Adler calls on Austin to "seize the moment" in State of the City address

Talk 1370 Newsroom
August 05, 2020 - 10:11 pm
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AUSTIN ( -- Austin Mayor Steve Adler gave his annual State of the City address Wednesday night, calling on Austinites to "seize the moment" in a year like no other.

Adler's address touched on four key issues facing the city - the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, homelessness, race, and policing issues - ending with a call to join in a "disruptive recovery" and rebuild Austin in a "just and equitable way."

First and foremost, Adler touched on the way Austin has been affected by - and responded to - the coronavirus pandemic. "The hard choices came fast as we canceled SXSW, then moved to avert a public health disaster with stay at home orders to slow the spread of a virus we were still learning about," Adler said. "We didn’t know if the community would join in such an extreme measure or if incredible disruption would work. Both did. We saved thousands of lives in our city alone."

Related: READ: Mayor Adler's 2020 State of the City address

Adler also touched on the prospect of college football at the University of Texas this fall, where leaders have discussed allowing fans into the stadium at 25% capacity - or roughly 25,000. "I hope they don’t really try to do this," Adler said. "I’m not sure anywhere in the world are such groups gathering."

Adler proceeded to call out the state and federal response to the pandemic, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's efforts to re-open the state's economy in May. "The governor’s decision to reopen before we had sufficient testing and tracing in place and before our numbers were low enough, compounded our challenge," Adler said. "We went on to more permissive phases without knowing the impact of the preceding one. We tried to open businesses as they had operated pre-virus… as if the virus was gone. Leaders at the national and state levels gave destructive or ambiguous messages about what we needed to do to prevent a surge. And so the virus came roaring back. Truth is, the virus was never gone. It just hides… waiting for us to invite it back into our lives." Adler went on to call for more federal assistance. "We need more federal help. Congress needs to pass CARES II and it needs to provide support to cities so we can help ourselves."

Where the state and federal efforts have lacked, Adler praised the efforts from Austin. "We learned we have the ability to control the virus by our behaviors and we glimpsed a future where more was possible," Adler said. He went on to touch on the effects of COVID-19 on communities of color, and just how many "essential" workers "lack access to the essentials." 

Homelessness was the next topic for Adler, saying "Austin has the opportunity, the need, obligation and responsibility, to move decisively to end homelessness in our community." Adler commented on news late Wednesday that the City Clerk's office ruled invalid a petition to put the city's camping ban on the November ballot. "I’m thankful that this community rejected calls to return to a time when we asked the police to harass the least fortunate so that we could avert our attention from their needs," Adler said, "while doing little to resolve their plight."

Transportation issues were another challenge that Adler addressed, leaning into the upcoming Project Connect proposal expected to be put before voters in November. "The expense and burden of owning a car – which is estimated to be in excess of $10,000 per year on average in Austin – should not be the price of admission to participate in our economy," Adler said. "Project Connect is not just a transformative mobility program for our region. It represents a generational investment in more just and equitable access to opportunity for whole swaths of our community who live in transportation deserts."

The city budget and calls to "re-imagine policing" were the next focus for Adler. "I’m anxious for us to put the politics and hyperbole aside and actually think through the choices surrounding the desire to make us all more safe, their implications, and the pathways for whatever we want to do," Adler said. He touched on police responding to mental health calls, whether 911 and 311 need to be separate operations, and the potential of separating the forensics lab, internal affairs, and the academy from the police department, as well as how to best handle family violence and EMS calls.

Adler expressed support for a proposal putting a number of elements, including those mentioned above, into a transitional budget for six months - one that could amount to more than $100 million.

Adler finished with a deeper look at racial injustice and inequities. "I’m adding my voice to those of Mayors across the country who are calling on Congress to develop and execute a national program of restitution for descendants of slaves in this country," Adler said, "to address the yawning chasm of a wealth gap between Black Americans that began with slavery and has widened over generations through reconstruction, through the shameful scourge of Jim Crow and remains an insidious force to this very day."

"So let’s do big things. Let’s end homelessness. Let’s bring real mobility to Austin. Let’s re-imagine how we keep one another safe. Let’s address race and do something about correcting centuries of injustice because it is the fundamental injustice that fuels so many others."

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