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Travillion pushes for streamlined processes, services for the underserved

Thursday, January 3, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

When Commissioner Jeff Travillion joined the Travis County Commissioners Court in 2017, he brought with him a rigorous attention to governmental process.

“When I came here I said, ‘I don’t want to know that it runs; pull the hood up and let’s see how it runs,’” Travillion told the Monitor in a late-afternoon interview on Dec. 20.

Flipping through a 64-page report from the Justice Planning Department, he said expectations for precise goals and clear data have already changed since he joined the dais in 2017. The report, he said, represents a new set of standards the court expects when asked to make a decision. “It’s only now that, for example, we can tell you the number of projects that Justice Planning implemented this year,” he said. “We’ve never had this before.”

Project definition and organizational structure are Travillion’s primary concerns when considering any proposal. The first step, he said, is a procedure of distillation called “crosswalking,” which consists of defining the current state, the future state being proposed and how it will help taxpayers. Until you can define a problem, he said, you can’t possibly solve it.

That systematic approach has come through in Travillion’s response to Precinct 1’s growing displacement crisis. In the past year alone, he said, roughly 143,000 individuals have been pushed out of their homes by an unabated spike in cost of living across Austin. Northeastern Travis County’s Precinct 1, once relatively affordable, has been hit especially hard by the gentrifying effects of rising demand for precious little housing supply.

With a new land development code on the horizon, Travillion is ready to make sure low-income Austin families won’t be an afterthought in the rewriting process. Unlike the failed CodeNEXT community engagement process, where he said everyone was looking out for themselves, the community now needs to align interests and work for the good of everyone.

“As we rewrite this code, it can’t be a business-only/downtown-only type code; we need to address the needs of the people that are potentially being displaced and we need to have a plan for that before we implement anything,” he said.

This past year, Travillion has focused on keeping up with displacement by working to get public transportation and clinics into the communities where low- and fixed-income residents have been relocating. He says many of these families can’t afford to own a car, so moving farther east into a new neighborhood without transit access can have disastrous effects.

According to the commissioner, the major changes to the Capital Metro service network this summer were implemented without proper consideration of and outreach to those who have no viable transportation options besides the bus. He said the network redesign took away 14 routes that northeastern Travis County residents relied on without instructing them how to navigate the new system.

While Travillion’s primary goal is to push for greater service coverage for those who can no longer afford to live near the city core, he isn’t opposed to better service in the core as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of service elsewhere. As long as Project Connect sufficiently addresses the needs of its low-income riders, he won’t oppose the plan as he did Cap Remap this summer.

“I understand that if Austin is going to be a great city, it has to have more of an investment in transit and I don’t oppose that investment,” he said. “I just want to make sure that it is shared among those for whom public transit is most significant. What I’ve committed to with Project Connect is helping to build the communications system. I will be intimately involved in that.”

Project Connect’s Green Line commuter rail from downtown Austin to Manor stands to serve Precinct 1 far beyond the urban core. Travillion sees the line as a good, long-term investment that makes use of existing rail. “When you look at where development is coming it’s right up [U.S. Highway] 290, so I think that you’ll have the density within a couple of years.”

In the meantime, Travillion has been working with Capital Metro on a transportation development plan that will transport people living in underserved neighborhoods in eastern Travis County to and from clinics using vans. Between the county and the Federal Transit Administration, $550,000 has already been secured for the project, which is in the implementation process.

At the same time, he has worked this year to get clinics into the communities where people need them most. “We have a great deal of clinics right there where people used to live,” he said, but not in the areas where people are relocating. Since joining the Commissioners Court, Travillion has championed the Eastern Travis County Health and Wellness Collaboration with Central Health to plant clinics at existing public facilities in underserved areas like Colony Park, Del Valle and Manor.

In 2019, Travillion will be working on the same issues he’s been focusing on for the previous two years: transportation, access to health care and giving kids access to safe places to be after school.

Pointing to Capital Metro’s adoption of free rides for K-12 students, he hopes that this year will provide more opportunities for kids to get involved in their communities.

“The whole idea is that our bus system should take kids everywhere they need to go in order to be successful and that it also gives a kid an opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities too,” he said.

Travillion will continue to work with groups like 100 Black Men of Austin and the Center for Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas to connect youth with safe places and activities to be involved in when school is out and parents are still at work.

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