By Bill Oakey – July 25, 2014
Mary Ingle, President of the Austin Neighborhoods Council has filed a complaint with the City Ethics Review Commission over the alleged lobbyist status of a CodeNEXT Advisory Group appointee. The Austin City Code bans lobbyists from serving on boards, commissions and citizen advisory panels.
Ms. Ingle’s primary concern is the fact that the Land Development Code Advisory Group is stacked with special interest members from the real estate and development community. This is the group that is working with City staff and hired consultants on the CodeNEXT project, which will overhaul the established City Code provisions for land use planning and zoning. Neighborhood leaders are seriously concerned that CodeNEXT will be used to override hard-fought neighborhood protections from inappropriate development.
Implementing Code Revisions Before They Are Even Written
Without a doubt, anyone can see that elements of CodeNEXT are already creeping into certain areas of the City, even before the ink has time to dry on the preliminary stages of the code revision process. In fact, the November bond proposition for urban rail pre-supposes that certain parts of town will be turned into CodeNEXT-styled corridors of massive multifamily “activity centers.” So, not only was the output of the CodeNEXT consultant work pre-ordained before it started, but the imprint from the special interest “advisory group” can be viewed from anyone’s car window, bicycle or skateboard. Or even from a Capital Metro rapid accordion bus.
Can We Limit Special Interest Representation on Advisory Panels?
When Mary Ingle emailed her press release to me last night, it triggered some old memories from 1985. That was the year that I tried to get the City Council to adopt a Public Interest Protection Ordinance. It would limit the number of special interest members on boards, commissions, and advisory panels. Today I retrieved the old documents and a newspaper clipping form the Austin History Center. This calls to mind another reform that was suggested in the old days, but never came to pass. My hope is to revive it and bring it before the newly elected City Council next year. I have a blog posting on it planned for next week.
Mary Ingle’s Press Release – Kudos to Her!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 24, 2014
On July 24, Mary Ingle, who is president of the Austin Neighborhood s Council, filed on her own behalf an ethics complaint against a member of the City’s Land Development Code Advisory Group. The complaint alleges that Melissa Neslund is an unregistered lobbyist in violation of the City Code and that she is barred from serving on the Code Advisory Group that was created for citizen input on the current plan to revise the City’s Land Development Code.
“By filing this complaint, I am trying to signal what is symptomatically wrong with our City’s land planning and development process,” said Ingle. “The Land Development Code Advisory Committee was appointed by the City Council and City Manager. The composition of this group is almost exclusively from members of the real estate industry to the virtual exclusion of neighborhood advocates. Only one of the 11 members of the group can be characterized as speaking for neighborhood interests. Too many of the others either have financial ties to real estate industry or motives to please the City staff. I think that I can safely say that the real estate industry shares my lack of confidence in the Planning and Development Review Department. The bottom line is that this exclusionary group will produce undue, biased influence on the new code product. Undue influence of developer – financial interests can be linked to the root cause of many of our community’s problems.”
At a press conference today in East Austin, Ingle observed that older core neighborhoods are being radically transformed by profit – driven developers given almost a free hand by City staff to demolish existing affordable homes and replace them with less affordable structures not compatible with neighborhoods.
She said that higher property taxes are driving ordinary citizens to the suburbs. “We can do a better job than this,” she said. “The current process to revise our land development code is flawed. The data- gathering process is statistically invalid, an d those relative few people who have given input have been excluded from commenting on the data compilation. This is a bad start for a process that will affect the live s of generations of ordinary citizens”.
Ingle said that the complaint is not personal. “Our laws should be enforced, and an investigation of business relationships of other members of the Citizens Advisory Committee should commence.”
“It’s time for ordinary citizens to wake up,” she said. The Citizens Advisory Committee and City Staff are advocating sweeping changes in our neighborhoods, including possible radical zoning changes. Our Land Development Code needs updating, but not this way,” she said.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and get this right, “ Ingle concluded.