Q&A: 4 newcomers vying for Austin City Council District 2 seat weigh in on pandemic response, food access, public safety

Four candidates are running to replace Delia Garza for the Austin City Council District 2 seat. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Four candidates are running to replace Delia Garza for the Austin City Council District 2 seat. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Four candidates are running to replace Delia Garza for the Austin City Council District 2 seat. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Community Impact Newspaper asked the four Austin City Council District 2 candidates the same five questions, which cover topics from food access to public safety, and limited answers to 75 words. The candidates' answers are printed verbatim. Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and closes Oct. 30.




AUSTIN



Austin City Council District 2










David Chincanchan



Occupation: Community organizer and former Austin City Council chief of staff


Age: 30


Years lived in Austin: 24






The District 2 community, home to many front-line workers and a large Hispanic population, has been especially impacted by the coronavirus. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents? Be specific.




DC: I will continue working to improve access to low-barrier testing and quality, affordable healthcare through community-based solutions and new clinics in underserved areas. I’ll work to expand investments to stabilize childcare centers, improve food access programs, and bridge the digital divide. I’ll push for needed relief for workers and small businesses including direct assistance and labor protections to keep people safe. We need culturally competent outreach to inform folks about their rights and available resources.




The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.




DC: We need to do all we can to mitigate the damage being caused by the pandemic and the neglect of the federal and state administrations. We must protect our most vulnerable through eviction protections, direct assistance, and stabilizing childcare providers and businesses with grants and loans. We must build a better normal and prioritize equity and opportunity by building pathways of opportunity through deeper workforce development investments and stronger worker protections.




Food access and insecurity have long been issues in Southeast Austin. As a council member, what will you do to address food deserts in your district and lower food insecurity? Be specific.




DC: I was raised in Dove Springs and understand firsthand the devastating impact of food insecurity on our community’s health. I support short-term efforts such as the funding of caregiver meals at local schools, community gardens, and pop-up markets, as well as longer-term, permanent solutions, such as the utilization of City land and incentives for the creation of grocery stores and resilient food systems in Southeast Austin.




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?




DC: Yes, this moment calls for urgent action to build institutions of justice that recognize the dignity and humanity of our entire community and are built on foundations of trust, transparency, and accountability. We must strengthen independent civilian oversight, divert appropriate emergency calls to qualified responders, and require rigorous screening and training as part of hiring and promotion decisions. I will work tirelessly to invest in programs that enhance community wellness, prevent violence, and reduce harm.




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




DC: At Council, I was proud to help move forward the single largest successful affordable housing bond in Austin’s history. And I support expanding our affordable housing and anti-displacement investments to better protect and serve working families. I support aligning our code with the City’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice and revising it to help create more opportunities for affordable and workforce housing that supports our public transportation network.












Vanessa Fuentes



Occupation: Community health organizer


Age: 34


Years lived in Austin: 15






The District 2 community, home to many front-line workers and a large Hispanic population, has been especially impacted by the coronavirus. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents? Be specific.




VF: This pandemic has magnified what many in our community have already known. There are deep structural inequities in Austin. We must improve and promote access to public health, healthcare, and social services, which will help make our communities of color and working-class Austinites more resilient to COVID-19 and future adversity.




The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.




VF: Our working class families have borne the brunt of COVID-19 and we must prioritize this community as we recover. We should review our current city expenditures to see how we can tweak these programs to help. We need leaders who do more than talk about recovery. As the virus hit our community, I rolled up my sleeves and helped organize the first PPE distributions in Dove Springs and Del Valle.




Food access and insecurity have long been issues in Southeast Austin. As a council member, what will you do to address food deserts in your district and lower food insecurity? Be specific.




VF: I’m passionate about food justice. As a former director with the American Heart Association, I have experience combating food insecurity through policy change in communities across the country and in Austin. I’m currently organizing with the Del Valle community to address the food deserts. When elected, I intend to continue advocating for a healthy food financing initiative to establish a grocery co-op, in addition to community gardens, to help address food insecurity.




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?




VF: We need to reimagine how we deliver public safety in order to better get at the root causes of crime. This includes investing more in mental health services, domestic violence prevention, and robust youth services. City Council has a role in ensuring the safety of our neighborhoods. I will focus on ensuring that this city continues to be safe for all residents and I believe that includes reimagining how we deliver public safety.




