Leslie Pool ran for the Austin City Council on a platform to protect neighborhoods and the environment; a promise she believes she's kept with the resolutions she's led on and voted for.
“We've done a lot and I'm real proud of the work that we've done. It's been a straight up learning curve for many of us. Ten of us had never served on council before, just the Mayor Pro-Tem, so there's been a lot of learning going on and it's been really intense on the job - but I feel like we have a record of accomplishment,” said Pool.
Pool was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She attended Grove City College, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Art in Literature and Communications before coming to Austin.
While in Austin, she decided to attend the University of Texas at Austin where she completed Master's coursework in Public Affairs.
She went on to work as a government staffer in the state legislature and also on school finance issues. Still, Pool said her work for the people in the City of Austin, representing the residents of District 7 in North Austin, is what she values most.
“When I ran two years ago, my platform was to protect the neighborhoods and the environment and to fight for the quality of life for the city, for the residents in the City of Austin and I feel like the legislative agenda that I've brought forward has done that with the lobbying reform that I’ve brought forward, the homestead exemption, arguing for worker protections and anti-discrimination and harassment legislation and looking out for the employees for the City of Austin as well,” said Pool. “And so I look forward to a four-year term where I can continue to dig in on those issues. I got the top rating from the Austin Neighborhoods Council when they did a score card of the issues that matter to the neighborhoods around the city and I was so gratified to see that. They did an analysis of an array of votes and I don't think that anybody on council knew that that was going to happen. So I was at the top of that list and I am really, really proud of that and I'm really proud of all of the endorsements that I've gotten, more than two dozen and just today the Austin Chronicle endorsed me. They had endorsed me two years ago and I was really proud to get that, to earn that endorsement again this go round. So I'm real excited about the election, I'll be glad when November 8th gets here and we'll be done with it and we can get to work on the new things that are ahead of us. And it's been a real honor to serve on this first 10-1 council. It's really the most important professional work I have done in my entire career and it's just a privilege to work for the citizens of Austin and District 7.”
When she thinks back over the past year and a half, Pool said the most significant thing she’s done is her work on environmental issues.
“I'm really proud of the passage of the Austin Community Climate plan that we did last year…and I led on that and it was the culmination of a lot of work on, years on, environmental advocates and activist in this city and stakeholders and city staff. We have a report that gets Austin on a pathway to zero greenhouse gas emissions and we need to be on that path. And so it’s a huge accomplishment for the city and it kind of sets the predicate for all of the other environmental legislation that we've passed.”
Even with that legislation in place, Pool said there is still much work for her to do.
“From all that we've learned in the last year and a half, there's so much more to do. I'm really proud of our work with the Austin school district to help with the victory tutorial program and the after school care. It matters to me that we have funding for our health and human services contracts so people who are disadvantaged or low income or just aren’t' able to make ends meet, that we're there to help them. Like with rehabilitation of their homes and to help them with the weatherization and to help them to be able to make ends meet. Austin is a really special place and there's a lot going on here and we're booming. And so there's a big prosperity dividend that's being paid in our community and I want to make sure that everybody is the beneficiary of that, everybody participates in that.”
ON THE ISSUES
Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?
“I am for the mobility bonds. It will definitely ease congestion and it will improve the corridors, two corridors that are particularly relevant in District 7, and that's Burnet and North Lamar. There's some other corridors that are also in the bond so that everyone who votes on it [is] able to benefit from these improvements. We've got to invest in our infrastructure and it will make a difference when we invest money. We'll have improved drainage along those corridors, we'll have better sidewalks. I'd like to see them all ADA compliant, by law they need to be, and so for folks who happen to be in a wheelchair or a walker or pushing a stroller, we need to make sure that they're safe and that they're able to get from one place to the next without any impediment. And so I think including the bus pullouts, synchronization of the traffic lights, there's a whole lot in that $720 million bond. It's a big lift for our community but I think we're ready for it. I think we are growing up to be a big city and this is an indication that we recognize that we have investment needs in our infrastructure and we're ready and willing to make them.”
Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?
“We're already investing in our intersections that are the five most dangerous intersections and they are not in the bond, but we put money aside in the last budget in order to address those. Two of those are in or adjacent to District 7 and they are North Lamar, one at Rundberg, and one at Parmer. And so the engineering, it's pretty expensive to go in and do that kind of preliminary design and engineering and then make those improvements. We're also looking at the Vision Zero recommendations for ways that we can reduce fatalities in town and one way to do that is by actually lowering speed limits in some parts of town or on all roads. And so it will be an interesting conversation to have with the community to see if there would be any willingness in the community to slow cars down to increase safety. We're looking at smarter intersections as far as the signal synchronization, I think I mentioned that previously. And so these things seem like maybe they wouldn't have much of an effect but I think the accumulated impact is pretty big. And then when we re-stripe to make for turn lanes and that sort of thing.”
Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?
“We've been adding housing units to the city. We aren't able to keep up, I guess, with as many people as are coming into the city because that would almost be an impossibility because of how long it takes even to just construct homes but we are adding stock. I'd like to kind of focus, frankly, also on wages and how much people are earning. And so when I talk with our friends in the business community I talk to them about when we're bringing in new firms, new businesses into Austin that they should be talking very positively about our local workforce. We have really good training programs here, we've got terrific schools and institutions of higher education, we've got a great local workforce and I would love to see the companies that are coming into town, rather than bringing their workforce with them from another state, I'd love to see them hire folks here locally and then pay really good saltires so that we can make it possible for people's income to keep up with the cost of living.”
“I think it's a mix of all kinds of things. I don't want to just pull out one and focus on one because I think there's a whole lot of other issues. Clearly having the availability...it'd be great for people to be able to live near where you work. And some folks are able to do that and some are not. I think it's important that we have options as far as where, what part of town, people want to live in and what kind of home they want to live in. Some people want to rent, some people want a small condo, some people want a home with a yard and so that’s the middle class, that's sort of the American dream is to have your own home and your own yard. We are working in order to keep costs down by mitigating on our utility costs. Frankly, the biggest cost driver in the City of Austin for Travis County is the school district taxes and that rests with the state legislature. I worked at the state legislature years ago and I worked in school finance and the legislature just has not been able to take the votes that are necessary in order to reduce the amount of recapture. $400 million, I think $402 million is going out of Austin Independent School District to other school districts around the state and if we were able to keep that $402 million here in Austin, our taxes would definitely be lower. And AISD's portion of our tax bill is considerably larger than the City of Austin's. We're working real hard to keep our impact on property taxes down. I was happy to vote for the homestead exemption, which we put the first one in, at six percent last year. We added a third to it this year to make it eight percent. And I also voted for the increase in the property exemption from $80,000 to $82,500 for seniors and people with disabilities. So we're moving the needle a little bit in a lot of different areas, but it is important to remember that the biggest tax impact isn't, in fact, the City of Austin, it's the school district and that rests, the responsibility for that rests, with the state legislature. I would love to see a ground swell talking with the folks at the Capitol to really make some fundamental changes with our school finance.”
Q: The Martin Prosperity Institute found Austin is the “most economically segregated major metro area in the U.S.,” how do you propose Austin address this?
“I read that report and the Richard Florida report and there were a whole lot of other elements in it besides the economic segregation. And then there was another report that I read recently that was called the Martin Report and it talked about diversity in cities and diversity in neighborhoods and you can have a really diverse city, and Austin is kind of right in the middle of that scale, and then you can have diverse neighborhoods more or less and Austin is right about in the middle of that too. And so I think depending on which scale you pick, I think there was a lot of focus on the economic segregation piece but there was a heck of a lot more in that Richard Florida report than just that one piece. That said, obviously we don't want to have people segregated in any form or fashion and so this council has been dedicated to trying to break down barriers and silos and look at this as an entire community where everybody prospers and that's a big, important piece for me. It's not enough that just some people, like the one percent, are prospering in our community. It has to be everybody.”
Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 7?
“If I were to do it in five words or less I would say the impact of the FEMA flood maps. District 7 is having significant changes to the flood maps. People who are retired on fixed incomes and happen to live on some of the branches of Shoal Creek found out just in the last year that they are now in a federal flood plain. And so they have to buy flood insurance. When you're on a fixed income, and we were just talking about how to keep our taxes down and keep things affordable, these are things that they didn't factor into their budgets when they decided they were going to retire. And so that's an impact and the city's doing what we can in order to help mitigate that by, for example, making the status that we have the FEMA flood plain so that they can get a discount on the insurance. The city has to do something affirmatively for them to get a discount, but it doesn't remove the fact that now their homes are possibly going to be flooded, being in a flood plain and everything. And that relates to impervious cover growth and where we're developing and how densely we're developing. So we've been approving development in, above the watersheds and so the water that's coming down those watersheds is now at a level where it’s flooding homes that have been in place for decades. Same thing was happening in Onion Creek and Williamson Creek, it's also happening in North Central Austin too.”
