Why Did City Hall Try to Stop One of Its Own Officials From Talking About the Next CodeNEXT?

Someone in our local government is trying to silence internal criticism about the City of Austin’s controversial rezoning plan.

It started last week, when a new report by City of Austin Demographer Ryan Robinson was shared by Austin UpZoned, a local blog. (Community Not Commodity published a blog post about the report as well.) It’s Robinson’s duty to provide local officials and the public with information about the growth of our community, and his report focused on multifamily housing construction.

In it, Robinson concluded that the number of multifamily homes now being built in Austin is “simply phenomenal.” Then he went a step further: He claimed the idea that housing production is “somehow severely constrained” by the land development code is a “false narrative.” Mayor Steve Adler and the local real estate development industry employed that false narrative to push for both 2018’s failed CodeNEXT initiative and City Hall’s current rezoning plan, which has been fast-tracked.

Shortly after Robinson’s report was publicized by the blogs, something strange happened. It disappeared from the City of Austin’s website and was replaced by a version with all of the demographer’s frank language redacted.

The Austin Chronicle quickly took notice, and on Thursday the newspaper ran an article accusing City Hall of “censoring” its own demographer. Sometime afterwards, Robinson’s original report was restored to the City of Austin’s website.

 

Austin, we have a problem.

If our elected officials are sheltered from information about housing and population growth, then they won’t be able to craft sound public policies.

If local residents are barred from seeing the work product of the people their government employs, then the community’s trust in City Hall with further erode.

Fortunately, Mayor Steve Adler has an opportunity to repair this breach. He should publicly explain how and why City Hall chose to censor its own demographer. Then he should announce the steps he plans to take to ensure future transparency at City Hall.

If you agree, we urge you to contact Mayor Adler at steve.adler@austintexas.gov or 512-978-2100. Tell him that muzzling critics, stifling debate, and ignoring data is no way to govern.

Together we can build an Austin for everyone!