Austin Sued Over Wording Of CodeNEXT Ballot Question

Aug 17, 2018

For the second time in a week, the City of Austin has been sued in the Texas Supreme Court over the wording of a question headed to the November ballot. This time, petitioners are challenging how the city wrote a proposition regarding whether residents should have the power to reject land-use rewrites like the now-defunct CodeNEXT.

Bill Aleshire is the same attorney in both filings. The suit argues the city “lacks discretion” to write its own ballot language and instead should use the language petitioners submitted.

Here’s what council members agreed to put on the ballot:

“Shall a City ordinance be adopted to require both a waiting period and subsequent voter approval period, a total of up to three years, before future comprehensive revisions of the City's land development code become effective?”

And here’s what petitioners wrote:

“Petition for an Austin ordinance requiring both a waiting period and voter approval before CodeNEXT or comprehensive land development revisions become effective.”

Activists filed a petition last spring with more than 30,000 signatures asking the city to require residents to vote on every land-development code overhaul and to enact a waiting period between when a new code is approved by council and when it goes into effect. Supporters of the petition were against CodeNEXT, the city’s rewrite of the land-use code.

In July, a judge ordered that the petition be placed on the ballot after council members voted to neither adopt it nor put it to a public vote. Weeks later, council members voted to scrap CodeNEXT, in a quest to find a less “poisoned” process, as Mayor Steve Adler put it.  

To be clear: The petition on the ballot does not ask residents to vote on CodeNEXT, but whether all processes like it should be subject to public approval.

The city has until Sept. 4 to send final ballot language to the county.