Neighborhood activists launching efforts to drum up support and raise campaign funds
Central city residents are up in arms over perceptions that the work in progress called CodeNEXT, a complete overhaul of the City of Austin’s Land Development Code, will wreak havoc on their neighborhoods and way of life.
The Austin Bulldog previously reported on the three petition drives launched by IndyAustin, one of which if approved by voters would slow down CodeNEXT and put the matter to a public vote before it could be implemented.
The first get-together to rally support against CodeNEXT was held October 3 at the home of Charlotte Herzele, where several speakers addressed what they said are shortcomings in the plan that will have an undesirable impact on how the city is redeveloped.
Carmen Llanes Pulido, executive director of Go Austin/Vamos Austin and the host’s daughter, said CodeNEXT is based on the false premise that, “If we open the doors of development it will take care of the problems of East Austin, but I don’t believe the growth machine is so easily satiated.”
She said that density is not bringing affordability to East Austin and policy changes are needed to provide truly affordable housing.
“If we cannot ameliorate the effects of rapid growth we should not accelerate growth,” said Pulido, who was a member of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission that drew the boundaries of the 10 geographic City Council districts implemented in the 2014 elections.
Former council member opposed
Laura Morrison, who served two terms on the Austin City Council 2009-2014, said, “CodeNEXT will be fueling the demolition of structures and the devastation of our communities.”
She said when the City Council approved the Imagine Austin plan in 2012 it knew that the Land Development Code would be rewritten, but the process has gotten off track from where it was meant to go.
The intent was for families to be able to stay in their homes and for neighborhood plans to be respected.
“None of that happened,” said Morrison, who was president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council before being elected to the City Council.
The $2 million consulting contract that was approved in 2013 to write the code is now ballooning to some $8 million, she said, and a fundamental problem is that the consultants “have no context or history of our community. They want to redraw it like it’s a blank slate.”
The draft CodeNEXT “is written to allow developers to develop and keep citizens out of the way,” Morrison said.
She said she doubted CodeNEXT could be fixed, but “it will not happen if people don’t step up.” She said public participation is needed.
Terri Myers said she and others had met with Mayor Steve Adler for two and a half hours. “He told us that any neighborhood close to UT and downtown should expect to be redeveloped. There is no future for single-family housing in our neighborhoods in Central Austin.”
Rather advocates terminating CodeNEXT
Robin Rather was straightforward. She said, “We should kill this thing right now.”
She said she had worked with the consultants elsewhere, doing market research and interviews. “I love them but we should not give them another $2 million. They made their millions and should go away now.”
Instead of giving that $2 million to consultants,” Rather said, planners should “go district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood and see what residents want.”
“CodeNEXT institutionalizes the mistakes we made with Smart Growth,” she said. “We are way smarter than Smart Growth. Let’s not nibble around the edges. I would rather fix the code we have, neighborhood plan by neighborhood plan, district by district.”
Noting the fact that the Planning Department had been rated the worst in the country, Rather advocates firing them. “They’re not up to it—if they were we wouldn’t be where we are.”
“Austin is the way it is because people showed up at houses like this, time after time. It’s up to us to fix this. We should get busy and do it.”
Community Not Commodity campaigning
The Herzele home gathering was organized by Community Not Commodity, which advocates for a new land development code that protects neighborhoods, maintains Austin’s livability, and does not displace residents.
Attorney Fred Lewis, who founded Community Not Commodity, said the organization provides tools to reshape if not defeat CodeNEXT. Lewis drafted the petition to allow voters to have a final say in whether CodeNEXT is implemented.
“We are providing the research, lobbying, and social media,” Lewis said. “We have the best researchers in the city working on this.”
“We have to organize or we will be run over,” he said, adding that “the working class and poor will be run out of town” under CodeNEXT.
Lewis encouraged everyone to sign the petition that’s available on the organization’s website to get the initiative on the ballot to allow the public to vote on CodeNEXT.
“This says, to the City Council, “Pass what you want, but we will have the final say.”
“We’re not getting paid,” Lewis said. “We need money for materials that are required to run an effective campaign. If I didn’t think we could win, I would not be doing this.”
Community Not Commodity is affiliated with Save Our City Austin, whose board members are listed on the website.
A fundraiser is scheduled for the evening of October 26 at the home of Fred and Dawn Lewis featuring a performance by two-time Grammy nominee Eliza Gilkyson with sponsorships from $250 to $2,500. Individual tickets are $100. Organizers said that all funds raised will go toward obtaining 20,000 petition signatures to place a binding initiative on the ballot so Austinites may vote on CodeNEXT.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help sustain this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.
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