The Making of an Endorsement

Positions


10/7/08 9:09 AM

Katherine Gregor:

I've decided that I am against Prop. 2, because it restricts the city's ability to incentivize exactly the kind of (re) development that Austin has decided we need: dense, mixed-use projects that integrates retail, workplaces, and housing (including subsidized affordable housing) into compact "town center" "activity center" and "transit oriented" developments.

At the very least, the charter amendment language as written leaves a great deal uncertain on this issue. Brian Rodgers is not concerned that his amendment could interfere with this preferred New Urbanist style of development, from what I can tell, and the language of the amendment reflects that. But I think Austin needs to be very concerned. Once it's in the charter, we could find our hands tied in some very unpleasant ways.

If there's one coffee shop on the ground floor of a subsidized housing project (e.g. Villas on Sixth), the city can't give it ANY financial incentives, from the long list in the language of this charter amendment — even help buying the land.

The only reason to bar subsidies SPECIFICALLY for retail is to prevent subsidized competition for existing Austin retailers – that's the sole rationale in the language of the charter amendment. That doesn't just protect small, locally owned businesses, but existing Wal-Marts too.

So that means no mixed-use project can ever again receive, for example, COA affordable housing bond funds (they're not on the list of exceptions); see specific concerns at end of this e-mail.

Passage below is from In Fact Daily, in which Rodgers makes the same statements he made to us - his very strongest case for the position that Endeavor lied about Domain I, and Prop. 2 should therefore pass.

Brian Rodgers claimed that the city is using false numbers to certify the Domain's incentive agreement.

"The truth is the domain has not met their obligations," Rodgers said. "They told the citizens in 2003 that there would be an average of $35,000 of pay, and there's not. They told the citizens there would be four acres of open space, and there's not. We're here to say that the Domain is not in compliance. They took stores from the Arboretum that were paying 100 percent of their sales tax and moved them to the Domain, where they are paying 20 percent of their sales tax."

He said the assumption that the Domain was built upon was that there would be 100 percent new shoppers, shoppers from outside the City of Austin. "And that was an assumption that was just pure folly," he said. "Probably 80 percent of them come from Austin.

None of these criteria he cites (higher-paying jobs, open space, 100% new stores and shoppers) are actually in B&W in the contract that the COA signed. No matter what we individually may think about that "folly," they simply aren't part of the deal. The burden was on the COA to require these things contractually, if it truly based the deal on them, and it did not.

Which suggests that the COA was confident it was getting plenty of value in other ways. What ways?

I think the answer lies in what Eugene Sepulveda referenced on his blog:

Back 5 years ago when mixed-use New Urbanist style development in Austin was a new and relatively untested concept locally, the COA was willing to help finance the extra infrastructure costs to help make this happen. (As such it could be much better, but it was a start.) It's important for context to remember that Domain I (the only part contested) is the "seed" development for a much huger "New Urbanist" redevelopment of the whole area to occur over 10 years. My understanding is that the COA saw Domain I as a kind of loss leader; in time the sales and property tax from the rest of the huge redevelopment, that Domain I has seeded, would come rolling into city coffers, for a significant net gain.

Also see:

www.impactnews.com/northwest-austin/local-news/
735-the-domain-phase-ii-more-than-shopping

Excerpt:

When Illinois-based Simon Property Group and Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group began planning The Domain Phase I, the land was zoned as a major industrial/planned development area, but needed an ordinance passed by the city council to allow for the mixed-use development the developers envisioned. The ordinance allows greater flexibility for the developers to have mixed-use developments that combine retail and housing, which the city hopes to use as a catalyst for development growth.

"The Domain exemplifies the type of development we want in the area," said Molly Scarbrough, senior planner with the urban design division of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning. "The City wants to facilitate this area to a mixed-use area, so people can live, work and play all in one area. This is an alternative to the typical sprawl pattern, to allow us to keep population in the city instead of on the fringes. Extending infrastructure to the outskirts of the city is expensive to the city, too, because the infrastructure is already there [in the city]."

