Kathie Tovo

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pass amendments to the city code that will change the way adult-oriented businesses receive permits to open. 

With the new amendments, adult-oriented businesses, such as strip cubs and pornography shops, now need to be 1,000 feet away from museums and libraries. This is in addition to the current code, which required the businesses to be 1,000 feet away from other adult-oriented businesses. The requirement also applies to day cares, schools, parks and churches. 

Areas of downtown zoned for “mixed use” will also require the businesses go through “conditional use” process, instead of a “permitted use” process, to open.

A permitted use process requires potential businesses to meet certain criteria and be individually approved by the city planning department. A conditional use process requires all those steps as well as a public hearing jointly held between the business and the planning commission.

Planning and Development Review Department staff member Jerry Rusthoven said the changes will be grandfathered in — so adult-oriented businesses already operating, subject to Chapter 245, will not have to obtain new permits.

“This ordinance takes place on April 26,” Rusthoven said. “The mayor made a statement under state law. Adult-oriented businesses are subject to Chapter 245 under local government code. … They’re okay if they are already open.”

Mayor pro tem Kathie Tovo sponsored the resolution and said it was important to address the fact that in certain areas of downtown, strip clubs could open for business without a public hearing. 

Tovo said businesses should have the opportunity to discuss whether adult businesses nearby are appropriate for the area.

“This will not prohibit adult businesses from opening up where zoning categories are appropriate — just have them come in front of council to determine if they are,” Tovo said. “It requires them to [meet] a higher level of review — a public hearing — which means other businesses can come and weigh in, residents, anyone who wants to. Then, the planning commission would make a decision, and it can be appealed to the City Council.”

While the ordinance will not affect already-opened and operating strip clubs, Expose Men’s Club manager Ryan Miller said the new ordinance is bad for Austin’s economy.

“Pretty much all that’s doing is making it more difficult to obtain a [sexually-oriented business] license,” Miller said. “A lot of people don’t agree with this kind of business, but, you know, we produce jobs and probably got 15 employees at this club and then dancers — we probably have a couple hundred. It’s just going to make it more difficult for new clubs to open and pull money out of the Austin area, and people are going to go out of town to open new clubs.”

Individuals who proposed a strip club on Fifth Street and Congress Avenue are still in the permitting process, and they have not gotten their site plan approved yet, Rusthoven said.

Randell Salinas, international relations and global studies alumnus, said because there is already a regular crowd that frequents Sixth Street, close to the proposed Fifth Street and Congress Avenue strip club location, the culture will remain the same even if the strip club isn’t constructed.

“You’re not going to change the type of people that are going to go downtown,” Salinas said. “What’s another bar or club or gentleman’s club?”

This year, Austin City Council will have public hearings to promote public participation in local government, a priority of Mayor Steve Adler. The first public hearing Thursday will discuss how the Council will govern under the 10-ONE system.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Members of the Austin City Council are considering making structural changes to the Council’s decision-making process and will discuss the proposed changes at a public hearing Thursday. 

The Council, which began its term Jan. 6, will discuss moving government hearings to committees before making decisions at general, public meetings.

City Council member Kathie Tovo, the only City Council member who has served previous terms, said restructuring a new decision making process is among council’s top priorities. Tovo said not all hearings would be restricted to committee meetings.

“We are soliciting feedback from the public,” Tovo said. “Most hearings will be moved to committees, but some will still have to be heard in front of the Council, such as zoning and annexation. There are [topics] required by city ordinance, and some by state law, to be heard in front of Council.” 

Mayor Steve Adler said he thinks the restructuring will make public engagement more meaningful.

“Every district representative is chairing a citywide committee and needs to develop a citywide constituency,” Adler said. “Traffic, congestion and affordability are citywide issues. Since those are most pressing, we’ve come out of the box real quickly to restructure the way we do government.”

Adler said he did not realize how much the public wants to participate in local government before his election.

“One of the real takeaways was the sheer number of people that were calling offices when we weren’t there,” Adler said. “It was overwhelming — the number of people who want to talk with one and all of the City Council members.”

