District 7 candidates take different approaches to growth
Candidates for the District 7 City Council seat faced off Tuesday night in front of a full audience at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Village. Incumbent Leslie Pool, who has represented the north-central district since her win in 2014, fielded questions from residents alongside opponent and politics newcomer Natalie Gauldin.
Few were surprised by the topic of the question that kicked off the night: the Grove at Shoal Creek, a proposed mixed-used development in District 7. The resident who posed the question asked the candidates who should be on the hook for traffic pangs caused by the proposed development – the developer or the locals?
“The developer should invest in the project in order to mitigate the traffic congestion and problems and do improvements to the streets throughout the neighborhood so we address the safety concerns,” said Pool, who continues to oppose the development. “The development pays for itself. That’s where I stand.”
Gauldin said that while she agreed with her opponent in theory, she thought road congestion exacerbated by development should be funded from the resulting additional tax base.
Discussion of the Grove fed the candidates’ diverging ideas about growth in Austin. In response to a resident’s question about creating affordability without densifying, Gauldin, a proponent of density, said, “I think that’s a trick question.”
Pool understood the question as frank.
She rattled off a shopping list of projects aimed at making the city more affordable, including the city’s Housing Trust Fund (Council voted this year to double the amount of money funneled into that) and the creation of homestead preservation districts.
While the questions continued to focus on the issue of growth, the candidates dug deeper into their opposing viewpoints on the matter – each arguing that her stance, whether in support of density or neighborhood preservation, reflects the voice of the district.
Gauldin dug in the most, at times trying to lure Pool into a more direct, fiery exchange. The incumbent refused to bite.
During a discussion about accessory dwelling units, Gauldin criticized Pool’s vote with the majority of Council not to allow them on larger single-family lots.
“You voted against letting any new people have these in their yards,” said Gauldin, speaking directly to the incumbent.
Pool refused to meet Gauldin’s stare. When her time came to respond, she issued a one-sentence response: “There was not a desire on the Council to include (Single Family-2 zoning) on the ordinance, and so they were excluded,” she said.
Talk also turned to light rail, with each candidate arguing she had tapped into the “true” voice of District 7.
Gauldin said she would support a proposal by pro-transit folks for a Guadalupe-Lamar rail. “I’m hearing loud and clear that the residents of District 7 want us to act like the big city we are and plan for rail,” she said.
Pool said she thought the Guadalupe-Lamar rail plan was a good one but that Council did not have time to vet it properly. She stressed that given the 2014 vote on rail, which failed, she was indeed tuned in to the desires of her district by opposing it, as well.
“I know I was aligned with the voters in District 7,” she said. “That’s what I aim to do is hear the voices and find where the majority sits.”
But while Pool refused to be snared by Gauldin’s baiting – often staring straight ahead, while Gauldin addressed her directly – the newcomer could not resist one last prod during the candidates’ closing remarks. The incumbent stressed the work she said she has been doing to address affordability, reading from notes she had taken on paper.
Gauldin began her final remarks by, again, emphasizing the differences between herself and her opponent – no matter how small. “I’m not reading off a paper tonight,” she said. “I’m speaking from my heart.”
Photo: Natalie Gauldin, left, and Leslie Pool, right, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Village. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Leslie Pool: Austin City Council member for District 7