10-1, Take Two
Five City Council incumbents up for re-election this November
Leslie Pool: Neighborhood Defender
Before she got comfortable on the dais, District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool was already heavily involved with city government. By appointment, Pool served on various commissions, including Arts, Downtown, Telecommunications, and Water/Wastewater. She spent time on the Liveable City board, the Downtown Development Advisory Group, the Travis County Citizens Bond Advisory Committee, and the city's 2012 Bond Advisory Task Force, among other organizations. She also founded the Bull Creek Road Coalition, a group of seven neighborhoods focused on guiding the sale and development of state-owned property along Bull Creek Road. Earlier, she was an aide to Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, and right before taking office, Pool was working as an assistant to the Pct. 5 Travis County Constable. In short, she's no newcomer to politics, municipal or otherwise.
An environmental advocate, Pool promised investment in "parks, pools, and libraries" while campaigning, and she delivered, helping secure funding to restore library operating hours to pre-recession service levels, to make improvements at Northwest Pool, and to increase PARD's budget for 2015-16. She's co-sponsored resolutions to increase solar energy participation and advanced the city's energy efficiency goals by implementing recommendations in the 2015 Austin Community Climate Plan and forming the Joint Sustainability Committee to follow its progress. As chair of the Open Space, Environment & Sustainability Committee, Pool was asked by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to attend the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris to strengthen her understanding of ways to mitigate the impact of climate change at the city level.
Also passionate about transparency in governance, Pool initiated a handful of measures to increase accountability and public engagement. She's ensured meetings on rewriting the city's land-use regulations are videotaped for the public; proposed an e-filing resolution, which requires candidates to file independent expenditures electronically and generally makes information-gathering easier; and despite pushback from developers, initiated a lobby reform resolution that strengthened the city's lobbying laws. She also helped form a 13-member Task Force on Community Engagement to figure out ways for Council to better engage the public. (She says she became a student of transparency in government, in part, during her time working at Doggett's office.)
Pool declared one of the central purposes of city government should be to protect the city's most vulnerable, and her votes exemplify that. She's a strong supporter of fair-chance hiring, living wages for city employees, and the city's investment in social services and nonprofit health care programs. She also backed Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo's resolution to reform the city's gender nondiscrimination process. To assist low-income communities with quality of life, she helped establish a pilot Healthy Foods initiative to increase access to fresh foods in underserved areas. A defender of neighborhoods and affordability, Pool, with colleagues Ann Kitchen and Greg Casar, proposed the Residents' Advocacy Project: to provide education and outreach to support tenants, and to encourage the city's Law and Code departments to pursue litigation, if necessary, to address "substandard and dangerous" rental properties. On the dais, Pool's temperament is measured, but she's also willing to push back against certain colleagues, especially Don Zimmerman (whom she called out for being "unnecessarily argumentative") on his reluctance to adopt social service measures. While most of her colleagues have taken the middle ground in the controversial debate, Pool – aligning tightly with Tovo – saw heat from supporters of more residential density for her hard-line opposition to commercial short-term rentals (STRs) in residential areas.
Pool has also seen heat from supporters of increased density for her hard-line support of neighborhood zoning regulations. For one notable example, she supported a slower process and more stringent requirements for approving planned unit developments on unzoned land. This is directly related to the fact that the Bull Creek Road Coalition, the neighborhood group she founded, is largely opposed to the proposed Grove at Shoal Creek, a proposed PUD on Bull Creek Road that borders D7. Pool's ire over the topic hit a peak in January, when in an embarrassing snafu, she mistakenly tweeted what was meant to be a private message about D10's Sheri Gallo, who supported the more lax approval process. "So maybe this is the nail in Gallo's coffin," she wrote. Pool later apologized.
While she generally encourages affordable housing, Pool's co-sponsorship of Ellen Troxclair's amendment to take a second look at the Pilot Knob affordable housing project may be questionable to some who are eager to see low-income housing move through as quickly as possible. In a recent roundtable interview, Pool says she's working on ways to incentivize below-market-rate housing, including homestead preservation, land banks and trusts, and tax credit projects.
After coming out well ahead in a crowded eight-candidate election in 2014, Pool bested run-off opponent attorney Jeb Boyt with 66% of the vote. While we wouldn't be surprised if she drew a challenger from the Friends of the Grove faction, she hasn't yet attracted a challenger at this early date.