Civics 101 – The Race for Austin City Council’s District 2

District 2 Mural - Time Warner Building
This mural is located on the side of the Time Warner Cable building at the corner of South First and Stassney, which is in District 2. The Austin EcoNetwork is using outdoor art this election cycle to help highlight the unique and creative aspects of each district. By showcasing these murals, we're hoping to spread one important truth this election season - elections are fundamentally about people. It's our voice, our vote, and our city. Elections are not about politicians or special interests. Elections are about us.

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 2, which is located in southeast Austin. (If you don’t know which City Council district you live in, you can look it up here).

 

City Council District Map
This is the map of all 10 City Council districts in Austin. District 2 is located in the southeastern part of the city.

The three candidates who are running for the District 2 City Council seat are:

  • Delia Garza
  • Wesley Faulkner
  • Casey Ramos

Below you will find additional information about each of the candidates, as well as podcast interviews with Delia Garza and Wesley Faulkner. The interviews have been produced in partnership with Shades of Green radio show on KOOP 91.7 FM. (Casey Ramos did not return our requests for an interview.)

Delia Garza

 

  • Current City Council Member – was first elected two years ago
  • Former Firefighter and Assistant State Attorney General
  • Currently serves as the Chair of the Public Utilities Committee; Vice Chair of the Open Space, Environment, and Open Space Committee; Member of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, and the Mobility Committee
  • Currently sits on the Board of Directors of Capital Metro, representing the City of Austin
  • Has been endorsed by Clean Water Action and the Austin Environmental Democrats
  • Campaign Website
Delia Garza
photo courtesy of the Delia Garza campaign

Top Environmental Accomplishments as City Council Member:

  • “Well I think my district sees the impacts of climate change, and one of those would be the flooding that has happened,” Garza said during her AEN/Shades of Green interview. “My district has been affected significantly by it.” Many southeast Austin residents living along Onion and Williamson creeks had their homes destroyed by terrible flooding during Halloween of 2013. The City Council later authorized a buyout program to get residents out of those homes (which in a world increasingly affected by climate change, are likely to be flooded again). The program is part of the city’s efforts to encourage resilience and adaptation for a new century of challenges. Delia worked on the buyout policy, and says that she is proud of her attempts to make it as fair a program as possible.
  • Taking the lead on approving additional investments in solar. Last year, City Council (which serves as the Board of Directors for Austin Energy) approved an additional 600 MW of investment in solar for Austin Energy. Those purchases more than doubled the amount of solar currently installed in the entire state of Texas. “I think it’s important that we have our minority council members and the council members that represent our lower income districts advocate for increasing our investments in solar,” Garza said, explaining that it is often those districts that suffer from the impacts of traditional sources of energy (like coal) the most.
  • Approving new once-a-week watering restrictions. Delia is the chair of the Public Utilities Committee, which is the council committee that focuses on Austin Water. Earlier this year, City Council approved permanent one-day-per-week watering restrictions for automatic sprinkler systems. “We’re in good shape right now,” Garza said in reference to the availability of our drinking water, “but we never know what’s going to happen with our weather, so I think it’s important for us to stay at the conservation level permanently for now.”

Austin Water

Garza is chair of the Public Utilities Committee, which is the council committee that focuses on Austin Water. She says that serving on that committee, she has learned a lot, especially about the need for a new business model for Austin Water. “The model is based on usage, so… I don’t think it encourages conservation the way that we want it to… I think it’s important that we have a different model that encourages conservation and we’re not having to depend on people using water to keep our finances okay.”

In addition, Garza mentioned that she is always concerned with keeping rates low for residents.

Capital Metro

  • Serves on the board of Cap Metro
  • Wants to see Cap Metro become a service that is frequent and reliable
  • Goal is to double ridership at Cap Metro
  • Wants to see Cap Metro add more buses
  • Supportive of Connections 2025, but is still listening to concerns from constituents about some bus routes that might be removed. Thinks it could have a real effect on making Cap Metro better and allowing families to potentially drop a car and live more affordably in Austin.
  • Very supportive of dedicated bus lanes. Wants to see them throughout the city (not just downtown)

“My vision would be that not every family has to have two cars,” Garza said during her AEN/Shades of Green interview. “I think it’d be great if every family could not have to even have any cars because that’s a huge expense out of a family’s budget.”

