As No Way on Prop A gets backed by local political names like Mayor Steve Adler and most council members, Save Austin Now has added its own political power to its campaign.
Save Austin Now, the PAC that gained enough petition signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, announced endorsements from Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly and former Austin mayors Lee Leffingwell (2009-2015), Lee Cooke (1988-1991) and Ron Mullen (1983-1985).
On Nov. 2, Austin voters will decide the fate of Prop A, which would require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents among other changes in the department. SAN says the ordinance will "enact sensible police reforms" that will make the city safer as total murders are on the rise and police attrition rates are also high.
"We know that the police staffing crisis is dire and urgent. Our council will not be forced to cut public safety funding if Prop A passes. We will not cut Fire and EMS. We must pass Prop A to bring our staffing level up, reduce 911 response times and reduce violent crime across our city," District 6 Council Member Kelly said.
The opposition, consisting of a coalition of 80 local organizations, argues the ordinance would cost too much money—between $54.3 million and $119.8 million each year for the next five years, according to an estimate from city staff. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the budget estimate had to be placed on the ballot along with SAN's ballot language.
In a joint statement, the three former mayors backing Prop A spoke about their tenure as mayors: making the city the Live Music Capital of the World and focusing on the environment. They said they do not take police for granted for keeping the city safe and implored Austinites to vote for Prop A.
Part of the joint statement reads: "Prior councils have commissioned numerous police staffing studies and each concluded that the Austin Police Department needs additional personnel in order to meet the growing demands of our city. This is something for which we both steadfastly fought, yet the actions and pronouncements of today's council make clear that those on the dais are taking law enforcement for granted and our city is suffering with more crime and fewer police. Austin will continue to further degrade if citizens do not take action by voting in favor of a minimum police staffing level. It is for this reason that we enthusiastically endorse Prop A."
Early voting runs Oct. 18-29 and Election Day is on Nov. 2.
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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.