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District 5 Council candidates chat with the ‘Monitor’: Part I

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

Read Part II of the series here.

District 5 will choose a new City Council member this November. Ann Kitchen was elected to a first term in 2015 and ran a second time unopposed in 2019. The environmentalist and attorney was known for her pragmatic approach and tireless commitment to public engagement.

Term limits prohibit Kitchen from running again, and the field to replace her as representative of the South Austin district is crowded. Six candidates from a range of backgrounds, from longtime Austin residents to relative newcomers, are working to distinguish themselves ahead of election day. The candidates sat down with the Austin Monitor to discuss how they would tackle the affordability, housing and transportation challenges facing the district and the city at large.

Photo courtesy of Ryan for ATX

Policy analyst Ryan Alter wants to leave the Texas Legislature, where he has worked for former Sen. Kirk Watson and Sen. Juan Hinojosa, for Austin City Hall because that’s where he feels he can make the most impact.

“I have two young kids, and I look around and wonder, how the heck are they going to grow up here? We’re on an unsustainable path,” Alter said. “If I’m going to really have a true impact and solve this problem, it’s not going to be at the Capitol. It’s going to be at City Hall where these decisions are made.”

Alter said he has been frustrated by Kitchen’s “incremental” approach to solving the housing affordability crisis. If elected, he’ll push a housing plan that will include streamlining the Land Development Code, eliminating parking minimums, expediting the site plan process, and bringing compatibility standards “in line with other major cities.”

While acknowledging it’s a citywide issue, Alter said homelessness is felt acutely in parts of the district. He would support Council’s existing mitigation strategies while also advocating for stabilization hubs throughout the city where individuals could be better connected to basic needs, health care and other resources.

“Right now we are just not serving nearly enough people who are in need,” he said. “And the result is what we see every day.”

Photo courtesy of Bill Welch for City Council

Bill Welch is an Air Force veteran and 38-year resident of District 5. He told the Monitor that he started his campaign because he is worried about policy decisions made by the current City Council. Those choices include “defunding” the police, repealing the camping ban and voting recently to give the mayor and Council members pay raises.

“Big issues require thoughtful consideration and good reason,” Welch said. “And that’s what I bring to the district.”

Welch said he will use his experience in the military and in business to tackle the issues facing Austin. He would address homelessness through a combination of strict enforcement of the reinstated camping ban and expanded supportive services.

On growth and development, Welch said the city should restructure its Development Services Department, hire more staff and reduce fees in order to speed up the permitting process.

“There’s always been a tendency in this town to fight growth, and to do what they can to try and stop it,” he said. “And it’s going to happen; it’s a wonderful city.”

Welch’s top priority would be to “fully fund and properly equip” the police and fire departments and Austin-Travis County Emergency Services. He believes Council should address those before tackling any other issues.

“Municipal government is about fundamentals,” Welch said.

Photo courtesy of Brian Anderson for Austin City Council

Brian Anderson is a former legislative intern and self-described “policy wonk.” After interning out of college with former U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, the Fort Worth native worked for the International Monetary Fund for six years doing policy analysis and IT.

“I love taking complex policy issues, explaining them and bringing people on board” with solutions, he told the Monitor.

Anderson moved to the Austin area two years ago to be near family and friends, and began to consider a run last fall. Among his motivations for joining the District 5 race are the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade; the local, state and federal response to the monkeypox outbreak; and the other candidates.

“I saw the challenges before the city, I saw the state of things in the country, and I looked at who was running, and in my mind I think I can do a better job and have more to offer,” Anderson said. “That’s what compelled me to jump in the race.”

A member of the queer community, Anderson spends time advocating for queer and trans children at the Texas Legislature. His primary issues if elected would be housing and climate resilience. He would advocate for expediting our regional timeline for reaching net-zero communitywide greenhouse gas emissions.

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