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District 4 candidates talk public safety, affordability

Thursday, September 18, 2014 by Gene Davis

Council candidates vying for the District 4 seat listed safety, sidewalks and affordability as top priorities facing Austin’s densest district in a forum Wednesday, co-hosted by the Austin Monitor and our partners at KUT, KXAN, the Austin Chronicle and Univision.

Candidates at the forum pointed out that the north central district consists of approximately 70 percent renters and 35 percent nonresidents. Given the district’s demographic makeup, candidates said the area faces unique challenges.

Specifically, the eight candidates at the forum talked about how they would address safety issues in the district. District 4 contains the Rundberg neighborhood, which is historically one of Austin’s high-crime areas.

Louis Herrin III, an environmental engineer, said he would encourage police officers to become more engaged in the district.

“We need to have cops on the street, walking the streets in the neighborhoods, so they have an idea of what’s going on in the neighborhoods and people have a better reaction to them,” he said.

Sharon Mays, a marketing consultant, said she would work to improve infrastructure that would make the district safer.

“We need to increase our sidewalks and our bike lanes so, on a very basic level, there is a safe way to get to and from school,” she said.

Fellow candidate Katrina Daniel, the vice chair of the Travis County Health Care District, echoed Mays’ comments.

“Beyond actual policing, if we can build some infrastructure where the community can engage in the community, be out and more involved, then the community will become more safe because the people will be empowered,” she said.

Monica Guzmán, who has worked for more than 10 years in state and federal service, said public safety starts with each person. She said people in District 4 should make an effort to meet their neighbors.

“Get to know one another, that way you can start looking out for each other,” she said.

For his part, Marco Mancillas, the former executive director of the Hispanic Physicians Association of Austin, stressed the importance of Restore Rundberg in improving safety in District 4. Restore Rundberg is a revitalization effort aimed at improving the quality of life in the area.

“When elected to City Council, I will make sure we provide more money (to Restore Rundburg),” he said.

Roberto Perez Jr., who touted his background in business and education, agreed with Mancillas on the importance of Restore Rundberg.

“I’d like to find ways to make that more sustainable,” he said.

Gregorio Casar, the Workers Defense Project political director, said an improved quality of life would help improve public safety.

“The first thing we need to do is provide stable jobs and pathways to the middle class with decent family friendly housing and to facilitate that with the land development code,” he said.

Following their opinions on public safety, the candidates addressed how they would improve affordability in the district.

For Mays, one possible way would be for the city to provide incentives to developers to build homes that would cost between $150,000 —$200,000.

Guzmán said the city should continue looking to build affordable housing on public land. She added that the city should work to ensure that the affordable housing units are not “shoe boxes.”

Mancillas came out in favor of the 20 percent homestead exemption that has recently become a hot topic. Casar said he would agree with the 20 percent homestead exemption, but only if it would come along with utility relief.

Daniel said the city should look to expand housing inventory along the core transit corridors to minimize the expense of commuting. However, she added that the city must be careful to not gentrify District 4 and drive people out of their homes.

Perez Jr. said in addition to creating more affordable housing inventory, the city must keep CodeNEXT’s current tools to provide affordable housing.

In response to the affordable housing question Herrin III, a conservative, said he would get rid of the restrictions that prevent development.

The eight candidates on the forum agreed in their answers on many of the questions that followed the affordable housing topics. Namely, the candidates said they would try to improve the partnership between the city and AISD; try to bring more businesses to District 4; work to serve all the district’s residents, regardless of their immigration status; and collaborate with the other newly elected Council members to work for the greater good.

Early voting begins Oct. 20.


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