Join us! Project Connect Community Conversation – 12/04

You are invited to a community conversation on the future of transportation in central Texas. The City of Austin and Capital Metro are collaborating on a new vision for how we get around our city. Join Mayor Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Tovo on Tuesday, December 4th, from 6 – 8 pm at Austin City Hall so they can hear your thoughts.

Our affordability and mobility challenges are two of the biggest threats to quality of life in central Texas, and we know you want our city to think big and take action on real solutions, but we need your help to make sure we get it right.

Tuesday, Dec. 4 – 6 – 8 p.m.

Community Conversation with Mayor Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Tovo

Austin City Hall Council Chambers

301 W. 2nd St.

Austin, 78701

Served by downtown transit routes – Use Capital Metro’s Trip Planner to find your route.

RSVP here! https://www.facebook.com/events/2042799639292511/

For more information about Project Connect, visit ProjectConnect.com, and learn more about the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan at austintexas.gov/asmp.

Full Remarks by Mayor Adler on the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting Shalom Austin Vigil (Austin, Texas) – October 28, 2018

The horrifying acts of terror in Pittsburgh shake us all.

Because I am Jewish, this event hits close to home and reverberates at my core. It makes vivid the conversations I had with my grandparents about the anti-Semitism in the Europe that my family fled. And what I see in the media, even over the last year. That hate is horrifying. But Jews do not own being its target.

That very same hate kills African Americans in a Charleston church basement.

It takes lives in a Mosque in Quebec.

It targets the LGBTQ community in Orlando.

It finds Sikhs in a gurdwara in Wisconsin.

It murders Buddhists in a Waddell, AZ, temple.

It’s the same hate. We are all in this together.

So together, we must confront hate, wherever we see it, whenever we see it.

When it looms large and also when the transgressions might seem small.

We must own that today’s political speech of divisiveness tills the ground for hate to grow… when we demonize one another…when the intent of a call to action is to make us afraid of one another, to gain political advantage.

A year or so ago, the headline in a Alt-Right media publication read: “Austin’s Jew Mayor Demands Tranny Police Force”

The article led with a photo of me, smiling. Beneath the photo, the caption read: “It’s very unsettling when Jews try to look human. Just grow the beard and locks you freak.”

Mainstream media asked about the article at that time. I minimized it and its impact.

I was wrong. I resolve to do better. We must all resolve to do better.

My heart breaks and I cry with the victims, the families of those killed and injured, all of the worshippers and the law enforcement officers that bravely responded.

May the memories of those that died make us better.

We Should Consider if We Need a New and Different Process to Fix our Land Development Code.

Colleagues,

Austin’s biggest challenges, such as increasing unaffordability, displacement, gentrification, flooding, and traffic are getting worse. The land development code should be an important tool to help with these challenges, however, our current code is not serving us well. The need to revise this land development code is greater than ever before. Yet, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the CodeNEXT process, so divisive and poisoned, will not get us to a better place.

We should consider the option: cease the CodeNEXT process and ask the City Manager to create a new process that will help us move forward together.

In 2012, the Austin City Council under the old, at-large system, initiated a comprehensive planning process which resulted in the adoption of Imagine Austin, a document intended to guide the growth of our city. Imagine Austin identified rewriting the land development code as a priority because of how important the code is to the day-in-day-out growth and development of our city and to realizing our vision for the future. When we look at the difficult issues of displacement and gentrification, the burdens of traffic and increasing lack of affordability, it is not incorrect to point at least one finger at our existing, outdated land development code.

We must improve on what’s happening now. We can’t keep losing long-time residents because they can’t afford to stay in their neighborhoods. We can’t keep letting our city’s floodwaters go inadequately managed, washing away lives and homes and costing our city hundreds of millions of dollars and untold misery for primarily lower-income residents. Our city is changing, and we have to make strides in better managing that change. We must address the challenges we feel today and those we anticipate for tomorrow or we’ll lose what makes our city special.

I’m proud of the 10-1 council for its work on traffic, housing, affordability, displacement, gentrification, equity, and sustainability. Together, we have made great strides. Cities everywhere are always going to grapple with such issues. Whether a city is growing or shrinking, the problems don’t completely go away — they just look different and continually need to be addressed with newer and more innovative solutions.

We have not, however, been able to accomplish the necessary re-write of our land development code and that limits the benefits we can achieve. The previous at-large council selected our CodeNEXT consultant, Opticos, in March of 2013. That same council then selected the approach, referred to as “The Deep Clean” of the code, in November of 2014. By the time the new 10-1 council was sworn in, the CodeNEXT process was already almost two years old. We elected to continue the process.

