Locals Sue To Stop Austin From Renaming Manchaca Road

Nov 13, 2018

A group of property owners and businesses along what's (for now) Manchaca Road is challenging the city's move to change the South Austin road's name before it goes into effect Thursday.

The Austin City Council passed an ordinance Oct. 4 to change the spelling to Menchaca Road to honor Tejano revolutionary José Antonio Menchaca, who fought in a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution.  

The case starts back in January 2016, when the nonprofit Justice for Menchaca handed over a $24,000 cashier's check to have the road signs changed. To change the name, the city either needed approval from more than half of property owners along the road or sponsorship from a member of the Austin City Council.

In September, Council Member Pio Renteria sponsored the ordinance to bring it to a vote. Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents the district where the street is located, ultimately opposed the measure in the final vote.

After that, the Austin Transportation Department surveyed more than 1,700 property owners along the road. Out of the merely 63 respondents, 52 disagreed with the name change. The city then held a public hearing right before the Council vote in October.

Roger Borgelt, the Austin attorney representing nine property owners and the group Leave Manchaca Alone, filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court today, arguing the city didn't provide enough notice before that public hearing and subsequent vote.

"This was kind of a rushed deal, and if they'd been given an opportunity to present it at a public hearing, my clients would have presented some of this information," he said. "Obviously, without any notice, they didn't have any opportunity to do that."

A spokesperson for the city said it is "aware of the lawsuit and is still determining next steps."

Borgelt and his clients also argue that the history behind the road isn't ironclad. While proponents of the Menchaca name-change say he frequented a spring outside the now-town of Manchaca during his time with the Texas Army, opponents say it's unclear whether that the town was named after him.

They argue there's more evidence to suggest the road's name stretches back to a Choctaw word "manchac," which roughly translates to "rear entrance" and point out that a bayou in Louisiana has had the name since before the existence of the United States.

Retired Judge Bob Perkins, who led Justice for Menchaca's effort to change the road's name, previously told KUT that he doesn't buy that argument and that the misspelling of the street name goes back to the Battle of San Jacinto, when the Republic of Texas misspelled Menchaca's name. That misspelling, he said, persisted and the street reflected that.

Reached today, Perkins told KUT that he is currently filling in as a judge and that state ethics rules don't allow him to comment on pending litigation.

Borgelt said his clients received no notice for the public hearing and that the name change would be cost-prohibitive for businesses in the group Leave Manchaca Alone. He hopes to reach an agreement with the city before Thursday, when the name change goes into effect, or get a court order to block the change.

"Our position is that, if they're going to do this," Borgelt said, "they need to follow their own ordinance."

You can read the full suit below.