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




VF: When I moved to Austin 15 years ago, you could get an apartment on Riverside [Drive] for $400, all bills paid. We must focus on creating affordable housing options for all levels of income while protecting the affordable housing we have now. There should be a place in this city for all families, regardless of their income level. I believe we need more types of housing in areas of Austin that have the necessary infrastructure.












Casey Ramos



Occupation: Educator and former professional athlete


Age: 31


Years lived in Austin: 31






The District 2 community, home to many front-line workers and a large Hispanic population, has been especially impacted by the coronavirus. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents? Be specific.




CR: To ensure our residents are safe we need to educate them on safe practices for COVID-19, Healthy Living, and Interaction with Law Enforcement, as well as provide them with the necessary resources to do so. I propose a Community Safety Program that includes intense information and resource distribution through partnerships with the City of Austin, Local Grocery Stores, Central Health, and APD.




The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.




CR: For short term relief I propose we distribute the funds transferred from the police to struggling local businesses, essential workers, and those affected by COVID-19. For long term relief I propose a pair of infrastructure bonds that are shovel ready. A Public Works Trust Fund and an Income-Based Housing Trust Fund. The bonds will serve high needs for housing and flood relief while stimulating the economy as all contracts will be awarded locally.




Food access and insecurity have long been issues in Southeast Austin. As a council member, what will you do to address food deserts in your district and lower food insecurity? Be specific




CR: We need to entice as many Local Grocers, Nation-Wide Grocers, Food Vendors, Co-ops, and any other local food sources to come to our district through partnerships with DVISD, the City of Austin, and food distribution centers like US Foods, CISCO, and Benny Keith. One HEB will not save our area. With such a diverse district, we need diverse sources of food. All of this will encourage competition while keeping the cost of food low.




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?




CR: While I agree we sorely need police reform, I do not agree with how the city proposed we do so. As a city that just reached one million people inside the city limit, we need a strong police force. A swift cut of funds will only weaken them. Now instead of focusing on bridging the social gap with the community, they won't have the resources necessary to have proper communication and interaction with the public.




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




CR: In addition to the proposed Public Works Trust Fund and Income-Based Housing Trust Fund, I propose we en state a fully funded Anti-Displacement Program that will ensure we support preserving and expanding low and moderate income housing through rehabilitation, new construction of modest homes, home-owner tax exemptions, community land trusts and expanded opportunities for home ownership and short-term rental properties.












Alexander Strenger



Occupation: Entrepreneur and pedicab driver


Age: 34


Years lived in Austin: 7






The District 2 community, home to many front-line workers and a large Hispanic population, has been especially impacted by the coronavirus. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents? Be specific.




AS: 94% of all covid deaths had pretty existing conditions. That's a clear indicator that we need a lifestyle change. District 2 is filled with food deserts, while our grocery stores are filled with junk food and mystery meat. We need to incentivize grocery stores to put affordable, healthy and non-processed foods on the shelves. We also need to start collaborating with our sustainable farms to provide healthy food options for kids in AISD and DVISD.




The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district? Be specific.




AS: We need to reopen immediately. Our small businesses are bleeding and the only way that they have a shot at staying afloat is for people to frequent them plain and simple. We also need to do a better job of how we allocate our funds. Instead of a multi-billion dollar bond for Project Connect, perhaps we could offer financial relief to those in the service industry, specifically bars and live music venues.




Food access and insecurity have long been issues in Southeast Austin. As a council member, what will you do to address food deserts in your district and lower food insecurity? Be specific.




AS: This ties into my answer to question one . We need to offer financial incentives to grocery stores in order to put affordable healthy meals on the shelves. We also need to partner up with our sustainable farms in order to offer healthy meals to kids in AISD and DVISD. Town halls in order to teach people about sustainable farming should also be looked into, considering the amount of open space and single-family homes in D2.




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?




AS: We need meaningful police reform for the safety of our community and officers. All allegations of police misconduct need to be subjected to an independent, objective review board. Proficiency and consistent training in a wrestling based martial art need to be required in order to minimize the use of excessive and deadly force. APD officers need to be EMT certified since they are often first on scene of an accident.




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




AS: We need to double the homestead tax exemption and we also need to limit many of the burdensome regulations that homeowners face when making improvements on their property. If developers build above the density bonus, then they need to allocate affordable housing at 30-50% MFI for artists, musicians, students, teachers, healthcare workers, city employees, and blue collar professionals.






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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