Public Notice: Old News on CodeNEXT
Scattershots, while waiting for Draft Three
Earlier this month, the Austin American-Statesman ran three full-page editorial pages, of council members answering a seven-item questionnaire about the CodeNEXT land development code rewrite effort. Taken as a whole, what's interesting about the answers is that, while the CMs have obvious strong differences on development issues in principle, they also agree on most all of the specifics.
Three of the questions pertained to affordable housing, and CMs wiggled around to various degrees before admitting that by and large, CodeNEXT doesn't, and indeed can't, do much to produce low-income affordable housing (except Jimmy Flannigan, who threw in the laugh line, "Ultimately, the main barriers for developers committed to building affordable units are the complicated code and process."). One clear divide on the dais is highlighted as Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, and Alison Alter each point out that, as early drafts seek to promote density by granting extra development entitlements by right, they simultaneously delete a lot of potential affordable housing incentives. That's a baby that will be very hard to cut in half, and a problem in the code that's been brewing for a while (see "Density vs. Affordability," Feb. 19, 2016).
A question on traffic congestion was a gimme: All the answers are a variation on, if we build more density along corridors, and close to jobs and services, then more people will use alternative modes of transportation. Similarly, CMs largely agreed that the current code is "so burdensome and restrictive that it drives up the cost of construction"; only a couple pointed out that the early CodeNEXT drafts aren't much of an improvement; and also that a lot of the cited deficiencies are in development review, not code.
There was something of a divide on the (now delayed) anti-CodeNEXT referendum, with most members vehemently opposed to it, but Tovo, Pool, and Alter saying, essentially, that they'll live with what the voters decide, and Ora Houston opining, "Why not?" And when asked if the current timeline needs to be extended, the CMs again seemed to agree, with distinct variations only in tone, that an April passage is unrealistic, and that there's a lot more work to be done.
On the other side of town, but also earlier this month, a group of Eastside leaders held a public event under the Community Not Commodity banner to propose a seven-point resolution regarding low-income housing, and to reiterate their opposition to CodeNEXT. Unfortunately, the resolution itself got sort of lost in the coverage of the code opposition, but it's worth noting that much of what they ask for could be done, in parallel, and with or without, CodeNEXT implementation. Summed up, they propose creation of a Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, with dedicated city funding and a broader, more community-based management board than the city's current density bonus program enjoys, plus a policy that all future bond packages include at least 20% that's earmarked for low-income housing.
One of the common themes in the views expressed above, and in the discussions this week at Planning Commission (see "CodeNEXT’s New Friend, the Strategic Mobility Plan," Jan. 26), is to highlight the fact that a lot of the issues that recur in the CodeNEXT debate, a lot of the benefits we want to get out of the rewrite, and a lot of the deficiencies we see in the current system, are not issues having to do with the code itself, and cannot be solved, purely or even primarily, by land use regulation. Here are a few salient examples:
• Many of the issues related to process are in the purview of the Development Services Department, not Planning and Zoning. And while Council has greatly boosted that department's funding and manpower in the last couple of cycles, there's still never been anything like an accounting of progress made since the scathing performance review known as the Zucker Report, that's now going on three years old (see "Public Notice: Where Does Money Come From?," April 3, 2015).
• The density bonus program intended to create funding for affordable housing is broken. The amount of money it produces, even during the building boom of the past decade, is barely a drop in the bucket of what's needed, and the monitoring system to make sure the units really exist, and are really affordable, is virtually nonexistent. And while the revisions under CodeNEXT may create more, or perhaps less, funding for the program, there's no apparent movement to fix the fundamentally broken pipeline itself.
• Parallel planning efforts in transit corridors – between the city transportation department, Capital Metro, and CodeNEXT planners – have lacked coordination throughout. Only now, as the "final" code draft is readying for release Feb. 12, are we considering ways it could be informed by the transpo plans, and vice versa.
• Cap Metro has lost its lower-class ridership base (because they've been gentrified out of Cap Metro's service area, a rep told the Planning Commission on Tuesday), and perhaps its way. With ridership stagnant as population and corridor density have shot up this decade, the transit authority has a lot of work to do.
So, what's a city to do? Not give up on trying, certainly, but it would help, perhaps, to acknowledge that, for instance, CodeNEXT isn't going to do a huge amount to solve our affordable housing problems, or our transit problems, or our development review problems, so we'd better get working on some other approaches as well.
Dueling art: Two intriguing art offerings this Friday evening, Jan. 26:
• Gallery Mixtape: Vol. 7 "offers an opportunity for black visual and performing artists to connect and engage an inter-generational community," with musical performances from various genres, from Kristen Trotty, Anastasia Smith, and Tree G, 7-10pm at the George Washington Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina.
• "Fotografía y Nuevos Medios: Selections From the Permanent Collection" is the new exhibition at the Mexic-Arte Museum, exploring "the varied lineages of Latinx and Latin American resistance … including race, gender, identity, community, civil rights, and cultural praxis." Opening reception 6-9pm at Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress.
TEMPO 2018 seeks to commission 10 public artworks, to be displayed in each of the city's 10 council districts this fall, then reinstalled at Edward Rendon Sr. Park in District 3 for display as part of this year's East Austin Studio Tour. The city's Art in Public Places program is looking for local artists or artist teams, with a budget of up to $10,000 for each piece. Proposals must be submitted by March 15; see the full Request for Proposals at www.austintexas.gov/department/art-in-public-places. And there's an info meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 6:30-7:30pm at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.
The Austin Animal Center is overcrowded with large and medium dogs, and urgently needs short-term foster homes. They have a list of 23 dogs they'd like to find a two-week home for before the weekend. See www.austinanimalcenter.org for details.