AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN asked our viewers what questions they had for Austin’s future mayor. We received hundreds of well-articulated submissions. While we incorporated some of those questions in the debate Thursday night, the moderators could not get to all of them in the allotted hour. After the debate closed, we grabbed both candidates to ask a few more questions before sending them off to bed.
Is there a part of Austin that you feel has developed positively?
“I’ll point to our first subdivision Hyde Park,” Israel said. “Part of my time at the University of Texas, I lived right on the edge of Hyde Park – you could bike through it, you could take a bus through it, we could walk through it…It was an idyllic (place).”
“We need more of that,” she said.
“Actually, the whole city needs to be developing in a more positive way,” Watson said.
“What I have called for is that we make sure a baseline is set for the entire city (and districts)… And then we incentivize, in some instances, getting positive growth, more density and more housing in places. But we’re in a crisis that requires the whole city to participate. And we need more positive growth and development in terms of affordability throughout the city,” Watson said.
Many wrote in saying they feel there are more reckless drivers on the road in the area. What can be done to make the roads around the city safer for Austinites?
“I’ve been on the legislature for nine years. Much of my legislative agenda has been around transportation and transportation safety. I had a bill to calm down neighborhood speeds (and) distracted driving. There’s no doubt we are driving too fast. We’re driving distracted,” Israel responded.
“As we get back to fully staffing our police force, we need to look at the traffic enforcement,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be punitive; it can be a positive engagement.”
“One of the problems we have in that regard is the fact that we have an understaffed police department,” Watson said.
“What happens when you have an understaffed police department is people (are allocated) to other duties, and you lose some of the people patrolling our streets,” Watson said. “(This leads to) reckless driving, more speeding, and unsafe roads. That is one of the byproducts of not having a fully staffed police department,” he continued.
“We need to have a fully staffed police department, and it needs to be a priority.”
Speaking of roads, some viewers wondered why there is not more being done to improve roads in bad condition
“I don’t know the root cause, but I suspect that has to do with staffing,” Israel said. “We don’t have enough people in the development services review; we don’t have enough people at the 911 call center; we don’t have enough cops; we don’t have enough engineers working the system.”
“I suspect that it has to do with us paying our workers a fair and livable wage.”
“I’ve said over and over again, City Hall is not doing a good job of taking care of basics. One of the basics is making sure that roadways are kept up,” Watson said.
“We have about $25 billion of transportation money that is ready to be spent,” he said. “Some of that set for big projects, like Project Connect, the airport and (Interstate 35). But a lot of that could go to doing the kind of upkeep we would expect as part of the basic service of the city of Austin. One of the reasons I’m running is that we need some urgency and immediacy. It is very frustrating to be in your car and ride on a bad road like that.”
Some viewers said that the Austin Animal Center is in dire shape and in need of reform. How would you improve conditions at the Center?
“Some of the volunteers at the animal shelter invited me for a tour. It was appalling,” Israel said. “When the rent started creeping up in price, another tragic aspect of that [was] that the animal shelter started filling up. People were giving up members of their family because they couldn’t afford the pet deposit when (they moved) into their new place,” Israel said.
“There’s a lot of stressors on the system. We’ve got to make sure that we engage those volunteers and make sure that they feel appreciated,” she continued.
“As citizens of Austin, we place a high value on [animals],” Watson said. He said local government needs to honor that.
“We need to make sure that the management of [Austin Animal Center] is focusing on the community and the value it places on those animals… I want Austin to be one of the great American cities when it comes to our pets. And Austin Pets Alive and other organizations like that need to help us in designing [how] the management of the shelter ought to be,” he said.
People are concerned that with the growth in the region comes a diluting of Austin’s culture. What can be done to preserve Austin’s uniqueness?
“I came here in 1982. I didn’t know I was gay, but I thought I was gay. I was a Latina, raised in El Paso, Texas,” Israel said. “There is a spirit of Austin that reassured me that I was going to be welcome here,” she continued. “The spirit of Austin isn’t in a place necessarily. The spirit of Austin is in us.”
She said preserving the culture goes back to housing and affordability.
“If we are pushing out the teacher, we are pushing out the TV reporter, we are losing that spirit of Austin. That breaks my heart, and that is why I’m running to be the next mayor.”
“We need to make it where everybody can live here.”
He said when he first arrived in Austin in 1981, there was an abundance. There was plenty of housing, plentiful green spaces and open roads.
“Folks could live here and participate,” he said. “[With] rapid growth, we cannot allow it to steal from us the very things we wanted to have here.”
“The second part is we have to focus on things like what we’ve been talking about – the basics of making sure that our infrastructure is up to date. We need to make sure that we’re taking care of crime; we are taking care of safety on our roads. Those kinds of things that keep Austin, Austin.”
If elected as Austin’s next mayor, how do you want to be remembered?
Israel said she wants people to remember her as a mayor who represented women, Latinos and Latinas and the LGBT community. “Because that is who I am,” she said.
She wants other U.S. cities to say, “Wow, look at what cool and innovative things they are doing with land use and housing in Austin. Let’s do what they’re doing,” she said.
“If we give up, then we turn into San Francisco, and it becomes a city that is unrecognizable to any of us.
“What I want to be remembered for is a mayor who recognizes we are no longer becoming a big city – we are a big city.”
“We [need to] start acting like we are a big city and addressing the issues [and] the big challenges we have in the way they need to be addressed.”
“I certainly have the background,” Watson said. “I have the proven record of success in dealing with big issues and getting things done. And I believe I can do that in another term.”