One more: this discussion, from the Austin Contrarian, of the concern I raised at our meeting -- that potentially the city would lose the ability to incentivize affordable housing in all its mixed-use redevelopments.

August 26, 2008

An unintended consequence of the Stop Domain Subsidies' Charter amendment?

Stop Domain Subsidies' proposed Charter amendment to ban retail subsidies is fraught with unintended consequences.

Here's one: The Charter amendment likely will shunt low-income residents away from mixed-use developments and into stand-alone residential developments. Why? Because the proposed amendment bars subsidies to developments that merely include a retail use, even if the retail use itself receives no subsidy. The City thus will be unable to "buy down" the affordability of units in mixed-use developments that include a retail use.

A concrete example:

Back in 2006, the City gave Ardent Residential a zoning change to redevelop the Stoneridge Apartments on South Lamar into a 300-unit mixed-use development. The developer agreed to make 10% of the units affordable at 80% MFI. But the units being replaced rented for a lot less. To quell the furor over the rezoning, Betty Dunkerly proposed using some of the City's affordable housing bond money to "buy down" 10% of the units to 50% MFI, a genuinely affordable level. The developer and the City are squabbling over the "buy down's" price tag, but the City appears ready to honor its pledge. (It has to spend its $50 million in affordable housing bond money somehow.)

I don't know whether Ardent has filed a site plan yet, but it has talked all along about including retail as part of the mixed use. That was part of the development's attraction.

Assuming Ardent still intends to include a retail use, then, the Charter amendment will keep the City from honoring its pledge to buy "deep" affordability for these units. The Charter amendment will keep the City from buying deep affordability in any mixed-use development that includes retail. The City will be forced to spend its affordable housing dollars on stand-alone residential developments, or perhaps "live-work" developments.

I don't see how this protects local merchants. The mixed-use development will still be built, and it will still have retail; the developer simply will rent the units at the market rate (or 80% or 60% of MFI if it takes advantage of the VMU incentives).

One could argue, perhaps, that purchasing affordability in mixed-use developments is an expensive, inefficient way to provide affordable housing. (I'm ambivalent about it myself.) But it doesn't seem wise to me to silence that debate by Charter amendment.


10/7/08 10:41 AM

Wells Dunbar:

I agree wholeheartedly with Katherine. SDS is using a sledgehammer where a scalpel would be appropriate. Plus per our historical antipathy towards legislating through the Charter and I & R generally, I don't think it would make sense for us to support it either.


Press Release

From: Brian Rodgers

Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2008 10:12 AM

Will Wynn Last Man Standing, Please Get Out of the Way Says SDS

Mayor Will Wynn was seen last night with a TV crew and four other people in front of a virtually empty City Hall, doing a taping with the Mayor shaking hands urging people to vote against Proposition 2. ... Brian Rodgers, leader of the FOR Prop 2 effort of Stop Domain Subsidies, said, "The Mayor has a conflict of special interests and should not intervene."


10/7/08 12:34 PM

Nick Barbaro:

Well, I must say, it gives me chills to have Will Wynn and Betty Dunkerley out front in opposition to this thing. Against many people's better judgment, they got us into this mess, which everyone pretty much now agrees was a bad move, pushed through on a more or less emergency basis. They should ... at least apologize, before jumping into the current debate. That they still don't get it is one of the reasons why I'm going to vote for this Prop (though not necessarily argue for an endorsement; more on that below).

Similarly, I'm dismayed by the opposition's misrepresentations, which seem much more dishonest than Rodgers' naivete. In particular: Eugene Sepulveda's inexplicable claim that SDS would "force Austin to renege on a signed, enforceable agreement"; and the Keep Austin's Word reference to "legal agreements terminated by Proposition 2 - the Domain development in north Austin, and the Mueller redevelopment in East Austin." Wrong, and they know it.

Ditto the bond rating scare: what on earth does any of this have to do with municipal bonds?

