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Pool looks at a good past year in the “last bastion”

Monday, January 2, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council Member Leslie Pool is happy with her sophomore year.

“We did some important, amazing stuff,” said Pool. “It’s really been a good two years.”

Pool, who easily retained her District 7 seat this past November – winning nearly 72 percent of the vote – has lots of praise for the past year. She also kicked off her interview with the Austin Monitor talking about what she’d like to tackle in the new year. Like many in local government, that starts with the Land Development Code. She would like to understand it better.

“I think we still don’t fully understand all of our land development decisions and the larger ramifications of them,” she said. “Some of it is that we’ve sort of truncated it because CodeNEXT is out there and looming, and I don’t think we fully appreciate all that means. … It’s casting a shadow.”

Some of that, she said, comes out of specific zoning cases that Council has recently considered. As a founder of the Bull Creek Road Coalition and representative of a district that borders the area that will be most impacted, Pool was rather invested in this year’s big zoning case: the Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development. She told the Monitor that she was “absolutely” happy with how the rezoning was settled in the end.

And, in the next year, Pool said that she would like to take a harder look at the city’s Planned Unit Development Ordinance to better understand it and what can be done to streamline that process as well as make it clearer to developers and citizenry.

“I think we learned a lot of things on Pilot Knob. And one of them was, ‘Let’s not approve a PUD without really understanding what is involved with it,’” said Pool.

In terms of things in the works, Pool singled out the recently completed East Austin Historic Resources Survey, which she says is really important for the east side of Austin.

“Hopefully, this will help us stall the rapid demolition of older homes,” said Pool. “We have plenty of older homes that are completely habitable and charming … and they are not as expensive as a new build would be. Every time we pull down a home, every time we demolish it and build something new in its place, it by definition will be more expensive.

“That is, for me, an affordability issue, and we have so few tools to manage the cost of housing here,” she continued.

Affordability continues to be an issue for Pool, who worried aloud about the amount of development and investment pouring into the city along with the city’s “complete inability” to calm down housing prices in such a boom market. “All we can do is manage it,” she said.

Pool also highlighted the Austin Energy rate case as a learning experience that was, in her opinion, “handled really, really well.” She said that she appreciated how the process was settled in a fairly non-contentious manner and that “that extra piece” of a promise to close the Fayette Power Project by 2025 made her really proud.

Pool told the Monitor that she is looking forward to the search for new upper management, with the hunt for a new city manager and police chief of especial significance.

“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for everyone, and we also get to kind of refresh the way we do things here,” she said. “Not only do we have a new Council that’s changed the way things are done, with a new senior leadership, that will also change things.”

In terms of Council’s leadership, Pool took time to praise the unity of the Council and to appreciate the work that Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo have done to achieve consensus (or close to it) on many of the issues they are presented with, as well as Adler’s tactic of allowing more time for contentious issues in order to find understanding and compromise.

That ability to get things done together could become even more crucial in the coming years. Pool told the Monitor that, over the past year, her main lesson has been about the importance of local government.

“I think what really came clear to me was the role of local government, especially after the election,” said Pool. “With the changes at the national level … I think we’re the last bastion.”

Pool said that was the message at the climate change summit she attended in late 2015.

“We’re the engines of progressive work, and we’re where stuff actually is initiated or gets done,” she said. “We’re going to have to defend it, and be on the offense, too – moving the boundaries outward to be more inclusive and more broad.

“I’m committed to work local and do what I can here,” Pool continued, “and affect people in as many positive ways as I can.”

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