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Alison Alter: ‘Excited to begin again in 2021’

Thursday, January 7, 2021 by Jo Clifton

While 2020 was a challenging year for every member of the Austin City Council, it was particularly challenging for District 10’s Alison Alter and District 6’s Jimmy Flannigan, who had to defend their seats in the purple areas of the city. Council members Leslie Pool and Greg Casar had an easier path to reelection since their districts are more solidly Democratic.

After a day of rest following her election victory on Dec. 15, Alter told the Austin Monitor she was “excited to begin again in 2021,” as she reflected on the multiple crises the city has weathered this year.

First on everybody’s list is Covid-19, the pandemic that has sickened millions around the world and killed more than 320,000 Americans, including more than 500 Travis County residents. Alter said she wanted to thank Austinites for stepping up to the challenge, for wearing masks and practicing social distancing, which resulted in Austin having lower numbers of illnesses and deaths than other comparable cities.

Council did its part to alleviate the problems, she said. “I think as a Council we figured out early on that we needed to focus resources on the most vulnerable: the elderly, essential workers, people of color, people hit by the pandemic …. We really saw with 20/20 eyesight that we needed to protect the most vulnerable in order to protect the whole city.”

She applauded city staffers for their quick pivot to work on the Covid crisis. She especially wanted to thank first responders and all the staff members who worked on using the federal CARES Act money to take care of people in need. Alter pointed out that while other cities were forced to furlough or lay off employees, that was not the case in Austin because “our fiscal house was in order when it hit.”

She’s proud of the work she did to help create relief for small businesses and child care centers. “It was really important that we have those ecosystems,” in order to keep the city moving forward. The city created a $5 million grant program to save child care businesses.

Alter is really excited about another new program she and her fellow Council members launched this year for Austinites who have lost their jobs due to Covid. The Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, which is modeled on FDR’s New Deal-era work program, provides people with training “to help make Austin safer and more beautiful,” she explained. “These are jobs that are going to create career opportunities and build community. And they’re going to serve as recruitment tools for city departments.”

Applications for the program opened a little before Thanksgiving, with the initial phase working in conjunction with American YouthWorks on Austin’s parks and trails. “A lot of other departments in the city have stepped up,” she said, including Watershed Protection and Economic Development. In addition, some members of the Austin CCC will work with the Fire Department on wildfire mitigation, an important topic for the entire city that’s particularly acute in District 10.

Another critical step toward mitigating wildfire risk in the district will be construction of a new Loop 360/Davenport Ranch fire station. Alter expects the design to be done by October, with the station opening in 2022.

Alter and her colleagues put more money into Emergency Medical Services this year, adding ambulances and creating a pandemic hotline. One of the things that the public may not notice that is important to first responders is a change to shifts for EMS personnel. In the past, they have been on 12-hour shifts, and each time there’s a shift change, the ambulances go out of service while they are being cleaned, she noted. This became especially problematic with the onset of the pandemic. Changing to a 24-hours-on/72-hours-off schedule has meant “less wear and tear on our personnel,” she said.

This year Austin-Travis County interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott became a familiar face addressing the public, Council and Travis County Commissioners Court about the stages of the pandemic and what the public should be doing about it. Alter is proud of the work Austin Public Health has done during the crisis.

She also noted, “We made some really important strides in our effort to combat the climate crisis. In March we passed the next-generation Austin Energy Resource Generation and Climate Plan and in that we were able to add more renewables without raising rates.” The new plan uses less coal, among other things, and moves the city toward a greener future.

While Council members Greg Casar and Natasha Harper-Madison have both indicated their desire to serve as mayor pro tem, Alter recently posted about her interest in the position on the City Council Message Board. “For the first time Austin has elected a female supermajority, with eight women and three men serving on the City Council,” she wrote. “I believe it’s important for our children to see that women lead political institutions. I am humbled and grateful to have so many of my colleagues reach out to say they support my serving as mayor pro tem of the Austin City Council.”

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