AUSTIN, Texas - There’s no shortage of District 10 candidates to represent west Austin neighborhoods. There are six people vying for Austin City Council including councilmember Alison Alter.
“I believe Austin‘s best days are ahead of us and this is a time for leadership and experience and that is why I'm running for reelection,” said Alter.
Alter takes pride in laying the groundwork for police oversight. In 2017 she was instrumental in changing police contracts and advocating for transparency. Alter stands alongside council members' decision to relocate millions of dollars from the Austin Police department putting a hold on cadet classes.
“The curriculum is not revamped, there's not a lot of evidence that there’s anything on the way,” Alter said. “Why should we put our money into training cadets when we know they are not going to be trained the way we need to have them be trained.“
The Austin Police Department is experiencing a staffing shortage with pre-existing vacancies, officers retiring and quitting. Meanwhile, following the civil unrest of George Floyd and Mike Ramos. Advocates are demanding police departments be defunded.
Businessman Robert Thomas was not on board with the council’s decision.
“It was a fundamental, gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty for the council to vote to defund our police,” said Thomas. “ In reality we all want a safe and healthy environment and that starts with public safety which is a core fundamental service that the city Council is supposed to provide citizens. There is room for reform, we will work on reform, we demand reform but we also demand we support the men and women who the vast, vast majority go to work every day to protect us and serve us. We don't need to demoralize and we don’t need to make our communities less safe.”
Native Austinite Jennifer Virden echoes Thomas’s sentiment.
“I’m definitely opposed to defunding the police or any of our first responders,” said Virden. “For the city of Austin and for all municipalities their responsibility is to fund our core municipal services and that includes our first responders especially our police department and that is unconscionable what they did.”
Attorney Pooja Sethi wants a more community-centered approach by directing funds to community centers. “I really think that we need more resources in our neighborhoods, we need to focus on prevention and we need to bring everyone to the table to have these discussions,” said Sethi.
Educator Ben Easton wants more money to be spent on the police department. “If police officers are risking their lives, they deserve better pay,” he said. “I am a law and order candidate. I believe that local governments have been providing less support, less moral support for police officers. They are dialing back, saying don’t arrest these people, don’t intervene, don't do this, don't do that, so they don’t.“
Belinda Greene is a working mother who considers her voice to be moderate.
“I think what the City Council did is weaken our police force without addressing the real issues,” said Greene. “Moving some of the funding from the 911 Call Center, Forensics, that didn’t do anything to improve policing. We need better police training, not less police training.“
Most candidates were against Proposition A.
“Mostly because it’s been proven to not work and we cannot afford it,” said Virden. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. We don't know what the economic fallout is going to be from that. My campaign slogan is, “can't afford it, can’t board it” and that is the truth.”
“I will be voting against Prop A. I was surprised they put Prop A on the ballot especially during this time when some of us are not working or working less,” said Greene. “It is a huge tax increase that is never going away.”
“It is not the right time to push a project like that and it is never a right time to push a project that is based upon a 25% tax increase,” said Thomas. “This is going to hit families immediately next year and families are already struggling to pay their mortgages as evidenced by recent news articles that have talked about an increase in delinquent mortgage payments.”
“I would rather see public transportation and the whole Project Connect thing happen piecemeal with one idea at a time,” said Easton. “Not this interrogated hodgepodge, it needs to be integrated not an all or nothing planned.”
“I have voted against CodeNext and land development provisions every step of the way because they have favored special interest rather than the everyday Austinite,” said Alter. “We deserve a code that really represents Austinites of all sorts.”
Sethi is the only candidate that voted in favor. “I know to help the climate in our city and climate change we strongly need to reduce the amount of cars on our roads,” said Sethi. “The way we get there and part of the way that we get there is through Prop A."
Addressing the issue of homelessness
Addressing and helping Austin's homeless population is a priority for all the candidates. Alter did not vote to repeal the camping ban in June 2019.
“Because we didn’t have a plan for what were the obvious consequences that would happen and particularly to our public spaces,” said Alter. “I would believe that we need to forge ahead with solutions that are compassionate”
The move impassioned Easton to run for council.
“The dam broke open and homeless people just started camping all over...under freeways on sidewalks just right there in front of businesses, outrageous and ridiculous,” said Easton. “ People are down and out, they are broke, they are lost and they need help and I understand that. My proposal is that we create a constellation of rehabilitation sanctuary, rehab sanctuary, these are temporary. We could set up anywhere from 5 to 10 maybe even 20 of these satellite centers."
All District 10 candidates see eye to eye on the need to work with local nonprofits, provide additional mental health resources, and create temporary transitional housing to tackle homelessness.
“I think we should implement the camping ban immediately. The homeless problem is a multi-layer problem and we should address it as such. We should be working with programs such as Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a community first project on the east side,” said Greene. “We should identify our most vulnerable Austinites first, women, children, and veterans. And temporarily house them to give them an opportunity to go back on their feet. Offer them mental health where needed, healthcare needed, occupational training if needed. More importantly, we are offering them a reasonable or a reliable form of communication and an address.”
“Reinstate the camping ban, reinstate the anti-loitering ban and reinstate the panhandling ban immediately,” said Thomas. “Then take up the Haven for Hope model in San Antonio or the San Diego housing authorities model which is very similar to the San Antonio model and also work with our local partners like Community First Village. Work with our state and national leaders to help us address particularly the addiction and mental health issues that are so difficult to resolve and related to homelessness.”
“I believe that we need to have aggressive solutions around homelessness. I talk a lot about putting money into resources like the Other Ones Foundation. They put a lot of resources in Camp Esperanza and really help people there get food and mental health resources,” said Pooja. “We need to partner with our local organizations to figure out how to truly help the homeless. I also discuss and really believe we need to put more effort and get more data around rapid rehousing.”
“I think it’s been handled terribly. I think most people agree with that just driving down the street you don’t even need to take stats on it,” said Virden. “It’s been a terrible detriment to our city and has eroded our quality of life here; it has spread out crime everywhere and pollution.”