Public Notice: Groundhog Day ... Again
CodeNEXT: Haven’t we been here before?
I've always loved Groundhog Day – the movie, but even more the holiday itself: the pomp, the ceremony, the fact that this nondescript little coal-mining town in Pennsylvania (pop. 5,814) has commanded international attention over three centuries now, the sheer goofiness of every aspect of the tradition that unfolds each year atop the hill known as Gobbler's Knob, as Phil whispers his secret, in Groundhogese, to the only human who can understand Groundhogese, by virtue of his magical acacia cane, handed down in turn to each president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle, so that he may direct the correct scroll to be read, declaring the six-week weather forecast to the waiting world. And of course, Phil himself: Dear Punxsutawney Phil, now at least 133 years old, according to the lore, but still looking as plump and ridiculous a creature as ever.
So, Happy Groundhog Day, however you choose to celebrate it.
Meanwhile, thinking about Groundhog Day the movie while watching the joint land use commissions meet Tuesday night regarding CodeNEXT, and waiting for the next draft of CodeNEXT to be released, got me wondering: Haven't we been having these same discussions before, over and over, for a long time now? Not living the same day over again, like Bill Murray in the 1993 classic, but playing the same waiting game – stuck in a loop of uncertainty with a lot of questions up in the air, and no real framework to pin them on – arguing about abstract ideas, because there's no actual policy or text or substance publicly available to be debated?
That's certainly where we are this Groundhog Day. In two weeks we'll see a largely rewritten text, plus the first "equivalency map" and the means to start testing the effects of different desired policy moves. And with both a transit plan and a transportation plan being prepared in separate processes, not yet coordinated with the CodeNEXT process, it's safe to say there's a lot of work yet to be done. But at least we're starting on the road. But ... starting on the road? Isn't that where we were last year? And the year before that? And ...
Groundhog Day 2017: In a column titled "What Is the Sound of One Shoe Falling? City releases CodeNEXT draft to mild reaction ... so far," I report that the first draft of the CodeNEXT text has just been released and quote John Miki of Opticos Design telling Council that "CodeNEXT at this point is providing the tools to implement existing policies," but caution that "mapping will be rolled out in April, and to a large extent, it's hard really to tell much until then." Of course, once the mapping was released, it was met by scorn on all sides, and the tripartite text was being picked apart by critics as well, so staff announced in June that they were scrapping all the work done to date, in favor of "an idea that just came up in the last couple of days." That became the half-cooked draft two, but that mapping attempt proved so toxic that we're back to the drawing board on that front.
Groundhog Day 2016: At this point, the process is in the midst of its longest "black box" period: 2015 saw a long series of "public input" initiatives, but no info would come out of staff and consultants regarding what they were working on until the abortive 2017 first draft release. In a column titled "Density vs. Affordability," I quote Mayor Steve Adler as saying, "if we do not aggressively preserve our existing affordable housing stock while building new affordable housing, then we are effectively saying goodbye to a population the size of Amarillo," and Greg Casar countering that for him the choice is between "one older home being torn down and being replaced by one really big new expensive home, or being replaced by two newer homes that are going to be more expensive because they are newer." Two years later, that was exactly the dilemma being debated by the speakers Tuesday night.
Groundhog Day 2015: In a column titled "First, Do No Harm," I note that the newly-elected 10-1 City Council is devoting today's two-hour "Deep Dive" orientation session to learning about Comprehensive Planning and Imagine Austin, "so they have some idea of some of the issues involved." Meanwhile, "work continues apace on the CodeNEXT process, designed to rewrite Austin's land development code. The Code Advisory Group has set up three working groups 'to dig deeper into concepts directly linked to the land development code revision.'"
It would be another two years before we would see what they were up to.
"Clearing Stones and Sowing Seeds: Photographs From the Travis County Negro Extension Service" is the newest exhibit at the Austin History Center: photos from 1940-64, documenting various programs the agency offered to African-American rural residents, and providing an intimate glimpse into life in rural Travis County at the time. There's an opening reception and pie social Tue., Feb. 6 at 6:30pm at AHC, 810 Guadalupe, www.austinhistorycenter.org.
Dueling Puppy Bowls? The Austin Humane Society's 11th Annual Puppy Bowl is Sat., Feb. 3, noon-3pm, with a football-themed tailgate at noon, plenty of puppies up for adoption, kids' activities, local vendors, snuggles, photo ops, and Puppy MVP Battles. 124 W. Anderson. (And buy an AHS Car Raffle ticket while you're there, for a chance to win a brand-new Mazda Miata from Roger Beasley Mazda.) www.austinhumanesociety.org.
Puppy Bowl Live is hosted on the same day by Yard Bar as a fundraiser for Austin Pets Alive! Enter your dog, up to 35 pounds, for 20 minutes of gridiron action for $15. 1-6pm at YB, 6700 Burnet Rd.