The City Council will hold a public discussion about moving hearings to committees before coming to an ultimate decision at a general Council meeting.

City Council member Ann Kitchen said she appreciated how the City Council united to tackle its first initiative.

“I’m excited that we were able to do that unanimously,” Kitchen said. “We learned at orientation ways we can continue to work together for the things that we all [agree upon]. I think everybody is working on the same page. There are some differences across the districts in terms of how we fix things, but we’re all in agreement [on this].”

Last week, the new City Council completed a three-day orientation. Tovo said she enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the other City Council members. 

“I had an opportunity to meet with all Council members and do introductions — to hear their ideas and share mine,” Tovo said. 

Adler said orientation is meant to be informative, but it’s also a chance for new members to discuss ideas.

“The session on open meetings generated a lot of conversation,” Adler said. “We have to find the right balance in that area. A lot of it is nuts and bolts — not romantic or sexy stuff, but important stuff.”

City Council member Ora Houston said the logistics of City operations are the most challenging to learn.

“There’s so much to learn, and now I can see how the City operates behind the curtain,” Houston said.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council member Chris Riley dropped out of the runoff election Friday for the City Council’s District 9 seat.

With 49.1 percent of the vote, City Council member Kathie Tovo was just shy of winning the District 9 seat outright on Election Day, and the race was slated for a Dec. 16 runoff. In a press release Friday, Riley called Tovo a “worthy opponent” and said he wanted to start the City Council’s new term positively by collaborating instead of competing.

“I remain dedicated to the ideals and policies I’ve championed, and I feel there is a path to victory in the runoff,” Riley said in his statement. “But I also feel that, as we begin this new era with a new council, a contest that creates negativity and division is not how we should set the tone for Austin going forward. I would rather work together with Kathie and with the new council members, as an advocate, to solve the challenges we face.”

Last Tuesday’s election marked the first under the 10-ONE system, which reformats the City Council from six citywide members to 10, each representing a geographic district. The change, which goes into effect in January, also makes the mayor the only citywide elected official. Riley also said, while his campaign gave Austin a clear view of his vision, he felt Tovo would represent District 9 to her
best ability. 

“I’m also happy to have been part of this first 10-1 and November election, which has brought so many new participants into the city’s democratic process,” Riley said. “I hope that as Austin settles into this new system, we continue to listen and respond to the voices that I’ve been hearing on the campaign trail — the students, the renters, the younger and newer residents, and everyone who wants the opportunity to live closer, live smaller and drive less. They are Kathie’s constituents and those of the new council members, and they deserve to be heard and represented.”

With Riley’s decision, Tovo is now the third confirmed member of the new City Council. Delia Garza of District 2 and Ann Kitchen of District 5 were the only two City Council candidates to win their races outright. The other seven districts, along with the mayor’s race between Steve Adler and City Council member Mike Martinez, will be decided at the Dec. 16 runoff election. Tovo said she was surprised when Riley informed her of his decision, but she looks forward to working with him in the future.

“I think that Chris has a lot of expertise that’s helped this city advance, particularly with multimodal transportation,” Tovo said. “I certainly anticipate continuing to reach out to him on that issue and others. I expect he’ll continue to be involved in this community in many ways.”

With her seat on the new City Council secure, Tovo said she will make use of her extra time.

“Not having a runoff really provides me to focus on wrapping up on some of my current council projects and getting ready to work with my new colleagues on the new 10-ONE council,” Tovo said.

As District 9 covers parts of campus, North Campus, West Campus and Hyde Park, Tovo said the race had a high amount of student involvement. She said that she and Riley both felt it was important that college students stay involved in the political process.

“One of the things we talked specifically about is the importance of continuing to involve students,” Tovo said. “There was a lot of student engagement in the District 9 race, and I look forward to continuing to work with students and making sure they have a voice at City Hall.”

City Council member Chris Riley dropped out of the runoff election for the council's District 9 seat on Friday.

With 49.1 percent of the vote, council member Kathie Tovo was just shy of winning the District 9 seat outright on Election Day. The race was slated for a Dec. 16 runoff. In a press release Friday, Riley called Tovo a “worthy opponent" and said he wanted to start the City Council’s new term positively by collaborating instead of competing.