Q: You were instrumental in forming the Bull Creek Road Coalition that is opposing some aspects of The Grove development while your opponent, Natalie Gauldin, helped create the organization that supports the development, Friends of the Grove. What do you want your constituents to know about your position on the development?
“I should tell you that the majority of the people in District 7 and around The Grove area support the amendments I have put forward and with the Bull Creek Road Coalition has been advocating for. And the coalition was formed back in 2012, right about the time that the state announced they were going to sell that land. So it was formed well before ARG Limited bought the land. And there was a lot of optimism in working with whoever the developer was to build the vision that the coalition had and I chaired the design principals work group that drew up what that would look like and it included significant affordable housing, preservation of significant parkland, primarily because much of it is in a critical environmental zone and can't be developed anyway. Plus there's really beautiful old heritage oaks there and they need to be preserved, even if we didn’t have an ordinance calling for their preservation, you would just preserve them anyway because they have such iconic presence. So the neighbors have concerns about the level of density the developer has come in with as far as the commercial and office space which drives the traffic and so the amendment that the mayor moved to put in on first reading to the ordinance lowers the density, lowers the density on the commercial, retail, and the office and that's a good first step that will have good effects on the traffic so we won't have as much and really that’s about the only thing you can do to mitigate traffic is to just not build so densely. My concern is that the developer continues to say he can't build it without that dense of a commercial and I just know that can't be the fact, I just know that can't be. I think we can make it work and so the mediation that has been called for and that both parties have agreed to sounds like a really good step in that direction. I will continue to fight for the neighborhoods on this issue and I will be monitoring, as I have ever since I was elected into office, monitoring this really carefully and closely cause the details matter and people's lives and livelihoods and their quality of life is at stake, literally, around this development. It is in the middle of a neighborhood. It is in single family neighborhood and what they are proposing to do is put dense, town center, regional center in this area and there just isn't the carrying capacity of the roads. So we're working to try to mitigate that and to find a good middle ground to where the developer can build something that he needs as far as his investors but the neighbors are not left feeling like they are ignored or slighted or that their concerns were overrun. So that's my chief concern is fighting for the neighborhoods and I will continue to do that.”
Q: On a lighter note, Austinites like to believe we live in the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” so tell us, what’s your favorite song?
"Viva La Vida" by Coldplay
MORE ON LESLIE POOL
- Previous Occupation: Government Staffer
- Education: Grove City College: BA in Literature and Communications
- UT Austin: Masters coursework in Public Affairs
- Birthplace: Pittsburg, Pennslyvania
- Years in Austin: 36
- Mobility Bond: For
Leslie Pool has been endorsed by the following organizations/individuals:
AFSCME PAC Local 1624 AFL-CIO PAC
Austin Central Labor Council Austin Chronicle
Austin Environmental Democrats Austin Firefighters Association PAC
Austin Neighborhoods Council Austin Pets Alive!
Austin Police Association PAC Austin-Travis County EMS Association PAC
Austin Young Democrats Bike Austin
Bike Texas Black Austin Democrats
Capital Area Progressive Democrats Central Austin Democrats
Clean Water Action Education Austin
Laborers International Union PAC Local 753 Liberal Austin Democrats
NXNW Democrats Sierra Club
Stonewall Democrats Tejano Democrats
Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, Austin chapter TODO Austin
West Austin Democrats Workers Defense Action Fund
Congressman Lloyd Doggett Senator Kirk Watson
Hon. Donna Howard Hon. Elliott Naishtat
Hon. Eddie Rodriguez Hon. Celia Israel
Hon. Gina Hinojosa Hon. Sherri Greenberg & Cary Ferchill
Hon. Brigid Shea & John Umphress Hon. August W. “Happy” Harris
Hon. Carlos Lopez Hon. Paul Saldaña
Hon. Laura Morrison & Phil Morrison Hon. Beverly Griffith & Balie Griffith
Hon. Sheryl Cole & Kevin Cole Hon. Carole Keeton
Hon. Valerie Bristol Hon. Frank Cooksey & Lynn Cooksey
Hon. Ted Whatley & Melba Whatley Hon. Craig Smith & Mary Ann Neely
Hon. Cecelia Burke Hon. Karen Sonleitner
Hon. Lupe Sosa Hon. Ann Teich
Hon. Velva Price Hon. Gigi Taylor
Hon. Jack Goodman
To Read More About Leslie Pool, go here.