Many progressive frontrunners for City Council oppose Prop 1

This is part of a two-part series on the supposed ideological aspects of the city of Austin bond proposition (“Prop 1”). Today’s topic is opposition to Prop 1 among liberal candidates for City Council.

The Let’s Go Austin PAC has tried to convince liberal and progressive Austin voters that the city roads-and-rail bond proposition (often referred to as “Prop 1”) is an ideological or partisan question. “Know whose side you are on,” the PAC says in a series of recent mailers that try to portray opposition to Prop 1 as a conservative cause.

That message has failed to resonate with a vital audience: the leading liberal and progressive candidates for Austin City Council, a majority of whom are openly opposed to Prop 1.

Below are listed the positions taken on Proposition 1 held by those candidates for City Council endorsed by at least one of four solidly liberal publications or organizations: the Austin Chronicle (AC), Burnt Orange Report(BOR), Workers’ Defense Action Fund (WDF), and Austin Environmental Democrats (AED).

Candidate for OfficePosition on Prop 1Endorsed by AC/BOR/WDF/AED
Sheryl Cole, MayorSupportsBOR
Mike Martinez, MayorSupportsAC, BOR, WDF
Ora Houston, D1OpposesAC, WDF
DeWayne Lofton, D1SupportsBOR
Delia Garza, D2OpposesAC, BOR, WDF, AED
Sabino “Pio” Renteria, D3SupportsAC, BOR
Gregorio Casar, D4OpposesAC, BOR, WDF, AED
Ann Kitchen, D5OpposesAC, BOR, WDF, AED
Jimmy Flannigan, D6OpposesAC, WDF, AED
Matt Stillwell, D6OpposesBOR, AED
Jeb Boyt, D7SupportsAC, BOR, AED
Leslie Pool, D7OpposesAC
Melissa Zone, D7OpposesWDF
Ed Scruggs, D8OpposesAC, BOR, AED
Chris Riley, D9SupportsBOR, AED
Kathie Tovo, D9SupportsAC, WDF, AED
Mandy Dealey, D10SupportsAC, BOR, WDF, AED

As the table shows: Of the 17 candidates receiving at least one endorsement from these four liberal publications and organizations, nine are opposed to Prop 1 and eight support it. Of the 43 total endorsements by the four publications and organizations, 24 went to the opposed candidates.

What do the liberal publications say about the nine leading candidates who oppose Prop 1? And how do these leading liberal and progressive candidates explain their reasons for opposing Prop 1? Let’s give them the mic to make the case in their own words:Engaged in civic activism on neighborhood, citywide, and social justice issues… An experienced hand at city politics who will understand the relationship between district needs and whole community issues.”

 —Austin Chronicle, on Ora Houston“Unable to support a rail plan that does not address the core issue about congestion and transportation: alleviate traffic coming into the city from the edges of the district and beyond. We need transit options that allow people to leave their cars at home or at a park and ride and use public transit to get into and around town. This route will not do that.”

—Ora Houston, on Prop 1“A well-prepared, consensus choice… A born public servant, Garza is also already a role model to young Hispanic girls in Austin, and as the first council member from the new District 2 will be an even bolder and brighter example of what determination can accomplish when progressive government offers everyone an equal chance to succeed.”

—Burnt Orange Report, on Delia Garza“While I support more multi modal transportation options and understand that we need to address our traffic crisis, I oppose the rail proposal. I have concerns that the proposed plan will further aggravate our affordability crisis while leaving some folks out of the process that are the most dependent on using public transportation.”

—Delia Garza, on Prop 1“Casar has been a rising star at City Hall with his successful advocacy at Workers Defense Project, with the other leaders there even generating national support and engagement – improving city contracting standards and citizens’ lives simultaneously. He should be particularly successful in representing the rising demographic of District 4, the many working-class immigrants and young families who are making Austin home and transforming the central city.”

—Austin Chronicle, on Gregorio Casar“I have chosen not to vote for the bond in November. Once we have a more comprehensive affordability plan that will ensure everyday Austinites are not overburdened by the cost of rail, we should support a fiscally responsible and equitable rail plan. Although I am not voting for this bond, I believe we will eventually need heavier transit investments in Austin. We can serve East Riverside, Downtown Austin, and Highland sooner by investing in improving our bus service along the proposed route. I am dedicated to making sure our future transit investments are paired with affordability solutions.”