I am truly dismayed that these are the grounds upon which this opposition is being argued. It those sorts of arguments are allowed to stand, and perceived as successful, we're in for much more of the same crap. And any thought of getting improvements out of Simon Properties in exchange for our voluntary tax money contributions go right out the window.

That said, and as sympathetic as I am with frustration with city officials, I do agree that this ought not be in the city charter, that it will probably have some of the adverse effects Katherine foresees, and that it's bad city policy as written. And I won't object to an endorsement written along those lines.

Personally, though, I think the status quo is worse city policy, especially if it's reinforced by a defeat of this Proposition, read by [many] as a win for "economic development" at all costs, and as proof that the city development establishment is right, and the

Austin Central Labor Council-AFL-CIO*, Austin Neighborhoods Council, Better Austin Today, Capital Area Asian American Democrats, Central Austin Democrats, East Austin Republicans, Independent Texans - Austin, Save Our Springs Alliance, South Austin Democrats, South Central Coalition of Neighborhoods, Southwest Austin Democrats, Texans for Accountable Government, Texans for Public Justice, The Republican Club of Austin, Travis County Democratic Party, Travis County Green Party, Travis County Libertarian Party, Travis County Republican Liberty Caucus, AFSCME Local 1624 (state, county and municipal employees), AFT - Local 6249, ATU 1091 (Amalgamated Transit Union), American Postal Workers 299, Austin Association of Firefighters, CWA - 6132, 6150, California Nurses Association, Doctors Guild of Texas #4, Carpenters Union 1266, Education Austin 2048, Education Round Rock 4000, Graphic Communications International 528, IATSE 205 (Stage Hands & Mortion Pictures), IBEW 520, Iron Workers 482, IUPAT Glaziers 1778, IUPAT Painters 130, NALC 181 (letter, OPIU 277 & 298 (Office and Professional International Union), Physician's Guild of Texas, Plumbers and Pipefitters 286, Sheet Metal Workers 67, Texas State Employees 6186, plus:

