Voters shift responsibility to elected officials with passage of $925 million bond, rejection of Prop J

Election signs welcome voters at the entrance to Fiesta Mart in Austin on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Election signs welcome voters at the entrance to Fiesta Mart in Austin on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

When Austin City Council agreed this summer to ask voters for a $925 million loan to fund crucial projects throughout the city, including a record-breaking $250 million request for affordable housing, District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar acknowledged the city was taking a bet on the community but maintained there was more to gain than lose.

“If the housing bond passes, it would be more than anything we’ve ever done as a City Council,” Casar said over a cup of coffee in August. “If it doesn’t pass then we will just try again and if people get tired of us trying that then they should elect someone other than me.”

As the voting totals trickled in on Nov. 6, it became clear the bet paid off. In a midterm election that turned out a record number of voters, the housing bond package passed with over 72 percent approval. The other six pieces of the nearly billion-dollar bond, which included investments in parks, city facilities, transportation and cultural centers, each passed with over 70 percent approval.

“People thought it wasn’t possible,” Casar said Wednesday. “But when Austinites had the choice in front of them, they said we’re going to keep doing the right thing. Austin doesn’t want to build walls, we want to build homes.”

Ted Siff ran the Austin Together PAC, a group that aimed to educate voters on the details of the bond, the projects it would include and how the city planned to spend the money. With a large voter turnout expected due to high-profile national and statewide races, Siff said informing voters was priority number one.

“I think Austin voters indicated they have a strong level of confidence in our current leadership,” Siff said. “They have given our leaders permission to spend this money on things the city really needs to make it as good as it can be.”

Paired with approving the bond and giving incumbent Mayor Steve Adler a second term as leader of the city’s lawmakers in landslide fashion, Austin voters made another key statement on Nov. 6 with their rejection of Proposition J—52 percent to 48 percent—effectively giving all power to City Council in approving a new land development code.

Proposition J, a citizen-initiated ordinance that would have given voters final say on comprehensive changes to land development code, landed on the ballot as the contention surrounding CodeNEXT—the city’s five-year attempt to rewrite the code—reached critical mass. As the city continues to grow and redevelop, the need to update land development code—authored in the 1980s—becomes immediate in order to address priority environmental and housing stock concerns.

CodeNEXT was cut short this summer and City Manager Spencer Cronk committed to laying out a path forward at the beginning of next year. If the proposition passed, however, a waiting period provision in the proposed ordinance would have meant no new code approval until at least November 2021.

After his victory speech in the mayor’s race, Adler said the rejection of Proposition J and the overwhelming support from the community on the bond package was a mandate from the community to its elected leaders.

“I think this is a community saying don’t get lost in the process…a community that is looking at the City Council and saying, ‘We’re giving you the authority to actually do big things,’” Adler said. “There is a real responsibility now to deliver on what it is the community wants.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


Photoo of Travis County sign
Austin City Council, Travis County Commissioners Court will hold rare joint session to address 'dire' COVID-19 status

County Judge Andy Brown called the meeting "an opportunity to coordinate responses."

Voters line up during the Dec. 15 runoff election. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legality of ranked-choice voting prompts disagreement between supporters, Austin city attorneys

If a Jan. 11 petition is validated, Austin voters could decide whether to support the implementation a ranked-choice voting system. But is it unconstitutional?

A group of Austin-area school districts is advocating for early distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for school staff members. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Austin-area school districts advocate for teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccines

Educators in the designated population for early distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 32 states. Texas was not one of them, according to a Jan. 14 letter signed by 17 Central Texas school districts.

H-E-B is preparing to accept coronavirus vaccine appointments through an online portal. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B launches vaccine portal; Whipped Bakery opens in Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Austin Pizza Garden's menu features specialty pies, salads, sandwiches and starters. (Community Impact staff)
Iconic South Austin pizza restaurant to close after 27 years

Austin Pizza Garden will close Jan. 17 after 27 years in the community.

The company plans to invest $2.5 million into renovations for the project. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tesla planning new South Austin showroom at The Yard

The company plans to invest $2.5 million into renovations for the project.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gave remarks while accepting the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership from Dell Medical School. (Screenshot via The University of Texas)
Dr. Anthony Fauci praises UT researcher’s role in vaccine development

Dr. Anthony Fauci's remarks came while accepting the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership from Dell Medical School.

Photo of Judge Andy Brown at a press conference
Travis County health leaders say Regional COVID-19 Therapeutic Infusion Center will help unburden hospitals

In its first week, the center offered 120 coronavirus patients an antiviral antibody treatment.

PHoto of a vaccine being administered
Austin Public Health discusses vaccination priorities, registration protocol as regional hub

Local health leaders discouraged people from walking up to vaccine sites without an appointment.