Planning Commission – Please craft an inclusive, equitable, sustainable CodeNEXT

Get Involved, Growing Weirder

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.

City of Austin Housing Has Not Kept Pace With Population Growth

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.

Who’s Coming to Austin?

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.

Housing and Transportation Affordability by Urban Form Across the Austin Region

Yet, CodeNEXT Version 3 still maintains a ban on apartments on 54% of the land where housing is allowed. This is unconscionable.

How Much of Austin Should Remain Under the Apartment Ban?

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.

Current Austin Compromise Means $2.6 Billion of Housing Expense for Parking

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 High Impervious Surface Costs of Austin’s Current Zoning Scheme

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.

How to Protect Your Neighborhood Against Growing Traffic, Climate Change

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.

EquitableATX Development Fund
A Proposal for Neighborhood Powered ETOD Fund(s)

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:

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

[Photo Credit: City of Round Rock, Some rights reserved]

Come to one of four TXDOT traffic safety workshops in May

Get Involved, VisionZeroTexas

TXDOT is making incremental progress towards seriously pursuing an end to transportation deaths throughout the state. The 2017-2019 Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) begins with the following mission statement:

Texans will work together on the road to zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

Ending transportation deaths is possible, and agencies throughout the levels of government in the United States are beginning to embrace the necessary shifts in direction, planning, and funding. Sustained public engagement will accelerate this reality, and to that end, TXDOT is hosting four traffic safety workshops in the first half of May. Click here for the full schedule and specific details, dates and locations are listed below.

May 1, Houston
May 3, San Antonio
May 15, DFW
May 17, Midland/Odessa

TXDOT representatives will provide an overview of the SHSP and the safety countermeasures it identifies. They will work with attendees to understand your transportation challenges at any scale. The purpose is to connect the goals of transportation activists with the work of TXDOT to align all our efforts towards true transportation safety. See you there.

Regional Traffic Safety Workshops

Tell the feds your thoughts on CAMPO’s performance

DecideTexas, Get Involved, Growing Weirder

Every four years, MPOs are subject to federal review by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). As part of this process, these agencies want to hear from the public about how regional transportation projects affect our lives and what we think can be improved.

This evening, from 5pm to 7pm at UT campus (2405 Robert Dedman Drive), is the public input hearing for this cycle’s federal certification review. The public is asked to provide feedback on the following questions:

1. Do you have any comments regarding the CAMPO TransportationPolicy Board’s performance in carrying out the responsibility of the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?

2. Is CAMPO doing an overall good job of providing the public with a reasonable opportunity to provide input and participate as part of the metropolitan transportation planning process?

3. Are there specific areas you feel CAMPO could improve? If so, explain.

Earlier this year, we encouraged public engagement with CAMPO to urge them to adopt a Vision Zero Action Plan, and they heard your voices! CAMPO is responsible for the administration of hundreds of millions of dollars of annual transportation funds but receives relatively little attention. Establishing a tradition of sustained public engagement will ensure efficient and accurate representation of regional transportation interests.

Show up this evening and give the federal government your thoughts on CAMPO’s performance! CAMPO and its board members perform vital public services, but as we have uncovered in our research, there are certainly aspects of CAMPO with room for improvement.

After you provide your testimony, or for those unable to attend, send your answers to the prompts to [email protected] and [email protected]