Talk, For Sure. But Action?

CodeNEXT holds community meeting, announces delay in rewrite process

A presentation during CodeNEXT's Sound Check (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Tuesday, Jan. 12, the Land Development Code Advisory Group, or CAG, met to hear community input on matters related to the city's ongoing code rewrite process. This was the first public comment CAG meeting that had taken place since CodeNEXT organizers, including external consultant Opticos Design, shared their initial draft of the new city code with the community during the weeklong Sound Check in November (see "CodeNEXT's Sound Check Gets Under Way," Nov. 20). The CAG meets every month, but it's only every three months that the 17-person group sets aside two hours for listening to the community.

Even though they were limited to three minutes each to make their statements, attendees – about 75 in all, though not all of them spoke – sure were opinionated; there was a hearty share of applause, a bit of booing, and enough input from a range of stakeholders to make you feel encouraged about the state of civic engagement in this town.

The people who spoke included: attorneys who know a thing or two about transparency in public processes – who, incidentally, said the process CodeNEXT is using completely lacks transparency; advocates for using the new land use code to right the wrongs done to Austin's people of color by the legally sanctioned racism of our previous land use code; renters; vice presidents of homebuilders' associations; community members against gentrification; advocates for protected bike paths; defenders of heritage neighborhoods; advocates for high-density growth in all neighborhoods, and for flexible code that lets people run their small businesses out of homes or home-like buildings; citizens concerned about flooding and recent flooding-related deaths in Austin; landscape architects convinced of the value of making the code foster social interaction via green, lush public spaces; advocates for "neighborhood characters, not neighborhood character"; Moby Dick-referencing "anti-snob" advocates for affordable housing; and many, many others.

All this input, CAG members said at the end of the public commentary period, was wonderful. They were encouraged by the turnout, and the new faces in the crowd.

But at the same time, the meeting's larger impact felt uncertain. And a conversation with a CAG member afterward confirmed this was a well-founded worry: There is no clear mechanism or process for the CAG to turn the concerns all these people raised into a concrete deliverable to give to either Opticos Design, or to City Council. So, though CAG held last night's hearing with good intentions, as long as it lacks a clear mechanism for capturing and distilling public input into real advice to the groups it exists to advise, the meetings like last night's only give credence to the suspicion many community members have that they don't actually have a say in the city's future. And that's a shame. Another shame? The CodeNEXT rewrite process has been delayed; the draft code that incorporates input from Sound Check won't be publicly available until next year.

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