Invest In Your Home: Austin

By George Cofer, Executive Director, Hill Country Conservancy

Picture this:  What if the size of your family doubled every generation, but you all continued to live in the same house?  Would you simply ignore a leaking roof, a busted pipe, or a cracked foundation?  Probably not.

So it is with Austin.   Our home is now the 13th largest-city in America, having recently surpassed San Francisco.  Since 1890, Austin’s population has doubled every 20 to 25 years.  During just the next 30 days, we’ll gain nearly 2,000 new residents!

Every day, the strain on our city’s infrastructure and quality of life grows.  That’s why it’s time to invest in our home, and in our future.  You can do just that by voting to support all seven Austin bonds that will appear on the November 6th ballot – Propositions 12 – 18.

This is the first time in six years that a multi-purpose municipal bond package has appeared on the Austin ballot.  Importantly, approving all seven of the bonds will not raise the city property tax rate.  Not even a little.  That’s because as the city pays off old debt, it can issue new bonds without raising the rate.

The community projects funded by the seven bonds, totaling $384.9 million, were chosen from an initial city-wide “needs assessment” of more than $1.5 billion.  A citizen commission worked for six months to select these projects with a great deal of public input, and the City Council voted unanimously in August on the final package.

In a nutshell, here’s what each of the seven bonds will do:

Proposition 12 will invest $143.3 million in transportation and mobility, including road improvements for I-35, 51st Street corridor, MoPac, and provide for new and upgraded sidewalks, bikeways, and the 30-mile hike and bike Violet Crown Trail. Clearly, fixing Austin’s transportation mess should be one of our top priorities.  The Violet Crown Trail will connect Zilker Park, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and many central and south Austin neighborhoods and will be a key part of our city’s multi-modal transportation system.

Proposition 13 will invest $30 million in preserving open space and protecting water quality and quantity.  As Executive Director of Hill Country Conservancy, I consider these investments vitally important to our community.  Preserving the scenic beauty and natural areas around Austin, and keeping our water clean is good for our environment, our economy, and our souls.

Proposition 14 will invest $77.7 million in parks and recreation projects, including repairing and upgrading neighborhood parks and pools. A vibrant parks system helps make Austin a truly special and healthier city.  This bond will invest in parks in nearly every part of the city, including Zilker Park and three of the original downtown squares.

Proposition 15 will invest $78.3 million in building, repairing and renovating affordable housing in all parts of Austin.  As Austin has grown, housing costs have soared.  Prop. 15 will help build and repair thousands of homes for Austin’s low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income working families.

Proposition 16 will invest $31.1 million in public safety improvement projects, including a new fire station and police substation. Austin has been ranked among the safest big cities in America, and we need to keep it that way by investing in the police, fire and EMS facilities we need to service every part of our community.

Proposition 17 will invest $11.1 million in health and human services projects, including repairing and expanding a women and children’s shelter. In my view, what really makes Austin stand apart is how our community comes together to help all citizens have a better quality of life.  This bond will help ensure that we continue to invest in affordable health and human services for all citizens in every neighborhood.

Proposition 18 will invest $13.4 million in library and cultural arts projects, including renovations to six neighborhood libraries and an expansion of Austin (Film) Studios. ? Austin will soon break ground on the new Central Library voters approved in 2006.  This bond will invest in neighborhood branches across Austin.  It will also help expand our city’s film industry, which brings us a broad range of benefits.

The bottom line is simple:  If we fail to invest now in the basic infrastructure of our home as our population grows significantly and critical needs increase, the result will be that we will pay more later to fix problems that will have grown worse, and our quality of life will suffer in the meantime.

Let’s not make that mistake.  Please join me, hundreds of other community leaders, and dozens of endorsing civic groups, and vote for all seven city bonds.  More information can be found online at our campaign website,

