AUSTIN, Texas — Between the public camping ban and the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a lot happening in Austin right now. Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Daybreak to discuss some of the hot issues in the city.
Below is an edited transcript of the mayor's conversation with KVUE's Rob Evans:
Rob Evans: I got to start with the homeless crisis. So many people are thinking about this and asking about this. We're in phase three of the camping ban. How do you feel it's going and what's next?
Austin Mayor Steve Adler: "Well, you know, the [city] manager is responsible now for implementing the vote and we all expect him to do that. He's doing it over time. But it was good to see the library just on the east side of I-35, that encampment go away. The encampment at Manchaca and Ben White go away, some of the tenting down on Cesar Chavez. So, I don't think it's moving fast enough for anyone, but it's happening.
The problem, of course, is there's not places for people to be able to go. That's why I'm really eager for the summit plan. That's the chamber and the Downtown Austin Alliance working with ECHO and Homes Not Handcuffs ... I want to see that plan get funded. It's moving forward. That's, that's the ultimate fix for the city long-term."
Evans: There are a lot of people, Mayor, who are upset right now at the possible locations, talking about the two locations that have been mentioned, home values. And people are saying, "It's just not fair. Tell us the plan." Yet, at the same time, these people need a place to go near, obviously, transportation so they can have a future. How hard is it to come up with this medium between the two and make everybody happy?
Adler: "You know, best I can tell from my experience here in the last several years is it's going to be really difficult. I'm not a big fan myself of sanctioned camp areas. I'd much rather be moving people into actual places. I think it's better for them and better for the rest of the community. At the same time, if the community wants to do things that are quick, then it's going to be that kind of thing. And while everybody seems to support that happening, no one seems to support it if it's going to be happening near them. Which makes that solution one that's really hard to come by."
Evans: But what do you have to say to those people? What should they do if they are unhappy with the idea of having it in their backyard?
Adler: "Well, the manager has proposed two locations in the city. And I think it's important that everybody weighs in at this point. How serious are we in wanting to have sanctioned camp areas? If we are, they have to be located somewhere. And everywhere that's been proposed has run into opposition. I think both the neighborhoods that want to oppose it and the rest of the city that wants to have places for people to go both need to be weighing in right now. Call the council offices, call the manager, call my office."
Evans: I'd love to talk more about that, but I got to ask you: we're coming up on the hottest part of the year, obviously, we just hit triple digits again. And without AC, without power, it can be deadly. We know that. What can the citizens of Austin [do], what can you do, what can [the] city council do to make sure that the power supply failures don't happen again? The grid gets tested. It's going to happen again. What can we do now?
Adler: "We need everybody to be really leaning on the governor's office and lieutenant governor's office and the statewide leaders. Those are the people that control the grid. Here in Austin with Austin Energy, as we saw during the snowstorm, we're keeping our assets in much better shape than most of them around the state. But the real changes that have to be made are to the grid itself, the way that we set up ERCOT. And I was disappointed the Legislature didn't do more this past session. That's where the pressure needs to be."
Evans: Moving on to the housing prices, which, oh boy, affordable housing: What can be done at this point, in the future, to keep this area affordable for the people who are working 9-to-5's and not coming in from out of town with all that extra cash?
Adler: "There are two ways to make things more affordable: You help make things cost less or you help people have more money to spend. And we need to be doing everything we can on both. You know, as long as we're an attractive city and more and more people move here, there's going to be greater and greater demand for the supply we have, which is going to send prices up.
We need to increase the supply of housing. I'm trying to work with my colleagues in the council to come up with some of the changes to the land development code that will be agreed in a consensus way by everybody or near everybody. We need to get that worked out. We also have to get more and more middle-skilled jobs in this city so that we have people in our city earning more so that they have more money to be able to spend."
Evans: Let's talk about the masking. Kids are going to school here in three weeks, I've got two kids going to school [who are] too young for the vaccine. What is your recommendation for the moms and dads out there right now?
Adler: "I tell you, if I had young kids going to school right now, I would be making sure that they wear masks. I'd be reaching out to my children's school to make sure that they knew I wanted my children wearing masks and they'll make sure that that happens. I also think the governor ought to be letting individual school districts make individual decisions for what those communities want. And until we have vaccinations for kids under 12, I think that school districts and communities ought to be able to have the ability to be able to do more virtual learning – if that's what they want to do. But I think that everyone at school – vaccinated, unvaccinated, teachers, guests – they should all be wearing masks at school."
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