“I remain dedicated to the ideals and policies I’ve championed, and I feel there is a path to victory in the runoff,” Riley said in his statement. “But I also feel that, as we begin this new era with a new council, a contest that creates negativity and division is not how we should set the tone for Austin going forward. I would rather work together with Kathie and with the new council members, as an advocate, to solve the challenges we face.”

Tuesday's election marked the first under the 10-ONE system, which reformats the council from six citywide members to 10, each representing a geographic district. The change, which goes into effect in January, also makes the mayor the only citywide elected official. Riley praised the system, and said he hoped it would serve Austin well. He also said while his campaign gave Austin a clear view of his vision, he felt Tovo would represent District 9 to her best ability. 

“I’m also happy to have been part of this first 10-1 and November election, which has brought so many new participants into the city’s democratic process,” Riley said. “I hope that as Austin settles into this new system, we continue to listen and respond to the voices that I’ve been hearing on the campaign trail — the students, the renters, the younger and newer residents, and everyone who wants the opportunity to live closer, live smaller and drive less. They are Kathie’s constituents and those of the new council members, and they deserve to be heard and represented.”

With Riley's decsion, Tovo is now the third confirmed member of the new council. Delia Garza of District 2 and Ann Kitchen of District 5 were the only two council candidates to win their races outright. The other seven districts, along with the mayor's race between Steve Adler and council member Mike Martinez, will be decided at the Dec. 16 runoff election. Tovo said she was a little surprised when Riley informed her of his decision and said she looked forward to working with Riley as well.

“I think that Chris has a lot of expertise that's helped this city advance, particularly with multimodal transportation,” Tovo said. “I certainly anticipate continuing to reach out to him on that issue and others. I expect he’ll continue to be involved in this community in many ways.”

With her seat on the new council secure, Tovo said she will make use her extra time.

“Not having a runoff really provides me to focus on wrapping up on some of my current council projects and getting ready to work with my new colleagues on the new 10-ONE council,” Tovo said.

As District 9 covers parts of campus, North Campus, West Campus and Hyde Park. Tovo said the race had a high amount of student involvement. She said that she and Riley both felt it was important college students stayed engaged.

“One of the things we talked specifically about is the importance of continuing to involve students,” Tovo said. “There was a lot of student engagement in the District 9 race and I look forward to continuing to work with students and making sure they have a voice at City Hall.”

Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council member and District 9 candidate, addresses supporters at her election night party.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

City Council members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley will face each other again in a runoff election on Dec. 16 as neither received a majority of the vote in Tuesday's District 9 council race.

Tuesday’s election was the City’s first under the 10-ONE structure, which reformats the City Council from six citywide seats to 10 geographic districts. District 9 covers parts of the University, West Campus, North Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress.

Receiving 49.1 percent of the vote, Tovo was just shy of avoiding a runoff with Riley, who captured 40.4 percent.

Before the results were finalized, Tovo said at her election night party that she was prepared to face Riley in a runoff.

“What we do know is that we ran a fabulous campaign — the results are terrific,” Tovo said. “We are in the lead, and its a great lead, and we’re still waiting for some boxes. If this is a runoff, we are going to need to roll up our sleeves. We are going to need to get back out there on the doors.”

Riley, who worked with student organizations in addressing city and West Campus issues over the past few months, thanked his staff for their hard work.

“I’m so grateful to everyone. It has been a long haul.” Riley said. “I’m not a young person anymore, but I still believe in the idea of change. This includes a walkable urban environment.”

At Tovo’s party, local realtor Myron Smith said he supports Tovo for her stance on neighborhood issues and first-term actions. 

“I support Kathie Tovo because she has been quite a supporter of neighborhoods, and she has never waived on that,” Smith said. “I am very hopeful and supportive of the things she brought to the table in her first term, so I hope that she would definitely be able to continue that.” 

Kelly Blanton, an urban and regional planning senior at Texas State University who lives in District 9, said she voted for Riley because he is a strong candidate for urbanism in the downtown area, and she wants to protect those principles. 

