2020: Mayor Adler’s Year in Review

Even in such a hard year, maybe especially in such a hard year, we need to recognize and hold onto all that we are thankful for.  This could be your family, friends and co-workers that have been able to show the strength and selflessness this year has centered.  It could be good health.  Certainly, it includes the vaccine already being distributed in our city.  Despite everything, we can all find much for which we should be thankful.  I am grateful for you and a city that has rallied to pull together.

It is an honor to lead a wonderful city with such incredible people. Through the increasing challenges of 2020, I saw Austinites rise up – protecting the vulnerable, giving generously to local businesses, and advocating for equity. We sacrificed, we made difficult choices and we saved lives. We endured and overcame through our innovative, community-centered actions. Here is a look at only some of what Austin accomplished, and why we remain one of the top cities in America to live in, one of the top cities to raise a family in, a top city for veterans, and a top city for business.

COVID-19 Public Health Response:

  • Travis County had the lowest death rate of counties with big cities in Texas. Our actions have focused on this priority. Numbers at year-end (as of 12/29/20):
    • Travis County: 41.2 deaths/100,000
    • Harris County: 71.0 deaths/100,000
    • Dallas County: 74.2 deaths/100,000
    • Bexar County: 84.8 deaths/100,000
    • Tarrant County: 65.8 deaths/100,000
    • El Paso County: 193.3 deaths/100,000
    • Lubbock County: 174.8 deaths/100,000
  • Canceled SXSW establishing the urgency and seriousness for the country; early action that saved many lives
  • Put COVID protections ahead of state action
  • The City Council executed a Latino Community strategy for COVID Response
  • Worked to protect those most vulnerable, including construction workers
  • Established robust testing, isolation, and PPE distribution

COVID-19 Economic Relief:

  • Local government played a key role in the pandemic response, especially when state and federal leaders failed to act
  • Austin was the first to do eviction protections in Texas and had the lowest number of evictions out of big Texas and US cities
    • Mayoral Eviction Protection Orders and Council action
  • Funding of $6,036,396 for caregiver meals and remote learning for ISDs
    • $6,036,396 raised
    • 2,387,818 meals
    • 700+ contributions
    • Basic Needs and Family Support
      • $4.3M+ – meal program for students and caregivers
      • $40,000 –  transportation and interpretation services
      • $50,000 – support frontline, essential workers
      • $10,000 – telehealth fees for uninsured students
    • Remote Learning
      • $46,000 – online learning platform for PreK-2nd graders
      • $185,000 – 500 tablets for PreK – 2nd graders
      • $275,000 – Teacher support gift vouchers
      • $175,350 – 17,000 backpacks with school supplies
      • $100,000 – 650+ hotspots for gaps in wifi access
      • $206,000 – support for teachers in 2020 special grant cycle
  • City of Austin offered $38 million in economic relief to residents and businesses
  • City Council allocated $15 million for RISE 1.0 funds, awarding funding to 20 nonprofits and social service agencies impacted by COVID-19
  • City Council allocated another $10 million for RISE 2.0 funds to support individuals and households financially struggling from COVID-19  
  • City distributed $1.2 million of RENT 1.0 to help 1,681 households pay rent and prevent evictions
  • City distributed an additional $17 million of RENT 2.0 to provide 6 months of direct rent support for income-eligible Austin renters experiencing a COVID-19 income loss. The funds also offered support for tenant stabilization, eviction prevention, and direct community outreach
  • Provided $1.3 M along with TravCo to fund for Re:Work initiative through WFSCA, getting unemployed people upskilled and in well-paying jobs aligned with #ATXWorkplan
  • Creation of SAVES with emphasis on long term sustainability for targeted industries
  • Austin Civilian Conservation Corps (ACCC) created to help Austinites who have been economically impacted by COVID-19 earn income, serve their community, and gain skills that can lead to strong new careers  
  • City Council designated $3.5 million for Austin Creative Worker Relief grant, providing immediate and equitably-focused grants to 1866 individual creatives and industry support staff in Austin
  • Approved of $15 million SAVES (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors) resolution with three different budget buckets
    • Designated $5M for Austin Childcare Provider Relief Grant, covering eligible operating expenses for 72 childcare site providers offering full-day childcare to ages 5 and under
    • Designated $5M for Austin Live Music Preservation Fund, supporting Austin-based live music venues impacted by COVID-19.
    • Designated $5M for Iconic Venues and Restaurants, supporting venues, restaurants, and bars impacted by COVID-19
  • City Council approved $1 million for the Austin Creative Space Disaster Relief Program, providing direct support to 32 for-profit live music venues, performance spaces, art galleries, arts-focused nonprofits and individual artists facing temporarily or permanent displacement
  • City Council designated $1.5M to 1497 local musicians demonstrating income lost due to COVID-19. Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund
  • City Council provided $6 million for ANCHOR (Austin Non-Profit and Civic Health Organizations Relief) on May 7, 2020. Council approved an additional $350,000 for the Austin Nonprofit Relief Grant on June 4, 2020. On September 21, 2020, Economic Development Department reopened the Austin Non-Profit Relief grant to reach additional nonprofits facing hardship due to COVID-19.
  • City Council provided $10 million on May 7, 2020 for the Austin Small Business Relief Grant. On June 4, 2020, Council approved an additional $6.5M for the Austin Small Business Relief Grant. A total of 885 small businesses awarded.
  • Stand With Austin fund of $687,500 established in partnership with the Entrepreneurs Foundation to support 15 nonprofit organizations negatively impacted by the cancellation of SXSW


