Campus and downtown council candidates hold forum ahead of midterm elections – The Daily Texan

ByShannon J. Cortes

Oct 25, 2022

Eight candidates for the District 9 City Council seat gathered at City Hall on Thursday to share their positions with voters.

District 9’s boundaries include central Austin neighborhoods like UT, North University, West Campus, Downtown, and Travis Heights, and it is currently represented by council member Kathie Tovo.

Zena Mitchell

Mitchell has worked as a tradeswoman, congressional liaison, and teacher at an Austin-area high school.

Mitchell said his priorities are the people of Austin. She said she opposes the ODA’s use of license plate readers because of civil rights issues and opposes putting more money into expansion and development projects. improving Interstate 35.

“We’ve invested heavily in Project Connect, and I don’t think I can handle more money being allocated to roads for single-vehicle traffic,” Mitchell said.

On housing and affordability, Mitchell said she supports the city’s housing obligation and has a “rent-to-own” proposal for high-density living. She said the city needs to negotiate with the private sector for more affordable housing and tackle those who oppose density.

“There have been too many neighborhoods voting for affordable housing because of how it’s going to affect them,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to have to address the ‘not in my back end. “”

Zohaib “Zo” Qadri

Qadri has nine years of experience in election organizing, legislative and advocacy work at the local and state levels in Austin and across the country. He said a lack of fairness is failing Austin’s most vulnerable citizens.

Qadri opposes the use of license plate scanners and said they could be used to target marginalized communities or those leaving the state to have abortions. He supports the Affordable Housing Bond and said updating Austin’s land development code and speeding up the permitting process will help enable that affordability.

“We have to take into account that the lack of update has affected hundreds of thousands of people … and has driven a lot of people out of this community,” Qadri said.

Qadri said he was on board with the course and seam of I-35, a project in collaboration with the Texas Department of Transportation to build “a community-centered effort to co-create new spaces public on I-35”, according to the Austin city website. However, Qadri said he was unwilling to support caps and seams if those improvements also came with the expansion of I-35.

“Ultimately, this I-35 expansion will displace so many people, so many businesses, that it will further separate the city,” Qadri said.

Greg Smith

Smith has 35 years of experience in private companies working in management and problem solving.

Smith said he was in favor of license plate readers with the stipulation that the data collected be kept for a limited time. He said he also supports the cap and stitch program and funds the development of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure that he says will eliminate the barrier imposed by I-35.

On development, Smith said he would ensure that all proposed bond money is used for its intended purpose and that the construction process is expedited.

We need to make sure it’s as easy as possible to get these affordable units into the field as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “The fees associated with some of these things just need to be eliminated.”

To those who oppose density in their neighborhoods, Smith said development, especially along Project Connect corridors, is a critical opportunity to alleviate Austin’s housing and affordability crisis.

Joah Spearman

Spearman is an entrepreneur, has served on non-profit and city hall boards as vice chairman of the Austin Music Commission and the Downtown Commission.

Spearman opposed license plate readers and said there are other public safety tools that would build trust within the community. He supports the Affordable Housing Bond and said the city should explore more solutions involving federal, state and private funding.

As part of land use reform, Spearman said the city needs to optimize its code for those who have been burdened with housing costs.

“We need to think about the impact this has already had and is going to have on our essential workers,” Spearman said.

Kym Olson

Olson served as a captain in the Texas Guard and spent nine years as a board member of the Texas Network of Youth Services doing advocacy work for homeless and foster youth.

Olson said there should be more transparency in all aspects of Austin’s government, including the public safety salaries that are offered.

“We don’t have enough police and we won’t have enough until we can guarantee what they will earn next year, what benefits they will have,” Olson said.

On the affordable housing obligation or the expansion and improvement of I-35, Olson said she would demand audits on both and oppose them until that level. transparency is achieved.

“I don’t want to fund these projects anymore until we have a full audit and full transparency,” Olson said. “We must restore confidence in this government.”

Ben Leffler

Leffler has experience in the City Auditor’s Office and City Council Office, working with Austin Energy to achieve sustainability goals. He also served on his neighborhood association and founded a nonprofit fundraiser for progressive organizations in Austin.

On a public safety budget, Leffler said there needs to be fair funding across departments, especially for the underfunded emergency medical services department. In part to ensure these essential workers aren’t kicked out of Austin, Leffler is supporting the Affordable Housing Bond, updating the city’s land use code and urging developers to build more affordable housing.

“We need to build a lot more affordable housing, and District 9 is a great place to do that because we’re Austin’s central district and have the best access to public transportation,” Leffler said.

He also said housing diversity leads to income and race diversity, things Austinians value in their city, even though some citizens resist high-density development.

“In my experience, if you go out and have a conversation and do a collaborative public input process, we can agree that the status quo doesn’t work and we charge our neighbors,” Leffler said.

Linda Guerrero

Guerrero is a teacher in the Austin Independent School District with a special education class at Austin High School and has worked on the Parks Board, Environmental Commission, and Bond Oversight Commission.

On the development, Guerrero said the permitting process needs to be simplified to make construction easier for owners and developers. She said supporting higher density throughout the city is important for equity and will make the city better for everyone.

In order to prevent city employees from being kicked out of town, Guerrero also said there should be more funds dedicated to salaries.

“It’s very clear that we need to increase the budget not only for (emergency medical services) but also for police and firefighters,” Guerrero said.

Thomas Wald

Wald served as Lake Austin’s first executive director from 2009 to 2014, helped create and expand transit and road safety provisions, and worked with nonprofits on mobility issues and affordability.

Wald said public safety makes up two-thirds of the city’s budget, so he supports reallocating funds instead of increasing them. He also said respecting the roles of emergency medical services, fire and police and sending them to the right calls will prevent escalation. He opposes the expansion of I-35 and said improvements such as caps and stitches could be funded to save the city of Austin money.

“I’ve worked for eight years with Reconnect Austin to push forward a project that really creates economic value so I can afford those caps,” Wald said.

In terms of development, Wald said he supports funding and subsidizing affordability projects for a variety of income levels. To encourage density and incentivize development, he also supports the elimination of parking requirements.