Choosing your City Council member is a big deal. This is the person who will represent you in City Hall for the next four years. They’ll make policies that will influence the city’s transportation infrastructure, affordability, environment, and your own neighborhood. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to who is actually running and what their plans are for Austin.
But, following along with local City Council races can be hard. They often don’t receive a lot of news coverage and it can be difficult to learn anything more about a candidate than what his or her yard sign looks like.
We’re trying to change that.
Here at the Austin EcoNetwork, we are taking our Civics 101 series to the next level this election season. (For those who aren’t familiar, Civics 101 is designed to teach Austinites how their local government works and to empower a new generation of citizens to get involved.) Throughout the month of October we will be publishing voter guides focusing on each of the five City Council districts that are currently up for election.
Today’s post focuses on District 7, which is located in north/central Austin. (If you don’t know which City Council district you live in, you can look it up here).
The two candidates who are running for the District 7 City Council seat are:
- Leslie Pool
- Natalie Gauldin
Below you will find additional information about each of the candidates, as well as podcast interviews with Leslie Pool and Natalie Gauldin. The interviews have been produced in partnership with Shades of Green radio show on KOOP 91.7 FM.
- Current City Council Member
- Former Executive Assistant in the Travis County Constable’s Office
- Currently serves as the Chair of the Open Space, Environment, and Sustainability Committee; Vice Chair of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee; Member of the Audit and Finance Committee; Member of the Public Safety Committee; Member of the Economic Opportunity, Technology, Innovation & Creative Industries Committee
- Has been endorsed by Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Bike Austin, Bike Texas, and the Austin Environmental Democrats
- Campaign Website
Biggest accomplishments in City Council
- Reworking some of the City Council processes (including adding Council committees) and just getting a really good handle on how the city works
- Passage of the Austin Community Climate Plan (which set a goal that Austin will nearly eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, at the latest) – “It’s such a future-oriented and really good vision document for where we need to be…,” Pool said in her AEN/Shades of Green interview, explaining that she was excited to lead on that and felt that it marked an important milestone for the environmental community in Austin.
- Helping Council Member Garza get nearly 600 MW of solar purchased for Austin Energy – another big milestone for Austin
- Austin Energy rate case – reducing residential rates (especially for the smallest energy users), and taking some first steps to put money aside so we can retire Fayette (Austin’s only remaining coal-fired power plant). “Since it’s [Fayette] not right here in Austin where you see it everyday, I don’t think it’s top of mind for a lot of folks, but the fact is that it does have significant pollution impacts, and we are now on the trajectory to close it. And that was a pretty powerful statement…”
- “I think it’s the local level where we can have the biggest impact quite frankly, because it’s literally in our backyards,” Pool said in her AEN/Shades of Green interview.
- It’s here are the local level that we can make small decisions that can have big impacts on our children and the next generation, Pool explained.
- Went to Paris for the COP 21 global climate change conference. Had the chance to meet with local leaders from around the world, make pledges to reduce our emissions, and share all of the good work that Austin is doing.
“It was really empowering and it gave me a real sense of place and the importance of what appear to be small, locally focused tiny little efforts – they really do add up. The accumulation of them matter and that’s how we affect really sustainable change and make for resilient communities, is by acting locally, taking those local actions for the global impact…” – Leslie Pool, in her AEN/Shades of Green Interview, talking about her trip to Paris for the COP 21 climate change conference
- Elements of the bond that she worked the hardest on were active transportation pieces and funding for the Safe Routes to Schools Program – believes that safer pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure makes it more likely that people will get out of their cars and embrace alternative means of transportation
- Thinks that Prop 1 is a good first step toward improving our transportation infrastructure and supporting alternative means of transportation
- “My goal is that in advocating for its [Prop 1] passage, that we then also follow up with really careful and intentional oversight….” Pool said. “…So that the projects that the public expects to be done really are done.”
“I completely understand there is reticence in the community and I think that’s okay. What I hope is for people who aren’t sure yet, who who think they might not want to vote for these investments, to please look at the information that we have developed at the city so that you can get a better sense of where the projects are… we wanted to locate the projects all around the city so that the benefits would accrue to everyone.” – Leslie Pool, in her AEN/Shades of Green Interview
How she’s voting on Prop 1 – She supports it, plans to vote yes
- Personally enjoys commuting by bike and has done it frequently in the past, but understands that not everyone is able to do that. So… “we are still a community that is going to need a car. I think what we do is try to make it easier to take alternative methods of transportation.”
