City Council District 2: Young Progressives Square Off for Open Seat

Candidates pledge to protect Austin's working class families in Southeast Austin

As Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza departs for her new role as Travis County Attorney come January, the District 2 representative leaves behind a six-year legacy on the dais advocating for a district that historically has been underrepresented and underserved. Like Garza, none of the candidates to succeed her have held political office going into their Council bid. Leading the pack are David Chincanchan and Vanessa Fuentes, both young, progressive Demo­crats with the longest political résumés in the four-way race with Casey Ramos and Alex Strenger.

Ramos, who lost to Garza in her 2016 reelection bid, is a Dove Springs native and community activist whose priorities include flood mitigation infrastructure and protecting single-family home neighborhoods from high density. Strenger, who proposed building a dome around Austin in his unsuccessful 2018 mayoral campaign, strikes a less satirical tone this time around. As a self-described entrepreneur who drives a pedicab, Strenger told us, "I am the working man that our so-called 'progressive' City Council claims to care so much about." He champions doubling the homestead tax exemption to 20% and creating more affordable housing for very low income households (30-50% of Austin's median income). He and Ramos both oppose Proposition A (Project Connect) and transferring funds away from the Austin Police Department, items with unanimous Council support that Ramos deemed "regressive."

David Chincanchan (Photo by John Anderson)

Chincanchan, who served as chief of staff to District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria, and Fuentes, who until recently worked in health policy advocacy at the American Heart Association, both pledge to protect Austin's and D2's working-class families. In Dove Springs and Del Valle, Chincanchan told the Chronicle, "We have the opportunity to take the lessons that we've learned from the displacement [and] gentrification that we have seen in other parts of the Eastern Crescent and do things in a much better way." He advocates his vision for "equitable, transit-oriented development" – investing in more affordable and accessible housing in tandem with Project Connect buildout – as a way to alleviate displacement. "The people that we're trying to serve are actually able to remain, to thrive, and to take advantage of infrastructure improvements." Included in that is revising Austin's Land Development Code: "What we have seen under [the existing LDC] is sprawl, flooding, displacement, gentrification, and other kinds of environmental degradation, and so it's clear to me that we need to act," he said.

Vanessa Fuentes (Photo by John Anderson)

Fuentes' platform centers on improving community engagement, health equity, and housing protections for Southeast Austin­ites. She said she's committed to supporting a fully funded anti-displacement program, as well as expanding Austin's right-to-return and right-to-stay pilot program. Fuentes has positioned herself as a fierce advocate for Del Valle, a community that Fuentes calls "the most marginalized of the most marginalized." She said Del Valle residents have been "promised a lot of things from our leaders" regarding development and infrastructure that fail to materialize. A case-in-point is the long-promised H-E-B at the Velocity Crossing development: Though the grocery giant purchased the site in 2016, H-E-B reps have said recently there are no immediate plans to build a store in the area. H-E-B "told us that they're waiting on a certain number of rooftops to come into the area before they'll break ground," said Fuentes, who has organized for food security as a member of the Del Valle Community Coalition.

If elected, Fuentes promises to bring to the dais a perspective that's "not beholden to powerful special interests or political interests." Chincanchan, touting a decade in local politics, argues it's not just his institutional knowledge of Council but relationships with City Hall players that position him to better advocate for policy change. He said, "At the end of the day, on Council, you can't do anything with one vote."

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