District 3 Council Candidates Talk to the “Monitor”: Part One

Tuesday October 18th, 2022 by Andrea Guzman

Council member Pio Renteria served District 3 as a lifelong resident and community activist. After two terms, he resigned. Candidates vying for his seat have taken on community engagement roles through education and local committees, while others have budget ideas from their backgrounds in sales and accounting.

It’s a tight race with six candidates. For many, affordability issues are at the forefront, and the candidates also shared the approaches they would take to policing, housing and climate.

Photo by Daniela Silva for District 3.

Daniela Silva got the idea she’d like to put down roots in Austin while interning for the state senate in 2013. After earning a master’s degree from Texas A&M, she came to the capital and started volunteering with the Austin Justice Coalition, Community First! Village and others.

Now Silva is in the running to be the first Latina to represent District 3. She noted that she is also the daughter of an immigrant, openly queer and working-class tenant. All of these things, she says, are important in informing how politics will be shaped in the years to come.

“I think it’s more important than ever that we have progressive, equity-minded women in leadership positions who can help protect the citizens of Austin from what’s happening at the state level,” Silva said.

Its main issues are housing, health-related infrastructure and environmental justice. But she is aware of the possible obstacles and is careful not to make promises she cannot keep.

Instead, she lent her support to issues such as VMU2exploring the creation of a new hospital to serve Southeast Austin and protecting and expanding green spaces.

“What I can promise is that I will always lead with my values, and I strongly believe in radical communication and transparency. And so that is what I will do,” Silva told the Austin Monitor. “I try to be as accessible as possible from an activist. And that will also translate into my office and I will try to be as accessible as possible as a member of the city council.

Photo via ATXN.

Gavino Fernandez is an AISD grad who worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation and served as Chief of Staff to Travis County Commissioner Marcos De Leon in the early 90s.

“Growing up in District 3, I appreciated the cultural richness of the district and what it is made up of and I would never want to leave this area,” Fernandez said.

His attention to budgets and politics has helped shape his own ideas, which involve dealing with growth and soaring property taxes.

“Whenever there is a major government project or private development in District 3, we look at relocation,” Fernandez told the Monitor. “It’s just another big challenge for us still living here and going through this wave of gentrification.”

On transportation issues, he is against the I-35 expansion plan which is now in its design phase and says he has met with consulting firms who advise Capital Metro on anti-displacement efforts by ProjectConnect. While supporting the expansion of the public transport system, he considers it necessary to continue the dialogue as the work progresses so that the upward mobility of potentially affected areas is not hindered.

“I pushed them to make sure landowners, especially small businesses, had the economic opportunity to stay by helping them with loans and those kinds of tools.”

Photo of Noah for District 3.

Jose Noe Elias is a member of the Austin Community Development Commission, the Project Connect Community Advisory Board, and taught second grade at Linder Elementary for 11 years. Her experience working with bilingual students, some of whom come from other countries, has helped shape her ideas for the community.

“My students, a lot of them are, if we really think about it, climate refugees,” Elias told the Monitor. “As we know, poor people, people of color, are bearing the brunt of these climate disasters.”

Elias feels affordability is a major stressor for these students and others in the district. He would like to remedy this by helping people stay in their homes through rent assistance or even by creating a community land trust.

“A lot of our naturally affordable housing is older housing, in that the apartments are run down, and the cheapest houses are older houses,” Elias said. “So we could do that, retrofit houses to make them energy efficient, and I think that would hit those two things, housing and the climate issue.”

He sees a way to do this by using money from the housing bond. Four years ago, Austinites approved the $250 million bond, and 90% of that money will be spent by the end of this fiscal year. Now, a $350 affordable housing bond is on the ballot in November and would be the largest in city history if passed.

Elias finds his approach of knocking on doors and listening to community members to be one of his strengths. “I want that, rather than spending time mingling with donors or whatever, I talk to people because I think that’s how it should be.”

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