“Goodwill, genuine compassion, and generous and equitable investment in the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community are the real measures of excellence of a city, not appearance at the top of Forbes’ list of fastest growing economies.”
— Mitrah Elizabeth Avini
 
picavini.png
 

About Me

I was born and raised in District 1 and am a product of east and central Austin schools, including Trinity Preschool in Windsor Park, Lee Elementary in Hyde Park, and Kealing Middle School on Pennsylvania Avenue in East Austin. I received a full scholarship to Yale and double majored in Philosophy and Political Science. At Yale, I served as an ethics committee reader for the Yale Philosophy Review and was the youngest contributor of brain imaging research to the Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. I recently completed my graduate studies at the University of Oxford (in England) where I was a member of Balliol College and studied public policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, before earning a Master of Science in comparative policy. My studies have primarily focused on ethics in the age of multinational corporations, global poverty, international security, and comparative systems of government, particularly in relation to different approaches to caring for the economic and social well-being of citizens. At Oxford, I acquired the tools necessary to actually evaluate policy and conduct quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods science research (policy analysis).

Prior to graduate school, I lived and worked in New York City, where I served as a housing policy researcher, speechwriter, and Huffington Post blogger for a mayoral campaign. It was during this period that I learned about the politics of affordability, gentrification, and urban renewal. I learned about the management of municipalities during extreme weather events, as I lived through Hurricane Sandy, which flooded my apartment in lower Manhattan and devastated the city’s infrastructure.

During my time there, I founded United Voices, an organization building creative bridges between East and West and inspired by the idea that wars and conflicts speak more to the poverty of our imaginations than the superiority of our religions or political systems. I was invited to contribute to round tables at the Council on Foreign Relations and served as a young member of UN NGO Sustainability, Inc., an organization that provides small-scale sustainable energy solutions to women in developing countries and promotes cultural exchange between Asia and the United States.

More recently, I was named an Asia 21 Young Leader by the Asia Society, with whom I had the honor of traveling to South Korea and working with a start-up company developing sustainable, cradle to cradle hygiene products for school girls in India.

But my heart has always been here in Austin with my community and my family. I actually got my start in Austin’s indie film and television industry, which led to my first taste of public service: as a teenager, I served as a spokesperson for Joy International, an Austin-based nonprofit that promoted mutual understanding between nations and raised money for school children in Mexico.

Upon returning home to Austin after finishing college, I found that the strengths of the town I remembered are still here: a love of the arts; a commitment to environmental health and justice; and a strong community of loving, hard-working people committed to caring for their families and their city. But I also found deep-rooted, systematic injustice – economic, environmental, and political. And I knew I could do something about it.

Now I’m looking forward to my next chapter, serving you as your voice on City Council, where I will fight for people over profit.

Family Background

I grew up in an international and interfaith family. My mother, Teresa, was born in Victoria, Texas, in a Christian family. My father was born to a Muslim family in an ancient city just an hour outside of Tehran, Iran. My parents met and fell in love in an art class at UT Austin in the early 1970s.

Having resided in Austin for almost half a century, my parents are now retired, my father from about 30 years of teaching mathematics at UT Austin and ACC and my mother as a paper conservator and restorer of rare books, maps, and works of art.  Thanks to my parents’ work, I was fortunate enough to come in contact with original copies of some of Austin’s founding documents, including a Stephen F. Austin map of the Austin Colony and an eviction notice addressed by him to a member of the Colony. (Displacement is evidently a longstanding problem in Austin.)

Earlier in her career, my mother worked at Casis Elementary, a joint venture of Austin Public Schools and the University of Texas, serving physically and mentally challenged children. I have two older siblings, the oldest of whom was born with multiple physical and mental challenges due to a case of Maternal Rubella syndrome (German measles), a fact that has made me aware of and sensitive to issues around access and inclusion of children and adults with special needs.

Our family has a long history of public service. My great grandfather was appointed chief of police to the Panama Canal Zone by President Roosevelt. My grandfather, a veteran of the WWII,  attended UT Austin on the GI bill then served in the Social Security Administration until retirement. My grandmother, who was born and raised in Panama, also graduated from UT Austin, where she met my grandfather in business school. She served the Texas State legislature for a number of years, but finished her career with service to the Texas Department of Human Services until retirement.

 

PLATFORM

People over Profit

The corporate governance model is not appropriate for the management of Austin because the corporate model essentially means profit over people. Competition between Austin and other cities results in a race to the bottom. What this means is that the city’s economic development incentives, tax breaks, and other giveaways to for-profit corporations rarely trickle down to the people who need it. Only a few benefit when a city employs a corporate model of management. When a city’s economic development model empowers corporations at the expense of everyday citizens, it contributes to power disparities and the erosion of the city’s democratic institutions.

