It’s by a twist of geography that the biggest issue in this Austin City Council race doesn’t actually fall in District 7.
Just beyond the district’s southern boundary sits a 75-acre site where developers hope to build 1,700 homes and 360,000 square feet of office and retail space.
The nearby neighborhoods, many of which fall in Council Member Leslie Pool’s district, have organized in fierce opposition to the Grove at Shoal Creek development. Pool is a vocal critic of developer ARG Bull Creek’s current proposal, which returns to the council Oct. 20. Her challenger, Natalie Gauldin, co-founded a group campaigning for the project.
The fight over the Grove — and between Pool and Gauldin — has thrown into sharp relief a core tension underlying city politics: how to house the thousands of people Austin is adding every year through births and moves without displacing current residents or chipping away at the city’s culture and character.
“This is really becoming a race about who has the best vision for the future of Austin,” said Gauldin. She charges that Pool is part of a build-nothing cabal that would prefer to seal off Austin from the outside world.
“If you want development to just happen, and you want to subtract out government regulation from it, then I don’t know what you get, but it wouldn’t look like Austin,” Pool said.
Pool maintains that she isn’t opposed to growth and density. For instance, the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which she co-founded, called for a mixed-use development at the Grove site, albeit a smaller design that would have included far less retail and office space. But, she says, it must be done in conjunction with the neighborhoods that surround the development.
“The people who have told you I don’t want any development there are feeding you a line, and it isn’t true,” Pool added. “They have made it all up.”
Pool has gotten plaudits from good-government groups for leading the passage of tougher lobby and campaign finance reporting requirements. But she has earned the ire of some urban activists, like Gauldin, by opposing the Grove and voting against easing the rules on garage apartments, among other issues.
Pool raised twice as much money as Gauldin between July and September, but Gauldin’s campaign touted its grass-roots efforts “knocking on tens of thousands of doors.”
Check out our interactive database of all the City Council candidates, featuring biographies and short videos of this year’s contenders, at apps.statesman.com/council-candidate-explorer/election/2016/.
About the candidates
• Leslie Pool, 61, is finishing her first term on the City Council. She earned her bachelor’s degree in literature and communication at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, and later attended classes at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. She previously worked for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and a Travis County constable’s office. She has lived in Austin for more than three decades.
Voting record: Took the lead on crafting more stringent reporting requirements for lobbyists. Pressed for the creation of a searchable database of campaign finance reports. Opposed rules making it easier to build garage apartments.
• Natalie Gauldin, 32, is a technical writer and trainer in the tech sector. She previously worked as a teacher and an employee for Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department. Gauldin is a lifelong Austin resident who attended the University of Texas.
Civic participation: Co-founder of Friends of the Grove, a group supporting the proposed Grove at Shoal Creek development, and involved with the Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, a coalition of urban-minded groups meant to challenge the politically potent Austin Neighborhoods Council.
About the job
The Austin City Council sets the policies and makes the spending decisions affecting the police and fire departments, permitting and code enforcement, and parks and libraries, among other city services. Council members serve four-year terms and make $70,075 a year.