What’s up with the CodeNEXT petition?

A CodeNEXT workshop. 

If you’re not clear on what’s going on with the CodeNEXT petition, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in my company. I don’t think all of the news reports on the matter have quite captured the nuance of the ruling issued by Judge Orlinda Naranjo, but fortunately the paper of record included a few of the key points that I think people are missing:

The CodeNext petition ordinance will appear on November’s ballot after a judge on Monday overturned previous action by the Austin City Council.

In her order, Travis County state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo ruled it was premature for the City Council to prevent Austin residents from voting on the petition ordinance.

…While it was good news for Lewis and the largely anti-CodeNext groups that have been the loudest supporters of the petition ordinance, Naranjo’s order made no ruling on whether the proposed ordinance would violate state law that prevents votes on zoning.

So, I guess it looks like Council is going to put this initiative on the ballot. The initiative is a proposed ordinance which states that if CodeNEXT or any other major re-write of the land development code takes place, voters will have to vote to approve it.

If the initiative is approved, it’s very possible the resulting ordinance will be struck down as contrary to state law, which pretty clearly states that zoning is not subject to initiative unless you’re voting on scrapping zoning entirely.

But I don’t really know what that means for the coming months. It’s going to be very hard for urbanist forces to make the case against the petition. The anti-CodeNEXT crowd can frame the vote as pro-democracy and a bulwark against CodeNEXT, while those who are either pro-CodeNEXT or don’t believe that the land development code should be done via ballot box are going to have a tough time making an argument that the average voter can understand and support.

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