1st Food Mart, 34th STREET CAFE, A BRIDE TO BE, A CROWN OF JEWELS, A. D. EDWARDS GROUP, AARON'S ROCK AND ROLL, ABC VACUUM CLEANER WAREHOUSE, ACCENT ANTIQUES & UPHOLSTERY, ADBIRDS.COM, ADCO Advertising Inc., AJ PROCESSING TYPING & TRANSCRIPTION, ALAMO VILLAGE SOUTH LAMAR and THE RITZ DRAFTHOUSE CINEMAS, ALIEN SCOOTERS, ALLENS BOOTS, ALLSTAR COPYING & PRINTING, ALMOST PERFECT CONSTRUCTION, ALORI PROPERTIES, AMAZING FACE, AMAZING LASER OF AUSTIN, AMELIA'S RETRO-VOGUE & RELICS, ANCIENT INK, ANCIENT MYSTERIES, ANGEL HANDS MASSAGE, ANN KELSO SALON & CITYSPA, ANTLER CREEK CYCLE LEATHERS, AQUA TEK TROPICAL FISH, ARMADILLO CLAY & SUPPLIES, ART ON 5TH, ARTWORKS, ARTZ RIB HOUSE, ASAHI IMPORTS, ASEL ART SUPPLY, ASIAN LIVING, ASTIR MARKETING, AUSTEX JEWELRY, AUSTIN AIR BALANCING, AUSTIN AIRWAVES, AUSTIN AMATEUR RADIO, AUSTIN ART GARAGE, AUSTIN ART GLASS, AUSTIN DAZE, AUSTIN DOGTOWN, AUSTIN EPHEMERA CO., AUSTIN GIRL PILATES, AUSTIN MODERN, AUSTIN MOTEL, AUSTIN RECORD DISTRIBUTORS, AUSTIN UNIQUE, AUSTIN VOCAL LAB, AUSTIN'S BEST PETCARE, AUTO MAINTENANCE MAN, AVANT SPASALON, AVENUE B GROCERY, AVIARY, Ancients Mysteries, AustinSilverLiberty.com, Austindish DirecTV, BABALU CIGARS, BABY GREENS, BAGPIPES PUB & EATERY, BARCELONA, BARK N PURR, BARLEY&PFEIFFER SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE, BARR MANSION, BARTON WILDER CUSTOM IMAGES, BASS EMPORIUM, BAYMOON PROPERTIES, BEAD IT, BEAUTY STORE DEPOT, BELLE SAISON BRIDAL, BEST BUY USED TIRES, BICYCLE SPORT SHOP, BILLY'S ON BURNET, BITCHIN' THREADS, BITTER SUGAR, BLACKJACK CLAY, BLACKMAIL BOUTIQUE, BLUE DAHLIA BISTRO, BLUE SKIES FRAME COMPANY, BLUE STAR CAFE, BMS OFFICE SUPPLY, BOLDIN INSURANCE AGENCY, BOOKPEOPLE, BOULDIN CREEK COFFEEHOUSE, BRAND AUSTIN, BRAVE NEW BOOKS, BRENDA LADD PHOTOGRAPHY, BY GEORGE, CAFFREY'S FURNITURE, CANTU'S IMPORTS, CAPITAL MUSIC CENTER, CAPITOL CITY SOLUTIONS, CASA CHAPALA, CASA DE LUZ, CEDAR DOOR, CENTRAL TEXAS FIREARMS, CHAMPION PRINTING, CHARLIE LLEWELLIN PHOTOGRAPHY, CHEAPO DISCS, CHEZ NOUS, CHIEF'S BBQ, CHINA SEA, CHOMP COOKIES, CLARKSVILLE POTTERY & GALLERY, CLEAR POINT WELLNESS, COCOA PURO, COLOR GLO AUSTIN, COPA BAR & GRILL, COWGIRLS AND FLOWERS, CRAFT-O-RAMA, CRAIG O'S PIZZA & PASTARIA, CREATIVE INK, CRESTVIEW BARBER SHOP, CURIO CORNER BOOKS, CjSiercksAssociates, Cowgirls&Flowers, DAILY JUICE COMPANY, DEATS DURST OWEN & LEVY P.L.L.C., DEEP BLUE AQUARIUMS, DEEP EDDY WEST, DESIGN FOR ENERGY, DISCOVERY CYCLE, DODD'S SERVICE CENTER, DOLLAR-A-DAY ADVERSITING, DON'S AUTOMOTIVE, DOWNSTAIRS APPAREL, DUNCAN BUSINESS MACHINES, EAST SIDE CAFE, EAST SIDE PIES, ECLECTIC ETHNOGRAPHIC ART GALLERY, ECO-WISE, ECOLOGICAL RECOVERY FOUNDATION, EL INTERIOR, EL SOL Y LA LUNA, ELECTRA, ELEMENTALS, EMPANADAS