I looked for an online version of this letter from Mayor Adler but couldn’t readily find it. So I decided to post it.
I don’t know about you, but I think we Austinites have a lot to be thankful for, as we close out 2015. Sure, there’s much more to do. And, we can begin that work tomorrow. But, today, we should reflect on the good things going on.
“Thank you” to the mayor, city council, and the city of Austin (and surrounding city jurisdictions) staff & management, for the leadership and public service provided. Let’s keep working to make the greater Austin area a shining city, welcoming to all.
Here’s Mayor Adler’s 2015 year-end letter – enjoy!
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Dear Rebecca & Steve,
We did it. Thanks to all your help, we were able to find housing for 200 homeless veterans in Austin. Along the way, we created a new way to attack this problem and eliminated the waiting list for homeless veterans to get help. Great cities do big things, and this is a very, very big thing. Good job, Austin.
At the beginning of the year, there were 234 homeless veterans in Austin. When I took up this challenge in May, there were 200 remaining without homes. By Veterans Day, we still needed 118 homes for these heroes. Thanks to your overwhelming support –as well as the tireless work of homeless advocates and the Austin Apartment Association – we found the last of those 200 homes this week.
Before we tackled this problem, homeless advocates never imagined they could catch up to the sheer number of homeless veterans because they were working alone. I want to personally thank the Austin Apartment Association for making this fight their own and helping eliminate the waiting list and getting so many homeless veterans into permanent housing.
And, of course, the biggest thanks goes to the folks who had been trying to house the homeless for so long without much help, most notably Ann Howard, Executive Director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO. We’ve said all along that it takes heroes to house these heroes. The good people who make up ECHO are the secret heroes of this story.
Thank you so much for helping make this happen. I am grateful to be the Mayor of a city that can meet big challenges. We’ve got a lot on our table in 2016 to deal with our traffic and affordability issues, but if we can make real progress on an issue that people used to think was hopeless, then is there anything we can’t do?
I don’t think so, and I can’t wait to get going in 2016. Happy New Year.
PS – Housing homeless veterans is not all we accomplished this year. Great cities do big things, and we did a lot of big things this year. In addition, the following actions were taken in 2015:
• Created a homestead property tax exemption, saving homeowners a total of $3.5 million, with an intent to increase the exemption to 20 percent over the next few years
• Cut the city property tax rate from 48.09 cents per $100 to 45.89 cents, saving the average homeowner roughly $14 a year
• While reducing the tax burden on homeowners, added 50 new police officers, secured $3 million for body cameras for 500 officers, and increased spending for health and human services by $7 million and parks by more than $3 million
• Increased senior and disabled property tax exemption from $70,000 to $80,000, a total tax cut of $1.6 million
• Cut utility bills for Austin Energy residential customers by an average of $3.33 a month
• Increased living wage for city employees from $11.39 an hour to $13.03 an hour
• Worked with CM Garza to negotiate an agreement with the Pilot Knob Planned Unit Development developer that includes the addition of approximately 1,000 affordable housing units including 650 permanently affordable houses with no additional city spending, setting a new benchmark for the city’s SMART Housing program
• Established a TIF for Homestead Preservation District A, and, with CM Renteria’s Committee, created three additional Homestead Preservation Districts (B, C & D) with Public Hearings, creating the first homestead preservation districts in Texas that leverage growth to pay for affordable housing in those neighborhoods where growth threatens to displace residents
• Supported effort by MPT Tovo to strengthen the affordable housing requirements for planned unit development
• Won a compromise that would make accessory dwellings (AKA granny flats) easier to build along transit corridors, increasing affordable housing opportunities while respecting neighborhood character
• Initiated legal action to ensure an appraisal process that is fair to homeowners and aligned with the Texas Constitution
• Initiated development of new rules to assist low-income tenants when developers plan to demolish apartment complexes where they live
• With CM Casar, passed resolution directing fair housing as part of CodeNext, which will increase the number of affordable housing options for Austinites
• Passed resolution calling on City Manager to implement permitting recommendations to expedite the review process and streamline approvals, which would make remodeling more affordable and feasible for homeowners and small business owners and decrease construction costs
• As part of the Spirit of East Austin, ordered a survey of surplus properties to make better use of public resources
• Recalibrated drainage fees so that utility bills did not unfairly burden renters
• Leveraged private sector and philanthropy to assist nonprofits in housing homeless veterans
• Passed CAMPO 2040, a regional, long-range transportation plan that includes investments in new roads, traffic management, several MetroRapid bus routes and commuter rail to get people out of cars on congested roadways and into mass transit
• Won national competition for Rocky Mountain Institute mobility transformation and named lead implementation city for RMI’s global mobility transformation initiative to find innovative and holistic solutions to congestion
• Collaborated with Google to establish Austin as first test city for autonomous vehicles outside of their headquarters
• The City Manager implemented the Traffic Congestion Action Plan (T-CAP), resulting in the following achievements:
- Among the intersections that were a part of the City’s Don’t Block the Box initiative, there were 5 intersections that experienced a blockage during at least 10% of the cycles with an average blockage of 32% of the time. While officers were station at these intersections, the blockage percentage was cut in half to 16% of the time. The two intersections for which we have after data shows that the blockages percentage increased to 22% after officers stopped enforcement.
