It is time to get Austin moving. It is time to stop talking and start acting. We have nearly two million people in the Austin metropolitan area, and based on traditional growth trends we will have close to four million in 25 to 30 years. When that day comes, I cannot imagine an Austin without an integrated transportation plan that reaches all across the city and includes rail, roads, transit, bikes and sidewalks. But we need to do more because the studies say that we cannot build our way out of congestion.
We need to focus on where and how we are going to live in 30 years. We must encourage more opportunities for folks to live closer to where they work, learn and play. Right now, there are things we can do to provide immediate relief, such as redesigning intersections for continuous traffic flow. We also must widely implement staggered work hours, carpooling, telecommuting and other alternatives. Traffic congestion is a crisis and we must act now.
Education is the key to Austin’s continued success. We have a moral imperative to give our children the tools they need to succeed. Helping Austin to have the best schools must be part of the Mayor’s job – especially when those in charge in the state Capitol fail to make it a priority. As a city, we must provide and protect quality pre-K for our 3 and 4-year-olds.
The Austin Independent School District is currently sending over $130 million in taxpayer dollars to the state. We should be getting most of that back. We do not. We need to change the unfair and discriminatory state funding formula that does not fairly recognize our disproportionally high poverty rate and our need for bilingual education. That is wrong. As Mayor, I will work with our school districts, legislative delegation and other Texas cities to get our fair share of resources. All kids of all families deserve the same, great opportunities.
There is no opportunity without affordability. We need to make sure that our families that want to keep living here can afford to do so. Austin is a great place to live and is powered by a vibrant creative community consisting of diverse ethnicities and cultures. We are also richer for our seniors and our students. But all this is threatened by skyrocketing housing prices, tax increases, and wages that are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living. Too many seniors and long-time residents are being priced out of their homes, along with our artists and musicians. Our children cannot afford to live in the Austin where they grew up when they graduate and leave home. Even during a time of historic job growth, 57% of the jobs created from 2009 to 2013 do not pay families a living wage.
In the last decade, our poverty rate has increased by 77% in the city and 140% in the suburbs causing further divide between rich and poor. Austin has a “jobs hole” attracting and filling both high paying jobs and lower paying jobs, but not jobs for the middle class that live here, or for our neighbors to move up the economic ladder. That is not sustainable. We need to leverage Austin’s popularity to bring in jobs that bolster the middle class.
We must streamline our planning and permitting process to cut time and costs, to help increase the supply of homes and apartments, and to help rents and prices come down. We need to buy and save property now for housing that is affordable tomorrow. We must hold the line on property taxes and utility rates by joining forces to seek a fairer tax system that does not disproportionately rely on the value of our homes. The City of Austin must do a better job of making sure that growth pays for itself.
ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
Our natural resources, such as Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake, define Austin and water is the critical issue on our horizon. We must recommit to elevate Austin as a national leader on conservation and sustainability. We must launch a massive effort to reuse and conserve existing water supplies before we are asked to spend millions or billions of dollars to find new water.
We must expand open space by thousands of acres all across Austin to ensure our city is green in a drought resistant manner. It is imperative that we be better prepared to deal with the threat of wildfires to protect Austin from the catastrophes experienced in Oak Hill, Steiner Ranch and Bastrop. We must also expand our commitment to renewable energy and enforce already-approved initiatives like zero waste.
Measured code enforcement and predictable outcomes is key to our neighborhoods. Austin’s character comes alive in our vibrant and unique neighborhoods. We must control and require that the land development code re-write project, now underway, be transparent, open, inclusive and that it both protects that the character and provides for the city we want in thirty years. It is a false choice that must be rejected that such protection cannot co-exist with affordability and neighborhood centers. We have to work harder and we have to work together. Most importantly, we must provide increased tools and support to strengthen all neighborhoods throughout our City so they are best able to be full and responsible partners.
For several years running, Austin has been one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. We could have predicted eight years ago the challenges we face today – traffic congestion and increased poverty are not surprises. Too often, the city government has been as gridlocked as the traffic on our streets. We have let disputes distract us from the looming threats to our quality of life. We have let divisions hold up long-term solutions that prevent us from getting things done.
For too long we have been reactive. It is only after a drunk driver kills attendees that we study the sustainability of our festivals. Only after another flood takes lives and destroys homes do we move aggressively to buy out flood-prone properties. Now, only after we are trapped in traffic for hours do we finally focus on comprehensive transportation congestion solutions.
The City of Austin today is 320 square miles. We have over 12,000 city employees and they need the resources to do their jobs in an efficient, transparent, consistent and responsive manner. Citizens dealing with the city should receive great customer service. Austin should recognize that many of its issues are regional and work more closely with other neighboring jurisdictions. And here in Austin, the layers of government (the city, the county, Austin Community College, school districts and others) must work harder to work together.
To meet our challenges, we are going to need A New Way Forward. That is why I am running for Mayor. It is time for the old battle lines to be put aside. It is time to be proactive and to execute long-term solutions. It is time to be bold and not timid. Others have had the chance over the last eight years to address the very same challenges we face today. It is time for new leadership. We do not want experience in how things have been done in the past; we need a new and broader experience and a vision for how things should be done tomorrow.