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Pool proud of progress at all levels in 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Leslie Pool doesn’t restate Tip O’Neill’s legendary adage “All politics is local” when looking back at 2018 and ahead to 2019. Still, when reviewing the policy and on-the-ground actions that have mattered to her the most, the small neighborhood moves get as much time as the larger issues that have grabbed headlines.

The District 7 Council member points to neighborhood park pavilion openings, a new plan for the North Shoal Creek neighborhood, progress on water quality initiatives and a long-brewing push to address quality-of-life issues in local boarding houses as successes that matter to those living in North Central Austin yet might have escaped larger attention.

Of course, Pool did wind up getting plenty of public attention in 2018 when she became the most vocal critic of bargaining between city leaders and owners of a professional soccer club intending to build a 20,000-seat stadium on city property in her district. She and other detractors wound up on the other end of a 7-4 vote in August to approve the lease terms (the final agreement was approved Dec. 18), but she touts the questioning of the process as essential to getting a better deal for the city and its taxpayers.

“I think my doggedness helped to craft a process when we did not have a process, and helped the city, the community and our staff to evaluate opportunity cost,” she said. “We reduced the dollar figure of subsidies, and I didn’t do that all on my own. I had extraordinary help from my colleagues, but I brought that issue to the table and they took it seriously. When we took the vote it was a heck of a lot better than it was when we were first presented.”

In a similar fashion, Pool said joining other Council members who were concerned about the direction of the CodeNEXT rewrite of the city’s land use code helped to put the brakes on it over the summer.

On the matter of how to restart the process, Pool is waiting for City Manager Spencer Cronk’s decision, but she is in favor of using a small area and neighborhood planning approach that would take strategies or components of CodeNEXT and apply them to distinct portions of the city that are starting to see the effects of displacement and gentrification.

“Four of us in spring talked about how we thought that it was going off the rails and we didn’t think that we were going to be able to pull the community together, that it could get beyond divisive … we staked out that territory and made some statements about how we wanted to stop and reconnect on it,” she said. “I’m gratified that we did stop it and I am really hopeful as far as Spencer’s abilities to try to re-engage that effort in a more inclusive way. I want a successful process, because it was not and it was going awry.”

While the McKalla Place property is one portion of the district that will change radically once ground is broken on the soccer stadium, another piece of city property known as the Justin Lane tract will see change as well, thanks to the city prioritizing its redevelopment features into a mixture of housing, parkland and creative spaces.

Pool helped city staff in the engagement process with residents in deciding how that five-acre parcel could be redeveloped, moving the community’s goals from making it entirely parkland to addressing a variety of needs for the city.

“I worked really hard bringing them together … to explain and persuade about the need for additional housing and to help craft the vision with the neighbors at that site as multi-use,” she said. “That allowed folks to also realize that they supported (mixed use), and to maybe elevate those voices as well.”

Along with the return to a land use code revamp, Pool said a big priority for Council in 2019 should be making progress on an area transit plan that will include an ambitious light rail component.

“The rail initiative in 2014 I thought was the wrong route because I supported the Guadalupe/Lamar approach and I wanted there to be a larger map, because that helps in explaining to the community what’s in it for them, which is fundamental to passing a community initiative of this size,” she said. “That didn’t happen in 2014 and it barely didn’t succeed in 2000, and we’re trying to get all the information gathered and do enough work with the initiative such that the community trusts what Capital Metro is trying to do, and will agree to move forward in a larger way to address transportation in the city.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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