Issues & Policy
Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler, physician and community advocate, is running for Austin City Council to advocate for District 6 and tackle our city's complex issues with effective, long-term solutions. Dr. Jennifer:
- Opposes defunding APD and will explore effective budget reforms jointly with law enforcement
- Will work to reinstate the camping ban and find collaborative, long-term solutions for homelessness
- Will protect neighborhoods and fight for property owners’ rights to protest zoning changes
- Has the medical & scientific expertise needed to address the pandemic and public health
- Will leverage experience as a successful small business owner to bring fiscal responsibility and professionalism to the D6 Council seat
- Is ready to fight for transportation funding that addresses traffic and congestion in D6
GOVERNING APPROACH: As your District 6 council member, I will represent the interests and values of District 6 constituents. I will not sacrifice the unique interests of District 6 constituents to appeal to other audiences in an effort to use the office as a stepping stone to other positions. I believe Council Members should treat their constituents, fellow Council Members and others in a civil and respectful manner, befitting the dignity of the office. This includes listening, asking questions and showing respect for the individual. Finally, I believe that, when a person is in a position of public trust, that person should support processes that ensure full and fair public input, should demand accountability and transparency from City staff and should seek practical, cost-effective solutions.
1. PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, and SECURITY
Public Health – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an urgent need to improve our public health infrastructure. Years of underinvestment and lack of political will have left us woefully unprepared to adequately deal with a public health crisis of this magnitude. To effectively reduce chronic disease, substance abuse and mental health issues, we need a public health system that is fully funded and supports all of our residents, regardless of race, sexual orientation, personal identity, religion, or occupation.
Safety – District 6 is topographically unique with its dense vegetation and hilly terrain making it highly vulnerable to wildfire. Austin has been ranked as the 5th highest metropolitan area in the Nation at risk for wildfire, and parts of District 6 have been identified by the Austin Fire Department Wildfire Division as having the highest risk of wildfire in the City. The current District 6 Council Member supported new development, opposed by his constituents and City staff, in a location that would impede the evacuation route of existing neighborhoods and an elementary school. (Public testimony, Final Reading, Council vote October 31, 2019. ) Given that wildfire is a significant known risk in Austin and in particular District 6, I believe that development must take into account, among other things, evacuation planning to ensure community safety, and that Austin firefighters should receive wildfire training to ensure their readiness to fight such fires.
Security – I do not support defunding or shaming law enforcement. It is reasonable to advocate for both a city that is safe and for law enforcement that performs without prejudice and unnecessary force. The two are not mutually exclusive. I believe we can, and should, have fully accountable citizen protection, but I do not believe we should eliminate or dramatically reduce law enforcement. We need to bring the citizen stakeholders in our communities together with our enforcement personnel to ensure that justice is administered equally and without undue force.Thoughtful reform can help us to improve culture within the police department, allocate functions more effectively and still recruit officers who will be pillars in our community.
2. RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT
The much-needed modernization of Austin’s land development code has been severely mismanaged. The current District 6 Council Member has attempted to foist on residents a controversial and resoundingly unpopular proposal that seeks to eliminate single-family neighborhoods. Such unwanted proposals include establishing transition zones that essentially abolish single-family housing along the exterior blocks of neighborhoods. The actions taken by the Council majority not only seek to limit public and neighborhood input in the rezoning process, but has gone so far as to actually hand the process over to City staff and developer lobbyists. In large part because of deference to the interests of developers, this code disproportionately focuses on growth alone while ignoring critical infrastructure issues that accompany such growth, such as traffic, fire protection, emergency evacuation and flooding . (See also: Safety) While growth is needed and beneficial, it must be undertaken responsibly and take into account the safety and functionality of the community, as well as the interests of existing property owners.
Protect Neighborhoods and Property Rights– I support the Travis County District Court’s recent decision that requires the City to recognize property owners’ rights to formally object to the rezoning of their and nearby property. Protest rights are critical because, under Texas state law, they trigger a supermajority voting requirement by City Council to rezone property that owners protest. The City Council majority illegally ignored these state-mandated rights that protect our hard-earned homes and businesses against arbitrary government action. I oppose City Council’s costly, time-consuming appeal of the Acuna v City of Austin lawsuit, and City Council’s continuing attempt to evade state law and property owners’ rights under that law. With consensus-oriented leadership, the land development code can be updated with broad support from all stakeholders, including established residents, new residents and developers, while respecting Austin’s unique cultural and sensitive environmental needs.
3. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
Even before COVID-19, the City had projected a large budget deficit. I do not believe the answer to such deficit lies with continuously raising property taxes. Rather, the City must scrutinize the budget and eliminate wasteful costs and spending. One such example of wasteful costs and spending is the over $12 million spent by the City on consultants to rewrite of the land development code. Not only is the proposed rewrite of the land development code resoundingly unpopular, it has been the most expensive code rewrite by any city council in the nation. Waste continues with costly litigation because the City Council majority is attempting to illegally circumvent state law rather than build consensus with property owners
Although District 6 has experienced a large increase growth, it has not received crucial road improvements to ensure the safety of its residents, nor has the current District 6 Council Member advocated on behalf of such improvements. At a recent Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) vote, the current District 6 Council Member sat silent in apparent indifference to the 620 Corridor Coalition, and District 6 lost $600M in funding improvements that had previously been promised and allocated. As your District 6 Council Member, I will advocate for our transportation needs that connect us to our Lakeway and Cedar Park neighbors and the metroplex. While I leave Proposition A “Project Connect” and Proposition B “Active Mobility Bond” to the voters, District 6 voters should be made aware that these measures offer little in transportation services to District 6 but will add significantly to our financial burdens. Proposition A increases property taxes by 8.75 cents per $100 of valuation and Proposition B creates a $460 million obligation bond. With many people already struggling financially, I am concerned about the timing of additional tax burdens to Austinites. We must also consider what post-Covid commuter transit might look like.
Homelessness is a complex issue requiring compassionate solutions that balance those persons in unfortunate life circumstances with the safety and economic function of the City at large. Permitting camping on public streets, in front of businesses and in public parks not specifically designated for camping does not promote public health and safety. It does not promote human dignity for those experiencing homelessness, and it impedes the livelihoods of others. Current policies regarding homelessness are not financially sustainable. As a physician, I support a multi-disciplinary, cooperative approach that recognizes the multitude of issues which contribute to homelessness and matches solutions with proven resources.