AUSTIN - When real estate and mortgage lender Sheri Gallo decided to run for the Austin City Council in 2014, she did it to give a voice to the residents of Central and West Austin.
“I represent a district that has felt very underserved with the city council when it was elected at-large. So it was very important to me these first two years to really focus on constituent services to make sure that I was in the community quite a bit to give people a chance to visit with me and talk with me and express their concerns and to be a really active participant in the community,” Gallo said.
During her time in office, Gallo said she is most proud of how she’s served the people of District 10.
“The constituent services that we've focused on and that means giving people a voice, and so allowing them to have the exposure to me, the opportunity to be able to set appointments with me for me to actually be in the neighborhoods and understanding what the issues are. When we went up and tallied the number of community and neighborhood meetings and events we had gone to, my staff and I, it was over 500 and so we're really proud of that. That's in a pretty short time. We also made the decision to do town hall meetings but take them into the district and into the neighborhoods. We brought city staff expertise into the neighborhoods rather than asking people to come down to City Hall to talk to staff or get their questions answered.”
Gallo’s staff also publishes a weekly newsletter for constituents.
“I'm really, really proud of that. It is a labor of love. It takes a lot of effort to do but you know, once again, it was important to me to make sure that information got out to all of the district area, all of the neighborhoods in District 10. And we were sharing different events in the community, we were sharing city surveys so that they could take part in the surveys and have their voices heard. So really proud about the amount of work and effort we've done to be in District 10 and also to be a good listener.”
Gallo was born and raised in Austin, Texas. She studied Biology and Home Building at Trinity University and Architecture and Pre-Med at University of Texas at Austin before starting a business in real estate.
She said her work for District 10 is not over yet.
“Oh there's so much left to do,” Gallo said. “You know we are the 11th largest city in the country and I grew up here and it's very different from the small, university town that I grew up in. We have big city problems now. We have big city issues now, we have big city decisions.”
“It was interesting as I ran two years ago the top two issues were affordability and transportation; the top two issues are still affordability and transportation and there is a lot of work to do on both of those.”
She’s asking voters to give her four more years in office and said her time as a council member makes her the most qualified candidate.
“Two years ago I would have loved to pull the four-year marble out of the bag and instead did the two. You know, I have really worked hard. I would say that my work week is a 60 to 80 hour week and that is because we have made the choice, I have made the choice, to spend that extra time and effort in the district doing what we do to be there to listen. But I think the other really distinct advantage that I have is the expertise that I have gained in the last two years learning everything I could about how to run the 11th largest city in the country and how to manage a $3.7 billion budget. And that is an expertise that you don’t get overnight. And that is a substantial difference. I mean the learning curve for the first year, year and a half and even now was a substantial time investment. Where we need that, where we are right now is we have some really serious issues facing us immediately. We are in the process of hiring a new city manager. Someone who's had the expertise and the experience of knowing what didn't work as well as it could and what we need to change as far as the structure and the type of person we need to look for to be a city manager, I think that's an expertise and an experience that is not replaced by somebody that’s new on the council. The other thing is Code Next. You know we are getting ready to start a rewrite of our land development code that we have not done in 30 years. You know, knowing what went wrong, what we need to change, having had the experience of zoning cases and land use cases and all of those over these past two years I think really helps with knowing where we need to go and understanding and helping to facilitate that conversation because Code Next is going to tell us as a community how we agree to grow and where we're going to put that housing and where were going to do the density and how we're going to protect the characters of our existing neighborhoods.”
ON THE ISSUES
Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?
“I know that there is a lot of discussion in the community right now about the mobility bond and my support of it was based on the ability to really get some substantial dollars in the mobility bond specifically for District 10 roads. There was a Mobility Talks survey that was done and it showed over 90 percent of District 10 residents used vehicles as their main mode of transportation. And I think it's important as we talk about traffic congestion solutions that we understand that District 10 residents depend on their cars and that means we have to have road solutions, we have to add vehicle capacity, we have to improve the intersections. And so the ability to get $46 million in the mobility bond specifically for Loop 360 improvements and another $17 million in the mobility bond to improve the substandard section of Spicewood Springs that is really highly traveled in District 10.”
“So I am for it but I understand the conversation in the community. My goal in supporting it was to make sure that if it does pass then we will make sure that we have some substantial money that is going to actually improve road congestion in District 10.”
Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?
“Part of our dilemma that I have found out in the last two years of becoming an expert on city issues and policies and decisions is that we don't spend enough on transportation. You know our transportation budget, department budget, continues to be less and less a percentage of our general fund expenditures and so we really need to focus on how we can increase that funding so we actually have money to address different things. But one of my purposes and one of my goals these last two years has been to try to find sources for funding for transportation. So as we did the quarter cent fund, and I was one of the leaders in making sure that fund was divided equally in the different districts, we actually had an amount of money, it was almost $2 million to spend in District 10 specifically on traffic congestion and safety. And so one of the areas that I wanted us to focus on in District 10 is intersection failure. So as you sit at an intersection and you're stopped and you see that there's not any cars passing in front of you, that’s probably one of the most frustrating things that people driving face. And so there's a new signal system that's called adaptive signaling. It's computerized, it's real time, it's able to adjust the signaling on real time situations, so it can adjust for weather, it can adjust for special events, it can adjust for road construction and so I made sure as part of the quarter cent funding which is actually funded, it will actually be done, that every signal in district 10 will be part of that program.”
Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?
“We are increasing our population every day, substantially. I mean we are blessed with a robust economy, so we have new businesses we have expanding businesses, we have people hiring and there are a lot of people moving to Austin. We're lucky, but the down side to that is that that means we are adding a lot to our population and we are not keeping up with that population growth with housing opportunities. And affordability is impacted substantially by supply and demand. You know my background is real estate and finance and I understand that. And when you have a supply that doesn't meet the demand then there is a competitive, almost a bidding war that goes on for the available units whether they're rental units or whether they're for sale units. So if we can figure out ways to increase the supply to meet the demand, then that in itself will help affordability. So that's one place we do it. I think the other place that we deal with or growth and the lack of housing is we need to be more aggressive about providing different type of housing stock. So we need to provide the single family but we also need to be able to provide micro units. And just the fact that people have the opportunity to choose to live smaller, will address affordability because their rents will be lower.”
Q: The Martin Prosperity Institute found Austin is the “most economically segregated major metro area in the U.S.,” how do you propose Austin address this?
“I think there are a lot of issues that play into that. I think, I'm going to go back to the affordability issue also, because as we provide affordable housing we have a tendency in this community to do it in certain areas of the community and I am a very big proponent of making sure that out subsidized and affordable housing, that we're using tax money and Austin money for, gets spread geographically through the whole community so that people who work in the high work opportunity areas like West Austin, can also find housing to be able to live there. So as we have people being able to disperse more evenly across the city because they have affordable housing opportunities, you know I think that really helps from the standpoint of geographically keeping people dispersed through the whole community.”
Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 10?
“I'm going to go back to transportation and affordability. I mean those are the two that I hear. Wildfire also is a risk in District 10 but to talk a little bit about affordability first, I'm a fiscal conservative. I've been really proud of my record on how I’m trying to address affordability for homeowners, so my campaign pledge two years ago was to pledge to get to the 20percent homestead exemption as quickly as possible. Last year the council voted to do that within four years. So last year we did a six percent and my goal this year was to at least do four percent but unfortunately we couldn't get a majority council vote to do that so we were able to pass the two percent. So we're now at eight percent but my pledge and my commitment is to still continue along that pathway. And then the second place that I've really tried to address affordability is with our seniors. I think we had a statistic that showed, a survey that showed that over 75 percent of the seniors in Austin own their own home. Many of our seniors are forced to move out of the homes they've lived in for decades, they’ve raised their families in because they can no longer pay the property taxes or the utility bills. And one of the ways we as a city can be committed to helping seniors age in place is to increase the homestead exemption for seniors. And so for the last two years I was the leader in the resolution to continue to do that and I will continue to do that.”
Q: On a lighter note, Austinites like to believe we live in the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” so tell us, what’s your favorite song?
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross & The Supremes
Sheri Gallo has been endorsed by the following individuals:
- Hon. Lee Cooke
- Hon. Frank Cooksey
- Hon. Lee Leffingwell
- Hon. Ron Mullen
- Hon. Edgar Perry
- Hon. Bruce Todd
To read More About Sheri Gallo, click here.