Public Notice: False Binary Choices
Finding middle ground in Austin politics
By Nick Barbaro, Fri., Oct. 19, 2018
"No more false binary choices."
That's my favorite slogan thus far in these local elections. It comes from a Danielle Skidmore mailer – a sly reference to nonbinary gender identification, but more directly to the policy gridlock that has gripped the city on land use issues, and most particularly on the code rewrite formerly known as CodeNEXT.
I won't be voting for Skidmore, because I don't think she lives up to the slogan as well as her opponent, incumbent Kathie Tovo (see our endorsements for more), but I do think she's turned a phrase that ought to be at the center of all of our land use discussions going forward. For the past few years – virtually the entire tenure of the 10-1 City Council led by Mayor Steve Adler – the discussion has been poisoned by extremists on both sides, generally yelling at each other, or past each other, and turning any middle ground into a poisoned DMZ where no one dares tread.
But believe it or not, people, there are places where there is a viable middle ground: Not every choice has to be between NIMBYs and bulldozers. There are a lot of clear compromises available, that can move us toward some commonly held goals and values, if we stop yelling at each other. Here are a few places to start, but there are plenty more:
We ought to have ADUs everywhere.
We ought to do a lot more to encourage dense, mixed-use development along major corridors, but in exchange for giving that windfall to the property owners, we can get a lot better public value (primarily affordable housing) than we've typically asked for.
We can put a lot more density onto minor arterials as well, and into neighborhoods, but that really requires detailed small-area planning, that our current Planning Department is not competent or willing enough to oversee (and has said as much). And that takes us further back to the drawing board than anyone would like, but seriously, who do we think is going to oversee this code rewrite, now that we've pulled the plug on the current team?
Moving forward, we need the reboot of CodeNEXT to involve serious planning this time – we can't afford four more years of two political factions circling each other, looking for an advantage and a time to pounce, while the "planners" hunker down in fear that anything they reveal about their thinking will be shot to pieces by one side or the other.
This is timely: Austin's Office of the City Clerk has launched a new website (www.austintexas.gov/cityclerk/cfdi/index.cfm) that makes it easier for users to navigate, search, and compile campaign finance reports filed with the clerk by officeholders, candidates, and political action committees. See "Follow the Money ... to the Polls" for a compilation of PAC donations, or go make your own.
Austin Energy's Community Connections Resource Fair is this Saturday, Oct. 20, 11:30am-4pm at Travis High, 1211 E. Oltorf. Among other features, the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan team will be there to introduce folks to that recently released plan, and presumably its interface with Capital Metro's Project Connect plan. See www.austintexas.gov/page/aboutasmp for more info.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Dept. is kicking off its 23rd Annual "Totally Cool, Totally Art" afterschool program next week, providing quality art education at neighborhood rec centers for kids grade 7-12, two afternoons a week, starting Oct. 22 through May, and concluding with gallery exhibitions of the students' work at MexicArte and the Dougherty Arts Center. Contact your local recreation center to sign up; see a full schedule at www.austintexas.gov/tcta.
The 2018 Austin Green Awards are being celebrated at a reception next Wednesday, Oct. 24, 6-10 pm at the Sunset Room, 310 E. Third. The AGA recognizes "outstanding accomplishments in the broad arena of sustainable design and innovation"; see more info, or to get $35-40 tickets, at www.atxgreenawards.org.
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