Richard "Clay" Dafoe - 2012 Candidate for Mayor of Austin - Answers to Multi-Environmental Issue Questionnaire
Each 2012 Austin City Council candidate was sent a Multi-Environmental Issue Questionnaire with 28 questions broken into seven subject areas. The questionnaire as well as information about the live, televised May 23rd Election 2012 Green Forum is here. Below are the written answers submitted for Richard "Clay" Dafoe.
- What do you believe that Austinites think are significant environmental issues? How do you plan to address those?
Austin has several significant environmental issues that range from water conservation and protecting the health of our natural streams and creeks to preventing pollution caused by accelerated dense development.
I plan to address water conservation by encouraging individual initiative in adopting conservation techniques. Policies like the City Council's recently passed graywater permitting process actually discourage water conservation by forcing individuals and businesses to pay city permitting fees in order to install and operate their own graywater systems. I believe that by eliminating onerous permit restrictions more citizens will be inclined to use graywater systems because of the great economic and conservation benefits they offer. In addition, we can protect our streams and creeks by doing more to preserve their natural integrity. I would work to eliminate harmful projects like the Waller Creek Tunnel which drastically alter the natural course and makeup of Waller Creek. Building a storm drainage tunnel in the middle of Waterloo Park and eliminating the creek's flood plain status to open the area to density development puts the city's desire to implement managed growth projects above maintaining the health of Waller Creek. In addition, I would investigate the real causes for increased levels of e. coli bacteria in our creeks and work to eliminate this threat to healthy waterways. For instance, Bull Creek has witnessed a recent rise in bacteria counts, for which Austin has not definitively determined the cause. Instead of conjecturing about contamination by blaming dog feces left in the creek, I propose Austin study whether its own sewage line which has experienced 36 leaks in four years is a cause of increased bacteria. By taking initiative on what the City actually controls, we can do our part to ensure we are keeping our waterways healthy and free from unnecessary pollution. Lastly, our City's incentives for density development force unnatural growth that will cause an increasingly polluted and nature-deficient urban core. If we stop Austin's policy of accelerated managed growth for the benefit of downtown developers, we can keep our natural treasures in central Austin alive and well.
- What positive contributions have you made to environmental efforts in the past?
I have made positive contributions by opposing stop city projects that disrupt and destroy natural areas of our city. As an outspoken opponent of the Waller Creek Tunnel, I have tried hard to stop this massive boondoggle that is destroying the natural course and health of Waller Creek. Because I have not been in a position of public power, I have not been able to achieve all the environmental goals I'd like to see enacted. However, I have mostly promoted environmentalism through changing my own lifestyle to contribute to a healthier Austin. By riding a bicycle and starting my own small vegetable garden I am attempting to improve Austin's environment in my own small efforts.
- What is the role of the sustainability officer and what changes--if any--would you like to see to increase sustainability practices in Austin?
The sustainability officer should focus primarily on providing accurate reports on Austin's environmental health. I would like to see Austin empower citizens to take environmental initiative by not limiting their ability to institute their own creative methods of conservation and food production.
- What is your strategy for engaging YOUTH and SCHOOLS in sustainability initiatives?
I believe that Austin can engage youth in sustainability outreach by encouraging interested students to participate as interns on locally owned organic farms as a part of school curriculum. While this idea would require implementation by AISD, I believe that Austin could allow for its feasibility by not attempting to regulate and micromanage practices such as hen raising and egg production on urban farms.
- What steps do you believe the city can take to ensure long-term sustainability of our local food system, including production, marketing and distribution, and preparation and consumption? How can the City make good food easily available and affordable for all of us living in Austin?
Providing freedom for local food production is one of the pillars of building a safer, healthier and more resourceful society. To ensure the long-term sustainability of local food production Austin should eliminate policies that seek to hamper the ability for urban farmers to grow food. A recently passed City Council resolution in 2011 recommended that the federal government investigate the impact of banning all non-FDA approved eggs produced in the city limits. I believe this type of legislation limits food freedom and implements a control mechanism that is counter to the positive principles of individual initiative central to the urban hen movement. We should promote making good food easily available and affordable for all Austinites by eliminating burdensome requirements that make the permitting process for establishing a community garden more difficult. If Austin is to support community garden recognition, the City should let go its grasp of controlling the structure and guidelines of how the garden organizations are run.
Development and Transportation
- How will you take use of resources and resource availability into account when making decisions about local economic development and incentives?
