Last month, Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer gave the Austin City Council a golden opportunity when she upheld the rights of local property owners who had filed protests against City Hall’s controversial rezoning plan.
Our council members could have responded by scrapping the next CodeNEXT and instituting an inclusive, deliberative process to revise our land development code—one that allows for more housing, protects existing neighborhoods and small businesses, prevents displacement, and values the input of our entire community.
Unfortunately, they appear to be squandering that opportunity.
Yesterday, Mayor Steve Adler and a majority of the council voted to contest Judge Soifer’s order by appealing it to Austin’s Third Court of Appeals. The decision abandons the certainty of a land code built on community consensus and invites the uncertainty of a long, costly, and unnecessary court battle.
Council Members Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, and Kathie Tovo dissented, wisely voting against the measure. They then released the following statement:
Today, a majority of the City Council chose to pursue what is likely to be a time-consuming and costly legal effort that we believe is an ill-timed expenditure of resources amid our current crisis. … We are disappointed by their decision to appeal the ruling and believe this should not be our focus right now. We also proposed that the Council ask the court to postpone the deadline for filing an appeal. This attempt to defer the decision until the COVID-19 crisis is under control in our community was also rejected by the Council majority.
We believe the City of Austin will ultimately lose its appeal, because its argument has always defied both common sense and legal precedent. Texans have had the right to protest the rezoning of their properties for more than 90 years, but the city tried to persuade Judge Soifer that those rights shouldn’t apply because it intended to rezone all of the community’s properties in one fell swoop, rather than one at a time. In other words, local officials believe that Austin residents are not entitled to exercise their property rights when those rights are trampled all at once, as part of a single, sweeping change to the city code.
Judge Soifer rejected that argument. She held that local officials had violated the plaintiffs’ state-mandated property rights and voided all of the city council’s past votes on the rezoning plan for failure to provide proper notice to the public. She also barred City Hall from rezoning any property that is the subject of an official rezoning protest without approval of three-fourths of the city council (nine of 11 votes).
There is no reason to believe the appellate court will see things differently, but Community Not Commodity will be there to support the everyday Austinites impacted by this case.
In the meantime, here are our recommendations for our readers:
Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Stay Healthy
Public health and the welfare of our frontline healthcare workers must remain this community’s top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, so please adhere to the social-distancing protocols and other laws issued by local, state, and national authorities. Click here for a list of other resources that may help you, your families, and your neighbors make it through this difficult time. It includes links to several organizations that need personal protective equipment (PPE), financial donations, and volunteers.
Continue Filing Official Rezoning Protests
More than 17,000 Austinites have filed official rezoning protests to date, protecting their homes and businesses from the rezoning plan. Those who haven’t are encouraged to visit FileYourProtest.com, where they can fill out a short protest form and protect their homes and businesses. If you’ve already filed a protest, please call or email your friends and neighbors and ask them to do the same. Protests may be filed until one week before the city council takes its final vote on its code revision. That vote had been scheduled for early April, but was postponed by city officials due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Consider Donating to Our Legal Fund
We are grateful for your past financial support, but Community Not Commodity cannot fight the City of Austin’s appeal without continued help. Click here to donate to our legal fund. Please make sure to type “yes” in the blank indicating that you would like your donation to be used for the protest litigation.
Contact Mayor Adler and the Council
City Hall should respect Judge Soifer’s order and marshal taxpayer funds toward more pressing issues. Reach out to the mayor and city council using the following contact information and tell them so! Check this map if you aren’t sure which council member represents you.
Together we can build an Austin for everyone!