Back to School 2022 – An introduction to the political landscape of Central Texas: Learn about the big issues facing Austin and its neighbors – News

Enough said: Scenes from the Women’s March 2021 (Photo by John Anderson)

Welcome to Austin! Or San Marcos, or Georgetown, or any other town in the five-county metropolitan area we call “Central Texas.” We’re the fastest growing metro in the US by a good margin, so you’re not alone if you just moved here, for school, or for other reasons. (That’s why it’s hard to find an apartment!)

Keep this fact in mind as you familiarize yourself with the political landscape. We can help! Let’s explain some of the things that shape this landscape, so you can navigate the news and politics of Austin and Texas without a road map.

Should I pay attention to local politics?

Yes! Again, that’s why it’s hard to find an apartment! Next week, we’ll be doing our local election preview for November’s major contests – the Austin Mayor and Council races, Austin and Round Rock School Boards, Measures of Obligation and Citizens’ Initiatives. . Here’s why you should care.

Photo by John Anderson

If you live in the city of Austin, your voice counts as the city council slowly, moaningly tries to change the city’s land use policies to allow more housing to be built to keep up with the growth of city ​​employment. What has happened is that, with a few notable exceptions, most new housing in the city is being built on the outskirts of town or out of town. The city of Austin proper, which has a population of just under a million, has barely grown in the past year as most of the roughly 40,000 people who move downtown each year of Texas have no choice but to live in the suburbs.

So loosening the city’s land-use planning policies is a no-brainer, isn’t it? Bad! The Central and Westside neighborhoods, and now even some in the gentrified parts of the Eastside, are fighting tooth and nail to keep new apartments out of their neighborhoods. (We talk a lot about “density,” which is shorthand for “more apartments and maybe a few townhouses.”) You know, NIMBYism, which in the city of Austin is almost all about housing, for opposition to factories or malls or shelf. It’s different in the suburbs, where Samsung and Tesla and others are building their new mega-factories and housing is springing up as fast as it can be built. (And it’s different again in Georgetown and San Marcos, both of which have Austin’s problems in miniature.)

So what are the exceptions? If you’re a UT-Austin student, you might already live in one: West Campus. About twenty years ago, the NIMBYhoods around UT made a big deal with landowners in what was then mostly a one-story neighborhood, as part of their neighborhood planning process: rest of us alone. They’ve done just that, through what’s called the College District Overlay, one of Austin’s great planning successes. West Campus is the only neighborhood in Austin that really has the density of a big city, and it’s actually a really good place to live now!

The other big exception is Mueller, which was Austin’s airport (until 1999) and is three-quarters through a 20-year redevelopment plan. One in 4 Mueller homes and apartments are reserved for people with below-average incomes, which could be as many as 2,000 units under construction. That’s a lot for an infill project! This is more than any other incentive attempt to mass produce affordable housing. (In Texas, a city can’t require developers to reserve units below market price; those are all carrots, not sticks.) But that’s a drop in the ocean of need. in housing in central Texas.

Now, if you only expect to be in Austin for a few years, you may not want to get involved in the housing war. What else is there? Public safety and criminal justice reform are ongoing battlegrounds. Austin continues to be pretty much best-in-class among Texas cities when it comes to sustainability and environmental protection, which was once the No. 1 political issue here in the 1990s, but is now a consensus goal of local leaders, even Republicans. . Between the 90s and the 2020s, the big problem was transportation, but now we are in the early stages of a $10 billion investment in public transportation (Project Connect), an $8 billion reconstruction dollars from I-35 through Central Austin, a $3 billion-ish Austin airport expansion, and more, so there’s not much more to do to improve traffic. (The pandemic helped with that.)

Do you have something to say ? The the Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.

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