 

Growth and Imagine Austin

The massive growth in East Austin is partly a result of incentivizing development without equitable future planning. Imagine Austin contains a future growth map that appears to correspond to areas of East Austin that have suffered gentrification and displacement of people. Imagine Austin pinpoints East Austin for future growth, sometimes at the detriment of longtime residents. Arbitrarily placing East Austin in an “urban core” area without advance planning that anticipates and mitigates displacement is a major weakness of the plan; vulnerable populations residing in or near East Austin sites identified as “desired zones of development” have in some sense been inadvertently targeted rather than helped by the city’s planning efforts.

Environmental Redlining

The residents of Austin, especially East Austin, are victims of massive growth, development, and degradation of the environment. Watershed protection must not be in name only. There are watershed protection policies yet many of Austin’s waterways are polluted. Development without proper site assessments and impact studies, along with widespread existing soil contamination, create hazardous environmental conditions, particularly during flooding events. The failure of the city to budget for soil remediation in East Austin or anticipate environmental concerns through proper impact studies and site assessments is problematic. Bioremediation is necessary so that contaminated chemical runoff no longer makes its way into Austin’s waterways where children in East Austin play.

The connection between health and economic disparities in Austin and Austin’s decades old practice of environmental redlining deserves attention. The latest example of environmental racism and redlining is the Mckalla Place Soccer Stadium, which will be built at the headwaters of Little Walnut Creek in the Creek’s watershed. No environmental impact study has assessed the damage the stadium would have on Little Walnut Creek and the flooding it would probably cause in residences downstream, not to mention the increased volume of pollution it would send down the Creek. Little Walnut Creek is now in a 25 year floodplain. This was only recently changed from a 100 year flood plain. Non-racist planning would eliminate future development along the entire length of any waterway that flows through East Austin. Protections for urban watersheds must be strengthened, as many of the creeks are sites of natural springs and other environmental and cultural resources (like Native American artifacts) that the City of Austin refuses to recognize. Blackland prairies and wild land on Austin’s east side should be preserved rather than developed. Preserving wild land and forested areas can help keep surface temperatures cool even as temperatures rise locally and globally. Given global water scarcity projections, Austin needs to start taking better care of one of its greatest natural assets - its creeks, natural springs, and rivers.

Property Taxes

Growth and massive population increases are more expensive than the city can afford, which causes the increase in property taxes. The city wants to grow more and borrow more and is doing so without the consent of citizens. No citizen should be forced to finance his or her own displacement. 33 other states have property taxes prorated based on income. Texas does not have an income tax, but there are other programs that can be considered, such as a circuit breaker program. I will use my platform as a city council member to protect families against excessive property taxes and unfair assessments. Please keep in mind that all of the other candidates in the race have stated that they care about affordability, but they have all already agreed to raise your property taxes. When property taxes rise, so do rents, so keeping property taxes low helps renters as much as it helps homeowners. “Affordable housing” is not really affordable to current Austinites who need a cheap place to live. Affordable housing serves the needs of future residents of Austin who have higher incomes than the existing residents who are nevertheless being asked to pay for the housing of future residents. Unless you like Austin’s growth, you should vote against the Affordable Housing Bond (Prop A). The chart below (source: Austin Chronicle) shows where all the candidates fall in terms of their positions on density. They left me off the chart below, but I added myself next to Ora Houston (our current Council Member who decided not to run again):

Austin Chronicle Chart.png

Poverty & Affordability

A part of the city of Austin’s planning has been to invite companies that create a large volume of high paying jobs (few of which are available to Austinites). This has altered the character of neighborhoods by raising the median income levels, rental prices, and property taxes. Concentration of wealth in certain neighborhoods is a direct cause of displacement and economic segregation. Census Bureau data bear witness to the flight of lower income Austinites into poorer neighborhoods and the suburbs of Austin metro. There has been an overall decrease of 14.5% in the population of District 1 African Americans between the years 2000 and 2010. There are also trends showing an increase of poverty in the suburbs of Austin metro. In addition, Austin has been placed near the top of the list of most economically segregated cities. The displacement of African Americans, Latinos, and working class families is the direct result of promoted and unmonitored development and planning. Evaluation of federal funding streams that perpetuate development in Austin may be a helpful course of action.

 

Government Transparency, Accountability, and Civic Responsibility

City Council and the Chamber of Commerce should not sidestep citizens. City staff should not be able to ignore or discount the will of citizens. Critical analysis of all city policy that is introduced should be a requirement. I am opposed to political paternalism and all forms of authoritarianism. I believe in liberal democracy, the republican form of government on which the country was founded, as well as open government.

 
Hugh.jpg

I am so proud and humbled to have received the endorsement of

MR. HUGH MAYFIELD

FORTH GENERATION AUSTINITE

VICE CHAIRMAN of the FLOOD PLAIN TASK FORCE for the CITY OF AUSTIN

MEMBER of the SOLID WASTE ADVISORY COMMISSION for the CITY OF AUSTIN

LONG TIME RESPECTED MEMBER of the AUSTIN ENVIRONMENTAL BOARD

GRADUATE in GEOSCIENCE from TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY

MASTER of SCIENCE with SPECIALIZATION IN WATER RESOURCES

DISABLED VETERAN