Prop 1 – $720 million transportation bond

Voted no to putting it on the November ballot, and then abstained from the vote that approved the final ballot language.

Her concerns with Prop 1 are:

  • $720 million is a huge proportion of our bonding capacity. Was supportive of smaller $300 million and $500 million plans that wouldn’t have cost taxpayers any additional money.
  • Didn’t feel like the stakeholder process was inclusive enough. Says there wasn’t a single face-to-face meeting in her district. Much of the public input was collected via the internet.
  • Believes it’s too focused on transportation when we have other needs in our community, including flood mitigation, affordable housing, and fire stations (says that we’re five stations behind).
  • Bond fatigue – people are at their limit with so many different government agencies constantly asking for a few more dollars here or there (says that all of these bonds really add up)
  • No direct funding for public transit (and people might be less likely to fund additional investments in public transit down the road if they’ve already approved this $720 million bond)

“Let’s say if this bond had included rail… and that cost voters $5 to $10 extra, I think that’s a little easier pill to swallow… You’re going to pay $5 or $10 more, but you can get rid of one of your cars which is about at least $200 or $300 [a month].” – Delia Garza, during her AEN/Shades of Green interview

How she’s voting on Prop 1: Not sure yet. She says that she is still deciding, but encourages Austinites to really educate themselves on exactly what this bond does and to vote based on what they think is best for them.

Uber/ Lyft

Delia serves on the Mobility Committee and was supportive of City Council’s efforts to place additional regulations on ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft. (After the issue was forced into an election, Delia publicly said that she would be voting no, warning that the city could not allow big companies to make the rules).

Her Takeaways:

  • “I wish it hadn’t of gotten as contentious as it did, and I didn’t think it had to go there,” Delia said.
  • Fights back against the argument that City Council didn’t negotiate with Uber and Lyft enough, saying that, “I promise you, we were trying.” She says that City Council had meetings with both Uber and Lyft trying to develop a compromise, but eventually realized that any form of fingerprinting was unacceptable to Uber and Lyft. “We quickly realized that there really wasn’t any compromising. If fingerprinting was required, they were going to leave.”
  • Also contends that many of the fears people had about what would happen when Uber and Lyft left hasn’t actually happened. She points out that DWIs haven’t increased and that eight new companies (that are able to work within the new regulations) have since established themselves in Austin.
  • As far as the future goes with Uber and Lyft, Delia says that the voters have decided, so changing the regulations now wouldn’t feel quite right. But, she did say that Uber and Lyft could come back to Austin today, if they wanted to. They just would have to follow the same rules as everybody else.

CodeNEXT

  • Says that she is supportive of CodeNEXT, explaining that it’s very important that we look at our land development code again. Delia explained that the current code is too confusing and makes building in Austin too slow, which can hurt our affordability.
  • We do need to add supply, but we need to do it in a sustainable way
  • We need missing middle housing – duplexes and triplexes
  • Need density along transit corridors
  • “It’s an environmental issue when sprawl happens,” Garza said. “And it doesn’t help congestion issues if we’re forcing people out of our public transit service area.”

“I think when people fully understand the issue they understand why density is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s done sustainably and in areas where it’s appropriate… We’re not trying to change the character of neighborhoods, but at the same time we do need to all understand that we’re a growing city, and we’re changing, and change is okay, and we’re all in this together.” – Delia Garza

Curbside Composting

  • “I think it’s great,” Garza said. “I am a big supporter of our composting program.”
  • Expressed some concern with the additional fee, but said she is hopeful that families will be able to make it cost neutral by switching to a smaller trash can. (That’s what she did with her own family).
  • “I think it’s important that we recycle, and we compost, and that we have a priority on environmental protection here in Austin,” Garza said.

