Travis County had an opportunity to lead and not be a rubber stamp for Austin’s policies which have failed time and time again.
While the City of Austin has spent untold hundreds of millions on the homelessness issue over the past two years, homelessness has only increased and associated illicit activity (e.g., drug trafficking, overdose deaths, violent crime, etc.) has only worsened.
Mental illness and substance abuse are the twin problems driving our homeless crisis and must be addressed first and foremost. More than 50% of the homeless suffer from mental illness. Often, those struggling with either or both will not accept or accommodate efforts to improve their situations, which is why local governments need to adopt a tough-love concept & should not apologize for moving them off public spaces such as parks, sidewalks, and nature trails, nor allow them to impede entry to or endanger private homes and businesses.
It is not being uncompassionate nor is it a violation of constitutional liberties to lay down clear expectations of where/how the homeless may camp, where shelters and facilities of varying kinds may be built, or how public resources are used on social services. Rather, local government has a mandate to be involved – neither taking a “just let them live in the woods” approach nor a camp- everywhere policy that was attempted in Austin recently (and with disastrous results).
Austin’s policy has attracted more homeless people from around the country. Travis County signed off on over $100 million in federal CARES Act dollars to Austin, when the city clearly has failed to show results in decreasing homelessness.
Implement tough love /move shelters and social services to one uniform location which the City of Austin and the County together can identify. Additionally, need to implement public private partnership type models that have shown to have success such as Haven for Hope and Community First Village. One thing both these models have in common is they are not entirely funded with Taxpayer’s money. We have corporates such as Tesla, Samsung, Oracle, Dell why not partner and involve the community to implement solutions for this complex issue. Second reason for their success is in addition to housing they have on site services such as EMS, mental health support, behavior health support, job training. They have short- and long-term support for individuals experiencing homelessness most importantly they provide hope for future. Austin and Travis County can and must move on this effort.
Make recovery and treatment a priority. We will also need to get innovative at the county correctional facilities. As one example, Rhode Island has been running its MAT program at the correctional facility which has become a model for all states to follow.
Aggressively audit and analyze all county-level and intergovernmental programs which address homelessness to determine their effectiveness, costs, etc.
Adequately staff law enforcement/ EMS/ & Fire– One of the solutions to solve the public safety crisis is to fully fund and to adequately staff, maintain, retain and attract new hires for EMS, Fire & Law Enforcement. Set a baseline ratio of sheriff’s department officers to citizens to effectively deter crime and do not deviate from that standard. And openly support the same for the Austin Police Department.
We are the most developed country in the world, our 9-1-1 calls diverted to 3-1-1 should not be acceptable and county must step in involve necessary stakeholders to correct this situation at 9-1-1 call centers.
Stop the “revolving door” – chronic adult offenders and/or convicted criminals do not belong in diversion programs or on extended probation but in jail; the “revolving door” model is not achieving much other than contributing to the growing reputation that Austin Travis County is soft on crime.
Victims have a right to know that punishment is actually being implemented regarding a convicted offender, and justice is being served.
Give hope to youth offenders – Juvenile chronic offenders require more education, rehabilitation efforts, and other support services than do their adult counterparts.
Offer hope to adult offenders – provide lower-income individuals with good attorneys/representation and access to career-technical education and workforce training.
Quality of Life
We are paying more for less. The rising costs of food, gas, energy, health care, homes, and especially property taxes are posing undue hardships. Sadly, these cost increases will be felt for quite some time as we see inflation is on a rise. The county government may have relatively little control over market prices, but one thing it can control is your tax rate which can and should stop the county's taxes from continuing to rise.
There is a direct correlation, spending must be curtailed and as a business owner, I understand this very well. The county should jealously protect the taxpayers by reigning in spending, rewarding good programs, cutting ineffective programs, and working more closely with the private sector and other levels of government to maximize existing resources. By doing so, we can reduce the tax levy paid by Travis County taxpayers (not just reducing the rates – which, while low, may still amount to big property tax statements year after year). With the exponential growth of our population (aka. the tax base) each year, it is entirely possible we can pay for county services without the need for any tax hikes or extravagant bond debt.