  • City of Austin kept its base property tax rate at 3.5%, the lowest in years. (Voters later chose at the ballot box to fund transformational mobility initiatives which will raise the city tax rate above that low base.)


  • Launched the Affordable housing Online Search tool  
    • Funded 1557 new income restricted units
    • Added millions of dollars to the Housing Trust Fund
    • 59% of units currently subsidized/incentivized by the City of Austin are within ½ mile of what will be Project Connect stations
    • 975 units saved in the Austin Housing Conservancy, a unique Austin model to preserve workforce housing that would otherwise be gentrified away – the world is watching to confirm we can make this model work
    • 34.69 acres in land acquisitions for future mixed income housing


  • Invested millions of dollars in the implementation of the Regional Workforce Development plan and it’s goal of increasing middle-skill job opportunities, including moving 10,000 Austin residents from poverty and into living wage jobs
  • Hosted multiple events, like the Veteran Family Career Week and Hiring Event in November with more than 100 veteran registrants, 30 hiring companies and five local institutions of higher learning to help with career preparation and career connections
  • Expanded Workforce First program


  • Proposition A, also known as Project Connect, received voter approval (after two decades of failed prior attempts to bring substantial transit options to residents, including rail. Project Connect will remove an estimated 43,000 tons of carbon emissions from the atmosphere each year with the fully electric bus and rail networks. The initial $7.1 billion investment includes 27 miles of rail service connecting to various destinations in Austin, a transit tunnel to separate the Orange and Blue light rail lines from downtown vehicle traffic, three MetroRapid bus lines, three MetroExpress routes, nine park-and-rides and 15 new on-demand neighborhood circulator zones. In a first of its kind at this scale, Project Connect dedicates $300 million allocated for transit-supportive anti-displacement housing strategies.
  • Successful passage of Proposition B, designating $460M in voter-approved general obligation bonds for transportation infrastructure including bikeways, sidewalks, urban trails, transportation safety projects, safe school routes and substandard streets.
  • TxDOT included full funding for Capital Expressway program in the 2020 Unified Transportation Program
  • Successfully adopted the CAMPO 2045 Plan, addressing congestion and transportation needs over the next 25 years.
  • Funded 1-35’s expansion to include four new demand managed transit lanes


  • Approved Eastern Crescent planning and Walter E. Long & John Trevino parks  
  • Declared racism as a public health crisis.
  • Helped erase inequities in East Austin by removing open container rules that did not apply equally across the city leading to discriminatory and disproportionate outcomes
  • Secured Racial Equity award/grant funding from Living Cities via their Closing the Gap Network. The Closing the Gaps Network core cohort of cities will unite leaders from cities across the country that are committed to imagining what an antiracist society might look like, and to playing an important role in building it through transforming government policies, practices, strategies, and operations.
  • Completed courageous conversations about race with over 3200 community leaders and connectors — and poised to increase these numbers
  • Successfully transitioned Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities to the nonprofit association “Central Texas Collective for Racial Equity”
  • Serving in the community preparedness and education cabinet; made equity a priority during COVID-19; highlighted disparities on COVID-19’s impact on different communities.
  • Working with different community organizations to get PPE out.
  • The City and school districts Collaborated to increase the use of libraries, recreational centers, and other City of Austin facilities for students.
  • Elevated the community discussion on atonement and reparations for the Black community


  • Approved update to theAustin Energy’s Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.   Plan is for 86% of Austin Energy’s electricity generation to be carbon-free by year-end 2025, 93% to be carbon-free by year-end 2030, and all generation resources to be carbon-free by 2035 
  • Learned new ways to manage the City’s workforce with more remote work.  Having fewer cars on the road will tie needed climate change mitigation with long-term flexibility for the workforce.