I certainly will take these factors into account when making development decisions. Because I am entirely opposed to the granting of corporate incentive packages and the giving away of enterprise funds, it would be difficult to strike any type of deals with developers and corporations seeking city handouts. However, I would encourage that businesses take resource availability into account whenever embarking on new projects. By the public using their buying power and the powerful tool of boycott, individuals can vote with their dollars to support businesses that respect resource availability when building development.
- Do you support construction of SH 45 SW? Why or why not?
I completely oppose construction of SH 45 SW. This project is a misguided initiative that would make MoPac a conduit for regional transportation and put a strain on our already congested traffic patterns. It would also present environmental concerns as increased pollution and runoff over the Barton Springs Zone would create a significant impact. In short, the building of SH 45 SW will be a raw deal for Austin and will only increase traffic congestion rather than relieve it.
- Going forward, what are your plans for improving Austin’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure?
I would like Austin to add more bike line infrastructure in areas where simple and cheap designation is possible. This objective can be best accomplished by focusing on adding lanes where car traffic is minimal to increase bike safety while not spending unnecessary funds on lane barriers. In addition, we can improve our bicycle infrastructure by filling in gaps in our current bike lane routes. For pedestrians, Austin should work to provide sidewalks on roads where they are currently absent and allow funding for more curb cuts to increase accessibility for the handicapped.
- Campaign finance reports for Council candidates are not due until the end of April, after Early Voting starts. In the past, candidates have made environmental promises which some believe were undermined by the influence of political donations. In the interest of disclosure and transparency, will you tell us who is bundling contributions for your campaign?
As a candidate with limited campaign contributions funded by citizens who often give less than $50.00 contributions, I do not believe any of my contributors qualify as typical “bundlers” that would exercise political control over my views or policies. However, I do agree that some ethics changes could be put in place to require disclosure for bundling that exceeds a high threshold amount of donations.
- What will you do to create or attract high-wage, family-supporting green jobs to the Austin and Central Texas areas? What will you do to ensure that hard-to-reach populations and communities of color have access to these green jobs?
I will do my best as Mayor to provide an equal economic playing field for all of our citizens by ending the unfair practice of giving away exclusive corporate incentive packages. Allowing the free market to determine job growth will be a good departure from our current City Council's system of ill-advised bailouts for major corporations that do little to improve our average citizen's quality of life. By letting natural forces of supply and demand to attract the creation of new businesses, more job opportunities including jobs will be more available to all of our citizens.
- Politicians often say they are against suburban sprawl – yet they approve water and sewer lines and zoning changes that create it. How are you different? How will you ensure that development pays for itself, i.e. the extension of water and wastewater lines? Do you support or oppose giving a discount on electric and water rates to ratepayers living outside the city? Why or why not?
I will ensure that development pays for itself by never granting development fee waivers to any company and by charging the legal maximum of impact fees for new developments that require extension of utility lines. As for discounts to ratepayers living outside the city, I would not offer a certain discount but would work to end the practice of general fund transfers that siphon off 9% of Austin Energy's revenue and nearly 7% of revenue collected by Austin Water Utility. By attacking the problem from this angle we can make moot the point of out of town ratepayers paying for city services they never receive, and also work to correct our utilities' dangerous deficits.
- Between urban rail, expanding the current light rail system, bus rapid transit, a monorail system or HOV lanes on major roadways, toll lanes which transportation options do you believe would be best and worst for Austin and why?
The best options for Austin are to work with the resources we current have to improve our transportation situation. That means improving the efficiency of our bus service by adding more frequent routes and making changes to roadways to make drop off points more congestion free. I sincerely believe that urban rail is a major boondoggle that will only waste taxpayer funds for very little transportation gain. As ridership on the Red Line only pays for 3% of its operating costs and bus ridership pays for 20% of bus operating costs, we must end the practice of bus commuters subsidizing expensive rail that only serves a tiny fraction of our population. By diverting current rail funds to improving our bus service we can provide better public transportation.
- As more families are forced to move further out of Austin to find housing they can afford, our traffic is becoming more congested, earning us another distinction as the third most congested city in America and our air quality deteriorates as a result. What would you do to address these interconnected issues? How would you help more residents secure affordable housing in the city?
We must keep Austin affordable to preserve the quality of life for our citizens' future. By giving away needless corporate incentives we are throwing away millions in tax dollars that decreasing our ability to provide basic needs and infrastructure. I would address our congestion and air quality issues by ending the promotion of density development that creates our congestion problem and only adds to an already polluted central core. This misguided policy alone is what is driving up property values, forcing long time residents to move out of the city and making central Austin an increasingly not affordable place to live.
