Austin mayoral candidates debate water conservation, transportation at on-campus forum

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Austin mayoral candidates debate issues concerning the city Wednesday evening in a forum at the Belo Center for New Media.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Six Austin mayoral candidates debated issues, such as water conservation, transportation and emergency protocol, at an on-campus event Wednesday night.

The forum, hosted by KUT at the Belo Center for New Media as part of its “Ballot Boxing” series, was limited to candidates with a website.

The candidates discussed the low water supply in Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan. Candidate Randall Stephens said there was a simple solution to address Austin’s water crisis: Quit wasting water.

“We need to make sure we address our infrastructure needs and that we’re not losing water through leaking or breaking pipes,” Stephens said. “We need to move to a southwestern mode of landscaping. We need to make smart choices and inspire other Austinites to work with us and conserve water — not waste water.”

Current Austin City Council member Mike Martinez said conservation was most important in solving Austin’s decreasing water supply.

“Our community has embraced conservation like no one would ever would,” Martinez said. “The first thing we need to do is implement a rule that everyone drawing from the same source needs to abide by the same conservation methods.”

If Proposition 1, which allocates bond money toward an urban rail line, fails on the ballot, Martinez said that would not affect the efficiency or purpose of City Council.

“On Nov. 5, we have to go back to work, dealing with the gridlock and congestion we face,” Martinez said. “We go back to adding bus rapid transit lines and working on road infrastructure. We don’t have an option to sit and not do anything. I realize it’s ultimately up to the voters. If that means adding more bus lines, Capital Metro is capable of handling that next step.”

Candidate David Orshalick referred back to his six-step plan to save Austin, including three tenets, he said, are directed toward Austin’s transportation problem.

“We currently don’t do very good transportation planning,” Orshalick said. “It is amazing to me that I-35 is failing, and we have no plans to fix it.”

Orshalick also said the decreasing African-American population in Austin is exacerbated by the city’s rapid growth and gentrification.

“We have a critical mass of African-Americans in Austin that is missing,” Orshalick said. “We have a very small African-American population; other cities have a much larger population. We need to grow jobs internally and focus on more than just high tech.”

Cole said maintaining equal quality of life for everyone was crucial for keeping African-Americans in Austin.

“I think many African-Americans are leaving in concern for the opportunities for their children, educational opportunities [and] economic opportunities,” Cole said.

The candidates spoke about how they would deal with a health crisis in Austin in light of the third diagnosis of Ebola in Dallas. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said she would ask for help from experts and emphasized the importance of communicating with Austin residents.

“I think it would be central to the mayor’s job to make sure we are having communication with the public and collaboration with governmental entities,” Cole said. “I would make a call immediately to other cities who have faced this crisis to see what they have done and what they would recommend and stay in constant contact with federal authorities.”

According to candidate Steve Adler, a mayor’s job is to rally and support the public.

“If something happened in the city, there is a pre-existing protocol to deal with it, and the mayor needs to make sure it’s being implemented,” Adler said. “It would be his responsibility to communicate with the public because the lack of knowledge can create fear and panic. I would probably also say a prayer.”