Now through Tuesday
Growth & Infrastructure
We’ve seen in the last year that our growth outpaced our water infrastructure and it’s been uncomfortable to say the least.
We’re the fastest growing city in the country and we always say that as if it’s a celebration and not a warning. Yes, it’s exciting, but it also means we need to be extra careful and extra precise in what we’re doing because we don’t have the luxury of growing slowly.
We cannot pretend that water is the only city service that has slipped through the cracks. We must begin more deliberate planning – forecasting future city revenues and need each department will have with specific population triggers. We must stop merely responding to problems and instead work on preventing them from occurring in the first place.
In the last two years, this council has instituted strict limits on public comments at council meetings, approved large fees for public records access, and rejected an initiative to record semi-annual retreat meetings where our most in-depth conversations typically take place (and these are frequently held out of town). Each of these decisions purposefully limited the public’s ability to participate in their government. They were morally wrong and need to be immediately reversed in full.
We can also add more transparency to tasks so that the public understands better what we’re doing. Every agenda item that includes an expenditure should include easy to read information about whether that expenditure is already budgeted and what fund it comes out of.
The Sale of City Parks
Speaking of those conversations at retreats, at one held in early 2020, my opponent and another council member unveiled their plan to sell or give away the future San Gabriel Park to a developer to build a business park instead.
San Gabriel Park was purchased with bonds approved by voters in 2016. If selling or giving away the land happened less than 5 years after the bond election, it would have to go in front of voters for approval. This May will be that 5-year anniversary. After that, the park can be sold or given away without any input from residents.
The debate about whether or not to sell the park can be found in the meeting minutes here (item 17)
In 2016, voters approved bond issuance to construct a senior center on Municipal Drive. Council unanamously approved the sale of those bonds in October of 2018. The location has had all preparation studies and engineering completed. Construction plans were approved and went out to bid. Just before we were to approve the construction contract and break ground, it was determined by my opponent that the center should either be moved elsewhere so that the public works department can expand onto that site or it just shouldn’t be built at all.
Moving the senior center would start the process all over again – getting the site engineered, changing the construction plans for a smaller site, required environmental studies being performed. And we all know that construction costs never go down, only up.
As it stands right now, we are paying for a senior center that we aren’t constructing. We must stop stalling and just build the center that was promised to residents.
Want to know exactly what we’re missing out on? Check out this write up from Community Impact.
We have amassed a history of half-finished projects that get abandoned when some other shiny object comes along to distract us. This isn’t just a disappointment in not finishing projects, it’s wasteful spending and a constant change of direction for city staff trying to do their jobs.
These projects include:
Old Town Leander
The idea to turn the oldest section of Leander into a shopping district came about in 1998. Since then, we’ve spent untold millions of dollars and in return have a handful of businesses and most residents don’t even know it exists.
My opponent’s current plan is to spend $1 million on a .82 acre park, but he refuses to entertain the idea that Old Town needs a master plan and a vision. We must determine what a successful Old Town looks like and work backward from there to make it happen.
Here is just some of the spending in the last few years. Each of these was supposed to bring more success to Old Town:
- $95k Task order for design of Brushy Streetscape (2016)
- $140k Brushy streetscape (2017)
- $95k PEC Brushy Streetscape improvements (2018)
- $1, 891,000 Brushy streetscape (2018)
- $111,000 East St Improvements (2018)
- Over $70,000 in business grants (2016-2020)
Commercial growth has taken off over the last 5 years. The added sales tax is great and it’s nice to have things nearby, but focussing on restaurants is a mistake for our economic resiliency.
We must focus on primary employers. When our daytime population matches or exceeds our nightime population, the restaurants we want will come. They always do. And having a variety of businesses will help to keep our city stable in the next downturn. Not only that, but having employers nearby means that more of our residents won’t have to face a daily commute to Austin, which itself is a pretty great perk.
Economic Development & Utilities
You know what most businesses want when they’re looking to build in a new location? Electricity and water. While we may not have direct control over electric power, we certainly have a say in it. We must work with our partners at PEC and stop denying construction of their substations. It’s short-sided and reckless.
We also need to recognize that time is money. It’s true that we don’t have much to offer in incentives to companies that are interested in locating here, which means we need to work harder with what we’ve got. Our development process currently is slow and frustrating. We need to give proper staffing and resources to our team so they can decrease their turn around time. One less month in development can literally save a business tens of thousands of dollars and that’s its own incentive.
If we want more commercial growth, we also need to stop rezoning commerical areas to residential. Residential zoning already dominates everything else. There’s no need to carve out even more land for more homes. Keep the land commercial everywhere it makes sense.
One of the very best things about Leander is the number of small, independent businesses that we see thriving here. It’s great to know that when you’re getting your hair cut or buying a book or grabbing a burger that you’re talking to someone as deeply invested in the community as you are. Plus, I’ll take a Sharksburger over some plain chain burger in Cedar Park any day of the week.
Our small business community is epic. We need to lean into them. Lets find out what ancillary businesses they think would be great here. Lets ask what their development process was like and how we could have made it easier. Lets ensure that any resident with passion and an idea can figure out how to open a business here without having to become an expert in building codes. And importantly, lets support our local businesses by promoting them whenever possible and utilizing them for city functions.
Healthy communication and participation creates a strong and connected community. Leander residents could benefit from an email newsletter once a month, informing them of local events and programming, upcoming closures, important non-emergency messages, and a video address from either a council member or staffer to talk about current items of interest.
We should also revamp our board appointment process by instituting an annual open house and drop in interview event. So many of our applicants want to join something but don’t know where they fit in best. This event would give them the opportunity to learn more about different boards, get a feel for other board members, and even sign up to volunteer as a non-board member. The drop in interview format would allow for more than the current “speed dating” style interviews.
Once LISD settles back in to a normal routine, Leander should initiate a Youth Advisory Commission for high school aged residents (super shout out to the resident who brought this idea to our attention). A YAC could attend field trips throughout the year, meet their various representatives, hold meetings to plan out youth activities and needs, and assist in content creation for the monthly city newsletter.
We must stop blaming “past councils” “past administrations” and “past city managers”. Seriously. We’re leaders and we need to own whatever we’ve got.
There is no room for excuses. When you’re in charge, you are accountable period. We must address what we’re doing to resolve issues and not complain about how someone else set us up for some perceived failure. We signed up for this and need to just do the best we can like everyone who came before us.