CodeNEXT Must Go on the Ballot, Even if It’s Shelved. That’s a Good Thing—Here’s Why

On May 24th, Mayor Adler and the other members of the Austin City Council are set to cast one of the most important votes of their careers. That’s the day they will decide whether or not local residents will have an opportunity to vote on CodeNEXT, City Hall’s controversial attempt to rezone, redevelop, and reshape neighborhoods across our community.

At this point, the council’s decision should be an easy one. That’s because state law requires that any ordinance put forth by a valid citizen petition be either adopted by a local government or put to a public vote—and since the council recently declined to adopt an ordinance put forth by 32,000 petitioners that would have required voter approval of CodeNEXT, the same issue must now be put on the next available public ballot, this coming November.

Whether or not CodeNEXT will live that long is an open question, though. Opposition to the plan has reached a fever pitch and is growing fast.

The Austin NAACP, PODER, La Raza RoundtableSave Our Springs Alliance (SOS), and the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) have all joined Community Not Commodity in opposing the plan, and the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) has formally withdrawn its support for it. We believe CodeNEXT is a thinly veiled attempt by land developers to replace what’s left of Austin’s affordable housing with densely packed luxury homes and forever push low- and middle-income residents out of the urban core. Those and other problems are outlined in this new report showing why CodeNEXT is beyond repair.

Everyday Austinites are beginning to get the message. On April 28th, hundreds of residents worried about being displaced from their longtime homes took to the microphone at a hearing of Austin’s Joint Land Use Commissions and demanded that CodeNEXT be stopped or put to a public vote. More than 100 attended “Real Solutions for Austin’s Gentrification Crisis,” a public forum held in East Austin a week later, where they heard a panel of experts explain what City Hall could be doing to fight displacement rather than worsen it.

More and more public officials are starting to agree on the matter. One of the most prominent is Jim Duncan, the vice chair of Austin’s Zoning and Platting Commission and the former head of the American Planning Association. “[CodeNEXT] is, without a doubt, the worst code I have ever seen in my life,” he told the Austin Chronicle. “We’re a world-class city and we don’t deserve that.”

The media has taken notice as well, and local journalists are beginning to call for an end to the process. The Austin American-Statesman’s editorial board called on the city council to stop work on CodeNEXT, and the Austin Chronicle has begun calling it “CodeNOT,” citing a report showing that Austinites of color fear the plan will worsen gentrification and the city’s displacement crisis.

Will Mayor Adler and our city council give in to the mounting public pressure and shelve CodeNEXT? We hope they will, and that they will instead adopt our recommendations for moving forward. Those recommendations include the passage of the People’s Plan, a set of anti-displacement initiatives put together by grassroots leaders and endorsed by a city task force focusing on the matter.

But even if Austin’s leaders bow to public pressure and withdraw CodeNEXT from further consideration by the city council, state law mandates that the provision appear on the November 2018 ballot. That’s a good thing, because CodeNEXT is far more than a simple rezoning plan—it’s a naked attempt to permanently alter the entire landscape of Austin and the socioeconomic makeup of the people who live here. You and your neighbors must therefore have an opportunity to vote on the matter and send a lasting message to CodeNEXT’s supporters.

Let’s tell the land developers, realtors, and other special interests who are trying to turn our community into a commodity that enough is enough. They don’t control this city—the people who live here do!