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District 2 candidates battle to champion Southeast

Thursday, September 11, 2014 by Kara Nuzback

Three candidates vying to represent Southeast Austin agree — the district has long been ignored and needs a voice on City Council.

District 2 covers much of Southeast Austin, including the Dove Springs and Onion Creek neighborhoods and the area surrounding Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The district is unique in that more than 60 percent of its residents are Hispanic. KUT News and the Monitor hosted a forum in the district Wednesday at Dove Springs Recreation Center.

Candidate Edward “Wally” Reyes, 34, is president of the Dove Springs Neighborhood Association. Owner of A. Reyes Tree Service, he said he was born and raised in Dove Springs, and decided to run for Council as a leader in the area.

“I’m going to promote the community needs,” he said.

Real estate agent John Sheppard, 42, said he has lived in Austin most of his life and has raised a family in the city. He said he will listen to District 2 residents and advocate what is in their best interest.

“I feel like I really wanted to give back. I’ve got time to give back,” Sheppard said of his decision to run for office.

Delia Garza, 38, is a former South Austin firefighter and assistant attorney general in the Child Support Division. She also campaigned for the 10-1 district system of municipal government, set to take effect in Austin after the Nov. 4 election. She said she would work to improve quality of life in the district.

“There’s no reason why families should live in floodplains, and there is no reason why families should live in food deserts,” Garza said.

A fourth candidate, Coca-Cola technician Mike Owen, 43, did not attend the forum.

Transportation, infrastructure and affordability are citywide concerns, but District 2 is especially affected because of its distance from the city center, its immigrant population and its lack of basic city services, such as sidewalks and street lighting.

Sheppard said, if elected, one of his first projects would be to construct more sidewalks in the district. He said the Dove Springs neighborhood has improved over the last 20 years, “but it’s not enough.”

“We’ve been getting the short end of the stick,” Sheppard said.

Reyes said, if elected, he would work to make the district more affordable by pressuring homeowners and landowners to make energy-efficient improvements to rental housing so residents could lower their utility bills. He said he would advocate for a minimum-wage increase.

“We need to fight for affordability,” Reyes said.

Garza said, if elected, she would immediately spearhead a committee to explore affordability options in the city.

“We’re in an affordability crisis,” she said.

Garza said lack of equity for Southeast Austin has been a problem for years, and she would serve as a voice for the community at City Hall.

All three candidates spoke in favor of protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants.

The candidates were also united in their opposition to Proposition 1, Council’s bond proposal for $1 billion in transportation improvements, including $600 million to fund a 9.5-mile urban rail line. The route would run from East Riverside Drive to Austin Community College Highland Campus in North Austin, with stops at the convention center, the Capitol and University of Texas.

Garza said she would support a rail line, but Prop. 1 ignores South Austin. She said the money for the rail would be better spent putting more buses on the roads, adding bus routes and expanding bus schedules — an idea that both Reyes and Sheppard supported.

“We need expanded bus routes,” Sheppard said. “If you work downtown until 2 a.m., there’s not a bus running.”

Sheppard added that the proposed rail route would benefit only students at University of Texas and downtown residents.

Reyes agreed, saying the route “doesn’t benefit South Austin at all … and we would still be paying for it.” He proposed holding a forum to ask members of the community what would make their daily transits easier.

Moderator and KUT reporter Joy Diaz asked the candidates what they thought about the Watershed Protection Department’s plan to buy out flood-prone homes in Onion Creek.

Reyes and Garza said they supported the buyout.

“I approve of the buyout 100 percent,” Reyes said. “A lot of the people down there are still in harm’s way.”

Garza added, “I think it’s the right thing to do … There was a lot of community input.”

Sheppard dissented, calling the severe flooding in Onion Creek last Halloween a “tragedy.” But, he said, the buyouts should be put to a public vote.

The deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 6.

For more information on District 2 candidates, visit http://www.thehallmonitor.org/district-2.

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