LA BOCA, END OF AN EAR, ESTER'S FOLLIES, ESTRELLA BRIDAL ART, EVANGELINE CAFE, FAIRVIEW PROPERTIES, FEATHERS, FIND-N-GRIND SKATESHOP, FIREHOUSE LOUNGE, FIRST BASE DATA SYSTEMS INC., FLAMINGO AUTO, FLASHBACK, FLORA AND FAUNAS, FLORAL ELEGANCE, FONDA SAN MIGUEL, FRAN'S HAMBURGERS, FURNITURE MARKET, GALLERY POLLOCK, GAYNOR PHOTOGRAPHY INC., GET BACK VINTAGE FURNITURE, GET ORGANIZED AUSTIN, GREAT HEALTH NUTRITION, GREENLING ORGANIC DELIVERY, GUERO'S TACO BAR, GYPSY BORN DESIGNS, GarageAndStoragePlus.com, Gfire Studios, Gulabi Records, HANNAH D'S, HAPPINESS, HEM JEANS INC., HIGHTOWER & ASSOCIATES, HOG WILD TEXAS, HOMEGIRLS, HOVERCRAFT!, HUTS HAMBURGERS, HYDER N HILL, ICHIBAN IlPUN RESTAURANT, ICONOGRAPHICS, IMAGE WEAR HOUSE, IMAGES OF AUSTIN, INNU SALON, INSTEP, IRIE BEAN, ISACKSEN CPA, JACKSON RUIZ SALON, JAMES LEWIS GOLD EXCHANGE, JASTRAM MARKETING, JAYA FURNITURE & ACCESSORIES, JIM HIGHTOWER & ASSOCIATES, JODY HORTON PHOTOGRAPHY, JOE COOKS CATERING, JOHNNIE'S ANTIQUES, JOSEPH ZAMBARANO, JOVITA'S, JUAN IN A MILLION RESTAURANT, JULIO'S CAFE, JUNIOR'S BEER, JUST FOR PETS, JUST TREES, JobStrap, KA-PROW RESTAURANT, KARAVEL SHOES COMFORT CENTER, KASBAH, KATZ'S DELI & BAR, KERBEY LANE, KHAZANA FURNITURE, KICK PLEAT, KING'S HOBBY, LANE FOUR SWIM SHOP, LAS MANOS MAGICAS, LCX INTERNATIONAL INC., LEGENDARY BEADS, LEVERAGE COMMUNICATIONS, LIGHT VIBRATIONS TIE DYES, LIGHTCRAFTERS, LIKEABLE LAWYER, LINDSAY DESIGNS, LIVING ARTS BAKERY, LONG'S VACUUM & APPLIANCE, LOU'S SALON, LOUIES 106 RESTAURANT, LOVE., LOW BROW EMPORIUM, LUCKY LIZARD CURIOS & GIFTS, LUCY IN DISGUISE, LUZ DE LUNA, Lightcrafters, Longhorn Collision Center, MARIGOLD - GATEWAY TO INDIA, MARIGOLD-GATEWAY TO INDIA, MARTINEZ BROS. TAXIDERMY, MARY SULLIVAN ILLUSTRATOR FOR CHILDREN, MATTRESS ETC., MAVERICK CENTER, MAYA STAR, MCBRIDES GUNS, MEDIA SYSTEMS COMPANY, MEGA VOLT NEON, MELANGE BRIDAL, MEMORY DEPOT, MERCHANTSHIP COLLECTIVE, MESA RANCH, MGM INDIAN FOODS, MGM REAL ESTATE, MI CASA, MICHAEL SPINKS ATTORNEY, MITRE BOX, MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO, MONKEY WRENCH BOOKS, MONOGRAM LADY, MONTAGE, MORNING STAR TRADING, MOTORBLADE POSTERING SERVICE, MOTOTEK DUCATI AUSTIN, MOXIE & THE COMPOUND, MR EDS CLEANING SOLUTIONS, MR. NATURAL, MR. NICE GUYS, MYO MASSAGE, NATURAL EPICUREAN, NATURE'S GARDEN, NATURE'S HEALING HERBS, NEKO NEKO ANIME, NEST, NEW BOHEMIA, NEW HORIZONS WELLNESS & FITNESS, NEW WORLD DELI, NIA SPACE, NORTH LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY, NORTH LOOP SIGN, NORTHWEST HILLS PHARMACY & FLORIST, NOWA DEZINEZ, NUEVO LEON RESTAURANT, NUNZIA'S @ THE Y, OAK HILL GIFT PLUS, OAT WILLIES, OFF THE WALL, ONI RECORDING STUDIO, OPAL DIVINE'S, PACHA