You could classify Austin’s District 7 as the "middle district" – it falls smack dab between the city’s lowest and highest income districts, with an annual median family income around $74,000. Half (around 56%) of district residents rent their homes. It’s also geographically central and narrow, stretching from the city’s North Loop area to the boundaries of Pflugerville.
Council Member Leslie Pool represents Austin’s District 7. This year, Pool faces only one challenger: Natalie Gauldin, a former teacher and current technical writer.
To better inform voters, we thought we’d focus on three of the big issues of the last year-and-a-half of Austin’s first 10-1 council. We asked non-incumbents how they would have voted on these major issues. Then we added one more category: a pet project for incumbents, and for non-incumbents, what they’d like to focus on. It’s all part of a series we’re calling, “More Than a Yard Sign.”
A former employee of both state and county government, Leslie Pool has spent her time on the dais advocating for environmental protections.
Early on in the bond discussion, Pool joined Council member Greg Casar to propose amendments to Mayor Steve Adler’s original plan for the bond. Some of those were included in the final plan, including reduced spending on corridor projects, and more money towards sidewalks and safer routes to schools.
At a council discussion, Pool questioned why Uber had agreed to the mandate in Houston, but would not in Austin. “Clearly, the community would like to see this additional public safety,” said Pool.
While the council approved a two percent increase to the city’s homestead exemption this year – bringing it to eight percent – Pool, it appears, would have liked a larger increase. In 2015, she supported getting to a 20 percent exemption in four years.
When reflecting on the last nearly two years on the dais, Pool holds up council’s approval of the Austin Community Climate Plan as a memorable moment. “It was a huge undertaking by staff and the community in the years before we approved it last year,” she said.
A former elementary school teacher, Natalie Gauldin was born and raised in District 7.
Gauldin co-founded neighborhood Friends of the Grove in support of a proposed, and contentious, mixed-use development.
“I think we need to invest in infrastructure and this is one step,” said Gauldin, explaining that the city has failed to prepare for recent growth and this bond package is a good start.
Gauldin said requiring ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted – rules that companies Uber and Lyft say forced them out of the city – created a concern among other local businesses of “unfriendly” regulations.
“The business community is asking, ‘What is Austin doing? I can go in here and start my business and then a few years later they might pile on additional regulations that make it so it’s not really feasible for me to continue in that city,” said Gauldin.
“It’s not really make the type of impact that [residents] would hope,” said Gauldin. City council members raised the homestead exemption to eight percent this year, up from six percent the year before. Gauldin said this larger exemption had too big an impact on the city's budget. "You pull money away typically from the services that help the people who have the greatest need," she said.
Gauldin said, if elected, she would be heavily involved in the city’s rewrite of its land development code, known as CodeNEXT. A denser district, Gauldin said, is what she wants to see.
“Really give people the opportunity to get out of their cars, stop that sprawl…and make life affordable for more people.”
Below, you can listen to the full audio of our District 7 Ballot Boxing forum, co-hosted with the Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy.
This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.