Alison Alter and Sheri Gallo face off in Austin City Council District 10 candidate forum

District 10 council candidates Alison Alter and incumbent Council Member Sheri Gallo took questions from residents in a public forum held at City Hall on Tuesday. The two are set to face off in a runoff election on Dec. 13.

District 10 council candidates Alison Alter and incumbent Council Member Sheri Gallo took questions from residents in a public forum held at City Hall on Tuesday. The two are set to face off in a runoff election on Dec. 13.

Sheri Gallo, District 10 City Council candidate Sheri Gallo, District 10 City Council candidate[/caption]

Alison Alter, District 10 City Council candidate Alison Alter, District 10 City Council candidate[/caption]

In anticipation of next month’s runoff election, District 10 Austin City Council candidates Alison Alter and incumbent Sheri Gallo answered questions from the public during a candidate forum held Tuesday night at City Hall.

The two candidates will face off in a runoff election Dec. 13. Alter and Gallo were the two top vote-getters in the Nov. 8 general election, but neither candidate—Gallo with 48 percent and Alter with 36 percent of the votes—was able to earn more than 50 percent of the popular vote, forcing a runoff election.

The City of Austin Ethics Review Commission hosted the forum, which was moderated by the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan voter advocacy organization. Alter and Gallo each answered questions submitted to the moderator from the public.

The issues ranged from mixed-use development project The Grove at Shoal Creek and aging infrastructure as well as the city’s fight against homelessness and the neighborhood’s role in the city’s rewrite of the land development code. The candidates answered 11 questions in all, below are four main issues that were addressed.

  1. Should the size of commercial development at The Grove at Shoal Creek be reduced? Why or why not?

Gallo: Gallo said the benefit of having a planned unit development like The Grove is that the city has the opportunity to ask the developer to pay “more than their fair share” to fix and help improve traffic in the area.

The incumbent council member said she hopes the mediation between the two sides—the Bull Creek Coalition and the AGR Bull Creek Ltd.—goes well because the situation has “pitted neighbor against neighbor.”

“That is not a good environment of growth for our city, so my hope is that all the different voices … will come together and figure out a balanced solution to this so we can end with development that does fit the character of the neighborhood and provides additional benefits that specific to the opportunities you have with a [planned unit development],” Gallo said.

Alter: “The commercial amounts of square footage on this site should be reduced,” Alter said. “The only way I see the mediation being successful is by reducing the commercial footprint.”

Alter said that when the city considered buying the property years ago, it concluded that large amounts of commercial development would be hard to construct because of the traffic such development would generate.

“You don’t have to pay to fix traffic you don’t generate in the first place,” Alter said. “We need to absolutely reduce the amount of commercial that will be part of this development so that we can reduce the traffic.”

  1. Increased density in the urban core puts greater pressure on aging storm water drainage systems. If the problem persists, severe storms will cause flooding—what should be done about this?

Alter: “We have to invest in our infrastructure and we need to find funds to invest and we need to make decisions when we grow to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to handle that growth moving forward,” Alter said. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of concern on the other side for making sure that we adequately plan for changes that come with climate change and the changes that come with that kind of development.”

Alter said that a focus of the Trump administration seems to be investments in infrastructure and that Austin should try to put itself at the forefront of that conversation and be in a good place to receive funding for the city’s needed water infrastructure.

Gallo: “One thing we need to do as we talk about the budget and we talk about spending is that we are prioritizing the core services of our city, and aging infrastructure should be one of those core services that we are doing with our tax dollars,” Gallo said.

The incumbent said it is difficult to fund infrastructure improvements in the budget because those discussions are more “mundane” than the needs of children, food services and parks. She said the city needs to look for ways to wrap infrastructure improvements into larger development projects.

  1. Homelessness is a growing problem in Austin and highlights a great need for mental health services in this population. How will you solve this?

Gallo: Gallo said homelessness is an “interesting” issue to address because people are homeless for different reasons. She broke the homeless population down into three categories: those who are homeless because of financial issues; those who are homeless because they want to be on the streets; and those who are homeless because of mental health issues.

Gallo said the city would have the most success helping those who are homeless because of financial hardship but that a focus needs to be put on improving mental health services in the city. She said the city has public-private partnerships that need to continue as a joint effort is necessary to fight against homelessness.

Alter: “I believe in a housing first policy, we need to make sure we are providing the opportunity for the homeless to find housing and we need to provide the wraparound services they need to transition their lives,” Alter said.

Alter went on to say the city could work more with the nonprofit organizations in the city that are fighting the problem of homelessness. She also said she would like to see linkage fees charged to developers. That money would then be used to construct affordable housing in the city and shelters for the homeless.

  1. How big of a role should neighborhood associations play in the rewrite of the city’s land development code (CodeNEXT)?

Alter: “We don’t yet know what CodeNEXT is going to say or how it is going to rule on those neighborhood plans,” Alter said. “There is a big concern on how there is a rush to grow and how CodeNEXT will facilitate that at the expense of the neighborhoods without them having a say in this process.”

Alter said there has been a request to reopen Imagine Austin, the city’s comprehensive plan, and look specifically at West Austin for development of neighborhood and regional centers.

“It is going to be important to me as a council member to make sure my district and members of my district are very active in the discussion to shape that because that will shape ho development takes place in West Austin.

 Gallo: “I am certainly committed for the standpoint of District 10 [in the CodeNEXT process],” Gallo said. “I … publish a weekly newsletter and we put in that newsletter opportunities for public participation so that we make sure that our citizens and our community in District 10 understands the opportunities to come forward and help with the process.”

Gallo said public participation is going to be a central piece of the CodeNEXT process over the next year and that she will make sure District 10 residents are involved.

“They need to be—it needs to be a result that is an agreement between all of the pieces of our community so that we can move forward when we have development [and growth] issues,” Gallo said.