The other day City Council voted not to put the anti-CodeNEXT petition on the ballot. The mayor went into lawyer mode and gave a pretty compelling dissection of state law, which he argued prohibited the city from subjecting zoning changes to a public vote.
I wasn’t elected to do the easy thing, I was elected to do the hard thing when it was the right thing. I bring this substitute because putting this on the ballot is not proper under the law. In fact, I haven’t heard any lawyer unattached with the petition drive suggest it’s something that would be put on the ballot. I’m not sure that the attorneys that are doing this with the petition actually think that it really could go on the ballot.
Bobby Levinski, an attorney with Save Our Springs, didn’t appreciate the suggestion that he was operating in bad faith by supporting the petition, but the debate was generally pretty civil. For the most part, the CMs focused on the legality of the petition, rather than the underlying debate over development. There were a couple exceptions.
For instance, this claim from Ora Houston (from the City Council transcript)
I do believe that voters have a right to petition, referendum and a vote on things that will negatively impact every parcel of land in this city. Not only the property, but other things that have nothing to do with zoning. And to deny them that right to me is a travesty.
Pio Renteria went in an opposite direction, denouncing the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Community Not Commodity and anti-development forces as phonies who don’t care about the people they claim to give voice to.
This little campaign literature from Community Not Commodity, y’all guys don’t even know me. You know, I worked on this — I got a newspaper clipping here from 1987 where we ran a housing bond campaign. We had the support of almost everyone except for the South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association that went out against us. And they defeated that bond election. It was for $22 million. And ever since it has been a struggle to get affordable housing here and now we’re getting to that point now where there is no — people in my neighborhood, you know, y’all are saying you want to save the people in east Austin. That’s false. That is false information. Y’all guys have never been down there. There is no more folks living down there, just the ones that are — the older homeowners that can afford to stay there because their school taxes are frozen and the ones that are living in subsidized housing that we have created. There’s very few people that can afford that. I always say that the gentrifiers are now getting gentrified and you’re trying to say that we’re going to displace people. No, y’all already displaced us.
We’re just trying to hold on to what we have. And we know only through CodeNEXT — if we didn’t opt in for secondary units, I would not have been able to live there. And the Austin Neighborhood (Council) were the first — they fought us all the way through to not allow us in my neighborhood to be able to create a secondary unit. And that’s the only way that I was able to survive there in this neighborhood. Right now the land value is $300,000. $300,000. You’re not saving us from displacement. You already displaced us, you know?
We’re trying to build more units so that we can bring in more people, more affordable units. And that’s what we’re doing with CodeNEXT. But you know, this ain’t going to get you nowhere because my people already have done what CodeNEXT is proposing. It’s already there. We knew how to survive and we’re going to survive. And I just don’t like this little postcard, but this is a democracy and I tell people, I say yeah, the whole petition is all fake news. They’re scaring the people in the neighborhood. Y’all frighten people. It’s sad that y’all have gotten down to that point. Y’all are so low.
Ann Kitchen, who has definitely gone to bat for neighborhood associations in the past, tried to walk a middle line. She argued that she was going to vote against putting the measure on the ballot, but only because she believed it was illegal. She hoped the question would be put to the voters via a court challenge. She essentially encouraged the anti-CodeNEXT forces to sue the city.
I think that we don’t have the authority to put this on the ballot. But with that said, what we’re really trying to do, and I think that the substitute does, is we’re trying to honor the public’s ability to vote. I think the only route to doing that is to get this in front of a judge as soon as possible. You know, I think Mayor Pro Tem had asked what is different between the substitute and what’s on the table. The substitute doesn’t wait until June 14th. The substitute is written so that it would be clear this can be taken to a judge now.
Well this should be interesting. I wish there were a betting line on the outcome of the court case. I’ll defer to the lawyers and guess that a court is going to side with Adler & Co.
But there’s part of me that would love to see a major campaign on the issue of land-use. Right now, the debate is largely between two relatively niche groups. Neighborhood associations speak for a relatively small subset of older homeowners. Then there are urbanists/housing advocates and the business community. The great majority of Austinites likely don’t align with either group. They’re all mad about the cost of living, traffic and their new Californian neighbors, but most never ponder whether zoning regulations could resolve those issues. It would be interesting to see how the small minority that is engaged in the debate would frame their arguments for the general public. The assumption appears to be that the anti-growth forces would have the upper hand in a referendum campaign. But a) I think that assumption is based on the pre-10-1 days, when city elections took place in May and the electorate was even older and whiter than it is typically.