“He pioneered the City Council legislation for accessible dwelling units and has consistently been on the side of growth and positive development,” Blanton said. “Tovo hasn’t really done anything in the arena of urbanism.”

Erin McGann, a program supervisor for the Texas Department of Justice, finished third in voting with 11 percent.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth answers questions following her speech in the SAC Ballroom on Monday morning. She encouraged the audience to participate in early voting, which continues until Friday.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

With one week of early voting left before Election Day, State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone in front of a packed SAC Ballroom and encouraged students to vote during her on-campus stop in her gubernatorial campaign.

“For the first time in 14 years, we are going to elect a new governor,” Davis said. “The question is who will that governor be, and the answer is in all of your hands. It’s truly up to you at this point.”

Before Davis spoke to her audience, her 25-year-old daughter, Dru Davis, thanked the crowd of students and locals for their support.

“I’m so excited by the voter turnout and the enthusiasm that you guys have,” Dru said. “I’m also looking forward to Election Day. I’m just excited for all the change that my mom’s going to bring as governor and that Leticia [Van de Putte] is going to bring as lieutenant governor.”

With last week’s UT/Texas Tribune poll showing Davis trailing her gubernatorial opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, by 12 points, Davis said she was unconcerned about her low polling numbers. Davis said her victory would come from her supporters and volunteers.

“We have over 32,000 people volunteering on our campaign right now,” Davis said “These Internet polls really have shown to be wildly inaccurate. In my last two senate races, I was never up in the polls either, but I won. I won because the people were behind me.” 

Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council members and candidates for the Council’s District 9 seat, attended Davis’ rally, sporting their own campaign pins on their lapels. Riley walked around speaking to audience members and shaking hands.

“I’ve been talking with a lot of people this morning,” Riley said. “There’s a lot of energy around this whole election and a lot of commonality between the themes that Wendy and I have been talking about in this race.”

After the event, Tovo said she attended the rally to show her support for Davis.

“I’m very supportive of her campaign, especially … her policy regarding education and women’s health are critical,” Tovo said. “I have a lot of hope for the work she will do when she’s elected our governor.”

Shelley Merchant, a parent of a prospective UT student, stood toward the back of the compact crowd. She said she heard about Davis’ event on campus while touring UT. 

“I’m a big Wendy supporter,” Merchant said. “I’m a school administrator in White Settlement, Texas — a suburb of Fort Worth. I think she’s looking out for the teachers and the rest of us, and it’s a time for a change in Texas.”

Davis emphasized her support for education reform.

“When I marked my ballot on Monday, and I stood in that ballot box marking my name, I could not help but reflect on myself as a little girl,” Davis said. “If I could have told her she would be standing in that moment in time, it’s that opportunity and that path that I want to make possible for every single child in that state. And the only way to make that possible is to support access to college and affordability of college.”

Nutrition senior Jessica Boisseau went straight from Davis’ rally to vote. Boisseau said Davis’ stance on education inspired her. 

“I think she is the only candidate willing and able to provide change,” Boisseau said. “I’m working three jobs. One of them is part-time military to pay for school, so her campaign is very exciting.”

According to an Abbott campaign official, Abbott, who is currently on a 25-city “Get Out The Vote” tour, has not planned a UT appearance before Election Day on Nov. 4. Early voting continues until Friday.

Austin City Council member Chris Riley listens to plans for CodeNEXT at a City Council meeting Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council heard Thursday from consultants and the public about CodeNEXT, a plan to revitalize the current city land development code.

In June 2012, the Council adopted a 30-year comprehensive plan for the city known as Imagine Austin, which calls for a new land development code. The city has been working in tandem with Daniel Parolek, owner of Opticos Design, Inc. Parolek presented three approaches to cleaning up current city code, informally named “The Brisk Sweep,” “The Deep Clean” and “The Complete Makeover.”

The City Council staff and Parolek both recommended option two, “The Deep Clean,” as the most reasonable approach to revise city code. The only difference between approach two and approach three, “The Complete Makeover,” is the timeline.

