Boyt Interview – I Bring the Most Expertise on Transportation

This is the first of four interviews with City Council District 7 candidate Jeb Boyt on his candidacy and the issues identified in the candidate scorecard. The interviews are organized as follows:
* Top Priorities, Experience, Community Involvement
* Livability, Affordability and Housing
* Transportation, Open Space and Infrastructure
* Public Safety, Small Business, and City Budget

Jeb Boyt has lived in the Burnet Rd area since 1993. He has worked as a land use attorney for the Attorney General of Texas, the Texas General Land Office, and the Railroad Commission. He has served on the City of Austin Downtown Commission, the Parks Board, and the 2012 Bond Advisory Task Force. He has volunteered for several trail, land conservancy and environmental groups.

Why are you running for City Council?

I can’t imagine not running for City Council. I’ve looked at serving in office for years. Of course I’ve served on boards and commissions and worked on bond campaigns and matters like that for years here in Austin. I’ve been involved in community groups and politics for the last 25 years. I considered running for Congress in 2004 when District 10 was open. That was not a good time for me. I had been thinking about the Travis County Commissioner 2 race that we just had. When Sarah Eckhardt resigned, I was on the short list to be appointed to fill her vacancy. That race was already pretty full.

Then we passed 10-1, and that was open. I can’t imagine sitting on the sidelines this year. This is a huge opportunity to change the city. The new council is going to have the opportunity to establish the new governing culture, the rules, the expectations, procedures for how Council’s going to work. It’s important – not just serving on Council, but the opportunity to be part of that first Council, to put in place the precedents.

What are your top 3 issues?

Top 3 are transportation, affordability and accountability. The accountability part is about making sure that the Council works and that the city works, in particular to the district, which is the whole promise of 10-1. Transportation – whew – transportation’s a huge problem. I bring a lot of expertise, a lot of experience. I think I bring more experience than anyone running other than Mike Martinez, and probably Sheryl Cole now that she’s running. And affordability – that’s key. It links into so many of the issues and concerns, for everybody, at all income levels. From people who are worried about finding any place to live, to people who are worried about being priced out of where they’re living, to people who are worried about being able to keep their business in the city. We’re not going to keep Austin weird if we don’t keep it affordable.

What experience do you bring? Can you think of a specific example of an initiative that you were influential on, to demonstrate how you would approach work on Council?

It’s hard to think of one example. There’ve been several examples where I’ve worked with diverse stakeholder groups, and helped build consensus around a project. The 2012 bond commission was one. The development of the Texas Coastal Management Program was a big one – an intense multi-year process. The work that we’ve done on trails in the city has been another. Rail-Trails with Capital Metro – though we don’t have great examples on the ground yet of that.

The pattern here, is when you’re looking to do something, or an issue comes up, is figure out who all the stakeholders are, talk to them, make sure people have a chance to be heard, go around, find what you can put in that’s going to work, and try to address the needs of most folks, get the balance that you need to get the project forward.

A good counter-example that didn’t work was the chicanes on Shoal Creek – the islands. That was – I was on the edge of that conversation. I’m a cyclist, I live two blocks off Shoal Creek. I drive it and ride it all the time, so it was a big concern for me. When people in the cycling community started pushing the issue forward, I said “Don’t go forward on this.” They had a dogmatic approach, that parking and bike lanes is bad, which it is. They were convinced of it, but they didn’t have any evidence of it to convince other people. Even today there’s not like tons – not like parking on Shoal Creek is a problem. And so they pushed it forward, got into a huge conflict with the neighborhood, that chicane solution came forth as a compromise idea. Initially it wasn’t that bad, but then Watershed modified it for storm water purposes. It got compromised down where the initial objectives were all bad. And probably that’s a project that should have been killed, and that shouldn’t have gone forward. We spent money, we put them in, we took out, and now we have 10 ft parking lanes.

Why didn’t the standard approach to consensus-building work there?

Good question. There was a lack of leadership. We had a couple of diametrically opposed stakeholders. Council Member Goodman was fairly involved in that issue, but there wasn’t the direct accountability like we’re going to have in the new system. There was one of the first examples I saw where staff wasn’t very accountable to the Council members. Although she was pushing it forward and had a fairly clear vision about how the process should work, staff just kind of blew her off. And that was really surprising. In my experience working with state agencies, I was really surprised at city staff just not responding to the concerns expressed by Council.

