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Alter says resilience has been the theme of 2021

Monday, December 27, 2021 by Kali Bramble

Reflecting on her fifth year serving District 10, City Council Member Alison Alter recalls confronting significant obstacles, but maintains that Austin has come out the better for it. 

“It’s been an incredibly challenging year, but we’ve set a lot of things into motion that I believe will make Austin a more resilient and sustainable place for people to live safe and healthy lives. If there has been a theme to this year, it has definitely been resilience.”

The concept of resilience has propelled Alter’s service on City Council in unexpected ways. Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri have changed the way she thinks about the interconnectedness of public safety, public health and economic resourcefulness in building a more resilient city.

“I didn’t come to Council thinking I was going to focus on public safety; in fact, I was much more focused on parks and environmental policy. But I’ve found that I’ve really dug deep into public safety issues through bringing together different disciplines and ways of deploying resources.”

In 2021, Alter and her staff continued efforts to expand the network of emergency medical services staff to better meet demands exacerbated by the pandemic. As chair of the Audit and Finance Committee, she has worked to identify creative funding solutions for such investments, such as increasing EMS transport fees and resolving its significant billing backlog.

Wildfire mitigation has also been important to Alter, who in the past year helped launch a program to train Austin’s fire department to combat wildfires in at-risk areas of the city with less urban density and more vegetation. She also helped push implementation of a Wildland-Urban Interface Code, which enforces responsible building standards on fire-prone lands.

Alter says these efforts stem from lessons about resilience Council learned the hard way when Winter Storm Uri left millions of Texans without power or water for days on end, destroying thousands of homes via pipe bursts and leaving 210 people dead. Alter noted that a climate emergency resolution she brought forward in 2019 called for the establishment of resilience hubs that could have helped mobilize a quicker response to the disaster (these centers have since been funded).

“There were situations that could have been prevented if we had acted on previous after-action reports … we could have been able to weather that storm much better. As a city we’re going to have to be better prepared for climate disasters of all kinds, whether it’s wildfire, winter storms, flooding or heat.”

Council has also made headway in public safety reform, restructuring the police academy and calling for improvements in APD’s sex crimes department following an audit revealing a pattern of mishandling sexual assault cases. Her own contribution to this reform was the Office of Violence Prevention, which is fully operational as of June 2021 and takes a public health-oriented approach to preventing gun violence.

Alter also worked toward economic relief, co-leading the spending framework for federal Covid relief money that allocated millions in funding to child care, workforce, homelessness, and arts and culture nonprofit grant programs. Among these is the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, which Alter helped create in 2020 and which has seen continued success in 2021.

Even amidst a series of crises, Austin suffers from its own success. “We are living in a time as we recover from the pandemic that has very unique dynamics,” Alter noted. “Austin is fortunate to be a very desirable place to live, but with that come challenges that we have to approach with sophistication and innovation.” Along with her fellow Council members, she has worked to alleviate the impact of the city’s skyrocketing cost of living through policies such as raising the homestead exemption tax and loosening restrictions on accessory dwelling units, and co-leading a resolution for residential building in commercial zones.

Other challenges in the past year have been several hate-crime incidents in Alter’s district. This past October saw a number of antisemitic attacks on property, including the burning of Alter’s own synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel. Shaken by these acts, she led a resolution in November calling for collaboration with local community groups to fight antisemitism and improve responses to hate crimes.

In 2022, Alter looks forward to taking on additional leadership roles in City Council. “I’m excited to take on the role of mayor pro tem as an opportunity to better support my colleagues in accomplishing our goals. It will be a chance for me to get to know a broader swath of the city.”

“We’ve been through a lot in 2021, but I’m proud that Council has been able to support our community in innovative ways. Our city hasn’t always been the swiftest afoot, but we’ve been able to get aid out in really significant ways to help our community recover from the pandemic and hopefully thrive in years to come.”

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