Austin City Council District 9 candidates discussed student issues such as the enforcement of the city's sound ordinance in West Campus and housing at a debate hosted by several student organizations on campus Monday night.
Under the council’s new 10-ONE structure — which will go into effect in January — District 9 covers parts of campus, West Campus, North Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress. During the debate, candidates talked about their connections with college students. Council member Kathie Tovo, who earned a doctorate. from UT, listed her student involvement during her undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an example of being able to connect with students.
“When I came here 23 years ago to go to the University of Texas, I had an opportunity to work with hundreds of students over the years,” Tovo said. “I taught classes, served on the graduate assembly for a term.”
Council member Chris Riley also used his opening statement to show his connection to UT.
“I was born in West Campus, a long, long time ago,” Riley said. “My dad was a professor here at UT in the physics department. I came back here for UT law school and spent 17 years working as a lawyer in town and working on city issues.”
The candidates all voiced support for streamlining the party permit process for students. City officials have said the sound ordinance will now be strictly regulated in the West Campus area. City Council candidate Erin McGann called the ordinance “arbitrary” in terms of regulation and enforcement.
“Students are being unfairly targeted,” McGann said. “If you were a protected class, people would be calling it discrimination. Other parts of Austin are having large parties that aren’t being shut down. The ordinance needs to be treated equally or the ordinance should be suspended.”
Riley said the permit process for hosting private parties needs to be streamlined, but the interim period is important as well. The City Council passed a resolution on Oct. 2 for the city to begin revising the ordinance.
“The concern is what do we do until the new ordinance comes into place,” Riley said. “Let’s work flexibly until we can get a permanent resolution in place.”
The candidates also discussed providing affordable housing for students. McGann said she was disappointed when the City Council voted to keep the historic status on a West Campus surface parking lot instead of allowing for housing to be built on the property, which she said would limit expanding student housing.
“We need to be building buildings that are not necessarily high-end,” McGann said. “If we built some moderate-income residences, more people would be able to live in the area.”
Riley said building more housing would not have been stalled by the historic status of the parking lot, but it would have limited space for potential residents.
“If they were able to build on the surface parking lot as well, the best estimates we got would be an additional 300 bedrooms they would be able to provide to students,” Riley said.
Tovo, who voted to keep the historic status of the parking lot, defended her perspective.
“We have lost many historic structures in our city, and it’s important to hang on to the few that we have on campus,” Tovo said. “I think it’s important to know that it was overwhelmingly supported in Council, 5-2.”
The debate was hosted by The Horn, The Odyssey, Sigma Pi fraternity, KVR News, the Senate of College Councils and the UT chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.