The West Austin Chamber of Commerce hosted the Austin City Council District 6 Candidate Forum on Sept. 21 at Vandegrift High School. District 6 candidates Don Zimmerman and Jimmy Flannigan answered many questions from the public and a participant panel. The following are their responses to three of the questions regarding the construction of the Road to Vandegrift and the potential annexation of Steiner Ranch by the city of Austin.
What role can you play in helping us with traffic at 620/2222 and building the road to Vandegrift through the preserve?
Zimmerman: (There) is a road plan from the city of Austin from 1984, that’s about 32 years ago. I still support the city of Austin road plan from 1984. Most of you have probably never seen this. It’s a very interesting road plan. This is what the City has shredded and destroyed so that… roads that were planned 30 years ago were taken off the books. This is why we have such a traffic disaster in the city.
The city, through its own policy, has had a policy of not building roads. They’ve proposed new roads. These roads would’ve helped with fire safety (and) with a lot of the congestion on 620.
One of the reasons they presented (the 1984 plan) is that they wanted to buy some park land. There’s a 150-acre park parcel that most of you don’t know exists. You passed a bond to pay for this 150-acre-park and there’s probably not a person in this room that knows this public park exists. This is the problem we’ve got with city staff. You’re getting bait and switched. You’re getting promised road plans and then later they’re shredded. And so now we have a serious problem.
There’s two ways we could get a road in the end. We could go up by the easement where the power lines are behind 3M or we can go back to this original 1984 plan. There are things we could do but there’s no political will in the city to do it other than my will.
Flannigan: It’s not enough to have the political will of a single person. You have to be able to find the votes on council to get the work done, to get the policies passed, (and) to get the money allocated. It’s a challenge for anyone to think that a 30-year-old road plan is somehow going to work today. There’s a lot of stuff that’s been built in the last 30 years, for good and for bad. You’re not about to tear down whole neighborhoods to build some fancy road that costs billions of dollars and ultimately goes nowhere.
When we’re talking about this campus complex and the challenges of getting in and out during school time and emergencies, we have an opportunity right now. The 3M property is about to be up for sale. I’ve reached out to the mayor’s office and the transportation department to work on getting the right-of-way that we need so that during that sale and whatever gets built there after 3M leaves, we get a road through that property to connect Four Points Drive to the campus complex. Then you’ll have two points in and out to come out of this area. That’s how you’re going to get it done.
You’re not going to be able to build a ridiculous road through the Canyonlands where the federal government, which controls that land, is not going to allow it. If you want to elect congressmen that are going to promise you that, that’s fine. But we’re not running for congress, we’re running for city council. City council cannot build a highway; TXDOT builds the highways. City council can build a city road and we can build a city road through the 3M property in conjunction with the sale of that to a new owner so we can get the necessary connections both from 620 and from 2222 to the campus complex. That’s an actual solution.
Zimmerman: The city of Austin, you as taxpayers, we already have the property to put a road in here for emergency access to the back side of Vandegrift. We can already do it. We don’t need 3M’s property. This is typical of bureaucrats and politicians. We have the land to do the project so instead of us doing it, let’s make 3M do it. Let’s take somebody else’s property to do it. We don’t need to do that. We could start working on this next week if the political will was there and we could get it done.
Are you for or against the annexation of Steiner Ranch? How would you help the Steiner Ranch community prevent annexation by the City of Austin?
Flannigan: I do not support annexing Steiner Ranch. I don’t think it’s something the city taxpayers are willing to pay to fix and I don’t think Steiner Ranch people want to start paying to fix other problems in the city. I don’t support further annexations. It is going to require Steiner Ranch residents working with the commissioner’s court and TXDOT to appropriately address those issues. You’re not going to get Austin City Council to help you unless you all are willing to be city taxpayers, but even then, I do not support the annexation of Steiner Ranch.
Zimmerman: Not only do I not support the annexation of Steiner Ranch, I also did not support the annexation of River Place. In my view, River Place should not have been annexed. They didn’t ask to be annexed. They were annexed against their will and given a bad choice and really strong-armed to write a Strategic Partnership Agreement. It’s in the best interest of the city because the city gets to collect extra tax money and they get to force the taxpayers to pay an additional limited district tax to pay for their additional parks and trails.
The city has a habit of violating the law. You’ll hear my opponent ridicule me about lawsuits but the fact is when the city violates the law, they violate your rights. Sometimes a lawsuit is the best way to go. Some of you know when I was president of my MUD in Canyon Creek, we had an illegal taxation case and I led the political fight to file a lawsuit. And we beat the city because they were wrong on the law. The only way to solve that problem was to sue them in court.
I think there was some illegal activity done in the Strategic Partnership Agreement. I’m still interested in trying to rescue River Place from a very bad deal.
We need to have elections for annexations. I testified at the legislature that it’s very important for our property owners have a vote on whether or not you get annexed or not and I would work for that.
Flannigan: My opponent likes to talk about de-annexation as if that’s some kind of realistic option. If you were going to try to go down that road, you might want to be a state legislator to create the authority to do it. As far as the city’s concerned and what we can do at city council, you have to be able to count to six. And counting to six means working with your colleagues across the dais to get actual problems resolved out here. Yeah, it sucks that River Place got annexed and you’re feeling the pressure and you’re feeling your water bills go up, but you’re not going to be able to de-annex. It’s not a thing.
How many millions will it cost if an emergency happened at VHS and lawsuits were filed against the city because there is only one way in and out of the campus? Who is accountable with regard to protecting the schools?
Zimmerman: I think it’s a fair questions. Again this really comes back to political will. My priority is on the health and safety of the people who live here and go to school here. We should’ve already had a road, at least a road that goes up by the power lines on the other side of the school. But again, there’s no political will. When I talked to one of the LISD school board members before I got elected to council, there’d already been years of wrangling with city bureaucrats and environmentalists trying to stop the road from going in behind 3M. It’s a political problem. We own the property. You can vote for me and I can represent you and make sure these roads get through.
I don’t buy my opponent’s argument that the majority of the council or the bureaucrats can stop me because I’ve already illustrated with several instances of how I’ve overcome objections. You need to think of this differently. I know the majority of Leander (ISD) parents want this road built. You re-elect me, it’ll get built.
Flannigan: My opponent just really made a hell of a promise right now. Something that in 20 years of work has never happened and now suddenly, magically he’s going to wave his hat around and there’s going to be a road? Give me a break. What he did with the office is great but it wasn’t a million dollars. You can trick city council to spend a couple thousand dollars a month on an office but you can’t trick them with bond money to build a road. There’s just no way to do that, you’ve got to find six votes and a way to work with the rest of the city. If you just take a moment and consider which person is going to be able to find five more votes, who’s going to be able to work with council, work with city staff, work with the resources required to get something done. My opponent’s list of accomplishments are things that he’s stopped, not things that he did. It’s much easier to take credit for stopping a bond or stopping a courthouse than it is to actually build a road. It is much more difficult to do things than to stop things.
The Austin City Council election will be Nov. 8. Please see next week’s edition of Four Points News for more of the candidates’ responses.