If passed, Proposition B would reinstate a ban on public camping that Austin City Council lifted in 2019 and Proposition F would shift the city government from a strong-manager system to a strong-mayor one. The other six propositions also have far-reaching implications for how the city is run, from police oversight to campaign finance reform.
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Proposition A: Charter amendment regarding binding arbitration in firefighters' labor contract(Austin Fire Department/Twitter)
If passed, this proposition would require an arbitrator to intervene in cases where the city and the Austin Firefighters Association, a union representing Austin Fire Department employees, reach a stalemate during labor contract negotiations. The arbitrator would hear presentations from both parties and make a binding ruling, like a judge.
AFA President Bob Nicks led a petition process to get this proposition on the ballot and argues that it would help avoid future prolonged arguments, which have occurred in three of the union's last six bargaining cycles—at significant cost. "Rather than getting to impasse at the table, you're more likely to look at each other's interests and come to an agreement at the table if you know that—if you don't—it'll go to an arbitrator," he told Austonia.
Proposition B: City Code amendment to reinstate restrictions on public camping
(Charlie L. Harper III)
This proposition resulted from a successful petition effort by the local political action committee Save Austin Now, which is campaigning to reinstate the city's ban on public camping—along with other activities, such as sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or aggressive panhandling, in certain areas—after council overturned in 2019.
SAN argues that the decision to repeal the ban has adversely impacted public safety, residents and businesses and left homeless people to live in unsafe conditions. Although the group's opponents generally agree that the city's homeless situation is untenable, they argue that reinstating the ban will do nothing to address the root causes of homelessness and instead lead to citations and tickets that make it harder for homeless people to access housing, work and other resources.
Proposition C: Charter amendment regarding office of police oversight
Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin, second from right, at a local policing symposium in 2019. (Office of Police Oversight/Twitter)
This proposition stems from an ordinance put forward by Council Member Greg Casar. If approved, it would move the city's office of police oversight from the control of the city manager's office to that of council. City Manager Spencer Cronk faced criticism from council members and residents for his handling of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Margo Fraiser, vice president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and former Travis County Sheriff and city of Austin police monitor, said such a shift is only half of the battle as an independent oversight office is only as strong as its ability to access and report on data from the police department. "It's hard to predict whether (this proposition alone) would improve civilian oversight or not," she said.
Proposition D: Charter amendment to move mayoral elections to presidential years
Travis County saw record turnout during the Nov. 3 general election. (Bob Daemmrich)
Local political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform successfully submitted a petition in January that proposed a series of amendments to the city charter in an effort to increase voter turnout. Propositions D through H stem from this initiative.
This proposition would move mayoral elections from gubernatorial election years to presidential election years in an effort to ensure higher voter turnout. The mayor elected in 2022 will serve a two-year term, and the next election will take place during the general election in November 2024.
Proposition E: Charter amendment to create ranked choice voting for city elections
Also stemming from the citizen-led petition organized by APR, this proposition would amend the city charter to provide for ranked choice voting in city elections if permitted by state law. The intention of this proposition is to eliminate runoffs, which typically have much lower turnout than general elections and participating voters tend to skew older and more conservative.
Ranked-choice voting, however, is certainly prohibited under state law. A city charter amendment, even if passed, would not be implemented unless state lawmakers make the same change.
Proposition F: Charter amendment to change to a strong mayor form of government
(Charlie L. Harper III)
The most controversial of APR's proposed amendments, this proposition would fundamentally change how the city government operates, shifting it from a strong-manager form to a strong-mayor form. Under the latter form, the city manager position would be eliminated and replaced by the mayor, who would not vote on items brought to council but could veto legislation approved by its members.
Proponents say it will give voters more control over the person who actually runs the city—an elected mayor rather than an appointed city manager—and point to the Jim Crow-era origins of Austin's current strong-manager system. A broad coalition of opponents, which includes local unions, most council members and business leaders, say it will consolidate power in one office and undermine the gains of the 10-1 council system enacted in 2014.
Proposition G: Charter amendment to add an 11th council district
Because Proposition F entails the mayor no longer serving as a council member, APR proposed creating an 11th council district to prevent tie votes and expand district representation in keeping with the city's population growth.
Council decided to separate the initiatives on the ballot, creating the possibility that one will be approved and not the other, leaving council with an even number of voting members—and a higher chance of tie votes and legislative gridlock.
Proposition H: Charter amendment to adopt a public campaign finance program
This proposition would implement a public campaign funding program, called Democracy Dollars, to give voters $25 vouchers to support the local council candidate—and, in presidential election years, mayoral candidate—of their choice in an attempt to offset the influence of wealthy donors.
Such a program is already in place in Seattle, where it has driven turnout and increased donor diversity. APR has faced criticism locally for deviating from Seattle's model; as proposed, its Democracy Dollars program would exclude those unable to vote due to immigration status or criminal history.
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Heading to Q2 Stadium? Four months ago, it would've been tough to do so without dropping a pretty penny, but by mid-September, season ticket holders were clamoring to sell their seats for as little as a $10 beer.
While Austin FC continues to sell-out crowds—their most recent match was at capacity despite their record and scheduling conflict with a Texas Longhorns game—demand has dipped as new factors continue to pull down prices.
