Hello members of the Austin Planning Commission,
Thank you so much for your service to all the people of Austin and for putting so much of your time and energy and thought into this CodeNEXT process. I believe that because so much heart and pain and ideas and love has been put into this process by so many people that the Austin community is stronger and Austin policies in general are much improved. However, I think we all know that CodeNEXT V.3.5 is still not good enough.
The current and future people of Austin are counting on you and City Council to finish this job that so many of us have put so much into.
Farm&City launched Growing Weirder in January to provide independent, original research into the entire Austin region’s growth and development policies to help more people engage and improve both CodeNEXT and the upcoming CAMPO Regional Transportation Plan.
We have tried to make information available to you on the costs and benefits of various policy options, which I would like to sum up below as you go into your final work on CodeNEXT.
The official regional growth forecasts used by CAMPO and all local governments to plan for our future are an unmitigated traffic, equity, climate, and local habitat disaster, if they should fully come to fruition. By 2040, we will convert about 650 square miles of rural land to sub-urban or urban – according to our official plan. Traffic will grow steadily worse, while the region becomes increasingly unaffordable.
The City of Austin’s land development code is one of the major inputs into the regional growth forecasts. Through its land development code, the City has been limiting the amount of people allowed to live in the city of Austin to about 25% of regional growth, and the proposed “equivalency” would continue this with only 27% of the region’s expected growth over the next ten years allowed to live in the city of Austin.
The people who are coming are generally not Californians (currently 4% of the region’s growth), but instead are predominantly the children of people living in this region already and Hispanics from across Texas moving to Austin. 72% of the region’s growth over the next ten years will be from adding people of color. They deserve meaningful options to live in the City, which requires allowing enough housing to be built.
There are three Austin’s (stretching out across the entire 6-County region) with about equal populations of people: urban, rural, and sub-urban Austin. Contrary to popular myth, urban Austin is the most affordable – on average – both in terms of housing and transportation costs. Our estimation is that the public mythology of affordability is dominated by single family home sale prices, a transaction that occurs with only 1% of the region’s households in the region each year. Limiting urban development in the City of Austin unquestionably makes the region less affordable.
Yet, CodeNEXT Version 3 still maintains a ban on apartments on 54% of the land where housing is allowed. This is unconscionable.
As of Version 2, the staff proposal was for the City of Austin to require developers and homeowners (and passed through to renters) to invest $2.6 billion in parking spaces associated with new housing units expected over the next ten years. This is a wild misuse of power and funds. The vehicle miles traveled impact of this radical policy is astounding, which means the traffic impacts are astounding, which means more people will die and suffer injuries on our streets, because of this policy. This is unconscionable, and has been slightly improved – yet likely remains in the same general ballpark of environmental, social, and traffic costs.
Imposing this bad idea of minimum parking requirements in particular on nonprofit affordable housing developers is an extraordinarily bad idea. Nonprofits creating projects with at least 50% affordable units should have “by right” no minimum parking requirements, although we oppose the entire concept.
As of CodeNEXT Version 2, the impervious surface benefits of allowing more people to live in the City of Austin are astounding, even though the Watershed Department buried the lede on the most important information contained in their analysis. Leaving Austin with its current exclusionary zoning system would make us slightly worse than Houston in terms of impervious surface per capita in ten years, while CodeNEXT Version 2 would move us up to slightly better than Atlanta, which is a low bar. To whatever extent you can find ways to allow more people to live in the already developed City of Austin, you will be pointing us toward where the actual progressive cities across the nation are going, dramatically decreasing the region’s future total impervious surface.
The decisions you make today – on whether to continue the practice of limiting the amount of people allowed in the City of Austin or not – will profoundly impact the region’s ability to take its responsible role in the most important problem of the 21st Century – climate change. Americans emit more green house gasses through transportation than energy.
Your choices today will significantly impact future vehicle miles traveled – the primary determinant regionally of our carbon footprint going forward (regardless of whether or not vehicles are electrified). Limiting the amount of people allowed to live in the City of Austin means paving more roads and parking lots across the Texas hill country and encouraging people to drive more.
To finalize, we have been working on a proposal for an Equitable Transit Oriented Development Fund – something that most progressive cities and regions have already created. Allowing as many people as possible to live in communities that actually allow healthy, low-carbon lifestyle should be a primary driving force of City of Austin policy, unless it plans to throw away its Climate Action and Vision Zero Plans. In our work, we have identified the 15.5 square miles of Austin with access to high quality transit.
We believe that limiting the amount of people allowed to live in these areas in favor of aesthetic or lifestyle preferences is not acceptable. Minimum parking requirements are not acceptable in this area. Compatibility is not acceptable in this area. We need “by right” options for housing the rapidly growing, diverse people of Austin in at least this area. You can see the area in this report, which is almost finished, but not quite. We are happy to share GIS files and more data.
This was emailed to the Austin Planning Commission on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 as they began the process of deliberating over a long series of proposed amendments to the draft CodeNEXT Version 3.5.
You can email the Austin Planning Commission too at these email addresses:
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