Watson highlights the mayor’s plan to help Israel’s industrial community | Catch My Job


Monday, October 24, 2022 by Chad Swietky

As local artists and musicians continue to be priced out of Austin, the next mayor and City Council will need to take decisive, ongoing action and think of new ways to prevent the city’s highly burgeoning creative culture from being erased. How to best manage those pressures was the topic of the day at a mayoral candidate forum hosted Saturday by the Austin Creative Alliance and the Flower Hill Foundation.

Former state legislators Kirk Watson and Celia Israel, the two presumptive front-runners for a two-year term, answered preselected questions for most of the 75-minute discussion and also took some questions from audience members in the Hyde Park Theater.

Questions covered topics such as increasing public and private support for the arts, finding ways to better use the city’s share of hotel occupancy tax revenue to benefit the arts’ goals, and providing more housing for creatives and others at risk of value outside of Austin.

Regarding the effectiveness of programs initiated by the current mayor and council, the candidates agree on the need for accountability, though not entirely on economic development criteria.

“Taking a deep breath and doing this kind of analysis with best practices is an important, if not great thing, so that when we compare to other places and other cities, we get an apples-to-apples comparison,” Watson said. “One of the problems at City Hall is that we all have to be businesses, and instead of being a business, we want to look at best practices and industry standards and not profit.”

Israel says the council often lacks follow-through and oversight when it comes to creating programs like the Live Music Fund.

“The council is very comfortable doing a program, making a big announcement and then walking away from the podium and patting yourself on the back,” Israel said. “You have to have that follow-up and accountability, as well as financial accountability to find out, has this had an intended outcome? And not just a one-time thing, but you have to be firm on that follow-up, is it still having that intended outcome?

Asked how the interaction between the arts community and City Hall could be improved, Israel said the proposal to create an ombudsman position would work for many communities in evaluating how city managers and staff respond to the public. Watson said he’ll start by asking industry leaders how they prefer to interact with city government and find out what they hope to achieve from those conversations, adding, “It’s going to be messy at times, but it has to happen.”

On housing for cultural workers, musicians and artists, Watson said the booming migration of creatives to surrounding communities like Lockhart and Bastrop means the city should take an area-wide approach to the cultural economy while finding ways to add more housing stock. .

“Most of the cultural and arts community has already left Austin, and they probably won’t come back even if we put a million houses and units on the market in the next 15 days,” Watson said. “We need to figure out how we work with the arts community, perhaps on a more regional basis. They’re going to Austin for a lot of performances and all that, but we have to start thinking about how we deal with the arts more broadly. I’m not sure I know exactly how to do it, but I think we just have to do it because of the natural movement.”

Israel said he supports an aggressive approach to the city’s building code to create more housing for those feeling the pinch of the city’s rising cost of living.

“We are treating these opportunities for infill development as if they were 300-unit apartment complexes. in In the 80s we took a very determined step to say no more complex, no more duplex. We are doing it for ourselves,” Israel said. “We’re a very progressive city, but we have very exclusionary, vague policies about how we think creatively about land use. To claim that as opposed to us designating two parking spaces for cars, maybe I could build an extra studio with that space, it’s a house we’re not saying, you have to save space for cars.”

Both candidates said the city’s philanthropic community needs to play catch-up to encourage more private sector investment in industrial endeavors. Israel said a city matching fund for grants would likely help encourage more small- and mid-level donors to contribute, while Watson said he would push for more coordinated planning among industry nonprofits, with dedicated goals rather than large catch-alls and Funding with plans

On the question of city funding dedicated to the arts in any future property tax override election, both said they would support the measure if voters had a concrete plan to evaluate how the money would be spent.

“We’re always scraping for money, looking through couch cushions to try to find money to do things. If we put together what the plan is, what the program is, and we say, OK, here’s our program, and it’s going to take us five, 10 or 15 years to achieve that program, then I think you have a better shot of going to the voters and Guys, OK, we want your buy-in on this,” Watson said. “With these kinds of things in caps and revenues, we have to prepare and then go to the voters. So certainly I’d be happy to consider that if we establish the program and the specifics we’re asking.”

Israel said that while the city needs to identify long-term goals such as how to best redevelop properties like the Hancock Center to benefit different communities, voters have the power to support those plans. He said, “What I envision is that we have to be proactive and look to the future today for what we can do tomorrow so that we don’t get torn to shreds in every budget battle. Having dedicated revenue, I think, is something that people will support.”

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