Randall Stephens

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Randall Stephens for Mayor of Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: In the run-up to the November election for mayor, the Texan has been running Q-and-A’s with the candidates. This is the last in our series. Early voting began Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4. Students can vote on campus at the Flawn Academic Center. This interview has been condensed from its original length.

 

The Daily Texan: What are your views on transportation and urban rail?

 

Randall Stephens: … My wife works here at UT, and can take an hour and 15 minutes getting into work from Avery Ranch, and it’s only about 17 miles. I can beat that on my bicycle … What I fear is that very soon we’ll see …  a city where cars can’t flow, can’t move, pedestrians and bicycles weaving through them, and that can happen on our freeways …

The urban rail decision is going to cause problems that we don’t have today and don’t want in the future and those are going to cause east-west flow problems … The urban rail system they want to put in runs on the surface, and it will stop traffic every five to seven minutes at every street it crosses. The frequency at each station is planned for 10 minutes, for northbound and southbound trains … I don’t like anything about the Proposition 1 urban rail plan … That’s not going to solve any of our problems with the commute. It’s not going to take anyone off of our freeways  If you can’t elevate urban rail in a city, then you shouldn’t do it.


 

DT: What made you decide to run for mayor?

 

Stephens: I have certain skillsets and I want to serve. I see things for the way they are. I’ve been a problem solver for the past 35 years in my career. From my first five years in the Air Force, as a young sergeant, I’ve always stepped up into leadership roles. For me it’s just a natural thing to do. But you didn’t hear about me because I’m just a person in a big company. I worked 30 years for American Airlines, stepped up and managed workflow in an environment where you have people from every part of the planet working together for a common cause … Not everybody I worked with grew up speaking the same language I did or looked like I did, but because we listened to each other and worked together for a common goal, we’re a team. And this is what a community has to do. So I respect and understand people, and I listen to people … We love this town, it’s a wonderful place. I can’t think of a more exciting and interesting job than to be the mayor of this wonderful city …        


 

DT: What do you think are the main issues students should be concerned with in this election and how does your campaign aim to solve these issues?

 

Stephens: Cost of living is very important to students … The cost of living is horrendous today. It’s gone up, we have these pressures, we’ve become an urban center now. We’re not a small Texas city anymore. Having more opportunities in housing will be something we need. We have to create that opportunity by creating an attractive investment for builders.


 

DT: What sets you apart from your opponents?


Stephens: I believe that this is a great opportunity for the voters of Austin to find someone who isn’t wedded to downtown money. I’ve setting myself apart as a person who absolutely isn’t going to speak to a lobbyist about a donation … It’s not about money; it’s an interactive age … I believe in people, and I believe we can inspire Austin to change for the better.    

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.”