Parks Board Member Challenges Sheri Gallo
Alison Alter says she will advocate for neighbors – not developers
Last week, Sheri Gallo drew a challenger in the City Council race for her District 10 seat: Alison Alter, the district's representative on the Parks and Recreation Board. Alter, who was appointed by Gallo last July, said she was recruited to run by residents who've expressed disappointment with the CM's leadership over the last two years.
Alter bills herself as a "fresh voice" for the district and the city of Austin. She said that, though her campaign's still shaping up, she plans to focus on parks, zoning, development, and affordability as main priorities. Above all, Alter said she will advocate for the neighborhood and not developer interests. "We have to really be trying to find solutions, not just trying to make a buck," said Alter.
This City Council race is Alter's first stab at running for office, but she said her professional experience qualifies her for the position. She owns a philanthropic advising firm that helps businesses improve their altruistic practices. She also has a bachelor's degree from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Last week, she named August "Happy" Harris as campaign treasurer and began fundraising. It's unclear if she will resign from her PARB post or finish out her term.
Concerns abound in District 10 that real estate developers and other special interests have more access to city resources than others in the community, Alter said. As an example, Alter pointed to the hotly contested Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development proposal (see "Grove Mixed-Use Development Clears Another Hurdle"). From the beginning, she said residents have voiced that transportation, parkland, and drainage flooding issues were their biggest concerns. But those areas are not superior in the currently proposed Grove PUD, she said, and Gallo's D10 office has not made a concerted effort "to get them to a better place on those items." If elected, Alter said she would put "community first."
Gallo disagrees with the criticism, telling the Chronicle that "everyone has equal access to me and the District 10 staff." Gallo said in a statement: "We encourage and facilitate transparent meetings with all of the stakeholders involved with every policy decision."
There is an equitable solution for the Grove, said Alter. The neighborhood is willing to beef up density, which would create more apartment units and allow for more parkland. It's a trade-off on height for public green space – something Alter told the Chronicle that D10 sorely needs. "Parks bring our community together," said Alter, who oversaw a $500,000 project to renovate Ramsey Park in Rosedale, where she lives with her husband and two children. "Parks are really important to our district and the city as a whole."
In a way, the Grove controversy symbolizes the conflict of gentrification. Austin is growing at a lightning pace. Development feeds – and spurs – that growth, boosting the economy. But with development comes vanishing affordability. Austin has yet to feel the reverberations of gentrification in the way cities like New York, San Francisco, or Seattle have. Council has an opportunity, according to Alter, to set a different example for how a city responds to its boom.
"What this election is going to be about, in many ways, is: Can we shape the growth or do we fall victim to it?" she said. "We have an opportunity to shape what that growth looks like. The trick is to figure out how we grow so we have what we value most in Austin."
Find profiles of incumbent council members up for re-election and their challengers at austinchronicle.com/elections.