In order to raise awareness of civics and government in Travis County, Austin Tech Alliance conducts periodic interviews with our elected officials. Up this month: City of Austin Council Member José “Chito” Vela, District 4.
What inspired your run for city council and your desire to be involved in local politics?
I decided to run for City Council because I wanted to help guide Project Connect to success, because I wanted to protect low-income and marginalized communities, and because I believed I had the experience and expertise to respond to the housing crisis. My legal experience, deep ties to the community, and involvement in state and local politics for almost 20 years made me the best candidate to represent the people of District 4, and I’m overjoyed to have the opportunity to represent the community I love so much.
What are your general policy priorities for this term in city council?
My priorities at the moment are addressing the housing shortage through zoning and compatibility reform, filling staff vacancies throughout the City government, holding firm on our police accountability efforts, and moving Project Connect forward to the construction phase.
What do you believe are the biggest issues the people of Austin are facing right now? How can Austin City Council begin to solve them?
Affordability, especially housing affordability, was a central issue when I ran. Now, over a year later, we have made some positive changes like passing the first phase of compatibility reform and eliminating occupancy limits. However, affordability remains a near-universal concern. I believe we can address this problem by continuing down the pro-housing path we’ve initiated and ensuring that housing- and development-related departments in the City are staffed to a sufficient degree.
What do you think is the best way for Austinites to get involved in local politics?
Obviously, step 1 is voting every time you can. Non-national elections are frequently overlooked by the Austin voting population, which is a shame. Local elections have the most direct impact on quality of life, so residents should absolutely take the time to cast their vote.
Another great way to get involved is connecting with your local neighborhood association. My office interfaces directly with neighborhood groups on a daily basis, and we trust members of those groups to be educated and up-to-date on the issues they bring up. Even just getting to know your immediate neighbors is a great way to stay on top of local concerns.
How might the city partner with local businesses or tech to make the city function optimally?
For such a tech city, our city website and customer interfaces are not what they should be. My office works with business groups like the Chamber and the Downtown Austin Alliance to stay up-to-date on problems and ideas that come up for their business members. City Council members should consider the business and tech perspectives on relevant issues, and we encourage business owners to reach out as needed if you have a comment or request. Additionally, the City should do business with local businesses for events, programs, and projects whenever feasible, as opposed to national or multinational corporations.
For more information, or to contact Council Member Vela, visit their District 4 website.