Ten Districts, Many Visions
Candidates building the road to 10-1 work to define Austin's new civic order (Part II)
District 8: Commuter Blues
D8 Ballot OrderEllen Troxclair
All five candidates for the District 8 Council seat have repeatedly pointed out that their corner of the city has the highest percentage of homeowners (as of 2010, 63%). Those homeowners all own vehicles – generally more than one – and commuting voters from sprawling Circle C Ranch, as well as from the smaller subdivisions along U.S. 290 and 71, have two persistent headaches: Traffic conditions are worsening (while long-promised infrastructure projects are long-delayed) and property taxes are increasing (in dollars, if not rates). With the coming of 10-1, resentment of Downtown and the current Council, and its perceived lack of interest in suburban issues, is finally giving way to the prospect of sending a district-based voice across the river to straighten things out.
Of the five candidates competing in the district's inaugural run, three are Democrats: Ed Scruggs, Eliza May, and Darrell Pierce. Scruggs, the most expressly "progressive," cites his reputation as the founder of the Circle C Area Democrats and his vocal opposition to the long-awaited SH 45 SW toll road, which would connect 45 (and effectively MoPac) to 1626. "I believe it will destroy MoPac," he said at the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods forum in September. "I still to this day have not heard how they are going to effectively retrofit MoPac with what [additional traffic] will be expected over time." He's been active on other high-profile issues as well – most notably gun control – but in this district, political conversations almost inevitably return to the Big Two: traffic and taxes. (Reducing both simultaneously may be another matter altogether.)
"I don't agree with [Scruggs'] analysis that it would 'destroy MoPac,'" said Becky Bray, a transportation engineer and one of Scruggs' conservative opponents. "I think 45 Southwest is part of a long-term solution for District 8. That's not saying let's build this road and go away. We need transit options, we need live-work-play options. We need the whole spectrum. This is just one very small piece of that solution."
Residents have already waited decades for fixes to old problems, while with continued growth, new ones sprout up. Changes in Capital Metro routes left parts of the district a transit desert. Rapid growth packed more and more kids into a declining Bowie High School. Here as elsewhere, property tax complaints reverberate, and candidate Eliza May, long-serving in various civic positions, is doubling down on the widely supported 20% homestead exemption by proposing a property tax freeze for residents over 65. (Austin currently offers an exemption but not a freeze, as provided by AISD.)
Management consultant Darrell Pierce, who ran at-large against Sheryl Cole in 2006, is attempting to occupy the district's political center. He argues his professional experience and volunteerism with the Mayor's Transportation Working Group and the Planning Commission make him a natural fit for an era when District 8 will have more influence in untying the bureaucratic knots at City Hall. He and May count for public support on the multiple influential connections they've made across the city – support perhaps less relevant in a districted election – while Scruggs enjoys widespread name recognition on his home turf.
With Ellen Troxclair having firmly staked out the hard right territory in the district – railing against virtually all public expenditures, including the Downtown library – the rest of the voters will be reviewing a spectrum that runs from moderate Republican Bray through the variously aligned Dems, from May to Scruggs.