What Austin voters may not know about Proposition B this special election

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin voters will see two propositions on their ballots on Nov. 2.

Voting yes to the highly publicized Proposition A would bring changes to the Austin Police Department.

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Voting yes to the lesser-known Proposition B would allow the city to trade a piece of public park land; state law requires voters to approve any sale of public squares or parks.

The 9-acre property in question under Prop B is the site of the Central Maintenance Complex for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

If passed, the city would have the power to trade about nine acres of parkland on South Lakeshore Boulevard to a bidder for these minimum requirements:

  • At least 48 acres of waterfront land
  • The land has to be next to a current public park
  • The bidder must pay for or build a new maintenance facility for the Parks and Recreation Department on a different piece of city land
  • The bidder must partially or fully pay for the removal of the maintenance facility at Fiesta Gardens and its restoration to parkland

Here’s the full language you’ll see for Prop B.

A City of Austin Spokesperson says part of the requirements came from an unsolicited proposal the city previously received for their 9-acre complex. “The Council used the acreage amount as a baseline in the ballot language to establish a minimum requirement for any successful bid,” the spokesperson said.

The city did not tell KXAN who made the unsolicited bid for the property.

Grow Austin Parks says Oracle America, whose headquarters neighbors Austin’s 9-acre parcel that would be traded, already has a bid for that land to present to the city, if Prop B passes.

This KXAN map shows Austin’s land that would be up for trade if Prop B passes, in relation to Oracle’s headquarters.

Grow Austin Parks is a political action group supporting Prop B.

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According to city documents, Grow Austin Parks is almost completely funded by Oracle America: The group has received a total of $250,304.58, of which $250,000 come from Oracle.

A spokesperson for the PAC, Mark Littlefield, says the swap includes this tract of land in purple:

This KXAN map shows the tract of land Grow Austin Parks says Oracle would offer the City of Austin in their bid, if Proposition B passes.

Driveway Austin Motorsports sits within the purple tract, so KXAN reached out to its owner, Bill Dollahite. He says he’s not at liberty to say who the buyer is or if it’s under contract, but that “the deal is secure” if Prop B passes.

Paul Saldaña supports the measure.

“It’s very difficult historically to allocate green space or invest green space and parklands for low our income, minority communities, and I see this maybe as another win-win situation opportunity,” he says.

Saldaña grew up near Fiesta Gardens, and also supports that aspect of the proposition.

“This particular property has been very important to our Mexican American community here in the barrio because this is where we come to celebrate quinceañeras, weddings,” he says.

Proposition B concerns

“We’re being played. There is money there,” says Martha P. Cotera, who opposes the measure.

Cotera is part of the Latina Policy Coalition, a group of women who work on public policy issues.

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They say the city should already have money to buy the waterfront land they want from previous bonds, and they shouldn’t have to give up any land from East Austin.

Cotera points to 2018 when voters passed $149 million for acquisitions and improvements – including spots in East Austin, like Roy G. Guerrero Park and John Trevino Jr. Park.

A city spokesperson says to date, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) has funded over 80 projects and 25 parkland acquisitions, many highlighted in this September briefing.

“Once in progress, the development of the initial phases of the Vision Plans for John Treviño Jr. and Walter E. Long Metro Parks will be among the largest projects funded by Proposition C,” says the spokesperson.

As of October 6, the city says PARD has spent just 19% of the $149 million.

Cotera thinks the city should definitely acquire shoreline in East Austin, while also keeping their 9-acres and turning that into useable public space, too.

She’s also concerned that if Oracle acquires the nine-acre parcel, they would privatize one of the only access points to Town Lake in East Austin.

“The tragedy is how East Austin is led to believe that their only way out is to give up something very precious for somebody else, when there is money and has been money in, in the reserve that we all vote(d) for, and paid for,” Cotera says.

Oracle declined to comment on this report.

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