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A poll conducted during the 1981: an Austin-based national political ,., didates supported by neighborhooctaIsOtAtiftS likely to vote for a candidate for local office who “1,. ‘ Local ‘labor unions Liberal community Downtown business community Neighborhood associations Developer support, clearly, is the kiss of death for an Austin political candidat e Austin voters are most likely to trust the endorsements of the neighborhood grou At the time, business leaders said that without the confiscatory power of eminent domain which the official urban renewal district would provide, downtown revitalization held little attraction for potential developers. Then-City Manager Dan Davidson claimed that “without eminent domain, there may as well be no downtown plan.” But as others predicted would happen and as Austin citizens dodging construction sites all along major and side streets will attest, the revitalization of downtown Austin is now well underway all by private enterpreneurs all without the city government help that business leaders had insisted was so necessary. Neighborhood groups had effectively killed government-subsidized downtown revitalization probably forever. The failure to invite timely and representative citizen participation proved a valuable lesson. City government was warned; organized neighborhood power had arrived in the Capital City. The success of the early neighborhood efforts inspired formation of groups throughout Austin. Of 53 neighborhood groups responding to a 1981 survey, 28 said their organizations were “very” or “fairly” active. But, as Marilyn Simpson, former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council recently noted, “Many associations which have’ an excellent winning record haven’t received the publicity that some of the larger, more prominent groups have enjoyed.” The East Town Lake and downtown revitalization groups were most often in the news, but other association have battled projects threatening their neighborhoods. Some proposals, like extending certain major thoroughfares through residential neighborhoods, didn’t get past design stage due to neighborhood opposition. Church expansion has been a frequent issue, but when church issues are involved, all bets are off. The Hyde Park Baptist Church, with many politically influential members in its congregation, got its “vital” parking garage in a clearly residential area despite strong objections by nearby residents. But the Allandale Baptist Church, with objecting neighborhood groups raising legal fees by garage sales, failed to get approval for its expansion, even in the face of Rev. O’Chester’s warning that “. . . you can’t mess with God.” Some city officials welcome the neighborhoods’ interest. City Manager Nicholas Meiszer has wanted to include citizen participation, through a wellorganized neighborhood network, in the city’s long-range planning on the theory that better understanding of the Capital Improvement Program would build support for bond issues which had repeatedly gone down to defeat in recent elections. City council member Roger Duncan, who owes his position to neighborhood groups, has called on Austin to be the first Texas city to make use of a 1946 state law that allows larger cities to appoint neighborhood zoning councils. Although local issues have dominated the neighborhood movement, the new attention garnered by the neighborhood associations is based on more than cancelled boat races. The neighborhood groups have shown real political muscle by producing at the polls. They have changed the face of the Austin City Council. At least two current council members \(Roger Duncan and Larry Degroups’ role in the 1981 election, which brought them into power. The black and chicano members of the council were also supported by minority-based neighborhood groups. Austin neighborhood groups, in fact, point to the 1981 mayoral-council election as the first major political event in which their influence was a clearly deciding factor. The political balance of the council was tipped away from a 4-3 pro-developer bias to an unprecedented 5-2 “limitedgrowth” majority. Although neighborhood associations are non-profit groups which cannot endorse political candidates, the groups’ activities were visibly important during the campaign. Nearly half the associations reported they had provided forums for the candidates. Candidates backed by developer money could choose between explaining that support in personal appearances before the neighborhood groups or by refusing to appear. Either choice created problems for can didates supported by real-estate interThose city council candidates who sought out the neighborhood groups, where they could be seen and could present their positions, won easily over opponents with much stronger financial backing from developers and the rest of the business community. Grassroots candidate Roger Duncan, for example, won by a landslide over his businessman opponent. Although outspent 4 to 1, Larry Deuser, who had vowed “to work through neighborhood, civic and political groups in an effort to obtain the maximum number of votes citywide,” was a runaway winner for a city council position. DEVELOPERS AND other business interests have been busy trying to limit the new power of neighborhood groups by forming their own ad hoc groups to counter neighborhood association positions on controversial issues and by selecting sympathetic candidates for city offices. A frequent adversary of the neighborhood groups, the Austin Association of Builders, has pressed for severe restrictions on neighborhood group presentations before the planning commission and the city council, but changes are not likely to come with two of the present council members owing the neighborhood groups their positions on the council. Nevertheless, the builders have left their calling card in case a friendly council should happen along. More covert than the builders’ frontal attacks are the several “study” and “alliance” groups which have appeared since the last council election. Not un THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5