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Voters overwhelmingly reject Proposition A

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Updated: 10:21 p.m: Austin voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected city Proposition A. With the final tally complete, more than 64 percent of those voting cast ballots against the proposition, which began as a reaction to the city’s decision to lease McKalla Place for a 20,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium.

Mayor Steve Adler, who worked against both propositions, told the Austin Monitor he was relieved. “Both propositions A and B had some pretty significant unintended consequences that would be real damaging to the city,” he said, praising Austin voters for seeing through “the confusion and the haze.” Pointing out that “the propositions took a lot of time and cost a lot of money,” he urged citizens to think critically before adding their names to such petitions. Just over 98,000 voters cast ballots for and against Prop A.

Overall Travis County turnout was 7.5 percent of registered voters.

Prop A would have required that any sale or lease of city land for sports or entertainment facilities be approved by a supermajority of the City Council and then by a majority of Austin voters at a special election. However, by the time the petition was turned in to the city clerk, it was far too late to impact the new MLS team coming to North Austin.

Bobby Epstein, one of the partners in Circuit of the Americas and the owner of a rival team, was the major source of funding for IndyAustin, which was collecting signatures last fall to place the item on the ballot. However, IndyAustin made a major mistake by using the racist and anti-Semitic meme Pepe the Frog in a video criticizing Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish.

Epstein then joined Adler in denouncing the advertising and withdrew his support for the petition drive. Petitioners were still able to collect the 20,000 signatures needed to put the referendum on the ballot, but there was no money and no advertising in favor of the proposition.

Fair Play Austin, which was supporting the proposition, announced in August that it would no longer support the ordinance, having decided that it would not serve its intended purpose and might do more harm than good.

A lengthy legal memo from Thompson & Knight LLP, recited a litany of problems and expenses that would result from passage of the ordinance. The legal analysis concluded that 13 current or pending leases of city land for sports and entertainment facilities would be subject to the ordinance and could end up owing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars if the ordinance passed.

Entertainment facilities that felt threatened by Proposition A let their audiences know about the detrimental impact of the proposition by circulating information to people attending performances. That included the Long Center, Zach Scott Theatre, Symphony Square and the North Austin YMCA. Other groups that might have ended up owing the city a lot of money if Proposition A were approved included the West Austin Youth Association, Austin Rowing Club/Waller Creek Boathouse, Texas Rowing, Austin Archery Club, and Butler Ball Fields, as well as Zilker Boat Rental.

In addition, there were two political action committees opposing Prop A. PACE PAC was able to quote 10 of 11 Council members as opposing the proposition, as well as the Austin YMCA, Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Austin Opera, Ballet Austin, the Trail of Lights, and a number of other groups.

A second political action committee, Austin United PAC, urged voters to vote against Prop A, as did the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle. It was difficult to find anyone who said they were still in favor of Prop A.

This story has been changed since publication to correct the total number of votes cast and to clarify that the memo on Prop A was prepared at the request of Austin United, not the city. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong.

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