“What we’re thinking is that approach two timeline would be extended,” Parolek said. “Because we focused all our attention on approach two, we’re not sure how long it would extend. Approach three would probably extend the timeline of approach two due to the steady dismantling and rebuilding of code that would be much broader and more extensive.”

Parolek estimated that “The Complete Makeover,” approach three, would take at least six more months than approach two.

Council member Chris Riley said he can see both approaches two and three succeeding in the City Council’s goals to revamp the land development code, but he supports the third option.

“‘The Deep Clean’ looks like it’s coming down to the geographic scope of our effort; it would focus on Airport Boulevard and downtown,” Riley said. “The complete overhaul would put new measures in place across much broader areas in the city. With ‘The Deep Clean,’ the hope is if we can demonstrate some effective new code provisions in those areas, we would eventually see those improvements spread to other areas of the city, but that would entail a much longer timeline than if we were to set out to overhaul the whole code in the initial effort.”

Council member Kathie Tovo said she supports option two after hearing from staff and from the public.

“The fact that the consultants and staff recommend [option two] is compelling to me,” Tovo said. “They made it very clear that it would be more expensive and take more time to take option three. Option two sounds like it makes the best sense and that it is a balanced and reasonable approach. It allows us to introduce new elements into the code, but it also preserves some of the environmental protections our existing code has.”

Riley said completely redoing the existing land development code is necessary to accommodate student housing needs.

“We have issues with a lack of affordable housing options today, and that especially impacts students who are often in a position of trying to find affordable housing in the central city,” Riley said. “If we are successful, then we should see a much greater supply of housing options that would meet students’ needs. Students have a lot at stake in how well we do at fixing our current code.”

Tovo said option two would address student housing needs just as well. According to Tovo, the city should focus on enforcing existing density bonus programs instead of rewriting the entire land development code to benefit those who need affordable housing.

“It’s going to clarify the code; it will make it easier to use whether it be affordable housing or market rate,” Tovo said. “Our best ability to impact affordable housing is to have strong density bonus programs to require developers to provide that on site.”

The City Council voted to keep public hearing sign-up open until their next meeting on Nov. 6, when they will revisit the issue.

I’m disappointed to read the district 9 council endorsement in the journal of an institution dedicated to fostering critical thinking.

Riley’s policies enrich a privileged few while costing the rest of us — whether we live in a dorm, a nearby apartment building or house. Riley’s multi-million dollar developer giveaways contribute nothing to affordability. Rather, they feed the speculative land prices that property owners could never demand if they couldn’t count on the upzoning giveaways Riley’s famous for.

Increased density has not lowered the price of a single apartment or condominium. Meanwhile, Riley voted to rewrite the city code to reduce developers’ required contribution to the city’s affordable housing program.

And with each additional floor of luxury condos Riley grants on top of the zoning code’s limit, he adds an average of two more cars per unit onto our congested streets. More cars, more traffic, more danger to bicyclists. With friends like Riley, cyclists don’t need enemies. Tovo incorporated substantive bicycle and pedestrian thruways, facilities, and Lady Bird Lake connectivity when negotiating the South Central Waterfront subdistrict’s Hyatt-Fairfield development — plus a mechanism to make developers pay for affordable housing in the district.

The Texan editors compare Riley and Tovo for accessibility. I wonder if the editors ever tried to make an appointment for an office visit with either council member. I’m quite sure they’d find both equally accessible.

Regarding the two candidates’ positions on transportation networks, the difference is one of customer rights and protections. Tovo seeks driver insurance to protect you as a passenger; Riley is fine with you simply taking your chances with the driver and vehicle that picks you up. While Tovo seeks to limit the gouging prices you get charged during peak events and areas, Riley’s okay if you get charged ten times the standard fare and find out later.

The editors tout Riley’s work with the Interfraternity Council and Student Government to revise the city’s sound ordinance. But they didn’t mention Tovo’s work with the City Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances committee to review and revise the City’s noise ordinance. That review led to the formation of the City’s Music Department and Director, and new noise ordinance enforcement mechanisms city-wide.