- Do you believe that the Formula 1 deal is an “historic agreement” for sustainability? Please explain why or why not. What are your concerns around Formula 1 and what should be done to mitigate the impacts?
Formula 1 was not at all an “historic agreement” for sustainability but rather an historic agreement for corporate welfare. I proudly opposed the Formula 1 scandal approved by our City Council and think we never should allow billionaire government con-artists like F1 promoter Bernie Ecclestone to abuse our public funds in this fashion. It is obvious Formula 1 will cause increased pollution and hurt those most who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Instead of adding shower facilities for cyclists at the F1 site, we should look at encouraging privately-funded studies of the pollution during events held at the Formula 1 race track.
- The City Council has passed a plan to reach 90% diversion of our discards from landfills by 2030 and 95% by 2040. Would you support any changes to the Zero Waste plan? Phase 1 of the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO) requires all multifamily buildings, office buildings, and institutional properties in the City to recycle. In Phase 2, the City will add a citywide policy for diverting compostables. Phase 3 will include single-family residences in the requirement to recycle and compost. Do you support all three phases of this ordinance?
I believe that the Zero Waste plan sets laudable goals for implementing more recycling and reuse of materials. However, I believe that government mandates that force all businesses, apartment buildings or individual households to recycle and compost wrongly uses government force to induce certain encouraged behavior. As a believer in individual initiative and promoter of community awareness, this problem would be best solved by letting our citizens use the tools of boycott and the directing of their purchasing power to edge out businesses and institutions that are not waste conscious. That way, individuals rather than government decide which organizations succeed based on their environmental practices.
- Do you believe Austin should ban certain problem materials, such as styrofoam, to keep them out of our waste stream? If so, which materials should we target? If not, how will you deal with problem materials?
Styrofoam can be very damaging to our waste stream. We should set up a process for diverting problem materials to private companies that can process them adequately rather than creating outright bans that put citizens in the problematic situation of disposing of problem materials in covert ways.
Water, Streams and Trees
- The health of Barton Springs and its aquifer are always a concern to us. How would you use land acquisition to protect the aquifer? How much would you allocate for this purpose in upcoming bond packages? What new ideas do you have to stop pollution of our waters?
Because of our current budgetary problems and complete lack of priorities in city spending, I cannot commit to providing funds for land acquisition on the aquifer at this time. However, I do believe that private property owners provide better environmental protection of the land more often than government because they have to deal with decreased property value caused by pollution on their land. Looking to private investors for such a project would be beneficial to Austin while not increasing our spending obligations at the city level. As for protecting our waterways from pollution we can do a better job stopping increased bacteria levels in creeks like Bull Creek by repairing leaking sewage lines that hurt the health of our streams.
- Austin’s residential water rates are among the highest in Texas, and unless Water Treatment Plant 4 is put on the shelf, the cost of water will continue to rise. How will you stop the increase in Austin’s residential water rates?
We can stop the increase in our water rates by ending the construction of Water Treatment Plant Four. While not yet completed, we have a chance to stop this $500 million project that is compounding Austin Water Utility's increasingly dangerous debt problem. More than 50% of funding for AWU is used to service the debt racked up on prior projects. We must curtail the onerous debt that has made Austin have by far the highest water rates in the state.
- We’re in one of the worst droughts in Texas history yet we are still watering our lawns. What stronger measures do you see as necessary to conserve water beyond the city’s current goals? How do we get to 140 GCPD or less?
I think the 140 GCPD is a laudable and certainly achievable goal for Austin. However, I believe we should achieve it through individual initiative and the encouragement of private graywater systems rather than by government mandate. Our watering restrictions have helped the process and can be continued, but I do not see a per diem gallon maximum mandate as the solution that will foster individual environmental conservation.
- Austin has lost thousands of trees during the recent drought, posing a serious threat to our urban forests. What will you do on the Council to protect and replenish these forests? How do these concerns figure into your priorities when it comes to drought response?
The Council can do more to protect our urban forests by refocusing the Parks and Recreation Department's resources on environmental protection rather than park amenity development. The trend of turning our parks into development opportunity sites for managed projects as in the case of Waterloo Park and in the future Pease Park shows a lack of preservation initiative in parks that should be a primary focus. With increased drought, we should certainly make this issue a top priority within our parks department.
- The City of Austin is currently engaged in a public input process to amend the Watershed Protection Ordinance to help preserve east side creeks. Based on this input the Watershed Protection Department will probably recommend headwater setback buffers to be set at 64 acres in east Austin and the ETJ. Would you support or oppose allowing developers to use expanded creek protection setbacks as part of their Park Land dedication requirements?