COFFEEHOUSE, PANGAEA TRADING CO., PAPERWORKS, PAPP PHOTOGRAPHY, PARTS & LABOUR, PASSION GROUP, PASTA & CO., PAT PAINTER'S WIGS, PAT'S GAMES, PC GURU, PC PLUS, PEDDLER BICYCLE SHOP, PHIL LIGHTS, PHOENICIA BAKERY AND DELI, PILATES SOUTH, PIVOT NETWORKS, PLANET K GIFTS, PLUSH PAD, PRECISION ENGINE SERVICE, PRIMA DORA, PRIME MOVER, PRIMO WOODWORKS, PRO CYCLE WORKS, PRO-JEX GALLERY, PROFESSIONAL CYCLE SERVICES, PROTOTYPE, PURE RAIN, PURSUIT DESIGN, QUACK'S 43RD STREET BAKERY, QUACK'S MAPLEWOOD BAKERY, QUINCY'S GUITARS, RAINTREE PRODUCTIONS, REEDS JAZZ & SUPPER CLUB, RENAISSANCE GLASS CO., RESOURCE CONNECTION, RESTYLE, ROADTRIP PRODUCTIONS, ROCK N ROLL RENTALS, ROCK SOLID REALTY, RODGERS & REICLE, ROOM SERVICE VINTAGE, ROOST, ROSE GARDEN WEDDINGS, RUBATO COACHING COMPANY, Rising Sun Japanese Auto Service, S. Lamar NA, S.O.A.P., SABA BLUE WATER CAFE, SABIA, SAILING WITH THE SYSTEM, SALAS BUSINESS INVESTIGATIONS, SALON SARY, SAMUEL-REY, SAN FRANCISCO BAKERY & CAFE, SAN SOUCI GARDENS, SANTA RITA CANTINA, SASS, SEA OF BEADS, SECOND HAND STORE, SECOND TIME AROUND, SECRET OKTOBER, SERENDIPITY BRIDAL, SERVICE MENSWEAR, SESA TEA, SEWING BY NORMA, SID'S ID MUSIC, SLEEP SHOP, SOLA, SOLAR FALAFEL, SONNY'S VINTAGE, SOUND ON SOUND, SOUTH AUSTIN MUSIC, SOUTH CONGRESS ATHLETIC CLUB, SPARK LABS, SPRING.NET, STAINED CONCRETE DESIGN, STEINHARDT AND CO., STERLING IMAGES, STEVEN STEPHENS - REFRIGERATION CONTRACTOR, STRUT, STUDIO ZANNE, South Side Bicycle Shop, TACO XPRESS, TAKIN IT TO THE STREET PRODUCTIONS, TEARS OF JOY HOT SAUCE SHOP, TEJAS COMMUNICATIONS, TENSIONTAMERSTHERAPIES.COM, TERRA TOYS, TESOROS TRADING COMPANY, TEXAS PICNIC COMPANY AND BAKERY, TEXPERT TOURS, THE ANGEL STORE, THE BALANCED WAY, THE BOOKCASE STORE, THE DIAMOND FACTORY, THE FIXTURE SHOP, THE GOLF CLUB, THE GOOD LIFE MAGAZINE, THE GREAT OUTDOORS, THE HERB BAR, THE LAMP SHOPPE, THE LIGHTBULB SHOP, THE NAIL GALLERY, THE OPERA HOUSE, THE PURPLE FIG CLEANING CO., THE SOCCER POST, THE SOUP PEDDLER, THE UPPER CRUST BAKERY, THE UPS STORE - Hwy. 71, THE VERANDA, THERAPY CLOTHING, TIEN HONG INC., TINT SPECIALIST, TOM'S TABOOLEY, TOP SIDE ADVERTISING, TSAR'S JEWELRY, TYLER'S, TastyPlacement.com, Tejas Communications, TheBumperSticker.com, U.S. NAILS - Hwy 71, UMDA GIFTS, UNBRIDLED, UNCOMMON OBJECTS, UPREV, UPSTAIRS, URBAN LIVING FURNITURE, VAGABOND PRESS, VELOCITY STORM, VERYSUPERCOOL, VIOLET ROUGE, VIRTUALKEEPER.COM, VULCAN VIDEO, Velocity Storm, WAGNER PIANO STUDIO, WAREHOUSE SALOON & BILLIARDS, WATERLOO CYCLES, WATERLOO RECORDS, WHIP IN PARLOUR & MARKET, WIGGY'S, WIKI WIKI TERIYAKI, WILDFLOWER ORGANICS, WIRELESS TOYZ-S. Lamar, WORLD FOOD & HALAL MARKET, YOGAGROOVE, YOUR SECURITY GUY, ZANZIBAR HOME & GIFT, and ZOOK INSURANCE,

