Coalition of 4 council members vows to fight for CodeNEXT proposal that addresses gentrification and sprawl

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District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria, a native East Austinite of 67 years, doesn’t have many friends left in his part of town. He blames the city’s land development code and zoning and planning methods.

“During [my lifetime], I watched our working families be displaced and I watched my friends forced to move away,” Renteria said.

On Tuesday Renteria, alongside District 2 Council Member Delia Garza, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, introduced For All Austinites, their four-council member coalition pushing for dramatic changes to CodeNEXT—the ongoing rewrite of the city’s land development code.

The group aims to address the issues of displacement and gentrification, systemic economic and racial segregation, and sprawling development.

The four council members not only asserted that the current code is broken, but the initial proposal of the rewrite fell well short of providing the tools needed by the government to make substantial changes to Austin’s development landscape.

“The path that has been set out for us in the past is failing working families in our communities, and the path that has been set out for us by city staff doesn’t do enough.”

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar

With only 3 weeks left until the second draft of CodeNEXT is released, and five months until the proposal is scheduled to reach council for final deliberations and vote, the council members said they would be working together to ensure the code that reaches the dais reconciles these core issues. As a coalition, they committed to vote against any proposal that falls short of their demands.

Different backgrounds but the same set of demands

Casar said although the four individual council members come from “very different” districts and backgrounds, together they share a set of demands that will need to be met before it gets their votes.

“We cannot vote for and we cannot continue to support a system that is largely incentivizing [large, unaffordable single-family homes] near central Austin when we could have smaller and more affordable homes; we cannot continue to support a system that is keeping working families and income restricted units out of some of our highest opportunity areas—areas where working people should have greatest opportunity to live,” Casar said. “The path that has been set out for us in the past is failing working families in our communities, and the path that has been set out for us by city staff doesn’t do enough.

“So today we committed to charting a new path to fighting for a code that truly serves all Austinites and not just a privileged few.”

Flannigan, who focused his comments on the financial consequences of sprawl, said it is the responsibility of city leaders to stop a system that “forces development out to the outer rings of the city.”

“The complexity of this code exacerbates out affordability issues and only gives access to the privileged few who have the time, money and lobbyists to understand it,” Flannigan said. “Sprawl is a symptom of this broken land use code. Sprawl is not just an environmental disaster. When we sprawl we force our communities to build new infrastructure at the expense of the parks and pools and roads of our inner-city neighborhoods.”

Flannigan said he has seen estimates that sprawl has cost the city of Austin between $4 billion and $11 billion.

“Our current land development code encourages sprawl and has pushed families to areas where they have less access to basic services,” Garza said. “It has created an inequitable system.

“We hear time and time again from the community ‘We’re tired of reports, we’re tired of task forces, we’re tired of consultants—do something.’ The families that we represent can’t wait. We need a code for all Austinites, and we need it now.”

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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