District 9 candidates discuss transportation, affordability at forum

Jackie Wang

The three candidates vying to be the first District 9 representative in the newly restructured Austin City Council discussed public transportation, affordability and Sixth Street safety at a forum Thursday hosted by the city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters.

In 2013, Austin voters approved reformatting the council from six citywide elected members to a district representation system made up of 10 members. The mayor will continue to be elected citywide. Under the new system, much of the University, downtown Austin, West Campus and Hyde Park are located in District 9. The new council will be elected in November and take office in January. 

Council members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley, and Erin McGann, a program supervisor in the Department of Criminal Justice, are competing for the first District 9 council seat. 

At Thursday’s forum, held at the Palmer Events Center, McGann said she was running because the council had become out of touch with the city and criticized its approval of the urban rail. McGann also said the proposed urban rail would not actually decrease traffic, and suggested more parking lots would help alleviate the growing traffic problem.  

“The proposed rail will continue the trend towards unaffordability in Austin,” McGann said. “I will fight to audit all departments for waste, corruptions. We owe it to Austin to be completely transparent in spending and taxes.”

Riley said making bike sharing available at Austin’s larger events would help traffic and parking problems.

“We can make some city facilities available for parking,” Riley said. “I’ve sponsored resolutions to make sure we are appropriately managing those resources. Parking is a resource and it needs to be managed carefully, thoughtfully and responsibly.”

According to Tovo, neighborhoods without off-street parking may have trouble if driveways are small or residents need to find parking for friends.

“One of the things we can do to make sure we can preserve the quality of life in our neighborhoods is to pay attention to things like parking,” Tovo said.

The candidates also addressed affordable housing. Riley said District 9 is a diverse area with need for a wide variety of housing.

“Currently, we’re not doing a very good job of providing the options that are needed to meet every housing need that’s out there,” Riley said. “It serves everyone’s interests to have a great diversity of housing options. District 9 is a great place to provide a model for the rest of the city and for the country.”

Tovo said one way of creating more affordable housing would be preserving older houses, as well as requiring developers to provide housing on-site if applying for the city’s density bonus program. 

“Within District 9, I think we have some good opportunities, one in the area of preservation,” Tovo said.  “We also need to look carefully how we use our density bonus programs. We lost millions of dollars of money that could have been used for affordable housing.”

McGann addressed Sixth Street and the safety issues that accompany its popularity.

“I would like to see Austin have a sobriety center,” McGann said. “The center would allow access to people who are not necessarily breaking the law but need somewhere safe if they cannot go home.”

Tovo said the importance of Sixth Street to Austin makes it more imperative to improve safety in the area.

“People need to feel comfortable eating and enjoying the nightlife,” Tovo said. “We need to make sure we have adequate officers in the street.”