June 23, 2023 12:00pm

Power Poll finds concerns about quality of life in Austin

Six in 10 say it's worse than it used to be

Photo of Ken Herman
Austin, TX Correspondent
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This month’s Power Poll for the Austin area asked questions about controversial topics including the latest Donald Trump indictments, the ongoing impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a couple of legislative matters.

But, perhaps to nobody’s surprise, the topic that generated the most discussion is one often on the tongues of area residents:

“Austin continues to grow, now ranking as the 10th largest city in the United States. There's no doubt it's a different city than it was in years past. How would you rate the current overall quality of life in Austin?”

As if needed, we added this to the question: “And, as always, your comments are welcomed and encouraged.”

It’s not a topic on which folks, including the political, governmental and business leaders who participate in Power Poll, need prompting to get them to offer thoughts and comments. First, however, the numbers:

Sixty percent said the quality of life in Austin is “worse than it used to be.” Thirteen percent said it’s “better than it used to be.” And 27% said it’s “about the same.”

Those are the stats. Here’s some of the commentary, starting with longtime Austinite and local lawyer Becky Beaver, who check-listed concerns oft-heard around town.

“Austin missed so many opportunities for planned growth. We missed the opportunity for rapid transit. We missed the opportunity to acquire and preserve more green space and parkland. We missed the opportunity to limit growth to prevent an explosion of impervious cover so flooding dangers have been exacerbated,” she said.

And she wasn’t done listing missed opportunities.

“We missed the opportunity to bury utility lines in order better to prevent outages in extreme winter weather. We missed the opportunity to preserve inner city neighborhoods and now we have lost half of what was our Black population,” Beaver said. “We are no different from any other sprawling, crowded, traffic-clogged, paved-over big city, except unlike many big cities we are no longer very diverse and don't have any water and don't have any place to go for the massive amounts of additional water our growth is going to require. .Things don't bode well for what was once such a lovely welcoming city.”

David Ochsner, Southwestern University’s vice president of integrated communications and chief marketing officer, said “Something is sadly amiss in the culture of our city government.”

“So much of our growth occurred without an updated city plan. We can also blame state and regional leadership. Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio should have created a regional growth plan (with some teeth) long ago, “ Ochsner said. “It seems we are no different than any other place in the U.S., chasing the short-term buck rather than planning for the future. We are leaving our next generation a terrible mess.”

Chris Ellis, managing principal at Endeavor Real Estate Group LLC, said “It pains me to say Austin is worse than it used to be.” He blamed a previous mayor and city council.

“Thanks to the actions of a reckless mayor and council the city is now plagued by public camping and the resulting crime, trash and public defacation that comes with it. in addition the same mayor and council destroyed out policing ranks and it will be a miracle if we can ever catch up again,” Ellis said.

“Austin is a much much less safe place than when they took office as a result,” he said. “It didnt have to be this way. And who would ever want to be a cop in Austin when your employers are constantly degrading you and taking the ability to police away from you.”

Thomas Mattis, city manager in nearby Elgin, said he appreciated the comments about “missed opportunities.”

“But as long as Texans keep electing conservative Republicans for governor and the Legislature who are obsessed with undermining local government at every turn, the focus will remain on "chasing the (dollars) rather than planning for the future,” Mattis opined.

David Alsmeyer, principal at TIG Real Estate, said, “These are local issues and the previous uber-progressive city leaders are to blame, not the state.”

This month’s Power Poll also asked whether Trump should drop his presidential election bid in order to concentrate on his legal woes. An overwhelming 74% said yes.

Terry Cole, founder of Street Youth Ministry of Austin, added this “Trump and Joe Biden are both too old to be running for second terms. There’s only three years age difference.”

“And neither was effective at changing our ridiculously divisive politics, driven primarily by big funders. We need something that’s works, including in our Legislature and top state politicians. And don’t get me started on the need for top court ethical reform,” Cole said. “Quality of life for a few will stay high (driven by power and money) while QoL goes down for most amid such confusion and misdeeds.”

Other Power Poll results for June:

Sixty-one percent of respondents said the new state law doing away with motor vehicle safey inspections will result in an increase in dangerous vehicles on the roads. Sixty-seven percent said they’ve heard enough to justify the permanent removal of Paxton from office.

And a plurality - 37% - said the recently ended regular session of the Texas Legislature left them with a worse opinion about our state lawmakers than it used to be. Thirty-three percent said the session led to no change in their opinion. Only 9% said they now have a higher opinion than they used to.

Interestingly, 21% checked the box for “It couldn’t have dropped lower than it was before this year’s regular session.”

During a recent news conference about the ongoing effort to reach agreement on a property tax reduction plan, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, nodded to Texans’ doubts about their lawmakers.

“I’m concerned about the confidence Texans have in our process,” said Whitmire, who’s been in the Legislature since 1973. “And it’s suffering right now.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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