Petition filed to force convention center vote

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Bill Bunch of Unconventional Austin delivers petitions to Assistant City Clerk Erika Brady.

30,000 signatures on petitions filed with City Clerk July 12

Updated 7:05pm July 12, 2019

Steve Adler

Mayor Steve Adler sent out a press release at 5:30pm attacking the petition effort, stating:

“The community needs to know who is behind this effort and who is paying for it. We had a unanimous vote by one of the most progressive city council’s in our city’s history with near unanimously favorable community testimony. We have unanimous votes by the Tourism Commission and the Visitor Impact Task Force, with representatives of the music and arts commissions and communities.

“We’ve had four studies and have looked at this issue and the council has discussed it for years. All agree that we can get hundreds of millions of dollars of community benefits for homeless services, our music and arts industries, and preserving our important historic sites like the Palm School. All paid for by tourists, not local property or sales taxes.”

The mayor’s press release concludes with, “Who is paying to mislead the public and oppose these priorities?”

Bill Bunch

Asked to respond, Bill Bunch texted, “We are citizens who love Austin enough to stand up to a mayor who wants voters to have zero say on a $2 billion convention center boondoggle.”

As to who’s paying for the petition, Unconventional Austin’s specific-purpose political action committee did not appoint a treasurer until May 21, 2019. Its first campaign finance report will be due Monday, July 15.

The original story

Odds are good that Austin voters this fall will have a chance to cast ballots to decide whether to authorize expansion of the Austin Convention Center.

It was the City Council’s intention to avoid a public vote but a citizens group calling itself Unconventional Austin thought residents should decide if spending a reported $1.2 billion to expand the facility is a good investment.

Petition organizer Bill Bunch, who is executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, delivered seven file-folder boxes containing 30,000 signed petitions to Assistant City Clerk Erika Brady at 1:29pm this afternoon.

The petition calls for a lot more than an up-or-down vote on Convention Center expansion. If voters approve the petition ordinance, it will dictate the purposes for which hotel occupancy tax revenue can be allocated, as follows:

Support for cultural arts—Not less than 15 percent of total hotel occupancy tax revenue collected each fiscal year would be allocated to the City’s Cultural Arts Fund.

Support for historic preservation— Not less than 15 percent of total hotel occupancy tax revenue collected each fiscal year shall be allocated to the Historic Preservation Fund.

Convention Center expenditure cap—Total hotel occupancy tax revenue used for Convention Center expansion would be limited to the greater of an amount five times the Convention Center’s earned hotel occupancy tax revenue or 34 percent of the total collected each fiscal year.

Priority for remaining funds—The petition ordinance (copy linked below) provides a lengthy list of other uses for these funds.

Bunch told The Austin Bulldog that there have been conversations about possibly increasing the size of the Convention Center vertically, instead of sprawling over more land. Since there are no Capitol View Corridors involved on the land, “I think with vertical development at the current Convention Center site they could finance substantial expansion without taking all of the hotel tax.

“The petition is neutral,” he said. “They can expand the Convention Center if the voters approve it and they don’t take more than one-third of the hotel occupancy tax revenue. That’s consistent with what Houston, Corpus Christi and Fort Worth do.”

Two initiatives on November ballot?

If the Unconventional Austin petition ordinance makes the ballot it won’t be the only initiative for voters to decide. The Austin American-Statesman reported January 3, 2019, that Friends of McKalla Place filed a petition with 29,000 signatures.

That petition was validated in February—too late to put it on the May 2019 ballot, so it will appear on the November 5, 2019, ballot, if the City Council follows through with the usual pro forma approval by calling the election.

The Friends referendum would not call for a direct vote on the stadium deal signed December 19, 2018, that would be the home of professional soccer team Austin FC. Instead, the Friends petition calls for future elections to be held on any other deals for stadium or concert venues built on city-owned land, the Statesman reported.

Time enough to validate Unconventional petition?

As for the Unconventional Austin petition, the Texas Secretary of State’s website states that August 19, 2019, is the last day for local political subdivisions to order a general election on a measure.

If history is a good guide, the City Clerk’s office will be able to complete the validation process in plenty of time. At least two major petitions were filed in July and were put on the November ballot. Those being the 10-1 petition of Austinites for Geographic Representation in 2012 and the petition calling for a city efficiency audit in 2018.

Assistant City Clerk Brady told The Austin Bulldog, the clerk’s office has already started work on the petitions.

“Although we do not have a deadline for completing review, we have to do it within a reasonable time. As soon as the work’s done we will notify the council and the petitioners,” she said.

“I can’t provide estimate on how long it will take.”

Bunch said, “The city clerk has been diligent in the past in reviewing petitions and we expect it will be on the council agenda on August 15.”

Actually there is no council meeting scheduled that day. Brady said a council meeting is scheduled for August 8 and another August 22.

But, she added, “The council could have a special-called meeting if necessary.”

Links:

Petition to support Austin’s music, arts & cultural tourism for the benefit of all of Austin (2 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

CodeNEXT petitioners shoot for ballot win, September 4, 2018

Efficiency audit headed to ballot, July 12, 2018

10-1 plan qualifies for November ballot, July 27, 2012

Petition drive completed for 10-1 council districts, July 17, 2012

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

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