In crowded race for Austin City Council District 10, candidates discuss housing policy, Lions Municipal Golf Course, public safety

Incumbent Alison Alter faces six challengers in her bid for a second consecutive term on Austin City Council. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Incumbent Alison Alter faces six challengers in her bid for a second consecutive term on Austin City Council. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Incumbent Alison Alter faces six challengers in her bid for a second consecutive term on Austin City Council. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Community Impact Newspaper asked six Austin City Council District 10 candidates the same five questions, which cover topics from public safety and housing to the fate of Lions Municipal Golf Course, and limited the candidates' answers to 75 words. Community Impact Newspaper was unable to reach the race's seventh candidate, Noel Tristan. The candidates' answers are printed verbatim. Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and closes Oct. 30.



Austin City Council District 10










Alison Alter



Occupation: Austin City Council member; former small-business owner and educator


Age: 49


Years lived in Austin: 9






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



AA: I co-led the creation of the City’s COVID-19 financial assistance programs for local businesses, nonprofits, and childcare centers. We must do more. I’ll continue to champion investments in our businesses so they can stabilize and recover from this pandemic, including additional loans, grants and exploring flexible property tax options. I recognize the city alone cannot finance the type of aid necessary to address this crisis, so I will continue to advocate for state [and] federal investments.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



AA: I’ll listen to our health experts and be guided by science. I’ll continue to champion rapid and accessible testing, PPE distribution and temporary lodging facilities for workers exposed to COVID who cannot safely isolate at home. I’ve led efforts to make child care available for essential workers, and I’m proud to be endorsed by our city’s civilian employees union, AFSCME, and our EMS Association because of my commitment to the health and safety of our workforce.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is the ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



AA: I’ve worked hard to preserve Muny for future generations of Austinites. I will never support the development of Muny, and I believe we have the tools and partners to secure Muny’s future as a publicly accessible green space. Private philanthropic entities, such as the Muny Conservancy, or partnerships with the Save Historic Muny District, ideally, will allow us to secure the space, renovate the course and make historically appropriate updates to the clubhouse.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



AA: I believe Austin can root out racism and ensure public safety. I’ve worked on police reform since 2017—I’ve focused on increasing accountability and oversight through our police contract. I helped create our Office of Police Oversight, improved our sexual assault response system and proposed our newly adopted Office of Violence Prevention. I’ll keep fighting for officers to be well-trained and support strategies that prevent crime and violence in the first place.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



AA: I opposed CodeNEXT because it favored special interests, not housing affordability. I’ve pushed for developers to contribute more toward affordable housing and their infrastructure demands. I’ve successfully increased the general and senior homestead exemption to help address housing affordability. I’ll keep fighting to ensure developers pay their fair share and to champion public investments in affordable housing. We can add housing that is targeted to transit corridors and “centers,” like the Domain and Downtown.









Ben Easton



Occupation: writer and teacher


Age: 61


Years lived in Austin: 17




Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



BE: I say, "Reopen the city!" Like most of North America, the mayor and City Council massively overreacted to the COVID-19 “pandemic.” Danger exists only to those on the margins of health, and we are all responsible for our own well-being. The vast majority are not adversely affected—physically—by the virus. Unfortunately, we are ALL adversely affected by the absurd "shutdown" mentality. Let’s mitigate the number of impending bankruptcies by immediately reopening the economy.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



BE: It is neither my responsibility as a regular citizen, nor as a potential council member, to “ensure” your safety regarding normal personal health issues, which is how I regard COVID-19. Perhaps slightly more virulent and contagious than typical annual strains of influenza, this is not a genuine catastrophic health situation. Therefore, government ought to withdraw ASAP. Authorities have injected fear into the public to cash in on victimhood—for future power, influence, and votes.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is THE ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



BE: Muny is owned by UT, an extremely wealthy quasigovernmental entity. I would argue that UT ought to gift the property to the City, which presently leases it. In return, the City and state will continue to treat UT like the “special child” it is, and it will continue to receive all the special considerations it has always received—by virtue of its fundamental philanthropic mission, which includes providing space for physical and spiritual recreation!



