This is the first of four interviews with City Council District 7 candidate Leslie Pool on her candidacy and the issues identified in the AustinDistrict7.org candidate scorecard. The interviews are organized as follows:
* Top Priorities, Experience, Community Involvement
* Livability, Affordability and Housing
* Transportation, Open Space and Infrastructure
* Public Safety, Small Business, and City Budget
Leslie Pool has lived in Austin since 1980. Since the 1990s she has served on city boards or commissions on the arts, downtown, telecommunications, and water/ wastewater. She chaired the Seaholm Power Plant Reuse Citizens Committee and served on the Downtown Development Advisory Group, a late-90s effort convened by then-Mayor Kirk Watson to kick-start economic and social activity downtown. She served on Travis County bond advisory committees in 1998 and 2004, and on the City of Austin Bond Advisory Task Force in 2012. Also in 2012, she played a role in launching the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which helped redirect the state’s proposal to redevelop its property on Shoal Creek near Bull Creek Rd and 45th. She was a member of Leadership Austin’s class of 1999-2000. She serves as treasurer of LiveableCity, a local sustainability non-profit. She works as executive assistant for Travis County Constable Carlos B. Lopez.
Why are you running for City Council?
I know how the City works, from involvement over many years on several city boards and commissions. I’m an effective collaborator and coalition builder. I know how to go about solving the big problems our district and city are facing:
Rapid growth is one. How do we keep our neighborhoods intact and welcoming to long-time residents and new families? Commercial expansion must follow compatibility standards along corridors like Burnet Road, and follow plans painstakingly written by neighborhoods – often over the course of years! – not have them tossed out at the last minute.
Getting congestion under control is obviously huge. We can’t build enough roads to solve our traffic problems – and wouldn’t want to if we could. We’ve got to take an integrated approach using all tools – transit, rail, bikes, sidewalks and roads. We can redesign intersections to ease traffic flow, and improve signal synchronization.
I want to stop corporate subsidies and giveaways. This Council has been far too eager to cut deals for high rises and racetracks. Austin’s economy is doing fine – developers don’t need subsidies.
We must reform property taxes. Corporations have a moral imperative to pay their fair share of taxes on accurate property appraisals.
What are your top 3 issues?
This is a quality of life campaign. We need to keep the best of Austin while finding solutions for the tough issues: transit, affordability, tax reform, and environmental sustainability.
What these all have in common is how we live in Austin, and whether we can continue living here. It means not being priced out of our homes. It means our parks, libraries and pools are in good condition, well maintained, and properly staffed. It means carefully guarding our natural resources to sustain them through hard and prolonged droughts. It means forming effective coalitions to fight for property tax reform at the State Capitol.
What experience do you bring? Can you think of a specific example of an initiative that you were influential on, to demonstrate how you would approach work on Council?
About two years ago, I got a call that the Texas Facilities Commission was going to sell 80 acres of TxDOT land in my quiet residential neighborhood along Shoal Creek near Bull Creek Road and 45th, for redevelopment as a big box shopping center, drive-thru gas station, they were just going to plop it down – too bad, so sad.
I don’t know how we all found each other, but Allandale, and Ridgelea, Oakmont Heights, and Rosedale and Bryker Woods, and West Balcones – we all got together to try to figure out what was going on. That piece of land has never been zoned. It’s right along the creek – it’s just a run-off channel now. It could be brought back to being something really beautiful. There’s old growth oak down there. You can’t see them from any road – you have to walk onto the property.
So we organized the Bull Creek Road Coalition. It’s a complex story that took us from forming in July 2012 to opposing an inter-local agreement between the City of Austin and the Texas Facilities Commission during long nights at Council meetings, innumerable meeting with City staff and council members, to the State Legislature and more meetings with staff and senators and representatives, sitting in Sunset Advisory Commission meetings and monitoring and influencing the progress of three separate bills – ultimately ending with success on the biggest piece literally minutes before midnight on Sine Die. Through effective coalition building, collaborations with elected officials, careful focus and non-confrontational advocacy, our Coalition had unprecedented success during the 83rd Legislative Session in blocking the proposed public-private partnership and ensuring that when the land is to be developed, the neighborhoods affected by development will have a voice in the process.
We established a good reputation as a stakeholder group. All of the developers want to meet with us. They’re actively seeking our support for their proposals. We don’t have illusions about our influence – it could be gone in an instant. We established ourselves not as a force to be reckoned with, but as a group to consult with and to provide useful feedback, so people are looking for our input.
Being non-confrontational was key. The minute you get confrontational and horsey they just won’t meet with you. That doesn’t help. That’s the same thing with the City. You have to learn to work with people in order to have that collaboration. It doesn’t mean you agree, but you’re still listening to what each other said.
Tell me about your involvement in the North Austin community, what you’ve accomplished on the ground
My work on the Bull Creek Road Coalition. That was a huge amount of work on behalf of my community.
We had to fight City Council to stop an interlocal agreement that Sheryl Cole was promoting with TFC to give them $400,000 for a seat at the table, so the City could be part of the development discussions. Which the City would be anyway, because it was going to revert to City infrastructure. So we thought that was an unnecessary expenditure. So we fought it. We were down at Council at midnight. They put us on last, to see if they could decimate our ranks. But we stayed. [laughs]. I’m not a big fan of those kinds of meetings. But you have to do it sometimes.
As a candidate who lives in the south part of the district, what do you bring to voters who live in other parts of the district?
Using the model we used with the Bull Creek Road Coalition. You can take that model and apply it to solve issues that are apparently unsolvable.
You’re powerless – how are you ever going to go up against TxDOT and this P3 [public-private partnership]? But you break the problems down into the small workable – and we did that – everyone took on a little something, everybody pulled their weight. And we just kept at it.
You identify what the issue is, you seek out the people who have things to say about it, and who want to constructively assist. And you’re open to problem-solving. Making sure everyone is in agreement – it’s consensus. Doesn’t mean that everybody always votes the same way, but they’re willing to support whatever the decision is, so that you have a good way of moving forward.