Traffic, Gentrification, and Climate: What’s the State of the City?

Austin City Hall

“This coming year we choose what kind of future our children will face,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler during his State of the City Address on Tuesday evening. “It’s going to be a big year. This is the year we act deliberatively, affirmatively, and pro-actively to set ourselves on a course to meet the challenges of our future in a way that preserves who we are.”

Kind of like the State of the Union, but at the local level, Mayor Adler delivers this speech annually to reflect on highlights from the previous year and to lay out his agenda and goals for the future. During this year’s speech, he spoke a lot about this being a bit of turning point for Austin, one where we either rise to meet the challenges associated with our growth (traffic, gentrification, etc) or suffer the consequences.

Some of Adler’s biggest points revolved around:

CodeNEXT – Adler said that when it comes to CodeNEXT, the status quo (aka – the current code) is “our worst enemy” and that every effort must be made to pass a CodeNEXT that respects neighborhood identity and quality of life, while growing our housing supply along major corridors and increasing our stock of affordable housing. He also said that he hopes to see CodeNEXT passed this year.

Water – Adler took some time during this speech to draw people’s attention to Austin’s 100-year water plan, which is currently being worked on. He said that he’s hoping to see some strong and innovative recommendations coming out of this plan, including Aquifer Storage and Recovery and improvements to our reclaimed water system.

“The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining, and the time to prepare for the drought is when the lakes are full,” Adler said.

Climate – “And because we know that we and our children and grandchildren won’t have much of a future if we don’t halt man-made global warming, each of us – as residents of a city, a state, a nation, and the world — must do all we can to save our planet,” Adler said during his speech.

Adler continued on to reflect on some big climate-related initiatives Austin has implemented in recent years, including boosting our renewable energy goals to 65 percent by 2027.

Transportation – During his speech, Adler spoke with excitement about Capital Metro’s intentions to unveil a mass transit plan for the entire region later this year. “There might be nothing more important to the future of this city than these new visions for a better transportation future for our city and our region,” Adler said.

Equity – Adler took time during this speech to draw attention to some of Austin’s systemic inequities, including the fact that life expectancy is 10 years greater in West Austin than in East Austin.

In order to address these problems, Adler said that he is proud of his Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities Task Force, which has already provided racial equity training for 210 corporate, non-profit, government, education, and grassroots leaders in Austin. He also said that out of the task force’s 247 recommendations, 60 have been implemented and an additional 96 are underway or planned.

Taxes – Adler spent a good chunk of his speech discussing property taxes, which for the median-valued home in Austin, have gone up $1,408 in just five years. But, Adler said, most of this increase is coming from the state government, which collects a portion of the taxes we pay to our school district and uses them to help fund poorer districts throughout the state. In fact, Adler said, of that $1,408 tax increase, $1,023 has come from the State of Texas.

Adler expressed anger that the state government has tried in recent years to limit the amount of tax increases city governments can levy on their residents, while at the same time not fixing and appropriately funding the school finance system.


Components of a Property Tax Bill

photo from the City of Austin’s Budget Office

Adler ended his speech on a unifying note, calling on Austin to be a leader in helping the country to move past its problems and toward real solutions.

“Tonight, I’d like to propose that Austin has a rare opportunity to lead the way out of this mess,” Adler said. “Austin is emerging as a voice offering reason and progress in a world that isn’t getting enough of either these days. I fundamentally believe, that to move past this crisis point in politics we need to get better at listening to each other and speaking as if we are all bound together as Americans, Texans, and Austinites.”

You can watch all of Mayor Adler’s speech here.

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