City Council candidates for Southeast Austin District 2 speak on how to address the area’s food deserts

From left: District 2 candidates include Alex Strenger, David Chincanchan and Vanessa Fuentes. (Courtesy ATXN)
From left: District 2 candidates include Alex Strenger, David Chincanchan and Vanessa Fuentes. (Courtesy ATXN)

From left: District 2 candidates include Alex Strenger, David Chincanchan and Vanessa Fuentes. (Courtesy ATXN)

With Election Day 6 1/2 weeks away, three candidates running to represent Southeast Austin on City Council gathered virtually Sept. 16 to unpack their positions on some of the area’s most pressing issues.

Candidates David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes and Alex Strenger joined moderator Carol Eckelkamp from the League of Women Voters for the nonpartisan organization’s first virtual City Council candidate panel of the election season. Casey Ramos, who has filed to run for the seat, was absent from the discussion.

Over the course of an hour, the trio answered 10 questions from Eckelkamp that touched on the nuances of city’s southeastern District 2. The candidates come from a range of backgrounds. Chincanchan, 30, grew up in Dove Springs and has spent nearly the last decade in local politics, from Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s congressional campaigns to City Council officers. Fuentes, a 33-year-old Texas native, spent the last six years focused on health care policies and access with the American Heart Association. The 34-year-old Strenger works as a pedicab driver in Austin and ran for mayor in 2018.

District 2 has a variety of unique issues. Much of the area is categorized as a food desert, meaning residents do not live within reasonable proximity to a grocery store. Eckelkamp focused on food access. She noted H-E-B bought land in Southeast Austin back in 2016 as part of the 7 million-square-foot Velocity mixed-use development but that the supermarket chain has recently said it has no plans of putting a store in Southeast Austin anytime soon.

Strenger said the city should have been tougher in demanding a timeline for a grocery store before providing the development permits for the project. He noted the disparity he said he has seen in food options between the H-E-B near William Cannon and I-35, toward the western edge of District 2, and the H-E-Bs in wealthier parts of town, such as the Mueller development. He said the city had to be more proactive in incentivizing local, sustainable farms to bring healthier produce options to Southeast Austin grocery stores and schools and proposed town halls for the area that teach people how to sustainably grow their own food.


Chincanchan said, as a Dove Springs native, he was familiar with the lack of food access and blamed “decades and decades of institutional neglect” that have left the community vulnerable to unhealthy conditions. He pointed to his experience working with the local Women, Infants and Children program that works with the most food insecure populations and said as City Council staffer with District 3 City Council Member Pio Renteria he worked to improve food access to East and Southeast Austin. He called food insecurity “one of my top priorities.”

Fuentes called food access a top priority and said she worked on “food justice” and improving food access not just locally but across the state during her time with the American Heart Association. Fuentes said she has been working with the Del Valle Community Coalition to pressure H-E-B to break ground on the grocery store within the Velocity development. She told Community Impact Newspaper that pressure increased when H-E-B committed $1 million to addressing racial inequity in June but still failed to commit to the Southeast Austin store.

Fuentes criticized H-E-B’s formula of “waiting for an arbitrary number of rooftops” and said, as a City Council member, should would push for a co-op model of grocery stores for the area, which she said would empower the community.

Residents can watch the full video of the candidate Q&A. Election Day is Nov. 3, and early voting runs from Oct. 13-30.
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.


MOST RECENT

Photo of boarded-up Sixth Street bars
With COVID-19 projections 'bleak' through Thanksgiving, Travis County keeps bars closed

Statistical models from the University of Texas show a 92% chance the pandemic is worsening, but the increase in cases and hospitalizations have leveled off in the last few days.

Slab BBQ owner Raf Robinson said the payroll protection program saved his restaurant. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
'I just need to pay the rent:' Austin small businesses in survival mode are doing everything in their power to outlast the pandemic

From selling inventory to flipping their business models to changing a yoga studio into a coworking space, small business owners are trying to avoid adding their names to the growing list of locally owned Austin institutions that have shut down.

Burnet Road at West Braker Lane
Corridor projects along South Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road will break ground by early 2021

Two corridor roadway projects approved in the city of Austin’s 2016 Mobility Bond are moving forward after recently receiving environmental clearances.

Screen shot of a Zoom board meeting
Dripping Springs ISD Superintendent Todd Washburn resigns; Brett Springston is named interim replacement

Less than a year after he was hired, Superintendent Todd Washburn is departing Dripping Springs ISD.

An "I Voted" sticker is left outside the Northwest Recreation Center in Austin, one of 37 early voting polling places open in Travis County. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than half of all Travis County voters have cast their ballots, exceeding early voting turnout percentage in 2016

More than 448,000 votes have been cast in Travis County. Early voting closes on Oct. 30.

Austin ISD trustees met Oct. 26, discussing in-person learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Twice as many Austin elementary students have returned to campus compared to first day of in-person instruction, district says

Austin ISD will open its campuses to accommodate all students who request in-person instruction beginning Nov. 2.

Capital Metro released new renderings Oct. 26 of its proposed Project Connect expansion, which voters will decide Nov. 3. This rendering shows a Blue Line light rail train at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Rendering courtesy Capital Metro)
In final week of early voting, here is what Austin residents should know about Project Connect

The proposition appears as a 237-word block of text near the end of the ballot but boils down to a simple question: Are voters for or against a significant expansion of local public transportation, paid for in part with property tax funds?

Photo of the facade of the Dripping Springs ISD administraton building
Dripping Springs ISD to discuss superintendent's potential resignation

An item on the board of trustee's Oct. 26 meeting agenda indicates consideration of a resignation agreement for Superintendent Todd Washburn.

Alex Wu (left) and Kevin Tran stand, social distanced, outside of Bao'd Up in Sunset Valley. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Bao'd Up owners hope to make the traditional Chinese steamed buns a household name in Austin

The local chain has four locations, including one in Sunset Valley. Owner Alex Wu said as the franchise continues to grow, he hopes in a few years he will no longer have to explain what bao is.

Scott Friedeck, owner of The Graphic Guitar Guys, started working with guitars in 2011. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dripping Springs small business owner Scott Friedeck got his big break in the music industry from George Strait

Friedeck's business, The Graphic Guitar Guys, creates custom wraps for guitars for artists to sell as merchandise.

East West Manufacturing will retain 30 jobs and create an additional 30 new jobs for a total of 60 full-time jobs in Round Rock over five years, according to an economic incentive agreement signed Oct. 22. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Round Rock to add 60 jobs and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.