With Election Day results tallied, Austin voted in favor of reinstating a ban on camping in certain areas of the city and maintaining the current strong-manager form of government after a contentious race, which saw eight ballot proposals and vociferous disagreement.
Proposition A, charter amendment regarding binding arbitration in firefighters' labor contract: 68.32% PASS
Proposition B, city Code amendment to reinstate restrictions on public camping: 57.7% PASS
Proposition C, charter amendment regarding office of police oversight: 62.8% PASS
Proposition D, charter amendment to move mayoral elections to presidential years: 66.5% PASS
Proposition E, charter amendment to create ranked choice voting for city elections: 58.4% PASS
Proposition F, charter amendment to change to a strong mayor form of government: 85.8% FAIL
Proposition G, charter amendment to add an 11th council district: 56.6% FAIL
Proposition H, charter amendment to adopt a public campaign finance program: 57.2% FAIL
Across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, all of which include portions of the city of Austin, 220,420 ballots were cast, or around 18.1% of registered voters.
Proposition B, which stems from a successful citizen-led petition spearheaded by the local political action committee Save Austin Now, will re-criminalize sitting, lying, camping and panhandling downtown and around the University of Texas at Austin campus, among other areas. The PAC, which was founded by Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak and local Democratic advocate Cleo Petricek, argued that overturning the ban led to public health and safety concerns and allowed homeless residents to live in unsafe conditions. Opponents, who included most council members, say reinstating the ban will only force homeless residents into less safe parts of town and do nothing to provide housing.
Now passed, Prop B will take effect once the election results are certified, which usually takes a couple of days. Texas lawmakers are also considering a statewide camping ban, in response to recent policy changes in Austin.
Austinites for Progressive Reform, another local PAC, also led a successful citizen-led petition campaign, getting Props D, E, F, G and H on the ballot. The response from voters to this package of reforms, which the group argued would increase voter turnout, was more mixed. Voters passed Props D and E but failed Props F, G and H.
Austinites for All People, a coalition of residents opposed to Prop F, released a statement Saturday evening. "Voters delivered a rejection of the consolidation of power and political cronyism that Prop F would have meant for our city's governance," the group's co-chairs said. "The results are also an endorsement of the council-manager form of government and the 10-1 system that continues to work towards more diverse representation on city council."
Proposition A, a charter amendment regarding binding arbitration in firefighters' labor contract, stemmed from a citizen-led petition organized by the Austin Firefighters Association, which represents Austin Fire Department employees. AFA President Bob Nicks said binding arbitration will help prevent the city and the union from negotiating impasses, which have occurred in three of the last six bargaining cycles.
Proposition C, a charter amendment regarding the office of police oversight, comes from an ordinance put forward by the Council Member Greg Casar and will move the city's office of police oversight from the control of the city manager to that of council.
By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.