—Gregorio Casar, on Prop 1“Kitchen served as a former assistant attorney general, co-founded Annie’s List, and has devoted more than two decades to health care policy and advocacy. On the strictly municipal side, she’s served on city commissions, chairs Liveable City, and was a founding member of the Save Our Springs Alliance. Unsurprisingly, she’s garnered broad support from key local environmental, labor, public safety, neighborhood, and Dem political groups.”

—Austin Chronicle, on Ann Kitchen“While I believe rail transit is needed to address Austin’s transportation future, I cannot support the $1 billion rail/road bond proposal as it has been conceived. In a time of deep concern about affordability, the proposal does little to serve existing residents of South Austin. Additionally, I also believe that the $400 million road package should have been presented as a separate measure so it could have addressed critical transportation needs in South Austin, as well as across the city, from redesigning congestion chokepoints to building more complete streets by building sidewalks and bike lanes.”

—Ann Kitchen, on Prop 1“He explains that paying all city of Austin employees a living wage would ultimately reduce the need for other social services to supplement low wages… Flannigan reflects an impressive understanding of the granular details of city government. … There’s some debate about whether District 6 will turn out to be a ‘conservative opportunity’ district. Flannigan is no conservative.”

—Austin Chronicle, on Jimmy Flannigan“While I have been present for the conception, planning, and vetting of this project, I cannot support it. The long-term plan duplicates the first project’s route (the parallel line north of MLK). That is no way to start building a rail system. I also cannot support the idea that Austin taxpayers will spend $250mil improving roads (I-35) that the state is responsible for supporting.”

—Jimmy Flannigan, on Prop 1“A longtime Democratic activist… Stillwell has the strongest progressive credentials of all the candidates running in District 6… We were impressed by Stillwell’s overall vision for the city.”

—Burnt Orange Report, on Matt Stillwell“I’m against it because I haven’t been given a clear answer on what the expected cost might be to build out the entire urban rail system – because if Austin won’t get on board with that and what will undoubtedly be a $6B-$10B plan, there’s no way we should build the first line. Building the Highland to Riverside route and not completing the system would be a disaster. This was rushed to the ballot before it was ready.”

—Matt Stillwell, on Prop 1“Spearheaded the push for the city to buy the state’s Bull Creek property – still an unresolved question – and advocating for sustainable development there. … The district will be in good hands.”

—Austin Chronicle, on Leslie Pool“I support rail, want it for Austin, and ride light rail and subways in many cities, but I can’t support this very expensive proposition. Austin’s current proposal costs too much and residents don’t feel it will take them where they want to go.”

—Leslie Pool, on Prop 1“Melissa Zone’s urban planning experience has made her a powerful advocate for future-thinking.”

—Austin Chronicle, on Melissa Zone“No, I support and want urban rail, but the current alignment will not help the people who need rail today. I would prefer to see an alignment developed to serve existing demand. We need to think about everyone, not just the people who will be moving here in ten years. Also, I would prefer to have the package of highway improvements proposed as a separate bond measure rather than as an addendum to the urban rail proposal.”

—Melissa Zone, on Prop 1“Scruggs has long been an activist in southwest Austin, most notably founding the Circle C Area Democrats… But his Democratic bonafides are not the only reason he’s the best choice in this race. … He can speak at length about the issues facing area schools, the need for more parks, and the infrastructural challenges in this rapidly growing area of Austin. Scruggs has also demonstrated an awareness of a larger vision for the city, addressing conservation and affordability as part of his campaign.”

—Burnt Orange Report, on Ed Scruggs“While a supporter of transit in concept this plan is currently not affordable. The Project Connect process is incomplete—failing to meaningfully address commuter transit issues in most of the outlying districts.”

—Ed Scruggs, on Prop 1

With several progressive future members of Austin City Council opposing Prop 1, the ideological narrative offered by the Let’s Go Austin PAC has fallen flat. It is now time for this bond question to be settled on its merits.

AURA has spent two years studying this urban rail plan—first, participating in the Project Connect process in good faith, and then, sadly, having to report that the process had badly misfired, seemingly in part because of capture by vested interests. It is AURA’s conclusion that Prop 1 may be a good deal for those interest groups, but it is a bad deal for public transit in Austin.

The progressive candidates opposing Prop 1 clearly agree with AURA’s analysis: This is a route that will serve too few and cost too much, which will dash hopes for building a bigger rail system and drain transit dollars away from vital bus services. And AURA agrees with the progressive candidates: After this election is over, Austin’s new City Council can and will build a system-starting rail route that will have high ridership and will not break the budget of Capital Metro.

But first, the crucial and wise move is to vote NO on the city bond proposition.