The editors call Tovo’s vision for a future Austin “infeasible” and “cozy.”  Actually, their feasibility is proven — when Riley and his council cohorts don’t undermine them. Upholding neighborhood plans’ provisions for directed growth and mixed use on commercial corridors is likely the only way to sustain Austin’s life qualities, while Riley’s giddy rubber stamp “any growth, anywhere” approach is analogous to celebrating a cancer.

Finally, to dismiss a position that includes preserving Austin’s history is ironic when you consider the number of historic buildings on the UT campus — a community I would hardly classify as a “museum district with no growth.”

District 9 is the most diverse and dense district in the new 10-ONE configuration. Tovo has committed in her campaign to respect the differences and diversity of the district’s areas and residents. With an architect as her husband, and two daughters who may also want to attend UT — and stay in Austin, she has a vested interest in our continued growth. Responsible is not suppressive. Conversely, a candidate who represents and is funded by the moneyed interests that have dominated City Hall for decades can only continue to thrive by pitting the district’s unique interest groups against one another.

— Cory Walton, Austin resident, in response to our Monday endorsement of Chris Riley for District 9 council member over Kathie Tovo.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: Early voting for District 9, along with all the other municipal races, begins Monday. Students can vote on campus at the Flawn Academic Center.

District 9, which encompasses UT’s main campus as well as West Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress, is one of ten districts under Austin’s new single-member council system, which will replace the council’s previous system of seven at-large members. Students make up a significant portion of the district, so their representative should make a point to address students’ issues and views.

Council member Chris Riley is more engaged with students when compared to councilwoman Kathie Tovo — his main opponent — and Erin McGann, who has never been a council member. Riley’s work with students throughout the council’s process of legalizing transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, demonstrates that he actually cares what students have to say, and he understands that students’ transportation needs differ from other Austinites'. Given how abysmally low the student voter turnout is, Riley’s motivation couldn’t have been solely to secure students’ votes.

Riley is also working with both the Interfraternity Council and Student Government to revise the city’s sound ordinance. With a promise by the city to increase enforcement of sound restrictions, as well as a new process the city put in place that requires a group to apply for permits at least 21 days before an event and submit a specific site plan, West Campus parties and events such as Round-Up could decrease dramatically. Granted, fewer fraternity parties wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world, but Riley’s attempts to mitigate this conflict shows that his priorities are to establish a consensus between West Campus students and nearby residents.

Tovo’s campus involvement, on the other hand, is less concrete. Simply being an alum of the University as well as a former instructor doesn’t say anything about how she’ll represent students, and although she said she is involved with campus programs including The Project and the UT Opportunity Forum, her presence on campus hasn’t had an impact on students like Riley’s has. She hasn’t done much recently to concretely address student specific student issues, such as promoting economic growth or working to increase students’ access to the council, so we see no reason why that would change if she is elected. She may be a good candidate for a different district, but not for ours.

The District 9 council member must foster strong communication with students. Riley is the only council member who currently holds weekly office hours, and he said he plans to hold office hours near campus if he is elected. This illustrates that he values the student population of District 9, as opposed to Tovo, who doesn’t mention students anywhere on her website, and barely mentioned them in an Oct. 7 interview with the editorial board even after we asked her specifically about the student population. When compared to Tovo’s, Riley’s website is further proof of his initiative to communicate with the student population. His website is far more informative and accessible than Tovo’s, and while that in itself definitely doesn’t merit our endorsement, it further demonstrates his ability to adequately communicate with the young student population online, which is one of the most important communication platforms for reaching young adults.

Aside from Tovo’s lack of strong connections with students, she also has infeasible ideas for Austin’s future. Her preservationist views of Austin are nice and cozy but woefully unrealistic. Riley embraces Austin’s rapid growth, while Tovo wants to suppress it. Her focus on preserving Austin’s history is great for a city that wants to be a museum district with no economic growth, but impractical for pretty much any other purpose. Not every student who graduates will want to move to a different city to find a job, so we need councilmembers who will accommodate and facilitate responsible growth in Austin’s population rather than push against something that’s inevitable. Riley is the person to do this. His forward-thinking visions and plans for Austin combined with his accessibility to students show that he is the best candidate to represent District 9.