Now, however, we need to consider if we have made a wrong turn in how we’ve gone about trying to do this. CodeNEXT, the current process of rewriting our land development code, is big, complicated, technical, and it’s largely misunderstood. The six-year process that got us to this point has had to deal with changes in city staff and leadership, the political landscape, our economy, technology, and our municipal governing systems and philosophy. Maybe we pushed too hard and too fast? Maybe we took too long? Regardless, our challenges remain and they are getting worse every day. One of the biggest impediments to helping our city, our land development code, remains outdated and deficient.

We had been hoping for a process that would bring Austin together and result in a code that would help us solve many of our biggest challenges, however CodeNEXT and the community discussion surrounding it have largely been contentious and marked with misinformation. Preying on the worst fears of Austinites is a near surefire way to kill anything, but we know that that our city’s challenges and the need to re-write our land development code remain.

Colleagues, I believe we should consider if the best way ultimately to find the right path to fix our land development code is to cease our current process and ask the City Manager to create a new process. While we have learned much and made gains as a council in our June work sessions, it seems evident that we’re not going to get to a place of sufficient consensus. Do we believe that continuing to chop at the same wood is going to change the outcome?

This is a good time to consider if we are on the right path. When June ended, the Council realized that to proceed in a meaningful way we needed to run new numbers on housing capacity so that we could advance discussions on transitions and compatibility. We recognized we needed more testing on the impact of the non-zoning sections on the housing capacity we intended to get on corridors. Staff has now informed us they cannot provide answers to these questions by the end of August as we had hoped. Further, we now learn that floodplains may be changing in a very significant way and this alone might justify recalculating and considering new changes to our land development code in order to achieve the goals we seek.

It’s time to evaluate where we are. Is the current process so poisoned that we need a new and different approach that encourages openness, discussion, and finding the truth, rather than the misinformation, hyperbole, fearmongering, and divisive rhetoric we have seen? When a long-time resident says with a straight face that CodeNEXT means every property in their neighborhood will be able to sell alcohol commercially, or a neighborhood listserv warns that most every home in their neighborhood will be demolished and each lot subdivided into 25-foot widths, then something has gone horribly wrong. I keep hearing from too many people that the CodeNEXT process is being pushed by greedy developers intent only on making money from the misfortune of others. But all we need to do is listen to Council Members Casar, Garza, and others to know that this is untrue. I keep hearing from yet others that the folks opposing CodeNEXT are all racists intent on keeping people of color out of their neighborhoods. But all we need to do is listen to Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, Council Member Alter, and others to know that this, too, is untrue.

I’m not sure it is within our power and ability to right the current process. We must do a better job of calling out those that seek advantage and power at the expense of the well-being of our city. They are hurting our city, not helping, and re-living the battles of the past isn’t saving homes from being demolished or keeping people from being displaced – it’s exacerbating and prolonging such tragedies. Oversight, engagement, and transparency are core values of our city, but when people stop being honest to achieve a political end, it hurts our city and our democracy. We need dialogue that is more like Austin, Texas, and less like what we are seeing in Washington D.C.

Change happens at the speed of trust. As a Council, city staff and community, we must restore trust in a process to revise our land development code, and that means we need a new and different, clear and concise path that can move us forward. We need to assess where we are and task City Manager Cronk with evaluating all the good we have gotten from all the work done thus far, and then recommending a new process that builds on the lessons learned from what we’ve done, both good and bad.

There are a lot of people, working in good faith, that have spent a lot of time on this effort, including our city staff. We have learned a lot, narrowed and identified issues, and our community has shown general agreement on some important elements. We have developed ways in which we can significantly enhance environmental protections and mobility choices, among other non-zoning benefits. Many hours of work have helped us better understand our housing needs. We have accomplished these and more and we move forward with significant value in hand.

I now question, however, whether our current process can see us to the end. Before we continue further down the path we are on, I recommend we stop to see if it will really get us to where we need and want to go. In this regard, I remain committed as I have throughout my term as Mayor to finding ways to slow or mitigate gentrification, to stop displacement of long-time residents, to preserve existing housing stock, to support our music and arts community and low and moderate income residents through affordability measures, to find ways to help Austinites who live here and to plan for those we know are coming, all without losing what has always made our city special and continuing to lead on sustainability measures that keep us healthy and safe.

