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Alter highlights progress in public safety in 2019

Friday, December 27, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Out of all the work she’s accomplished this year, Council Member Alison Alter is particularly proud of what she’s brought to fruition in the realm of public safety.

Beginning in January, Alter posted a resolution calling for a third-party audit of the city’s deeply flawed sexual assault response system. She said the effort is now set to culminate in a major turning point for the city and may result in the city becoming an exemplary model of sexual assault crime response.

In September, City Council granted a contract to Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based independent research organization, to conduct the audit.

“We’re on track to get some really important findings that are going to reinvent our system to provide healing and justice to survivors here in Austin,” Alter said.

Following the mass shooting in El Paso in August, Alter organized a press conference and presented the Emergency Gun Violence Prevention Resolution that called on both Gov. Greg Abbott and the U.S. Senate to pass gun safety legislation. Two weeks later, Alter sponsored a resolution creating the Task Force on Gun Violence to address the root causes of and preventive measures for gun violence related to domestic violence, suicide, access to guns, and unsafe storage.

“We’re going to be able to zero in on issues here in Austin by looking at the data and trying to see where we need to target and what our options are to address how that violence is playing out here in Austin,” she said.

The task force is expected to present a variety of locally specific policy options in the coming year.

This month, Alter said she brought specific key outcomes to the table when Council called for an audit of the Austin Police Department’s alleged culture of racism reaching all the way from cadet training courses to interactions at the highest ranks. With her amendments included, she said the audit will result in constructive, actionable recommendations.

With much of District 10 located in the city’s wildland-urban interface – the meeting point of undeveloped and developed land where wildfire risk is greatest – Alter said she has kept busy raising awareness and calling for action on wildfire mitigation. In the next year, she expects the city to adopt a Wildland-Urban Interface Code that will regulate construction in high-risk areas.

As chair of the Audit and Finance Committee, Alter reviewed a wildfire audit that recommended land planning in city parks to mitigate wildfire risk. Council approved funding for that effort as well as a substantial increase of $877,386 for the Austin Fire Department Wildfire Division in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget.

Alter was lead sponsor on a resolution in May to focus on a plan and set goals to electrify the city’s transportation system, both public and private, leading up to a carbon-neutral future by 2050. The city needs to plan for its zero-emission goals, she said: “It’s not just going to happen because we want it to happen.”

Also in May, Alter co-sponsored Council Member Leslie Pool’s resolution calling for creating a chief resilience officer to lead the city forward in climate resilience. In August, Alter was a lead sponsor on a resolution declaring a climate emergency and directing the city manager to consider ways to better report and speed up climate resilience goals.

“Austin has been doing a lot of things really well with respect to climate change and we’re a leader in sustainability, but there were some key things that we were able to include along with that declaration which are going to accelerate our ability to adjust to climate change,” she said.

In an effort to cut costs, Alter said she made progress this year on moving the city toward owning instead of leasing its properties. In October, she presented a report to the Audit and Finance Committee that showed the city’s 781,000 square feet in leased office space is costing the city an extra $1.6 million each year compared to owning those properties. The resulting long-term plan identifies a strategy to transition into ownership by 2026, when the last of the city’s office leases expires.

With the majority of the city’s tax burden tracing back to school taxes, Alter partnered this year with fellow AISD parents to co-found Just Fund It TX, an organization committed to education finance reform at the state level. The advocacy group was able to secure some funding and some structural changes that Alter said will help maintain affordability over time.

“There’s still plenty of work to be done, but we were able to collectively bring together folks from all over the state, parents and students, working with several other organizations to be able to champion these reforms, and we’re still building on that going into the next legislative session,” she said.

Leading into the coming year, Alter is pleased Council adopted her six proposed amendments at first reading of the draft Land Development Code. However, as she indicated with her vote of opposition, she is not yet ready to support the code.

“I think we have an opportunity to bring the community along with us and to rebuild trust, but that path involves significant changes to the transition zones,” she said. “As currently constructed, they really encroach on neighborhoods in a way that was not envisioned in Imagine Austin.”

“We also need to think about whether our approach that provides so many entitlements up front is really going to achieve the kind of affordability that we aspire to achieve.”

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