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



BE: The main function and purpose of legitimate government is to protect life, liberty and property. THAT is what the APD is all about. If and when a rogue officer breaks the law, he/she should be indicted, prosecuted and convicted. Simple as that. Otherwise, we ought to be RAISING the pay of these valuable public servants and providing them with even better, state-of-the-art equipment. Integrating better training methods and protocols is always a good approach.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



BE: During election season in Austin, “We need more affordable housing!” is one of the several battle cries of various victim groups. You won’t hear me whining about that. I believe in the FREE MARKET. When men and women trade value for value, build and create, and buy and sell, individual consumers and society at large always get—on average—the most efficient use of resources [and] the greatest variety of goods at the lowest cost.









Belinda Greene



Occupation: food service sales professional


Age: 42


Years lived in Austin: 14






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



BG: As a food service sales professional, I have experienced the struggles. Operating at 75% capacity with increased property taxes creates an untenable environment for small businesses. COVID was the nail in the coffin, but many of the closed businesses were already struggling with property taxes. I would encourage our community to safely patronize local businesses and the city [to] promote patio [and] sidewalk business without charging fees. I would not propose a tax increase during these times.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



BG: Employers and employees should be following the CDC and OSHA recommendations of keeping a safe distance, wearing masks and following appropriate sanitization protocols. Ensuring that all Austin citizens adhere to these recommendations is of the utmost importance. We will survive this together by all playing by the rules. The city should take whatever measures we can to open the city up safely and expeditiously.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is the ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



BG: Muny is a treasured green space for many Austinites. As the first desegregated golf course in the South, Muny has historical importance as well. I would like to see a private-public collaboration to preserve the course. $110 million is a hefty price for the city to pay; however, Muny Conservancy is a nonprofit organization actively raising funds to purchase the land from UT and to preserve it as a golf course and community green space.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



BG: The current police budget weakens the police force without addressing the real issues. I would immediately reinstate the cadet class. I support better training at all stages of a police officer’s career, including training that focuses on social outreach with more positive community engagement. I support the review and understanding of what can be removed from APD’s duties so they focus specifically on public safety.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



BG: We can start with controlling property taxes. I will push to increase the homestead exemption to the full 20% allowed. Identifying areas of Austin where we can add density and housing while preserving property rights is essential. We cannot place one-size-fits-all zoning policies on the entire city. I support working with developers who use the federal housing tax credit program. This federally funded program encourages private-public partnerships.









Pooja Sethi



Occupation: Attorney


Age: 41


Years lived in Austin: 8






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



PS: As a small-business owner and Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce Policy Committee member, I recognize the importance of a strong economic recovery plan. I would prioritize small business grants; execute more citywide outreach to inform local businesses about local, state and federal loan programs; create partnerships with local businesses and larger companies to encourage buying local; and collaborate with local restaurants and arts programs to utilize city spaces for retail and performance spaces.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



PS: As COVID continues, it will be critical to have robust and little to no cost testing, especially in communities disproportionately affected by COVID. We should have an emphasis on rapid testing to quickly identify potential cases. It will also be important that the city has an organized and efficient vaccine distribution program once a vaccine is available. We need planning for distribution as soon as possible. Finally, increased child care access in all communities is imperative.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is the ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



PS: The city should attempt to keep the course because of its history and community value. However, the high asking price will require the city to work with UT and the Save Muny Historic District. One option that will limit the impact on taxpayers is for the city to negotiate a land swap with UT; this could preserve Muny while giving UT more room for growth and the ability to expand housing for students, educators and staff.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



PS: Moving forward, we must commit to seeking community engagement as we reimagine public safety. I have developed a community center plan, available at www.poojaforaustin.com, that brings resources to the community to make our city safer and stronger, including emergency and mental health providers, property investigators, resources for women facing domestic violence and services for those experiencing homelessness. I would advocate for implicit bias training and continued professional development among our law enforcement.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



PS: Making Austin affordable is a priority—our city is the least livable U.S. city for minimum-wage workers. On City Council, I would support increasing affordable housing in collaboration with neighborhoods and AISD, increasing transit-oriented development with affordable housing, diverse building types and [accessory dwelling units] that align with any transit plans that we approve. I would also work to simplify and ease the city of Austin permitting process for homeowners, business owners and builders.









