Jan 4, 2022 - Politics

Mayor Steve Adler shares reflections and prepares for 2022

Mayor Steve Adler. Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage

Mayor Steve Adler faced a historic freeze, the rollout of COVID vaccines, a rising housing affordability crisis, homelessness issues and more in 2021.

What he's saying: As he approaches his final year as mayor, Adler spoke to Axios about the past and his anticipations for the new year.

This conversation has been condensed for clarity.

What are you most proud of as mayor in 2021?

I think our COVID response. Our mortality rate … is less than half of the state's fatality rate.
I'm real proud of where we moved on homelessness in our city, and the community will to move forward with the summit plan. That's enabled us to deal with this challenge at scale to really put us on the path to getting everybody off our streets and into housing and able to sustain that for the system.

What do you see as the toughest challenge Austin faces?

The biggest obstacle we face is the partisanship, the misinformation — things that prevent a community from being able to constructively deal with the challenges that it faces.
… The tactical challenge we face is housing affordability and housing supply.

How much power does a city government really have to address housing equality and affordability?

I think there's a lot you can do from a land development code perspective that would have a real significant impact on housing supply. … The market, I think, ultimately, is driven by supply and demand, but then I also recognize that the things that you want the market to deliver upon in terms of deep affordability and the like might not be something that the market will do on its own. So I'm not a believer that the market by itself will deliver equity. It's more nuanced.

What do you consider to be your biggest failure when you look back at the last year?

I am disappointed that we weren't able to move forward on the land development code, but that's been held up in court now. … I wish that we had done a better job when we decriminalized homelessness and allowed greater camping. I think we should have done a better job of managing public spaces.

What could've been done differently to manage public spaces?

I don't think we should have had people camping in parks and on the running trail and gazebos. Recognizing that if someone is not presenting a public safety risk or a public health hazard that they shouldn’t be in jail, that doesn't also mean that any one person has the right to commandeer a public space just for themselves. There's a balance that I don’t think we did well.

Have you talked directly with Gov. Greg Abbott this year? When is the last time you talked to him?

It's been a while since I've talked directly with the governor. I have talked to his staff, certainly over the course of the pandemic. But I wish that there was better and freer, less political, partisan communication between the governor and the mayor.

What are your goals in your last year as mayor in 2022?

When I was running for office the very first time, the most significant challenge that people spoke about was transportation. We had never made the investment in our future to do really big things in a transformative way that will significantly impact our future, and I'm real proud that we've done that over the last seven years.
In 2022, we need to continue to execute on the construction call for the 2016, 2018 bonds. And real importantly, we'll be doing some of the more complete design work on Project Connect, including the tunnels system under the city, and really getting that in a place to gear up.
I see us really closing the loop on really transformative and large transportation issues as we close out 2022. I see us raising the last $100 million for the summit plan for homelessness and really solidifying the three-year goals of housing an additional 3,000 people in that period of time and really setting up the system to meet the challenge of homelessness.

Do you feel Austin is prepared to handle another freeze?

I'm still concerned about the grid because I don't think the state has taken the steps that it needs to take at that level to help put us in the best place to be hardened and protected against a grid failure.
We just went through another emergency exercise with the emergency operation command in the city. Over 150 people in over 40 departments all working through a drill … to be checking winter storm emergency operations. We’re in a better place than we were last time because we've been able to learn.

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