among others, are wrong.


10/7/08 12:48 PM

Michael King:

Folks:

I've been telling people that on Prop. 2, I feel strongly both ways -- and that's almost evenly true, as I believe the unintended consequences, however the vote goes, are likely to be negative. If Prop. 2 wins (as several people have pointed out in this correspondence), it will be much harder for the city to encourage mixed-use developments, or affordable housing in the same context; if it loses, the implicit message that random retail subsidies are just fine would not be accurate, but certainly that argument will be made. For me, that quandary is yet another example of the foolishness of trying to govern by direct referendum -- a wannabe populist vote against Neiman Marcus instead turns out to be a vote against competent representative government.

As to Lee Leffingwell's offer for the city to attempt to "voluntarily renegotiate" the Domain agreement, I think that's a casual remark that is in fact a contradiction in terms -- if the charter amendment passes, the Domain will not ("voluntarily" by the city) receive its money, and litigation is likely if not inevitable (especially since Simon Properties is not a signatory to the nonsuit agreement with Rodgers, and the agreement says nothing about successors in ownership). If the amendment fails, Simon has no incentive to renegotiate, and the city has nothing to negotiate with; saying "we'll withhold your money" is a threat to violate the contract, and Simon's lawyers would be quite proper in answering, we don't respond to blackmail. Poisoning the relationship with a major property owner -- especially if you want to persuade them to do something good for the city -- is not really a city option, whatever one thinks of Simon or Endeavor. I'm not alarmed at the prospect that the Domain will not get its money -- but if it ends up costing us more, it's hardly a bargain, and what's more, I think the threat to the city's credibility (including at the Legislature) is intangible but real.

On the other hand, I think it's also false to suggest that the City didn't attempt any concessions (e.g., bike lanes or parks) when the original deal was struck -- the entire form of the development was shaped by the incentives agreement, and the Domain represents a striking physical and infrastructure change in the design of these developments, including a much more human and walkable scale than the Arboretum, and a push toward integrated retail/residential development, with the designed future of integrated transit. Certainly it doesn't suit everybody, but neither does any neighborhood suit everybody.

Although the current political consensus is that "retail subsidies are always bad," we don't even have to go very far to qualify that absolutism. The current Mueller development is partly subsidized by sales taxes (just like the Domain, although not as extensively), and the common consensus (while not universal) on the Mueller development is that it's working out quite well. The city has an excellent working relationship with the developer (Catellus, which has taken a stand against Prop. 2), a relationship that will certainly be tested if Prop. 2 passes. In the wake of this week's discussion and the City Council presentations, I had a brief chat with Laura Morrison over the weekend, and she also said that if Prop. 2 passes, "We'll have to renegotiate Mueller." The central problem with that is: it's not at all clear what we'll have to negotiate with. The city will be in the awkward position of withdrawing something of value (the sales taxes) from the deal with Catellus, while being forbidden by law to substitute anything else of value (at least, of monetary value). I don't see how that works, and it could mean, for example, that the current Catellus efforts to infill with more affordable housing (for example) would stop altogether -- they might well say, we can't make the economics work anymore. (I've got a call in to Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition about this, and I'll forward any response.) Whatever else this means, it does seem to me that Brian Rodgers' blithe assurances ("the city has had plenty of time to do something about the Mueller agreement") is disingenuous -- it's not at all clear what can be done, and you don't renegotiate the finances on a deal this complex unless you absolutely have to, and have some solution in mind. Right now, I don't see one; and it could throw a major monkeywrench into one of the most carefully planned of all city projects. Why plan at all, when you can just pass an (irrelevant but damaging) charter amendment to screw up your plans? Banning (by charter) subsidies to any development that "includes retail" is simply a recipe for unintended consequences.