Robert Thomas



Occupation: attorney; businessman; community advocate


Age: 53


Years lived in Austin: 30






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



RT: Small businesses are the backbone to our economy. If we lose their creative ingenuity and fighting spirit, then we’ve lost one of the core pillars that make us who we are. The current council is more concerned with shutting businesses down rather than finding ways to for them to survive. We must have a common-sense approach to reopening our economy that focuses on recovery—not political theatrer.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



RT: A common-sense recovery plan is how we get Austin’s economy open safely again. Wearing masks is a great way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and will allow small businesses to reopen. We need City Council to work together and outline a common-sense approach that is focused on re-opening safely—not political grandstanding.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is the ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



RT: We need to renegotiate the contract and to maintain one of our city's landmarks. The current City Council would rather continue to kick the can down the road rather than dealing with the real problem. Working with the private sector to find philanthropic support for the course is possible if you make it a priority.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. Do you support this decision? As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



RT: Austin Police Department should not be defunded, period. Police, fire and EMS are the three pillars of any city’s emergency services obligations to its residents. There are indeed serious and systemic changes that need to happen in policing all across the country, including the Austin Police Department. However, defunding and disbanding critical functions within the police department, like the current council did, is a recipe for disaster. We can do better.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



RT: As Austin continues to grow, we must meet the needs of the day. I dealt with housing issues during my time in the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, where we focused on providing affordable housing and community-based opportunities to all Texans in need. We must have a commons-ense approach that isn’t beholden to special interests, cannot destroy our neighborhoods and doesn’t lead to property tax increases which drive families from their homes.









Jennifer Virden



Occupation: real estate broker; remodeling general contractor


Age: 53


Years lived in Austin: 53






Small businesses have suffered significantly since the city first issued a stay-home order in March. Countless local names, such as Magnolia Café, have had to permanently shut their doors. As a City Council member, what would be your plan to ensure more local businesses do not suffer the same fate?



JV: I would open this town for business. Let’s allow business owners to open their businesses as they see fit, and let’s allow the residents of Austin decide for themselves whether or not they want to patronize those businesses. Consumers vote with their dollars. These small, iconic businesses of Austin, Texas will all have to permanently shutter their doors forever if we do not give them a better chance to survive.



As the city switches into recovery mode, how would you ensure the safety of those who have continued to go to work and those who will be returning to work?



JV: First of all, we cannot ensure the safety of all workers in the city. We’re far enough into this pandemic now that Austinites know what the proper hygiene practices are to avoid spreading viruses, which include frequent hand-washing, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing and social distancing when one feels it’s appropriate. Austinites are capable of taking responsibility for their own safety and behaving accordingly.



The Lions Municipal Golf Course has been a pressure point in city politics over the last several years. What is the ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course, and how would you work as a City Council member to accomplish it?



JV: My ideal fate for the Lions Municipal Golf Course is that it remain a golf course. That property is owned by UT and leased by the city of Austin. UT has made it clear they need more value for Muny. One idea is for the [city] to offer increased zoning entitlements on other UT properties that UT intends to redevelop around the city in return for a renewed long-term lease of Muny to the city.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. Do you support this decision? As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



JV: I support fully funding community policing initiatives, which are proven to build rapport and reduce crime; City Council has repeatedly underfunded APD staffing in this regard. I do not support “defunding the police” of resources necessary to protect life and property. I don’t support canceling cadet classes, canceling open positions or having social workers solely respond to family disturbances.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How would you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



JV: Let the free market work without inefficient government meddling. We are fortunate to have an abundance of experienced and creative architects and builders in this city. What doesn’t help [are] the [city]’s incredibly cumbersome review and permitting processes; www.austintexas.gov/department/zucker-final-report-0. Further, in regard to improving affordability, increased fees assessed to builders by the city don't just "get absorbed by the builders"—those fees are passed directly on to the consumer, negatively affecting affordability.


By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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