We must get this right and I continue to believe we can. We must deliver for our constituents and our city’s future.

I look forward to hearing from you.

s

An Open Letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton

Dear General Paxton:

We get it. You don’t like the way we do things in Austin and, because you live here as Attorney General, you have every constituent’s right to complain. Many Austinites write the local paper and that’s okay, too, but what you wrote in your op-ed several days ago was wrong.

I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth with you. Suffice it to say that Austin follows the law and does not thwart its enforcement, and we point out racial disparities only where they exist – and they do.  Besides, if I refute your every single claim, point by point, it would come off like an indictment, and that wouldn’t do anything for our relationship.

The issue is not Austin breaking existing laws, it’s the State passing and threatening new laws to preempt and abridge our city’s otherwise legal conduct.  After Austin acts of, by and for its people, the State swoops in to endanger our environment, make our community less safe, take away affordable housing tools and earned sick leave, all of which are attempts at interfering with the culture of Austin that, importantly, drives our economy and quality of life.

Recently, you filed a lawsuit against 8 community volunteers on one of Austin’s many boards and commissions alleging that the Austin Council’s acceptance of their volunteer service violates our city charter. This is a local issue involving our interpretation of our city charter and your suit typifies state-level overreach and the assault on local control. You allege that a charter limitation on the number of land developers that can serve on our planning commission would apply to a retired real estate agent, a Travis County government attorney, and an executive director of an affordable housing non-profit.  Really? There have got to be more important issues for the Texas Attorney General.  It is no justification for suing us that a couple of Austinites petitioned to have you interfere with the local steps already initiated to deal with this issue. Our community should work together to resolve differences without having or inviting the Attorney General’s intervention.

I must apologize to you.  You became a full-time Austin resident the same time I got elected Mayor, and I never welcomed you. This is my fault and maybe why you constantly target Austin. Please let me make it up to you by telling you some things about this great city that I hope you come to think of fondly as home.

First, we are prosperous. We all love to brag about how Texas creates jobs, but Austin’s unemployment rate is lower than the state’s and the country’s. And while some say we do things a little differently, the last thing we are is anti-innovation. In fact, Austin leads Texas in venture capital, startups, and patents. This isn’t your area, but we’re ready to share advice about how to expand the Austin economic miracle to the rest of Texas.

Second, we’re safe. We’re the safest big city area in Texas and one of the safest in the country. We look out for each other. Remember the serial bombings last March? Except for when a state-wide politician spread ill-informed rumors on national TV, everybody worked in unison to quickly stop the terror. Because Austin’s immigrant communities trust our police officers, witnesses and victims step forward and we get bad actors off our streets.  Our police make decisions based not on seeking political advantage, but on how to keep our community safe.

Third, we understand something about America that’s too often forgotten. Our differences make us stronger. E pluribus unum! One reason Austin is so successful and safe is that we’re an extraordinarily welcoming city. We don’t care who you are or how you got here. We just want people in Austin to feel welcome and safe. That’s why we don’t freak out about which toilets people choose to use. That’s true personal liberty!

Your Sam Houston quote is a good one: “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.”  You and I differ, however, on the source of oppression. You see it in a ban on plastic bags or distracted driving. I don’t.  Why does preventing litter or making traffic safer feel oppressive?

Austin will do things our way for as long as we can in as many ways as we can because that is the will of our community. So far, it has resulted in Austin being named the best city in the U.S. to live in – multiple times. We could do things like they do everywhere else, but then we’d be like everywhere else.

Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are all great cities.  Each has different strengths, values, and local economies.  Each attracts different residents and businesses that contribute differently to the State in different cycles. Texas is stronger because she has a diversified portfolio of cities.

No city is perfect – like most, Austin grapples earnestly with managing growth, and balancing personal freedoms, property rights, economic opportunity, environmental preservation, and affordability. Yet, cities are our best hope for trying new things and actually getting things done. Our nation’s greatest challenges are playing out in cities. And it will be cities that incubate innovation, provide economic engines, and lead in solving our greatest challenges, provided cities are given the necessary freedom and local control.  We in Austin continue to believe, as did our founding fathers, that the government closest to the people governs best.

I’m sorry for going on like this. We all can get stuck on our soapboxes from time to time. Ours are local decisions we recognize are made differently in different parts of Texas and that’s okay. I hope this gives you a better perspective on why we do things the way we do in Austin, and why we know doing so makes both Austin and Texas better.

Steve Adler

Austin Mayor