So when you talk about accountability, part of what you’re talking about is the interface between Council, and the public, and staff.

Absolutely. Another great example is the Walnut Creek trail. That project has just stumbled along. There’s been some contracting issues and problems that I’m not up to speed on the details of. I’m not clear on whether the problems were with the contractor, or with the manager at Parks and Rec Department. A lack of oversight, one of the things that we’re going to have under the new system, is that Council members are going to be accountable for all of the projects in their districts. And they need to hold staff accountable for how those projects are proceeding, how communications are going out to the public, Council Members are going to have to facilitate some of that.

[There needs to be] a real clear chain of accountability – if a citizen has a concern about a project, calls Council member, Council member calls staff and asks, “What’s going on.” By the same token, if staff is moving forward with a project, they need to be communicating to the Council member, and the Council member hopefully can help facilitate communications out to the citizens.

Tell me about your involvement in the North Austin community, what you’ve accomplished on the ground

Well I’ve lived in North Austin since 1993. I worked with Allandale on the VMU proposal. I’ve worked on trail and bicycle projects, especially along Shoal Creek, more on lower Shoal Creek than upper Shoal Creek. Walnut Creek a bit as well – the creek trail. On the Parks Board I worked very hard in support of the funding that connected the Walnut Creek Trail across Mopac to the Milwood neighborhood. But then also more importantly I spent a lot of effort trying to work on the connections between the Walnut Creek park and I-35 and those trail segments.

One of the projects that I’ve looked at is called the Great Loop, which would form a bikeways connecting the Shoal Creek trail north up to the Walnut Creek trail, and the Walnut Creek trail all the way down to Govalle Park, and from there a bikeway back to Shoal Creek. A big loop all around the town. And we’re actually getting pretty close on that. I worked as part of the stakeholder committee for bicycles and trails connections along the Mopac managed lanes, working to improve a lot of bike connections at the bridges across Mopac from the Lake all the way north, across 183 at least up to the south gate of the Pickle Campus. There were some funding limitations on what could be done, unfortunately – really unfortunately.

Of course on the citizen bond commission I worked on the N Lamar Burnet bikeways and sidewalk improvements, which even though N Lamar didn’t vote for it – really still not happy about that. I’m not sure what happened. N Lamar did an amazing job advocating for it – they showed up almost like every meeting. Those precincts did not vote for the bond proposition that included the sidewalks. It was some of the most effective citizen input during the bond process, and those neighborhoods didn’t vote.

I’ve helped develop the proposals for the Rails with Trails as part of the Red Line. And unfortunately I worked with the consultant who developed a lot of the gold-plated plan that has resulted in CapMetro shelving a lot of the ideas for what they could do. But I look forward to putting some of that back into place. We are seeing more pieces of that come together.

I’ve worked on access to the BCP lands which we haven’t yet achieved, although that’s actually District 10.

While Serving on the 2012 Bond Advisory Task Force Transportation Committee, you were the only one on your committee to oppose funding of pedestrian improvements along Burnet Rd. The bond committee had to make a lot of hard decisions, and subsequently you supported the Burnet improvements. But in the context of a District 7 Council election it seems fair to ask where the balance lies between District 7 interests and citywide interests.

That’s a totally fair question. And part of the issue I had with that project was – it was really like three or four projects to me, instead of one project. But City staff fought very aggressively for, and eventually convinced me that they wanted a pool of money for a large area so that they could opportunistically build out these projects in conjunction with other work on the corridor. It was such a large area, that it didn’t look like they could actually get the work done. But, Howard Lazarus in Public Works, Gary Schatz in Transportation, persuaded me otherwise.

As a candidate who lives in the south part of the district, what do you bring to voters who live in other parts of the district?

I’m going to serve them equally. I mean, yeah, I live in almost the most southern part of the district. But the folks on Parmer, the folks in Milwood, the folks on Dessau Rd, are still in District 7. One of the things I have long knocked against in my work with community groups, was dealing with people in the Austin neighborhood association and at City Hall, other community groups, who don’t really know much about Austin north of Anderson Ln. And you know, I’ve lived in North Austin since ’93, and I value North Austin. And all of what North Austin needs, needs to work together. I’ve worked on the Walnut Creek trail. District 7 is largely defined by the Shoal Creek watershed and the Walnut Creek watershed. I look forward to improving the quality of life for folks in the North part of the district just as much as for folks in the south part of the district.