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Paige Ellis: Preparing for climate change resilience

Thursday, January 7, 2021 by Miriam E Jewell

Despite enduring a year of trials, Austin City Council Member Paige Ellis is determined to continue getting work done for her constituents and for the city.

Two of Ellis’ most significant accomplishments this year with Council include the Healthy Streets initiative and the success of Proposition B, a voter-approved active mobility bond.

“These two initiatives speak to Austin’s need to be resilient to climate change,” Ellis said. “We need mobility options that will set us up for better success in future years.”

Ellis proposed the Healthy Streets initiative after hearing that sidewalks were not adequately accommodating social distancing for those who wanted to spend time outdoors with friends and family. The emergence of Covid-19 has brought a renewed interest in outdoor activities and Ellis felt the program was necessary for the health of residents. The program “has taken off and been an outstanding success for the community,” she said.

As for Prop B, Ellis says the active mobility bond, which allocates $460 million in bonds for infrastructure like bicycle lanes, urban trails and sidewalks, will be beneficial to the safety of all citizens traveling around Austin.

Residents of Austin have also had a renewed desire to work toward equity in the city, particularly in the wake of protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Ellis said her constituents have voiced concerns about equity, racial profiling, and under- and over-policing throughout the city. She and other Council members have reached out to the community to try to better understand and identify these issues.

“There need to be different responders in different situations, and we as a city need to look at that comprehensively and understand that when you call 911, the appropriate person is showing up,” she noted.

Much of Ellis’ work this year has underscored her passion for addressing climate change and the impact that Austin residents have on the environment. Additional initiatives she focused on included Project Connect, single- and multifamily composting, and the Clean Creeks resolution.

“Almost everything that I led on has some sort of environmental component to it,” she said. “I’m going to keep working on policy that sets our city up for climate change resilience. We know that climate change is real and we know that we need to fight it.”

Since so many annual special events such as Austin City Limits were canceled this year, Ellis was more than happy to lead the way in getting approval for the re-envisioning of the Trail of Lights, providing a sense of normalcy.

“There were so many events that got canceled and so many people were sad. … We were really excited to make something happen for this holiday season.”

As the city continues to battle the complications of Covid-19, Ellis said the most important thing she wants to continue improving is the ability of community members to give feedback on city programs.

“We really want to make sure that the community has the ability to provide input and to provide commentary on the things that we are working on,” she said.

She believes that the nation’s collective situation throughout the past year is worse than it should have been.

“What may have been helpful throughout this year was to have a better national response to the global pandemic,” she said. “It would have been more helpful in March if we had a better federal coordinated response.”

Regardless, Ellis is gratified by how much work she and her team were able to accomplish, especially given the difficult circumstances. She is looking forward to continuing to make Austin better for all its residents.

“We’ve done some really big work this year, and we are excited to look forward to the future,” Ellis said.

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to teach and publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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