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Andra Lim
By Andra Lim May 20, 2016

Steve Adler vow to identify city properties to sell 'In the Works'

A bullet point in Steve Adler's agenda while running for mayor was to determine whether the city should sell any of its properties, potentially raising revenue to cover one-time expenses.

In his first year in office, Mayor Adler said in late 2015, he focused on what he called a "geographically limited" review of such properties. Specifically, he said by phone, the review encompassed city-owned properties east of Interstate 35, which includes economically distressed neighborhood ranging from the Rundberg and Colony Park areas north of the Colorado River to Montopolis on the river's south bank to the Dove Springs neighborhood in southeast Austin.

Adler told us that he and several Austin City Council members overseeing the Spirit of East Austin initiative -- which is supposed to result in recommendations for stimulating job creation in eastern Austin -- had asked for the survey of city-owned tracts. The council launched the Spirit of East Austin in May 2015 in the wake of a developer's proposal to build two golf courses in Northeast Austin. The council members involved in the initiative are Adler and Ora Houston, Sabino "Pio" Renteria, Ellen Troxclair and Leslie Pool.

As of April 2016, mayoral spokesman Jason Stanford said by email, the described survey was not complete. We didn't hear back about when it's to be completed.

Adler said the city has sought economic development ideas and feedback from various stakeholders such as community members, chambers of commerce and the city's quality of life commissions.

Some have suggested selling tracts of land in eastern Austin, while others have floated developing city-owned land with affordable housing, he said. Another possibility, Stanford said, would be to use the properties identified in the survey for grocery stores -- an amenity residents in some communities east of Interstate 35 say they are lacking.

"Everything's on the table," said Adler, who also noted that on the campaign trail he didn't just talk about selling surplus properties but called for making good use of those properties. Stanford said no one in the mayor's office can remember what sort of expenses the mayor once envisioned surplus property sales covering.

And what about Adler's promise to look at properties city-wide?

In August 2015, city Real Estate Officer Lauraine Rizer sent the City Council a list of all the city-owned surplus properties, which included everything from vacant lots to a parcel that the city formerly used as a staging area for the downtown Waller Creek Tunnel project. Rizer said in an accompanying memo the city would start selling the surplus properties no city department was interested in keeping.

Rizer said by phone that she initiated the survey, which she described as the city's first attempt to survey all departments about the merits of retaining ownership of city-owned properties. In the past, Rizer said, individual city departments have reviewed properties to determine whether the city might no longer have any need for particular sites. She said by email that each department determined how often they did such reviews.

Also, Rizer said, her office is working on making more information about city-owned properties publicly available at the request of council members including the mayor, such as an online map showing the city's property inventory. Rizer released a beta version of the map -- to the council only -- in June 2015.

She said the city is developing documents to solicit a vendor to create a "more robust" map. The plan is to allow anyone to pull up information about properties, such as what buildings each site houses, Rizer said, as well as to layer other maps, such as floodplain maps, on top.

The city owns roughly 40,000 acres of land in Austin, as well as in Travis County outside the city limits, some of which is undeveloped, some of which is developed with facilities city departments use and some of which is developed with facilities leased to groups such as nonprofits. But the vast majority of that land is either parkland -- which the city can only sell with voter approval --  or conservation easement that are typically not sold, said Rizer and city spokeswoman Alicia Dean.

We rate this previously unrated mayoral promise IN THE WORKS.

In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.

Our Sources

Web document, "Making Austin More Affordable for Families," Steve Adler campaign, September 8, 2014

Emails, Alicia Dean, senior public information specialist, City of Austin, April 12 to April 14, 2016

Emails, Jason Stanford, communications director, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, March 22 to April 12, 2016

News story, "City Council looking to boost economic opportunity in East Austin," Austin American-Statesman, July 21, 2015

Phone interview, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dec. 30, 2015

Phone interview, Lauraine Rizer, city real estate officer, March 2016

Memos to Austin mayor and City Council from Lauraine Rizer, City of Austin real estate officer, "City-Owned Property Inventory Update," June 10, 2015; "Sale of City of Austin-Owned Assets," August 7, 2015

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