David Orshalick

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.”

Steve Adler, candidate for Austin mayor, discusses efficient and environmentally friendly energy for Austin on Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Seven mayoral candidates discussed water conservation, transportation issues and curbing property taxes in a forum at the Austin Convention Center on Wednesday night. 

Businessman Todd Phelps, retired electrical engineer Ronald Culver, City Council Member Mike Martinez, aircraft technician Randall Stephens, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, retired technology writer David Orshalick and attorney Steve Adler sat down at a forum hosted by the City Ethics Commission and League of Women Voters of the Austin Area. The only candidate listed on the ballot that did not appear is activist Mary Krenek.

Adler said the affordability crisis in Austin has been exacerbated by the rising property prices. Cole said the increasing property tax rate is unacceptable.

“We have to remember that it has two components: rate and appraised value,” Cole said. “What is really getting out of control is the appraised value. We have allocated money to work with the appraisal district to fight the appraisal values. We also need to go to the legislature and make changes there. I do not support a rate exemption, I support a flat tax exemption.”

Orshalick said preemptive strategic planning would have stymied the water conservation problem, and that the best way to meet all their recommendations is by putting everything into one city plan.

“With one strategic city plan, we wouldn’t have to have these conversations every one, two [and] four years,” Orshalick said. “The Water Task Force found a lot of things for us to do. One of the recommendations of the Water Task Force was that we have a water master plan. I think that the recommendations are very good.”

Adler said he believed Austin needs to improve water conservation.

“People are conserving more and more water and expect their bills to go down, but they don’t, and they don’t understand why,” Adler said. “It’s because we have high capital expenditure that keep those bills up. We should be doing a better job with conservation and reuse. San Antonio reuses about 40 percent of its water. Austin reuses 3 percent.”

Culver proposed adding an express lane to alleviate traffic congestion on the highways. Phelps stressed the importance of legalizing transportation network companies to help with the traffic problem.

“We need to greenlight companies like Uber and Lyft immediately,” Phelps said. “We can create flow in this city. As far as the transportation system of the future, we need to look at something that’s smart and technology driven.”

Martinez said expanding access to different social services is imperative.

“We invest about $18 million a year in social service contracting,” Martinez said. “We estimate we have over 100,000 residents in Travis County who are eligible but not enrolled in food service programs.”

Stephens said the way to expand social programs would be bringing back Texan tax dollars.

“Our governor has correctly pointed out that we are a donor state, and I wouldn’t be ashamed to ask Congress to give us some of our money back to us,” Stephens said. 

The candidates also addressed the issue of rental properties not kept up to city code. Orshalick said the City Council was to blame for substandard housing.

“Social equity is part of my platform,” Orshalick said. “The fact that we have substandard housing in Austin, Texas, speaks very poorly of us. When it came time to pass a long-term rental ordinance — we started in 2009 and we still don’t have one. This would include automatic inspections of very rental property and ensure performance to city code. This is long overdue.”

Martinez said mandatory rental registration for landlords was necessary to help renters in substandard housing.

“We absolutely must bring these folks outside of the shadows,” Martinez said. “We must be able to contact these renters. We can’t do that unless we can access the people who own these rental properties.”