Ten Districts, Many Visions
Candidates building the road to 10-1 work to define Austin's new civic order (Part II)
District 6: Welcome to Austin
D6 Ballot OrderJames "Jimmy" Flannigan
Lloyd "Pete" Phillips
District 6 not only stretches the farthest north of any district, with a significant fraction crossing into Williamson County, but it also surrounds neighboring District 10 into far west Austin, where it meets Lake Travis. It encompasses the sprawling neighborhoods of Anderson Mill, Avery Ranch, Robinson Ranch, Riata, and River Place. Much of the district has only recently become part of Austin: The largest neighborhood, Anderson Mill, was annexed in 2008, and other portions of the district, such as the River Place MUD, are still undergoing annexation.
Annexation can be a contentious process, and some residents of the district aren't entirely thrilled with their status as Austinites. City of Austin property taxes tend to be higher than they were in the unannexed subdivisions, in part because the city not only provides new services but undertakes a variety of citywide civic projects – such as the new Downtown public library, which seems remote to many suburbanites. When City Council candidate Jay Wiley spoke of "no one" wanting or needing the new library at a recent forum, he was appealing to district voters who aren't happy about paying taxes to support Central Austin projects, even if that's the nature of a city. Candidate Don Zimmerman, from the Libertarian wing of the GOP, cut his teeth politically as president of Canyon Creek MUD, fighting new city taxes and the Voting Rights Act, and co-founded the "Travis County Taxpayers Union" – it often sounds as if his campaign is based exclusively on the promise to cut taxes.
Matt Stillwell, who has run in this area before as a Democrat for state rep., says that on his block walks, he encounters residents who aren't yet aware that they will have a Council representative. When people are, as he puts it, "nostalgic for the good ol' days" before annexation, it's usually because of a "perceived degradation of services"; they don't like the city's approach to paving roads or collecting trash, or the length of emergency response times in an area plagued by property crime. The other Dem in the race, Jimmy Flannigan, cautions against taking the idea of D6 as disconnected from the rest of the city too far. There are plenty of people who choose to live in D6 because it's in Austin, he says, citing himself as an example. Those residents enjoy the benefits of a more suburban lifestyle while still being engaged with the city and its politics.
Because it's the largest geographically of the districts, and the least dense, the conversation in D6 is as at least, if not more, focused on traffic as in any of the 10 (except perhaps District 8). None of the D6 candidates support Prop. 1 (the rail and road bond), which appears to have become fairly toxic for candidates citywide. Candidates on the right tend to argue that what D6 needs is more roads, while others would like to see greater use made of the public transportation that already exists – advocating more Park & Rides and additional bus routes. Like Flannigan, candidate Pete Phillips proposes more commercial development within or close to district neighborhoods, coining the expression "the Two-Mile Smile" to describe his vision of selected areas – roughly two miles in diameter – where Austinites can "live, work, and play." Flannigan uses the term "connected corridors" to promote development along the paths Austinites already travel. (Both notions are in keeping with the new urbanist "nodes" and "corridor plans" currently emanating from City Hall, although you won't hear that on the D6 stump.)
As the only district to choose Romney over Obama in 2012, the district has a reputation as more conservative than the rest of the city, and most likely to elect a conservative to the 10-1 Council. Dems Stillwell and Flannigan naturally disagree that would the best choice for D6 voters. Stillwell disputes the idea that the district is all that conservative, and both candidates contend that reflexively adopted "lower taxes and limited government" – a persistent refrain from their opponents – won't lead to better services. "Less government doesn't get parks maintained," concludes Flannigan.