Yesterday I went to the "Urban is Core" forum downtown, hosted by DANA, Austinist, the Downtown Austin Alliance and seven other organizations. I try to go to at least one of these forums per race. They're fun and I get a chance to put some names with faces. They rarely affect my vote, though.
Take the race between Chris Riley and Perla Cavazos for Place 1. I already have plenty of information about them from their work on the Planning Commission. If I want to know how someone will handle an issue in the future, I care a lot more about his track record than his campaign promises.
The race between Chris and Perla should not be a close call for anyone who cares about urban density and urban form -- or who wants to balance ANC's increasing weight on Council.
Chris gets the benefits of density. He's worked for it. He's voted for it. He established his bona fides a long time ago. For example, as a Planning Commissioner, he voted to allow additional height for 7 Rio, a slender 34-story tower proposed for the site of Ranch 626 on West 7th St. (I doubt it will ever be built, but that's not the point here). He voted for 7 Rio even though, as a downtown resident, he was more likely to be affected by it than most other city residents.
Perla toed the ANC line. At the Urban is Core Forum, she actually cited OWANA's opposition as a justification for her vote, as if OWANA, on the other side of Lamar, ought to have a greater say in downtown development than the people who actually live there. That was a good example of how ANC's hard-line invoke neighborhood support when it serves their interests and ignore it when it doesn't. Expect more of the same if Perla is elected. Laura Morrison has proven that she will follow ANC policy rigidly and inflexibly. We don't need another person on Council who takes her marching orders from ANC.
Management style also matters to me. As a Planning Commissioner, Perla had a tendency to micro-manage. For example, I recall that at one of the hearings on Phase II of the Domain, Perla (and a couple of other commissioners) spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the kind of vegetation the developer should use around the retention pond. That's not really their job; the city has staff for that.
None of this implies that I always agreed with Chris's votes as Planning Commissioner. I frequently disagreed with him. But if 100% agreement were my standard, I'd never get to vote.
This is an important race. ANC already has an implacable advocate on Council in Laura Morrison. While Perla is unlikely to be as militant as Morrison, make no mistake -- she is ANC's woman. With Wynn (and possibly McCracken) leaving, Council is in real jeopardy of sliding into ANC control. That's not good for anyone who cares about Austin's natural development into a more livable, urban city.
Other Riley endorsements: