Group Aims to Stop Handouts for Retail Developments

Petition effort seeks to prevent city from subsidizing retail projects

The campaign by local businesses to end tax-based incentives for retail developments has entered a new stage. Local pressure group Stop Domain Subsidies officially launched its petition drive to amend the City Charter and block what the group sees as council-sponsored unfair competition.

Stop Domain Subsidies was initially set up to campaign against a subsidy deal struck between the council and the developers of the Domain shopping center under Chap­ter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code. Now the group is moving to completely end such retail subsidies by amending Article XII of the City Charter. If passed, the amendment would bar the city from giving certain kinds of financial-incentive packages, especially tax-based subsidies, to retail developments.

The amendment would not bar all retail incentives and explicitly protects small-business loans and water and energy-efficiency programs. It would also not bar incentive agreements for nonretail employers. Accord­ing to campaign organizer Linda Curtis, the group has become, politically, a very broad church. "There are plenty of people here who are anti-development, but then there are people to the right and libertarians who just think it's morally wrong to give any subsidies," she said.

To get the amendment on to next May's ballot, the campaign needs 18,000 signatures from registered Austin voters (5% of the electorate). It had been getting small-business owners to sign an earlier petition asking the council not to pay out the Domain subsidy: Now that list has become the seedbed for the new amendment campaign. Signatory businesses are being asked to host petition drives, and, at the campaign's launch, 20 of the 371 firms had already agreed to do so. "It's an advance on the whole petition business, which has been arduous over the last few years," said Curtis, a self-described Independent Texan who last year led the petition drive to secure ballot placement for indie gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Stray­horn. She previously wrangled a "recall Will Wynn" petition drive for the Toll Party and another in 2002 for then-Council Member Beverly Griffith to bypass city term-limit rules. "Austin used to be a place where you could just petition in front of Whole Foods or HEB. But now the businesses won't do that, by and large," Curtis said. (She ran a petition drive against, and unsuccessfully sued, HEB in 2002 for allowing early voting but barring petitioning on company property, leading to the chain withdrawing from the election program. She then ran a "boycott HEB" campaign because the company stopped early voting.)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Stop Domain Subsidies, Linda Curtis, Domain

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