- Retimed a third of the signals, resulting in 15% reduction in travel times and 40% reduction in stops.
• Voted to approve $20 million to improve the intersection of the 51st Street and IH-35 to increase safety and mobility and reduce congestion
• Voted for $54.5 million in traffic improvements at IH-35 & Oltorf to increase mobility
• City of Austin achieved ambitious milestone goal for employee peak-hour commute reduction and now working toward goal of 30% reduction underway. Movability Austin worked with multiple downtown employers to reduce their employees’ commute trips, or shift them to transit/bike/walk trips; new Transportation Demand Management program launched at ATD; new Smart Trips Program to encourage people to sue active transportation options, being piloted with people in the Rundberg/N. Lamar area.
• Led smooth transition from at-large seats to 10-1 system while increasing public engagement
• Made appointments to boards and commissions and staff in the Mayor’s Office that reflect the city’s demographics
• Created the position of Education Outreach Coordinator in the Mayor’s Office to enhance collaboration between local schools and the city
• Created new City Council committees to allow for more meaningful public discussion
• Created Council Transition Work group to recommend improvements to the Council committee system
• Banned dark money in local campaigns to increase transparency in city elections
• Reformed regulations of lobbyists to close loopholes to increase accountability and transparency in city government
• Established Departmental Review Process modeled after the Texas Sunset Commission to identify improvements and efficiencies and to increase and deepen Council engagement on the budget
• Reduced fee waivers to SXSW, saving Austin taxpayers $230,000 over last year, while increasing police presence throughout Austin during the three-week-long festival in 2016
• Initiated regular meetings with regional mayors to discuss opportunities for collaboration
• To make city government more inclusive, printed Spirit of East Austin communications in Vietnamese in addition to Spanish and English.
• In Paris, signed the Under MOU 2 agreement with local governments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, providing leadership on climate change
• Authorized with the City Council the purchase of 400 to 450 megawatts of solar power and to solicit bids to purchase or build another 150 MW of solar by the end of 2019. Austin Energy signed purchase power agreements for an initial 288 MW of solar as part of the Council authorization to negotiate for 400 to 450 MW. The agreements position Austin Energy to be among the biggest users of solar power in Texas
• Passed an ordinance to increase reuse and recycling of materials from construction and demolition projects. Beginning Oct. 1, 2016, the Construction and Demolition Recycling Ordinance will require 50 percent diversion of materials from construction projects larger than 5,000 square feet. In 2019, the ordinance will expand to include commercial demolition projects. Construction and demolition projects generate at least 20 percent of all materials that go to Austin-area landfills. This ordinance takes a huge step toward achieving Austin’s Zero Waste goal by requiring more recycling and reuse of valuable materials
• Austin Energy surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015. Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, increasing the use of renewable energy in Austin Energy’s portfolio
• Launched partnership with national retailers such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s to offer point of sale discounts to customers to purchase energy efficient products. The initiative leverages the combined size of the utilities to reduce administration costs and pass savings on to customers
• Achieved slightly over 64 MW demand reductions, driven by strong performance in GB ratings and energy codes, small business lighting and residential demand response
• Installed 7.7 MW of residential and commercial solar, providing long-term savings and cutting greenhouse gas emissions
• Surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015, making Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas
• Joined the Downtown Austin Alliance, downtown businesses, and Austin Resource Recovery to unveil an expansion of public recycling in the downtown area, an initiative called Recycle on the Go. Starting with nearly 50 new recycling cans this year, recycling containers will be installed throughout the downtown area over the next three years
• Council approved one of the first energy storage systems tied to a community solar project in Texas. Part of the $3 million cost for the 1.5 MW battery storage system is offset with a $1 million grant received by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
• Austin Water repaired almost 7,800 water leaks, the third-highest recorded count for the department. Of those, almost 4,300 leaks were Priority 1 leaks and responded to within 3 hours almost 89% of the time
• Weatherized 520 low income homes; our multi-family program reached over 8,400 apartment units