Austin Mayor stresses ‘once-in-a-century’ opportunity in State of the City speech

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin Mayor Steve Adler emphasized the need for the city to take bold action in his 2020 State of the City address.

On the challenges of 2020, the Mayor said “we look to a future, precisely because it is uncertain, that provides us a once-in-a-century opportunity to no longer be bound by who we were a year ago.”

The speech comes with a public health crisis and civil unrest looming in the background. Adler made several references to systematic racism and how it has affected issues like homelessness, public health and transit policy.

On Austin Police budget

No issue has galvanized the community in 2020 like police reform. Calls for dramatic changes to policing were sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and locally, Mike Ramos.

As Austin’s Fiscal Year 2020 – 2021 budget adoption process draws closer, city council members are sharing their ideas for budget amendments.

We reported that Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison proposed a new idea to her colleagues Tuesday: approving a budget for Austin Police for six months, then return as a council to reevaluate and roll out a more informed proposal to make significant changes the department.

Adler echoed this idea in Wednesday’s address. He proposed taking more than $100 million from the Austin Police Department and putting it in a ‘transition budget.’

He said that would include departments like the Forensics lab, 911 dispatch, internal affairs and victim services.

After the six months, Austin City Council would have to approve expenditures for these departments while longer-term changes were being made.

“Why is it that we expect our police officers to be our first option in responding to mental health disruptions? It seems that too many of these police calls don’t go well,” said Adler.

Adler also said he doesn’t see how APD’s November cadet class could go on as planned.

“I believe the Academy curriculum lacks sufficient confidence in the community that it will move police personnel to the kind of culture and approach most desire,” said Adler.

Speaking on the department leadership, Adler said the city needs a ‘champion for change.’ He later told reporters that was not a call for Chief Brian Manley’s resignation.

Restitution for slavery

Adler says he wants Austin to take ownership of its racist history and policies.

While few details are available, Adler is asking council members and the community to begin planning a restitution initiative.

In his speech, he referenced similar initiatives in Asheville, Providence, Durham and Tulsa.

Adler also said he’s calling on Congress to create a national program of restitution for descendants of slaves.

“We have to acknowledge the roadblocks to prosperity for people of color in Austin were set intentionally and their impacts will be felt for generations unless we act,” he said.

On Project Connect

Mayor Adler said the community needs to acknowledge major transportation projects in the past have deepened inequality.

The Austin City Council has unanimously approved a massive transit project that will go on the November election ballot. Voters will have to decide if they want to pay for it.

Project Connect would add several light rail routes in the city, with an underground tunnel downtown.

The $7 billion project would be funded in large part by a property tax increase. If voters approve it, homeowners would expect to pay hundreds of dollars more in property taxes every year.

In his speech, Adler added that many people of color live on the rail lines proposed in Project Connect.

“Project Connect is not just a transformative mobility program for our region,” said Adler. “It represents a generational investment in more just and equitable access to opportunity for whole swaths of our community who live in transportation deserts.”

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