A Bloodcurdling Day in the Neighborhood: Candidates woo ANC
Candidates to ANC: Howdy, neighbor!
Last week's Austin Neighborhoods Council City Council candidate forum may already be old news on the campaign trail. But it provided a substantive window into candidates' policy positions – if not all the concerns of the voting homeownerati this election.
Every candidate was allowed a two-minute introduction before the allotted 13-minute barrage of detailed ANC questions. Place 4 hopeful Cid Galindo spoke first, displaying a good working knowledge of the mainly zoning- and neighborhood-related issues, but he didn't necessarily deliver the "correct" answers for this ANC crowd. For instance, there was his willingness to re-address Lady Bird Lake setbacks for developers in order to complete the Hike and Bike Trail loop. (Galindo called for "reasonable compromises" – like a 150-foot setback, at the very most.) Robin Cravey was drilled for his answer on an ANC questionnaire that compatibility standards might be relaxed for affordable housing. Cravey told the crowd that Austin needed to "admit now" that in order to accommodate future growth, we'll have to "build taller and closer together." One question posed to former ANC Chair Laura Morrison dealt with the city's contentious move of the Town Lake Animal Center to the Eastside. In court, the city had taken the (successful) position that neighborhood plans are merely advisory, not legally binding. "Zoning cases come out of neighborhood plans, [and] those are not advisory," Morrison said, although she conceded that the aspirational nature of neighborhood plans sometimes requires council review and approval.
The evening's rigid format effectively prevented the Place 1 Lee Leffingwell/Jason Meeker/Allen Demling throwdown from becoming a bloodbath. Leffingwell, queried why the Big Box Ordinance took so long to get passed while changes to measuring impervious cover were quickly approved, answered, "Some things go quickly; some things don't." The Wal-Mart warriors in the crowd chuckled, as if this simple truism were a hard-earned confession. Later, a question to Meeker began, "It's clear from your answers to the ANC questionnaire you need to become more familiar [with zoning regulations]." (For instance, Meeker didn't know what compatibility requirements are.) With many such questions likely on council, would Meeker rely on city staff for answers – the same team he's railed against for the Wal-Mart site plan? Again, laughter ensued. (He would, but he also proposed outside help from the University of Texas.)
In Place 3, Ken Weiss spoke standing instead of sitting – thereby ensuring that Randi Shade and Jennifer Kim also got off their duffs. Asked to defend her campaign assertions that Kim is an ineffective council member, Shade cited Kim's support of expanding the panhandling ordinance, her 11th-hour protest against the city manager hiring, and her toll road votes. However, one question asked whether businesswoman Shade could shake "the mindset of the Chamber [of Commerce]." For her own part, Kim said, "I realize I've made mistakes," citing "things I would have done differently. But I learned from those mistakes." Americans love a redemption story, but will a Drew Barrymore tale be enough to save Kim?
It proved enough, for the moment, for the ANC. Kim received the group's nod, as did former ANC leader Morrison. Neither Leffingwell nor Meeker, however, cleared the two-thirds margin needed to endorse.
For more on this and other council occasions, see austinchronicle.com/newsdesk.
Registration, Donation Deadlines
• Voters, lollygaggers, listen here: If you managed to make it past the presidential primaries and assorted run-offs without getting registered, well, chances are you ain't gonna start now. Regardless, the registration deadline for May's municipal elections is April 10. To register, verify your registration, or change your address, go to www.traviscountytax.org/goVoters.do.
• That's not the only deadline: Candidates sent out multiple fundraising SOSs on Monday, flogging the fact that March 31 was the deadline for donations to appear on their April 10 campaign finance reports. With subject lines like "Please act by midnight tonight!" and "I Urgently Need Your Help," both Randi Shade and Laura Morrison implored their supporters to give, give, give – in order to look good in the money game next week.
Upcoming Candidate Forums
This week brings another round of opportunities to see council candidates speak out.
• Alliance for Public Transit Transportation/Austin Area Regional Transit forum: Thursday, April 3, 6:30pm; City Council Chambers, Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second
• Housing Candidate forum: Friday, April 4, 5:30pm; Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto
• Bicycle forum (Austin Cycling Association, the League of Bicycling Voters, and the Yellow Bike Project): Monday, April 7, 7pm; Lower Colorado River Authority board room, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd.
• Austin Area Human Services Association forum: Tuesday, April 8, 11:30am; Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.
• Responsible Growth for Northcross forum: Tuesday, April 8, 6:45pm; Ben Hur Shrine Auditorium, 7811 Rockwood Ln.
• Austin Women's Political Caucus forum: Wednesday, April 9, 6pm; Travis County Commissioners Court, 314 W. 11th
• Austin Board of Realtors forum (open to general membership only): Thursday, April 10, noon; Austin Board of Realtors auditorium, 10900 Stonelake Blvd. #100
• Austin Center for Architecture forum; Friday, April 11, 5pm; Austin Center for Architecture, 801 W. 12th