 

Plans for the future, if reelected:

  • “My priority has always been… pushing progressive policy that keeps working families in Austin,” Garza said.
  • Getting Cap Metro’s ridership up, getting people out of their cars and into buses.
  • “I think it’s absolutely necessary for districts like mine to understand why we need to protect our environment…” Garza said. “As we try to solve all these issues like transportation and housing, we keep that lens of how is this affecting our environment and how is this affecting everyone’s quality of life… I hope to be able to continue to work on that policy.”

 

Wesley Faulkner

 

  • Social Media Director at Namecheap (domain name registrar and web hosting company)
  • Sits on the advisory board of SXSW Interactive
  • Founding member of Open Austin ( a group advocating government/data transparency)
  • Campaign Website
Wesley Faulkner
City Council Candidate Wesley Faulkner in the KOOP Studios

Major reasons why he’s running/ what his campaign is all about

  • Doesn’t feel like the city’s policies accurately reflect Austin’s progressive nature and reputation for being a tech hub
  • Feels that government isn’t run as efficiently as it could be. “We’re just not taking advantage of the knowledge base that we have here and making smart decisions,” Faulkner said in his AEN/Shades of Green interview.
  • Doesn’t feel that City Council sets enough real and measurable goals for itself. Believes that data and tech can help local government run better.
  • “I think data transparency is the cornerstone of my campaign,” Wesley said.

Prop 1

  • Concerned about the data behind “what is considered successful.” What does it mean exactly when Prop 1 says it will alleviate traffic? “I would love to see some specific data about how much (from an analytical standpoint) it will make things better,” Faulkner said during his AEN/Shades of Green interview.
  • Doesn’t feel like there are enough clear goals laid out by Prop 1. What would success mean? “We don’t know what to expect after we pass this, at all,” Faulkner said.
  • Says that the data are not included in the public record and that it’s hard for him to decide if the bond is really worth the money.
  • For Faulkner, it’s all about accountability.

How he’s voting – Against. “… Because it’s rushed through and that accountability is not there.”

Capital Metro

  • Doesn’t feel that Council Member Garza has done enough in her capacity as a Board Member of Cap Metro to improve our city’s public transportation infrastructure.
  • Believes that increased data transparency would allow government, universities, and the general public to help improve our city’s bus system. “So I’m not saying that I personally could make things better (I’m not a traffic engineer) but the people who are passionate… if we give them the data and make that data available, we can see exactly what routes are losing money, how they’re losing money, why they’re losing money, and understand the ridership,” Wesley said.

Austin Energy

  • Supports the city’s solar rebate programs
  • Wants to see solar installed on larger, new developments in Austin
  • “Every new house that we build, or every new structure that we build is going to add to the demand in power,” Wesley said. “And so the more that we do these steps to augment our power distribution, I think overall in the longrun it’s going to help us.”

Climate Change

  • Believes in climate change and supports taking steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions
  • Wants to take steps to shut down Fayette

CodeNEXT

  • Supports the general concept and spirit/direction of CodeNEXT, but feels like the “devil is in the details.” He just wants to make sure there is a lot of public input.
  • Says he’d love to see more density, but with density, he says there can come problems (like traffic).
  • “I think we need more density to help with affordable housing and missing middle housing,” Wesley said. “It’s going to cause other problems that we’re going to deal with, but it’s definitely where the future of Austin lies.”

Uber/Lyft

  • Says that his district actually supported the Uber/Lyft Prop 1 because many people rely on it for transportation or for supplemental funds
  • Has said that he does not support City Council’s fingerprint-based background check regulations

Curbside Composting/ City’s Zero Waste Policies

  • Supports curbside composting and the city’s zero waste policies

Plans for the future, if elected

“I’m here to try and unite Austin, to get us moving in the direction we need to go… I’m going to bring the expertise of accountability and transparency to Austin and build back that trust.” – Wesley Faulkner during his AEN/Shades of Green interview

 

Casey Ramos

Casey Ramos
photo courtesy of the Casey Ramos Campaign
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