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Ann Kitchen focused on ‘fixing people’s problems’

Thursday, December 27, 2018 by Jack Craver

City Council Member Ann Kitchen is the first member of the 10-1 Council to win re-election unopposed.

“I was surprised,” Kitchen said of her lack of opponent in this year’s election. “But I was certainly happy about that. I’m pleased that the folks in the district trusted me enough to continue in a second term.”

Kitchen sees the past year as one of significant success. At the top of the list of achievements is the $925 million bond program that voters overwhelmingly approved in November.

Kitchen called the $250 million for affordable housing a “game-changer” and highlights the importance of other parts of the bond package that received less attention, such as $12 million for the city to acquire “creative spaces” where artists, musicians and dancers can work or train.

“It’s the first time that our city has voted on dollars to preserve creative spaces, which we are losing,” said Kitchen, adding that she wants the city to “move quickly” on acquiring spaces, most likely in partnership with arts organizations, in the first half of 2019.

While Kitchen is happy about the work she and others on Council have done to combat homelessness, including increasing funds for services aimed at getting people into housing, she believes much more has to be done to address what is “a huge, growing problem for the city.” She pointed to the hiring of a dedicated staffer in the city manager’s office to focus on getting all city departments that interact with the issue – police, the parks department – to coordinate their approach.

Kitchen also highlighted the work the city has continued to do on flood mitigation in her own district, notably by buying out property owners in the flood-ravaged Onion Creek area.

Kitchen said Council was right to “press pause” on CodeNEXT. She is optimistic that the new Council will be able to craft a land development code that will accomplish the objectives she put forth in a statement in February with Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Alison Alter seeking a middle path between those on Council who were pushing for aggressive changes to encourage density and those who want to preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods.

“One of the problems (with CodeNEXT) was communication. For whatever reason we got to a situation that there was so much angst in the community that we couldn’t talk about solutions in a way that would work for people,” said Kitchen.

Kitchen is looking forward to the process for updating the code that City Manager Spencer Cronk is expected to propose to Council early in the year. She does not believe it will lead to another multi-year process, as CodeNEXT did.

“I think we’ve done a lot of work that we can take advantage of,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any advantage in starting over again.”

She believes that Council’s objective should be to align its transportation goals with its housing goals. It should aim to put as much housing as possible along the city’s major transportation corridors, both those targeted for improvements from the 2016 bond and those identified by Capital Metro as targets for future transit initiatives.

Kitchen is the chair of Council’s transportation committee as well as a Capital Metro board member. She is optimistic that Project Connect, Capital Metro’s ongoing process to develop high-capacity public transit, will put forth a proposal in early 2020, and that voters will likely be asked to approve a bond package to fund it in fall of 2020.

Kitchen is concerned about proposals from state legislators to further limit municipal governments’ revenue-raising abilities, describing them as a distraction from the biggest issue driving up property taxes: the state’s school finance system.

“I’m hopeful that the Legislature will recognize their part in what’s happening with people’s property taxes,” she said.

Asked to compare her four years on Council to the two years she spent in the state House of Representatives from 2001 to 2003, Kitchen said she greatly prefers her city government experience. And not just because she’s not a member of the political minority on Council.

“We don’t operate at a partisan level at City Council,” she said. “What we operate on is problem-solving. That’s really what the city is about: How do we fix problems for people?”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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