Kathie Tovo, District 9 seat candidate, discusses her expectations and plans of running for re-election for the City Council at Café Medici on Friday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council member and District 9 seat candidate, sat down with The Daily Texan to discuss her plans should she be re-elected. This year’s city election is the first under the council’s 10-ONE structure, in which each council member will represent one of 10 geographic districts in the city. District 9 covers most of the UT campus, West Campus, North Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress. This interview is the last in a series of three with the District 9 candidates.

The Daily Texan: You voted for the temporary ordinance legalizing transportation networking companies at the City Council meeting on Thursday, but you raised several concerns before your decision. Why were you so hesitant?

Kathie Tovo: That ordinance was rushed. It was going through a stakeholder process and the sponsor, Chris Riley, decided to bypass the process. Temporary or not, any time we’re enacting legislation, we have an obligation to make sure it protects the health and safety of Austin. With regard to this one, it was important to me to make sure the rights of the consumers are protected. One of the changes I really hope to achieve in the ordinance was to make sure we had some sort of caps on surge pricing. I believe we should have TNCs, but it was important to me to put reasonable limits on surge pricing. In the end, it’s the riders that will pay the high prices for that.

DT: If the ordinance was rushed, was voting to legalize TNCs the right decision?

KT: Usually we don’t adopt a temporary ordinance while the stakeholder process is still going on, but it allows the TNCs to operate here legally and in a way to protect the public’s interest. I think we were able to spend the time on the ordinance that we needed to. I looked at the recommendations that stakeholders and staff made and made sure we incorporated those.

DT: Urban rail is another hot topic in transportation with the city’s Proposition 1 on the ballot. Why do you support the plan?

KT: Transportation issues are not getting better, and we need to attack it from different angles. High-capacity transit offers potential for us as a city. Especially for University students, I think it could be really positive because it runs so close to campus. And I believe it’ll be a real asset for games, events and other things that draw a lot of traffic. 

DT: What do you think about the changes the new 10-ONE council structure will bring?

KT: It’s been interesting being on the campaign trail. Some of [the candidates] I’ve worked with on boards and commissions, and some have a lot of city experience and will be able to take office seamlessly. Others will have a learning curve, but it’s a very smart and engaged group. It’ll take us a little time to figure out how to work in the new council.

DT: You just went to a women-in-City Council luncheon. Has putting more women in city government been a part of your focus this race?

KT: That’s not been an intentional focus. I’m the 16th woman to serve on City Council in the history of its existence. We need to encourage more young women to consider public service. Whenever I have an opportunity, I try to go to schools and speak. That’s always a message I try to get to young women. You have so many opportunities to be in public service, and we need the council to look like Austin in terms of diversity.

DT: Are there any issues that you haven’t been able to talk about as much on the campaign trail?

KT: There’s a central committee that is focused on women’s health, particularly with regard to the [Dell Medical School], and we asked our women’s commission to make sure we are connecting with that committee, and women are able to get the services we need. One of the things I’m working on with the women’s commission is to make sure we are keeping tabs on women’s health. With the advent of the medical school, I think people are worried about Seton [Healthcare Family]’s role with the school. There is concern about the future of women’s health. And we need to make sure we can still provide adequate women’s health care.

DT: Does the historically low student voter rate in city elections worry you?

KT: I am optimistic. I see a lot of enthusiasm about this election, and so I believe the numbers this time can be a lot higher. I’m hopeful. I’ve had a lot of volunteers in the student area, and I’ve been on campus myself talking with voters, and people seem engaged, and they express they intend to vote. We see that there are student groups who are forming more formal groups with city, like the [Student Government] City Relations agency. There are more formal ways to be interactive with the city. I think that would help me to know who to reach out for issues, and I think it will encourage students to be more involved. I like to think my office has always been open to students.

DT: What would you do without a role on the Council?

KT: I ran for Council because I was interested in the issues. I’m interested in making sure as our city grows, it stays a city that is livable. Before I ran, I was a University educator, and I loved the research and working with students. I would go back to teaching. I do miss one-on-one student interactions.Some answers in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

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.