District 9 candidate Erin McGann talks about urban rail, ‘stealth dorms’

Jackie Wang

Erin McGann, candidate for the Austin City Council’s District 9 seat, sat down with The Daily Texan to discuss her plans should she be elected. This year’s city election is the first under the Council’s 10-ONE structure, in which each council member will represent one of 10 geographic districts in the city. District 9 covers most of the UT campus, West Campus, North Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress. McGann currently works at the Texas Department of Justice as a program supervisor for the Community and Veterans Reentry Program. She is the only candidate running for the District 9 seat who has not previously served on City Council before. The interview is the second in a series of three with the District 9 candidates. 

The Daily Texan: How do you feel about the new 10-ONE system that is going into effect with this election, especially since, if you are elected, there would be an entirely new council?

Erin McGann: I am looking forward to a spanking new system. Every single one of us running feels the weight of making this work. We all talk about this. This is momentous. We all feel like we have to work incredibly hard and make sure we are working together and considering the whole city when we talk about our own districts, and we need to make sure everything is running well, and we’re communicating well. Everybody has expressed absolute commitment to making sure the 10-ONE system works, and the whole city is represented and their district is too. All of us have felt a little disenfranchised with the way things are running in the city. You do get lost in the noise with the at-large system. Those with the most money get heard. With the new system, it’s going to be really great.


DT: What have you enjoyed about the race so far?

EM: This has been the most incredible learning experience. If I did this again, I would study for two years for this five-month test. I’ve met some of the most involved, smartest people. People in Austin are amazingly passionate about what they want and what they don’t want. To me, this isn’t a career. I’m not looking at a legacy, I’m not looking at what people will think of my name. I’m looking to make Austin better for those who live here.

DT: How will you involve students in your policy-making if you are elected?

EM: I have an open-door policy and a one-business-day response policy. Those are my personal policies but also my current work policies. If you have a question, I will call you back or respond to your email. I intend to have hours outside of eight-to-five, and I intend to do those out in the community. I would have to rely on the campus to get information out, but I would do things like go to the library on the second Wednesday of every month. 


DT: Are you concerned about student turnout this election?

EM: Someone told me in the last May election, 35 students voted. The last big election we had, thousands of students voted because that was the Obama and gubernatorial election, and it was big. But that is really indicative that students don’t feel they need to be involved with city politics. Right now, it’s the most important time to be involved in city politics. Students are the “sleeping giant” that people are trying to poke and wake up. You can sway the election. The students hold a huge amount of power, and I don’t know if they are fully aware of how much power they have, especially in city elections. I’ll be fascinated to see how many people vote. It’s an insanely small number of people who vote.


DT: You have spoken out against Proposition 1, also known as the urban rail plan. Why are you against it?

EM: The urban rail is too expensive, and the route is really bad. Whatever the last time was when we voted on this, it was a great route. But, it was voted down, and it was less expensive. This route being set up is certainly not going to reduce any traffic because traffic doesn’t run from Highland Mall to the Riverside ACC campus. It also is not going to address our most used areas of transportation. We’re going to get at least 10 years of traffic with construction. Government projects don’t come in under time and under budget. It’s going to take more than $3.1 billion when we finish it. 


DT: What other issues are you passionate about?

EM: I really strongly believe that we need to change the ordinance that they’re calling the “stealth dorm ordinance.” I was disappointed to hear that passed; it puts entirely too much burden on students and lower-income people.I understand neighbors’ objections, but those can usually be addressed by a call to 211 or talking to a landlord. I think having a blanket law puts a lot of pressure on people who can’t afford to live in a more spacious manner. Building things like micro-units downtown aren’t going to alleviate it. Those will still be very expensive. If we’re not going to have lower income housing for people who need it, then we have to allow people to live together.


DT: What specific topics would you focus on as a City Council member?

EM: I could go and cut $30 million from the budget tomorrow. We’ve got all these jobs that float from year to year that aren’t filled but funded. 10 percent of the jobs of Austin are unfilled each year. We fund them in the budget. The budget is $35 billion, and an “x” amount is for the salaries of those jobs. The money is still there just in case we fill them, but we don’t.When we get to the end of the year, we can spend it on whatever we want. We can cut that right out and reduce the budget by that much. 


DT: Are there any issues that set you apart from your opponents?

EM: Short term rentals. If you rent out your house or room at all, you have to apply with the city for a short-term rental certificate. I think it’s $265 to do that. I have to pass an inspection. I have to show them paperwork, and they have to make sure I have no open permits, and then they send a letter to my neighbors. Only 3 percent in a neighborhood can be allowed to do this at a time. And then you have to pay a hotel tax. But, it’s a stupid law. I think we keep adding stupid laws.

Some answers in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.