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Paige Ellis represents sharp political shift for Southwest Austin’s District 8

Friday, December 28, 2018 by Jack Craver

Paige Ellis, the incoming City Council member for District 8, has very different political views from her predecessor, Ellen Troxclair, who spent the last two years as the only Republican on Council.

Ellis, who made her affiliation with the Democratic Party central to her campaign, triumphed over Republican Frank Ward in the Dec. 11 runoff election. As a result, for the first time in the four-year history of the 10-1 Council, there will be no members of the nonpartisan body who identify as Republicans or conservatives.

Ellis said that District 8, which covers a large swath of Southwest Austin, from Zilker Park to Circle C, “is more progressive than we’ve been given credit for.”

Her duty, however, is to “hear all of those diverse voices” in the district, representing a range of political ideologies.

Asked to respond to concerns that Troxclair’s departure will remove a key check from Council’s liberal impulses, particularly on budgetary matters, Ellis said she is confident that there will still be room for “dissenting voices” on city issues.

“I think that’s necessary and I think that’s good to have that tug-of-war between idealism and realism,” said Ellis. “I think that’s one thing that our city as a whole does well.”

She agrees with Troxclair on at least one significant issue: the homestead exemption. Ellis said she is inclined to support further increasing the exemption.

“I would like to look at increasing it. I would like to make sure that our budget isn’t affected too quickly,” she said. “But the homestead exemption is what helps people in my district afford to stay in their homes. There are a lot of people who, if they had to start over again, wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the homes they live in.”

The exemption has been criticized for shifting the tax burden from homeowners to renters, since the exemption does not offer landlords a break that they may pass on to their tenants.

Ellis, who is a renter herself and will be the only member of Council who lives in an apartment complex, said she is “keenly aware” of the criticisms.

“But I have to do what’s best for my constituents,” she said, adding that the exemption “is what they want.”

Among her priorities for the district are continued upgrades to infrastructure, particularly pedestrian and bike infrastructure, flood mitigation and environmental protection.

On the bigger citywide issues, Ellis plans to be a voice for a denser, more transit-oriented city. She believes that increasing housing supply is critical to addressing the city’s affordability crisis and that allowing a greater variety of housing types close to transportation corridors will help reduce the cost of living and be better for the environment.

“Sprawl is expensive. You have to drive further if you live further out,” she said.

She is optimistic that Council will be able to make some of the reforms to the land development code that it failed to achieve last year through CodeNEXT: “I think if you look at the newly elected Council members, I think people are excited to accommodate growth.”

Ellis noted that District 8 lost access to some bus routes after Capital Metro put in place a new system map in June. While she understands that the agency had to make tough decisions about where to put routes, she hopes to help restore some of the bus service that people in the area depended on.

“There are people who tell me, ‘I don’t drive, I have a disability, I can’t get to the bus anymore,’” she said. “I think we need a little bit more (service).”

While Troxclair often described her constituents as frustrated with the city for investing in non-car infrastructure, Ellis believes that Austin has a far greater appetite for alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle.

“The people I’ve talked to in the district are open to different modes of transportation,” she said. “People are eager to try other options.”

Plus, she said, “Austin doesn’t have many places where it can just continue to expand the width of roadways.”

At her last Council meeting, Troxclair, who supported Ward’s candidacy, said she was confident that the district would be in “very capable hands” with Ellis representing it.

Ellis appreciated the comment.

“She was nice to me as a person,” she said of Troxclair. “Frank was nice to me as a person. Personally I think that’s a little more of what we need. We can disagree with each other, but still be kind to each other.”

Photo by Paige Ellis for City Council.

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