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Environmental group opposes propositions J, K

Monday, September 24, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Austin Environmental Democrats on Friday voted to oppose two propositions placed on the November ballot by citizen petitions.

Like a number of other groups, the environmentalists voted to oppose Proposition K, which seeks to have a comprehensive audit of all city departments and functions and is backed by the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation.

However, unlike most other groups, the Environmental Democrats also voted to oppose Proposition J, which would require a vote and a three-year waiting period before the city could adopt new land use regulations.

The impetus for that proposition came out of frustration with the city’s attempt to rewrite the entire Land Development Code through a process called CodeNEXT. In August, City Council voted to stop that particular process and directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to come up with a new process next year.

Although a number of people spoke in favor of Proposition J, several veteran environmentalists urged the group to oppose the proposition. Dick Kallerman, a longtime member of the Sierra Club, compared the vote to Brexit, saying that if the voters adopt it, “We’ll never live it down.” Kallerman noted that he was speaking for himself, not as a representative of the Sierra Club, which has not taken a position on Prop J.

Bay Scoggin, representing the Texas Public Interest Research Group and Environment Texas told the group that Prop J would impede progress in enacting environmental regulations. “This is a tough issue,” he said, “but there’s so many ways for the city to improve environmentally, so many things to do, and anything that gets in the way of that has to be strongly considered.”

Also urging the group to oppose Prop J was Craig Smith, a longtime environmentalist and a member of the board of directors of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

“It is not a simple up or down vote,” Smith said, “but with the waiting periods built into it, it amounts to a defense of the status quo.”

Another voice with experience in dealing with city land use regulations was Planning Commissioner Greg Anderson of Habitat for Humanity. Anderson urged the environmental group to oppose Proposition J.

But Betsy Greenberg, who as a member of the Zoning and Platting Commission spoke vehemently against mapping decisions made by the CodeNEXT consultants, told the group they should vote in favor of Prop J. Also speaking in favor was Mike Curry, who said he worked on “the last comprehensive zoning revision 30 years ago.”

Neighborhood leader David King, who also struggled to deal with various aspects of CodeNEXT as a ZAP member, urged members of the group to vote for Prop J.

Also, Mayor Steve Adler, who addressed the group as part of the endorsement process on Friday, told members that he opposed both propositions J and K. He said, “I think the unintended consequences of Proposition J may make it impossible for us to do a comprehensive plan in the city without a three-year delay. And our problems are too large for us to be able to deal with that.

“I think the system works. I had said all along that I wasn’t going to vote for CodeNEXT unless it was ready. My colleagues on the Council said the same thing – it wasn’t ready – and it couldn’t get approval. But I have real concern about adopting something that we will live with forever that I think could easily be interpreted to stop us from doing a comprehensive plan to deal” with topics like flooding and transportation.

When the voting was over, Adler shared a rare dual endorsement with former Council Member Laura Morrison. Morrison appeared before the group on Sept. 7, but she was not available Friday. Novice mayoral candidate Travis Duncan addressed the group, perhaps winning some friends when he advocated for 100 percent of Austin’s energy needs to come from renewable sources. However, he drew a resounding boo from the audience when he said he did not vote for Hillary Clinton because he considered her to be “a war criminal.”

The group also endorsed Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo for re-election to her District 9 seat after hearing from her and opponent Danielle Skidmore.

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