Amy Everhart of Hahn Public wrote a fantastic memo on what to expect from the next Austin City Council. Here are three points to add to her mix of high-quality insights.
1. (More) Growth Management through Neighborhood Association
I agree with Everhart that the results of this election mean that the ‘neighborhood association’ candidates (those that rose up through the ANC’s leadership pipeline and/or support the City remaining nearly exclusively single family) are in the majority. We’ll see if some new flavor of the ‘Neighborhood Association’ growth management approach can make a dent in congestion, affordability, and sprawl.
I’m not as sure that most urbanists (AURA/CNU) would agree with Everhart that the last decade has featured an urban-focused approach to development. Austinites are commuting to work through single passenger car trips at essentially the same rates and new low-density, single-family developments are eating up land farther and farther away from the core. Even this relatively urban-friendly Council gutted CodeNEXT (the land development code re-write) by ceding control to an Opticos consultant team which is only interested in a pointless, toothless opt-in approach that will initially only apply to Airport Boulevard (if that).
It might be more accurate to say that highly-visible projects in the core have been contentious (e.g. TacoPUD), even if the amount of units being debated are not that consequential in the overall development scheme. Objectively, sprawl is crushing urbanism as a growth management approach within Austin. Certainly, the next council is poised to rely even more on sprawl for growth management given their remarks on the campaign trail. Obviously, no candidate openly acknowledges that. Instead candidates label their pro-sprawl positions as ‘respect for neighborhood planning’.
2. S/BC is where influence is institutionalized
I’m glad that Everhart is pointing out that on day-to-day operations and implementation of big initiatives, it’s City staff determining the pace and fidelity to the Council’s vision. Similarly, certain Boards & Commissions (land use/utilities/regional authorities) play a significant role in creating the boundaries of acceptable options presented to Council. Staff/Boards & Commissions are where good & bad ideas get embedded and institutionalized. Austinites and Council members seeking to make change need to ensure their perspective is ensconced within S/BC.
3. Homestead exemption
Everhart implicitly confirms that the homestead exemption is the most concrete new public policy to come out of this election cycle. As readers know, I think it’s expensive symbolism that won’t help: it’s the household affordability equivalent of saying you are going to lose weight by getting your hair cut. Its prioritization implies something troubling about the state of the marketplace of policy ideas in Austin.
Again, please read this well-crafted memo at the Hahn website; if you can’t access it there, here’s a copy (PDF). We need a greater diversity of voices engaging in detailed public policy discussions in Austin, and I am really looking forward to seeing Amy and Hahn Public continue to provide insights on local government.