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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, December 26, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Leslie Pool remembers high, low points of 2019
District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool is proud of the contributions she and her colleagues made toward helping the homeless in 2019, calling it “a pretty amazing year.” Still, she thinks some things could have been done better. For example, the city wasn’t really ready to deal with the consequences of Council’s vote repealing the prohibitions on camping and resting in public places and panhandling, she said.
After repealing those ordinances, Council members took their annual summer break before coming back to beef up the city budget to provide more services for the homeless. In October, they also added more restrictions on camping, but the changes were not as major as Pool and three of her colleagues would have liked.
Pool told the Austin Monitor in December, “I wish that we’d had the systems and services lined up and in place before we loosened up those ordinances. We would have saved a lot of grief in the community. If we had lined it all up in advance we could have had everybody pulling in the same direction, rather than a lot of conflict.”
One of the initiatives Pool helped get more funding for is the Workforce First program, which employs homeless people to clean up encampments in the city’s parks and open spaces. She also worked to provide an additional $160,000 in the budget for funding to house homeless youth, and $100,000 in workforce training through Austin Interfaith and Capital IDEA. In addition, she said she worked on the budget to expand affordable child care and summer programs at the city’s parks and recreation facilities.
Pool was also happy that Council approved a directive to City Manager Spencer Cronk to work on developing the hiking and biking trails along Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Red Line. Supporters envision a 32-mile trail from downtown Austin to the northern city limits, running through several Council districts and providing bicycle and pedestrian trails in areas where such amenities are scarce.
Although Pool did not support locating the soccer stadium for Austin FC in her district, she did support placing a Capital Metro station at the stadium, an expensive proposition that Capital Metro apparently expects the soccer team to pay for.
When the city adopted the new Atlas 14 floodplain maps, many of Pool’s constituents were concerned that they might not be able to make minor improvements to their homes since the new maps would put them in the floodplain. Pool and her staff worked with staffers from the Watershed Protection Department to ensure that homeowners would not have to go through the laborious process of seeking City Council approval to make those improvements. Council adopted that amendment along with Atlas 14, as Pool explained in her newsletter.
Pool said she would also like to see additional partnering with Travis County, noting that the city and the county have a lot of common concerns, one of which is the Waste Management landfill in Northeast Travis County.
When the Monitor pointed out that county commissioners might be less than enthusiastic about working with the city because the city has not indicated any desire to allow the county to use Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues for reconstructing Travis County’s Expo Center, Pool said she wants to “bring everybody back together again,” adding that she thinks it would be a good idea to “defease the HOT money by 2021.”
Pool has opposed the changes set forth in the new Land Development Code, being on the losing end of a 7-4 vote, and was one of those on Council pushing for an amendment that would have allowed individual property owners to challenge their new zoning designations. The city’s legal department has stated that the city is not required to allow such challenges, but local activists have filed suit over the issue. More than 8,000 people filed such protests at the urging of local activist and attorney Fred Lewis.
Pool said she has one major wish for 2020 – that the city improve its communications with the community, particularly on the big issues like the new Land Development Code. That affects people “literally where they live,” she observed.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
District 7: District 7 encompasses the Crestview, Allandale and Brentwood neighborhoods on the south, bounded by MoPac Boulevard and U.S. 183, and the Gracywoods, Milwood and Preston Oaks neighborhoods, sitting between Braker Lane on the south and Wells Branch Parkway on the north. Connecting the two is the Kramer Lane industrial area, including the Domain and Gateway commercial developments.