- Wants our bus system to be as robust as possible – with frequent stops and a variety of routes
- The bottom line is to have options that are safe, accessible, and frequent.
“CodeNEXT is really important for the Austin community, for everybody who lives here. It will set the template and the blueprint for what our development will look like in years to come. And that’s why I have advocated for us taking our time, and for as many people to get involved…because the decisions that we make and the predicates that we lay down will shape how we develop into the future.” – Leslie Pool, during her AEN/Shades of Green Interview
- Chief concern – Are the people who live here going to be able to stay? And age out in their homes?
- “…Guard and protect the special places in our city that we’re losing really fast.”
- Supports density and growth along the corridors.
- “The neighborhoods are rightly concerned that that density moves into the interior of the neighborhoods, so we need to have lots of conversations about whether that happens.,” Pool said. “There may be some parts of town where that is okay, and there will be some parts of town where that will not be okay. And I’m okay with that because it’s not a cookie cutter.”
- Working with Council Member Ora Houston and Mayor Steve Adler on directing development to the Eastern Crescent (East of 183).
- While in City Council, Pool has helped pass worker and renter protection initiatives, as well as helped to raise minimum wages for temporary workers at the city (including covering them with health insurance)
- “It’s not just about making sure we have enough housing for people…,” Pool said, “but it’s also paying the people who work in Austin a liveable wage and I have been a strong proponent of making sure that people are paid what they deserve and making sure that there’s parity between men and women.”
- Believes that skyrocketing property taxes make affordability in Austin difficult. Has advocated to the state government that property taxes shouldn’t be the primary source of funds for the state. – “I just think that’s not proper,” Pool said. “It doesn’t have any relationship to what a person earns and you don’t have any control over the valuation of your home from year to year. So you’re really at the mercy of market forces and you just can’t affect them.”
“I grew up at a time when that was what my mom and dad taught me – was that you buy a home when you can, and you maintain it, and you love it, and that’s your nest egg for retirement, or if you have to go into assisted living… so all of us feel like, well yeah we want to see our property values increase, but the downsize is we’re then having to pay the property taxes. So I”m also a proponent of relooking at how the State of Texas taxes its people to raise revenue.” – Leslie Pool during her AEN/Shades of Green Interview
Plans for the future
- Growing heritage tourism in Austin, to encourage more people to look at the iconic places here
- Figure out how to create a sustainable funding basis for our parks, create a bank account for purchasing additional parkland for the city. Hoping to bring stakeholders together to look at different public/private partnership methods of financing so that the city can purchase new parkland and maintain the lands we already have – “If I could set the seed/ plant the seed for something like that that would be resilient and sustainable funding and then maybe in 25 years I can look back on my tenure as a council member and say, you know, that was good work, and it had good results,” Pool said. “That is what energizes me and motivates me everyday, just to do the most good that I can and to be of service to my community.”
- Technical writer, former elementary school teacher
- Started Friends of the Grove, an organization that supports mixed use development at the Grove at Shoal Creek
- Board member of Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an inclusive neighborhood association that tries to amplify voices of people who are typically underrepresented at City Hall
- Endorsed by AURA
- Campaign Website
Why she’s running
- “I’m running for City Council because…I grew up here in the city,” Gauldin said in her AEN/Shades of Green interview. “I care about it a lot and I want to have a stronger voice in the future of this city and the way that we shape and grow this city.”
- Grew up in District 7 and is upset to see so many of her neighbors struggling to pay their property taxes or purchase homes in District 7 – instead they’re being forced farther and farther from the city center
- Wants to amplify the voices of the people in District 7 who have been traditionally underrepresented – specifically younger folks (18- to 35-year-olds) and renters
- Top two issues – affordability and transportation (and the way that one affects the other)
- Longterm vision – for people who want to be able to drive less to be able to do so, and for people to be able to live where they want to live in Austin and not be pushed out because of affordability issues
- “We’re doing great things as far as supporting renewable energy, looking at zero waste goals for this city, but the reality is, slowing down the sprawl of this city is probably the best next step that we can take…” Gauldin said in her AEN/Shades of Green interview.
