The surprising thing about the Waller Creek Park vote

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 11.02.14 AM
State Rep-elect (and former Mayor Pro Tem) Sheryl Cole speaks in favor of Waller Creek project.

Nobody voted against it, although I’d guess there’s a good chance that Ellen Troxclair would have voted against if she were present. Here’s my summary in the Monitor:

City Council voted Thursday to pump another $110 million into the Waller Creek chain of parks.

The money committed by the city is part of a long-term $375 million project to turn 35 acres of land along the creek into a chain of parks and civic spaces. The other $275 million is supposed to come from private fundraising conducted by the Waller Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit.

And there were a couple influential people at the hearing who urged Council not to approve another $110 million the Waller Creek chain of parks. Bill Bunch of Save Our Springs, for instance, said that the measure should have been evaluated by the Parks Board and generally cast shade on the project. Bunch had an extra two minutes to speak; they were donated to him by Fred Lewis, the anti-CodeNEXT leader and City Hall watchdog. From the Council transcript:

We’re telling folks we don’t have money to take care of our neighborhood swimming pools. More people come to Barton springs on one month of a summer than will come to waller creek park in the next 10 or 15 years. We’re not spending a fraction of this money to save the life source of this community, which is in incredible danger right now given the rapid growth. You’re putting in $110 million. The private sector philanthropy is saying they’re going to put in $254 million.

I don’t actually believe thatwill come true but if it does is that really where we want our philanthropy in Austin to be going when we had our affordability crisis, when we can’t keep our neighborhood pools open, when Barton springs is getting polluted and we don’t have money, Mr. Mayor, to make sure it doesn’t get polluted from a sewer plant upstream?

Perennial citizen speaker and Austin Neighborhoods Council VP David King challenged the narrative that the project was a way to unite the east and west sides:

You know, I think investing $110 million in public money in what I call luxury parks along Waller Creek, that will primarily serve affluent high-income families and tourists in downtown Austin is inequitable to communities in Austin that have inadequate parks, recreation facilities and public infrastructure. Wouldn’t it be much more equitable to spend that $25 million request before you today in those neighborhoods?

And last but not least, anti-dog activist Robert Corbin said that the park sounded like a dumb idea. I kept waiting for him to say that it would just be another place for dogs to terrorize the public, but he didn’t invoke the Canine Problem even once.

Those pleas fell on very deaf ears. The only one who came even close to opposing was Jimmy Flannigan, who reiterated past concerns about the financing, suggesting that an economic downturn could leave the Tax Incremental Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) underwater (I explain the concept here). He nevertheless voted for the project, saying that he believed it was worth it. The Council members who are typically aligned with Bunch and King enthusiastically approved the money.

 

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