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Activists seek to ‘reboot 10-1’

Friday, September 30, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Several activists who led the charge to create single-member City Council districts have begun a campaign aimed at further reform.

On Wednesday night, a group of just over 30 people gathered at Austin Energy headquarters on Barton Springs Road to hear the details of a plan dubbed “Reboot 10-1.”

The meeting was organized by Linda Curtis of Change Austin and featured Council Member Ora Houston and Peck Young, director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College. The prevailing sentiment in the room was frustration over perceived business-backed growth policies at City Hall made manifest in Mayor Steve Adler’s $720 million transportation bond.

“For those of you who think this city is a liberal city as it likes to bill itself, I have a bridge on Loop 360 that I could sell you for a very good price,” Young told the crowd in a saucy speech that decried the rising cost of housing in the city.

Curtis and Young introduced a draft petition that they said would be used to build interest in their latest reform movement. The petition includes seven demands that Curtis cheekily called a “manifesto.” They touched on affordability, gentrification, traffic and property taxes. Curtis attributed one to Houston that reads, “Stop allowing Austin to be just one big ‘real estate play.’ We’re not developers’ monopoly board.”

The ultimate aim of the effort, Curtis said, is to change the city code to ease the process by which residents can bring popular referendums to overturn ordinances enacted by Council.

The code currently allows those referendums if activists can collect enough signatures (the threshold is at least 5 percent of the population) before an ordinance takes effect.

However, according to the city clerk’s website: “Because most ordinances that are passed by the City Council have an immediate effective date, this requirement can generally not be met.”

Curtis explained to the Austin Monitor that her intent is to gather signatures for a petition to amend the charter to squash that requirement.

She said that Thursday night’s meeting was a soft launch of the effort and that the work will begin in earnest after November’s election. In the meantime, she said, she wanted to bring like-minded folks together to discuss the mayor’s bond proposal. In addition to the announcement of the plan to change city code, the event also featured a debate on the bond moderated by Houston.

Before that showdown between Roger Falk of the Honest Transportation Solutions political action committee and Drew Scheberle of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Young unloaded on the current state of Austin as he sees it.

“This city has a history of fundamentally being a community which exists primarily to make land speculators’ money,” said Young. “The homebuilders today know that they make their money off of margin, and they don’t give a (expletive) because they don’t want to make a small margin off a small house. They just want to be able to build a big house and be able to stick somebody in it that could afford it. They don’t want to build small houses in Austin.”

He also targeted condominium projects that feature relatively smaller units. Said Young, “They call it New Urbanism. What it’s really called is making your land more valuable so you can’t live there by stuffing people together like they live in birdcages.”

During the debate, Falk echoed that sentiment. He suggested that the mayor’s plan will drive development along the corridors that are a central part of its proposed investment. That development, he said, will flush out existing small businesses in favor of new vertical mixed-use projects.

“This assumes everyone wants to live in a little box, and that’s great for millennials,” but some residents will still want spacious yards, Falk said.

Houston herself weighed in on the housing issue by saying, “The elephant in the room are the kids who come here to study at the University of Texas” and compete for housing stock with existing residents.

Houston continued, “I think the last housing unit the university built was in 2009. And yet the campus keeps growing, and we keep having to fight with the students about who’s going to live where.”

When asked whether she expected to have enough political momentum to have her petition ready by November 2017, Curtis said, “I think 2017 would be great. It’s never too late to stop boondoggle projects.”

Editor’s note: According to Curtis, Thursday night’s event was sponsored by Independent Texans PAC.

Photo by Coffee made available through a Creative Commons license.

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