Public Notice: Hurry Up Please, It’s Time
We’re late, we’re late, for a very important date ...
At the ass end of a tense, draining, six-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Zoning & Platting Commission – after staff had canceled yet another work session intended to answer questions about the CodeNEXT code rewrite that commissioners have had pending for months now, after planning department staffer Jerry Rusthoven had finally made his way to the lectern to discuss scheduling, and to remind commissioners that they are under the gun to deliver final recommendations on this project to City Council, with or without the information that would inform those recommendations, and whether or not they or anyone else had actually read the damn thing (you can be assured that no one on Council has) – came one of those bursts of manic, honest clarity, that you don't hear on the dais often, and that made me happy I'd stayed the course through the blather that preceded it. It came, of course, from ZAP Vice Chair Jim Duncan, in a typically stream-of-consciousness blurt:
"Jerry, I think you sense the frustration. We need to stop playing around. There's no more time. We've spent five years. We've got a version three now. I couldn't believe it – I saw we're going to have a meeting, I got the notice the day before, it's going to be a joint meeting at ... six o'clock, I can't even remember what it was because it made no sense. We're going to leave 30 minutes for AURA and ANC to talk, to tell us the same thing they've told us for five years, and then I've got 15 minutes to [make it to the regular ZAP meeting]. That is not good planning. ... I'm begging right now for us to have an adequate amount of time for one-on-one, to ask questions ... and not saying you've got two minutes, you've got one minute, you've got three minutes, and then have [code consultant] John Miki spend 30 minutes telling us something he's told us for five years." He finished with a plea for extra sessions where both staff and consultants would be present to explain their work; examination of the schedule revealed that at present, only one such session is on the books. That was where things were left; adjournment at 12:23am followed shortly.
Just before that exchange, as it happens, ZAP had passed a resolution supporting, at least in principle, The People's Plan, a moderately radical set of six proposed City Council resolutions regarding displacement of low-income residents on the Eastside (see "The People’s Plan to Curb Displacement," Mar. 9). The Plan's presenters, Drs. Fred McGhee and Jane Rivera, took pains to point out that these are steps that Council could take immediately, with or without action on CodeNEXT. And notably, several of the resolutions include hard timelines for Council and city staff to take action: Identify four tracts of city land this month that could be made available for low-income housing. Establish a Low Income Housing Trust Fund that could start getting funded in this budget cycle. Establish "within 60 days a comprehensive plan, budget, and ordinance" for a Right to Return and Right to Stay program for East Austin – plus an Austin Environmental Quality review program, and a plan for East Austin preservation districts. With no time to discuss details of the presentation, ZAP voted 7-0-1 to endorse the resolutions "in principle," without acknowledging any of the urgency that is embedded in them.
But while that urgency may seem audacious, and even outrageous, given the glacial pace at which planning matters move through City Hall, in fact most of the requested actions are fully actionable. City staff could indeed assemble a list of properties that could be made available for public housing; they did so for a soccer stadium, and many of the properties would be the same ones (McCalla Place, anyone?). And Council could indeed earmark $16 million for a Housing Trust Fund going into this year's budget process, if that were a shared priority. But the fact is that it's not.
Ironically, the council members who have been the loudest voices insisting on fast-tracking CodeNEXT, in the name of an affordability crisis – even though every testimony on the subject has warned that zoning has little direct impact on affordability – will be the same ones slow-walking proposals such as these, that promise direct and relatively quick impacts for those on the lowest rungs of the affordability ladder. (To name names, that would be CMs Flannigan, Casar, Renteria, and Garza. Prove me wrong.)
At the same time, many of the folks pushing The People's Plan are also behind the petition to force a public vote on CodeNEXT, which is also widely interpreted as a move to kill that process altogether. So there's that.
Three SXSW highlights (Disclaimer: I'm a founder and still part owner, but I'd be going to these anyway.)
• Fox Sports House, this Fri.-Mon., March 9-12, previews Fox's World Cup coverage and more. See more in "Soccer Watch," Mar. 9, and my interview with Stuart Holden about everything from Donald Trump to the Columbus Crew, at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.
• Chronicle Hair of the Dog Party: Come meet Hank, the Chronicle dog, at Hotel Vegas from 1-5pm next Friday, March 16 – music, food, and belly rubs for Austin Pets Alive!
• The Austin Music Awards' Auditorium Shores Showcase: Hall of Famer Roky Erickson headlines a great lineup of this year's winners in the Chronicle's annual poll, Saturday, March 17, 5-10pm.