Georgetown's Smart Growth struggles, and Mayor Watson's
If we were The Georgetown Chronicle, I'm pretty sure we would have endorsed all of the "Planned Growth" City Council members who are now in control of that body. We'd probably still be supporting them, as they fight for urban design standards in a part of the world where that's not the most common way of doing business (see Jordan Smith's "Georgetown Smackdown," p.26).
It's no accident that this particular council is in place, of course. The people of Georgetown value their small-town independence, pride themselves on being not Round Rock and not Temple, and in three successive elections -- in May 1999, 2000, and 2001 -- replaced pro-growth incumbents with an avowed cadre of "Planned Growthers," whose main platform was that they wanted to preserve the existing character of their community and insisted that new development be compatible with that.
But the booster counter-offensive is in full swing now -- after all, this council not only chased off a planned Home Depot and Wal-Mart, they don't even seem sorry about it. And economic development is a powerful rallying cry, even when its prospects are none too certain.
Will Georgetown's leaders -- and ultimately its citizens -- stick to their priorities through a leaner budget cycle, or will they succumb to bitter boosters? Only time will tell.
Which brings us to the ending of the Kirk Watson era at the Austin City Council. (Mayor Watson resigned this week -- though under our new, hereditary order of succession, he won't actually step down until Gus Garcia can be installed in November [note to Bev: not now].)
This was a case where this paper did endorse the incoming majority -- when Watson took office in 1997, every member on the dais had been endorsed by the Chronicle. Surely it was a new day! And indeed, in the four-plus years since then, there's been a remarkable change in the culture at city hall -- environmental and quality-of-life considerations now get equal billing with economic development, and the age-old divide between the two camps has been effectively bridged by the language of "Smart Growth."
Still, it is notable that most of the tangible results of the Smart Growth incentive to date -- CSC, the Intel hulk, the Convention Center redo, a host of development incentives -- had major corporate backing, while the major items on the neighborhood and environmental agenda -- rail, neighborhood planning, social equity initiatives, an effective bike route over the Lamar Bridge -- have lagged behind, and are now on the budget chopping block.
This isn't the time and place to consider The Watson Legacy, nor were city leaders the only ones who had trouble timing the drastic swings in the local economy. But as we head into the last, and leanest, budget season of the Watson Era, and prepare for an orderly transition to new leadership (not now, Bev!), it's worth remembering that if you really want something to happen, you have to spend the money for it; and a lot of times, the biggest costs are hidden, and come from forgetting what your priorities are.