When City Council Member Greg Casar announced a run for Congress in early November, few were more outraged than Travis GOP chair and Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak.
Fresh off a Save Austin Now defeat at the polls, Mackowiak and co-founder Cleo Petricek had some choice words to say for their perpetual political enemy.
"He's destroyed our city with his radical agenda, especially as he led the effort to pass the homeless camping ordinance and then defund the police," Mackowiak and Petricek told Austonia. "He has made life in Austin measurably worse for families and all District 4 residents. He should resign in disgrace, not seek a higher office."
The dueling figureheads, both beloved and hated by different sects of the Austin community, are now 1-1 in the ring—Save Austin Now won the reinstatement of the homeless camping ban in May then lost the police department reforms initiative this month—as Mackowiak and Save Austin Now look to thwart Casar's congressional efforts.
Petricek, a Democrat, most recently endorsed Democrat Eddie Rodriguez, the only other prominent political figure up against Casar so far for Congress' District 35 seat. Casar immediately countered the move by saying he wouldn't accept donations from any organization that receives donations from SAN or corporate PACs, requesting that his soon-to-be opponent do the same.
"We're calling on Eddie Rodriguez and every other Democratic candidate in this race to take this same pledge–to reject contributions from major donors of the Republican-front group Save Austin Now and reject contributions from corporate PACs," Casar's office said. "This should be a Democratic primary, not one influenced by divisive Republican groups."
Casar welcomes support from open communists, socialists, violent activists & extremists, but successful business, community & philanthropic leaders in our city are off limits.
News flash: The vast majority of Save Austin Now donors despise Casar for attempting to destroy Austin. https://t.co/VGBjese1Q2
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) November 11, 2021
The fire-and-ice opponents have had beef since long before Congress. Back in 2015, a then-25 year old Casar made waves in Austin's city politics as the youngest to ever be elected to a City Council position. A left-leaning activist, Casar championed paid sick day policies, helped clear the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits within the Austin Police Department, fought for affordable housing and immigration policies and worked to decriminalize certain nonviolent crimes.
But the Casar vs. Mackowiak saga truly began in 2019, when both Mackowiak and Petricek formed an unlikely alliance and created Save Austin Now after both passionately spoke out against the city's repeal of the homeless camping ban in a City Council meeting.
Quick tweet storm on the Homeless Camping disaster in Austin.#ATXCouncil
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) August 22, 2019
Casar, who championed the vote, said he knew changing the ordinances would be unpopular with some but said the city could "take on those challenges in a better way."
"We can house people. We can serve people. We can address the core issues. We can improve all of our safety, rather than perpetuating instability and insecurity," Casar said.
Once on the fringes of Austin's politics, Mackowiak captured the growing fears of certain Austinites as the city's homeless population became increasingly visible, leading some to believe that public safety was at risk.
Remember: @MayorAdler & @GregCasar think this is just fine. This video was taken today.
You can help save Austin by voting FOR Prop B on Saturday 7a-7p.
Find voting locations: https://t.co/fzSi44bmfp. pic.twitter.com/lcDoWORCrD
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) April 29, 2021
And by May, Mackowiak and Save Austin Now celebrated its first underdog victory after raising a near-record $1.9 million to reinstate the ban.
1-0 Save Austin Now.
An ever-more-confident Mackowiak continued his initiative to solve Austin's issues with a policing bill set for the upcoming November election. Once again, Casar—who became a figurehead for police reform in the wake of 2020's police brutality protests—found himself on the opposite end of the fight.
Casar crafted a three-tiered plan to cut and reallocate $150 million of the police budget, move certain branches out of the policing umbrella and halt cadet classes last summer.
But as homicide numbers broke records in 2021 and APD lost employees and struggled with quick responses, Mackowiak argued that the fight was far from over. SAN instituted a new ballot measure—Prop A—to increase police staffing to just over two officers for 1,000 residents, a measure that some said would take millions from other city departments.
And to Mackowiak's chagrin, Casar, APD police chief Joseph Chacon, and Austin voters were resoundingly against the measure as Prop A lost by 37 percentage points in November.
Tonight's results show that Austinites have rejected right-wing division and are marching forward for progressive change. Our city will continue to fight for comprehensive public safety, civil rights, and a better city for all! #ATX#NoWayPropA
— Greg Casar (@GregCasar) November 3, 2021
So what's next for Austin's biggest political enemies?
Casar's campaign announced that it secured more than $100,000 from over 700 individuals in its first 72 hours, gained over 1,000 volunteers and celebrated three kickoff parties over the weekend.
But even with a recent loss, Mackowiak said SAN's "resolve has deepened"—including possibly bringing a Casar opponent into the congressional race.
- Austin Council member Greg Casar running for Congress D35 ... ›
- Austin Council Member Greg Casar wants to change City Hall ... ›
- Austin voters overwhelmingly support reinstating camping ban ... ›
- Save Austin Now relaunches petition to reinstate camping ban ... ›
- Early voting total fors May 2021 city of Austin election - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now sues City for "refusal" to enforce Prop B - austonia ›
- Progressive Greg Casar leaves City Council for Congress campaign - austonia ›
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.