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Austin leaders speak out against Prop 1

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

With an election less than a month away, the perpetual discussion surrounding proposed regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft continues. On Tuesday, a group of prominent Austinites gathered on the steps of City Hall and came out swinging against the petition-driven Proposition 1 that they say would set a dangerous precedent.

The Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice political action committee reported just over $12,000 in political contributions on April 7. The amount is a pittance when compared with the nearly $2.2 million that Lyft and Uber have contributed to the Ridesharing Works for Austin PAC over the same time period. However, the smaller PAC is bolstered by some big names in local politics. Tuesday’s press conference featured former City Council Member Laura Morrison, former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday, former Austin Independent School District board President Gina Hinojosa, Travis County Democratic Party Chair Vincent Harding and Austin Sierra Club’s Roy Waley, who stood on the steps with six current +Council members and community leaders in an attempt to get out the vote against Prop 1.

Austinites will be asked to vote on Prop 1 during the May 7 election. A vote in favor of the measure would reinstate the ride-hailing ordinance passed in 2014, after a petition drive put those regulations on the ballot. A vote against the measure would allow the regulations approved by Council in December to rule ride-hailing in the city. Most of the debate between the two options has centered on background checks – Prop 1 would not require fingerprinting of drivers, and the recently approved regulations ultimately would. But those against Prop 1 warn that there is much more at stake.

“It’s not a question of whether you like Uber or Lyft, I just have to stress that. It’s about whether you want corporations writing their own rules,” said Morrison, following the press conference. “It’s an issue I believe in deeply. It’s a righteous issue. … That’s not the way we do things here, and I hope that the people of Austin will understand that.”

Though other speakers highlighted topics such as safety concerns and misinformation surrounding the election, most of the talk focused on issues of process and the consequences of allowing corporations to bypass the will of elected officials through a petition signed by more than 25,000 people. Waley called the movement a “synthetic, AstroTurf campaign” in his remarks.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Uber or you’re Jim Bob Moffett or you’re John Wayne or Donald Duck, you don’t come to Austin and tell the citizens that elect our officials how we’re going to run our city,” said Waley, who expressed concern that the tactics used to put the measure on the ballot could be used to overturn development or environmental ordinances just as easily.

Ridesharing Works PAC spokesman Travis Considine responded to the press conference in a written statement to the Austin Monitor. “I understand that the politicians and special interest taxicab companies don’t like this, but there’s nothing more democratic than a petition and ballot initiative.”

Morrison, who cast the lone vote of opposition against the 2014 city ordinance regulating ride-hailing companies during her tenure on Council, spoke with the Monitor following the press conference. She explained that at the time that interim ordinance was under consideration, she felt uncomfortable with the amount of involvement that Uber and Lyft had in its crafting. Even so, she pointed out, that ordinance was always intended to be temporary, pending the return of a stakeholder group.

“It was not a consensus ordinance,” said Morrison. “I think that the idea that the new Council was just sort of meddling and stuck their nose in some business where they shouldn’t have is absolutely inaccurate.”

On the other hand, as we reported yesterday, former Mayor Lee Leffingwell has joined those supporting Prop 1, as chair of Ridesharing Works.

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