Density, affordability at issue as more Austin council hopefuls emerge


Five City Council members and the mayor are up for re-election this year.

In this election cycle, only Council Member Ann Kitchen does not have an opponent so far.

Two candidates have signaled plans to run against Austin City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria in November, the first to oppose him for East Austin’s District 3 seat.

James Valadez, a real estate agent, and Jessica Cohen, a network security administrator, have both appointed treasurers in recent weeks. Such appointments allow candidates to begin fundraising before formally applying for a place on the ballot in July and August.

Valadez, 30, sits on the city’s Board of Adjustment. He did not return multiple calls for comment but positioned himself in a news release as an opponent of “excess density” in neighborhoods and said Renteria is “not representing an independent voice for our district.”

ALSO READ: As finish line looms, CodeNext struggles down challenge-filled road

Renteria said he knows Valadez as his board appointee and blocks-away neighbor and was surprised to hear he’s running against him.

“I don’t really know what he means” by excess density, Renteria said. “We know the only way we can bring affordable units into the inner core is through density.”

Critics of CodeNext, Austin’s massive rewrite of land-use rules, have recently taken aim at Renteria. His sister, Susana Almanza, who ran against him in District 3 in 2014, filed a lawsuit Friday to force a measure onto the ballot that could send CodeNext to voters.

Renteria has said that changing Austin zoning rules to allow for more density along key corridors is the only way to increase affordability.

“My district is a prime example of what CodeNext is going to do,” he said Friday. “We already have secondary units that have allowed me to stay in my neighborhood. We’ve put density along the major corridors.”

Cohen, 46, has never had any civic involvement but said she decided to run after the duplex she rents was sold, the rent increased by $300, and she began to notice white neighbors replacing Hispanic families in the area.

“It’s just an example of how badly the area’s being gentrified,” she said. “I’m having all these friends who can no longer afford to live in Austin, and if you’re telling me you can no longer live in Montopolis, something’s wrong.”

She said the council should be doing more to try to control rent, though she acknowledged that Texas disallows most rent control. Cohen said she has no gripes about Renteria but said she thought she’d be a louder voice than he is.

MORE CONTENDERS: Races grow more crowded ahead of November Austin city elections

Five City Council members and the mayor are up for re-election this year, but only Council Member Ann Kitchen is unopposed so far.

Former Council Member Laura Morrison is challenging Mayor Steve Adler in a race that pits Morrison’s neighborhood and anti-development supporters against Adler’s relatively broad appeal. Attitudes about CodeNext, which Adler supports and Morrison opposes, have largely defined the race so far. Two political newcomers also said they’ll run for mayor: drummer Travis Duncan and pedicabbie Alexander Strenger.

In Northeast Austin’s District 1, three challengers are expected to run against Council Member Ora Houston. Lewis Conway Jr., a Grassroots Leadership organizer and criminal justice activist, is using his run there to challenge a statewide ban on convicted felons holding public office. Mariana Salazar, director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, and Natasha Harper-Madison, a social activist and small-business consultant, are also contenders.

In Southwest Austin, three candidates plan to take on District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair. Contracting consultant Rich DePalma, environmental lawyer Bobby Levinski and environmental marketing specialist Paige Ellis all fall to the left of Troxclair, the council’s only conservative member.

In downtown’s District 9, Council Member Kathie Tovo faces transportation engineer Danielle Skidmore. Tovo, the only member of the council to have served a term under the previous at-large system, will be seeking a place on the ballot via a petition of district voters to avoid questions of whether she’s exceeded a limit of two terms.

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