Liveable City

Pass Prop. 2

Last week, the board of Liveable City, the local nonprofit group that promotes civic engagement and "a shared and sustainable vision for Austin's future," formally endorsed ballot Proposition 2, the charter amendment that (with some exceptions) would ban use of city financial resources for any real-estate development that contains retail uses. The proposition, informally known as the Stop Domain Subsidies amendment, is primarily aimed at the city's 2003 economic development agreement with the developers of the Domain retail, office, and residential center on the north side.

In its press release, the board said that "events leading to the current ballot initiative underscore Austin's need for a transparent, well-defined economic development strategy, including a sound public process for any future economic incentives. Such a system would ensure that future public investments are prudent, do not unfairly favor one business over another, and provide tangible benefits for the greatest number of citizens commensurate with the funds involved. Whether or not Proposition 2 passes, the Liveable City Board strongly urges the Austin City Council to take action to develop an open and effective public process for any future public investments."

A few days earlier, Liveable City had released a report on the proposition, making some of the same points as the endorsement and some more specifically tied to public debate over the proposition. In brief, the report argues that the Mueller neigh­bor­hood agreement (also affected by the amendment) can be successfully restructured and that Prop. 2 should not negatively affect the local business climate and is "unlikely" to affect the city's bond rating. The report does acknowledge that despite the existence of a Domain settlement agreement, should Prop. 2 pass, there may be legal challenges. Although "questions remain" about other potential consequences of the amendment, the report argues that other financial tools to support city goals such as affordable housing should survive passage of Prop. 2.

The study examines the Domain deal at some length, effectively supplementing an earlier Liveable City report on the city's overall economic development strategy. The new report includes a more extensive "cost-benefit analysis" of the deal, arguing (by means of some highly speculative calculations) that while the Domain does bring some financial benefits to the city, they are not worth what the city is paying. The report suggests a "maximum price of $9 to $13 million. The remaining $12 to $16 million [in 2003 dollars] is simply an overcharge." This analysis underlies another recommendation of the Liveable City board: that should Prop. 2 fail to pass, the city should renegotiate the deal.

Download the "Liveable City Ballot Study."

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Liveable City, Stop Domain Subsidies, Mueller Neighborhood Agreement, election

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