I don’t think there is any better way of learning about a
candidate than at a meet-the-candidate gathering at a neighbor’s house. At
these events, although voters want to know what the candidate’s plans are for
making the city as a whole a better place, they are also looking for answers to neighborhood issues. For instance, if elected Mayor, how
would the candidate address concerns regarding the lack of public space in the
VMU developments the city is so aggressively promoting for our neighborhood?
How would he deal with the problems stemming from the homeless population
living under nearby bridges? Neighbors had an opportunity to ask these questions
on Saturday, February 28, at Jason Mittman and Sheila Reiter’s house on the
north end of Shoal Creek, not far from where the Wal-Mart is going in.
Allandale residents were invited to the couple’s house to meet city council
member and mayoral candidate Brewster McCracken.
Of course, I have to mention the Wal-Mart because that’s one
of those issues that brought some at the meet-the-candidate meeting to Council
chambers for the first time. Yes, the topic came up in the meeting. It was
clear that Brewster was not in support of the development (I’m not sure any of
the council members would say they supported it). He said the timing of the
filing of the application for the development was the result of knowledge
gained by a stakeholder from the design standard process that Brewster took the
lead on. “I felt he had betrayed our trust,” Brewster said.
This upcoming election is particularly important to Austin
state of the economy. The new mayor will certainly influence how well Austin weathers the economic downturn. Jason Mittman kicked off the meeting by introducing Brewster from
his vantage point as a developer – “Things are going to get worse, and we need
a mayor who is forward thinking when it comes to taking advantage of the
stimulus package,” Jason said.
There were about 25 neighbors in attendance. Before
responding to questions, Brewster talked about his vision for the city and the
need for Austin
to continue its tradition of being proactive with regard to planning out its
economic future. He compared the current economic challenges facing Austin
faced in the late eighties. Brewster is from Corpus, and he said Corpus chose
to just ride it out, whereas Austin
took a very different approach. Austin
was aggressive about recruiting high tech businesses and developing the
training programs at ACC that would develop skilled workers to support those
businesses. Brewster said the city's planning and hard work served it well. Corpus, on the other hand, did
not fare as well.
Brewster’s vision is to build a solar economy, and he has
begun to lay the groundwork for it. He sees his plan as a regional initiative
and has been working on a coalition that includes city government, the University of Texas
and an assortment of high-tech companies. Called the Pecan Street Project, the
initiative is directed at making Austin, and the region, a leader in developing
new energy technologies that will not only benefit Austin but the nation as a
whole. “It’s about actively deciding to determine our destiny but to do it in a
way that reflects our values,” Brewster said.
Brewster also spent time talking about public spaces. He has
a son who has taught him the importance of having public spaces where you live.
Prior to moving to the Triangle, Brewster lived in a neighborhood where there
were no sidewalks. He couldn’t take a walk while pulling his son in his wagon.
This awareness is also something reinforced by the work of Allandale’s Steven
Zettner, who is behind the Sustainable Neighborhoods initiative. “Steve is the first
person,” Brewster said, “who really educated me on how important it is that you
integrate public spaces into neighborhood developments, including parks and
sidewalks. He even has some incredible calculations on what a difference that
makes. Because of that and my experience living in the Triangle, I have learned
how critical it is having parks where you live.” His intent is to address
funding for some of these public space issues with the 2012 bond election.
Brewster was asked questions that covered a variety topics,
including: problems with the homeless in Allandale, the seemingly hostile environment at the
City towards builders, and the role of the Small Business Development Center
and green collar jobs. I commented that Brewster’s position on public space is
refreshing, given it’s not something that was required of the 5350 Burnet Rd
development currently under construction. Steven Zettner said there is no requirement for parks, trails, plazas, courtyards or playscapes in these mixed use developments and asked whether there is mixed use district around Austin that represents a minimum level of open space acceptable for a district like Anderson? Brewster said the Triangle. Steven said, "that's setting the bar pretty high. The Triangle has one of the highest levels of open space in Austin."
People seemed to leave the meeting satisfied with what they
heard. There is no better way to learn about a candidate than to attend a
face-to-face meeting. Of course, a candidate’s history and his voting record
are also very telling. Go to www.brewstermccracken.com to learn more about him.
There will be a candidate meet-and-greet with Lee Leffingwell later this month,
and another report will follow.