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In 2017, Kitchen worked on the big issues

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 by Elizabeth Pagano

For Council Member Ann Kitchen, 2017 was a year of progress. In an interview with the Austin Monitor, she highlighted some of the ongoing work her office has done over the past year that deals with some of the city’s weightiest issues.

Like others on City Council, Kitchen is particularly proud of the progress she made working on the issue of homelessness in 2017. When she spoke to the Monitor, she noted the fact that she was able to bring the focus south in addition to supporting efforts citywide. For example, at the last Council meeting of the year, she initiated a pilot program to address public health and safety concerns near the U.S. Highway 290/State Highway 71 overpass at Manchaca Road and Pack Saddle Pass.

The program was the result of community meetings that started in the spring, after bringing together representatives from the Austin Police Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Texas Department of Transportation, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the nearby Sunrise Church, which makes it its mission to address homelessness. The church, she explained, is across the street from a school, adjacent to the overpass. “The geography is a difficult geography,” said Kitchen.

The result of the conversation, said Kitchen, is a pilot program that addresses the specific needs of the community. During the budget negotiations, the city funded a “navigator” dedicated to South Austin that helps connect people to services. Kitchen also worked with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo to find money for permanent supportive housing and moved to allow APD to have jurisdiction under the bridge, which would otherwise be patrolled by TxDOT.

Kitchen also sponsored a resolution that asks the city to investigate alternatives to panhandling. Though official recommendations won’t return to Council until the spring, she is excited about the possibilities and the ability to “better connect contributions to the people that need the help.” As an example, she cites a program in San Francisco where one can “adopt a person” that is working toward a better situation by participating in certain programs.

“It’s not a monolith. It’s not the same thing going on with all of them, and the things that we offer as services can’t be the same thing either, because it’s not going to work,” said Kitchen. “And we need to understand what is going on in our neighborhoods.”

Kitchen has also continued to work on flooding issues, including Onion Creek flood mitigation. During this past legislative session, Travis County and Hays County entered into an interlocal agreement to talk about handling mitigation in the Onion Creek Watershed, with the expectation that cities will be brought into the discussions when they take place. Meanwhile, said Kitchen, the city is working on what will come out of a recent engineering report.

“There’s conversations happening with the neighborhood. I don’t think we have agreement yet on what people would like to see going forward. In general, we’re talking about some level of buyouts and some kind of engineering solution,” said Kitchen. “The Council will have to vote during the spring.”

And, braced for CodeNEXT, Kitchen has taken a different tack on prepping for the storm to come, passing a couple of resolutions in what she calls “lead-ups.” One was a resolution on green stormwater infrastructure that asks for a general inventory of efforts in that direction and whether they will have implications on CodeNEXT. A report on that is expected at the beginning of the year. Kitchen also initiated a process, still ongoing, that will eventually set triggers for when areas of town need a small area plan so, as Kitchen says, “we aren’t just reacting.”

“Some of those areas aren’t yet right for the activity that Imagine Austin envisions, in terms of walkable neighborhoods and that kind of stuff,” said Kitchen, who described the effort as “triggers designed to help us look prospectively at what’s happening in an area, instead of being reactive.”

For the Austin Strategic Housing Roadmap, Kitchen brought forward a resolution asking for an actual implementation plan “with dates and tasks” to make sure that something was done with it. “The strategic roadmap is huge. … It’s just a set of recommendations,” she said. “Actually putting the roadmap into a timeline with tasks is necessary, or nothing is going to happen.”

Kitchen is also proud of the Strategic Mobility Plan and is looking forward to how it will move ahead, working with Capital Metro, AISD, Travis County and other local entities.

“The future of transportation is thinking of mobility as a service,” she said. “To think in terms of electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles – because that’s coming sooner than anyone might think and then shared – because if we don’t have options that are sharing, we are all just going to be stuck in traffic.”

And, on the subject of mobility, Kitchen says that she is happy with expanded fast service routes, and the goal of faster and more reliable service in Capital Metro’s Connections 2025. As a Capital Metro board member, she acknowledges that “innovation areas” that will no longer be serviced by traditional, big buses remain a bit of a sticking point. Kitchen explains that the transportation authority didn’t want to just cut services, but have a conversation to work toward solutions that are still being worked out.

“I will be happy once we figure out these innovation areas, and I do think we need to do a better job reaching into the community to better understand what people want,” she said. “I suspect there will be some adjustments we need to make.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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