a compromise last year that falls between the midrange and most extensive options.
“It is absolutely vital that the neighborhoods are involved and that staff responds to the residents in the neighborhoods, so that their vision of what is developed in their area is communicated and codified in the code,” Pool added.
Pool said she favors implementing a 20 percent homestead tax exemption, if Council does so “with an eye to ensuring that expected, required and desired city services are still provided.” She added that she looks forward to working with Travis County officials and the Texas Legislature to make the property tax and appraisal system more transparent and less burdensome to homeowners and renters.
Departmental priorities that Pool said she would like to pursue this year include supporting the Austin Resource Recovery Department’s waste reduction goals so that the city can eventually reclaim landfills on the east side of town and move operations farther away, and redirecting the Economic Development Department’s goals from attracting large corporations to supporting local small businesses.
Other issues that Pool said are important to her are working toward sustainability, fostering early childhood education, enhancing workforce development programs and supporting Austin’s artistic and cultural industries, particularly film.
Summing up the path ahead, Pool said she is looking forward to working with the new Council and that this year is going to be “a great opportunity for the city to turn a new page.”
Council members were sworn in Tuesday and will go through orientation this month, leading up to their first regular meeting Jan. 29.
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