CodeNext opponents turn in petition to send the overhaul to voters

Austin

Opponents of a major rewrite of Austin’s land development code that determines what can be built where wants to take the issue to voters.

A coalition of groups organizing against the CodeNext plan brought a petition to the city clerk Thursday. If approved, voters in November will get a veto pen to nix any comprehensive overhaul of the land development code from here on out. 

PODER, Austin’s NAACP, the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Community Not Commodity and the billboard industry-backed group Indy Austin, organized and recruited 32,000 people to sign the petition. They needed 20,000 valid signatures. 

“You would think the city of Austin would want to get this right,” said Nelson Linder from the NAACP.

On March 29, 2018 a coalition of local residents concerned with the area's affordability crisis gathered at Austin's City Clerk's office and filed a petition with the signatures of more than 32,000 registered voters. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

The group wants voters to weigh in on the final product of CodeNext, saying developers have too much influence on the current process to change the code.

“It needs to be tweaked and fixed, I will agree with that, but it doesn’t have to be rewritten,” said Susana Almanza from PODER.

Mayor Steve Adler, who spoke to reporters after the petitions were dropped off, has concerns about the petition and says voters have their say by the people they vote to city council. He says people should trust the process. 

“If it [CodeNext] is not ready and if it’s not better than the existing code then the council isn’t going to approve anything at all,” said Adler.

Fred Lewis from Community Not Commodity is not in the trusting mood.

“It’s their homes. It’s their neighborhoods. It’s their property. It isn’t the city council’s. It’s not the city staff’s,” said Lewis.

The city clerk has 30 days to validate the petition.

Supporters of CodeNext say the city needs the rewrite because it’s simple economics: Austin doesn’t have the housing supply to meet demand and that’s raising prices for everyone.

“What’s behind it [the petition] is a desire for things to go back the way they were in the past and we can’t do that,” said Eric Godd from AURA (An Austin for Everyone) a group supporting CodeNext. He hopes a denser city core will bring housing prices, rents and traffic times down.

“You should be in favor of a good CodeNext if you’re paying too much in property taxes, too much for rent and if you’re spending too much time in traffic,” said Goff.

But for his side to win, they might have to win at the polls.

A city spokesperson Thursday told KXAN the opposition’s effort might violate the city charter and state law limiting petitions on zoning issues. If it is legal, the city council will still have to vote whether to put it on the November ballot.

The last high profile petitioned item to appear on a ballot was when the Austin City Council approved new rules for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Supporters organized, got it in the election and voters upheld the city’s ordinance.

This was also the way 10-1 city council system was created, rather than an at-large system.

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