Why I can’t vote for Kathie Tovo

I’ve gotten educated about Kathie Tovo. I’ve read her interviews. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where she stands on the issues. And I agree with her on quite a lot. But her stance on new development I think is going to stop Austin in its tracks. I know I’ve said Kathie Tovo was anti-development and that her stances will increase housing prices in Austin, pushing even more low-income residents out of the city proper, but I wanted to point out what she has actually said.

“The current TIA [Traffic Impact Analysis] is requirement is not sufficient. As our city becomes more dense, we do need
more accurate TIAs and not just for very large projects, but also for medium-sized ones as well.”

Traffic Impact Analysis is one of the easiest ways that neighborhoods block new development projects. And it’s one of the most meaningless. You can do the traffic impact on Barton Springs for a new building on Barton Springs. But does anyone ever do the traffic impact on Barton Springs for a new housing development in Round Rock? Dense buildings in central Austin may mean more cars, but they could also mean more people taking transit, biking or walking. More sprawl in Round Rock means more cars in Austin, period.

“Just a few of the many policies that would help include greater use of city land for housing, support for nonprofit housing developers, and improving the development process for affordable projects. I also pledge to support additional money for affordable housing in the proposed 2012 bonds.”

Her views on affordable housing is entirely that it can be done with tax dollars. While I will support these bonds if she is elected, I don’t think this is what most people in Austin think of when they think of Austin becoming un-affordable. The big problem is that this could easily lead to hollowing out the center of Austin even more. If the only housing in Austin becomes subsidized for the poor, and housing for the extremely wealthy, then we won’t have made much progress. Central Austinites will still be able to get their tables bused, and their lawns mowed, but there won’t be a creative-class or middle-class in Austin any longer. We have to build new housing in Austin until prices go down. It’s always interesting to me that people bemoan the bust of the eighties. The bust of the eighties was GREAT for the growth of this city. It provided tons of cheap property, made the city very affordable and allowed for explosive growth in the ninties. We need new development and we needed it two decades ago. If you’re not a millionaire you can choose to preserve Austin’s neighborhoods, or you can choose to be able to live in Austin. Pick one.

“continued development pressure and higher rents assure us of future issues as the music scene tries to adapt to the changing real estate market. One needed change would be greater attention to sound design before permits are granted both for venues and for new residential development coming up around our entertainment districts.”

I do think she has a point here, although perhaps not the one she intended. Rich people tend to have a lot of political power and they’re already turning down the volume in our city. In the future they may stop new development of music venues and remodeling of existing ones by putting in sound design requirements that are prohibitively expensive. This isn’t predominantly coming from the apartment dwellers, though. It’s from the neighborhoods where the half-million dollar homes are. KGSR’s “Live at the Grove” was shut down by a homeowner just across the street, who bought into the neighborhood AFTER they started the concert series. It is now “Unplugged at the Grove”. Morrison and Tovo are two of the dominant politicians behind unplugging the music in Austin.

“I believe that the Residential Design and Compatibility Standards have reduced conflict in our central city neighborhoods. Although some feared that passage might stifle building in our city, that concern has not been borne out.”

Residential Design and Compatability Standards is known as the McMansion ordinance. She feels it has not stifled building in our city, yet I don’t drive through Central Austin and see tons of new duplexes, and four-plexes. I assume that most of the people I know who say they would like to live in Central Austin, actually would live there if they could afford it. So I’d say it has definitely stifled development, the only other option is that developers are lazy and uninterested in taking people’s money (which seems unlikely). The only places we’re seeing a lot of new development are in areas that are predominately populated by politically powerless minorities or in areas away from the neighborhoods like Lamar north of Barton Springs. Not to mention that it has created the trend of those bizarro tiny third stories on buildings (start looking for them, it’s an easy way to tell if a remodel happened before or after McMansion).

The Water Treatment Plant

I really think this is just a wedge issue for some suburban voters in far-West Austin and some SOS people. The water treatment plant is being built at 620 and 2222. It’s just a way to pickup votes and is not a particularly interesting debate. Shade voted for it. Since Tovo wasn’t in power she can say she wouldn’t have and pick up a lot of rich West Austinite votes. Considering this interesection already contains a fitness club, HEB, Target and Starbucks, it’s a bit hard to pretend that a Water Treatment Plant is somehow the development in the area that will break the camel’s back.

“The discussion of density must mature as our city grows. The question should be about what type of community we want to live in and what type of businesses, services, and housing we need to make that happen”

I think ultimately Tovo has made that decision. She wants to live in a ultra-wealthy suburban neighborhood in the inner city, without new aparments, but adding the occasional new store and light business condo development. I think that’s how the majority of Austinites would like to live. But ultimately there are too many of us and more moving here all the time. The only way towards a sustainable future is to build lots more new housing to try to lower prices and create the kind of concentration in the city that will allow the walkable, transit-oriented, eco-friendly future so many of us imagine. That’s why I’ll be voting for Randi Shade on June 18th. Join me.