ANC to City Council: change is not welcome

This is an excerpt from the Nov. 30 edition of the Austin Politics Newsletter. To get daily breaking news and analysis on city politics, click here to subscribe

In a curt letter to Austin’s esteemed elected officials, Austin Neighborhoods Council president Justin Irving registers his displeasure with City Council’s meeting today to discuss solutions to the city’s housing crisis, including potential changes to the land development code.

“We believe that all changes to the Land Development Code at this time are not welcome,” he says, “particularly since the City’s judgment has not been issued yet by the 14th Court of Appeals.”

What a curious way to put it: “Changes are not welcome.” Oh? To whom are they not welcome? God?

ANC is interpreting Judge Jan Soifer’s ruling against the city last year in the broadest terms possible. They’re arguing that the ruling means that any change to land development regulations can be challenged by property owners via a valid petition, thereby requiring a 3/4 majority on Council to approve it.

ANC’s reasoning also implies that for any change to the LDC, the city must either individually notify every property owner in Austin or go through the highly unusual process of holding a joint meeting between Council and the Planning Commission to approve the change.

Suffice it to say, this reading of the law is unworkable. If the courts actually endorse such an extreme interpretation, the Lege will have to rewrite the law.

Anyway, what’s interesting about ANC’s bluster is how at odds it is with the posture struck by its traditional allies on Council. The only proposed code amendment so far –– to allow residential in commercial zones –– is co-sponsored by the mayor and three of the most ardent defender of the single-family neighborhood: Alison Alter, Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo. At least at this point, the preservationists at Council are saying that they’re open to changes that can earn “consensus.”

Once upon a time, one might assume there to be a strategic explanation for ANC striking such a different tone from its Council allies. But ANC is no longer the political heavyweight that it once was. Anti-development sentiment continues to be an important force in local politics, but the ANC itself has struggled to remain relevant in the 10-1 Council era. Its failure to retain and attract smart new members and leaders has allowed the paranoid fringe to take over.

Remember, this is the same group that elevated wackjob conspiracy theorist Laura Pressley to a leadership role and then endorsed her campaign against Greg Casar in 2014. Moreover, when the media started digging into Pressley’s crackpot views on 9/11, numerous members of the ANC leadership defended them. This is not an organization that has any business exerting influence in Austin city politics.

This is an excerpt from the Nov. 30 edition of the Austin Politics Newsletter. To get daily breaking news and analysis on city politics, click here to subscribe

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