Council Members Say “#FixtheCode”

Four CMs say CodeNEXT process must strongly address inequality

In a morning press conference outside Blazier Elementary School, four City Council Members – Delia Garza, Pio Renteria, Greg Casar, and Jimmy Flannigan – declared their unhappiness with the current CodeNEXT process, and called for the next draft to fully address citywide inequality, affordability, gentrification, and displacement.

Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan (Photo by Michael King)

If the new land use code does not begin to address the city’s substantial affordability issues, they said, they would not be able to vote for it.

Blazier Elementary is located in Garza’s Southeast District 2, and she described it as an example of the population pressures facing the city. “Blazier was built 10 years ago to serve 600 students,” she said, “and now it is at 161% capacity” – featuring temporary classrooms and classes moved elsewhere. “By 2021, it will be at 181% capacity.” She said the population growth at the city’s outskirts is a consequence of “how we zone,” and the new code needs to be aimed at “preserving families” within the city and especially in close-in neighborhoods.

“We need to fix the Code,” Garza concluded, as the lectern displayed hashtags “#FixtheCode” and “#4AllAustinites.”

Flannigan’s District 6 is at the opposite, northwest corner of the city, and yet he said his constituents are facing some of the same displacement pressures experienced in other districts. “We can’t sprawl our way out of the problem,” Flannigan said, and called for greater simplicity and fewer incentives for sprawl under CodeNEXT.

In Renteria’s District 3, the Council member said, “all of my childhood friends” in and around the Cesar Chavez neighborhood have been driven out by high prices and high property taxes, and the neighborhood schools have the opposite problem: too few students because families have had to move outward. “We need to encourage greater density,” he said, as a primary way of addressing affordability. “I’m tired of fighting gentrification case-by-case,” Renteria said, and the Code must be fixed to address these pressures citywide.

Finally, District 4 CM Casar said that even though the four districts are very different and the Council members sometimes take different positions, they are united on this question of revising the CodeNEXT draft in a new direction. “The first draft is deficient in these areas, and it will incentivize more McMansions instead of affordable housing in high opportunity areas,” Casar said. He added that the Code needs to encourage density that will serve more public mass transit. “The Code accelerates gentrification instead of discouraging it.”

The four Council members said they would not be able to vote for a version of CodeNEXT that remains unnecessarily complex, encourages gentrification and displacement, and does not embody fair housing standards. Right now it’s a “Frankenstein monster,” said Flannigan, and the four CMs said they are committed to insist on substantial change.

For more on CodeNEXT and City Council, follow the Daily News and this week’s print edition.

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