Thursday, March 19, 2020

#atxcouncil: The Mother of All Judicial Rebukes

"Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear."
1 Timothy 5:20

In a ruling that could derail Austin’s rewrite of its land development code, a Travis County district judge voided two votes the City Council has taken so far on the changes.

The city has spent nearly eight years and more than $10 million trying to rewrite its land code – the rules that determine what can be built and where in Austin – in an attempt to allow more and different kinds of housing in the city.

The third and final vote was expected in late March or early April, but was delayed earlier this week because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Judge Jan Soifer ruled that the City of Austin violated local government code, when it failed to individually notify property owners of potential changes to the zoning of their land. Texas law requires municipal governments to do so, but the city had previously argued this did not apply in a comprehensive land code rewrite, equating it more to a policy change than smaller, targeted rezoning cases.

Soifer also ruled Austin homeowners have the legal right to protest changes to the zoning of their land under a citywide revision.

Under state law, property owners can challenge changes to the zoning of their own or nearby property. If they do so, a three-fourths vote of the local governing body is needed to veto that protest and let the new zoning go forward. In Austin, that means nine of the 11 City Council members would need to vote against any protests in order to stop them.
To understand how massive this is, you need two pieces of context:
  1. Judges in this town always bend over backwards to protect the government.
  2. Jan Soifer is a former chair of the Travis County Democrat party. 
This is unheard of.  You just had a Democrat judge, who's the former chair of the county Democrat party, rebuke an all-Democrat governmental body.  That's quite a statement about council's a) arrogance and b) lawlessness.

[Note: To understand how embedded Jan Soifer is within the local establishment, you can read her own bio in her own words here.]

Moving forward, this means that the LDC re-write is pretty much dead.  If the city doesn't appeal, they need nine votes (which they don't have) to pass it.  If the city does appeal, they need to clear both the Third Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court in time to pass it before January 2021.

Keep in mind: This is fully dead once the new council is sworn in in January.


Honestly, it's a shame that it had to come to this.  Because the status quo really is awful.  We need to dramatically streamline (if not eliminate) the land use development code.  But nothing currently under consideration would have achieved those objectives.

So it's best to let the whole thing die.

Way better to start over in January (hopefully with a council that has a different ideological makeup).

Bottom Line: This is easily the least bad realistic outcome we were going to see under the current council.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.