- Wants to use CodeNEXT to shape Austin’s inevitable growth in a more responsible way
- Wants to be a champion for Imagine Austin’s “compact and connected” city concept
- Wants CodeNEXT to:
- Make sure we have a variety of housing types at a variety of price points
- Lower minimum lot sizes
- Allow people to have more housing options
- See more growth and development along the corridor (like Burnet Road)
- Feels that the wrong place for density is large apartment complexes in suburban-style, single-family neighborhoods
- Feel that the right place for density is where we know that transit can support it. Corridors are a great place to start (Burnet and Lamar) and then branching out from the corridors (ie – duplexes next to the corridors to still allow those people to walk to restaurants and shops on the corridors)
- “I think that there is room to have a slight change in density through the interior of single-family neighborhoods,” Gauldin said, “just by allowing people to have smaller lot sizes, but we want a lot of the density to go on corridors.”
- Some neighborhoods won’t change at all, Gauldin says, but in others there could be slight changes – like garage apartments
- Believes that providing “missing middle” housing (like duplexes) is important – they allow people to live in family-oriented, single-family neighborhoods without having to pay the cost of having all that land.
- Says that it’s unreasonable to expect average families in Austin to be able to purchase land in the Brentwood/Crestview neighborhoods, where just the land costs $400,000. “…so they need to be able to find a product that costs a little bit less. And I think just allowing them to own less dirt will be the first step.”
- Very supportive of Imagine Austin and feels that CodeNEXT should be implementing that plan – “The Imagine Austin comprehensive plan was a process that … included the entire community. They worked really hard to make sure that it was really representative of all the different demographic groups and people who are not typically engaged and involved down at City Hall. And I think it would be a big mistake to start ignoring the community by ignoring that plan.”
Prop 1 – $720 million transportation bond
- Gauldin says that she’s supporting Prop 1, not because it’s a perfect plan, but… “because we’ve spent so long not addressing the issues in the city that we have a tremendous backlog of projects that need to be addressed. And so I think this is one step in that direction.”
- Likes the corridor improvement plan component – including steps to make corridors more pedestrian-friendly
How she’s voting on Prop 1: Supports Prop 1, will be voting yes
- Wants to see reliable mass transit (like rail) for Austin
- Supports the city’s climate protection goals
- Wants to get people out of their cars – “Whoever is on council should really always be thinking about that and put aside this idea that everyone always has to be driving cars in Austin and no matter what we do that they’ll be going farther and farther from the city center and driving farther and farther. I’m hearing from the public that they would like to get out of their cars, so I want to let them do that…”
- Says that unfortunately, City Council doesn’t have total control over Cap Metro (we only get a few seats on the board)”…but what we can do is play a role in the chicken and egg scenario we have playing in Austin, which is building density that can support high frequency transit. So, we need to do that through CodeNEXT. “
- Goal is to get more people riding the bus more frequently and to get people out of their cars
Composting/ Zero Waste
- Supportive of Austin’s zero waste goals (to divert 90 percent of our waste from the landfill by 2040)- “Austin cares about the environment and so we should have policies that reflect that.”
- “Sometimes there is a delicate balance between affordability and environmental goals” – the composting rollout is an example of that, Gauldin explained in her AEN/Shades of Green interview
- Concerned that the city is charging people $5 a month to roll out it’s new composting program (not because she doesn’t want people to compost, but because she feels that $5 is a lot of money)
- More supportive of an opt-in, opt-out program or a longer rollout period for curbside composting – “…because that would have moved us toward the zero waste goals and still given an element of affordability to the community.”
- Admits that the opt-in is not ideal and that it will likely mean less people participate, but says that it strikes the right balance now, knowing the pressure that lower income families are facing… “because the lower income families are going to have to pay $5 and the million dollar homeowner families are going to have to pay $5. It’s not a really progressive way of addressing the zero waste goals.”
- “I’m guessing that many people in the community are going to be upset when they find out that they’re being forced into this additional fee where the transportation bond was something they had the opportunity to vote yes or no on,” Gauldin said during her AEN/Shades of Green interview.
- Also concerned about striking a balance – “I’m truly concerned that the state is going to jump in and deregulate Austin Energy if we don’t make really careful choices every step of the way.”
- Believes that we need to be careful not to set off alarms down at the capital … “we could lose our complete control over the utility and once we lose that control, we lose the opportunity to keep pressing forward on our goals to have more renewable energy and a cleaner city overall.”
- Says that she does support renewable energy goals, but she always has that threat in mind
- Supportive of conservation goals and once-a-week watering
- “This is about what works for the greater good…I think it was just a really great move,” Gauldin said about the city’s recent switch to permanent once-a-week-watering