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Change is focus of Adler’s first State of the City

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 by Sunny Sone

Change was the name of the game at Mayor Steve Adler’s first State of the City address.

Adler discussed a wide range of issues but focused on two of Austin’s most prominent problems — mobility and affordability — and floated several new ideas to address those problems, many of which he had not presented to the public yet.

“At the end of the day, you should grade this new (City) Council by whether we addressed big challenges and did big things,” Adler said. “This will require us to think and do things differently, and that means change.”

Among those changes was Adler’s idea for an “Austin Bond” program, in the style of U.S. Savings Bonds. Investors purchase money to go into social projects and eventually receive their investment and interest in return. In a Q&A session following the address, Adler said he did not know any other city looking to enact a bond system at the municipal level.

The mayor also called for a reevaluation of Austin Energy and the Austin Water Utility’s business models with the goal of making utilities more affordable.

“We need to manage our growth so that it doesn’t manage us, and to preserve what we love about Austin,” Adler said.

Adler also unveiled his mobility plan. He called for one plan that the entire region’s transportation agencies and organizations would follow, including AURA, Travis County and Capital Metro.

In order to battle congestion, Adler proposed getting cars off the road by adopting staggered work hours, telecommuting and using alternate modes of transportation like ride shares and public transit. He encouraged the expansion of park-and-rides at the edge of the city to better entice residents to use public transportation.

“Success will have a real impact on rush hour traffic,” Adler said. “It can be done almost immediately, with very little cost to taxpayers.”

Adler asked Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt if she would support City Manager Marc Ott’s commitment to reduce rush hour transits by city employees by 20 percent, to which she responded with a resounding “yes!” He also referenced the recent Traffic Congestion Action Plan and promised to synchronize traffic signals.

Adler also called for creative ideas from the community about improving traffic issues.

“We need new ideas, your ideas, to tackle the long-term challenge we face,” Adler said. “It’s time to start hearing from new people and trying new things. We need innovation.”

Adler asked landlords and property managers to accept housing vouchers for homeless veterans, in one of several references to Lee Leffingwell’s former tenure as mayor. Leffingwell had aimed to house the entire homeless veteran population before his term expired.

Leffingwell’s final State of the City address was to members of the Real Estate Council of Austin. In contrast, Adler held his address — open to the public — at the new Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center. It was also streamed live on ATXN. The program included a slam poetry reading and a musical performance by local artist Max Frost. Adler paid for the event with his personal funds.

AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz spoke about the district’s achievements and goals, and Akins High School senior Valentina Tovar called for equity in quality of education among Austin schools.

The speech mirrored Adler’s campaign rhetoric and referenced many of his campaign promises, including the 20 percent homestead tax exemption. Council Member Ellen Troxclair has sponsored a resolution to find funding for the exemption. It will be part of upcoming budget discussions, Adler promised.

“Our biggest challenges were not created overnight, and the solutions will not happen overnight, either,” Adler said. “But we’re starting now, and we are acting boldly.”

This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect the fact that AURA is an organization, not an agency.

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