Please list and describe your top three priorities.
- Economic resiliency (as we grapple with & emerge from the pandemic). Continuing to provide financial relief programs to those affected by the pandemic by building on all our COVID-19 work to date.
- Environmental quality (e.g., land, water, air, solar). Resolution on Climate Resilience and Green New Deal. Flood and drought are a part of Austin’s history; we have to be prepared for these extremes because we don’t know when they’ll hit us.
- Systemic reform. Resolution on Community Resilience & FY21 Budget adoption. Reimagining and rebuilding policing is the first of what should be a series of deep-dive audits of our policies and procedures for racism & discrimination.
If you are an incumbent please discuss your top accomplishments, your priorities for a next term, and why you believe voters should send you to City Hall again.
I’m running because, quite simply, the work is not yet done. In the five-plus years since I was sworn into office, I have worked diligently for my district residents and for the entire Austin community, and my mission-driven record of hard work won me election and reelection with substantial margins.
And the work is not yet done.
The issues we face today have never been so large or complex or immediate. From rewriting the City’s Land Development Code, to passing and implementing historic ballot measures for transportation and housing, to approving a consequential new System Plan for bus and rail, to police brutality and civil protest, and all in the midst of a global pandemic that has sent everyone indoors and struck at the very roots of our worldwide economic systems.
That’s a lot of disruption and unrest to deal with, and the things I just mentioned are from just the last year and a half. It’s no wonder people are anxious and searching for reassurance.
So, there’s a lot yet to do, and the learning curve is pretty much straight up and, given the complexities, it’s more important than ever before to lean on knowledge and experience, and the demonstrations of a proven record. And knowing what I do about the resilience of this community, how we can lean on one another, I have a strong belief that we will make it through.
Please discuss your philosophy of a Council Members’ role and responsibility when it comes to ensuring the provision of basic City services to citizens.
Being a Council Member is 24/7 kind of job. I am honored to have the trust and support of my constituency, my colleagues and the professional staff at the city, grassroots organizations and individuals across Austin and Travis County. The community looks to me for leadership, to give voice to their concerns and needs, to have the strength to stand up to established power structures, and to act for them. I’m so proud to represent District 7 on this Council and to work and sometimes fight, side-by-side, with friends and neighbors for a city that has so much heart.
When I first ran, in 2014, the primary concern was that district council members not turn into ward politicians. I think that was a good admonition (having watched the county struggle with ward-type decisions and policies in the past), and as a student of public service and policy making, I’ve consistently made decisions affecting the entire City and decisions unique to D7 or another district with a very expansive and inclusive thought process. A goal of single-member districts was to increase the elected official’s accountability to the electorate and increase the granularity of knowledge of the district a council member represents; we’re as close to the grassroots as you can get on at this municipal level.
I’ve tried to adhere to certain values – for example, respecting valid petitions and voting with the neighbors in zoning cases where the parties are not in agreement; since these cases always have three readings, valid petition pressures are very helpful to level that playing field, and provide some advantage to the residents.
How would you have voted on the police budget that the Council approved in August? If you did vote for it, or would have, please explain your reasoning. If you would have taken a different approach please explain.
I supported the FY21 budget we wrote in July. The changes I proposed and led on with the police budget along with several of my colleagues demonstrated our priorities. I listened to my constituents, and worked with advocates from criminal justice and policing groups on many aspects of my proposal. I am proud to serve on a council that took such a strong stand together to address police brutality and systemic racism in policing.
Some of the more tangible changes I proposed were:
- diverting mental health emergency calls to trained professionals through new investments in EMS,
- gaining $6.5 million to house the homeless, and
- more robust funding for victims services.
We need to stop asking our police officers to handle social service needs, and most importantly, we need to hold them accountable and responsible for improving community relationships.
The community spoke, and we listened. I am optimistic about this reimagining conversation and the audit of APD that’s underway, and I am committed to more changes as we proceed. So now, we need folks to stay engaged as we move into a public review of many functions at APD over the coming weeks and months to find opportunities for more efficiency and a more equitable vision of community safety.
Please describe your approach to homelessness. As part of that, state your position on the camping ban, but please do not limit your answer to that.
Prior city councils worked long and hard with community groups to address the many complex issues around homelessness. The current council built on that work and has done more than ever to highlight the social justice aspects of this widespread issue by decriminalizing homelessness and ramping up our efforts to treat people experiencing homelessness as people to be seen and assisted, and not ignored.