New Library to be a Gathering Place for the Community

Austin is in the midst of a great undertaking, the creation of a new central library to serve its growing community.  Voters approved  funding for the project in the 2006 G.O. bond election, and library enthusiasts showed up en masse at the design input meetings that followed in order to share their vision of the form and functionthat our city’s main library-to-beshould take.  What has emerged from thislively interaction between citizens, architects and librarians is a building program appropriately and boldly named “The Library of the Future”, for the world has truly not seen its like before.  Will Austin’s new central library stand as sustainable, landmark architecture?  Yes, but there was little doubt of that outcome from the moment our Council picked Lake/Flato as the design architects for the building.  Will the new central library  serve as a destination for regional residents and visitors alike?  Based on what we know about the amenities to be offered, we would have to reply in the affirmative. Beginning with its location in the heart of the Seaholm Development District, Austin’s fast growing new civic/cultural center, those attractions include incredible views of Ladybird Lake, Shoal Creek and  our exciting urban environment from unique reading porches and the building’s Green Roof, a large and fresh collection of materials noted for its variety of downloadable items, easy computer access throughout the facility, an art gallery, a special event center, a café, and bookstore. Equal parking opportunities for vehicles and bicycles will be provided, as behooves a public building sited at the major intersection of Austin’s lakeside hike-and-bike trails, including the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. The qualities of design which truly define this building as “the Library of the Future”, though, will be the depth and breadth of its technology rich environment, the “future-proofing” of the building by insuring that interior spaces can be readily modified as library services change, and perhaps most significantly, the great number of meeting spaces provided in varying sizes and configurations.  The trends we track indicate that libraries are fast becoming that great third place between work and home where everyone in the community is entitled to congregate and communicate, leading to one of the more rewarding phenomena of modern life:  education through conversation.

On Monday, October 1, 2012, architects and staff involved in the New Central Library Project will make an important Design Development presentation to the Library Commission at the Austin History Center (810 Guadalupe Street), beginning at 7:00 PM.  Please plan to be in attendance and see the future.

John W. Gillum
Facilities Process Manager
Austin Public Library

Do You Support Single Member Districts for Austin?

By Terrell Blodgett, Mike Hogg Professor Emeritus in Urban Management, LBJ School, UT-Austin

Single-member districts for Austin city council members? Seems like I’ve heard that before. As a matter of fact, the idea has been turned down by Austin voters SIX times — that’s right, six times. And with good reason – and now it’s coming back up again. And – based on the slim turnout at meetings of the council-appointed charter revision committee, it’s still a minority of Austin voters who feel they are not well served by our city government.

Let’s look at some facts and figures. Right now, based on 2010 census figures, there is one councilmember for every 112,913 Austin residents. That’s considerably less than the ratio for our Texas House of Representatives. There, each of the 150 members represent an average of 167,637 persons and each congressman an average of 710,000 individuals.

Oh, you say you want your OWN councilmember. You want an area (district) where you vote for your OWN member of the council. Under what is reported to be the most popular plan floating around, the seven member council would be increased BY MORE THAN 50% to 11 members, 10 from single-member districts and the mayor elected at large as now. So, you have your OWN council member and you want something done – you have voted for TWO members – your district member and the mayor(if you voted for the successful candidates) out of ELEVEN. The other nine have absolutely NO REASON to support your position – after all, you do not live in their district, you have no vote in their district, and probably no influence in their district. SO, if what you want is your own personal council member to complain to, that’s fine, but if you want something done, you’re better off in the current situation because you have a vote for ALL SEVEN members of the council.

You say your area of town is not represented on the council. Unfortunately, that is sometimes true, BUT, there is no reason for Central Austin to control the council. There is no logical reason why the northwest, the Circle C, and the Southeast Austin areas should not be represented. The remedy – IT’S CALLED VOTING. If I were an activist in one of those neighborhoods, I would get with an activist from one of the other areas and say, “we’re going to put up a first-class candidate – you do the same and we will support each other AND VOTE.”

Finally, do you want representation or do you want results? If you want results – better services and facilities – a recent outside survey finds that we are getting better results from our city government NOW than the 13 other cities of 500,000 or more population, most or all with single-member districts. This survey, by a nationally-known survey firm, based in Kansas, that has been in business over 30 years, found that Austin ranked #1 in overall satisfaction compared to Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, San Diego, Indianapolis, San Jose, Houston and Detroit. The firm conducted a statistically valid survey, receiving answers from each of six areas of the city. The company has worked in 46 states and designed and administered over l,000 statistically valid surveys in more than 300 cities and counties.

The City of Austin has invited the public to make comments on its new official web site. It’s expected to come out of “beta” this month, but in the meantime the City wants interested users to try it out and give feedback. On the right side of the web page, there’s a “Feedback” page where you can click to offer opinions, make suggestions and alert designers to needed corrections. Let them know what you think!