There’s no potential consensus on Austin’s code

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It used to be common for opponents of increased density to decry the change as threatening “neighborhood character.” That phrasing is no longer in vogue. Instead these are the favored buzzwords:

  • Striking a balance
  • Building trust
  • Achieving consensus
  • This proposal is divisive

Public policy accomplishments are almost always divisive. The New Deal. The Civil Rights Act. Obamacare. Sometimes, consensus simply isn’t possible. The same is true of the debate over land use in Austin.

Yesterday Delia Garza said that everybody on City Council wants the same thing, they just disagree about how to get there. I don’t think that’s true. Yes, everybody would like Austin to be more affordable and less car-dependent, but some prioritize the preservation of single-family housing above those two goals. Or at least on equal footing with those two goals. Meanwhile, some on Council don’t view preserving single-family housing as an important objective.

There will be some matters within the code, such as the misguided “equity overlay” aimed at reducing housing capacity in gentrifying areas, that will earn unanimous support. But on many of the core issues being debated, notably how much new housing we need, there’s no way the two blocs on Council can come together.

If the code passes with more than 7 votes on second and third reading, it will almost undoubtedly be because the housing goals have been weakened. It would represent a failure on the part of the mayor and other housing supporters.

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