  • No longer dealing with the challenge of homelessness by hiding it, but rather by housing people.
  • As of October, 1387 people moved this year into housing and out of homelessness
  • City Council approved funding for five protective lodges, serving over 500 people needing temporary shelter due to COVID-19.
  • Council moved forward toward establishing a dedicated income stream to support efforts to house people who do not have shelter by advancing the TPID hotel tax tool as part of the Convention Center Expansion
  • Provided over 500,000 meals as part of the Eating Apart Together (EAT) program
  • Expanded Workforce First program
  • Prioritized racial disparities in the homeless community

Public Safety

  • Redistributed 5% of the Police budget to invest in other Public Safety programs
    • Shifted funding towards Permanent Supportive Housing, Mental Health First Response, Harm Reduction, Domestic Violence Shelter, all aimed at decreasing the reliance on our police to be our main mental health first-responders and to be the social workers through whom our city intersects with poverty (there are better ways)
  • Reformed use of force policies, police munitions, equipment, technology, policing tactics, and upcoming cadet class policies
  • Set goal and worked toward zero racial disparity in certain metrics under the Safety Strategy Outcome
  • Moved to mitigate racial disparities in arrest by not pursuing low-level marijuana possession
  • Collaborated with community leadership on cadet classes and working to develop curriculum to be more inclusive towards public safety concerns the community had.
  • Doing a community review and professional audit of police operations on many levels
  • Appointed 10 members to the Community Police Review Commission, a citizen-led check on the actions of the Austin Police Department.
  • Led a community workgroup to support the mental health and suicide prevention efforts for veterans, service members, and their families in Austin
    • Worked with SAMHSA to create a local map of intercept points for service members, veterans, and their families to better understand how they move through crisis systems in Austin and how to improve their access to care at the most essential moments. 
    • Established network of more than 40 faith-based partners to support mental health for service members, veterans, and their families, including training sessions hosted by the Mayor’s office and promotion of referral resources.

Reform and Progress

  • Created the long-awaited Austin Economic Development Corporation to advance development, acquisition, ownership, and operation of community development and affordable housing projects, promote employment and economic development, and promote and maintain both for profit and non-profit creative and cultural ventures — a new tool that should enable more nimble and responsive action

Defending Austin

  • Created Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee (ATC-CCC) and committed local funding in the face of malfeasance by State and Federal leadership
    • Austin led census self-response rates for big Texas cities
    • One of the only places where both the city and county outperformed 2010 census response rates
  • Reached a record 97 percent of registered voters
    • More than 850,000 voters registered in Travis County



  • Planning and Development Center moved their new building in the Highland redevelopment  

Letter to Austin Police Department’s 143rd cadet class

A few days ago, I attended the graduation of the Austin Police Department’s 143rd cadet class. I’ve asked the Chief to deliver this letter to the members of the class, our newest police officers:

Dear Officers:

Congratulations on graduation and thank you for offering yourself as a member of one of the finest police forces in the country. A few days ago, you took a solemn oath to serve our community and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice. You vowed to maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn, or ridicule; practice self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. In an unprecedented and challenging time, you took an oath to protect and serve all Austinites — putting your own life on the line, if need be, to save the life of a stranger.  Your mission is to contribute to the public safety in our community – both in fact and in how we each perceive our individualized personal safety.

As thousands of Americans take to the streets to demand an end to racial disparities in law enforcement, you are being challenged to lead policing in this country into a new era — an era in which parents of white, Black, and brown children have equal confidence that police will make them and their families safer. At this difficult time, we are looking to you to lead and protect our community with unprecedented empathy, respect, and understanding.

Make no mistake, the safety of our community depends on our rebuilding trust with communities that have lost faith in government institutions that were not historically built for them, and which have discriminated against them for generations. I learned something of the weight of that challenge when I became mayor of a city that had intentionally segregated Black and white residents in a 1928 Master Plan. As I sat down with East Austin community leaders in hopes of rebuilding trust in city leadership, it was clear that I entered those rooms carrying the full weight of that racist legacy, even as a well-intentioned newcomer to city government.  But I persist in this work because I fundamentally believe that a community’s future is not dictated by its difficult past or even an imperfect present. I believe in Austin’s future – and I believe in you.

