Monday, July 25, 2016
#ATXCouncil District 7: Natalie Gauldin's PROMISING Launch!!!
"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
We recently attended Natalie Gauldin's campaign launch party for council district 7. We followed that up with an extended telephone conversation. We don't expect to agree with her on everything, but we have substantial overlap on the biggest issues Austin will face over the next few years.
The biggest issue where we agree is housing and land use. The biggest reason why housing costs in Austin have exploded in recent years are NIMBY-style restrictions that prohibit construction in the urban core. This restricts the supply of housing (which increases the cost) while simultaneously pushing what construction does occur to the perimeter (which, of course, begets traffic).
Gauldin wants to expand 'opportunities and options' for land use. She wants to lower housing costs by increasing property rights. As one example, she wants to lift lot-size restrictions that incentivize building McMansions instead of multi-unit residences in the urban core. She has recently led an effort to secure new construction in central Austin and also helped reduce restrictions on 'granny flats.' In other words, her record includes tangible steps in the right direction.
Gauldin's priorities on council will be affordability and transportation...which segued into our discussion of technological regulation. Council's actions over the last year related to Uber/Lyft and Short Term rentals were a distraction from her priorities. Gauldin opposes both. As future cases emerge, she would need to see meaningful public demand for regulation and data that proves the regulations in question would achieve their intended purpose before she would consider it. This is a remarkably refreshing perspective for a member of the Austin city council.
In discussing taxes, without prompting she brought up the fact that 'fees' on Austin energy bills are actually hidden taxes. She didn't know it when she brought it up, but that's actually one of our gigantic pet peeves in local governance. On property taxes, she is unenthusiastic about expanding a homestead exemption that ignores the hidden tax burden on renters, but she wants to discuss more meaningful reductions in the tax rate.
We also discussed various scenarios for reforming the city bureaucracy. We were pleased to learn she believes the city staff should serve the priorities set by the elected council, not the other way around. This stands in contrast to an incumbent who has been a rubber stamp for the bureaucracy and voted to give the city manager a raise.
Speaking of the incumbent, did we mention that Natalie Gauldin is challenging Leslie Pool?!? That, by itself, should tell readers everything the need to know. We'd rather discuss the challenger's positives than the incumbent's negatives, but we can go there as necessary.
That's not to say we agree with Natalie Gauldin universally. She has a higher opinion of the viability of bike trails and rail than this website. That being said, her views on issues like bike trails and rail make her a better fit for the district.
Bottom Line: Housing costs and land use regulation are the biggest issue council must confront in coming years. We cannot address Austin's affordability challenges unless we tackle housing. While we do not expect do agree with her across the board, the early signs on the most important issues are highly encouraging.