KG has pointed out other instances when any development "including retail" will be subject to the same kind of arbitrary exclusion under this amendment. The city is still tinkering with the entire trial-and-error strategy of encouraging mixed-use, mixed housing developments, which would both increase density and advance transit options. This amendment would potentially become a major obstacle to any further projects of that kind, and tie the city's hands for good deals as well as bad ones.

Unlike the last charter election, for which the props were so grandiose it was easy to see the negative consequences, this one has been sold as a "no brainer" and a vote against national retailers (along with his inflated financial estimates, certainly as misleading as anything Kirk Rudy said). I'm not happy about being on the skeptical side of a position which both small retailers and progressive groups (e.g., Liveable City, the Central Labor Council) seem to be lining up to support. But on balance, I think our traditional skepticism concerning government by petition, as well as the likely negative citywide consequences of mandating city development policy by charter, argue for opposing Prop. 2.

Thus far I've heard only from opponents: Lee, Katherine, Wells, Richard, and now I guess I've joined them. I'm happy to hear from proponents of Prop. 2, although so far there's not a groundswell. We're still listening; let me know as the rest of you decide or just want to talk more.

In the meantime, I'll try to compile a list of all the other things we've got to endorse, or not.

MK


10/7/08 1:32 PM

Katherine Gregor:

All beautifully expressed, MK.

I would only point out that if we SUPPORT the charter amendment for the city auditor, we're going to have to explain why that 'ruling by charter amendment' is appropriate, but Prop. 2 isn't.


10/7/08 1:52 PM

Nick Barbaro:

That one seems easy to me, though I haven't looked at it much:

The city charter is exactly the right place to define our form of government, and the rights, terms, and duties of city officials.

It's not the right place legislate policy issues -- except as a last resort, at "when in the course of human events" kinds of moments.

SOS was worth having a revolution about.

To me, the last round of Props. 1&2 were worth having a revolution about (Down with Queen Toby!).

The Domain subsidies don't rise to that level of emergency, or governmental malfeasance.


10/7/08 6:05 PM

Amy Smith:

I am very much for Prop. 2 and would urge each and every one of you to join me in endorsing the measure. I am aware though that many of you have already jumped on the train heading in the opposite direction, but here's hoping enough of you will at least agree to running a minority opinion, which I would be happy to write.

Here are just a few thoughts that help form my opinion:

1. Developers are extremely clever animals. Consider the sequence of events before and after the rushed Domain deal: Endeavor announces plans for the Domain in February 2003; Endeavor takes the aquifer hostage on behalf of Wal-Mart in March 2003; Endeavor clinches an incentives deal for the Domain in May 2003; Endeavor retreats on aquifer plan a few months later. I disagree that taxpayers should have to continue paying for this lemon just so we can say we kept our word. In my view this was a fraudulent deal. Developers don't need incentives to build things. That's what they do.

2. Endeavor, with the help of Toby and Sue Edwards, sold this deal as a "destination center," a win-win for small, locally owned businesses, and as an overall "community benefit." Can anyone show me the community benefit, other than the sales taxes ... that were dislocated from somewhere else in the city?

3. I don't buy the city/RECA/Chamber's warnings of unintended consequences and lawsuits. If I may play the "I've-covered-local-politics-for-a-long-time-card," let me just say that I've covered local politics for a long time and these are the arguments they put forth any time a ballot proposition threatens the money crowd. If anything, the city is very good at negotiating, or coming up with loopholes, to avoid unintended consequences.

Let me also say that any time certain city officials, the Chamber and RECA are all on one side of an issue, and people like, say, our advertisers, are on another side of the same issue, I instinctively go with the people who help me pay my physical therapy bills (or whatever I happen to be paying for in an election year).

4. Does the city even have an incentives policy in place? I don't know the answer to that. If passage of Prop. 2 forces the city to rework its agreement with Mueller, who knows -- it may just be an opportunity to craft a better agreement that's more in tune with our economic times. For example, how do you address retail subsidies for a development whose national retail tenants are hanging on by their fingernails? And Shoe Pavilion, for one, is in foreclosure.

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