I witnessed your anticipation and resolve on the graduation stage.  With loved ones standing beside you, pinning on your new badges, you displayed many different walks of life and backgrounds, racial, bi-racial, and ethnic, as well as gender and LGBTQ diversity.  I saw a cadet class ready and determined to meet this moment. Your class, needed by the community as change agents, is part of the recognition that change happens at the speed of trust.  It is our hope and expectation that you will help deliver both.

For every police story that crosses my desk, where a Black person has died from excessive use of force or experienced unacceptable racism in an interaction with an officer, some originating in our city, there are many more stories about an Austin police officer going above and beyond to serve the homeless, connect with a young person, or prevent sexual assault or murder. I will remember, always, when the serial bomber that terrorized our city was stopped, our officers running towards his vehicle knowing it might (as it did) explode without regard for their own safety. But as every good cop knows, the multitude of heroic police officers in this country does not diminish our unequivocal obligation to combat the unacceptable safety threat posed by officers whose behavior and racial biases – conscious or unconscious- make us all less safe, police included.

To be clear, our challenge with policing is not merely one of removing “bad apples.” That is a legitimate element.  However, reducing the task we face simply to this apologist frame is to minimize and divert attention from the more serious and entrenched difficulties we face. There are historical, cultural, and systemic underpinnings that must be examined and recognized before we can, as we must, reimagine the present form of policing in service of even greater public safety.  This challenge will not be met by merely graduating new cadets into a system with inherent and institutionalized flaws that would subsume them if nothing more happens.  There’s a limit to what you and your class can solve on your own.

Our commitment to you is to maximize all the good that you can bring.  Police require and deserve to be supported and positioned for success by city government – that means robust, high caliber training, public safety investments to prevent crime from occurring in the first place, and more appropriate handling of mental health crises and social services. 

Reimagining public safety requires us all to be open to new ways to maintain Austin’s status as being the safest big city in Texas and one of the safest in the country. This requires taking head-on the controversial conversations and difficult policy decisions associated with not simply relying on the status quo. Your roles as new police officers are critical in this pivotal moment as is your participation in this process.

We are counting on the 143rd Cadet Class to lead the Austin Police Department into the future. Your cadet class represents our best hope for an ever-greater culture of guardianship, transparency, de-escalation, and equity.

You have my promise that the city and I will do our part to support you in this endeavor, as well as our best wishes for your successful career. Welcome to the force, all of you. And to those who are new to Austin – welcome home.


Steve Adler


SAVES resolution (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors)

I was proud to sponsor the SAVES resolution (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors), item 62, with Council Members Flannigan, Pool, and Tovo, along with the entire City Council.

Yesterday, the Austin City Council unanimously approved the resolution directing the City Manager to re-double efforts to identify new sources of funding and support for our most vulnerable local industries. Among them: live-music venues, childcare. etc.

Our city is in danger of permanently losing these key pieces of our civic infrastructure. They are among the hardest hit and most vulnerable businesses in our city. If lost, these are the kinds of businesses that will be difficult to replace. They are key to our culture, brand and our path to best recover from the economic disruption of the virus.

Austin, as with cities across the country, needs the federal government to act in the next few weeks to provide the economic relief at the scale of the challenge we face.  Only the federal government has the capacity to help at that level.  Nonetheless, we cannot only look to Washington, DC. 

We’re doing and have done much locally – but the crisis we face requires us to look again and be more creative and innovative. We’ve been focusing on individuals with support for basics needs like rental and food assistance and those efforts will continue.  We need to also focus on those businesses we might lose and on which so many in our community depend.  The SAVES resolution commits us to doing and expanding this work.

What comes next:

City staff will look at all viable options for funding and relief and quickly report back to the City Council with their recommendations, setting up the Council to take immediate action to support these critical industries.

Our staff will look at more quick and interim ways to stand up an Austin Economic Development Corporation – a new quasi-governmental entity that would be able to more nimbly act and to best leverage the funds available to support these sectors.

What you can do:

  • Call your member of Congress and US Senator. Urge them to pass the HEROES act which will bring cities more relief. There are not enough city resources to help everybody and every business that so desperately needs it right now. We need Congress to act.
  • Support our live-music venues and artists – find and support some internet streaming performances!


“To be clear – Austin City leaders have neither defunded the police department nor support doing so. I’m unaware of any elected official who believes differently. The Governor’s pledge is political theatre intended to scare and distract us from important public safety conversations about opening our children’s schools and saving lives during the pandemic or whether police should be mental health first responders and social workers. Austin is the safest big city in Texas and among the few safest in the country. We’ll continue to make an already safe city even safer and, importantly, safer for everyone. As we get closer to November, expect more distractions that intend to divide rather than unite.”