Austin FC's rocky season has been met with unbridled fan support, but it's also lost that honeymoon-phase traction as they fell to the bottom of the standings, faced a third COVID surge and were met with school, work and good ol' Texas football.
On Sept. 15, Austin FC fan Tanis Olvedo was willing to strike a deal: two beers for a ticket.
Austin FC went from $200+ tickets to this 😪 we down bad pic.twitter.com/Q3yOr7UBiC
— Darth Concha (@davidhidalgo44) September 15, 2021
Although he later sold at cost to another season ticket holder, many fans have seen the value of their season tickets take a serious dip. By Wednesday, Sept. 15, tickets that were once no lower than $36 had dropped to as little as $14.
Austin Anthem member Phil Stanch used his accounting skills to map out the dip in his ticket sales prices.
Phil Stanch found that the predicted value of his season tickets (in orange) will continue to trend downward. (Phil Stanch)
Here are the main reasons why fans say Austin FC's ticket prices have taken a tumble:
Austin FC's first home game on June 19 seemed like perfect timing—by June 16, 51% of Travis County residents were fully vaccinated. Mid-May saw Austin lift its risk-based guidelines to Stage 2 for the first time since the pandemic's onset just in time for the brand-new Q2 Stadium to open at 100% capacity.
But with the third surge sending Austin back into Stage 5 and hospitalizations skyrocketing in late summer, some diehard fans reluctantly began opting for the couch over a 20,738-capacity stadium.
That safety-consciousness comes tenfold for parents of young children who are still ineligible to get vaccinated, at-risk fans and the older population.
School starting and unvaccinated kids. That’s why we haven’t gone in a while. We are season ticket holders, so we have just given ours away to friends and coworkers that can go.— jae (@jae98342926) September 23, 2021
Austin has stuck to capacity and hasn't added any masking or testing requirements, garnering some criticism from fans.
I stopped going because of the COVID surge. I tried to sell my tickets a couple of times and they didn’t move. Then I decided to eat them to make space. Not happy the club didn’t create a mask or vaccination requirement.— Ruben Cavazos (@rcavazos) September 24, 2021
Just as the surge reached its peak in mid-August, schools across Austin once again opened in-person, leaving many families unable to go to late-night games on weeknights. Ten of the club's 17 home games have been on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays—days that have quickly transformed into "school nights."
With 9-5ers unable to justify 8:30 p.m. weeknight games and kids tucked in bed by 10, fewer fans have been able to make their way to the games.
And with school comes another conflict of interest- tried-and-true Texas football is fully underway, and though Sept. 18 saw a sold-out crowd, a few Verde seats were left empty as the two teams played at home at the same time for the first time.
A combo of a number of things:— Tom H (@hallockitup) September 23, 2021
- Wednesday or Sunday games that end around 10pm are not appealing to people with jobs or kids.
- Being in last place hurts, no matter how passionate people are about the team. Nothing on the line.
- This is still Texas, and it’s football season.
While COVID and fall responsibilities have played a factor, Austin FC is also dealing with the unfortunate reality of being a last-place team.
Season ticket holder Doug Mayo was one of the 4% of season ticket holders who didn't renew his deal with the team. Once confident that he would easily sell the coveted tickets for their original price, the team's record plummeted alongside his own ticket prices. Mayo said that the team's 5-4-16 record caused their honeymoon phase to end prematurely.
"The newness wore off fast," Mayo said. "Nobody wants to go to a sporting event when it's 99% certain the team they support will lose."
For Mayo, it'll take a better record and more passionate play on the field to get him back in the 20,000-member season ticket waitlist.
"Mainly (I want) them to start acting more like a professional team," Mayo said. "We were so excited to have something to look forward to throughout COVID and it's just been a disappointment."
I've been a big supporter in general, I went to 4 games in the first half of the season, but no amount of "fan camaraderie" makes me want to spend $30-40 to see a team that plays without heart. And that's bc the last game I saw we actually won (albeit Houston was down a man).— Brown and in Austin (@DisraelTV) September 23, 2021
Still other reasons abound: some fans say it's those $10 beers themselves that cause prices to dip, while others say tickets were overpriced in the first place. Although Austin FC says 96% of season ticket holders decided to renew for 2022, many did so with a grain of salt, including longtime fan Shawn Collins.
"I have tickets in 110 (the Lexus Club) and even when the demand was crazy high I couldn't get face for my tickets because they were so high to begin with," Collins said. "When I got them I figured I'd make back what I paid on games I couldn't attend."
Austin FC's dip in ticket sales may be more of an MLS problem than a unique issue: gameday employee and University of Texas sports business student Ben Patterson said that prices shot up due to pre-season excitement and are now at more normal levels.
"The initial hype of finally having a pro sports team is likely what drove up season ticket prices at the start of the year," Patterson said. "Now that excitement has cooled off, ticket prices have dropped in value steeply."
But while five straight losses are enough to drive at least some fans away, plenty are committed to staying Verde through thick and thin.
It might not be easy being green, but thousands of fans are now enjoying the benefits of $20 tickets as they continue to pack Q2.
Let's not question why tickets are NOT expensive.
Let's just keep buying tickets at $20. Whaddaya say? https://t.co/HkhOjczzZJ
— AC (@Arc34_) September 24, 2021
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more races in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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