Saturday, April 26, 2008

City Council

For the first time this year, I've decided to really pay attention to City Council and do my homework and actually go vote. I care a great deal about the decisons our city's leaders make about its future, and I care an even greater deal about how those decisions are going to impact my life. It seems this year that density, public transportation and creating a truly "green city" (whatever that really means) are the hot topics.

So, after doing a fair amount of researching interviews, endorsements, my own memories of past city issues, and their own web pages, I've made a list of who I will be voting for and why.

Place 1: Lee Leffingwell
Jason Meeker seems like kind of a douche, and Alan Demling actually seems kinda rad, but ultimately, he's only lived in Austin for 4 years, feels like the "weird, hippy" candidate, and is mostly known for having a big ole beard. He's a big bicycler and wants to create bike highways all over town to actually make it feasible for people to commute to work, not just bike recreationally, and wants to follow the example of European cities and install hundreds of bike rental stations all over Austin. Which I heartily endorse. But that's about all he's got.

Leffingwell's pet issues are water conservation, plastic bag banning, mental care services, disallowing economic incentives for big box retail, and creating more transparency at city hall. He wants to create a "zero waste" city, expand sidewalks and bike lanes, and create a downtown circulator train, in addition to expanded and more frequent bus routes. He cites that Austin is now bigger than D.C., Boston, Atlana, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, and the population is expected to double in the next 20 years. He wants to help lead Austin growth in a way that's smart, dense, preserves character and environment, and he's served on the council for 3 years now.

Place 3: Randi Shade
Jennifer Kim holds the current spot, but she's been very controversial, despite advocating for the poor and for neighborhood character. She's given some really dumb answers in interviews, and doesn't get along particularly well with other council members, often switching her vote at the last minute and generally being unreliable.

Randi is a big environmentalist, with a long history of running non-profits benefitting the very poor. She has good ideas about how to deal with traffic (aka, land use), and supports neighborhood density, particularly along high-traffic corridors (although, to be fair, I'm not sure anyone really opposes this, or would admit to it, except maybe Laura Morrison). She doesn't support toll roads, though, which makes me a little nervous, and says she would only vote for them as a last resort. Hmmm. I'll let that one slide, and hopefully it won't come back to bite me.

Place 4: Cid Galindo
He is the only person running for any position that has actually laid out concrete and detailed plans for relieving traffic congestion and creating more walkable neighborhoods and implementing better public transportation. His plan was presented at, and approved by, the Congress for New Urbanism conference that was held in Austin about 3 weeks back. It basically consists of creating 7 different "hubs" or downtown-type centers, around Austin, that would all be walkable, dense neighborhoods, each served by public transportation within and linking them. It grows the city primarily east, to avoid building any more upon the watershed zones west of the city. It has nearly unanimous approval.

Robin Cravey is pretty awesome too, but he just doesn't have the spunk and ideas of Cid Galindo. He's a rabid environmentalist, with a long history of serving Austin well, and it's too bad that they can't both be in different races, instead of competing against each other. A vote for Laura Morrison is a vote for the suburbs and moneyed interest in West Austin and Hyde Park who don't want to see their neighborhoods change anymore. Which means they want no more growth or density in their neighborhoods, and only the construction of single-family homes and McMansions.

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