I was a leader in bringing resources and important system supports to the homeless after the three ordinances – no camping, no sit no lie, and solicitation – were relaxed in June 2019. We did not do enough to prepare for the expected outcomes after the camping ban was decriminalized, but after the June vote I worked with my dais colleagues to bring necessary resources and align our systems to help in more effective and efficient ways. Since then, the Council has approved the purchase of two hotels for housing, is actively searching for additional structures to buy, has focused more intently on providing Permanent Supportive Housing, and has activated a more organized system of support with ECHO and other community non-profit organizations whose civic mission is helping people living without shelter. The Council approved historic levels of funding in the FY20 budget and will put another $60 million toward these programs in FY21. District 7 has been fortunate to have Permanent Supportive Housing developments approved that offer a full array of supportive services to help those who are exiting homelessness: a safe, clean place to live in a supportive community with resource-rich wrap-around services provided.
I was a co-sponsor on the Tenant Relocation initiative that is the basis for the City of Austin’s tenant advocacy program. The program contracts with Rio Grande Valley Legal Aid to provide counseling and pro bono legal assistance to renters who have disputes with landlords. The legal supports help even out the inequitable balance of power that often exists in these kinds of situations.
The City has a housing voucher program to assist with lease payments, but state law prohibits cities from requiring landlords to accept housing vouchers. The City’s successes have been the result of persuasion and moral commitment, but if the State were in favor of housing vouchers and required them to be accepted, then a whole lot more people would find a place to live with a lot less difficulty.
Addressing the complexities of the individuals who are without a home is a public policy area with a lot of need that the City Council continues diligently and deliberatively working to address, an area where the City of Austin cannot do it all alone: significant financial and programmatic support from the State of Texas and the federal government is desperately needed. Our current situation is a direct result of the state and federal government changing policy on caring for and housing people. Without those necessary supportive services, they have ended up on the streets. Our country needs to do better.
How would you have voted on the Land Development Code (LDC) that was before the Council on second reading of the LDC — or, if an incumbent, how did you vote? Feel free to elaborate on your position and the approach you would take on the LDC going forward.
I agree with most in Austin that the LDC should be updated, and I support doing it in alignment with Imagine Austin, the City’s comprehensive plan. I support density and mixed use along corridors which provides more foot traffic, more small business opportunity, and overall increased commerce and space availability for retail, business and creatives. Transition areas that were discussed during CodeNEXT & LDC2 were exceedingly problematic and I did not support how the staff was imposing them without residents’ agreement. The adoption process was also being done in violation of Texas statutes, despite clear evidence and rhetoric pointing this out to city staff.
I do think the issue has been unnecessarily divisive.
Any amendments to the LDC must have the support of the community. Property rights are paramount in Texas, and those rights extend to the uses and zoning of land that Austin residents own. Government should serve its residents, not the other way around. I support the City following state statutes with regard to notice and protest rights.
I absolutely support the State Legislature liberalizing land regulation laws to the benefit of Texas municipalities. I worked with Rep Gina Hinojosa in the 2019 session to overturn the Baxter bill from 2005 that prohibited inclusionary zoning [City Resolution 20190328-041].I hope to overturn the ban on inclusionary zoning in the 87th Legislative Session. If we aren’t able to do it then, then I’ll work on it again in 2023 to try once more. It’s ridiculous that the State of Texas should restrict the City of Austin through punitive legislation and preemption.
Continuing on the LDC, do you support petition rights for property owners and nearby property owners as prescribed in state law? Would you continue the appeal seeking to overturn the Judge’s ruling which, among other rulings, said that the Council erred in trying to deny appeal rights in the proposed mass upzonings in the LDC?
I absolutely support petition rights and the requirement that notice be given to property owners in land use/zoning change cases. I opposed the City pursuing the appeal; in challenging Judge Soifer’s ruling, the City is sending good money after bad in an effort to seek approbation in the courts.
Will you commit to opposing and voting against transition zones – like those in the LDC rewrite — in single-family neighborhoods?
Yes – I have and I will continue to do so. Transition zones were unnecessarily divisive and actually seemed like the more established neighborhoods were being penalized for something that they had no hand in creating. And in the depth of the pandemic, having fresh air and a yard to sit or play in is even more an asset and extremely valuable. At a time when distances are increased for safety between us and our neighbors, those who live in high rises or small lot homes are feeling unsafe for all kinds of reasons. I would continue to oppose reducing lot sizes (5750 is small enough) and we all should be advocating for increased spending on parkland and open space.
Candidate Morgan Witt did not return a questionnaire.
District 2 Questionnaires
District 4 Questionnaires
District 6 Questionnaires
District 10 Questionnaires
To receive notification when the Austin Independent posts stories, to subscribe, or to write to the editor please send us an email under Contact on the home page,or click here.
Journalism costs money. Please consider subscribing or donating. Funds will go primarily toward expanding the Independent’s reach, web redesign, and paying photographers and artists.
To go to the Austin Independent home page click here.
The Austin Independent, a publication of The Austin Independent, LLC
All Rights Reserved