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Council members slam Troxclair’s affordability plan

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 by Kara Nuzback

At City Council’s work session yesterday, several Council members hammered on District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s Austin Affordability Action Plan.

The plan proposes that Council focus on affordability in the areas of housing, transportation, budgeting, cost of living and the economy. Troxclair pulled the item from the consent agenda to allow Council members to discuss the plan.

District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool was the first to address the document.

“I think we have many strands of this already underway or already proposed,” she said.

District 2 Council Member Delia Garza called the document prescriptive and said it was full of initiatives that were already underway, could not be accomplished or should not be attempted.

“I cannot support this,” she said.

She said the document called for prioritizing health and human services while also adopting an effective tax rate budget, which she said was contradictory. Garza said Council is presented with an effective tax rate scenario every budget cycle, and it is always made clear that the city would have to cut services and staff to adopt an effective tax rate.

“As a growing city, I see that as a quite impossible thing to do,” she said.

The plan also calls for ensuring the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides accessible bus service to all areas of Austin.

“We can’t make another agency do something,” Garza said, who is also a Capital Metro board member.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar said while he supports some of the new initiatives the plan calls for, those initiatives should come before Council as separate resolutions so they can be fleshed out and publicly vetted. For example, he said, expediting the city’s site plan program is an extremely complicated issue.

“That seems to me to be its own resolution,” he said.

The plan also contains budget promises that could be preemptive, Casar said. He recommended Council table a vote on the plan at Thursday’s meeting.

Casar also said Council could direct the interim city manager to put together a page on the city’s website to centralize affordability efforts and resources.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo echoed Casar’s suggestion.

“I would only support an effort that separates (the initiatives) into different resolutions,” she said.

Tovo also pointed out a number of initiatives in the plan, including tools to incentivize affordable housing and using publicly owned land to create more affordable housing, are already underway. She said she was concerned the public would view these as new initiatives if Council approved the resolution.

District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria also said he would not support the plan and suggested enforcing monthly updates on affordability initiatives that are already underway.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said the plan appears to ask city staffers to duplicate efforts.

“Do we have the bandwidth to do it all?” Alter asked.

The plan’s co-sponsors, including Mayor Steve Adler, said the plan is only up for resolution, and they viewed it as an opportunity to collect all affordability initiatives in one place.

“I didn’t see it as taking credit away from people who are working on things … or to slow down and impede the work that anyone was doing,” Adler said.

Troxclair said she hoped Council members would submit their changes to the plan before the vote on Thursday.

“I want us to be able to show the community that we’re taking their concerns seriously,” she said. “I’m going to keep hoping for unanimous support.”

During the hourslong discussion, Tovo also noted that the plan stemmed from a document drafted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and while it is valuable to review and discuss, it is not something Council should endorse without major changes.

Garza said the wording of the plan seemed to be largely unchanged from the document developed by the chamber. She said she did not want to advocate for items from groups with their own agendas.

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, former president of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said stakeholder groups are not evil entities. He also said policies come before Council at every meeting that stem from stakeholder groups.

“Every group has an agenda,” he said.

Troxclair said regardless of whether the document stems from the chamber, the resolution before Council is the result of hours of work from her and her co-sponsors’ staff.

“What is before you is the Council’s plan,” she said.

Photo by John Flynn.

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