I support allowing developers to use expanded creek protection setbacks.
- What air improvement strategy or set of strategies would you advocate to help clean our air? How can the City leverage its purchasing power to impact air quality?
I would advocate working with TCEQ on going after companies that violate the state's Clean Air laws. Through petitioning TCEQ, we can use our state's resources to combat air pollution rather than increasing already strained city spending obligations. I believe the City should use its purchasing power to buy the most environmental friendly options at a reasonable cost when buying new fleets of vehicles, obtaining equipment and building new structures.
- Pure Casting Foundry emits toxic metals and carcinogenic compounds/particles through the manufacturing process of steel and aluminum products. Residents have registered odor complaints from this facility and others, most of which are located East of IH 35. The TCEQ has installed an air quality monitor on top of Zavala Elementary, which is located directly south of Pure Castings. Would you support the passage of an air quality nuisance ordinance as part of the solution? Also, What steps would you take to relocate this facility in order to protect the health of the children at Zavala Elementary and area residents?
I would have to see more specifics about an air quality nuisance ordinance in order to decide whether I would support it. However, we can petition TCEQ to use our current state laws on air quality to go after excessive pollution caused by Pure Casting Foundry. If the facility needs relocation based on TCEQ's enforcement, we can help that transition by speeding up the processing of permitting applications for a new site not located in a dense area of population.
Energy and Austin Energy
- Fayette finally has sulfur dioxide scrubbers installed after many years of delay. Fayette doesn’t have SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology to reduce NOx emissions that contribute to ozone. Fayette has not installed the technology to control the fine particles (PM2.5) that cause premature deaths and asthma attacks within a few hundred miles. Do you support getting Austin out of Fayette, and off of fossil fuels and nuclear power altogether? How do you propose that we do so?
I support the idea of Austin getting off our coal and nuclear over time. However, I do not believe that it is currently economically feasible without another rate increase as the Fayette Plant provides 600 MW, a significant portion of our electricity. We cannot afford to sacrifice the affordability of Austin for our lower income ratepayers to achieve accelerated goals but should push gradually to reduce our investment in coal and nuclear technology.
- As the board of directors for Austin Energy, the City Council sets environmental policy for our electric utility. What are your environmental priorities for Austin Energy for the next 3 years? What will you do to increase energy efficiency savings so that we meet our 300 Megawatt savings goal by 2020? Proposed hikes to minimum charges are a disincentive to conservation. Will you raise minimum charges for residential users, and if so, by how much?
My environmental priority would be to establish a realistic plan that would gradually commit more of our energy resources to renewable sources without having to approve further rate increases on our citizens. We can meet our 2020 savings goal by pursuing more solar energy where economically feasible. I oppose minimum charges and would like to see them reduced and then eliminated altogether as they are a disincentive to conservation and a way to permanently hike our low users' utility bills.
- Currently Austin's water rates have 5 tiers. The lowest "lifeline tier" is less than 10% of the highest tier. Do you support a similar rate structure for Austin's electric utility?
I believe that the lowest users should never bear the brunt of utility rates. A similar structure for the electric utility would be fair granted it does not result in a massive rate increase for most tiers. It is a structure I generally support.
- The City Council adopted the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure ordinance in 2008 as a key component of the Climate Protection Program, with the goal of retrofitting older properties with energy efficiency measures at the point of sale. The program has not yet lived up to expectations, with only 5% of properties sold retrofitted. Would you support mandating some energy efficiency improvements when a home is sold?
I would not mandate energy improvements to recently sold homes as it would infringe upon owners' property rights to do what they would like with their own property. However, our community is leading the way in installing rooftop solar and other technology to improve their homes' energy efficiency and we must allow their individual efforts to be the beacon for change rather than government force through mandates.
- What role does rooftop solar energy have in Austin’s renewable energy mix?
Rooftop solar is a great source of renewable energy and should be a focus of our renewable energy program. However, we should more wisely give contracts that pursue a comprehensive push for solar rather than token projects that do little to increase our overall output. For instance, the token solar panels approved for George Washington Carver Library that awarded a $400,000 contract to Kellogg Brown and Root served primarily the Council's interest in appearing to be green without actually committing to a profound solar investment. Let us sincerely pursue more solar on a gradual level that will make a serious impact on Austin Energy's overall production capacity.
Other resources to learrn more about Dafoe:
Here is a video of Dafoe sharing his campaign priorities.aen on Thu, 04/12/2012 - 3:26am