In Leander and Cedar Park, Backlash Is on the Ballot

Moving away from Austin?

Map by The Austin Chronicle Art Staff

Leander Proposition A: Stay in Capital Metro?

It seems like pretty much the worst time to leave Capital Metro, with the ambitious Project Connect transit system expansion plan just beginning to bear fruit, but Leander residents will get that option at the May 7 election. Supporters of Leander's Proposition A, which would maintain the city's current ties with the transit authority, say that when Project Connect is built out, their community will be superbly positioned for economic development, with much improved access to many areas of Austin. If voters reject Prop A, Leander will lose Cap Metro's rail, bus, and shuttle services the very next day.

Since 1985, Leander has paid 1% in local sales tax (out of the 2% it's allowed to collect) to Cap Metro. As its population has grown to over 60,000 residents, that has become a lot of money; in 2021 the city paid out close to $10 million. In return it gets commuter rail, with the Capital MetroRail Red Line running trains to Downtown Austin and back approximately 15 times a day, six days a week. Cap Metro also provides direct bus service between Leander and Austin and operates its on-demand Pickup shuttle service within Leander, allowing residents to make local trips for shopping and services for $1.25 a ride.

But there have always been doubts in the city about Cap Metro's value. A group calling itself Just Say No to Cap Metro, aided by former Leander City Council Member Mike Sanders, argues the city could replace the transit services it receives for just $2 million a year, leaving $8 million to invest in economic development or anything else. Pro-Prop A group Keep Leander Con­nected's James Larsen responds that abandoning Cap Metro would actually worsen the city's finances. Leander would no longer receive grants of $2 million per year (and an additional $7.4 million for this year) to improve streets and sidewalks. It would lose out on federal dollars that have already been approved to increase Red Line capacity. It would have to pay a $42 million exit penalty to the transit authority, which has spent ample sums to build infrastructure in Leander, starting with the Red Line station itself and its park-and-ride. Then the city would have to find another provider to replace those transit services that Just Say No says it wants to maintain, a challenge Larsen doubts can be managed by city leaders.

"Our students, our seniors, our people with disabilities, and other vulnerable community members rely on Cap Metro for safe, reliable, affordable service," Larsen told the Chronicle. "The only way to guarantee that public safety is to support Prop A. My message is: Leander needs to stay connected to Austin." – Brant Bingamon

Former Cedar Park council member and current candidate Tim Kelly, center, attended a family Pride event on June 15, 2019, to hand out Bibles (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Cedar Park City Council: A Shift to the Right?

Cedar Park's city council elections, for two-year terms (which are staggered, so they have city elections every May), include an open-seat contest for mayor to replace Corbin Van Arsdale and challenges to three incumbents, all from the hard right.

Two of the challengers, Dorian Chavez and Tim Kelly, made headlines as MAGA-affiliated flamethrowers on the council from 2018 to 2020, then got beaten, and now want their jobs back. The third, Collin Klein, ran unsuccessfully last year and hasn't really stopped; his slogan is "Keep Austin policies out of Cedar Park." An Instagram post last year about an alleged threat Klein received concludes: "Bring it on commies." He's trying to unseat two-term incumbent Mel Kirkland, a landscape consultant who led his homeowners' association and served nine years on Cedar Park's Tourism Advisory Board, chairing it for two.

Dorian Chavez – whose wife, Claudia, is running for mayor – is an Army vet who describes himself as a fiscal conservative. His campaign website says he is "strongly against any burdensome Austin-inspired city ordinances." In April 2020, as COVID-19 tore through the state and nation unchecked, he and Kelly caused a stir after attending a protest against stay-at-home orders. Chavez told the Statesman at the time, "In hindsight, it doesn't look right we took that photo together and didn't have masks on," but also, "I have to stand up for our rights." Now he's challenging incumbent Eric Boyce, a wealth management advisor who prior to joining the council chaired the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.

Kelly, who before COVID appeared in these pages handing out Bibles to attendees of a family Pride event at the Leander library, posted to Facebook about four months into the pandemic to demand that teachers be fired if they refused to teach in person. He was censured by his then-colleagues on City Council in June 2020 following a heated meeting during which more than 70 people spoke. He's going up against incumbent Heather Jefts, whose priorities (according to her campaign website) include lowering tax rates, funding new positions in the city's police and fire departments, securing more park acres and roadways, and financial transparency.

In the mayor's race, Claudia Chavez says her priorities are standing against "high taxes" and a "cultural Marxist agenda" such as what she left behind when her family moved from California. She's the only person in this three-way race without council experience; Mike Guevara, who (along with Dorian Chavez) voted against censuring Kelly, says he also will focus on "low taxes, limited government, and thorough transparency." The third candidate is current Council Member Jim Penniman-Morin, whose website says, "Local government is too important for squabbling." He wants to alleviate traffic, address rising home prices, and efficiently manage the city's public utilities. – Maggie Quinlan

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