Mayoral candidates debate transportation, housing in on campus debate

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Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

With early voting underway, three major mayoral candidates stressed the importance of students affecting change with the Austin City Council’s first election under its 10-ONE structure, which divides the city’s representation into 10 geographic districts.

With the mayor now the only citywide elected official, the candidates — attorney Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and City Council member Mike Martinez — debated transportation, housing during a forum hosted by Student Government and The Daily Texan on campus at Gearing Hall. Adler emphasized the benefit of changing the City Council entirely during the upcoming election.

“The biggest challenge we have is doing things we are comfortable with,” Adler said. “We have the opportunity to do things a new way. Every piece of gravity and inertia is going to pull us back to how we’ve done things in the past, and we need to move forward.”

The candidates touched on public transportation options, including Proposition 1. Cole said, if Prop. 1, which allocates $600 million in bond money toward an urban rail line and requires the city to spend $400 million in road improvements, fails at the ballot, she would ask the community why they chose not to support it.

“When we come together as a community, that is when we are strongest,” Cole said. “We need to look throughout the city and see that this is a down payment on a 50-year vision, and we have to embrace the 50-year vision before we embark on another course.”

Cole also said she supports transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, because they are good alternative transit options.

“There’s a lot of concern in the community about people able to get to our high density points like downtown if they don’t want to drive or can’t because they’ve been drinking,” Cole said. “TNCs can be used for that.”

While Adler criticized the City Council for its pace on passing ordinances, Martinez said the ordinance legalizing TNCs to operate in Austin happened as quickly as it should have.

“Government is not reactive; it is responsive,” Martinez said. “It takes time to make policies. We started this conversation in May this year, with a task force that is still making its way through the process, and here we are, less than six months later with a policy in place.”

Martinez defended his stance on occupancy limits and said that, without enforcement, the neighborhoods of Austin would be unfairly changed.

“We have developers that take advantage of our land development code and find ways to build units that are stealth dorms,” Martinez said. “We had plans that were submitted that looked like a duplex but it had seven or eight bathrooms and seven or eight bedrooms, and we knew they would be rented as single rooms. We wanted to stem the tide of stealth dorms. It was changing the character of traditional neighborhoods for single family houses.”

Adler said “stealth dorms” rose from Austin’s affordability crisis.

“When people can’t afford to be here, you’re going to find people creating solutions,” Adler said. “I have trouble with the ordinance that it is kind of a one-size-fits-all. There are some parts of the city that are not traditional. But we need to protect neighborhoods. We shouldn’t have multifamily projects where they don’t belong.”

Cole said affordable housing could be solved by looking at other alternatives, such as micro-units.

“I think we can create more affordability by design,” Cole said. “We have to be open to micro-units: smaller housing that students can live in and people who can’t afford to live in larger apartments.”

Early voting started Monday and runs until Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4.