Posted by pete.gilcrease Oct 06th 10:06 PM

(A) The Planning Director shall initiate the formation of a Neighborhood Plan Contact Team.

The recent Audit of Neighborhood Plans and Contact Teams finds that our current neighborhood planning processes are “inequitable and have lacked robust and representative participation,” that neighborhood planning contact teams (NPCTs) “create barriers to public engagement and representative decision-making,” that neighborhood “plans are not consistent with some elements of Imagine Austin,” and that “fair housing choice has not been specifically considered in most neighborhood planning efforts.” While the Audit acknowledges these flaws, it does not provide adequate recommendations to remedy them.

The Audit’s conclusions show that the current neighborhood planning process undermines the vision of inclusive neighborhoods with an abundance and full diversity of people. Our neighborhoods should not be exclusive enclaves for incumbents, and the interests of any particular neighborhood should never trump the interests of the citywide community.

City officials should expand the neighborhood planning process to include all neighborhood stakeholders, and to remove the special status it currently bestows on NPCTs. Furthermore, city planners should embrace as important stakeholders renters and the families who aspire to live in our neighborhoods.

Remove the Special Status Bestowed Upon NPCTs

It’s recommends that city officials no longer give NPCTs special privileges in the neighborhood planning process, and that city officials should empower planning staff to exercise their professional experience and expertise as they consider input from all members of the community and ultimately make recommendations to boards, commissions, and the City Council. The existing notification process enables stakeholders within a given neighborhood or nearby area to provide input, support, or opposition to variances or other development. City staff can employ this same notification process to solicit input for neighborhood planning decisions. City staff could expand the notification mechanism to enable stakeholders outside these proximity-based zones to register for notifications, ensuring everyone is heard and the process is professional, inclusive, and fair.

The 10-1 representation on the City Council, having brought the geographic representation the city once lacked, has rendered the special status of NPCTs unnecessary. NPCTs have become harmful to the goals of an inclusive city that strives to represent all stakeholders, especially the renters who compose a majority of our city and are sometimes excluded from these groups entirely.

Suspend and Reform NPCTs

If the City Council decides to not eliminate NPCTs’ special status, then it’s recommended to suspend the NPCTs’ special status until they have taken steps to ensure they are more representative of the full diversity of neighborhood stakeholders. City officials can then reinstate NPCTs as they demonstrate they have implemented these steps.

1) City staff should be assigned to oversee each NPCT. The assigned staff member shall attend and facilitate all meetings, functions, oversee eligible voter rosters, and take the place and function of current officer positions on NPCTs. 2) NPCTs should be required to have representation from all stakeholder groups for a quorum, including renters, homeowners, and business owners. 3) NPCTs should have a minimum participation from stakeholders in the planning area. 4) NPCTs should be required to use online voting to allow easy participation for all stakeholders. 5) NPCTs should eliminate mandatory attendance requirements and other barriers to participation that disenfranchise stakeholders. 6) For neighborhood plans to remain valid, they should be required to go through a review and updating process. If a complete review is not done within one year, then the plans should be considered invalid and removed from the land development code. 7) Neighborhood plans should be required to align with Imagine Austin when going through the review process before they are reinstated and after reinstatement. 8) Neighborhood plans should be required to meet fair housing requirements when going through the review process before they are reinstated and after reinstatement. 9) NPCTs should be required to determine where more density should be allowed by right in their planning areas based on projected future growth of the city and improvement in Imagine Austin’s complete communities indicators. Opportunity for Affordability, Equity, and Diversity

Austin’s continuing growth, and its transformation into a fully realized urban environment, requires its citizens to reconsider how Austin can best deliver on goals of equity, diversity, and opportunity for all of its residents. Decades of land use policies that were originally based on segregation have calcified Austin’s neighborhood development, leading to its current status as the most segregated city in the country.

As the recent audit completed by the City of Austin confirms, it is imperative that we as a city fix this broken component of the land development process. Removing NPCTs’ special status, and enacting more complete ways for stakeholders to be heard, provide opportunities for Austin to show it is serious in addressing its long history of social inequities and injustices.