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New city commission takes on economic prosperity

Monday, January 11, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

With a new year comes a new city commission.

The Economic Prosperity Commission met for the first time Wednesday, although the meeting was mostly administrative. The commission, whose creation was initiated by the previous City Council, will advise the full Council on construction and job creation in the city. In other words, growth.

“Right now the scope, in the language that’s used, seems both limited and kind of wide-ranging,” said Commissioner John King. King works as the director of external affairs and special projects at SparkCognition, a cognitive computing software company.

“Construction is a very specific area,” he said. “Job creation is vast.”

King said he could see the commission weighing in on such controversial discussions as the regulation of transportation network companies, or TNCs, like Uber and Lyft. “Issues like that affect job creation,” said King, referring to the city’s plan to penalize TNCs that do not conduct fingerprint-based background checks and charge them an annual fee.

“We’re at a time when the landscape of what a job is and how people get income – that’s changing, whether you’re talking about renting out homes on HomeAway or Airbnb, services like that, to folks who are becoming Uber and Lyft drivers,” he said.

King said that when it comes to the commission’s other charge – construction – he will prioritize a balance between preserving Austin’s parks and capitalizing on abandoned spaces in the more urban parts of the city.

“The first thing is that part of what makes Austin great is our open spaces, our green spaces,” said King. “Making sure that we’re protecting areas that need to be protected, we’re conserving areas that need to be preserved and we’re utilizing areas maybe that are underdeveloped or that are prime for development or construction.”

For Roberto Rondero de Mosier, another commissioner on Austin’s newest citizen body, a city is most successful when growth reaches all of its residents. “I definitely like economic growth, but I want to see everybody that’s already here, that lives here, being able to participate in the economic growth,” he said.

Rondero de Mosier will be representing District 3 (Council Member Pio Renteria’s East Austin district) on the commission. He said living in the area since 2011 has brought to light who in this city often gets to benefit from the city’s blooming economy.

“We’ve got businesses coming in, we’ve got buildings going up,” he said. “I personally am very aware of the issues of gentrification. I see them happening in my neighborhood, in my district.”

Rondero de Mosier said he anticipates the commission considering policies that will foster growth that benefits the majority of Austinites. “To not necessarily put things in place so that (the city) grows faster and stronger and bigger, but so that as we grow – because we really can’t stop the growth that’s happening at this point – making sure everybody is finding prosperity in the process,” he said.

The commission will meet next on Feb. 17.

This story was produced as part of a reporting partnership between KUT and the Austin Monitor.

Update: Here is the audio from the companion piece produced for KUT.

Photo by Dan Keshet

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