Cut wasteful spending – order all departments and the County Auditor’s office to identify ways to reduce and de-duplicate costs.
Reduce permitting and review times through modernizing the process. One way in which supply is curtailed is a notoriously sluggish permitting and review process that adds huge burdens to builders that ends up costing the user more money.
Embracing innovation and technology: Travis County can be a partner in working with new tech such as 3-D printed homes. By attracting industries that can make life more affordable Travis County can continue to be a leader in innovation as well as attract a more diversified workforce
Demand affordability through greater accountability & transparency in the budget process.
Plan smart – take community input more seriously and bring industry leaders to the table and dream bigger for Travis County.
Prevent evictions by working with our Justice of the Peace courts to offer education/resources for those facing eviction proceedings, BUT do not burden landlords.
Personal automobiles still rule the roadways. Additional modes of transportation other than the automobile are important but in the grand scheme of things alternative transit will likely never comprise more than 10% of ridership collectively in our lifetimes. These are the facts we are dealt with. But sometimes well-intentioned and idealistic solutions get in the way of practical solutions to relieve Austin’s infamous traffic woes. Personal vehicles, whether for personal use or work, and business-class vehicles (trucks, wreckers, 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, school buses, police/EMS/fire vehicles, public transit vehicles, and even prototype self-driving vehicles), are the cornerstone of our transportation system and maintaining and concentrating on roadways is a must!
Public/Transit/Cap metro: Any major metropolitan area has to have public transportation, but for those that continue to push public transit as a tool to ease traffic congestion, you need to know that the public transit ridership has been flat for over 30 years…know this, the daily ridership for capital metro have had the same number of riders from 1990 to 2019…also know this that the population for our area has more than doubled and has collected and spent more than 4.5 billion dollars on public transit. It continues to be a service mostly for people of modest means… but not as a traffic mitigator. Public transit is very important and must be maintained but doing it with buses and not with uber-expensive light rail lines. The most effective way to move people around (without vehicles) is by bus which is the most flexible and cost-effective way mode of transportation.
Transportation planning must and can protect the land use and environmental concerns with the growing demand for new roads because our community demands no less. The future focus must be centered around modernizing our approach toward transportation planning, with the Austin area already half a century behind. As the non-Austin portions of the county continue to grow in population, the county has an unprecedented opportunity to once again make our area the crown jewel of Texas transportation.
With 1.3 million residents and 2.1 percent growth per year according to new census data, Travis County is the No. 5 most populous out of 254 Texas counties. Yet we’re no. 1 for traffic jams according to numerous studies. Fortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation does most of the designing, building, and maintaining of our major arteries – a saving grace. The county should be in the business to take care of the maintenance on county roads plus, when necessary, to build additional capacity (as one example, the Vail Divide was developed in conjunction with the Lake Travis ISD and Travis County to connect two state roads and create a safe pathway for parents and school children).
Transportation options should concentrate on working with the private sector to encourage innovation that delivers solutions to moving people around e.g., Uber and Lyft.
Build new roadways and properly maintain the existing roadways thus relieving congestion and improving public safety.
Approve alternative transit routes only when practical (especially train routes, as they are very expensive, and they can notoriously disrupt small businesses and residents if not supported by the facts, planning, and local community inputs. Continue working with cap metro and continue analyzing better ways to better use the existing bus systems and try to encourage more people to use public transit when they can.
Build/improve relationships with tech companies: We need to work on providing on demand solutions and better connectivity to the underserved communities. Work on ridesharing and other alternatives, they use zero tax dollars. We have the technology and resources, now there is a need to understand the needs of underserved communities and implement solutions that will provide effective public transportation.
Utilize the county’s influence to bring all stakeholders to the table and plan for the future i.e., cost-effective and efficient which will compensate for the lack of planning in our major city.