New political action committee intent on influencing May council elections emerges

Taking wing at City Hall this week was a new political action committee – the zippily named Better Austin Today PAC – intent on influencing the May City Council elections. The progressive coalition says it demands "a responsive, inclusive city government that will comprehensively address the critical issues facing Austin." One concrete solution members called for: a new city comprehensive plan for better managing development and growth.

The BATPAC plans to issue endorsements of council candidates who share its vision for Austin and who pledge to make city processes more inclusive. "Austin's informed and involved citizens are its best resource," said environmental activist Roy Waley. Other BATPAC rallying cries: "We've been left out of the process," "The process is broken," and "City Hall has lost its way."

The current negative sentiments fueling the group include the political fallout from the fight over Northcross, poorly implemented neighborhood plans, and the lack of an effective comprehensive planning process. Many BATPACers became disillusioned with council due to neighborhood zoning and development battles; the group is particularly rich with Responsible Growth for Northcross members. "I've worked with over 200 city councils, and our current Austin City Council has strayed further from good principles of planning and zoning than any I've seen," said Jim Duncan, a municipal-planning consultant.

Fed up with what it calls "insider" attitudes at City Hall, the BATPAC wants to throw the bums out. "We realized you can't have an impact on the policy process if you don't have an impact on the political process," said RG4N's Hope Morrison. Joining fresh-faced enthusiasts such as Morrison and David Kobierowski at City Hall on Tuesday were many old-guard Austin activists: Jeff Jack, Brigid Shea, Mary Arnold, Bill Bunch, Daniel Llanes, Susana Almanza, Richard Franklin, Fred Lewis, Marcelo Tafoya, and a couple dozen more.

At its inception, the BATPAC is long on rhetoric and idealism – and short on specific improvements to champion. Kobierowski said the group hopes to define quickly its common positions; in the meantime, the press conference featured the requisite finger-pointing at evil developers and moneyed interests and soft-focus idealization of the post-1992 "green" councils that followed the enactment of the original Save Our Springs Ordinance – and which many of those present have spent the last decade excoriating.

Afterward, Council Member Mike Martinez said, "I look forward to working with this group, because they're going to challenge us." In turn, he challenged the group to define what BATPAC is for – not against. And he offered a little free political advice: Focus on a small number of specific goals. "If success [for the PAC] is me doing everything all of their members want, on every issue – well, it's going to be hard going."

Better Austin Today will have its first fundraiser and party on Sunday, Jan. 13, from 6 to 9pm at the Moose Lodge, 2103 E.M. Franklin (between MLK and Manor Road). For more info:

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BATPAC, Better Austin Today, Roy Waley, Responsible Growth for Northcross, Jim Duncan, Hope Morrison, David Kobierowski, Mike Martinez

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