The scene that Jo Clifton described at a meeting of the Austin Environmental Democrats is a microcosm of the debate among environmentalists that I’ve observed in my three years reporting on City Hall. At issue was whether the group would endorse Proposition J, the ballot measure aimed at “preventing the next CodeNEXT” by mandating that any overhaul of the land development code be approved by voters.
Dick Kallerman, a longtime member of the Sierra Club, compared the vote to Brexit, saying that if the voters adopt it, “We’ll never live it down.” Kallerman noted that he was speaking for himself, not as a representative of the Sierra Club, which has not taken a position on Prop J.
There are other Sierra Club staff and board members who lean the opposite way. Roy Waley, a board member, usually rolls with the neighborhood preservationist crowd. Dave Cortez, an organizer with the group, is also a skeptic of urbanism.
These divisions appear to exist in other environmental groups as well. In general, people in the environmental community tell me that the split is largely generational. Older people who cut their teeth in the Save Our Springs era tend to be skeptical of growth and development, while younger environmentalists are increasingly focused on reducing emissions by building dense, transit-supportive cities.
Interestingly, while the Environmental Dems voted not to support Prop J, they voted to endorse anti-CodeNEXT Kathie Tovo over her urbanist challenger, Danielle Skidmore, and the group issued a dual endorsement to Mayor Steve Adler and challenger Laura Morrison, whose chief priority is opposing the densification of Austin.